Posts Tagged ‘Death’

There’s a lot of things that make me sad.
Some get more time and attention.
Some happen so often it’s hard to keep them all straight.
Some happen once in a lifetime.

Death makes me sad.
Unnecessary death makes me sadder.
Targeted unnecessary death makes me even sadder still.

Names are powerful.
I won’t pretend to know all the names of people shot this year.
Or even all the people shot this week.
To be honest, I probably can’t even list all the names of unarmed people shot by cops this year.
But there are two names that stand out to me tonight.

One is mine.
I share a name with an officer who is being charged with manslaughter.
I share a name with the person who shot Terence Crutcher.
That makes me sad.
It reminds me I am not far removed from this pain.
I cannot pretend this problem is not mine.
I cannot pretend it is out of reach.

Another name is my baby brothers.
He has a beautiful name. And with it are beautiful dreams for his future.
But sometimes my dreams turn into nightmares and his name becomes a hashtag.
Sometimes I’m afraid he won’t get the future he is supposed to.

Sometimes I get angry that I don’t have to be afraid for myself.
What makes my brother and I different?
We have the same upbringing. The same parents. Even similar dreams.
The only difference is our skin color.
I was born white. He was born black.
But we were both born human.

I don’t know how to fix this.
But I do know that silence is not an option.
I don’t know my part is in the healing that must come.
But I will do whatever I can to not contribute to the breaking.

Will you join me?
Will you be the change?
Will you acknowledge your privilege?
Will you celebrate diversity?
Will you value our differences?
Will you ask questions?
Will you try not to be offended?
Will you open your heart?

Three men. Three races. Similar wisdom. Fighting for peace. Silence is not peace.

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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

“Happy birthday!” I told her. No present though. Not a cake and ice cream, or even a card or a hug. She told me instead how it’s a stressful day with people detoxing and in bad moods on the block. Not your typical birthday party.

“I finally heard from my fiancé,” she said. I was glad to know he wasn’t dead because she had been nervous that he might be. “He’s with another woman now.” She said as if that’s what she deserved since she was in jail.

“I lost a daughter 10 years ago.” She said seemingly unrelated to our conversation. So then we talked about that. We talked about how 11 days before her due date the baby stopped moving. The cord had wrapped around her neck and then she had to deliver a dead baby. She talked about how she knew it was dead, but still had hope it would wake up and cry. How she held her sweet daughter for two hours before saying goodbye. Today she cried. She said she hasn’t cried the whole time she’s been in jail, and that she needed this. It’s amazing how long it can take us before we are willing to talk about the pain in our past.

“I was clean for two and a half years,” she said as the tears started to flow. “But I came back here and I used and I can’t remember Sunday through Thursday…I don’t know what I did. I feel so ashamed. Did I sleep with people for money? I can’t remember. Then when I was sober again and I got picked up for something else and brought back to jail.”

“I didn’t call or anything, I just stood her up,” she said about visiting her four year old daughter who now lives with a different family since she was taken away as a baby when her Mama was addicted to heroin. “I know she was there wondering, ‘Where is my Mommy? Why didn’t see come?’.” This woman is left hoping her daughter knows she loves her even when she’s failed to show it.

5 stories. All hard. Jail stories are hard. Sadly, these are just one day. Every day has so many stories. And they’re hard. It makes my heart happy that Jesus offers hope. I could never go in and hear about this pain again and again without having hope of redemption.

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.

A few days ago I made the trek from Pennsylvania to Michigan again to celebrate the life of my Gramps after his short (just 2 week) fight with cancer. I was supposed to drive up today to visit him, but instead I went to his funeral this past weekend. Sometimes life does not go to plan, but I do believe God is still in control.

On my all day drive I had lots of time to think and process. It was a healthy car ride and one that I found rather inspiring. Let me enlighten you…

photo 1-11For starters it felt weird to purposely drive out of sunshine and into a storm. It seemed almost wrong, but I knew that the journey was worth it. It made me think about the rest of life and the challenges we sometimes would rather not face, but how much stronger, happier, more fulfilled we would be in the end if we were willing to keep taking the next step on the journey…no matter what storms we might face.

 

photo 2-11A little later I saw this and did a double take. That wasn’t just a hole in the clouds where the sun was shining through, it was one cloud shining while the rest clung to their dreariness. Kind of like humans, it was one choosing to respond differently than what is considered normal. That lone cloud couldn’t make it not be a cloudy day, but it did add a bright spot into a cloudy day. I thought about the hard things in life, my friends in jail who’s families will celebrate Christmas without them. The many refugees all around the world who are just trying to survive the day. The homeless. The sick. I can’t make all of their days good, happy, or safe. But I can be a bright spot on a cloudy day…and even that makes a difference.

 

photo 3-8And then I wondered why does God go to all the effort to add extra beauty to each beginning and ending of our days? Honestly, I don’t know that it’s extra effort. I’m sure there’s scientific reason…but I also know it doesn’t have to be so beautiful. I believe God created some things in such detail just simply to wow us. He wows me all the time.

 

gramps 3 Today my grandpa died.
I face death a lot.
When other people’s grandparent’s die I’ve written blog posts about how it’s sad.
But today it was mine.
It was Gramps.
And the words don’t come as freely.
But it’s not because I didn’t love him.
It’s because it’s too hard to put the love into words.
It’s so hard to narrow down the memories to a page.
It’s hard to express the relationship we shared.

From searching for your cat that hated us as kids,gramps
To even in the end when you didn’t always know my name, but knew I was the one who would share ice-cream with you without fail.
From baking cookies with Grandma in your kitchen and having to burn a batch for you,
To cheering on Michigan State (even though I didn’t really care, because you cared so much).
From monkey bread and mimosas for brunch,
To many mornings spent at Bob Evans.

You were a good man who faced life with a laugh and always bragged about your kids. You’ll be missed Gramps. Today I’m wearing my Michigan State sweatshirt in your honor.

I found out two people died today, and death hurts. To me it seems extra sad that one was homeless and one was the grandfather of my friend in jail.

One was a friend to me.
We weren’t close, but we have spent many hours together.
She was sick, but she wasn’t that old.
She was homeless when I spent a lot of time with her, but she had gotten into a place.
She collapsed on the floor and didn’t make it to the hospital.
She lived a tough life, and she will be missed.

One was a stranger.
I hadn’t met him, but I heard a lot about him.
He’s the pap of one of the girls I meet with in the jail.
He raised her.
She knew he was dying, but she couldn’t go and be with him.
He was fine when she went into jail, she had no idea he’d be gone when she got out.
She couldn’t hug or comfort him, but she did get to talk to him on the phone.

I don’t know what happens now. I don’t know if my homeless friend will get a funeral. I don’t know if my friend in jail will get to attend her Pap’s funeral. There are so many unknowns in life, and even more when you are faced with homelessness or jail. It makes my heart sad. But I know that God has me here and in these people’s lives for a reason. I count it a blessing to get a chance to walk right into people’s mess and live along side them. Hug the people you can today…only God knows how many days we have on earth.

I feel like I often get to tell the stories that nobody shouts about. The media picks up on how unfair certain situations are, and they also look the other way often too. The stories I tell are so often unfair, but that doesn’t mean they’re always bad. Here is one that is so good and sweet but mixed with one so bad and sorrowful that even though I’ve lived it, it’s still hard to understand…good luck…

Once upon a time when I lived in Tanzania I came way to close to a black mamba. I don’t know if you understand what that really means. It means…I should be dead. Black mambas are known for being one of (if not the most) deadly snakes in the world. They are big, fast, territorial and aggressive. They bite, and without the right treatment immediately, you die. I lived 3 days from a good hospital…depending on the bite you can die in less than an hour.

“I know not why God’s wondrous grace

To me He hath made known,

Nor why, unworthy, Christ in love

Redeemed me for His own.”

I still get flutters in my heart when I think about that day. I remember I was climbing on a cliff with my friend Sierra and we came to a point where we couldn’t go any farther because it was too steep. We had to go back up. Then we saw it. A black mamba. Maybe 10 feet to our left and a little above us. We had to climb back up…closer to it. That’s too close. I could see his face, his mouth, his eye…he could see me. He could’ve easily reached us. We could have easily died that day. And while it would’ve been sad, it happens. People die. We were given grace and mercy that we didn’t do anything to earn.

“Come Thou Fount of ev’ry blessing,

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace;

Streams of mercy, never ceasing,

Call for songs of loudest praise.”

Back in my village, just this week, another little girl got too close to a black mamba too. But she died. My life was no greater than hers. I don’t know why I lived and she died. It’s horrible. It’s unfair. It’s part of life. More often than not things don’t go to plan. And yet I truly believe that God’s mercy is still never ceasing. That God still deserves loudest praise. That God’s faithfulness is still great.

 “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

 There is no shadow of turning with Thee;

 Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not

As Thou hast been Thou forever wilt be.”

As God has been…gracious, merciful, giving me chance after chance at this life…He forever will be…gracious, merciful, giving chance after chance. He is just as faithful to this little girl’s family as He is to mine. I don’t understand. It hurts my heart. I wish she could be alive. But I know that God is good…no matter what.

Her story will never make the news. She will be mourned in her village and life will go on. But for me, she is one more reminder of God’s grace in my life. He has saved me physically many times, and so much greater than that, He has saved me spiritually. God has shown me grace and mercy and at times I probably didn’t/don’t even notice. But every time I think of this little girl, I will strive to show grace to those around me. Her life made an impact, and she will not be soon forgotten. Pray for her family as they learn to cope without her.

I don’t use the word ‘hate’ very often.
I was taught to remember just how powerful it is.
But today in the midst of many emotions, I can’t find a reason not to.

grief

Maybe you know someone using heroin.
Maybe you don’t.

…Or maybe you’re like me, and today you know one less person using, because the drug won the fight.

Today a brother is missing, a son is missing, a friend is missing, and he isn’t going to come back. His body couldn’t handle the drug, and it shut down. He overdosed. He died. We didn’t talk much, but we did recently, we talked about addiction and how hard it is to kick. He knew I was praying for him and asked me to pray for specific things. We didn’t always get along, but I have so many memories.

I don’t hate many things, but I hate heroin. I can’t find anything good about it. I have recently been exposed to so many friends who have become trapped by it. They didn’t mean to get addicted. They just thought they’d try it once. They went through detox, rehab, jail, but keep going back to it… The list goes on. It’s a hard one to kick, but I know people can overcome. I’m not angry at this friend for not winning his fight with the drug, but I sure do hope that his story can tip the scales in someone else’s fight and help them overcome before it’s too late.

i'm ok

The other thing that this tragedy reminds me to do is cherish each moment and each friend. To encourage people whether or not they look like they need it. Often the happy ones are the hurting ones. To tell people how I feel about them now while they are alive, and not save those words for after they are gone. Drugs suck. That’s what it comes down to. Please don’t do drugs, they just don’t fight fair.

Sometimes it feels like it would be easier to just be angry, than to try and learn from a situation, but even in the storm I will choose to praise the Lord. Paul said it well in 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves received from God.” I’m not happy for the loss of my friend, but I will thank the Lord for His comfort in this situation, and pray that I am able to better comfort others in their loss as a result. If you guys are the praying type please pray for my friend’s family and his friends who were much closer than I was to him…they are hurting, and prayers help.