Monday, February 7, 2011

But while they were in prison --- the Lord was with them...

Riding in comfort, with a warm scarf around my neck, we enjoyed gentle conversation as we headed to the side of town where the jail is located. It was dark, the night was cold, the weather man warned of sleet and freezing rain.
From the time of my childhood I have been intrigued by Paul's writings in the book of Acts, His times in prison; the presence of God there with him. My heart had always been attentive to the scriptures, "I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me." Matthew 25:36
These were words spoken by our Jesus, His guidance to us with a promise attached. Even as a child these words moved me. I was the little girl in Sunday School who sat silently and listened, and wondered, and hoped. (one of the few times I took that posture I can assure you) :)
Could our Jesus, the One who is righteous and holy and perfectly flawless, actually, truly be like this? A lover of the prisoner, the hungry, the cold and alone.

My dear friend had arranged for me to join her as she and a team of fellow warriors met at the jail to minister to fellow ladies. Women whose "bars" were very visible. Women who had made choices that brought them to a place of confinement. They had broken the rules of society and society required payment. And so we went to meet them, where they were.

Would I sense the presence of my Savior there?

We made our way through several locked doors and left our keys with the guard.

We sat and waited for the ladies to join us. It was, after all, their choice. They did not have to come and listen, and some perhaps did not. I never saw those who did not come, but I saw, really saw, the ones who did. They came dribbling in, which gave us a chance to greet them individually. I learned their names, and saw their eyes.

One of the ladies in our group began the Bible study time, making sure everyone had a Bible and was on the right page with her. She began to pour over scriptures moving from one Book to another, getting their hands in His Word. She asked that they read different scriptures, and I began to love them as the old school teacher in me could "hear" their readings. I wondered what happened in their world between their first grade days and these days behind bars. Something had happened in their world that had not happened in mine. I began to see them --- through His eyes.
And I could feel it --  oh how He loves them...

One lady looked at me often with heavy (even hard) eyes. She was carrying a weight inside her heart that had made her tired and weary. I could see it ---- through His eyes.
One lady tried repeatedly to answer questions asked in the discussion, with the hope she might possibly be right. I could sense, she wanted to say or do something "right". She needed to have confirmation that she could do something right. I could hear it ---  through His ears.
God's truths were being poured out on them and they were taking it in. But they also sat there in their jail attire wondering, when I'm out of here, will I be able to "live this"? They shared this fact with us. The fear hovered over them --- the reality that saying was easier that doing, that talking the talk was easier than walking the walk. And the fear showed in their wounded eyes. I could see it ---- through His eyes.

At the end of our time together, the group leader asked if I would like to lead us all in singing a song.
Oh my soul. How could she have known - I wanted to sing out to our Father the entire time we were sitting behind those bars. How could she have realized the gift it would be to me, to sing to my Father with these ladies.
For you see --- I know what it feels like to be behind bars. Bars that no one else can see, but confining, limiting, restraining bars all the same. Bars of fear, rejection, insecurity, and self hatred. Bars that have those huge gaps between them, gaps that allow you to see "out" and watch others thriving in the world around you --- but bars that hold you down and away and separate.
When God freed me from those invisible bars ---- I sang. I sang to Him, for Him, about Him, loving Him. It was then, that I was finally able to love others - truly love them, and be loved in return.
So to be allowed to sing within these bars, with these precious wounded sojourners, it was a gift from Him.

We sang "Amazing Grace".
But first I shared with them what the word GRACE means. I asked if they knew, and their puzzled, little girl eyes moved me to my core.
Oh dear God, to live a life not knowing the depth of your Grace.
Oh dear God give me words to open that door for them.
And so I said...
Grace comes only from God, it can begin with no other source.
It flows. At least it is suppose to.
Grace is God's response to all that is imperfect in us.
Grace is what God gives us because He loves us.
Grace is the opposite of what we do deserve.
We deserve death, punishment --- for our sins.
Grace is God's chosen gift to us - we are undeserving -- it reflects HIM not us.
Grace is sufficient for all our soul and heart needs.
Grace is a picture of God's riches at Christ's expense.
Christ on the cross for us, the picture of Grace.
Grace -- God pours it out on us again, and again, and again, and again.
Grace is like the air of Heaven poured into earthbound lungs.

"Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me..."

Our voices rang out bouncing off the hard stone walls. And my knees felt weak. It was all so lovely. Souls singing to their Savior of His goodness to them. My soul wept.

In the hardest places, praises sung out to God, transform everything.

As we left ---- I knew my Abba was in that place.

"Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him..." Genesis 39:20-21a

Photo taken by Maggie

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