When I was first released from jail back in July of '07 the last thing I wanted to do was talk about what I had done or even the fact that I had been in jail. I wanted to forget the embarrassing circumstances that brought me there and remove myself as far as I could from the guilt and shame I felt over what would be a part of my history forever. I was no longer a struggling single Mother doing a wonderful job of juggling it all but was now a "former inmate" or "ex-offender" or my favorite, "a known felon".
The truth was, most folks think those in jail and prison are flippant about their crimes, all intentionally and with malice committed to hurt someone and cause pain on others without remorse or afterthought.
The truth is, most everyone I met in jail regretted what they had done, were ashamed so much so that even among a "den of thieves" they dare not speak the truth about it. Most felt guilt for what they were now putting their families through, guilt about children left behind somewhere, either with other family or in the system. They felt shame they had lived a life so opposed to what they even believed to be right or good that to attach the crime to their very personage was so difficult as to sometimes cause great emotional scarring and turmoil. They didn't sit around joking and laughing about what they didn't get caught doing or plotting their next crime once they were free again. Oh sure, from time to time an off handed joke would float about but that wasn't the norm and in the quiet hours of night when small groups would chat and women would journal or write letters to the outside, the real stuff came flooding out. The tears of shame would fall slowly down faces bearing no make-up; nothing to hide behind. Pages would wrinkle from the torturous hours of writing and crying, as tears dropped onto notebook paper and curl the thin sheets.
I remember those hot tears of shame and guilt; remorse and anger and disappointment in myself. I remember all the emotions that flooded over me during my jail time and after. I wanted to flee outside those walls and pretend that wasn't my life. I wanted to forget that I was that "ex-offender" or "former inmate".
But the world doesn't want us to forget.
So I ask you, who are you? What label does the world put on you? Are you a doctor? A lawyer? A secretary? A mother? An accountant? A babysitter?
Now think about the worst thing you can think you have ever done? Did you have an abortion as a teenager? Did you steal someone's boyfriend in high school? Did you fantasize about a famous actor or sports figure? Did you drink too much in college or yesterday perhaps? Did you take home a few office supplies for school supplies for the kids last fall? Did you forget to scan that soda under your cart at the grocery store? Did you make out with your boss at last year's Christmas party? Did you wish you were someone else for a minute, living someone else's life?
Whatever you have done, no matter how big or small, there is a label for it and God says you are a sinner. Perhaps you are the worst sinner, a murderer? That abortion at 15 wasn't near as harmless as you once thought, not "just a decision". That relationship you came between, did that make you an adulterer or were you coveting something someone else had rights to? Perhaps you are just a drunkard or glutton? Doesn't harm anyone but you? Or are you a thief in those little disguised ways we push out of our minds?
Thankfully though, no matter what label we or the world attaches to our worst behavior, despite all that we do that is not pleasing to God, He still loves us so much that long before we were born to make our worst mistakes, He came up with a way back to Him. He devised a perfect plan and set it into motion so that our separation from Him would not be forever. His plan of redemption and salvation undermines our biggest, most heinous acts against ourselves, others and against God Himself.
And because of this I no longer have to fear the labels of the world but can walk with my head held high as I realize that I am forgiven. To the one who holds my destiny, I am as far from my sin as the east is from the west. Even more, my story has a purpose now. Even my worst decision, my biggest crime, is a story of redemption and forgiveness and it has a purpose. No, I don't take pride in the things I've done and there are some I still would rather never know what I had done but none the less, the past is past and my future is secure because of the one choice I made that trumps all others. I made the choice to make Jesus Christ my personal Lord and Savior, and because of this choice, if He chooses to use my shame-filled past to show His glorious love for each of us, it isn't for me to say no. For the gift He has promised me, the gift I can rely upon is far greater than the discomfort of a label in this world.
But I ask you, before you label me, think again about the worst thing you've ever done. Wear that label for a day or two, really honestly wear that label, then ask yourself this:
"Do I need a Savior?"