Thursday, November 22, 2012

Rickey

I headed up to Woodman State Jail today and well, found out I wasn't scheduled to be there so the week kinda got messed up on me. The hard part of prison ministry is "getting into the prison" at times. The harder part is getting your heart to move the rest of your body when it doesn't want to go but it knows there are 40+ ladies depending on you! That's where I am in....in that mental place where its hard to do the right things because things aren't exactly going right your way!

Maybe you've experienced this? My heart knows I need to "feed" His sheep with as much teachings as I can while the pocket book smiles docilely up at you saying "gas money, no such thing here!" And you take a big deep breath, call each credit card to check for any open balances and then check your bank account one more time. And it's the holidays only you have no holiday spirit in you, just a lot of doldrums because like it or not, all you can think of is your own lousy situation.

Then you remember you're in ministry and you plant that fake smile on and you take out the last twenty from the "there's goes our Thanksgiving" envelope and you do what you know you should do! Go out and spend time with those so much less fortunate than we.

Because there are some. There are folks out there who have lost homes, family, their freedom, their ability to be with or call a relative. There are those who are listening not for car doors to let them know the family has arrived but for rocket fire above their heads. There are those who are behind bars who weather every storm with a Chaplain and a few clergy who give their time once or twice a week doing all we can to encourage, uplift, teach and share so that their lives might take a turn in a direction other than the one they walked in from, just this last time.



We know each of us can think of a reason to be sad, or feel less fortunate than another. We know we get covetous of friends or family who appear to have more. We get jealous at all those out during Black Friday who can afford to be there! Afford to be spending while we can't. And we begin to mope around like a baby, whining over little things and forgetting the big things.

Then I got home, to be greeted by a letter from "Rickey", an inmate on death row down in Florida. To say I had forgotten about him is a gross overstatement, I had not. To say it had been far too long since I've written him is a gross understatement! Rickey and I connected back in 2007 when he was sitting on death row for the murder consummated during a drug deal gone bad over 23 years ago. He was 18 at the time and was then in his early 40's. Today he's in his mid-40's and grateful for every day.

When I started writing Rickey he said he understood I was a good Christian woman and that was fine, he was just looking for someone to write to and a friend who would hear his story. Today, as he sits in county jail, facing over a two year battle there for a re-sentencing hearing, he talks about praising God and thanking God for each new day, another day he has been given.

You see, Rickey understands the joys of seeing a sunrise and knowing today is not "that day". He understands the value of a mailed letter with a story inside he can read and enjoy. He understands the value of a small gift of time or a few dollars on his books to buy pens and paper to keep up his own correspondence and he knows the joys of an extra dollar for a soda this month.

I think as I start out tomorrow and I think about our year, I'll think about that instead of the things I've been ticking off in my head of what I don't have. I think I'll reconsider my life in terms of his life and how sometimes I'm just a whiner, what God must think of that! Indeed!

Most of all, I'll look around the room and remember that though this may not be my perfect Thanksgiving, it is the one I have been given and I should be happy and rejoice in it.

There is joy everywhere if we just slow down, listen, wait and be amazed at it when it appears.

May God joyfully bless you this Season of Praise and be with you throughout the coming year.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Sunday, November 4, 2012

They are not forgotten.

Time is something we take for granted. I assume every morning that I will wake up to continue doing my doings. Arrogant, isn't it? When I see that it's been since July for a new blog to post, I am amazed and wonder where the time has gone! Ridiculous. No excuses. Just ineffective use of my time! You see, I spent a lot of time at Woodman State Jail in Gatesville, TX ministering to the women in our Faith Based Dorm. I spend a lot of time reading, sometimes studying; not enough time in the Word (and that's my confession to you!). I spend a lot of time with family, friends and crafting either at retreats or our monthly crops. But I have failed to keep you informed with our ministry and most importantly sharing the many stories that I have promised you; stories that help us understand better "the least of these my brethren" that Jesus asks us to care for and love. And it is the "least of these" I teach, meet with and share a good part of my week with as I go along. I have a dorm of 30-50 women who are hungry for a relationship with the Lord. I have challenges and difficulties each time I make the hour and fifteen minute trek up there. I counsel women on their faith walks, I counsel them on accepting their time inside, I counsel them on family problems including illnesses and deaths while they serve their time. And sometimes I just sit and listen as they talk. It is in those times I am reminded of my time inside the walls that keep out the world. I remember having no one familiar to share my deepest pain with; the pain of losing custody of my sweet daughter and the heartbreak this brought to my son. I remember having to turn to a stranger; a clergy who would let me talk and who would ultimately allow me the security of a place to go when I had no where to go.
I am reminded that life outside those walls went on; I would call my father and he would not have time to talk because he was headed to dinner with his wife. I remember letters that didn't come. I remember my son moving to Houston just after his sister so he could keep close eye on her because he has always felt responsible for her. I remember knowing that life did go on and I was in a place where life became mail call, chow and tv schedules; but little else. And I am reminded that Paul said "Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body." (Hebrews 13:3) for they are a part of the church. I remember Jesus' words, "35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’" (Matthew 25:35-40) But just because I find myself busy does not mean that the ladies I serve do not deserve to have their stories told and while I visit them at least twice a week almost every week, I am aware of them as individuals. I am aware of them as lives with stories. I am aware of them as women seeking, stumbling and getting back up, when sometimes their burdens and tears weigh them down.
So when I'm absent, know that I am with them. My story and theirs will be back as I put more time into this blog and others. I will share my heart and theirs. All I ask is that you pray for this ministry, me, and all the women we serve. We all need you to agree with us in prayer to our mighty God who hears our pleas and loves us all. May the God of grace and mercy cover your life with His love.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

To God be the Glory

So it's been a month.  Or two.  At last report we had quite a lot to report and yet despite all outward appearances, we had a few things on our mind that most might think would take our eyes off God and onto worldy matters.  But I can't help but smile and know that I am blessed and highly favored.

Somehow we continue to make it, make the dollar meet the month end; find our health hurdles and bumps better than we anticipated and our service to God the dearest part of our life.

I've had to take a little hiatus from my duties as dorm coordinator at Woodman State Jail because of my own health issues but I will, Chaplain and God willing, resume those duties August 1.  I miss the ladies and miss the connection and groundedness they provide in my life and in my walk with Christ.  I have found more than once that the more I study to teach and share, the more I grow and learn myself.  It almost seems a selfish endeavor!  God gives me the task to teach and in turn I learn and grow closer to Him.  What a plan indeed.

Most of all though this last month has been a real struggle in accepting personal physical conditions with some dignity and patience and I've exhibited neither. To pretend I had would be disingenuous to say the least.  I have at times been a downright baby about things, often forgetting that God has His hand on things, that others have and are facing much worse and that frankly, if asked to walk through this challenge, the manner in which I do it does in fact demonstrate some of my personal faith and trust in Jesus.

I am forever grateful that He is such a loving and forgiving God and Savior that I can come to him in my whimpering state and know that His love abounds over me.  Oh how I praise Him that I can rest on this truth above all else.  As I wallow in my bed, cry, sleep, seek the solace of nothingness during my physical trials, I know God waits patiently for me to seek Him out and ask for His help! 

Why oh why didn't I think of that last week!  Don't get me wrong.  As they took my pre-surgical blood draw  I prayed my way through that moment.  As they inserted the IV on surgery day I prayed my way through that dreaded moment (I really hate IV's!)  As they put that mask on my face to administer the anesthesia, I prayed for God's hand and His healing on the situation.  However, when I awoke and found out things did not go as I wanted, I found myself in quite a tizzy and frankly forgot all about those pre-anesthesia prayers for His will and care to be administered.  And yet, despite all, my faith in Him never wavered.  My will might have interfered greatly with the peace He gladly offered, but my faith in knowing He was in control still lay way back in my mind!

Now you may ask yourself, if she has such a tizzy, where does her faith come into play at all?

I can tell you that.  Only five short years ago had I gone through this ordeal, I would have blamed a God I didn't know or acknowledge for everything,  I would have used this whole situation to validate my absence of any faith in Jesus at all.  In fact, the mere fact I was facing any challenge of any size meant there was no God!  But today, tizzy or not, my way or not; I do not question His loving hand on my life.  I do not question His existence, His concern, His care, His love and His involvement in every aspect of this situation and many others in my life. 

Five years ago as I sat in a cold jail cell in late January I would have told you that God had nothing to do with reality and that you were a downright fool, sitting here with me in jail to think He did.  And I was as wrong then and grateful today that I learned all I learned; cold jail cell or not.

Now I have the utter privilege to share with so many women our journey's that grow us closer and closer to Christ; right now through my absence and soon through my return.  I will have something new to share as I walk through this valley and into the sunshine of His love.  I will have a praise report to add to my testimony of God's working in my life and I will add yet another time, another miracle, another distinct moment in my life where I can point to Him, the one who created the Heavens and Earth and say "He carried me yet again."

To God be the Glory.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10

My last post.............New Years.  Yes a New Year it has been.  We've been through cancer surgery, my son's engagement, my husband's lay off and shortly after 5 days in ICU for something we are still trying to diagnose.  His oldest daughter's impending birth announcement rounds out four short months.  Challenge after joy after challenge.  A whirlwind.  A storm. 

But I am free.  I am 10 tens from freedom from 5 years probation which started this journey with Christ and this ministry.  I am free to enjoy the wedding and a new baby; free to walk with my husband through his lay off and his cancer surgery and all that goes with walking through life with a loving partner.  I am blessed.  I am without a doubt in a good place despite its outward appearances because I have the love of God walking with us.

This week I was again in Woodman State Jail, working with the women in our new faith based dorm and freedom is something they are fighting.  Freedom in Christ while behind bars, while being yelled at by guards each and every day, while being corralled like livestock from one place to another and seeing freedom in their lives is almost impossible.  And describing freedom in the spirit, in the heart is so hard.  The letters pour in from family; deaths, divorces, children astray, family estranged.  Change and life go on about outside those walls and they are not free to participate in a meaningful way and they fight and they clamor for word from anyone who will listen to them.  They desire to be mothers, sisters, daughters, helpers, friends, lovers, wives.  They desire to take what little faith walk they have begun and instill it into a new life but often...so often, before they get a chance to walk it out, their faith is tested and tried by so many and the smoldering fire just now ignited is tamped out by unknowing or unequipped staff.

It is 3:34 am in Georgetown, TX and I lay in bed, husband next to me and all I can think about is the tears I have shed today over my physical struggles, my husband's physical struggles and a family misunderstanding that has both of us in a place of emotional pain.  Yet, with  Facebook and text messages and a phone laying beside me in bed, it is hard to whine and whimper when answers are instantly at my disposal.  And the ladies I watch tear up each time a new situation occurs where a call can't be made and they wait, hoping for a letter which could be timely or weeks after something major in their life has changed. 

Everything in me knows, both in my life and in theirs that God is sovereign and in control.  God knows my needs and their needs.  He hears our hearts and he weeps with us as we struggle in this life.  He knows what He intends for us and He knows what He cannot do for us in this moment and what we must go through in order to develop into who we must be.  Yet, those tiny faces, blurred in a sea of white broadcloth uniforms, taking all sense of individuality away from each of them, they stay with me as I drive home and each word I spoke that night comes back to me.  Was it what God wanted to say, did I allow the Holy Spirit to operate or did Leslie operate tonight?  Did I surrender the microphone to God or did Leslie preach her sermon?  Did anything touch any heart?  Did someone hear something that will get them through this moment?

And today, what words did I remember as I cried, ached and laid in bed in pain from my own personal physical challenges.  Did I listen for God or did I forget what I taught?  Is God asking something of me I feel ill equipped to handle or did I surrender so He could use me as He wills?  Did I hypocritically stand up and say one thing and experience something else entirely when it came my time to take on the will of God, His burden on my shoulder?

Four months is only 2/3rds of the time I spent in WILCO and it drug by there but flew by out here.  Now these last ten days are slowing down, each one dragging along and what a silly clock to watch it seems until I remember that it is God's glory in my life that brought me to this place of freedom I never thought I would see.  I will be restored a citizen of my country with all the rights and privileges of citizenship I once thought gone.  I leave the 120 degree dorm in which the women, clothed in heavy broadcloth lay at night hoping to make it another night in a heat beyond what we think we can endure; and I climb into my Ford Escape, turning the ignition on and immediately cranking up the A/C so that I might feel the cool sooner than later. 

Joy walks in my life as I never thought I would see.  I look at the smile on my son's face and I know God restores all and all I can do is pray that each of the women I interact with get the chance for restoration to those that they yearn for and desire.  I pray that cool air passes over them and I pray for their joy to be felt deep in their heart more than the trials of life inside takes a part of them.

God my heart is yours to pour out, so teach me how to give freely of it, without restraint.  Give it the way Jesus did as He encountered each and every person.  Let my heart reflect His.  Let my words become His words.  Let my life become His instrument.  Let me just get out of the way and walk in your will for my life.  Let me know and cherish joy and let me walk through the breaking as it needs to happen. 

Let me be still and know...........and know you are God.

Saturday, January 7, 2012

All New Years start with........

resolutions.

Don't they?

Mine seem to and in most cases the year ends with a new list looking a lot like the old one.   But some things get marked off and some things continue as they should.

One year my list was to increase my service to God and His Kingdom.  Not a bad resolution and one I should keep, increase and stay focused on without lag.  I can be busy with the busy of life but I cannot be too busy to serve God.

And for me, serving God means serving women in prison through other ministries; discipling them as best I can as I was discipled and showing them the love they can trust, God's love through my eyes and heart and time.  I feel wonderful in prison (knowing I can walk out of course) but working with these women and sharing with them the hope that is theirs as well as mine.  I love taking the time to teach and listen and cry and walk with them through their journey.  I come home feeling blessed and joyful and happy!  I cannot tell you how much!

I just finished up a session of Celebrate Recovery with the ladies in 3E at the Lockhart Unit and celebrated their 6 month graduation from the faith based dorm.  What a joy it was to get to know each and every one of them.  I watched faith grow, faith questioned, change happen and God working.


These ladies, despite their fears of sharing too much, trusting others or God, dug in deep and worked hard to find the areas of their life that at this moment they were ready to deal with and let God heal.

Seeing them each week, singing praise songs side by side, working through a tough curriculum made each week a new experience but a joyful part of my week.

I already miss them.  Some I continue to hear from; others I do not.  I am moving on to the Woodman Unit teaching Beth Moore's Breaking Free and facilitating Bridges to Life Groups on Monday nights.  I will adore working with these ladies as well and I will find connection, family and love as I do so.

My New Years resolution; just keep doing what I'm doing and loving God, my family and His family as He commands me to do to the best of my ability and with more reliance on the Holy Spirit to pour out that love, the love I once so needed and now so need to share.

May God richly bless your New Year and may He direct your path to your ministry.

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