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


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!

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