Finding Hope in the Grace of a Prison Visitation

I’ve written before about how someone I care deeply about is locked behind the walls and the concertina wire of prison. (You can read about that here)

While visiting with him this weekend, grace tapped on my shoulder.


At this facility, visitation (after the stringent security search, the full-body pat down, and the K-9 sniff test for the visitors, and the complete strip search for the inmate) means hugs and kisses upon arrival and departure, and it means cherishing the opportunity to sit in the presence of your loved ones (it’s worth every bit of inconvenience). There were aging parents visiting their sons, tired moms with toddlers visiting their children’s’ father, a teenaged boy laughing with his dad while playing a smack-down game of UNO, and a young momma who had brought her newborn to visit with his daddy.

The people in the room were here for different reasons. They were there to share a few hours with loved ones, trying to maintain relationships, trying to imagine the future together, or working out life’s inside-outside and outside-in differences.

Prison is hard.

It’s hard for the inmate, and it’s hard for the family of that inmate. You may have heard otherwise about prison, but, unless you have experienced it personally or lived the life that comes with loving someone on the inside, you have absolutely no idea…


Yesterday, in that prison visitation room, grace tapped on my shoulder.

As a woman was readying to leave the visitation room at the end of her visit, she approached my chair from behind and tapped me on the shoulder. She was with a man and two boys who appeared to be middle schoolers. Visitors are allowed to speak with other visitors; inmates are allowed to speak with other inmates. Visitors, however, are not supposed to speak with inmates, other than the one they are visiting, and inmates are not supposed to speak with visitors, other than those visiting them.

She tapped me on my shoulder and “whispered” loud enough for the others at my table to hear:

“He was my [doctor] for many years.
He helped me so much.
He changed my son’s life.
My son was plagued with ear infections
until we brought him there, and with all
he taught us and showed us, my son, who is now 11,
only ever had one ear infection after that.
He was such a good [doctor].”

The man I was visiting used to be a doctor. He’ll always be one, but he just doesn’t hold any licenses to practice anymore. The likelihood of him ever being able to practice again is very slim. It was his passion, and it was a part of his purpose for a long season of his life.

With the comments from this woman, his face grew white, and his entire mood changed. I saw regrets, sorrow, embarrassment and devastation in his eyes.

I took a deep breath, and so did he. I asked him if he remembered her. He was flustered and didn’t want to answer. He couldn’t remember her name, but he eventually did say that he did remember her.

I asked him if he was ok.
He said he was, but his demeanor didn’t affirm this.

“You know,” I said, “that was so kind of her to stop and say what she said. She could have just ignored us from across the room and never said a thing as she was leaving. She took a moment to come over to let you know how you have impacted her life. What a gracious thing for her to do.”

He nodded in agreement, as tears started to fill the corners of his eyes.

Grace. 

Unmerited favor;
Finding favor toward another;
Offering that which is often undeserved;
Love in action.

When I arrived home a few hours after my visit, the phone rang. The caller ID let me know that an inmate call was coming through the line.

He called to tell me he had just gotten back from church, and that instead of napping on his cot in the 90-degree, un-airconditioned cell block during the afternoon between our visit and church, he spent some time in prayer and reflection about this woman’s words to me following her tap on my shoulder.

He apologized to me, saying he “sucked thumb” and sulked for a while after we left, but he had come to the conclusion that he appreciated his former patient’s willingness to share the impact he had made in her life during his own past life and career. In his reflection time, he was able to remember the thousands of people he had helped over nearly 20 years of doctoring, and he was grateful for the people he had met along the way. He had decided that her words were going to serve as a positive reminder of his former season of life, rather than be a stinging reminder of what he didn’t have anymore.

And then he said it:
“She didn’t have to do that, but she did.
That was grace in action.”

Yes.
Yes, it was.
It was grace in action.
Grace brought on by a tap on the shoulder at a prison visitation.


 

 

Finding Hope in Expectant Hope

I have a friend who is fighting a tough battle with cancer, and today she has a new appointment with a new doctor in a new place for a new round of hope in her future.

I often don’t know what to say to someone else who is fighting a battle, but it’s just in my God-given nature (truly, not of my natural self) to pray that people never give up hope. So, I do.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

There’s a huge difference between these kinds of hopes, and my prayer is that she can find even more expectant hope through her trial—more than she’s already had to muster up in all phases of this years-long journey.

“Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted.”

Those were some of the words I shared with her this morning as she reached out to her friends on social media before her appointment.


We’re all battling something. 

Maybe it’s cancer.
Maybe it’s abuse.
Maybe it’s racism.
Maybe it’s not being understood.
Maybe it’s legal trouble.
Maybe it’s prison.
Maybe it’s anger.
Maybe it’s pornography.
Maybe it’s bankruptcy.
Maybe it’s pride.
Maybe it’s worthiness.
Maybe it’s food.
Maybe it’s smoking.
Maybe it’s our boss.
Maybe it’s our wayward child.
Maybe it’s our church.
Maybe it’s shattered dreams.
Maybe it’s loneliness.
Maybe it’s fear.
Maybe it’s our past.
Maybe it’s self.

Wondering hope leaves us wondering.
Expectant hope leaves us expecting.

My encouragement to you today (and it’s a needed encouragement to my own self-talk, too), is to stop wondering and start expecting. Expectant hope is powerful and never wasted, especially when you stop hoping in the circumstance, and begin hoping in That which is greater than the circumstance.

 


 

Finding Hope in the Unexpected

This is a Palm Sunday re-posting,
originally written two years ago.
The questions are timeless,
and so are the answers we’re seeking.

Donkey.HS

What am I expecting?
Hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?

Two thousand years ago, they were hoping for a way out of oppression.
They were longing for freedoms.
They were looking for a king…
…a king who would do all of this and more for them.

This past Sunday, Palm Sunday, marked the commemorative start of the Christian Holy Week. In many of our churches, we marked it by handing out palm fronds. Sometimes the fronds have been woven into a cross-like symbol meant to be kept as a remembrance. Some churches give out a single spear from a palm leaf, some give a small frond, and some hand palms out to wave during a particular worship song.

Last year I happened to be in Montreal, Canada, for the start of the Holy Week, and I visited the Notre-Dame Basilica just before Palm Sunday. I had been there as a teenager on a senior trip with my French class, and I wanted to see the grandeur of that church again. The only way to see the interior of the church on that particular day was to pay for a narrated program, laser light show and brief tour. That wasn’t what I had been hoping for. It’s amazing how one’s perspective on a church building can change after a few decades.

I also wanted to revisit the Gardens of the Way of the Cross at St. Joseph’s Oratory of Mount Royal in Montreal.  We came upon the glass doors leading into the garden only to find them locked. Deep snows covered the ground, so we couldn’t take in the peacefulness of the Stations of the Cross. The “Gift Shop” with a book about the Gardens was closed, too, but, those palm frond crosses many churches hand out on Palm Sunday? They were selling them inside the entry on this particular afternoon. That wasn’t what I was looking for.

Two thousand years ago, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a young donkey.  His triumphal entry into the city is the day we now mark as Palm Sunday. On that particular day, the Jews laid their cloaks on the ground and laid branches, taken from nearby trees, on the road to hail His arrival and to celebrate Him as a the one sent to save them. This account is told in all four gospels, and it’s told from a slightly different perspective in each:

Matthew 21:1-17;
Mark 11:1-11;
Luke 19:28-44;
and John 12:12-19.

They were expecting Him to be THE ONE who would cleanse the Temple, free them from Roman oppression and help them to regain their national strength and identity. They expected a military leader, but instead, got a humble servant riding into the city on a donkey. He had come to save them for all of eternity, but not necessarily to save them from the Romans. That wasn’t what they had been longing for. When they realized He wasn’t there to do as they had expected, they turned on Him. Days later He was brutally beaten and nailed to a cross to die a criminal’s death.

That wasn’t what His followers had expected.

He was crucified on a cross on a hill outside of Jerusalem. The grave couldn’t hold Him, and His resurrection a few days later brought new life.
That wasn’t what His followers expected, either.

Life isn’t easy. We often make it more difficult by adding expectations to our anticipations. These often go unmet, and we’re left with disappointment. When hopes don’t turn into what we’ve longed for, do we turn toward Him, or do we turn on Him? Do we surrender our expectations, longings and hopes just enough, while yet still trying to control the outcome we’re looking for?

His resurrection did bring us the opportunity for new life.
With that life, we can find hope when we turn toward Him.

We’re heading into the heart of the Holy Week right now. It’s more than egg hunts, bunnies, chicks, chocolate, new clothes, a big dinner and church attendance.

I hope you can find a tad more than you are expecting.

What are you expecting?
What are you hoping for?
Looking for?
Longing for?


 

Great is His Faithfulness, Even in Grief and Mourning

CT.4-7
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning;
great is your faithfulness, I say to myself,
“The Lord is my portion;
therefore I will wait for him.”
~ Lamentations 3:22-24

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Seven… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

It’s been an insightful day. My takeaways are from the Scripture verses and from some of Sandra Stanley’s shared thoughts, but not too much from today’s devotional content. This has just been one of those days, but the Scripture still applies to the day.

I spent the afternoon and evening serving at church for the visitation of a friend’s husband who passed away suddenly on Monday morning. That friend has been a part of this Comparison Trap group study. Tomorrow is the funeral (on the day you’ll probably be reading this).

When I walked her to the restroom today on a break from greeting hundreds upon hundreds of people who had come to pay their respects and to honor her husband, she told me a story about the amazing love she’s seen poured out over her family.

Her husband was a state trooper, and the fellowship given to her by his brotherhood has overwhelmed her. Her coworkers took her car and had new brakes, rotors and other needed maintenance done on it when she had to leave it at work after hearing the news of her husband’s death. Her table-mates from the study and many of the women from the group and church stepped forward to bring food and serve in the kitchen with whatever needed to be done today.

“Because of the Lord’s great love, we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail,”  the verse above reads. The body of Christ has surrounded her through this tragedy, and it’s through His compassion she’s been able to see it in others.

“God is compassionate. It breaks his heart to see us struggle,”  Sandra tells us in this final devotional. It does, and His way of showing us His compassion is often by using others to display it.

“Great is your faithfulness…” 

The book of Lamentations is full of lamenting, wailing and grief. It covers pain, judgment, mourning and suffering. The book paints a picture of suffering so great that it is often difficult to see hope and to remember the promises of God.

But tucked away within the mourning of Lamentations, there are promises of hope to come. Within the heart of the message of this book, we can see that the writer expresses his confident assurance that God does not turn away from those who turn toward Him for help.

Tomorrow is the funeral for my friend’s husband.

In her grief, I want her to know that the Lord weeps with her, and it breaks His heart to see her struggling. His compassions never do fail, and His love for her will not allow her to be consumed by her grief. His mercies are new every morning, and His faithfulness in her life is truly great. The Lord is her portion, and her faith in Him will get her through the challenges to come.

There will be thousands of troopers who will stand in honor of this fallen police officer; there will be hundreds of friends and family members who will come to grieve with her; there are dozens of small group members who are praying for her; but, there is one Christ Jesus who will be there to comfort her and to bring her His hope in the days, weeks, months and years to come.

Great is His faithfulness. Friend, you are loved.


 

Can He Really Use My Imperfect Parts?

CT.4-6
Photo and artwork belong to ComparisonTrap.org

This is the continuation of an earlier post about a Bible study in which I’m facilitating and participating.


But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you,
for my power is made perfect in weakness.
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses,
so that Christ’s power may rest on me.”
~ 2 Corinthians 12:9

The Comparison Trap:  Week Four, Day Six… Some of my reminders and my takeaways from the daily devotional include:

We all have a story.
Our story matters.
It matters to God, and there are others who can learn from our story.

I feel like I say this to women all the time, because there are so many who are hesitant to share their story, thinking it means nothing, it’s full of shame, it’s full of mistakes, and that none of those things really matter… to anyone, but especially to God.

Sandra Stanley begins this devotional by telling us, “Comparison may be whispering to you the lie that those pieces of your story should be kept hidden—that admitting them out loud would be intentionally pointing out that you don’t measure up, that you aren’t perfect enough.”

His grace IS sufficient for us, and His power IS made perfect in my weaknesses. We struggle to believe this… and we struggle when we think we need to have no weaknesses to be used by Him… and that we must be perfect in order for His power to be made perfect. Stop it.

We’re so wrong when we allow those whispers to speak lies to us.

“God can leverage and use the unpolished, imperfect parts of your story.”

He will if you let him. It’s often in the shattered dreams that we find Him. It’s often in the broken bits that we discover more about Him. It’s often in the questions we ask where we’ll find hope. It’s often in hearing others’ stories where we’ll realize ours matters, too.

Whose unpolished and imperfect parts can be used?

It’s those of us who wonder from where our value comes.

It’s those of us who want to know how a broken heart can heal.

It’s those of us who are living in singleness.

It’s those of us who wonder who else cares.

It’s those of us who have watched our husbands die.

It’s those of us who cry in our quiet moments.

It’s those of us who feel the need to put on the smile mask.

It’s those of us who have watched our marriages fall apart.

It’s those of us who were violated.

It’s those of us who are lonely.

It’s those of us who wonder, “Why me?”

It’s those of us who have lost a child.

It’s those of us who have never been able to carry a child.

It’s those of us who have been cheated upon.

It’s those of us who feel lost.

It’s those of us who don’t know how to get through today.

It’s those of us who don’t know from where our hope comes.

Sandra walks us out of today’s devotional with a wonderful prayer:

“Heavenly Father, it seems a little crazy to me that you’re interested in taking the broken stuff of my life and using it for good. But since you say so, I’m offering all of it to you now. Please give me new eyes to see my story the way you do and to see how I can put it to good use.”

Amen. His grace is sufficient… even in our weaknesses. He uses every bit of it for His purpose, when we allow Christ’s power to rest on us.