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”.