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.


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.

Books worth a look