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.
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.