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!