Thursday, March 18, 2010

My editor

I spent 182 days in Williamson County Jail. In a life of now 48 years, that doesn't sound like much time. Almost three years later, as I work to document those days, the staff, court personnel and the women I shared "our house" with I am slowly seeing it all in a very different way.

Early on in my "stay" I began making notes of experiences, events, processes and people; the writer living inside me since I was a small child wanted to insure this very BIG experience wasn't lost to just another blurred memory. I wanted to keep alive everything I was going through and in the beginning it was for purposes that were less than noble, I wanted to figure out how to make money off my bad circumstances. That's the brutal truth. I wanted to write some "tell all" book to expose the injustices within the justice system and the often inhumane treatment that exists in our jails and prisons. Brutal, honest truth. Over time my notes became a scrapbook of words, a way to vividly remember the unique, diverse and interesting women that were housed in WILCO during that time. Monica, Kristan, Nichole, Lori, Patrica, Robyn, Cindi, Hope, Lee, Shannon, Olanda; the list of women and their stories are now a part of our joined history, now a part of my life forever.

Don't get me wrong. There was plenty to write about, the injustice was often quite real. The inhumane treatment not a figment of angry imaginations. I could write a book about that! But God put something on my heart that took this work and those notes in a new direction. He wants His daughter's stories, their testimonies to be clearly a reflection of His love. That's my task, starting with my own story and working right on through each and every story I was to hear, it was and is to be an accurate representation of God's Love and His Grace and His Mercy.

There was a purpose for my experience and in that experience God knew He had placed me where I could find a voice for my life. He also knew that I would never quiet until the stories were told and people could read them. I continue to work toward the goal of publication and I keep gathering stories and notes and interviews and conversations that tell how God has worked in the miraculous lives of the many women I came to know behind bars.

Not a one of those women will tell the same story. Their lives are unique blended experiences that are vividly alive. They may have drugs in common, or prostitution, or theft...they may share an abusive background or relationship. But they are individual women whose lives were continual choices, this direction or that. Some knew God from childhood, others discovered God in jail as I did, still others were being reintroduced to their loving Heavenly Father. Few that I met were unwilling to talk about God. I was probably one of the most stubborn in that regard! And as we talked, the conversations always took on a glow. There was something truly on fire in the dark hours when we would gather and speak quietly about Jesus and faith and what it means to be a Christian. No matter what might be going on in the tank or pod, when women gathered in the quiet to talk, something made the bars fall away and the guards disappear. We were alone with one another and with God.

You often hear that God sets man free and it is no more true than behind bars. When you feel His presence in your heart and with you right where you are, not even the cold steel and concrete of jail can make your heart feel trapped or caged. You are free in spirit and free in faith and free in love. God takes you from the empty night and brings you to His light. Those are the stories that we shared. Stories of how yesterday and today don't matter as much as the love our God has for us.

I will never forget those moments in jail when I sat contently on my bunk as though on my bed at home. Reading and writing and taking notes as though I was studying for a college exam and not writing on a steel bunk in county jail. I will never forget how God transported my mind away from the failure and shame of my actions to focus on our relationship alone.

And while I might have spent time planning my tell all book, God had other things in mind. Who am I to disregard my editor? He is the author and finisher!

Friday, March 12, 2010

When I sit down to write on my book or blog, two things are always true, I am in a good mood and I am feeling inspired to share something even if I don't know what that "something" is. Today these truths hold firm. But it has me wondering...why am I so unwilling to write when I'm in a bad mood? What keeps me from sharing the negative feelings? Why am I so careful not to expose the bad the days, the unjoyful days, the days void of something happy and light?

Even as I write this, it is amazing to me how the words just seem to type themselves and a message, not what I intended but what God would have me write seems to get created and put on screen. I am thinking about the negative, always a part of our lives at some point in time, even if only for a moment, and I am reminded of the images of the "church people" of my past. The perfectly dressed, perfectly combed and brushed and curled with pearls church ladies that always made me feel frumpy and inadequate. I think of the men in suits that always looked so much more dapper than my husband, more dapper and somehow more successful that dropped their checks in the basket for all to see as the highly polished brass plate was passed by. I think of the children, all spit-shined with stark white anklets and severly pressed dress pants.

And how nothing negative ever seem to hang over any of them except my perception of my life in comparison to theirs.

Then one day, while still living with Pastor Joy, she drug me to a woman's retreat at our church. The ladies, like all the ladies of church I had ever known were dressed and polished, hair perky and perfectly cut, clothes ironed to perfection, jewelry in perfect balance with the clothes and colors. They gathered, chittering and chatting, anxious to hear our guest speaker, Linda Strom, who wrote the book "Karla Fay Tucker: Set Free".

Linda Strom brought a speaker with her as well and the day was a journey in both their testimonies and my perception of the perfect church ladies I had ever known began to change. As the day moved from worship to testimony to growing activities I saw these women in a whole new way. One exercise had us gathered in groups of four or five women; all to tell something about their struggles and the times in their life when they could not feel God close or leaned on Him the most.

I sat in my group, certain I knew what I was about to hear - stories about the twins having chicken pox at the same time or the struggle to deal with a gossipy neighbor. I was sure the stories would be guarded reflections of trifling "challenges" while I still wondered, fresh out of incarceration, how I would ever rebuild my life.

The first lady started, tears already welling in her eyes as she talked about the infidelity of her husband and how she wasn't sure they would ever see their way out of the debt he had racked up during his affair, let alone her ability to forgive and most past his betrayal. The next lady, in response to one of the days speakers shared her story about her rape she had always hidden away but now felt free to admit it was a part of her life. My criminal history and my own tortured past which included childhood sexual abuse as well didn't seem as dark and unfamiliar. Each woman shared more than I ever knew lived behind the leaded glass front doors on the perfect Norman Rockwell houses and I was more than surprised, I was relieved.

I had lived my entire life avoiding that place where I felt the most out of sync; church. I had lived my entire life feeling as though all the people there had much to feel blessed about and that is why they were there. I had little I could feel was praise worthy in my life and therefore I didn't belong!

Why, oh why do we think we have to put on shiny, perfect faces when the lives of so many in each and every church is made up of trauma, crime, violence, betrayal, and grief. Why do we feel compelled to put on a smile when there is pain deep inside us? Why must we present our lives as a testament to perfection separating us from the reality of life?

The truth is we live in a fallen world and each and every one of us are at some point affected by its fallenness. People are hurting and healing, grieving and coming to joy, addicted and recovering, betraying and reconciling each and every day. People feel less, inferior, unloved, unloveable, inadequate and small; but many are transformed by a BIG, more than enough God that sees them as His wonderful creations and we seek to feel that acceptable, uncompromising love every time we step inside the walls of His Church.

I had to go to jail, fail in every aspect of my life, be dragged to church and a woman's retreat before I knew the truth behind the faces...the contentment and joy that only God provides. I had to be desperate enough to change what my life had been before I could see that others shared my story and now my God. The brave and loving women who embraced me and shared with me their true lives that day changed the way I looked at church, myself and the perfect "church women" I had always loathed and envied.

I never want to be the negative Nellie that has to point out the bad in every situation or drone on about social injustice, crime, violence, bigotry, racism, the economy, politics and the state of the country and world. But I also don't want to ignore that the Church, the people who feel it necessary to present perfect lives need to have a voice and a place to share with the entire body of Christ all that they have lived through and all that God has done in their lives!

Our honesty with ourselves, each other and our wonderful God about the negative in our lives opens our lives to what God can do. Believing that faking it til we make it keeps us in control but gives God little room in our lives. Believing that God already knows the darkest parts of our lives invites Him in to do that only He can do. Being honest with one another gives us each a safe and loving place to rest together while we wait on Him to move in our lives.

I think of that day often, thankful in my heart that God again was revealing a truth to me about His church and His children. Just like the perfectly coiffed women of my torment, I saw the tortured, turbulent lives behind the make up and hair and perfect clothes. I saw that God made me just the way He intended; imperfect and living in this fallen world. He made me for His purpose and just like the lady in pearls next to me, I too have a destiny. No less or more precious than the family in the pew in front of me, I am His child, His daughter, His creation. And though my life has had its share of negative, He knew all of this even before He breathed life into me and I am as much His child as anyone else, just as loved, just as treasured. And like those many men and women in Church, I have secrets and fears and insecurities that I don't let the world see, for my own reasons.

To the women who shared with me that day, thank you. To my friends, sisters and church, thank you. Though you may not be willing or ready to reveal your truth to me, I know it's there and I love you. To my God who revealed this and many truths to me since we met, thank you, and I praise you for all that you are and all that you have done for me.

I am imperfect and I am loving it. I'm ready to share your imperfection too. I pray for you that whatever holds you back from an authentic life, you too are set free...because we are all one Body of Christ and all living in the same fallen world. God bless us all!

Books worth a look

There was an error in this gadget