Posts Tagged ‘Broken People’

Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.

When I was born I nursed at my mother’s breast.
One of my friends just had a baby, but they are not together because she is in jail.

When I was one I saw both parents in my home every day.
My friend has a one year old who she sees for an hour every other week when her daughter is brought to the jail for a visit.

When I was two I tried to run away (but couldn’t open the door), because my parents wanted me to be safe and wouldn’t let me play on the stairs.
One of my friend’s kids are out of county with her in-laws and she cannot reach them now because she’s in jail, and if nothing changes she cannot be with them when she gets out because she’s not supposed to leave the county on probation.

When I was three I moved to a new house with my family.
One of my friends signed her three year up for an Angel Tree Christmas present to be delivered, because she will be in jail for many more years and her daughter has been adopted into a new home and family.

When I was four life was great, I had dolls and toys and dates with my mom while my sister was at school.
One of my friends was not allowed to talk to her kids for several months until CPS changed their minds and now she can call home from jail and at least talk to them on the phone while she waits for her trial and for the courts to decide if she is guilty or innocent.

When I was five I went to kindergarten and loved my teacher.
One of my friends has a son in kindergarten who hides under the table, swears at his teacher and asks for his mom.

When I was six I had my first real birthday party and all my friends came over.
One of my friends has a six year old in the hospital because he tried to take his own life.

Don’t misunderstand what I’m trying to say. I am by no means saying that these six women are innocent. Nor do I think they would all make the best mothers (some sure would). But I do think this…our system is broken. We are not helping these kids by throwing their moms in jail and forgetting about them. Maybe, just maybe, there is another way, that we haven’t tried yet.

Like I said before.
Kids these days are different.
Systems these days are broken.
Some always have been.
But they don’t always have to be.
Will you take one step towards changing them?
Will you make a difference?

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“So I have one friend?” she asked me nervously.
“Yes,” I answered confidently, “I am your friend.”

This conversation happened in the jail (like most of the ones that make the blog). We were talking about how scary the idea of getting out of jail was. How hard it would be to start over since her husband was divorcing her and she couldn’t go back home after this. Since her addiction had kept her from building any positive relationships in the past. Since she didn’t have custody of her children. Since she wasn’t sure what her relationship with her parents was anymore.

She asked how to make friends. She could do it in a bar, she said, but followed that thought up with the fact that she couldn’t go to a bar because she knew if she took one drink of alcohol all her hard work of staying sober would come crashing down. She knew she still doesn’t have the power to stop after one drink or to say no if offered a drink. She knows if she wants to stay healthy she cannot be around it at all.

“I’m your friend.” I said, and then continued with my list of friend making ideas, “You can go to the park, the library, the same coffee shop every week,” I told her. She said she loved the library but didn’t know how to start talking to people. “You can come with me to church and I can introduce you to people there.” It was here she stopped me to ask about my first statement. “So I have one friend?” It was so meekly asked that I wanted to cry. I wanted to hug her. I wanted to say, of course you do and I know so many more who would love to be your friend. I know the people who don’t care what your past holds and how many more times you mess up. I know the people who will love you with Jesus’ love. But I knew that would be too overwhelming, so instead I gave her a simple yes. “Yes, I am your friend.” And I hope and pray that one day she has so many more.

There are days that feel like they were made for collapsing  into someone’s arms and weeping on their shoulder. Yesterday was one of them. Another  14+ hour day of work totalling the work week somewhere around 85 hours meant that my emotions were about at their end before the day even started, but I continued to put them to the test.

In the jail, I met with three different women for an hour each. (I met with seven other women in between those three, just not for quite such long periods of time.) The three women spent much of their hour with me in tears. One walked in and said hello, handed me some books she was returning and sat down. I glanced down to mark which books she’d brought and by the time I glanced back up she was weeping.IMG_5983

“They say addiction takes everything…”
“My life is over.”
“What am I going to do?”
“Everything is gone.”
“My life is over.”
“What can I do?”
“I left everything I knew and now it’s all gone.”
“My life is over.”

Now repeat that for an hour. Adding in a few personal details here and there. And pausing long enough for her eyes to stare into mine through the tears and beg for an answer that will fix it, but not long enough to wait for any answer I could give.

Some days I just hate my job.

I don’t hate that I do it. I hate that it’s needed. I hate that so much pain exists. I hate that there’s no one else who can listen to her. I hate that I’m not actually trained. I hate that people tell me I’m so strong when they find out what I do…because I’m not.

Sure, I kept it together while I listened, but I went home and sobbed.

While it is hard, I love that I get to meet these women. I love that I get paid to be kind. And to share the only hope that keeps me walking into the depths of these stories over and over again. Jesus. I could not face the darkness each day if it wasn’t for His love. God has proven over and over in my life that while He doesn’t promise to make all days good, He promises to be with us in spite of the bad. And He is a redeemer…nothing and no one is too broken for God to redeem. In spite of the hard days, I am so glad I get a front row seat into stories of God’s grace regularly.

After the awkward introduction with a new girl where I couldn’t shake her hand because we aren’t allowed to touch:

“How are you doing?” I tried to ask soothingly.
“I was caged alive for 7 months.” she said despondently as she stared into my eyes.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on. (At this point I still wasn’t sure if she meant she’d been in jail for 7 months, been in solitary confinement for 7 months, or she had somehow been held captive before jail.) I’m not sure I ever really figured it out, but she went on. She told me how great her life was and then she paused:

“Then he went off and died on me.” she said as the tears started to flow.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“Who was it that died again?” I asked, trying to pretend I just missed his name when really I was incredibly confused by the conversation… She went on to talk about addiction, loss, and through the tears our conversation continued to be very confusing. I can only imagine how confused her heart must be feeling tonight.

After joining the ladies for our PB&J lunch on the block another new girl asked to speak with me. She said she had court yesterday and it was hard to process. Noticing her eyes filling with tears I quickly promised I’d call her out to talk one on one instead of at the table with all the other girls listening in:

“So what happened at court?” I asked.
“If I get more than a year they are going to adopt out my daughter,” she sobbed.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

“That must feel really scary.” I settled on again. This has honestly become my go to phrase. Sometimes there’s just no way to fix it. There are no words to say. We still can’t touch, so no hugs to give. Nothing I can do but acknowledge the emotion. And sit in the pain with her.

We talked about adoption. How there was no one in her life she would trust with her sweet daughter because the people closest to her did drugs. How she knew adoption was good, but that this girl was a part of her. She wasn’t for someone else. I can only imagine how scared her heart is feeling tonight.

On to the next and the story goes like this:

“So you heard my big news?” she asked cynically.
“I’m so sorry.” I replied, knowing she was referring to the loss of her mother.
“This is torture.” she said flatly.

*pause*  …  *breath*  …  *think*

Again, no words were fitting. I had a hard day yesterday when my mom flew to another country but is still only a phone call away. We reminisced on stories of her mom. How she was her best friend. That she would miss the funeral. Though she was struggling throughout the whole conversation she was grateful that her mom was finally out of pain. I can only imagine how much her heart is hurting tonight.

IMG_5657I think it’s these conversations that make me dislike TV so much. I have a hard time sitting back and separating these stories from the stories in the shows even when they are so very different. I hear the phrase “New Girl” and I think of all the new girls I met today and their stories. I hear “Orange is the New Black” and think about what all the different colors of clothing mean in jail. I hear “House of Cards” and think about the odd politics and manipulation that goes on between the girls in there. I just can’t get their sweet faces out of my mind.

But I also see so much good. I get to see the girls who care about each other as well as they can in the middle of these broken situations. I hear about the gratitude lists that are being made each day. The many people who start their mornings reading the Jesus Calling book we were able to give out for Christmas and then choose to face the day with hope. The counselors who squeeze as much work into their time there as possible. The COs who stop many fights before they begin. The excited updates of girls who have gotten out. The constant requests of prayers for loved ones. I know it’s hard to imagine their lives, but if you believe in God, would you lift up a prayer for these girls? I’m sure their hearts could use it tonight. 

When I asked to go into the jail 2 years ago I had no idea what that would bring. I thought maybe I’d just teach a class and get to meet some people and whatnot. That’d be cool. I didn’t know I’d become a chaplain, the “party planner”, and the random girl in “street clothes” that eats lunch on the block every Thursday.

I didn’t know that I would start running the Angel Tree program at Calvary to provide Christmas presents to local kids with incarcerated parents. I didn’t know I’d get to bring in a small library to share with everyone. Or that I’d raise a couple thousand dollars and lead a church wide candy bar drive to be able to give presents for each inmate in our local jail for two years now. I didn’t know people on the outside would tell me stories of impact from their loved ones on the inside who received our gifts.

I didn’t know I’d decorate cards with men and woman who would send them to their kids, parents, lovers, and friends around the holidays hoping to not be forgotten. I didn’t know I’d listen and pray with women who signed their kids over for adoption. I didn’t know I’d recruit others to go in and lead events and classes. I didn’t know I’d hear about so much death and the many lost loved ones in these people’s lives. I didn’t know I’d launch a community mentoring program to help people adjust back into life after jail.

I didn’t know I’d become a penpal with someone on the inside. I didn’t know I’d make real friends who have left that place and now I get to see in street clothes sometimes. I definitely didn’t know or even hope that I’d get put in touch with people who live 4 hours away because their son is in our jail and they need help knowing what to do and who to contact. I never expected to hug a random stranger who cried on my shoulder as she thanked me for caring about her son and acknowledging that this was hard and embarrassing, but it didn’t define her. I knew God called me to go into that jail, but there was so much I didn’t know. I keep dreaming of more, but there is still so much I still don’t know. That’s just one reason I keep following after Jesus as He leads me into more and more incredible adventures beyond my wildest dreams.

“Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.” Ephesians 3:20-21

Dream-Big

Shelby, I don’t want to die in here.
I can’t get those words out of my head.
Shelby, I don’t want to die in here.heart

A woman came into my office today, lets call her Sue for this story.
When she walked in her eyes were puffy. It was clear she was upset about something, but I had no idea what. I had only met her once before so I tried to remember what she had shared in the past. *think brain think* I couldn’t. I met multiple women the day I met her, and their stories were colliding in my mind.

So I did the next best thing, I guessed about her kids. I thought maybe she had told be about her sons, so I asked her, “you have boys on the outside, right?” Wrong. She has one boy, and he’s not on the outside. The tears started falling as she told me the name of the prison her son was in. Then the one her daughter was in. And a third that her grandson was in. *no wonder she is struggling* I thought to myself. That is a lot of weight for anyone to carry.

But I was wrong again. While that did bring her down, she went on to tell me that she found out this week that her husband passed away. She relied on him. He didn’t use drugs. He loved her. She looked me in the eye and said, “He loved me when I couldn’t even love myself…I came from an alcoholic family, and I didn’t know how to love”. Now she doesn’t even know if she will make it to his funeral.

“I really wish I was allowed to hug you,” I told her. “I know” she said, “I can feel it. Thank you”.

We talked about feeling and how it felt bad, but it was good that she could feel it. We were both thankful she didn’t have access to drugs or alcohol to numb the pain, even though it would seem like the ‘easiest’ solution if it was available. And she said, “maybe that is why I came in here, because God knew I couldn’t have dealt with it on my own”. I respected her so much for looking for the positive in such a negative situation.  She told me how it was hard to sleep, and that sometimes her breaking heart hurt so badly that she thought she might be having a heart attack. That is when she told me, “Shelby, I don’t want to die in here”.  And she meant it. She is scared. She doesn’t believe she is having a heart attack, but death is something she has experienced far more than many of us. She knows it’s not something waiting for us at the end of our lives when we’ve had enough, she knows death comes at times you wouldn’t expect. And she’s scared that she’s next.

Friends, please get help when you need it. Know that you are loved. You were created in the image of God, and He loves you. Even if your family never did. And it’s ok to have problems, addictions, relatives in jail, a record, naughty kids, debt, a bad day. Those things don’t have to be hidden. Don’t turn to a bottle to soften the blow, there are people who are willing to listen, and a God who redeems. Trust me, I get a front row seat on both sides of these stories, and one side is better than the other. I guarantee it.

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Dearest, sweetest Mommy,
This art was meant for you.
I thought you’d always be there,
But I’ve learned that that’s not true.

I cannot understand it,
It just looks like you’re asleep.
They laid my picture up on you,
When people see they weep.

I wish that we could cuddle,
Or just get one last hug.
But heroin took you away,
I lost you to the drug.

Today I went to the funeral of someone younger than me. I didn’t know her, but it still left me in tears. So much pain. I’m so glad I am surrounded by a group of people who care. People who want to step into the mess and help to pull people out. Jesus didn’t tell people to get better first then come to Him…He met them in their mess and loved them. He gave them hope and challenged them to overcome. I want to live like that. I want love to win over shame. I want people to be able to share their struggles and find the strength to overcome.

A Christmas card.

A letter.

Something from the family.

It sounds so happy, but for one of my friends this year…it wasn’t.

See she got a card from her family, yes.

Have you ever gotten scribbles in a card?

Sometimes they are happy and full of love.

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Sometimes they are not.

This one was not.

scribble

This one had the faces of her family scribbled out.

It had words written to remind her of the pain she caused them.

It told her to look at the picture without faces and every time she did to remember their hurt.

My friend is in jail.

She did cause pain to her family.

But that doesn’t make retaliation ok.

Will you pray for my friend?

She loves her family.

She has two young children and she is not sure where they will end up.

She is hopeful to finish her high school education while she’s in jail.

This Christmas wasn’t an easy one for her.

But the jail did let me give out Bible studies for presents.

So she did get one present.

I have hope that by doing the study and reading God’s word she will find His peace in spite of her circumstances.

And I hope for the rest of you, that you stop and take a moment.

Think of someone who hurt you.

Choose to forgive them.

Instead of retaliating.

Love them. Jesus loves you even though you’ve hurt Him. Let’s be the change we want to see.

DSC_8207-2 Calvary is hosting Out of the Cold right now which is a temporary emergency shelter that rotates between 12 local churches during the winter months. It is a wonderful program that we work very hard to find lots of volunteers for. We have cots and blankets for our friends, good conversations, games and a warm meal. It’s not the same as having a house, but for an emergency shelter I’d say it’s pretty great.

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A couple weeks ago my life group had a chance to make the dinner and hang out with the guests for the evening. It was a joy to be together and see my two groups of friends collide. Sometimes it catches me by surprise that people I can feel so close to and such good friends with are only involved in one section of my life. I love when there is overlap. I think the reality is there is so much more that is the same between us than what is different. A lot of times we notice what is different. Like “I have a house and you don’t”. Or “I’m not in school and you are”.

photo 2-9But what I saw happening this night was not two separate groups focusing on their differences. But one group of people sharing a dinner together and just enjoying warm food and cheerful company. It brought joy to my heart to listen to my Life Group friends ask my Out of the Cold friends where they were from, what things they had studied in school, and why they had certain opinions. I also loved hearing my Out of the Cold friends asking similar questions of my Life Group friends. I think friends are fabulous and I have wonderful people from all the many sections of my life.

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Please keep Out of the Cold in your prayers. It’s tricky living together with a big group of people all winter long. It’s hard to sleep on cots. Even a warm meal every night is less appealing when you don’t get to chose what it is. No matter what kind of games we play it is not fun to be homeless. It’s scary. It’s overwhelming. It’s challenging. But we have lots of friends who face it bravely. Many of fought their way out of it. And I believe many more will overcome. In the mean time pray. Pray for love. For joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Gentleness. Faithfulness. Self Control. Pray that my friends would know Jesus. Not just His name, but how He loves them.