Posts Tagged ‘chaplain’

“STOP IT!” she screamed into the silence. “I know what you’re doing and I feel you enough. JUST GO AWAY!”

“SHUT UP!” the other yelled back, “just stop your ranting for one moment and give me a little peace. You’re making me crazy!”

“Why are you mad? Isn’t this what we wanted? Did we never talk about this?”

“Of course it’s what we wanted…we asked for it. I just didn’t know it would feel this way.”

Back and forth they bickered and yelled all. day. long. But silently. You may have noticed them though not so harshly. Maybe the harshness of the first was reflected in my tone when I spoke. Or maybe you saw their frustration of the second in the tears that welled up in my eyes for seemingly no reason while we were talking. Or that quiver in my voice that I pretended wasn’t there. You might have noticed. But you might not have, but those have been the voices of my head and my heart today. On the inside, they are so very loud.

See, every Wednesday for the past 3 years I have been prepping emotionally to wake up the next day and go into jail. Today I didn’t. Tomorrow I am not going to jail. It’s still jail day. But I’m not going in. My dear friend and coworker has become the answer to my prayers that have been piling up for 3 years now. Prayers to be able to share this work with someone. Prayers for it to become sustainable. So many prayers. And now as I watch them being answered and I rejoice, it hurts a little bit. That’s where my head and heart get mad at each other. One wants to see the logic and say “THIS IS WHAT I WANTED! YAY!” the other says, “I sure am going to miss my friends tomorrow”. One says, “I cannot even believe this is growing to more than just me!” the other questions my identity. “What exactly is my intro now if not, ‘I am the chaplain’?”

As I look to Jesus and quiet my soul I am reminded that I don’t have to know what’s next to trust that it is good. Transition, even when it’s good, is hard. Tears are not bad. Trust takes work. I don’t like that, but it’s true. Trust. Trust. Trust that tomorrow will come and go just like today. Trust that the next steps, no matter how scary, are where I’m supposed to go. Tonight I will choose to trust and rest secured and before I drift off to sleep reread my favorite bedtime psalm. Psalm 4:8 “In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

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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?

cant-waitHave you ever gotten a note from a friend and it said, “I can’t wait to see you!”? I have. Usually I like them. (I love mail) And sometimes they come in other forms, I got a voicemail the other night that was stating how it had been too long and we needed to get together. While the distance is kind of sad, knowing they are excited to see me makes it overall feel happy.

But today I got a note that said the same, “I can’t wait to see you!” and it made my heart so sad…

Today I got notes from multiple friends who I used to see every week. We went through a lot of emotions together. We cried. We laughed. We planned. We prayed. And I haven’t seen for quite some time. But I saw them again today. You guessed it. Today was a jail day. Sadly they are back on the inside. I loved seeing them. But I wished it was different. I wished I could hug them. I wished we could be creating halloween costumes for their kids. I wished we could go get coffee, go on a hike, see a movie, really anything other than sit in my office and face the question…”can you believe I’m here?”. Ugh. Sigh. Some days it’s hard to see friends. But it’s still worth it.

“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

It hurts so much to sit silently, 3ft away from girls mourning and not reach out to comfort them. As they mourn the loss of belongings, basic rights, children, parents, pets, their past and their futures. As they weep, rock, bounce their knee, bite their lip. As they hurt and long for comfort. As they tell me how all they ever get are blank stares I wonder how my eye contact is perceived. I wonder if they can see that my heart is breaking. I wonder if they know I’d give anything to change their situation. I wonder if they know they are worth it. And I hope. I hope and I pray. I believe they can overcome. I believe they are worth the fight. I believe God is for them. I believe they can have hope. Even as I hear their stories. Just a couple snippets of todays stories below…

“They say retaliation isn’t allowed, but really, how can they stop it?” – you don’t need a shank to hurt someone back. Sometimes silence, rumors, language, or force hurt just as much as weapons.

“But how do I know who me is? There are so many.” – asked the girl who was recently diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia when we talked about how medication might help to silence the voices in her head that weren’t hers and make her feel more like herself.

“…Someone must have been praying for me. I don’t know who would…Not that many people love me… (in the middle of this long story she paused, let it sink in to herself, put her head down in shame as the tears began to flow. Then she looked up again.) …maybe three.” – I told her that now she has four, because I will love her and pray for her.

“If it wasn’t for Jesus living inside of me I’d’ve had her up to the wall and smashed her face in…” – the girl who is getting much better at anger management.

“Will you pray that I would believe I’m still a good person who just did a really bad thing, and not the evil person media is portraying me to be?” – the young girl who is truly sorry for what she did.

“I’m a really nice person, but in here you have to learn to be selfish.” – a new girl adjusting to life on the inside.

Sometimes it’s hard to hope in the midst of so much pain, but I just keep praying Romans 15:13 over them: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” I believe God’s power is stronger than any person, place, or thing against us. Through Him we can overcome.

Sometimes I wish I could only tell you the happy things. I usually tell the stories with happy endings, or at least the happy parts of stories, but what about the days that leave me in tears? What about the really hard stuff.

The problem with helping is that in order to help you have to know. And knowing hurts.

Just the other day I spoke to four people who don’t have money to pay for heat. So they are cold. I spoke to a woman who cried as she told me she would have a glass of water for dinner because she was out of food and money and didn’t have any more food stamps. I spoke to another woman who called and said that her grandkids had been staying with her and so she had run out of food – normally she can live on what the food bank gives her, but because she had extra hungry mouths, she ran out. I heard about cancer, and sickness, and loss. That was all on one day just in the office.

Later that week, as the chaplain in jail, I heard about more. I heard fear, questioning and wonder. I heard women talk about their kids, husbands, boyfriends, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, in-laws and even one’s unborn baby. Who they can no longer care for, protect, and help. It’s so scary to be in a situation where everything is out of your control.

It’s hard to know all these things. But I also know that God cares and loves all these people. He sees them as the people they are, and not for the problems the are stuck in, or the problems they have caused. By knowing about these things I can help. Just this week I was able to pray with people and tell them, “It’s worth it,” “hang on,” “keep fighting through,” “don’t give up.” I was able to help coordinate rides to the doctor, get some food delivered, and get people connected with a team who can help to provide heat.

Not everyone I meet gets the help they need, but it’s worth knowing the needs are out there so we can keep fighting to provide the solutions. Jesus was a problem solver, but He didn’t just take away all the world’s problems. He shared God with people. That’s what we should do too. As we meet the physical needs that we can, we should also be loving people with Jesus love. Because ultimately, He is the one who can bring healing to their souls. Look at the people around you, one or many of them may be in serious need, and just not know how to tell you.

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.

c77d2bf031f07612

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.