Friday, December 24, 2010

Bringing in 2011

Crucial to a life in Christ for the new believer after a period of incarceration rests in one’s adoption by a supportive Christian church family. This connection provides them with a sense of belonging and inclusion into society. The crux of Jesus’ final commandment is love shared between Christian brothers and sisters. Once an inmate experiences prison life and the resulting societal rejection; any sense of spiritual connection becomes jeopardized. Feeling the full onslaught of daily pressures, coupled by the roadblocks put up by their reduced legal and citizenry status allows openings for old desperate habits to surface. Feeling love within a church family can remind the new Christian that God especially loves them.

1 Cor 12:22

In fact some parts of the body that seem weakest and least important are actually the most necessary. And the parts we regard as least honorable are those we clothe with the greatest care. So we carefully protect those parts which should not be seen while the more honorable parts do not require this special care. So God put the body together such that extra honor and care are given to those parts that have less dignity. This makes for harmony among the members so that all the members care for each other. If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad.

I got a call today from a woman I have discipled since Feb of this year. Upon release from TDC she was placed on probation and they required, no matter what support she had elsewhere, within a new church and Christian family, to return to her county of offense and transfer after obtaining $1000 through employment. She could not accept a job in another area of the state without first meeting this requirement. Her probation officer also required her to "reside" at a predetermined "halfway house" that currently allows for 5 minutes of prayer/church time a day. She can attend a church which they have chosen that lasts less than 10 minutes.

As we spoke today, I could hear her plea for help and support. We talked about where she had been and how her time there must never be forgotten. She passionately talked about her battle to remember where she was just two short weeks ago. She has already seen a roommate relapse. She's already heard most of her "bunkies" moan about getting up at 6:30 AM; she gave a lecture to them about what time they were all required to wake in prison (3:30 AM if they wanted clean clothing for the day). She's already in the battle of her life in the program that the County is requiring she walk through and it has nothing to do with her new walk with Christ, her new status as a daughter of the most High God or her new determination to be a Godly woman after God's own heart.

I would like to say that I seldom get riled up about "the system" to the point of wanting to take action and it's a tough system to really battle but when I hear the pleas of one having no one else, no family or old friends who would support her decision to walk a new life and she truly is struggling to remain faithful to her prayer time and study time in God's word, how can I not speak out.

Not every woman who walks out from behind the bars of a county or state facility have the luxury as I did; to stay with a woman who wanted nothing more than to see me grow in faith and my relationship with Jesus Christ. I was blessed and I remember to this day that wonderful gift of time to help form in me a new creation; a new woman.

Every believer is a part of "the church" and every believer has some obligation to offer forgiveness and opportunity. The longer I work in prison ministry, the more I realize that there are plenty of ways to serve in prison ministry at arms length if that is all one can feel comfortable doing.

As we start 2011 in just a few days, I thought I would help you with a list of things to consider:

* call your local larger employers and advocate for "second chance" employment opportunities

* find out about employer tax credits and bonding programs available for those offering ex-offenders the opportunity for employment

* consider business opportunities for yourself where you might be able to build an ex-offender friendly environment

* help educate employers about the challenges faced by new releasees including probation and parole meetings, AA and other 12 step meetings and other requirements placed upon the ex-offender

* talk to your local ministries serving this population and find out where the struggles remain

* educate yourself about the ways ministries struggle to offer all the services needed and the agencies that might best coordinate and work cooperatively with these ministries, then find out who you know who might work at such agencies; help make connections within the body of Christ

* talk to your church family about locating those in the congregation who can and are willing to offer their professional services to someone coming out of prison; medical, dental or legal assistance as a ministry function

* encourage your church to take on a prison ministry as a mission field

* embrace the few men and women who may enter your church who have served time, they are reaching out to see and feel God's love; remember that you might be the only glimpse outside the cell doors they see of Him

* donate clothing, food, grocery and super store gift cards, hygiene products, writing materials, journals, stamps and envelopes, calling cards and study materials to your local housing ministries including women's prison ministries

* consider "sponsoring" a woman's entrance into a halfway house or transitional housing program (usually $200-300)

* call your County officials and get involved with their reintegration planning in your local area; they have a state mandate to have a program in place

*get educated about your local community; how many ex offenders are being released back into your county and home town so you are aware of the needs

* finally, pray, each and every day that a new child in Christ coming back out into the free world can and does find what they need to succeed.

Make a choice that 2011 is the year you get involved, get excited about Christ and the changes he makes in the lives of those behind bars. Remember that most of the individuals currently serving time WILL see the light of day. Most come out wanting to change but few have the support, coping skills or new tools to make it.

As true believers, you know Christ today works in the lives of ALL his children! He is working inside some dark places that many of you will never see or know about. He is alive and well inside the county jails and prisons; changing the hearts and lives of many hurting women inside and those leaving. He is stirring the desires for change in them and perhaps even in you as you read this!

We know this! But we also know that what brought many to their time of incarceration is a powerful force that preys on the weak and without God and prayer, the darkness easily can take over. Don't let it. Love your new sister in Christ as you meet her or help those who are working hard to serve in this unique mission field. Just take action.

Tomorrow I'll be making phone calls and writing letters to insure that those who are working with my friend get a full picture of her support network she will have when she can make it to our ministry housing. Tonight I will lift her in prayer.

God bless you all as you look to 2011 with hope and faith; as you reach out to God to show you how best to serve His Kingdom and how best to walk out your love for Him and His children.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

I know the thoughts I think toward you......

Recently I've had the honor of giving my personal testimony at a women's retreat in Clifton, TX, a probation/parole support group in Round Rock, TX and now have been invited to Whitney, TX and into Lane Murray Unit with Linda Strom to again share the wonderful work of God in my life. I cannot tell you how much sharing God's amazing work with others means to me. I cannot begin to express how His love for me in my most sinful season and His use of me since that day on my knees has changed my heart and my life's direction. All I can do is share my story whenever He asks me to and pray His message and His words fall from my mouth.

But the beauty of our personal testimonies is not in the story itself; its in the process that continues as we walk with Christ in our life! My testimony doesn't end til the day He brings me home to Him and that alone is a miracle worth sharing! Each day He works with me, molding me as the potter does and slowly transforming my life into something beautiful that He can show the world - "This is my creation, made in my likeness...." I am His. I am humbled and made meek at the thought of His love for me, His attention to my life and His call upon me that was chosen just for me.

I have lived most of my life in the past, fretting over a misspoke word or hiding from a deed that caused me shame. I regretted lost relationships. I mourned old loves. I tormented myself over past opportunities. Hope wasn't something I felt in my heart because hope had to do with today and tomorrow but I was mired in yesterday. But scripture tells us "Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" Heb 11:1 (NKJV) God has revealed my past to me only to share with me my need for Him but not for any purpose in His future for me. My new faith tells me He has other plans that have nothing to do with my past and only to do with His plans for me and I am reminded out of bondage comes His promise in Jeremiah 29:11 " For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope" (NKJV)

While I can live in the past and only see what is behind me, I gain nothing in my surrender and belief in my Lord Jesus Christ. Or I can choose to look forward to His promises of today and tomorrow! I can live with the assurance He knows and meets my daily needs and His plans for me are far more glorious than I could ever imagine.

I have no idea what He has planned. I only know that today I am to tell my story, He keeps adding to it and together with my face turned toward Him I am prepared to be His hands and feet.

I love my Lord, I love the story He is weaving in my life and I am grateful, gloriously grateful that He chose to use me. While I rush through my days and stop as often as I can to call upon Him, remember Him and look to Him; what a comfort it is to know "...I know the thoughts I think toward you..." are constant and never failing. To God be the Glory!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

God’s Daughter

What a joyous thing it is when our prayers are answered, despite how they might look!

I was a single mother, raising two kids, holding down a responsible job that demanded both my time and my emotional energy but the work – well I truly loved it and felt I was making a difference. Problem was, I had problems of my own.

I was married in 1979 to the man I felt I would spend the rest of my life with but despite even my best laid plans, that just didn’t happen. Some blame me. Some blame him. All that doesn’t matter. What matters are the results of those decisions and the life that began that day in January of 1997. I went from almost holding on to sanity to a just barely sane existence cleverly disguised as a mother, student and professional volunteer director in the non-profit sector. My professional life grew as my educational goals were met but my heart remained broken and my spirit remained empty and void of substance.

As a child, my life looked pretty ordinary. I was the baby daughter of a professional father and stay at home mother. I had an older brother that enlisted in the Air Force at 18 and was gone for the better part of my high school years. Though my parents divorced when I was ten, we still looked pretty normal for the mid 70’s. Divorce was becoming less and less taboo. Single moms were entering the work force and shortly after I entered high school, my Mom took a full time job at a local dry cleaner.

I never really wanted for much. My mom was a responsible woman who paid her bills, had a couple of credit cards “for emergencies only” and for the most part kept all topics of financial management quiet. It was considered a personal topic. But though we lived in a modest apartment and I didn’t always wear the latest designer this or that, I still had much of what a teenager wants and needs. My mom’s family was close by, we had regular celebrations at Christmas and Thanksgiving and the 4th of July. There were lots of things that normal families went through but there were some things that weren’t so ordinary. There were and probably still are secrets.

There was the “big secret” I held in my heart, the one no one else knew about. The childhood sexual abuse at the hands of my step grandfather that started at about age 12 and went on each visit until I was about 16 when I could come up with a viable enough excuse to cease the visits lay as a bitter secret I would not tell anyone until I was 35 years old.

I kept this secret and from all outside appearances, to most people I looked like an intelligent, accomplished, professional woman.

What I didn’t set out to be was a criminal or a convicted felon. I can honestly say that I didn’t put a lot of thought into what I was doing those three days I went on a spending spree at the expense of others. I just knew that something inside me no longer cared to keep up the sane exterior and a big part of me thought “you can do this, you’re smart enough to get away with it.” One December day I was working for the State, traveling almost daily, usually late into the night, leaving my 15 year old daughter behind and usually robbing Paul to pay Peter; keeping all kinds of financial wolves at bay. I was making a decent living and had child support but never did the ends seem to meet.

Christmas was approaching and I was again on the road to take a child from one placement to another. This 17 year old had disrupted each foster home placement and I was frustrated to say the least. Driving from Round Rock, Texas to Fort Worth to transport this young man from his second placement to his third placement, I watched the gas gauge drop lower and lower. Knowing I would have to use the last few dollars in my bank account to make the round trip, I remembered a gift card in my brief case designated for another foster family. Slowly, with conflicting emotions of “yes” and “no” I pulled the gift card out and stopped at a Target in Mesquite and filled the gas tank, bought some lunch and a charger for my cell phone. I tossed the card back into my brief case and finalized my trip back home to Georgetown.

At some point, something inside just snapped. I can’t explain it. I can’t justify it or rationalize it and even at the time I knew I was risking more than I was willing to lose but something in my moral barometer was just gone. My gas tank was full but the gauge that measured right from wrong was flipping and swirling around like a roulette wheel. The white ball bounced in my mind and I was clearly and quickly out of control.

That night, when I returned to Georgetown, I went to Target again to purchase a new sweater to wear to court the following morning. Part of my job included testifying in child custody cases and this was to be my first termination hearing in my career so I wanted to look the part. With the anger and resentment of the eight hour trip to Fort Worth, Mesquite and back home still raging inside me, I again pulled out the card and readied myself to commit another crime of theft. I walked through the store and picked out a few items, including several Christmas gifts for my own children (my budget was tapped and I had already told my children Christmas would have to wait until January again when I got my income tax refund, a common occurrence for us but something that this time just didn’t feel right.) When I got to the register however, the woman in front of me had left her credit card in the register machine and rather than pull it out and call her back, as the purchases were rung up I slid the card back in and walked out with yet another felony event under my belt.

I cannot really recall all that transpired from this point forward. Though not altered by drugs or alcohol, I was altered by a false and evil sense of anger and entitlement that pushed me to what I am told was a three day spree of using credit cards and gift cards that were not mine. I filled our pantry with food, loaded our tree with gifts and threw in several luxury items for my home and myself such as new bedding and clothing for my office attire. The woman, who had lived most of her life getting what she wanted, took that materialistic desire past the bounds of bad financial management and into the realm of felonious behavior. I was lost, emotionally and spiritually. I had gone from a spend thrift to a thief in the matter of days.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t blame my crimes on the abuse as a child or the broken home or the lack of money management skills I had been taught or the fact that I was pretty much a spoiled child most of my life. I don’t blame my crimes on being overworked or overtired. I don’t blame my crimes on anything other than myself and irrational bad thinking that today still shock my spirit and heart.

What I’ve come to know, however, is that when I sit down and talk with the women in jail and prison that I work with, their stories all start out a lot like mine. Some more tragic, some more simple, some more complex. But we share a common thread. We all came to a moment when our decisions, our best laid out plans fell on the sidewalk like a used gum wrapper and tossed about in the wind without direction or purpose, turning quickly to rubbish. We all felt but didn’t acknowledge that we lacked a loving relationship that felt constant and alive in our hearts and somewhere, one day along our life journey, we just gave up trying.

Less than a month after my crime spree, I found myself sitting inside the Georgetown Police Department and denying with all my might any wrongdoing (I had watched way too much prime time crime shows, I was pleading the 5th and hoping they’d just take my word for things.) Finally, remembering I had one friend who was a lawyer, I asked to speak to her before I did anything else (yes, I “lawyered up”) and then called my son to insure my daughter, then 15 would be met at home when she returned from school.

I can pretend I wasn’t guilty but I was. I can pretend I didn’t deserve what I got but I did. I can blame it on everyone else or I can take responsibility for the fact that my choices have always been my choices; good or bad. But what I can never do is look back now with regret.

The short story of my life is that I had lived without God in my life my entire life. I had been an unchurched child grown into an unchurched woman who knew nothing about a loving God. I never knew there was a God who wanted more for me than I could even dream for myself. And while I was unchurched and unknowing about our Lord Jesus Christ, I had more than once prayed to a God out there somewhere, usually saying “if you are really there…” for something I felt I needed.

And the night before I was arrested I had prayed to God to “save me from myself”.

What a joyous thing it is when our prayers are answered, despite how they might look! God heard my prayer that night and knowing who I was and how I had lived my life to that point, seeing my life from beginning to end and knowing what His plans for me had always been, He stopped me dead in my own tracks and decided it was time we talked.

My college educations didn’t save me. My high IQ didn’t save me. My knowledge of the law, my skills working with people, my ability to con my way into or out of most all situations didn’t save me.

My Lord Jesus Christ saved me. He called me into His family and greeted me warmly, lovingly and without reservation when I chose to invite Him in. With the help of visiting clergy and the slow and patient discipleship I was offered, I came to know Jesus as Lord and knew that nothing in my life would ever again be the same. Slowly God revealed to me His true nature, His full love and His attentive eyes upon my life.

It may have happened in a dark jail cell on the Southside of the Williamson County jail but God met me there. He calmed my spirit, stilled the raging storm inside my soul and allowed me to walk through six months behind bars when I didn’t think I could wake up there one more day. In time, He opened my heart to the reality of my life and the many things He had in store for me to do. He continues to work with me, walk with me and correct me when my flesh attempts to take over. I have learned to love Him, trust Him more and more and want to share with others that He can and will meet you wherever you presently find yourself. If He met me in jail, He’s willing to go anywhere, anytime to bring another of His children home to His heart.

Today, as my new husband Mark and I work toward building permanent transitional Christian housing for women coming out of prison and jail, I know God is at hand in our lives. Spirit House Ministries, Inc. was built to serve and glorify our loving God by meeting the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of God’s daughters. We are often confused, questioning and uncertain where and what to do next. But always, always with confidence we know God is at work in our lives and I am ever grateful He calls me “daughter”.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Just working

Spirit House II is no dream job, the kitchen floor isn't something I'd be happy to be walking on and when we removed the refrigerator, well you don't even want to see that picture! But just like with Unit I, we knew the task before us was for a special daughter of Christ with no options and great fear about her future so we rallied up a team and started in.

Each time we take over a new unit we take over new projects. Mark and I are sure the day when we purchase our first home together, we will have so much experience in home renovations that nothing will be beyond what we feel ready to tackle!

The first weekend had Mark and his brother Ronnie, plastering holes in the walls and measuring for flooring tile, removing receptacle covers and outlet covers to prepare for painting and patching nail holes where pictures and posters once hung.

But here we are at Unit II; preparing for the release of our new sister, Bree, who is anticipating her release on August 12, in less than a month.

As with Belinda's unit, no matter how we put the pencil to calendar, we keep finding it takes about 1 month of Saturdays to get the work done and the beautification complete. That's just the manual labor. It usually takes me a week of phone calls to get utilities turned on in my name (can't get anyone to understand that they should be in the name of the ministry for record keeping but because these aren't commercial properties they just won't do it but I think I've ranted about that before!)

Then its the gathering of the volunteers! This past weekend we were blessed with two newly returned Army servicemen, recently back from Iraq. Their heart for service doesn't end at their deployment, it seems just a wonderful part of who they are and we thank them greatly for their humor, spirit and willingness to jump in!

Then the donations of furniture and household goods, clothes and hygiene and the normal stuff we all learn to take for granted came pouring in from the women's ministry at First Baptist Church in Copperas Cove. Nothing is too small and no detail was overlooked so when we begin to make pretty and finalize the unit it is sure to come together as perfectly as Spirit House I did.

In any one of these units as there are dozens of things you have to remember when putting the place together.

Think of the last time you moved into a new house. It probably wasn't a run down, slum area of your town (maybe it was?) but you still had so much to get accomplished. You scrubbed every floor, bathtub, toilet and cabinet inside and out. There was shelf paper to lay before the glasses went inside. There was shower curtains to hang, new rings for the curtain to buy because somehow you lost two of them on the move from place A to B. There was the new drapery rods that didn't work now on the new windows and the curtains you took with you were a lot more faded than the new paint you just put on the new walls. Details. Things you didn't think about but had to do something about to make it feel liveable and like home to you.

We do the same thing for each of these units as they come together and get them put in a condition that provides a haven for rejuvenation and demonstrates God's abundant love even in modest circumstances.

I'll be real honest. There are times when Mark and I get overwhelmed by the duty we feel bound to follow through on; providing housing and basic necessities to those the world would rather forget.

The same kindness was once shown each of us; through the pastor who took me in after my incarceration and through Mark's brothers and sisters in law after his DWI's. The love, kindness and provision has not been forgotten by us. It drives us to keep going. It always urges me to remember when I walked out of jail with relief and gratitude that I had somewhere to go. I had a shower, real shampoo and a bed waiting for me. Every detail I might need had been thought about. A room decorated, new bedclothes purchased. A table and chair brought in. A television with cable sat atop a dresser.

When the joy is seen on the faces of those we serve, we feel the gratitude and love from the women we house and write to and provide for. We revel in the relief and joy we are able to witness when they walk out the gates of prison. We feel the blessings in sharing this experience. In those moments I admit to wondering if I'm doing this for those moments, for those words of praise and thanks given my way. I cannot help but enjoy and bask somewhat in their expressions of gratitude toward me when I know the only reason Mark and I are able to do this is because of the abundant love God is sending through us. God keeps growing our business so we can grow the ministry. I never want to forget that God provides all and simply uses us to provide.

We don't want to ever feel we are doing this for any other reason than to show that God works in all places, through all of His followers and ALWAYS for His glory, not ours. I also know He is using a large army of volunteers, donors and others who are beginning to have the same spark fired in them to assist us in our mission to love God's daughter's out of the darkness of their past to the beautiful light of His future plans for them.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Conferences are awesome.  You are put in a room full of generally like minded people, coming together to solve problems, network, gain information and exchange knowledge.  They serve so many wonderful purposes and I have the privilege of attending Prison Fellowship Ministry's Out4Life Conference in San Antonio, TX!

But unlike other conferences, this one has one up on most!  God is here!  He's here and He's working miracles!  And today I was able to witness a miracle right as it was happening!

Last night, this conference was televised on the local news.  That's a pretty common practice, right?  Large group of folks gather for an interesting topic like prison ministry and the news decided to take a moment, no doubt for a "feel good" piece to round out the daily reporting of more negative newsworthy items.  That's pretty awesome in itself.

But what is more awesome is how God works when His children gather and seekers seek Him.

Unknown to all of us at the conference, an ex-offender in the area, struggling and scared, was watching the news and came across the conference.  God raised up in him the courage to find his way (by foot) to the Double Tree Hotel in north San Antonio, walk in to a roomful of people, not knowing what he might find or how me might be received, and simply ask for help.

He has now been connected with over a dozen folks who are working with him on housing, employment, legal and other immediate needs issues and it happened within minutes.   Folks gathered around him to pray and then God's army of servants went to work to start finding him the support he needs to stay Out4Life!

If nothing else happens in this conference, and trust me, alot already has....witnessing our living, working, involved God in action in those moments made the whole trip worth while.

Tonight, when you lay your head down to sleep, pray for Daniel and the many men and women who seek God and are often rejected by the world, even the church!  Praise God that Daniel was loved, embraced and is going to be cared for in the way the church is called to operate!  And then thank God that He's there for you and your family and that you have a God that moves and acts and loves us so well!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Love, God

Last night I talked to Juanita, the mother of an ex offender, out on parole. This strong, multi-lingual woman has taken herself from first generation American to impressive female business owner who has supported her two children through opening and running an English as a second language school in Mesquite, Texas. She has worked hard and earned her way. She is a Christ believing, spirit filled mother who for years has been tormented by her children's choices.

You see, both her son and daugther have chosen a life of drugs, night clubs, partying, laziness and fast money schemes.

Her daugther, the one with whom I was calling to inquire about was in WILCO with me back in '07. She was one of several who would spend their nights up reading Christian teaching books, the Bible and praying together. As the days passed, she was sentenced to 5 years TDC and was paroled out in February of 2008. I had picked her up from the Gatesville Unit and spent the day delivering her to her parole officer, and then to her family for a reunion that brought a lump in my throat.

During Monica's stay in TDC, I began vising her monthly to encourage her to continue her walk with Christ and to create after release plans that included church attendance, bible study and a real reconciliation with her mother most of all.

Juanita was so pleased to hear from me last night though she had nothing positive to report on her daughter She has no idea where she is living or working or how she is making her money. The only reason she knows she is still alive is because of the cell phone on their family plan that Monica uses; and when she doesn't receive Monica's payment for her portion, Mom, utilizing boundaries with her children, cuts off her phone which always prompts a call from daughter. But as she said, at least then I know she is still alive; otherwise I would have no idea is she is okay.

Juanita is tired, she is sad and yet she is also determined that strong boundaries with her children are the only thing she can do to remain focused on taking care of herself; because worrying and rescuing her children was literally killing her. What Juanita does know of her daughter's life is that she was going to the methadone clinic but back using heroine as well. She knows her daughter is always broke and always calling to beg for money which she will not supply. She knows she is struggling and lost again to "the world" that quickly drug her back from a jail saved seeker of Christ into a living in the flesh lost soul.

But here's the real tragedy and here is where I believe some real blame lays. The week I made arrangements to pick Monica up from her release, I had arranged to deliver her to parole and then to bring her from Mesquite to Georgetown to spend two weeks or so with myself and Pastor Joy (the same woman who walked me to my decision for Christ) to gird her up in her faith and spend some time outside the prison walls in a God centered friendship and fellowship. Parole agreed.....

until we arrived there in Mesquite and suddenly they decided they had several "classes" and appointments she needed to attend. None of which helped to encourage her faith or give her solid resources to lean upon until she could find a strong support system outside! Now I know that day I was much inconvenienced by all the driving but I didn't mind. Monica and I had a chance to enjoy a meal together, talk for the several hour drive to her home and for a time with her family as they just basked in the reunion!

The problem, however, was the lack of support by parole and their own bureaucracy to consider solutions outside their box. Faith based programs are showing the highest rate of success and yet secular systems such as probation and parole are not yet fully embracing these options.

Could this have made a difference in her life and her choices since release? The answer is obviously yes, it could have! It is a guarantee? Of course not. We are fallible, flawed humans who are always free to continue making bad choices. But when options are closed to us during those vital first days of transition, when direct discipleship is mandated as a "no go" for reasons that are legalistic, secular stubborness then a grave injustice has contributed to the problem rather than supporting solutions.

I am searching for Monica, hoping to find her and get a chance to remind her of our spirit filled days in F5. I know if God put her in my mind and heart, then He has a reason. Experience shows us that those who are faithfully discipled upon release have a far greater chance at success than those that don't. Changes must be made to insure that Godly relationships are not disrupted or interfered with by over zealous, under discipled authority.

Yes, as I reflect on my conversation with Juanita, I am infuriated that another child is lost to the world for the time being and that hands in authority in our secular world had a part in that.

There are no easy answers but to again, as always, rest in God and pray fervently for each and every woman He places on our hearts. "Monica, I'm here for you. Love, God"

Monday, June 21, 2010

I might be a little sleepy but God has other plans.

When God moves in our lives its kind of hard to ignore.

You do things totally out of character. People respond to you in totally new ways. Closed doors open and open doors just slam shut. Energy levels go through the roof and things that have been weighing you down are checked off your "to do" list because they just magically get done and you stand back thinking "I' put that off for that long why?? That took me all of ten minutes!"

Okay, well maybe that's how God works in the world of the great procrastinators like myself and He probably works differently in your life! But the end result is just the same. Stuff gets done!!!!!!!!

Good stuff.

Exciting stuff.

I have to admit that last night as I saw the clock tick toward 1 AM I was hesitant to get to bed. Why? Because that meant Monday and a deskload of promises were all set before me that I had put off for too many days to count now. I slept late and I finally got nudged out of bed by my adorable husband who asked "Is it getting out of bed today or just hiding?" Like any good procrastinator I wanted to hide. Hiding is warm because you are still in your jammies, cuddled in the little nook of blankets you've wound around yourself and you can still play
"Leslie in wonderland" in your twilight dreams when you aren't quite awake and you aren't quite asleep. But alas Mark was headed out the door and I really was awake no matter how cozy I was so time was a ticking on by.

But lo and behold the minute I got my eyeglasses on my face and listened to my voice mail God sprang me out of bed and into action. By the time I sat down to lunch I was praising God and thanking Him for working so miraculously in my life, always in ways I would not have done or even thought of myself.

God is my God, my miracle worker and His Son, Jesus Christ, is my personal savior to whom I owe all glory and praise. It may sound trite and over used but without Him I am nothing and without the infusion of the Holy Spirit in my life I can do nothing. I am excited to be His and to watch Him work in my life, an ordinary life He makes extraordinary with each passing day He allows me to again be His servant.

My reach expands to new seeking women and the doors that are opened are the ones I know should be opened. I am victorious in all things and happy in heart and spirit that no man can touch! God has much to do and I am ever so grateful He is using me in His plans. I may get sleepy, I be tired; and I know when I lay my head down to rest, God smiles at His child sleeping so peacefully as I did when watching my own children sleep...but its now Monday morning and God has other plans.

Friday, May 21, 2010

He keeps showing up!

The ladies I've been working with at the Woodman State Jail have really come a long way in the nine weeks we've been together. They moved from a detached, guarded collection of inmate numbers to a prayerful, spirit-filled sisterhood. The change and growth is amazing as I knew it would be!

When we started out, each lady came to the group knowing they would have to share their story and give an accounting of the wrongs they had committed as best they could remember and felt safe enough to do. You could see the wheels turning in their minds those first weeks as they determined what and how much to share. There's nothing surprising about their mindset; they don't live in a safe environment that garners trust among the inhabitants or the staff! The first few testimonies and accountings were, shall we say, guarded. Brief descriptions and stories that for the most part left the inmate intact, usually showing herself to be a victim as well. And why not? There isn't a one in there I will lay money who isn't a victim of at least one crime perpetrated against them! I've said it before and I'll say it as many times as I must, the world is a fallen place and each lady we meet has a story that includes harm done to them and harm they've done to others. I was no different.

But change comes when repentance is heartfelt deep and these ladies have started that journey to reconciliation with their God, their families, their communities and themselves. The stories are more detailed. The list of their victims are longer. The acceptance of one another deeper and more honest.

These women truly do amaze me. They are sharing details of their lives that their families do not even know. They are trusting one another with secrets and shame and guilt. They are finding acceptance and love and mercy from God through one another. It's a startling reality that life isn't pretty and that if we are brutally honest about our own lives, we have much to be forgiven for from a God who knows and sees all but waits for us to ask!

I am honored that I am a part of this process in their lives and I am strengthened and encouraged as I watch them each in their journey. They are God filling, God fearing women and they are changing. I too am changing and am being allowed another opportunity by God to address my own transgressions and short comings. I am allowed a new morning to start over when needed and to reproach myself in all things that need addressing. These women provide me the courage to step outside the walls of comfort that are often formed when things appear to be going right and well for us, and to look deeper into my life to find the hidden sins that seem innocent or small. I am reminded how far God has taken me as I watch these women struggle with forgiveness; the forgiveness they seek from themselves!

I am reminded of the early days in WILCO when my heart was peeled raw from anguish over the things I had done to my children, my family, my coworkers and my community. At this point in my life, God was not a part of the equation and I probably could not have handled that guilt on top of what I was already feeling. But God has His perfect plan for our salvation, our forgiveness and even our healing from our own mistakes. Once I had calmed enough to approach Him on matters of salvation and invitation, He then set about working on the matters of personal accountability and forgiveness. What I learned over time was that the two go hand in hand, both from God and from ourselves. I walked through every emotion I think God ever invented. I was tormented and angry and bitter and ashamed and fearful and snide and uncooperative and submissive and idle and anxious. How many ways did my heart turn?

As I watch these women recount their crimes and their lives, I watch them move in and through a dozen or more emotions in the stretch of a two hour session. I am moved by the way God takes them from place to place in their heart in order for them to fully examine with His care all that they have lived through and done.

In time, as with all seasons of our lives, this too will pass into the yesterday and new things will confront each of us. But I can be sure now that no matter what I face, what I decide, what I do; I have a God who loves me enough to be there with me and to carefully help me along angled roads I cannot traverse on my own. Each of these women are also learning to walk a straighter walk down curved roads and they are learning to rely on the same God I met back in 2007; the right now, on time, ever faithful God of love. He just keeps showing up!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The phone rang today. I heard a recorded voice announce I had a call from "Trish", would I accept this free call? The recording then said "after your free call you will be directed to our operators to set up an account to continue taking calls from this number". I knew in an instant that our friend, "Trish" was trying to call from inside Williamson County jail. She answered, we said a quick hello and then just as she started to say "they are going to..." the call cut off. Literally within about 20 seconds our "free call" was disconnected.

I sighed and tried to move through the process of setting up our cell phone for a prepaid account. I tried to get them to quote rates to me. I tried to establish a minimum that was required to set up this "prepaid account". I spent about 45 messing around their website and on the phone trying to wade through the muck that is set up for friends and family to accept calls from those incarcerated. I somehow, through God alone, stayed calm but was not able to set things in motion. I wasn't about to give this outfit my credit card number! Uh no thank you! Then as I perused their website, to the best I could determine, they wanted to charge me $4.65 a MINUTE! Seriously!

I went to the county website, logged on to see our friend's booking information and realized why she was calling. She's about to be moved from Williamson County to Hays County. She's at day 39 and in no more than 45 days, the offense county has to come get her. She's pulling chain tonight and I know exactly why she is calling. She wants someone to know where she is!

So often, during the process of adjudicating someone, they are moved from county to county, then to state facilities; always without time or the ability to notify anyone. In this process a woman is taken by strangers from location to location. She feels alone, lost and scared. Already with an uncertain future, she is moved around by strangers and treated with little respect or concern.

I know, I know! She got herself in this predicament, why all the sympathy?

Simple. She, as well as you and I, is a child of God. She is a wonderfully and fearfully made creation. She is God's.

As the system works to pass her from jail to jail, court to court; she is a number and at best a last name. She is a rap sheet, a list of charges and a disposition.

I have a task to insure she knows she is not lost. The rest of this week will be calling Hays County daily to find when she hits the booking files. I can send her emails there and get a response for her. I can let her know she is remembered and cared for through Christ's abundant love.

I have many thoughts about the various services that have cropped up to provide phone and card and mail service to inmates. I have as many thoughts about the commissary system inside the jails and prisons. At times, what is done to the families and friends and ministry workers that attempt to continue loving these lost men and women incarcerated, it seems a crime in itself. I have to check myself as I walk through these circumstances that I leave the injustices to Him to handle; my task is clear.

I truly love that God puts on my heart the ladies that come into our ministry. They may be the worst of the worst but He asks Mark and I daily to love them and show them the reality that is Christ. Glory to God that He opened this wonderful ministry to us and Glory to God that somehow, in the murky darkness of this world, we heard Him and responded.

Trish is not alone. God won't let her be!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010


I was really excited to learn that I was included in this quarters publication, The Apologist, by the Faithful Steward Ministries and Faithful Steward Ministries Women's Outreach. I was included on pages 17-19. Hope you take a peek and take a look at some of the wonderful work they are doing in this ministry!

Thursday, April 22, 2010

I love my job.

I'm very excited today as I work toward bringing a prison ministry conference to Georgetown. Last fall I met a wonderful group of ministry workers with Restorative Justice Ministries. I told them I would love to work with them on having a conference more centrally located to include many of the Austin area after care programs. They were more than responsive.

We have a date set that I'm trying to coordinate with a local host church willing to give us the space needed for this event. Those calls are all made and I await a return call sometime this afternoon.

This is something I feel very prepared to do. I'm excited about the work and organizing an event. In an old life I did a lot of regional and national conferences; spoke at several of them and worked in bringing a national conference to the Austin area in 2001. It was an exciting time and connected me with many folks in the community technology arena. Today, as I work bringing together fellow ministry workers for a day of collaboration and strengthening our work I know I am working on something pleasing to the Lord and encouraging for each of us involved.

I am reminded that God is all about relationship; with Him first and one another as He has commanded. We are strengthened and encouraged by our relationship with God and that strength and encouragement moves through our relationships with one another. So many times we are quick to devalue interaction with others working in our same industry or job but we should be reminded that there is little work that doesn't involve other people in some way. Even those most solitary of work either impacts another or provides another with a service or tool for their life; there is little we can do that doesn't have a relational aspect to it.

In ministry, the very definition of the word is relational. Websters defines ministry as "an act or instance of ministering; ministration; service. the service, functions, or profession of a minister of religion." Notice how the word "service" is in both definitional parts. I challenge you to perform the verb "service" without some relational aspect. And in this I am reminded about the very core of what we do!

Whether we are serving the women coming out of prison or working with other ministry workers toward a common goal, we are in an act of service to God, to our clients, to our community and toward one another. I am strengthened by relationship and I strengthen relationships through service; through ministry. What a better way to celebrate and increase my impact for Him than through this upcoming conference and the work that goes into it. I love my job!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

A Nation in Prayer

This was shared with me from a dear friend. I had to pass this along. While I don't normally post from other's emails or commonly forwarded material, I felt this worth sharing.

Evening Prayer

Someone has said that if Christians really understood the full extent of the power we have available through prayer, we might be speechless.

Did you know that during WWII there was an advisor to Churchill who organized a group of people who dropped what they were doing every day at a prescribed hour for one minute to collectively pray for the safety of England, its people and peace?

There is now a group of people organizing the same thing here in America . If you would like to participate: Every evening at 9:00 PM Eastern Time (8:00 PM Central) (7:00 PM Mountain) (6:00 PM Pacific), stop whatever you are doing and spend one minute praying for the safety of the United States, our troops, our citizens, and for a return to a Godly nation. If you know anyone else who would like to participate, please pass this along. Our prayers are the most powerful asset we have. Please forward this to your praying friends.

Cleaning my desk

Do you ever feel like you can't start a new project or even finish a half done one up before you get organized, cleaning all around your work space and then settle in for the creative stuff? For me that struck this week as I've quarantined myself at home for several health issues that just need time to pass and heal.

Yet God is tugging at my heart to finish my story, update my blog and work on putting together the stories that glorify Him. But today, even after moving my lap top back onto my desk (which took some clearing off itself!) I couldn't sit down and get a thing done until I had some room around me. The remnants of a recent retreat were still piled next to my desk; bags that hadn't been unpacked and stacks of paperwork, filing and just "stuff" abounding around me.

I see progress now though. My desk is taking some shape, yes a big pile remains that I know I have to go through but I am working through the details bit by bit.

Its far from perfect, but then again, so am I. We work well together, this little desk and I but I need some room!

God is working with me on many things right now; organization. Procrastination. Patience. Vision. Direction. I'm hearing the organization messages loud and clear and I become more discontent with the chaos around me. I think that's how God works with us too. He puts little things in our heart that say "I don't like this anymore." and we can start to see how changing that one little thing changes us inside. When I listen to that heart message, and act upon it, I am obedient. When I hear the message and ignore it, several things happen. I shut God out of my life, even unintentionally and I miss out on the blessing of His teaching.

I was taught that in Exodus as God gave Moses the ten commandments He said "I give you these commandments so things may go well for you," and I reflect on this even now. When I listen to God's commandments or direction in my life, things usually seem to go well for me. When I ignore that voice in the quiet, go my own way or orchestrate my own actions, I often find things get pretty mucked up in a hurry.

God has purpose and plan for each of us. He has direction He knows is in our best interest. He needs to refine each of us in order that we carry out His plan and purpose and I think He does this through a long series of events and choices and options. The more I listen and follow directions, the closer I am to seeing and understanding God's plan for my life. I am starting that with simply learning to hear His voice and acting upon what I hear. As silly as it may sound, today I really think God wanted me to get some things cleared away and cleaned up so I could focus on some tasks that need my attention.

I have taken time to get through surgery and recover from bronchitis, asthma and now ear infections. I am ready to work again and though I still need some quiet time to let the doctor prescribed medications take full hold, I have much I can do right here at my desk. But first, God said it clearly, you have to be able to find that desk.

Tomorrow I plan on study and prayer time. God has much for me to do and I need to hear what that is. I know no other way than to give the day to Him. I'll let Him take it from there.

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