Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Prison: How to Help

Okay, well, I tried to put this all in one long post and apparently blogger thought I was a bit too long-winded. So here's what I cut out of the previous post. Don't forget to scroll down and read the post before this.

Following is a re-post (slightly edited) that I originally posted last year. But it's time again. So, in case you missed my thoughts on why I go to prison, here they are.Before I get to that though, I will be going to prison again September 8-11, this time for a full Kairos weekend of 3.5 days. This is exciting for us because it's the first time in several years we have been able to do the full weekend there. We will be welcoming 36 residents (what we call the inmates) into the Kairos community. These are ladies who are in prison but who have not yet been involved in any of our weekends or retreats. We will be listening, loving, praying, sharing, singing, worshipping, eating, laughing, and probably crying too together for 3.5 days. And God will do amazing things, I am sure. We'd love to have your help. Contact me if you want more info on how to help. Some of the things we need include:

* Prayers - If you tell me you are praying for us, your name will go on a strip of paper and be added to our prayer chain. Think of the paper chains you might have made as a child. That's what it's like, except every chain link represents one person who is praying. We circle the prison chapel with the prayer chain and it's a very visual representation to the women that they are not forgotten. It's amazing to witness the chain come out and their reactions.

* Donations - Just $5 provides a meal for one of our residents. And $125 sponsors one resident for the entire weekend. (And it's tax deductible). Contact me for more information.

* Placemats - this is a great project for children's sunday school classes. We need sets of 36 placemats decorated by children. Children should put only their first name and age.

* Expressions of love and encouragement - write sets of 36 identical letters of encouragement (they can be addressed to "Dear sister in Christ"). Or provide 36 encouraging bookmarks (identical). Or provide 36 copies of a poem or inspiration thought. No stickers, glue, etc.

*Make a dozen homemade cookies. Or provide a couple bags of "salties" such as potato chips, cheese puffs, pork skins (very loved there!).

Okay - scroll down and read the post below this for why I go. Or click this link.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Why I Go to Prison - an updated repost

Okay..here's the original, slightly edited post.

I drive a lot for work. My car and I travel a lot of county roads. Occasionally I pass crews of men or women who are in prison and are out cleaning up the roads. Sometimes they are city or county jail crews – usually given away by the orange jumpsuits. But sometimes I also see white clothing with the familiar black letters on the back (DOC). Department of Corrections. State prisoners. Many years ago, I just drove by them without a 2nd thought. I didn’t actually think badly of them. No, my attitude was almost worse. I simply didn’t think of them at all. They had nothing to do with me or what I was doing or where I was going. They were “other”, not like me and not a part of me.

That all changed in 2001. One Sunday morning I was walking in the door of my church when I was greeted by a friend who said, “Hey! I’m going to lead a Kairos weekend in September and I’d love for you to help. Are you interested?” I said, “Sure, I’d love to!” I then entered the church and thought “Oh crap! What did I just do??? I didn’t mean that!”See, my friend was very involved in prison ministry at our state women’s prison a couple hours away. Kairos was the name of the ministry she was involved in. I’d just told her that I’d love to minister in prison! Um, yeah. That wasn’t really my “thing” back then. I’d never even considered the idea. Up until that point, I’d volunteered with different groups of people. Kids mainly. Kids were my “thing”. I’m a teacher and I love kids. But adults in general weren’t my “thing” and especially adults in prison. I got nervous. What would I say to someone in prison? How could I relate to them? I thought prison ministry was a good thing for someone else to do, but not me! I had actually sent cards to some men in prison as part of a project before. But to talk to them, sit with them, spend a weekend with them? What was I thinking?! Actually I wasn’t thinking. My mouth said yes before my brain could engage in a debate. And while I generally can say “no” pretty well, I’m very thankful that in that instance, I said “yes”. I don’t exactly know why I didn’t ever go back to my friend and say “hey, I made a mistake and I meant no”, except that I started listening to God. And somehow, this started seeming “right”.

It's now 10 years later and I’ve been in that prison numerous times. Maybe 5 times for full Kairos weekend retreats (3.5 days each), 5 times for shorter 2-day follow-up retreats, and more times than I can count for monthly reunions lasting a couple hours. Somewhere between a Thursday night in September and the following Sunday afternoon back in 2001, prison ministry became my “thing”. My fears? Irrelevant in the face of what God was doing. You know what I learned about relating to people in prison? They are people. And just like me and you, those ladies are people of great worth. The woman wearing that white DOC uniform and I are the same in God’s eyes. We have the same fears, hopes, and dreams. We have both made mistakes. We have both sinned. We are both in need of God’s grace and forgiveness. God loves me intensely with an amazing love. God loves her just as intensely with just as much amazing love. True, I have not committed a crime that could end me up in prison. But have I committed crimes in my heart? Have I gone against what God wanted me to do at times? Yes, it’s part of being human. But God’s grace is there for me, and it’s there for the women (and men) in prison as well. And because of that, I can relate to the ladies there as sisters..sisters in Christ. It’s a really, really beautiful thing.

It’s a beautiful thing, but it’s not always easy. Kairos’ mission is to “bring Christ’s love to the incarcerated, their families, and those who work with them”. It’s tough sometimes. Because even though God sees us as his children, equally loved, the world doesn’t always see that way. And the world passes that message on to us, and to them. Sometimes I have to fight through a temptation to think that in some way I’m “better than” my sister wearing white who is sitting across from me. More often, I fight the opposite temptation to think that I’m “not good enough” to make a difference. And sometimes our new friends, they struggle with those things too. They struggle to impress us, make us think they’re “better than”, “tougher than”, etc. Or, they struggle with thinking they’re not good enough, don’t’ deserve God’s love, etc. It’s not just the relationships inside the prison that are tough. Our relationships with other team members aren’t always easy either. We’re a pretty diverse bunch: we are young, older, black, white, from big churches, small churches, and different denominations. We disagree with each other at times. Sometimes we hurt one another’s feelings, even if unintentionally. Sometimes, we just plain irritate and frustrate each other. But God’s grace covers us all and because of that we learn to pray together, listen to each other, forgive, and love. It helps that we also sing together, eat together, and laugh together. God shows up, and lives are transformed right before my eyes, every time. Sometimes, it’s even my life that gets transformed as I learn a little more each time about what God’s heart looks like in the world.

One of my favorite "snapshots" of ministry there is the way we often close reunions or retreats. We all gather in a circle in that small, simple chapel. Nothing fancy - just a cross and a Bible. Very diverse women whose only common denominator is Christ. Women who have shared our lives over the past hours or days. Our team of women in jeans and colorful t-shirts interspersed with women in white uniforms. We all join hands together and sing a song proclaiming that there is only one God, only one King, and only one Body (of Christ) and asking God to bind our hearts together with his love. I’m not a big crier. But that moment gets me every time. I feel a lump in my throat and my eyes tear up as I look around that circle while we all praise the God who unites us. I imagine that feeling of unity and peace and love is just a taste of what heaven feels like. Who knew that when I said yes to prison ministry, I was saying yes to getting a glimpse of heaven?

Now, when I pass work crews with those white uniforms and “DOC” on the back, I notice. They are no longer “other” and their lives matter very much to me. And actually, so do the lives of those in the orange county / city jail uniforms. They matter too. I think about them and about the others those uniforms represent. I slow down just a little and as I pass by, I whisper a prayer of God’s peace, protection, and guidance on their lives. Just maybe, next time you pass one of those crews, you’ll sense a little nudge too…to notice them, to slow down just a little, and to whisper a prayer.

**If you want to be added to our prayer chain, or help in another way, leave a comment, e-mail me, or send me a FB message.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Spring Highlights

So, my sweet friend Laine recently reminded me I haven't updated since March. Well, we've been having lots of fun this summer, but you'll have to wait to read about summer. A brief look back at spring. Or at least the spring happenings (post spring-break) that I have pictures for. Because 1. It's more interesting anyway if there's pictures and 2. How am I supposed to remember what we did back in March - May if I don't have a picture of it. :-) So..here you go..Spring 2011: The Highlights.

Makeup. Sadie has quite the style don't you think?

Teeth. Actually I think Hannah lost one or two more to equal who knows how many (7 she says). Sadie has lost 3. But this was her first.

Easter Egg Hunt and Fun (Sadly, I forgot my camera for Easter Sunday though)

Girl Scout Camp. Hannah went for 2 nights with her troop and had a blast!

Sadie's 3rd Family Forever Day. My how this little girl has grown and changed. She is a joy every day!! These were here "gotcha day" clothes. Which 3 years later actually fit her for the first time instead of swallowing her up.

Tornado Relief Boxes. As everyone in our state knows, our state was ravaged my multiple deadly tornadoes April 27th. It was truly heartbreaking and like most, we just had a need to "do something". We donated supplies. But we needed to participate hands-on. So the girls and I, along with other families from our church, made these "boxes of hope" to be delivered to children all across the state who were effected by the tornadoes. If you don't live in my state you may not realize it, but there's still a lot of devastation and damage and hurting people in places even almost 3 months later. There's rebuilding and hope too..but keep the people who were affected in your prayers - some of them have a very long road to recovery ahead.


Dance Recitals - both girls did a great job in their year-end dance recitals and looked so incredibly cute too!! And Hannah was awarded a dance scholarship for next year to boot. Whoo hoo! Happy News!!

Hannah's 5th Family Forever Day. Hard to believe it's been 5 years since this sweet, spunky girl made me a mom. We couldn't do gotcha day clothes pictures this year - It's the first year she hasn't managed to squeeze into them. But we celebrated by going out for her favorite Chinese noodles. This girl can eat some noodles!

And there you have it..the cliff notes version of Spring. Look for "Summer Happenings" soon. Maybe by Christmas. :-)