Friday, August 24, 2018

Things Pondered After a Jailhouse Visit

Yesterday I went to the Walton County Jail. I had only been there once before, to the morgue to hold up a friend while she identified the body of her beloved son, and those memories came flooding back as I drove in the parking lot. I was there to visit another friend which was almost as difficult as my first visit. This friend is someone I really love, but someone who has made some bad choices over the last couple of years. I was thankful I’d decided to forego breakfast because my stomach was tight with anxiousness. There’s something about a place like that that sets you on edge, especially if you’ve never been and are unsure of where to go and what to do. 

It took a couple of conversations through bullet-proof glass, after passing through secured metal doors that buzzed open and locked behind me, to figure out where I was supposed to go sign in and wait. I drove to the designated parking lot, left my purse and cell phone securely locked in my car and proceeded toward the walkway encased by chain link fencing. As I walked toward the entrance, I was struck out of the blue by a scripture I had learned years ago in an effort to try to parent well…

”When the sentence for a crime is not quickly carried out, the hearts of the people are filled with schemes to do wrong.” (Ecclesisates 8:11) 

It seemed like a safe parenting verse way back when, but suddenly I was wondering how many people were behind these walls because they had never experienced this verse lived out in their own lives. No judgment…just the pondering of my heart as I made my way to the door.

I entered the waiting room and passed through the metal detector, armed only with my car keys and a piece of paper with my friend’s inmate # written in the bottom R corner. No name…just a number to mark her place in the system. I filled out the paperwork with my personal information and surrendered my driver’s license through the tray beneath yet another piece of bulletproof glass. The deputy taking all the visitors’ information was the friendliest one I had encountered so far and I marveled at how she had maintained what seemed like joy in the midst of such a barren place. I completed the registration process and took one of the few available seats in the stark waiting room.

There were a lot of chairs in a very small area and I found myself with only a couple of feet separating those who sat across from me. Since it was my first time being in a place like that, I was unsure of the protocol regarding chatting with your neighbors. I’m one who tries to overcome my introverted ways and make a conscious effort to engage others and do what I can to encourage them. Since discouragement and downcast souls seemed to be the common denominator that linked all those who were waiting, I glanced at the floor and prayed for an opportunity to be His hands and feet. A sweet little one year old girl with beaded braids bounced around in circles and captivated the attention of most who were there, such innocence displayed despite her jaded surroundings. Another sweet girl soon joined the room and they played with a carefreeness that belied their reasons for being there…each waiting to visit their Mama. I gazed around the room and noted the tired eyes, many of whom wore their years and stories firmly etched on solemn faces. “Weary” seemed to be the word for the day.

A nervous woman randomly asked if she could sit beside me and I welcomed the chance to strike up a conversation. I asked her who she was there to visit and as she explained her situation, I realized she, too, was there to visit my friend, a step-mom come to see what she could do. Suddenly the “random” request took on a divine appointment and she expressed how thankful she was to not have to experience this  first time alone. So there we sat, strangers but moments before, both anxiously waiting for the same name to be called. Her name was called not long after and we walked through the heavy metal door and waited our turn to be searched with the wand that would signal we were safe to proceed ahead. We entered a cinder block room with 7 cubicles. I know because I found the need to count them, I can only assume, in an effort to bring order to my jumbled thoughts. Each cubicle was equipped with a phone and a heavy glass barrier that would separate us from our inmate. And suddenly there she was, not in the cute clothes I was used to seeing her in, but a state-issued jumpsuit identical to the woman next to her.

Her step-mom talked to her for 5 minutes or so and then left me alone to visit as we tried hard to hear each other through phone lines long out-dated. My friend wept bitter tears of regret and it was heart-breaking to realize this was her reality. I spoke firm words wrapped in grace and reassured her that her current circumstances did not change our love for her. I prayed with her, sensing the Lord was there, stretching His arms through the thickened glass connecting us to one another. Then a guard called “time” and we each hung up our phones, feeling the distance between us deepen, she heading back to a place of scary unknowns and me to the world of familiar. 

I passed back through the waiting room in a sea of mourning souls and heard a lady right behind me sigh and say, “It sure is hard seeing your baby girl in a place like this.” I turned and waited for her to join me, recognizing her need to speak forth the broken pieces of her heart after her painful visit. She shared her daughter's story, intertwined with her own, and I listened to a mama’s heart filled with regret. A mama who now has the responsibility of raising four teenage grandchildren because both their parents made selfish choices and find jail their current home. As I listened to her nervous words spill out I was reminded, yet again, that we all have a story and want someone to care enough to wade into it with us. We talked for 25 minutes, leaning against the chain link tunnel, and as we parted ways I hugged her and assured her I would pray for her.

It took me a minute once I got back to my car to collect my thoughts. I looked toward the building from which I had just exited and asked the Lord to use this time to bring my friend to a place of true brokenness and repentance. I finished my prayer with a sigh of my own and slowly backed out of my spot, my heart a little less anxious than when I drove in. I was thankful the nervousness had dissipated, but I found it had left a heaviness in its place. A heaviness that felt like a cloak wrapped tight and I thought...

I guess that’s what happens when love has to reach through bulletproof glass.

Monday, July 9, 2018

The Ebb and Flow

I've been contemplating the ebb and flow of life lately and relating it to the ebb and flow of the tide as we sit on a beach. Sometimes the tide is low and we're able to wade out and see so many treasures that the ocean holds. In a matter of hours, though, we can witness the tide rise and the waves wash over anything in its path, engulfing the shore in water and washing its contents out to sea. That's how the final week in June felt to me this year.

Tim and I had the privilege of spending a week in Estes Park, CO and further up at a site adjacent to the Rocky Mountain National Park called Wind River Ranch. We were there with our friends, Mac and Aimee, and a multitude of new friends that we had the privilege of making. It was truly one of the most peaceful places I have ever been and the mountains were jaw-dropping evidence of the Lord's power and majesty in every direction we turned.

I was able to fulfill a bucket list item and attend a concert at Red Rocks Amphitheater. What made it extra special was that it wasn't just any concert. It was Third Day's final concert ever. It was the end of a 20+ year journey with Mac and the band as well as a launching point for a new dream and a new direction. The memories rolled like a highlight (and occasional lowlight) film and the tears flowed as I reminisced, with their familiar music as a soundtrack playing while the images flashed.

It was a week that provided a much needed time of rest and reconnection for Tim and me. We felt ourselves being refreshed and encouraged and able to let our minds quiet themselves. We rocked and talked, breathed fresh mountain air, ate meals I didn't have to prepare and enjoyed temperatures that were gloriously low and dry compared to what our normal Junes felt like. As we finished the week and started to wind down the mountain, we were filled with thankful hearts for the respite from our daily demands. All was well in our world until we got the call...the call that alerted us to the fact that our friend, Bruce, had walked into eternity just moments before.

We have spent our 28 married years in ministry and throughout those years there have been so many mountaintop moments we've been able to experience with people as they surrender their lives and their wills to the Lord and begin to walk out their new-found faith. We have also spent many hours wading into grief with precious people who have just experienced devastating loss. This would prove to be one of the more difficult times. Our hearts were crushed as we waited to board the plane home and I discovered an airport can be a very vulnerable place for tears of sorrow to fall as you're surrounded by a captive audience.

We landed in Atlanta and headed to Bruce and Shelley's house to wait for her to arrive. Bruce had died at home and sweet Shelley had witnessed a rather horrific scene. While he had battled cancer for much of their 4 years of marriage, his death still came as a shock and Shelley and their children were reeling. As the car pulled up with Shelley, her son and 2 other family members in it, I cried out to the Lord and asked Him to help us minister to them in ways that far exceeded what would otherwise be our own mere feeble attempts. We embraced Shelley as our tears washed together and we slowly ascended the steps into their home where just hours before she and Bruce had been having coffee together.

As we sat with Shelley in relative silence I was overcome with the feeling that we had entered onto holy ground. There were really no words that could mend her broken-heartedness and so I resisted the urge to fill the quiet moments with meaningless chatter. We simply let her tears flow as the grief pooled around her. We had literally descended from the mountaintop into the depths of pain and mourning and I thanked the Lord for the divine and sacred privilege of entering into another's grief.

"The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and He saves those who are crushed in spirit."

The next few days were spent helping Shelley and her family attend to details and make decisions that we all wish we would never have to, but know inevitably we eventually will. These moments stood in stark contrast to the peaceful ones we had experienced just days before and I was reminded yet again...

"The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the Name of the Lord."

I read today in 66 Love Letters by Larry Crabb that "small obedience is great work". So often we can, if we're not careful, find ourselves missing the daily opportunities to perform a great work because they don't seem grand enough and we forget that walking intimately with Jesus doesn't always look like we expect it to in our own finite minds. Just as the ebb and flow of an ocean demands that we contemplate His power and providence, so must we see those ordinary moments as extraordinary because they require us to obediently enter into His divine work. Sometimes those moments may seem mundane and other times they can feel overwhelming. How comforting to know, though, that He has promised to never send us where He is unwilling or unable to journey with us.

"Carrying out this relief work involves far more than helping meet the needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they'll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, His gift. No language can praise it enough."
2 Corinthians 9:15 ~ The Message

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Despair and Desperation

It's Saturday, the day in between Good Friday (oh, the irony) and Easter Sunday, and I've been very contemplative about what that day must have been like.  We know it was the Sabbath so, as we saw when we were in Israel, everything would have been shut down and it would have been a day of rest and contemplation. I wonder, though, what were the thoughts of those who had been in the crowd calling for Jesus to be crucified? What were Pilate's thoughts as he contemplated his cowardice and the way he backed down in leadership and allowed an angry mob to call the shots?

Friday was a day of darkness. For 3 hours the sun was blotted out and when Christ finally died the veil was torn, the earth quaked and the rocks were split in two. Nature acknowledged what humans were unwilling to admit...a grievous act against an innocent man was complete! And now it was Saturday and they must wait. Much as a disobedient child who is sent to their room to "think about what they have done", I have to believe that for many a knot had formed in their stomachs and they were forced to contemplate their role in putting an innocent man to death. The day of darkness had rolled into a day of despair and desperation and they were left to think.

Think about what they had done. Think about what was to come. Think about how to minimize the collateral damage. Think about how to keep His brazen claims that He would rise on the third day from appearing to actually come true. Pilate may have made a valiant attempt to wash his hands and declare his innocence in front of an angry crowd and a doubtful wife, but when the Pharisees came requesting the tomb be sealed, he was forced to acknowledge that their desperate measures would be hopeful at best. Now they must rest and wait.

I've had times in my life when I felt like I made a mistake that could never be made right. My failure felt final and I was left to contemplate what I had done. I was left to question my motives and struggle thru whether Jesus could ever come to my rescue in the midst of my despair and desperation and make things right. And yet, in the midst of my despondency, He had me tethered to the hope that maybe my failure wasn't final and maybe my despair could give way to deliverance and delight.

Let's not waste this day of waiting. Let's not become so focused on our past that we fail to prepare our hearts for what is to come. This day in between may be filled with many conflicting thoughts, but our deliverance is only a day away!!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018


I learned so many things while we were in Israel! So many spiritual truths and things about myself and so many historical facts that I felt like my head might explode at times trying to process it all. One thing I learned early on in the trip really blew my mind, though, and I found myself thinking on it a lot during the rest of the trip and since I've been home. 

I learned about "loopholes".

This was the first loophole I saw and was when my mind was initially blown. Maybe I'm just a geek and no one will find the concept as fascinating as I did, but I'm going to attempt to explain it anyway. First let me share the initial definition of loophole...

a small opening through which small arms may be fireda similar opening to admit light and air or to permit observation


So tactically speaking a loophole is a small hole someone who was engaged in battle would slip their weapon through in an attempt to ambush the enemy while being protected from reciprocal fire. They were able to see out of it while remaining hidden and safe. 

Once I was made aware of what these openings were, I began to notice them virtually everywhere we went. In a country which is currently known for its political and religious turmoil, it was amazing to recognize that there's not much new under the sun and this is obviously a centuries old problem.

There were loopholes in the cities, in the country and even on top of a mountain in the ruins of an ancient palace. 

While the historical influence of these loopholes was fascinating to me, I couldn't help but be struck by the spiritual and linguistical influence of loopholes. Let's look at the second definition of loophole...

a means of escape; especially an ambiguity or omission in the text through which the intent of a statute, contract, or obligation may be evaded

Do you see it? 

Loopholes...ways we try and get out of commitments and covenants with no (or at least minimal) damage to ourselves or our integrity. 

The problem with loopholes is that very often others DO get ambushed in the process and there IS much collateral damage. The other misconception about loopholes is that we can evade our commitments and all will be fine, but it is always with great detriment to our character and our integrity. It may seem like we get off scot-free, but there are lasting implications that cannot be avoided.

When we desire to honor the Lord no matter what, one thing we can always be guaranteed of is that we will encounter attacks from the enemy and opportunities to look for an easy way out. I want to be known, right down to the very end, as someone who will battle with courage and integrity and not always look for a "loophole" in order to protect myself.

God has given us spiritual armour to protect ourselves with on a daily basis...

Ephesians 6:10 A final word: Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. 12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
13 Therefore, put on every piece of God’s armor so you will be able to resist the enemy in the time of evil. Then after the battle you will still be standing firm. 14 Stand your ground, putting on the belt of truth and the body armor of God’s righteousness. 15 For shoes, put on the peace that comes from the Good News so that you will be fully prepared. 16 In addition to all of these, hold up the shield of faith to stop the fiery arrows of the devil. 17 Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
18 Pray in the Spirit at all times and on every occasion. Stay alert and be persistent in your prayers for all believers everywhere.

I also love how it's put in The Message...
Ephesians 6:10-12 And that about wraps it up. God is strong, and he wants you strong. So take everything the Master has set out for you, well-made weapons of the best materials. And put them to use so you will be able to stand up to everything the Devil throws your way. This is no afternoon athletic contest that we’ll walk away from and forget about in a couple of hours. This is for keeps, a life-or-death fight to the finish against the Devil and all his angels.
13-18 Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.

Lord, thank You that you desire to teach us in such cool and amazing ways wherever we may go! Thank You for the opportunity you gave Tim and me to travel to Israel and thank You for so many spiritual insights that You allowed us to be made aware of throughout our journey. I don't want to look for loopholes, Lord. I want to battle courageously right down to the very end. Thank You that You have given us everything we need to equip ourselves for the battle. Now help us battle well!!