I recently went to prison.
Did that get your attention?
I was among a team of people who spent a Saturday in the prisons in order to serve the inmates. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I knew I wanted to be an instrument of God’s love and grace to the women there. I knew the prison would be filled with broken, battered, messy women who are in desperate need of God’s love. (Btw, we all are. Some of us just hide it better than others.) And I was right. The facility that we visited housed female substance abuse offenders.
These offenders are beautiful women created in the image of God.
Women created for a wonderful purpose.
Gifted women who have beautiful gifts to share with this world.
Honestly, they didn’t look any different from you or me, and except for their white suits and green jackets, you wouldn’t have been able to distinguish them from the volunteers. Which leads me to believe that there are people all around us that are held captive to addiction, and many of them came from christian homes. Addiction doesn’t discriminate.
What I didn’t expect to see while visiting prison was joy. I saw kids-on-christmas-morning, can’t-stop-giggling, crying-happy-tears, i-can-finally-breathe kind of joy.
That joy beamed from a woman who recently discovered the love of God through Jesus Christ. When I first saw her, she was sitting a couple rows in front of me while the band was performing. She was singing with eyes closed and a wide grin on her face. She giggled with her friend who sat beside her. She raised her hands in praise to God as we sang songs of worship. She cried tears that came from the core of her being, as the band played a country song that obviously touched some deep place inside of her.
She seemed so alive!
Later that morning she ended up in my small group. It was then that I discovered the source of her joy. She once walked in complete darkness, and now she had found Jesus and her life had been transformed. She had once been empty, dry, and hopeless, but while she was in prison, she was introduced to the God of love. And everything changed! As I asked the ladies several questions about their beliefs on spiritual things, this lady could hardly contain herself as she waited for her turn to answer. She was almost jumping in her seat.
She shared a small bit of her story with me. She grew up in a home where she experienced many forms of abuse. She knew nothing about God. That set the stage for her to live a life of crime. She said she had never had an honest job before. She had always participated in some type of illegal activity in order to support herself and others financially. She explained that she had always had a darkness and an emptiness inside–until now. Her husband tried to kill her. In short, her life was toe up from the floe up. (translation: torn up from the floor up. Further translation: Her life was a mess.)
She said that prison was the best thing that ever happened to her.
She thanked God that she went to prison, because it was there that she found life. It was there that the light expelled the darkness, and her emptiness was filled.
With life–full, overflowing and never ending.
She didn’t know that life could be so so so good.
This prison has become the place where she is finding healing, hope and a new purpose in life. (Aren’t you glad your tax dollars are being well spent?) She’s like a person who has spend years pouring junk into her body, never giving her body what it really needs to function properly. So she walked around “stuffed”, but still hungry. Her soul was starving and now she had found real food, and living water. Now life overflows in her! She said she didn’t need a man. No one could give her the joy she had found!
She said she spends hours each day reading her Bible and praying for others. When she notices a person looking sad, she prays for them. When others around her need prayer, they come to her. The other ladies in the group called her a prayer warrior. She said she often spent hours each night crying out to the Lord in prayer. According to her, God usually answers her prayer within a week or two.
I asked her to pray for me. You should have seen the excitement on her face as I shared my prayer request. I fully expect God to move on behalf of her prayers. He delights in lifting up the forgotten, the dishonored and the broken. I believe her prayers will be answered for years to come, and I pray that she is greatly rewarded for her participation in the work that God has called me to.
I hate to admit this, but I can’t remember her name. But I’m happy to say that God does. He sees her service behind prison walls. He is present in dark places.
A word of advice from this sweet lady: She says, “If you don’t understand the Bible, pray and ask for understanding. God will help you.”
This is the transforming, redeeming, life-giving, overflowing, never ending grace that each of us has available to us. The same God that is transforming this lady, is ready to transform each of us. He’s ready to redeem our mess-ups, our forgetfulness, our I-didn’t-know-that, our I-tried-my-best-but-still-failed, our I-didn’t-have-enough-time, our I-don’t-know-what-I’m-doing, our I’m-exhausted-with-trying, and our I-don’t-give-a-…. As I shared with one of the women, there is nothing so horribly bad, or big, that God cannot completely transform it into a magnificent masterpiece.
He specializes in turning ashes into beauty.
He wants to do it in your life and mine.
Only one thing is needed. Surrender to the One true God of the Universe.
See what He will do.
Can you identify with this woman in any way?
I was greatly inspired by her. Were you? How so? Share in the comments below.