Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The holidays.........

Happy Holidays?

I don't think so. It's Christmas. It's Christ's birth celebration.

And we gather round our families, dinner tables laden with the most savory foods and wonderful desserts. We exchange gifts. We may even sing carols and participate in church programs. We are busy and filled with a special joy that at no other time do we feel.


But there are places that aren't laden with wonderful foods and gifts all around. There are women and men who want the day to pass quickly and quietly so they don't have to ponder their families "out there" without them.

They sit behind their bars and may receive a hygiene package from the Salvation Army or a small pack of necessities given by a ministry here and there. But they are not allowed to share with one another if they can afford commissary and another inmate cannot. They are not allowed to watch every sappy Christmas movie on TV. They are not even in some units allowed to gather together simply to break out in carols if they choose.

I was fortunate during my incarceration; because I did not miss Thanksgiving or Christmas. I did not miss out on the holidays that in our family were of the highest importance. I may have missed other holidays and birthdays but I was home in time for the holidays and I cannot imagine what my state of mind might have been had I had to spend Christmas behind bars.

Especially in the early days of my time behind bars, those times when I did not have a relationship with Christ, Christmas would have had a far different meaning to me and I would have focused totally on what I was missing and what I did not have and could not do. I would not have focused on the birth of our Savior and the grand plan the God of all had put in place.

I pray as you gather round your tables and trees and gather in celebration; that you say a prayer to the one who came to save, for each and every man and woman currently behind bars. I pray you lift them up that they find peace and the love that only God can provide during this very special time of year and no matter your circumstances or what you face, realize you are blessed beyond measure. You are out here, reading this blog, preparing for your "holidays" and hopefully focusing on the great "I AM". He was born a baby, brought the Good News to us that we can be saved and died on a cross for each and everyone of us; even the least of us we may want to forget about.

Pray for them. Those you might call your enemies. Pray. And be thankful and joyful. Christ is born.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Learning to love

Last night I finished rereading the letters I had written to my father during my incarceration. Wow.

I remember thinking I was writing pleading, but loving letters of apology and remorse. Our memory is jaded in times of stress to say the least.

Bottom line, I was angry. I was bitter and hateful and striking out at the only person that seemed to be working the most to take care of my life details and staying in touch with me through it all! I not only lashed out at my father through almost all the letters in the first two months but I confessed just about every negative, horrible, criminal, immoral act I had ever committed for great shock value! I was "off the chain"!

Then "the letter" - the letter after the night I accepted Christ and I could read something new. A peace, a calm, a resolve; but more importantly a reaching out to my dad that I cared and I was sorry and I truly wanted something different. I expressed my confusion at my life without blame and anger. I wrote about my childhood memories and experiences with a broken but hopeful heart. I wrote page after page that sounded like a different person than before.

Then there was silence.

My Dad sent me all the letters he could find that I had mailed to him during my time in jail; letter after angry letter for two and half months...then "the letter"...then silence.

When he sent the letters to me he included a short note:

Hi Hon:

Here are all that I can find.

There seems to be a large gap in correspondence from the end of April until shortly before your release. That may be due to more phone calls - I dunno.

Love,
Dad

Due to more phone calls? There were very few calls during that time. I remember going from constantly calling and constantly begging to a time of peace with God as I read the Bible and walked through the first few months of my relationship with my Heavenly Father.

I knew, when I read the short note that there were no missing letters. There was a special time in which I was totally focused on God and the only letters I wrote were to the clergy, Joy, asking questions and writing about what I was reading.

I do remember that time; a special, private time that God and I became friends. A time alone when He told me things I had never known about Him and about me. A time when my heart was softening, my words were changing and my actions were focused more on others than myself. I was talking with others about God, I was reading and sharing when asked and I was spending time alone rather than in the fray of things.

My final letter to my Dad before I was released was gentle, kind, hopeful but somewhat scared of the future. I thanked him for all he had done and talked about what it had been like inside. I described a sincere desire to have God heal my heart. I have him a glimpse of the women I had met (without the purpose of scaring him or manipulating him into action.) I talked about how Joy and I were talking about creating a ministry and what that would mean for my life outside of here. I even said I realized now how all this was the best thing to ever happen to me as I knew I was on a downward spiral that wasn't going to end well.

Mostly I talked about life in jail; the legend of Jeffrey (the jailhouse ghost) and singing with the girls during times of levity. I talked about seeing people differently and learning to have tolerance where anger and arrogance had always been.

The letter was eight pages long and expressed everything I had been through and how my life was going to change but I was okay with that, no matter how hard.

I had learned that "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Phil 4:13) and that meant walking out the doors and living a life Christ would approve. I was changed. And I think it showed in this last letter. I was 35 days away from release and I was focused on my son's birthday, moving in with Joy and reassuring him I was fine physically and emotionally.

And it ended with:

"...I am sorry for all I've put everyone through but in the end its done some really wonderful things. For one thing I've been able to finally see how much my own Dad loves me; something I never believed before. It has to be all uphill fro here. I'll be in touch soon but maybe not before I am out. I love you. Les"


As insane as it seems, I learned to love in jail.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Excuses and Explanations

I was facing my attorney through the glass window; he asked "Were you on drugs? alcohol? something I can use a defense?"

"No," I replied, head down, hands folded in front of me.

"They have you on camera, there really isn't any way out of this. But if you can give me your reasoning, what you were thinking."

A few weeks later, standing in the court room, the prosecutor asked "Do you have a drug or alcohol problem?"

Then the Court Clerk, conducting the pre-probation interview asked the same thing. "What were you thinking? Do you have a drug addiction or problem with alcohol?" She was angry and barely kept her voice from echoing through the room. She kept at me, "What were you thinking, give me an excuse for this kind of behavior!"

Everyone wanted a reason, an excuse really, that would allow them to be okay with my crimes. Heck, didn't they know I wanted the same thing? I wanted a really good excuse that would allow me to just walk away from this and get the pity and leniency that others were being shown.

I told my attorney about my childhood sexual abuse, about how lonely and scared and tired I was. I told him about working long hours for the Department of Family and Protective Services and how I was owed over $1200 in travel expenses and money was non-existent for me. I told him lots of things; excuses but not explanations.

I didn't want to sound like I was making excuses, in my heart I really wanted to take full responsibility and I wanted people to see that in my eyes and hear it in my voice and realize that I felt true repentance and shame and guilt; not at getting caught but at what I had done. I wanted them to know I wasn't just some "habitual criminal" that thought I deserved whatever I could get and yet........

There are no excuses or explanations or any words that make bad judgment, bad decisions, bad behavior okay. It is what it is. It's a mistake, some worse than others but all just big ole mistakes. But it's really more than that; it's sin. It's a break from God's moral law and His best idea of who we are. And it is only Him that can make us clean and pure in His eyes again.

But praise Him for so long ago, thousands of years before I would make my "mistakes", He would make a way to preserve, redeem and reconcile He and I. Praise Him for knowing and for creating my salvation long before anyone would know I would need it and praise Him for allowing me the opportunity to need Him so much that I would break down every objection to Him I ever had so that I could accept His free gift of forgiveness, mercy, grace and love.

I've often heard the women I work with say "I'm not trying to make excuses, I'm just trying to explain what happened." The crazy truth is there is little difference between an excuse and an explanation. The truth is I have suffered some of the same tragic experiences that they have; some more, some less. But our past is not an excuse or explanation of our choice of sin. The bible tells us that our sin nature is part of our flesh; and we can either walk in the flesh and go about sinning or we can call upon the power of the Holy Spirit to help us walk with Him and follow only His will for our life.

Today I hope I walk more in the Spirit than in the flesh; I hope as I walk along people see the glow of Him in my life and they don't have to ask "Give me a reason why you did that?" but instead ask "How is it you can do that, I want to live like that!" And I can say, "There's only one explanation and His name is Jesus Christ!"

I hope someday someone will say that to me.....that someday they will want what I have in my heart and they will want it because the way I walk through life shows something that they don't often see. But mostly I want to live a life free of excuses and explanations; living more for Him and less for me.  Everyday, I want to live more in a way that doesn't have a need of excuses and explanations.  Every day I want a chance to say "I do what I do because I have Jesus." and know that is the only explanation that is valid.  Anything less is an excuse for poor living and poor living is sin.  Rich in the Lord; poor in sin.  Explain away that, if you can.  .

Friday, August 5, 2011

We went out to the Lockhart unit, our fourth trip taking Celebrate Recovery Inside to the faith based dorm and as always God is working in each lady; some resistant, some ambivalent, some hungry and anxious. But we do see things happening.

While our ministry sits in a season of sowing and fertilizing; of gathering and refocusing, I am enjoying the time I am spending with God of Hope Ministries and Bridges to Life. They are keeping me humble, grounded and feeling lifted up to the Lord.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ecc 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.
A time to be born and a time to die. A time to plant and a time to harvest.
A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.
A time to scatter stones and a time to gather stones. A time to embrace and a time to turn away.
A time to search and a time to quit searching. A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear and a time to mend. A time to be quiet and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate. A time for war and a time for peace.

Change is something no one seems to do well.  From changes in our lives, our relationships or our routines.  Change is something I learned about in jail; change from this dorm to that, this tank to that, this bunk to that; this schedule and routine to that.  I didn't like it but it wasn't my choice and I learned for the first time in my life, it was a part of life.

The same holds true for how we spend our time, who we have in our lives and what we can count on to be true.  God tells us nothing stays constant in the world we see but Him.  There is a time for everything and everything changes.

My ladies in Woodman and Lockhart live with change.  They live with the overpowering knowledge that tomorrow they could be wisked hundreds of miles away from one unit to another and not just a few doors down but literally to a city and unit that they have no idea where in the state it is; but they must go because the handcuffs that bind them are hard to break.

Out here in the world we think our lives are our own but we forget that we are His and He has plans that are in motion.  We can fight it but the seasons He lays out in our lives are the seasons we will walk through and trusting His purpose for them is the trust we lay at His feet if we are believers.

Change is our part of our lives.  Sowing and reaping, living and dying, laughing and crying, tearing and mending, speaking and silence.  Our family learned this recently and I am reminded that in the end days especially we will find times of turmoil and toil; brother against brother; believer against non believers and change we did not want or could not forsee is a part of a grander plan.

I can only take peace from what I know is constant.  I have a loving, forgiving, everlasting Father in Heaven, whose plans for me are grander than this station in which I find myself and this circumstance that seems so hard.  Our task is to walk through changes and not let the changes change us unless we are certain it is of God's molding and firing but trusting He has our back in all things and He is our rock in the storm.

I pray that today.  My house is shaken but my faith in Him is not.  I'm holding on.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Vengeance is mine.........

I have to admit, I've been watching the Casey Anthony case for the last month.  I had strong opinions about her guilt or innocence and having stood before a judge and a room full of people angry and filled with disdain to say the least toward me personally, I had some idea how it feels to be "judged" by strangers.

As the trial progressed I was sure she was guilty and I was sure she would be convicted; I also became, like many, convinced she would face the death penalty. 

But I had other thoughts as well.  I wondered about her salvation, about whether she was being ministered to and whether she was getting the loving support of Christians who could look past her actions (or alleged actions) to tell her the Good News of her Lord and Savior.  Had she faced the outcome of lethal injection, I DID wonder, who is considering her afterlife and her reconciliation with God.

And even today I wonder who is talking to her about her relationship with Jesus Christ. 

Despite the actions of our lives, we all fall short of the grace and glory of God.  And each and every one of us, in little and big ways have sinned in the eyes of a purely just and righteous God.  In the passion of the headlines and the opinions we form based on news and what we believe our knowledge to be, we often forget that the ultimate questions aren't in this life and in our behaviors as much as our ultimate relationship with Jesus.

I avoid most posts about current events.  I focus on the ladies that we have served and those I meet as I walk into the TDCJ units.  I focus on the ladies I can talk with and share my story with that I hope provides hope and a new look at life as it relates to a life "in Christ".  But this case brought home many emotions in me that I wanted to share; I have been judged and not liked due to my crimes.  I still feel the sting of how my crimes were catagorized and the outcomes today.  I still cannot practice my profession and its still up in the air if I ever will be able to do so.  But I am not the person I was then and I have in my life someone who overshadows all that the world has to say about me.  I rejoice in that.

More than what we think about any case or person we see on the news, the outrage over their actions, the disgust that we somehow are "above" that action or person; we need to remember that we are sinners.  All.  Sin lies deep in each of us and none of us will avoid standing before the Lord. 

No matter what you think about this case or others; remember that our right standing with God is what comes first.  Focusing on our own relationship with Christ will help us deal in a gentler manner with others.  I am reminded of a famous tele-evangelist saying "We aren't called to judge anyone; we are called to love." 

Yes, I agree the heinous acts of some make it hard to "love them" and to find sympathy but if we hope to find ourselves standing before the Lord with more than negatives on our list of "things to discuss" we might want to summon up some emotion outside of hate, rage and anger toward others.  I may still believe Ms. Anthony guilty of her crimes but I am reminded of God's words...."'Vengeance is mine,'saith the Lord." I must leave it in His hands and focus on me and my relationship with Him.  I have to sigh, then look to Him.  Heavenly Father, I ask only for peace and for all hearts that need your love be filled to the full.  In Jesus name, Amen.

http://content.usatoday.com/communities/ondeadline/post/2011/07/casey-anthony-jury-reaches-verdict/1

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Germination

Its been a while. Time passes so quickly we cannot even keep up. Our days are busy, fast and filled with tasks and keeping up with a blog, a business or three and a ministry! Things suffer. This is one of them.


I wished I could say we've moved from our old address and set up housing in a new location but that's not the case; yet. I wished I could say our ministry is growing by leaps and bounds and God is blessing it over and over but it appears He has us in a season of germination.

What I can say is that while we wait on what the Lord directs us to do, we are filled with a happy anticipation that our will is in line with His will and we walk with an assurance that things will come in time.

Right now, we build businesses in the hopes that someday we can employ those coming out of prison and give them liveable wages and a sense of empowerment and self esteem through a hard days honest work. We talk to many about the needs of the ministry and the growing number of homeless in the community. We talk with those working inside the system and we support ourselves and our families through it all.

We have redeemed lives, you see. Lives through Christ that are not what we expected or planned but lives so full to the brim with joy and focus and fulfillment that we cannot find things to complain about and when we do find ourselves griping about this little thing and that....well we find ourselves really rethinking our priorities in life and I for one, immediately go back to scripture to find my roots and reground myself in His truth.

I am happy that I am part of something building toward God's will and I feel that I am walking in His purpose for my life as I work with other organizations and that's wonderful, fabulous and well, its fun! I am His child, busy and happy and loved. Not all days are great and perfect; some are even painful. But I am in the midst of learning more and more how to trust Him in all things and to stop when I find fear creep in, an errant thought or a leaning to the old ways of living. I recognize that I am called to a greater standard and a higher example to others because I have chosen to serve God in my life without exception. And when I get impatient I am reminded that this plan I walk out is not mine and I must slow as He slows me and speed up as He speeds things up. I am to walk with a grace He provides, use a soft voice in most cases and speak strong and loud His name for His sake, not mine.


Memorial Day passed quietly in our family this year. My children enjoyed time with their father and his family while I spent time with my new husband (of three years) and his family. Mark and I enjoyed a wonderful day on Monday just doing things we don't normally do; taking in some local sights and spending time in a local game room at the bowling alley. Life was pleasant.

Next Monday I will resume my facilitation of the Bridges to Life classes in Woodman State Jail working with the women who have chosen to walk through some tough curriculum but wanting something so new to walk them out the gates. In July I will begin taking Celebrate Recovery into the Lockhart units to more women who want to walk through addiction recovery before they leave their tenure behind bars and it appears that is precisely where the Lord is leading me; to work with other ministries that need help while God makes His plans for our ministry clear.

How I love the uncertainty of what God has in mind; keeping us humbled in our plans and on our toes. I trust in Him and am ever grateful always that I am a part of His plans.

And when I question my part in everything, that too sends me back to scripture to be reminded who I am to my creator....and I realize nothing is beyond me as long as I am His. God Bless each and every one of you who choose to read my thoughts and share in our story as it unfolds. He is faithful and I am growing in my faithfulness to His work. Until the next time, find the blessings in the work you do, the company you keep and the quiet of your life.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Free gift with purchase

Some friends of mine have all started cutting and couponing. Like the show, we've started a Facebook group called Coupon Divas and sharing what we find where, what bargains are to be had and what savings are in our local papers. In this economy, the idea of a group sharing resources and information just makes sense.

So much so that one lady even quoted


Proverbs 27:12 "A sensible person sees danger and takes cover,
the inexperienced keep going and are punished"


in her interpretation to help us understand God's perspective on preparing for a later day through stockpiling basic needs and blessing others when the need arises.

I have to admit, getting great deals and using our money in wise and careful ways makes sense. Especially in this economy, most will tout the wisdom and the encourage the behavior and I can't say that I object.

And yet, as I thinking about coupons for the best deal and I started searching to find my friends reference I came across this:

Romans 5:16 "And the result of God's gracious gift is very different from the result of that one man's sin. For Adam's sin led to condemnation, but God's free gift leads to our being made right with God, even though we are guilty of many sins."

And I am reminded that there is but one coupon I need and one plan that will deliver me from danger, harm and destruction; that is the coupon I turned in the day I accepted Christ. It wasn't a tangible piece of paper that saved me a dollar on a pack of dental floss. I didn't splash it all over a Facebook page or website touting my own accomplishment and wisdom; rather, in the quiet of my jail cell I turned over my coupon of salvation, my certificate of life to the One who created me, loves me and wants only the very best for me. I asked He take all that I had that I considered mine and gave it back to the one to whom it really belonged, my Savior.

My freebie coupon, my free gift with purchase was that of my own salvation paid for by the blood of Christ. I could in no way afford this gift and therefore, He gave it free. Free with purchase.

It's the new mantra of the Coupon Divas, "free" and those friends all learning "extreme couponing" aren't happy unless we find someway to coupon our way to "free".

But I will also know, above all else, that the most "extreme" of all gifts with purchase offers was that of the gift given on the cross.


Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The winds of change

Tornadoes are ripping across our country, its amazing to see the devastation and feel the sense of smallness in our world. Lives are being changed each moment as the weather whips and whirls around us. Fires are burning up acres and acres of land, homes, possessions; taking the lives of firefighters and we are almost helpless against it all.

Monday night I sat with nine women serving at least a one year sentence at the Woodman State Jail. To most who look in on this exchange, we cannot imagine anything more devastating as being convicted of a crime and being in prison for even a night! But then we watch the news and are reminded that there are more frightening experiences and more devastating experiences.

As the ten of us talked, I asked them, "Is this the worst experience of your life? the hardest thing you've ever had to endure?" I was not surprised (of course I've lived behind bars and I knew the answer.) as heads shook back and forth; no this was not the hardest thing they'd ever lived through. We found a common ground.

This was not the worst. In only a short hour we had already begun learning that our lives had been intersected with common ground; abuse, neglect, sexual assault, childhood sexual abuse, drug use, bad trips on bad drugs, addiction, loss, harsh pimps, crime in our homes against us.

While each of us in that room had committed crime, we all were able to identify at least one crime perpetrated against us. We were reminded of loss, death, abandonment and devastating, final, terminal conditions in our lives. And like those experiencing the tornadoes, floods and fires currently washing across our country, we knew that no matter how limiting, harsh and frightening prison and jail are, no matter how much we have already endured; our hope lies somewhere else.

Our hope, our ability to wake up in the morning, face the devastation of life - we have to believe in something grander, larger, more loving and compassionate that our current condition. Our hope lies in our redeemer who has in store for us outcomes we cannot know. And like those staring at the rubble of their homes, those in prison stare daily at the rubble of their lives and yet still believe that life can be okay, different, better, more, full, abundant, joyful.

The evening ended with prayer and hugs. Women, many who are not friends, who are not kind or cordial inside those walls with one another, began to find a common place to come together and a common means to be moved by their shared stories and lives. And in the end, when the dust clears and the wind calms, what matters most is the calm that is faith in Jesus Christ.

Let the storms come as they will, let the heartache flood us and let our circumstances be what they will; for in the end we must learn to trust in the One who created us, loves us and knows what our lives are to be. Prison, fire, flood; joy, peace, calm. Some things are not our choice, our responses always are!

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Rituals

Everything seems to have a ritual; the first day of school requires children lined up on sidewalks and front door poses for the camera, brides follow the "something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue", new jobs require a half day of benefits and payroll paperwork....and being released from prison has its own set of rituals.

Inside the gates, women are given Salvation Army rejected clothing, usually men's clothing and processed out with a release packet and divided by front entry release or bus station release. Those at the bus station release are gathered together, shuffled outside with their $50 gate check and taken to Waco, TX bus station. There, a guard arranges for the destination and they are left. The rituals are over. The semblance of familiar is replaced with uncertainty and often fear.

Front gate releasees are greeted by family, friends, perhaps a church outreach or a ministry much like ours; providing a greeting ministry that begins the aftercare provided by Spirit House Ministries. In our Front Gate Ministry, we bring along a set of brand new clothing with tags still hanging. Head to toe coverage; top, bra, jeans, panties, shoes and usually something special thrown in for a reintroduction into their life as a woman on the outside such as a pair of earrings, a bottle of perfume or a small make up bag with essentials.

And for us, as with many who have family or friends, several women are gathered together again inside this Shell station, in the restrooms changing their clothes and usually throwing the rejected Salvation Army clothing into the trash outside. This ritual is both for the mental health of the woman and for the symbolic ritual of putting the new wine into new wine skins. Their new life deserves new clothing; not hand me down, overused and usually gender improper clothing; but beautiful new clothing, shoes that fit and colors that remind them they are women.

You can only imagine the joy these women feel, as they pull out of a bag a complete outfit, sized as best as we could but chosen with them in mind. Great care is taken to choose attractive clothing with a modest appearance.

For our ministry, the rituals continue from Front Gate to First Meal. We always take our ladies out for the restaurant meal of their choice. We've had everything from Arby's to Mc Donalds to Chilis to a Chinese Buffet. There is always something these ladies have craved, missed or seen too many commercials for during their incarceration.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Just a thank you


Our clients come and go; some by choice and others not. Our beautiful friend here, decided in February that she was ready to get out on her own, share a place with another church member and take her new job at Church's chicken (okay admittedly, she does love fried chicken!) and we were so pleased that she came to us, talked about her decision and then in a few days moved on.

What's more fun is when the call comes in later, a month or two down the road, saying she was just thinking about us and wanted to check in. She is doing great, she tells me with excitement and enthusiasm. The church is helping her with transportation and work is going well. She is continuing her volunteer hours at the local homeless shelter to maintain her food stamps, assistance she does still need and she is learning how to be a good roommate and sister in Christ to another woman.

It's like a mother's pride I felt, I have to admit. I remember the day at Woodman State Jail when I interviewed MC to be approved into our housing program. She was polite, fresh faced, sat straight in her chair knowing this was one of those life changing moments. God knew it too. It had nothing to do with Spirit House Ministries, we are just a conduit for what He wants to do in the lives of those that are making great changes toward Him. But we asked to be used by Him and in that day, I gave MC her clearance and directions for her first few days out with Spirit House.

I remember the first day we picked her up; Belinda and I had purchased clothing for her ride home and anxiously drove to the unit and waited. She was shaking with excitement and some fear as she got into our car. She couldn't wait to get off the property and started asking a million questions, thanking us over and over for helping her, for actually showing up, for the clothes she kept pulling out of the bag....the thank yous went on and on. They always do!

Emotionally we tend to invest alot into our sisters; we can't seem to help it and as a women's prison ministry I guess you can't really expect much less. We are, after all, women. We're emotional and attach'y and just like to love on one another in special ways that guys just don't get! So when we make sure there is a pair of earrings in the bag, or some perfume to remind the newly released woman of her femininity, well, the response is always overwhelming.

MC stayed with us for four months. She had her rough spots, her angry spots, her sad spots. Then she had moments of growth and change and joy. I watched her train another in the business aspects of Texas Studios, our print company where we can occasionally give some of the women work when necessary and the job warrants additional hands. I watched her take a young woman, only 23, fresh out of rehab under her wing and calm her those first few days. I saw MC give of herself in new ways, opening herself up for hurt and pain and some tears but also some joy in feeling the changes God was making in her heart.

It doesn't ever hurt to get that phone call that reminds us, no matter the rough spots and hard times in this ministry, that God is doing the work He intended to do and as long as we keep on being obedient to His call and His will, we will be blessed with witnessing the good as well as the struggles. We are made stronger though each and every woman who walks through our doors. But this week it just didn't hurt to get that call, that thank you, that keeps us going too!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Jesus wept.


I was once taught the shortest verse in the bible was "Jesus wept." (John 11:35)

Today I wept; I'm not sure if I wept with God, in submission to God, or because of God but I wept. Deep in my heart as I prayed for myself, my family, my sins, friends who are in times of despair and trouble, for endings and changes that I didn't understand, I wept. I cried out to God and I just let Him hear me in my most honest of places, sadness, confusion, resentments and angers that I know I have not let go. I bore my soul open as completely as I could to Him to receive His cleansing love and then I opened my eyes, picked up the phone and began my day again.

We have made large and radical changes in Spirit House, which of course should not surprise us as change seems to be God's way of putting us back into His will, but I cannot say I have done so without some guilt and sadness and confusion and yes, a tad bit of anger.

On Sunday night I found out another of the ladies I have ministered to since early 2010 is back in jail. A broken heart indeed and though I trust God is protecting her from herself, I am saddened and again wept for her this morning.

But the one thing I am most certain of; no matter how one interprets the passage, "Jesus wept." I know He did and therefore I know when I go to Him in tears, no matter their source, He understands and He accepts my weeping and hears my cries out to Him and I can trust His work that He immediately puts into motion. I know this because I trust His emotions, His weeping and His creation of our feelings. He gave us and created in us each and every emotion that passes through our hearts and because of this I can experience them, take them to Him and know without doubt that He understands them.

Yesterday was a good day; I accomplished much and felt totally buoyed by my Lord that He was seeing things get done that needed done and they were all happening so smoothly that only His hand could have been on the situation. The day ended with a frustrating conversation with Mark and for no other reason than we don't see eye to eye on how to close out some business in the old units and how to move forward in the new direction God is leading us. I can honestly say that neither of us has a clear direction right now and we pray and pray and still God hasn't given us that "booming" voice that we have been asking for, begging for actually.

So today I did all I knew to do; pray. And as soon as I began praying, I began crying. I cried out to the Lord and am confident that He is listening and acting. I have no fear that I wept for if my Lord wept over an event, His people or the condition of faith in the world; I too can weep and I can share this with Him who understands.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Hope

The saying goes, "If you want to make God laugh, make plans."

As I sat in county jail, most of us waiting for the outcome of our cases, the women I was housed with would ask the guards for the Sunday paper or any newspaper, advertiser or other outside media. They would circle apartments, furniture for sale, writing down numbers and taking note of prices. This seemed an odd practice considering many of us faced long jail or prison terms. Few of the women that participated in this ritual ended up "pulling chain" to spend some time in Gatesville or other TDCJ facilities or rehab.

Over time I found myself taking notes as well; movies to see, churches to visit, jobs that sounded like they might hire "ex-offenders", apartments that didn't require background checks. I wanted names of the women I had been incarcerated with; including their phone numbers and addresses in case later they would have information about jobs, housing, etc.

There was something about this activity that made us feel empowered, normal, productive. In an environment that was anything but ordinary, pouring over a a newspaper in that Erin Brochovich kind of determination made us all feel like we were taking charge of our lives. There was hope in the "doing".

Psa 31:24 So be strong and take courage, all you who put your hope in the LORD!


Hope was something in high demand and in low supply. Once a week or so we would have the visits from clergy but few of us took advantage of the richness of these ladies as they sometimes sat alone at tables waiting to be approached by someone. I was one of the reluctant who still tried so hard to make my life plans, taking notes from newspapers far outdated by the time I would be released and still feeling that what I would make of my life rested in my efforts alone.

But because I was so unfamiliar with the Lord, hope resting in Him wasn't my first "go to" when I felt fear or need creep into my heart. I wasn't alone in that.

Today, as I think of our ministry, my families needs, the challenges of the women who walk through our doors; I realize that the hope of our life rests firmly and only with the Lord; His plans, His will and His perfect love for us. But imparting this to others cannot be done! It is something we must experience individually in order to put our fallible human heart and brains fully engaged in this way of thinking and operating.

And EVEN THEN, we still continue to plan and bargain and pray in ways that must make our Lord wonder if not outright chuckle. IF ONLY we would just let Him have the things that worry our hearts, how much He would delight in working with us and directing us!

Psa 37:4 Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Tonight, with a heavy heart, again we've had to make tough decisions around the housing units, the residents and the ways in which they have chosen to manage their lives. It breaks our hearts to exercise the tough love that changed our lives (Mark and I) that we had to bear and while we certainly do not consider ourselves beyond sin or poor choices, we do know that our walk with Jesus has so changed us that we cannot imagine making decisions without prayer and putting before Him those decisions that have a need for His direction.

How silly we are as each day we are reminded that even spending $10 on a Starbucks is something worth talking to our Lord about! Should I purchase this new pair of shorts or do I show restraint and use the monies He has blessed us with elsewhere. More and more the details of our life get His attention as well as the BIG things and we know that He will never fail us with guiding hand.

Today, Mark finally succumbed to his back pain and made a doctor appointment. A big deal for him, he isn't all that fond of doctors. As he was leaving, without much thought I said, "Do you want me to go?" (What? me get out of bed early to simply go and sit in a waiting room? As I have often been heard saying, "seriously?") But something just had me act. I got out of bed, threw on some clothes and headed out with Mark to find out what was causing his back pain.

Our wonderful doctor, we have two really wonderful doctors who we feel truly has a personal interest in our care, was attentive and quickly was coming up with an aggressive treatment plan to get him out of pain. She was prescribing some meds but also prepping Mark for some electro something or other to contract the muscles which was to help realign his spine. This sounded like a great plan. But somehow, I was there and somehow a little voice told me to speak up and I said, "Now does this interfere with his pace maker?" I can't explain why I got out of bed, went to the appointment and spoke up when I did but when all was said and done, yes, the treatment plan we had worked with our doctor to create was a risk for him and his medical history.

Of course, I take no credit for any of this! Glory to our God that He put on my heart to go, speak and simply obey something I did not understand. Was going to the doc with my dear hubby on my list of to do's today or at all in my plans? No. But the again, what we plan is so often interrupted by our God who knows what we do not.

Yes, Mark and I visited a property today to see if it would be a good fit for our housing units that we now are in the market for with the move from Coryell County to Williamson County. Yes, I spent time pouring over the paper to see if there was anything that struck me as a good call to make. But unlike those days in WILCO where my hope was in the doing, today my hope was in the Lord. I flipped page after page of our local advertiser paper and simply said to Mark, "Just checking to see what God might have in here for us."

Today there wasn't anything there. Tomorrow I'll make some calls, look through this weeks advertiser and check in with God several times to see where He leads me. I know He wants to give me the desires of my heart and I know that it is in the delight I take in our relationship, that of Jesus and I that He will direct me in way I should go. My hope lies in Him. His ways are my desire, and I will try hard tomorrow not to make any plans.

My hope lies in the Lord.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

John 14:6

I was on Facebook today, posting on my personal page and our ministry page, keeping up with and trying to use most of the popular social media venues for promotion and connection to the rest of the world when I happened across Sarah Palin's page. Of course, cynical me first wonders if she is actually the fingers on the keyboard but none the less, I scrolled down several of her posts, many of which have thousands of "comments". (In her defense, I did find a notation she had made stating this was her only valid and true Facebook account and any others that might be out there are not of her, by her or with her endorsement so, well at least that cynical question of mine was answered.)

She had posts about unions, White House budgets, Obama, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., America's enduring strength, the tragedy in Arizona just to name a few and the thought struck me again for the fifth or sixth time today "what do you stand for, Les?" I had literally been driving my elderly landladys' truck back from the garage for her when the thought just worked its way into my internal dialog, "what do you stand for, what do you believe in, what makes you want to rally and move and get energized?" It was not the first moment that this thought, for some odd reason, chose today to creep into my consciousness but there it was again.

A young friend of ours, just barely 22 now, is active in Young Republican's and the county Republican party here as well as other community oriented groups. She's vocal about many issues and has been taught at a young age to stand up for her beliefs through inclusion in organizations.

Other friends that Mark and I know and socialize with post through blogs and Facebook, Twitter and Linkd In social media sites those things that have their attention. They voice strong opinions, rant and state and dialog loudly about many subjects in our world, state, city and neighborhoods; everything from the current teacher funding cut backs affecting many Texas schools to the larger picture of the recent political turns in Egypt.

But for some reason, today, the thought has been nagging me? What do you stand for?

I work in prison ministry and some might say "well Les, obviously you stand for something and that's a pretty big something." I guess that's true and almost daily I deal with the obstacles that the men and women face as they enter the world outside the regimented walls of their temporary confinement. I am thrown into many facets of social injustice just by trying to help a very small handful of women transition from jail to life. Housing, employment, opportunity, social service barriers, credit histories and lack of resources to just exist for the first week once released from prison; these are but a few of the things I think about and talk about daily but what do I stand for? What cause will I throw my energy into and work my life to its end to change or solve or strengthen?

Then it hits me. It's clearly a part of one greater thing, one greater being, one greater cause that all these fall under and only ONE thing I stand for. And that ONE thing is not a THING at all but the great I AM.

I stand for Jesus Christ and ALL His teachings and ALL His ways and ALL His commands in my life which include seeing to the housing, employment, resources and lack of access to basic needs of the "least of these" He would have us remember; and not only remember, but with love and joy, SERVE.

I don't need a man made political party or an organization to follow His words with conviction and energy and vigor. For while following Jesus and stating His name with boldness may not be popular, it IS right, and lovely, and pure, and noble. Every cause which stands before us, the homeless, the hurt children, the widowed women, the incarcerated, the sinners and the saints of this world are all a part of the cause to which Jesus would have us address with our energies, resources, time and focus.

I may not stand for the popular causes and run with the popular crowd. Mark and I may quietly sit back and serve a handful of women at any given time that have come to our attention but we do so with love and caring and remembrance of a time when someone else did the same for us. We may be a small ministry with small resources, but we are working to solve the larger picture that the big organizations try to touch but sometimes only manage to do so with rhetoric.

Our lives are intimately involved, daily in the trenches where the needs hit the people smack in the face day after day as they wake up. And though we aren't yet serving thousands or even hundreds; the few we do serve feel the dedication to a cause, to a "thing" bigger than ourselves and we do so through personal service. And that service, that dedication to service isn't something of which we boast but something we do to honor the ONE who thought enough of us to create us, love us, rescue us and see to our eternal needs. So I would say, if I am boasting, that I am boasting for the wonder and power of Jesus Christ in my heart and in my life for He alone has made my heart open to taking a stand for something; something big; something lasting; something eternal.

What do I stand for? I guess as I drive down the road anymore I don't have to ask that question, I just have to find the courage to stand up and out for the less popular of causes, the less popular of opinions. I stand for this:

Jesus told him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" John 14:6

I stand for Him.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Deserving lives

I always worry when a lady comes through our housing and then moves on to something new.  I know in my heart that we are "transitional" housing and even with the ups and downs we often go through, all the ladies are destined to move on; but it doesn't stop me from worrying. 

Are they moving on too fast?  Have they thought of everything?  Did they save enough money before moving into their own place?  Do they feel they can still call for support and help?  Do they know where to go and who to call if things don't go as planned?  Are they remembering to open the Bible in the quiet moments? the scary moments? the uncertain moments? 

It feels something like the day your child heads off to college or moves into their first apartment.  You want everything to go smoothly and you want them to protect themselves from a world that might not have their best interest at heart. 

For our ladies, the ones coming through our housing, they have often been at the wrong end of those decisions.  Many have stolen, taken advantage of or conned someone in their past.  But during their time in prison or jail, they met someone who changed their heart.  As corny or trite as it might sound, the profound truth is, they met their personal Lord and Savior and gave their hearts to Him.  Their lives started over that day; literally reborn into a new creation and because of this fact alone, they are like children, learning about the world from a new set of rules, lenses and beliefs.

His new creations are moving on and sometimes we hear from them, sometimes we don't.  When we do, it usually means they are wanting to share with us the excitement of their new lives, their jobs, small successes, the first time they paid their rent on time.  Simple things that we take for granted each day but for them, a triumph! 

When we don't hear from them, when they don't leave a forwarding address, it usually means that life got the better of them and their new life was too much for them.  They found it easier to go back to drugs, prostitution or places where they are likely to find themselves going back through the system.  Those are the ones we worry about.  The ones who couldn't take hold of the simple things like asking for help, finding new friends to support their new lives, finding healthy routines tend to choose the familiar.  The familiar that was easier but not preferable.

Mark and I come to love the ladies that walk through our doors; the easy to love and the not so easy to love.  We want the best for them and we view them with the same eyes that we view our children; with love and acceptance despite their sometimes difficult behavior.  We don't mean this in a condescending way but in a loving, caring way.  We simply have allowed God to open our hearts to seeing people for the wonderful creations they are in their individuality; with their own set of passions, creativity and talents. 



This week I will be at the Austin/Travis County Roundtable discussing the options and challenges of housing, employment, education and family reunification for those coming out of prison.  This group is dedicated to bringing together community stake holders in the reentry arena.  But what most don't seem to understand, what the vast majority of the communities in which we all live don't seem to understand is the larger picture from the smallest vantage point.  Each lady we serve represents someone who has something new to give; but are often not given the opportunity to contribute because of their past.  Reentry issues are issues for everyone to consider; from the foodstamps that are used by these reentry candidates to the social services that are used by each that tax our state and city budgets.  Those are the socio-economic considerations of the women in our housing.

They are important.  They are vital to making safer communities.  They are vital to the lives of individuals.  But they do not even begin to speak to the Christian values so many of us hold dear; taking care of our neighbors,  loving others as we love ourselves, loving our enemies, giving when we don't want to give; giving to those we don't find worthy of the giving.  Opening our wallets, homes, jobs to those that don't meet standards that are harder and harder to meet. 

Do you worry about your children? your family? your community?  Then I encourage you to worry about someone who's just been released from jail or prison.  They too have needs, often unmet because their needs and their lack can often be linked to their crimes and that makes them undeserving of our charity.  But I ask you; have you considered worrying about them?  Caring for them? Reaching out to them?  Consider how Jesus might respond to a closed door because of a crime, a sin; then consider how He might view your attitude toward one of His creations, one of the least of these His creations. 

I was one of those not that long ago.  I wasn't worthy of anyone's charity or care.  I know this.  I had committed crimes that cost my community and my state in court dollars, jailing/housing costs and even medical care while incarcerated.  I cost innocent community members a financial loss.  I even cost my family in storage fees, travel expenses and moving expenses for my daughter.  But in God's eyes, it didn't make me unworthy of His love, His grace, His attention to my life and because of this there isn't a single one of those that reach out to us that don't deserve our love, resources, time and energy to move them from lives in contempt toward their community to lives in communion with God and His children.

God bless all those who enter our home and God bless all those who walk through our housing programs.  And God bless you for caring, about them and about me. 

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Ministry is more than numbers



Mark and I spent the weekend in Whitney, TX for a one day women's conference. Many of the women I had met at a conference in October of last year, many were new friends we had the privilege of sharing the day with. Through that conference I had been invited to give my testimony and talk about how that baby faith turned from a decision for Christ into full time ministry.

It was an exciting time of sharing and praising God for all He does in our lives. I cannot thank June Donohue, Barbara Spencer and the ladies of Women of 3 Crosses Ministry enough for having the confidence in me to invite me to speak and share my life with the faith-filled ladies that joined us after a week of snow and stormy weather!

We were a small group but as our praise/worship leader, Jay Johnson said "I'm not about numbers, I'm about souls, one at a time if that's what God does."


Let's rejoice and be glad in every day we are gathered in His Name!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Athens retreat brought out new compassion with all of us

God always has a plan and He certainly did when He put it on my heart to take the ladies in our housing unit to a one and a half day conference in Athens, TX in January.

I had been planning and hoping for a while that a friend and recent releasee, Samantha could join us but things couldn't get worked out to let her come. One of our board members, Jeannie, joined me in rounding up the T. and Mary C. when unexpectedly we were blessed with the arrival of a third resident, Amber. She was two days out of rehab and incarceration when we piled her in a car with all of us and we took off three hours from the housing unit to praise, worship and learn about our wonderful God.


We were able to enjoy the wonderful teachings of Lurna Cumby, whom several of our board members were able to enjoy at the October Psalms 34:18 retreat in Clifton; the keynote speaker, Leslie Vernick and the wonderful vocal stylings of Sandie Dickie. The Cowgirl Get Together is an annual event and was sold out this year to 1100 women. Already they are planning a larger venue for next year! What a wonderful treat for us all.




While I try very hard to provide learning materials and my own personal testimony to the women we serve as a means to assist each woman in her growth in her relationship with Christ, meetings and retreats like this are so much more powerful when added in the presence of such worship and praise that cannot be duplicated anywhere else with hundreds of women all of one heart.

To top off the great weekend, the ladies we took with us were able to meet some of the ladies heading up Women of 3 Crosses, women who have reached out to our friend, Samantha for quite some time while Samantha was still in her season of incarceration. What a joy it was to have a picture of sisters meeting for the first time and what a joy to watch new friendships in His Name form instantly.


As if all this wasn't enough, for those of us old enough to remember this pizza parlour, Jeannie and I were able to reminisce about our favorite pizza joint in Columbia, MO as we found one in Athens that looked the same! Still old style signs and building, we were thrown back to our youth and Jeannie's college days.....Columbia may not have a Ken's Pizza anymore, but Athens still does and wow, what fun to shoot a couple of quick pics on our way out of town.



Does God provide, yes He does! Does God heal, yes He does! It is hard to explain or describe what happens in the hearts of the women as they walk through their lives post jail time; but often it includes conflict among themselves, continued conflict with their families and conflict with the world; but for a brief moment, a weekend away, five ladies shared a hotel room, coolers full of food, and a day and a half of learning and sharing and basking in God's love. It makes the ministry so worth while!

Monday, January 17, 2011

God's view

Recently I had the privilege to speak at a woman's support group for those on parole or probation. I have attended these weekly meetings several times so when asked to speak, God was quick to lay upon my heart a message He has been developing in me over the last four years.

Max Lucado wrote a beautiful book for the children of his church in San Antonio called "You are Special" and I have read it several times since coming to Chirst, finding in it a lovely message of God's view of us in contrast to how the world views us. This child's story tells us about a people called Wemmicks who spend their days placing stars and dots on one another depending on their opinion of that Wemmick. And each Wemmick places alot of value and weight on these marks given. But the woodcarver, Eli, who made each of the Wemmicks has a different view of each one of them. He views them as special, unique and made perfectly.

This analogy is played out in our own world. Labels are placed on us, good and bad. For those who have broken the law, those who have fallen publicly short of anyone's expectations, those labels can be permanently damaging and oppressing. The stark differences of how the world views someone who has broken the law and walked through the public process of adjudication and how God views us as believers has to be retaught or in many cases, taught for the very first time.

God's love for us and His names for us as children of His Kingdom exhort and lift us in ways that the world will refuse to do. As a woman walks through the world with her new worldly labels of criminal, felon, ex-offender, inmate, thief, drug addict, prostitute, worthless, unworthy; she begins to take on and believe those labels and because of the deep belief that takes root, she may continue to act out in the ways expected of her. Where there is no hope, there is often behavior that demonstrates no hope and faith in something different for one's life.

But God is the God of love, hope, and life abundant. He is the author and finisher of our life and grasping His plans for us and His gentle and tender view of us can mean the difference between living in death or rising in life under the covering blood of Jesus. Holding onto God's names for us can start us on a path of walking in the life the God created us to walk in. We are His creation.

We first see His image of us in Genesis 1:26-27

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.”

So God created man in His own image;

He created him in the image of God;

He created them male and female.


He created you with His beauty inside you, made of Him and by Him. That is a wonderful picture to take hold of; we are of God, like God and in God in all ways. In our Spirit, He is there.

Psalm 139:13-18 tells us about our personal creation and His intimate knowledge of us.


For it was you that created my inward parts,
You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you because I have been fearfully and wonderfully made.
Your works are wonderful
And I know this very well.
By bones are not hidden from you
When I was made in secret
When I was formed in the depths of the earth
Your eyes saw me when I was formless.
All my days were written in your book and planned
Before a single one of them began.
God how difficult your thoughts are for me to comprehend,
How vast their sum total is.
If I counted them
They would outnumber the grains of sand,
When I wake up, you are still with me.

Look at the words used; fearfully and wonderfully made; wonderful, planned. How wonderful that God took the time to plan us and our lives out perfectly. He cares for us, thinks about us and planned us Himself.

1 Sam 16:7

Man does not see what the Lord see, for man sees what is visible but the Lord sees the heart.

The Lord sees something deeper than what they world can see or know. God sees our heart. He knows who we are in Spirit, not just in our behavior or status in the world. His view is larger, grander, complete.

2 Corinthians 5:17
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!

We are now something new, something intended by God. We are God's intentions. And He has special thoughts of us each day.
Some of those thoughts or identities are:

Daughters of the most High God
Heirs
Beloved
Chosen
Bought by the blood of Christ
Justified
Sanctified – the goal of sanctification is progressive conformity to the image of Jesus Christ.
Made right or righteous


Do not think for a moment that I am diminishing the struggles and challenges that face you as you begin your new life outside the walls of jail, prison or within the confines of parole or probation; for we have an unforgiving community and legal system that at times forgets they too fall short of the Glory of God as we did. Our challenge is in the public way we may have fallen short and the many laws that at one time were created to protect us that have become harsher and used more vindictively rather than protectively for the greater good.


For some, you may not have broken the law of your state of community but you have in a public way walked against the social norms that have made you outcast. You feel the harsh world labels that are placed upon you. I encourage you as well to think about God's view of you. His love for you is vast and unending. His delight in you is constant; His belief in you is unending. His call to you is perpetual.


Through my experience I have learned to trust in a God who is bigger than the court in which I stood, the jail in which I was housed and the state in which I continue to reside. I trust in a God who sees in me everything other than my sin, my crimes, and my failings. I trust in a God who can came not to condemn the world but bring life and life more abundantly. And this includes even me!


We live in a world where there will always be someone, or some organization or some group that wants to oppress us and keep us where they think we should be. But we will always be guided by and loved by a God who knows the larger picture and can help us get to where He wants us to be.

So no matter who you are, what you’ve done or how much you do or don’t have; remember that your God is in charge and waits only for an invitation to take you where He intended you to be! And when the world reminds you who they think you are with their labels and names and convictions; look to your God to remind you who you really are. Remove the dots and stars of the world and shine only in His light!

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