Near Felony Offender Actually Goes to Prison

Ok, if the title of this blog post leaves you scratching your head, you’ll have to go back and read this one first.

So I haven’t cooked any more this week than I did last week, but again I’m just full of excuses because I’ve been in prison.

Ok, not exactly, but I’ve been visiting prison.

Maybe I better start from the beginning.

It all started a good while back… like a few years ago… when God placed a burden on my heart for women in prison. This may seem a little odd, but really it’s not. My family background and growing up years weren’t pretty…not that different from the women who wind up in prison. For years after I was grown, I’d say I was lucky I didn’t end up there myself. But for the past several years, I’ve known better.

Luck didn’t have anything to do with it. It was all God.

You see, what was different for me was I had the incredible love of my Granny and Papa and their single-minded determination that my sisters and I would grow up to know Christ. Knowing Him made all the difference in my life. God’s love and grace was sufficient to cover the dysfunction of my family. God’s love and grace saved me.

So I knew why God placed this burden on my heart. He was giving me the opportunity to give back. The only problem was I didn’t have the slightest idea how to start, where to go, who to ask. But God doesn’t get bogged down by the details like we do. Instead He orchestrated a plan that reconnected me with a long-time friend and former coworker who… oh by the way… just happened to be serving in prison ministry. It’s a totally cool story how we were reconnected, but it’s much too long to tell here.

So, suffice it to say, through God’s divine string-pulling, I’ve made two… of what I hope will be many, many more… visits to the Murray Women’s Unit. Specifically, I’m volunteering in what is called the faith dorm. Who even knew these existed?! I sure didn’t. You can read all about the faith dorm here.

And let me tell you this. These girls have blessed me beyond measure. I went there praying like a crazy woman that I could be a blessing to them, but I had it all wrong. They are blessing me, and they are teaching me quite a bit. Let me just share one example from this past Sunday.

Our Bible study lesson for the night was on forgiveness and obedience. Tough topics. For any of us. As my friend Mike was teaching, he said, “You know the verse from Isaiah 61.” And before he could get another word in, one of the precious girls on the front row began reciting it. Not a verse. But the entire chapter.

The. Entire. Chapter.

And then there was the beautiful woman sitting quietly by herself at the back of the room before the lesson began. Her face was serious and sad. I squatted down beside her and said hello. She offered a quiet hello back. I told her that I thought she looked sad and asked if there was anything I could pray for her about. She said, “I’ve been sitting here reading Proverbs 31 over and over and over again. I just want to be a woman like that.”

I could tell you more. Like the woman who masterfully led our small group discussion, carefully making sure every woman had a chance to share. Generously loving and gently encouraging everyone. The very woman who had found out just earlier that day that her daddy had unexpectedly died. A daddy she didn’t get to say good-bye to, but yet she didn’t let that stand in the way of the ministering God had for her to do.

Repeatedly that night my eyes welled up with tears. These girls were teaching me some things. These girls were setting a powerful example for me. These girls that are in prison….that many people have given up on…that many people have nothing nice to say about…that many people believe are bad. Oh, if they only knew!

After I got home that night, I couldn’t quit thinking…

The only entire chapter in the Bible that I know by heart is Psalm 23. I almost feel like that’s cheating to say that. You know what I mean?

But these girls. They are seeking God’s Word with all their hearts. They are clinging to God’s Word for hope. They are sharing God’s Word to encourage and lift up each other. They are memorizing God’s Word to replace the negative words and lies they’ve heard most of their lives. They’re soaking up God’s Word so they can rest on His promises, so they can combat their fears, so they can be reminded they are worthy and loved and forgiven.

And so the question for me is…why do I only know one whole chapter by heart? And you know what I think the answer is? It’s because I allow other things in my life to become distractions from God, to become substitutes for hope and joy and fulfillment, to become priorities for my time and attention.

In prison God is all they have. And they know it.

But the simple truth is… life out of prison isn’t any different. God is all we have that truly matters! And our lives will be transformed if we live out that simple truth.

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