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
Bought by the blood of Christ
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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