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

News!

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!

Books worth a look

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