She has taught me so much in the past few months and I hope I have helped her some too.
She is trustworthy, kind, humble, and gentle in spirit. The first day I met her, she felt the need to tell me all about herself and did not keep any secrets. At times she talked quite fast due to her nerves and the pain attached to exposing her past, but she forced herself to trust me. She divulged past regrets, but rested in the fact that her past had allowed her to land in a safe place. She inquired about my life, always looking me in the eye when I spoke to show she was engaged. She sought out my advice on handling conflict with peers because it felt uncomfortable yet unavoidable at times. She still smiles often even though parts of her future are uncertain. And she has asked me if I will still want to be her friend in the upcoming months. I have assured her that I do.
About 7 months ago, I met her. I had been feeling a tug at my heart to get involved in something outside of my “bubble” so I sent an email to an organization I had heard of through our church. Our bubbles are funny, aren’t they? Most of us work towards creating an environment with our families that provide safety and security. We yearn for stability. A place where memories are made and children have freedom without parents fearing their every move. I wonder if, as humans, we are wired to seek these things? I’m not sure I’ve ever run into someone who has said “hey, I’m looking for a home where I could put my family at risk. You seen one?”
My friend that I described above? Well, about 9 months ago, she was sitting in prison. And she was thinking prison was going to be her home for quite some time for personal choices made which did not agree with the law. In addition to legal violations, she was also struggling to overcome addiction. On paper, she was not the type of person I would have ever put myself around, nor my children, because she was living a life that was so different from mine.
But God had another plan for her life. She was told she would be given the opportunity to go to a rehab type facility, but there was no guarantee she was done serving time. Soon after she learned this, the founders of an organization called Grace House happened to be visiting the prison and handed her an application.
The mission of Grace House “is to give women at risk the opportunity to overcome destructive life-styles of addiction, incarceration and poverty. We provide a protected environment, both physically and spiritually, so that women may grow and mature in their faith and be transformed by the power of God.” The women adhere to strict routines and participate in daily bible studies. In addition, they enhance their learning through classes and listening to speakers. The nine month program covers a variety of topics such as addiction recovery, money management, parenting skills, healthy relationships, nutrition instruction, productive lifestyle skills, music and art, and physical fitness. In addition, the women also volunteer and serve others in the community. And, they are assigned a personal mentor.
This is where God intersected my story with my new friend. I would love to tell you that going into this experience, I was confident in my ability to serve at Grace House. When I first met with the director, I was really hoping she would recommend that I either tutor some of the women with their school work or that I would teach a class. I preferred this because it would allow me to “help” but would also keep me somewhat distant and in my comfort zone. She didn’t. She asked me to be a mentor and had my specific friend in mind. She then asked me if I had any questions or concerns. I did. Some I voiced and some I kept to myself. One of my thoughts went like this, “Well, I haven’t quite been in prison before, nor struggled with addiction. Wait that’s not true….I am a 39-year-old nail biter who probably loves Diet Coke a little too much, but I haven’t struggled with addictions that could land me in jail! Is she even going to like me? Will she relate to me? Will she honestly want advice from someone who has not walked the type of path she has?” But I decided to trust the director, and with that, I ended up busting right out of my safe little bubble.
Shortly after meeting, we discovered that she and I connect easily. We both enjoy going to the movies together. We also like to explore the city and visit historical sites. We speak the language of motherhood and have found that a mother’s love transcends all divides. I know her kids’ names and can describe their personalities and she can do the same with mine. We are both drawn to exercise, because without this healthy outlet we both find ourselves struggling. Also, she has learned to tolerate my weekly driving debacles due to my nonexistent sense of direction mixed with my inability to accurately follow all the GPS instructions. Not only has it been easier than expected to spend time with her, I have thoroughly ENJOYED it. I look forward to our weekly adventures and conversations. I love that before we eat, she reaches out for my hand, grasps it, and prays with a genuine heart.
And so, I am rewiring my thinking about my bubble. Yes, I want safety and security and stability. But as a Christian, it is not my job to try to create that environment for myself nor my family. In fact, it is impossible to have that type of control in this life because suffering and human uncertainty will always exist. But we can be assured, that as believers, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. Paul tells us, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:35; 37-39, New International Version).
So if you have possibly wanted to bust out of your bubble but struggle with the “I’m not sure I will relate” or “it freaks me out” or “will I have enough time” or “what if I hate it”, I would like to encourage you. I GET IT. Oh, and also….DO IT. Take your feelings of doubt and insecurity and slap them down. Step out. Be bold. Be uncomfortable and courageous. Spread the Good News of the security given to us through Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. He provides us with the best bubble in which to live.
In one short month, she will graduate from Grace House. And she will not be returning to prison. Her parole officer informed her that he was impressed by the changes within her. He recommended to the court that she not be incarcerated and the courts agreed! I am so incredibly proud of her and I’m also in awe of the strength she has. She recently told me that she never knew that there was a light in this world because she had always felt a darkness covering her. But now that she’s tasted and seen the sweetness that Jesus is, she cannot wait to go home and raise her kids. She wants them to grow up knowing what it is to have hope. Her goals are to be with her children as much as she can, go to work, read her bible, exercise and attend weekly Celebrate Recovery meetings. Her plan is simple and focused. Personally, I cannot wait to meet up with my new friend in the community we both belong to because she is a blessing and inspiration to me.
If you would like to learn more about or donate to Grace House, please visit http://gracehousesa.org