Monday, March 28, 2011

Lessons from Prison

I went to prison again this weekend. Sweet, blessed time. I love my Kairos sisters - those inside and outside that prison. So many thoughts and images and "snapshots" of the weekend are swirling around in my head. Can't quite process them all yet. But here's a taste of what I experienced.

  • 65 Kairos sisters who praised Jesus, sang together, prayed together, ate together, listened, and loved together. About 54 of them were "sisters in white" who live at Tutwiler and wear standard Dept. of Corrections white uniforms - some for a few years, and a few for a lifetime. The other 11 were our outside team - and we ourselves are pretty diverse bunch! We come from different denominations, different races, different experiences, just different. Yet - the same too. Only God can create that kind of unity.

  • A conversation and prayer time with one of my sisters in white who will live out the rest of her lifetime in that place. And as we shared and prayed, I looked into her eyes and saw sadness and yet joy too. A joy greater than many I know. The sadness came when she talked about life here and now. The joy came when she talked about the life to come and about meeting Jesus face to face. And the joy came too when she talked about all the people she was determined would also come to know Jesus. Her whole face lit up. And I was hit with a sense of divine. And for a moment, I realized we were glimpsing eternity - when she and I and so many others would live and walk side-by-side forever. I don't know how to explain it. It wasn't an emotional moment, or a long moment. Just a brief sense of "yes. this is what it's about". But it was a Holy moment.

  • Another conversation with a woman who has lost her kids. And she tearfully asked me "do you think my baby boy will remember me?". ouch. Because despite everything else. Depsite what they've done, what environment they lived in, everything else, the mothers are still mothers in their hearts. They may not be able to care for their kids now, and some of them may not have been able to care for their children even before they came to prison. But they did (and do!) love them. They never stop loving them.

  • A quote I heard on a break "Our government has a choice to make. If they don't spend more money on schools now, they will just have to spend more money on prisons later". She should know - she's living there now.

  • A discussion after one of our talks. One woman shared her struggle to live a Christian life in that place. She compared her heart to having a robe on and every time she messes up, it leaves a hole in it. So she prays, asks for forgiveness, tries harder, and patches the hole up. And no sooner does she get the hole patched up, then she trips and makes another mistake and gets another hole. She can't keep up. And our table group tells her almost at the same time - quit patching up that robe!! Just exchange it for a brand new one!! That's the promise of Jesus - a new heart!

  • Sunday morning church. I go to a great church - with people I love, great music, great teaching, and great worship! I love my church! But when it comes to the places I've felt the most freedom and pure joy in worship - it comes in 2nd. (or maybe even 3rd - but that might be a story for another day). But first place goes to a very simple chapel in the midst of a place of hurt, shame, and darkness. That little chapel at Tutwiler with very little resources is proclaiming the good news and changing lives. And the worship there is pure, real, free, and joyful! It's awesome!!

  • So much more - some of which are miracles and insights that aren't mine to tell. But now I'm home, and content, and challenged at the same time. Content to be home, happy to be with my family, and really tired. But also challenged to reach out for more ministry, more blessings, more joy, more boldness, more freedom, and more authentic living - to live out in my day-to-day life outside those prison walls the very things that seem to come so easily inside them.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Visit to Ivy Green

We took a mini-vacation for spring break. We started it yesterday and ended it today. Short, but sweet. We drove to Florence yesterday and we got checked in our hotel mid-afternoon. It started raining as soon as we got there and rained all night. Didn't matter. We relaxed and did this:

Swimming in the indoor pool and hanging out at the hot tub

Manicures: (They're supposed to be showing off their nails - not sure what exactly Sadie is doing with that scowl!)

Dinner at a "fancy restaurant" with live music and a visit to the hotel's game room. (no pictures)

A complimentary "cheese and fruit tray" (thanks to friends!) while we watched "The Miracle Worker" movie.

This morning, the girls and I enjoyed room service breakfast, another quick trip to the pool and hot tub, and a little more relaxing. Then we headed out for Tuscumbia to visit Ivy Green, the birth place of Helen Keller. Hannah did a "famous American" project on her when she was in kindergarten and has been interested ever since. I've also loved the stories of her and her teacher Anne Sullivan ever since I was a child. So, Hannah and I were very excited to go. Sadie? The highlight for her was sticking her finger up the nose of a statue of Helen. Seriously - she thought that was hilarious. But anyway, it was a really neat tour. The ladies who ran it and gave the tour were very "child-friendly" in their approach - giving tidbits the kids would especially find interesting along with the parts geared towards adults. And it was short enough to hold Hannah's attention. (Not so much Sadie, but she tried!) Most of the furniture in the house is the original furniture. The floors are original, as well as Helen's clothing we saw and some 100 year old quilts made by her aunt. One interesting thing was the house was not near as big as I thought it would be. It's a nice size for a family, but nothing like the house pictured in the movie. At the end of the tour, we were invited to walk around the house and the grounds. There was also a small museum in one of the rooms that housed many of her braille book collections, gifts given to her by people all over the world, photographs, and one of her old braille writers.

The entrance to Ivy Green

The house where her family lived

Helen and Anne's bedroom. There's a larger bed you can't see.

Some of Helen's and her mother's dresses, hanging in her parents' room

The dining room. These dishes are the original dishes and are what's left of the set. Helen broke most of the dishes in her temper tantrums before she began to learn to communicate. She also not only locked her teacher in her room once (like in the movie), but also locked her mother in the pantry too.

The cottage where Anne took Helen to teach her

One of the girls' highlights - checking out the braille books

One of many garden areas around the house

THE pump - the pump where Helen first understood that words had meaning and could be used to communicate.
This is where she understood that w-a-t-e-r meant water, the wet stuff coming out. Where the light came through the darkness and she understood for the first time. Once she "got it", she really took off. By the end of that day, she had learned the words for 30 things. Amazing! It was my favorite part. For Hannah, it was close between the pump and the braille books. But she reenacted the entire scene at the water pump from the movie. And I'm sorry I don't have a picture of Sadie's favorite part. But I had already asked her to please get her finger out of Helen Keller's nose before I thought to grab my camera. :-)

After we left Ivy Green, we headed right down the road to Spring Park, a really pretty park with waterfalls, ducks, a nice playground, and some cool attractions that weren't open yet this season. But the walk around was nice and the girls enjoyed the ducks.

And then we headed home. I'm thinking we might need to do a few more of these mini-vacations. It was the perfect chance to relax, not spend too much, and not get everyone so tired from a big trip.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

The Post Where God Meets Me in Piles of Clothes!

I just finished a great book called "One Thousand Gifts". (See The book is incredible, very poetic, and very moving. And I absolutely will not do it justice in this quick-typed post at midnight. So read it for yourself. I downloaded it on the kindle pretty inexpensive. But the author is challenged by a friend to name 1000 gifts from God. She begins keeping a journal and noting the gifts. A grattitude journal, so to speak. But as she does this it takes her deeper into the heart of God than she ever imagined as she learns to see God and see grace in all things. Not just in big things, but small things. Not just in good things, but in suffering and trials and hard things too. Take my word for it - read the book. She has an amazing way with words.

I've starting keeping my own journal of gifts. It's not near as poetic. But, today I added #123: "oodles and oodles of clothes! mounds of clothes! Clothes to fill closets and clothes to give away!" Seems that God has a lesson for me today in clothes. Clothes represent grace to me today. Clothes are grace today. God provides. God blesses. But to receive more blessings, the first blessings must flow through me. I can't keep my hands wrapped tight around them - for if my hands are wrapped tight around my blessings, my hands can not be open to receive more blessings.

What does this have to do with clothes? Glad you asked. :-) Everyone knows that if you have kids, there are just some things you have to do. You have to feed them. You have to clothe them. It just comes with the job description. After almost 5 years with Hannah and almost 3 years with Sadie - I can tell you that I don't have to buy my kids clothes. Hardly ever. (Now grandma buys clothes from time to time. Just because she likes to!) That doesn't mean I don't occassionally buy them something new just because I like it or because they like it. But that's pretty rare. But never fear, they do not feel deprived at all. And they are not. They are blessed. We are blessed. Before I adopted Hannah, I had a few families I know bring me bags and bags of clothes for her. Plus, there were some shower gifts of clothing. Hannah had FULL drawers and a closet before I ever traveled to China. When she outgrew a few things, I passed them on to a friend. But then, I was in another adoption process with Sadie. And so I wondered, maybe I shouldn't pass on so many clothes. What if I need them later for Sadie? So I started keeping them. But when I got Sadie, she was significantly smaller than Hannah had been. I thought I might have to actually buy her some clothes. But instead, we had *more* friends donate clothes in the size we needed. And I kept the clothes Hannah outgrew, and was outgrowing. Because, one day Sadie would be big enough to wear them! Actually, now at 5.5 years old, Sadie is wearing some of the clothes Hannah wore at 3. Finally!
But, long story short, we continually have people bring us clothes. Not continually as in "all the time". But at least 1-2 times a year someone will stop me at church, or at work, and say "hey, I have bag of clothes in the car for you". About twice a year, I go through all the kids clothes. Anything too small for Sadie gets donated to a friend with a smaller child. Anything that fits her - she gets to keep. Anything that's in between Sadie and Hannah's size - I put in a box in Sadie's closet for "later". Anything that fits Hannah - she gets to keep. Anything too big for Hannah - I put in a box in her closet for "later". Well, before I knew it - we were being overrun by clothes! What a great problem to have. But, um, I literally couldn't stuff any more clothes in the drawers. And the boxes in the closet for "later" were stuffed. And I had two HUGE drawers in my room that were stuffed with girls' clothes. And MY closet was slowly being taken over by the dresses that didn't fit the girls now but would later! And the more clothes you have, the more laundry you have. Even if they only wear the same 5 shirts over and over! Because some how other clothes end up in the dirty clothes or stuffed in corner somewhere until you find them and then they are dirty. So as I was going through clothes this time (because we're having an early spring it seems! We needed spring clothes out! yippee!), I was finally like "SAVE ME FROM ALL THESE CLOTHES!! THEY ARE TAKING OVER MY HOUSE!". Hmm. What was meant to be a blessing, and what started out as a blessing, starts to become a burden. It hit me that perhaps I was beeing a bit greedy. I didn't think so at the time. I wasn't buying lots of clothes. In fact, I rationalized, I was saving so much money by not buying clothes that I could then use that money for other things - good things even like how about the fact that we sponsor two children through Compassion International. What could have been our "clothing budget" instead goes to our sponsor children. True. But really, does Hannah need 35 short-sleeve t-shirts? Or how about Sadie's 30 short sleeve t-shirts in each size from now through middle school? I'm exagerating..but only slightly I'm embarrased to say! But really, if God is providing for us now, won't he still be providing in 5 years too? Even if we don't keep it all for now? How about especially if we don't keep it all for now! I mean, if Sadie reaches the age of 10 and all of a sudden there's no box of clothes waiting for her, she'll still have clothes! I can buy clothes. A teacher salary might not be extravagant, but it really is enough to meet basic needs. I just think it's really cool that I haven't *had* to purchase many clothes for the girls. But if I had to, I could. And if I couldn't, wouldn't God provide in some way? So, I decided to stop the insanity of the clothing monstor in our house. We have filled up multiple garbage bags of clothes. Some clothes are going to friends. Others are going to the thrift store. Only a small percentage of the clothing we are donating is things Sadie has outgrown. There's a lot that still fits her that's going. And some that still fits Hannah. And some that's in between their sizes. And some that's too big for Hannah. They no longer have 35 t-shirts! Or too-many dresses, or 15 pairs of leggings. But they have enough. Really, more than enough. We still have the boxes of clothes for them to grow-into. But only a size bigger than what they are now. But they are not overflowing. And their clothes are not taking over the house. And hopefully, those mutiple bags of clothes will bless someone else. And yeah, I'm not just donating *their* clothes. I've started going through mine too. That's not a finished project yet.

If you happen to be one of our sweet friends who donates clothing to us - THANK YOU! Thank you for blessing our family with your gifts! We DO appreciate and love the gifts! And feel free to continue as your children outgrow things. :-) But we will be more selective of what to keep. We won't have 5 years of clothes to grow into waiting. We will pass on to others the blessings. Now that the clothes are bagged up waiting to be delivered, we'll actually have room to receive.

And that's really what this post is about. Not clothes. It's about making room to receive God's grace. It's always there. Always being given to us. But when our hands are closed so tightly around the blessings and we don't want to share, we don't have room to receive more. Love given is multiplied. When we let go, our hands are open to receive the grace God wants to give next. Not 1000 gifts. But unending gifts. Receive. Be blessed. Give. Bless someone else. What a cycle! So today, I thank God for grace through little girls' clothes.