Writer, business woman, lay minister...mother, daughter, wife, friend...with a past and a future. This is my story. This is our story. This blog is the compilation of my experiences and the women I meet in the ministry. It is our gift to you.
*Names may be changed to preserve the confidentiality of the work we do. The facts of their experiences will not be altered. I hope to be honest, unbiased and clear; however, this blog is not a politically correct place. This blog will be used to glorify God, spread the Good News of the saving grace of Jesus Christ and to encourage other believers in their own walk.
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, "Iamtheway, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me" John 14:6
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.
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!