Posts Tagged ‘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.

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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

I’ve been silent on here for a while now.
Sometimes it’s better that way.
Sometimes it’s not intentional, I just get busy and distracted.
Sometimes it’s intentional, I know the things I’m thinking won’t be beneficial to share.

But I also know there is power in truth.
Sometimes truth hurts.
Sometimes we don’t like it.
Sometimes it offends the people around us, but we were not created for secrets.

In my silence there has been pain.
There has been confusion.
There has been loss, worry and fear.
But more than that there has been truth.

In my silence I’ve searched the Scriptures.
I’ve bent my knees in prayer.
I’ve cried with friends.
I’ve painted, read, walked, and given my brain and heart time to process.

What’s been going on, you ask?
Lots. But to sum it up my trust was broken.
I was caught off guard in a situation.
Compared to other people’s problems it was in fact rather small.

But it was an area in my life where the devil wanted to grab ahold of me.
It my time of silence there were days I wondered if he had.
But through the anxiety I clung to one thing…Jesus.
And I knew each step of the way, Jesus wins and I’m on His team.

So thankful to be on Jesus’ team.
So thankful to have you on my team.
Life has ups and downs.
And each day is worth it.

For starters lets talk about things Jesus didn’t say, “Take my yolk upon you.” Gross. That makes absolutely no sense. But today more than one girl I talked to thought that the Bible said just that.

yolk

Today I went to jail, as I always do on Thursdays. I usually print out and bring in a little daily meditation that comes to my email everyday. It starts with a verse, has a short devotion, and ends with a prayer. Today the verse was, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

The most common response after reading the meditations each week is, “How did you know that was exactly what I needed to hear?” That’s what I expected again. In my mind this made sense. But to many of my friends it didn’t. We’d read it and pause. “Can you explain this to me?” they’d ask. “Well, do you know what a yoke is?” I said. “Like, an egg?” they asked. “Nope.” Jesus doesn’t want us to egg people’s houses, He wants us to follow Him and let Him share our load. I guess with all the modern technology kids these days only know about tractors and not farming with cows.

yoke-of-oxen

“Shelby, I’m back.” Normally those are word I love to hear. When my housemates come home my heart is full. When out of town friends visit it’s wonderful. When I get to see my family after a long separation.

But not today.
See, today is Thursday.
Thursday is jail day.

Today when I went onto the block for lunch my friend came up to me and said, “Shelby, I’m back.” “Oh friend…” I said, but there were no more words. “You are.” “Why?” “I’m sorry.” “What did you do?” and “Seriously!?” just didn’t seem to fit the moment. So we just locked eyes in a moment of understanding.

I had flashbacks to my second graders telling me, “Miss Caraway, my dad’s in jail,” as they stood in line and having no response for them. These things that are so normal, are not good. In fact they are very bad, but when we let ourselves feel it hurts. So, too often, the calloused walls go up and get stronger each time.

Sadly, so often, it’s that very fear of feeling that leads people to jail. Too often using drugs is the easiest way to ‘cope’. Sadly, it doesn’t ever actually help. It just blocks, delays, distracts, or postpones the pain.

Can we make it ok to cry again?

Can we follow up our “how are yous?” with real questions that require bigger answers than “fine”? If we want people to get better, it’s on us to help. I dare you to feel the feelings you’re afraid of today. And when someone asks about your day be willing to tell them the truth instead of what you think they want to hear. Trust me, it’s worth it.

“How are you?” always seems like it should be a simple question, but then, we answer in code, “fine” we say. But what does that mean? I use this code, and still can’t always decipher it. It could mean many different things, but some of the common ones include:

  • Fine.
  • Average day.
  • All is well.
  • Move on.
  • Don’t ask
  • Please notice.
  • I’m not going to make it.
  • Help.

I’ve felt myself wanting to use “fine” as an answer this week. For those trying to crack the code when I use fine it usually means there is a lot going on right now, but I’m not sure you want to hear about it, so unless you notice what I’m trying hard to hide from you I’m not going to tell you about it. …I know…it’s not a great way to be. So I’ve been challenging myself to give real answers.

“How am I? Well, my friend went to jail this week…I’m angry.” It shouldn’t be a big deal, because a lot of my friends are from the jail or go back to the jail, but this one was different. I was caught off guard. I had so much hope.

“How am I? Well, I argued with a homeless man tonight about how often he could shower…I’m wondering what that makes me.” If I didn’t have a shower in my house I’d probably fight for rights to one too, but there are rules for a reason, and everyone can’t shower all the time. I guess it makes me the bearer of bad news, and not a bad person.

“How am I? Well, people are responding to my program…I’m excited.” The mentoring program is going well! We have 3 matches and are hoping to train more mentors soon. I’ve gotten mail back from inmates we’ve never met, but whose kids we were able to buy gifts for though the Angel Tree program. There are other people coming into the jail to help add joy and peace.

“How am I? Well, I’m just me…I’m fine.” I think it’s ok to be fine sometimes, but it’s so important to be honest. It’s easy to feel alone in our issues, but people do care, and God is in control even when all we can see is chaos.

Sometimes after I go into the jail it takes me a while to process some of the things I hear.
If I can’t snap out of the pain that’s jumped off someone’s story and into my heart I have to find a way to deal with it.
Usually it’s through running, napping, drawing or writing.
If I try to write but can’t find words I look at quotes.
Yesterday I met several new women and heard several new stories.
Today was a day that needed quote looking and drawing and writing.

IMG_2966

“My mother sold me to the dope man when I was ten years old.”
“My father abused me for 10 years and my family tells me it was my fault.”
“I peed the bed as a kid to try to keep my cousins from coming in and doing things to me, but that didn’t even work.”

There’s lots of days I wish I never heard the stories. There’s lots of days I wish what I heard wasn’t true. There’s lots of days I wish someone who was trained was going in to do the listening. There’s a lot of days I wish there were proper answers to give. But this quote helped me remember that I can help by simply being there and listening…

“I have learned now that while those who speak about one’s miseries usually hurt, those who keep silence hurt more.” – C.S.Lewis

I remember when I was younger being told (by no one that still influences my decisions) that I wasn’t allowed to talk about issues that were going on in my life. I think that hurt the most. It hurt more than the actual offense. When I look at these broken girls in the jail I realize that it isn’t the bars that make it feel so lonely…it’s the call to silence. The unspoken rule that we can’t talk about our problems. The fear of people hurting us more if they know our weaknesses. It is incredibly isolating. So in my office where words aren’t recorded and no one else is there these women pour their hearts out to me – someone who is practically a stranger. I just pray that I can listen well, love them with Jesus’ love, and share a hope that the silence can be broken, the pain can be faced, and the challenges can be overcome.

My life is good.
So intertwined.
I am at home.
The other day I bumped into a friend at a store where the people working knew me by name and asked about my ministry. The friend I bumped into was one of my hoarding friends who I help clean for and used to throw community dinners for (my co.worker is in charge of that now). It was fun running into her there. I then went to my pastor’s house where I sat for an hour or two and just got to talk and relax because Lynn, my mentor, was cooking her famous cinnamon rolls, from there I went home and had a conversation with some of my college student housemates about some of our local homeless friends new accomplishments in getting housing, friends who they’ve met through volunteering at Calvary during our time to host the temporary homeless shelter called Out of the Cold. I went out with a coworker to hear one of my musician friends play and he came over to talk about a concert he had played earlier that week…in the jail. I got him connected and he’s been in twice so far and is planning a third visit. Next another friend finished work (cooking in the back of the restaurant) and came to chat with me and Kendra. This friend used to be homeless and isn’t anymore. He is doing really well. I also texted on and off with a friend who is working hard to overcome his heroin addiction. And the next day I got lunch with a friend who I met in jail and has since been released. It was the first time after many months of friendship that I got to give her a hug. It was the first time I met her daughter. I was so honored! I have so many incredible people in my life. I am so lucky. So blessed. So grateful to be given each of these friends, coworkers, acquaintances…God is so good. After a short time with my family I was welcomed back with so many wonderful smiles, hugs, and such love. Life is good.