Call for Change

From what I have learned of the prison system in Michigan, there is a great deal of “down time” for prisoners and little focus on rehabilitation. I don’t know how this compares to other states, but it is no wonder that many who are released in Michigan return quickly, often within a matter of months.

Add to this observation my experience of participating in a prison bible study group once a week, and  I have become more committed than ever to remaining a part of prison ministry. The men who attend this bible study DO actually read their bibles. They DO actually study. And they DO look forward to attending this weekly meeting. Why, they know more about the bible than I do! It is a shame that there is no one who is formally educated to guide the group (one man told me he’s never met the chaplain!). Nonetheless, I have been amazed by the interactions within the small groups.  I have observed respect for one another, help provided when someone cannot pronounce a word, and discussion that is aimed at those involved, consciously speaking to the level each person is at. I see sincerity and openness in these men. I see men who are looking forward to release, men who are really trying to shape their lives in a positive fashion.

If we, the volunteers, are among the limited outside examples for these men, then we have an extremely important role…one that should not be taken lightly. How in the world do prisons expect offenders to be changed without rehabilitation or guidance ? Simply by punishment?

I actually LIKE the men I meet every week. I respect them and I recognize that they are making an effort. Where, on the other hand, is effort from the prison system to grow these men and women into responsible citizens?  If we who are taxpayers want to see our dollars go toward constructive SOLUTIONS, we should be demanding effective rehabilitation for anyone who has not received a life sentence.

Only Child

I have grown close to my “church family.”  But the fact that I perceive them as “family” may be what bothers me as well. Since I am an only child, my friends and relatives are my reference points for what large families are like. The reader should remember that as an only child, one doesn’t have brothers and sisters with whom to fight and disagree. When I was growing up, I used to hang out at friends’ houses – friends who usually had brothers and sisters. There I would enjoy the chaos, the arguments, and all other “action” that often ensued.

Now, fast forward many years to my newfound church family. First of all, although I have attended church most of my life, I have never really felt a part of a church until now. This church consists of a warm, caring group of individuals who look out for each other. And yet…and yet…there is discord among them. Intent though many of them are on what they believe is the “right” way to do things, their insistence and lack of understanding of – or willingness to understand – each other seems to pull this family apart.

Doesn’t the bible say that when one has an issue with a brother (or sister), he should go off and resolve that issue first? Here, I see one faction, if you will, either holding it all in until they need to burst, or trying to convince other factions to come to their “side.” Just like family members in discord, some are hurt or insulted, some are righteous, and some remain unwilling to become involved.

“Do not judge lest you be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged, and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. And why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye…. You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matt. 7:1-5)

This is a family! This is a church body! I pull back when I witness or hear about the various disagreements. I resist the volatile reactions and what comes across almost as hate. The lack of willingness to understand from another perspective, to “love one another as I have loved you” causes me to not want to belong. I wonder if those who cause dissension recognize what they are doing to their family? I doubt it. Just as a brother or sister fights for his or her own point of view, so do these individuals campaign for themselves. While I do believe an individual should follow his or her own heart, I also wish that these same individuals would know compassion and understanding before proceeding with their attempts at thrusting their beliefs upon others.

I am trying not to be angry or judgmental. I am sad, for even within the walls of this wonderful church family, perhaps I am destined to remain…an only child.

On Growing Wiser

How odd it was to be on the receiving end of a request for guidance! I always sought answers and guidance from elders. Recently I was asked for advice. Perhaps the inquisitor was drawn to the growing influx of gray hair I seem to be noticing in the mirror. (Doesn’t gray hair imply wisdom?) Am I really old enough to provide advice? Have I really learned enough over the years to call it wisdom? Are my conclusions sound enough to be trusted?

The above realizations and questions thrust me back into the past, back to a day when I was teeming with uncertainty and insecurity. Who was I – no, who am I? – to offer advice? My actions and my decisions over the years have not been all that remarkable. Nor have they been even necessarily admirable. And yet, muffled at first, I could hear a tiny little voice that was becoming clearer as it came nearer the surface. Now it was shouting. I could hear it clearly:  I HAVE learned certain things!

I’ve found that there are people I can trust, and others that I cannot trust. I now know the person I want to be. I recognize that some things are worth fighting for, and others are not. I’ve learned that what really matters is not what others think, but what I think and believe. Are the choices I’ve made healthy and valuable choices for me? How do I answer God when He asks why I made those choices?

It isn’t anything that happened at any one time, or something I was even conscious of as it happened. Sometimes one simply doesn’t notice. All I know is that, somewhere in time, somewhere over time,  I learned who I am. I like me. There are some things and some people for which I no longer have patience. I have hopes and dreams and I hope there is a legacy that I will leave behind.

Perhaps I have learned something over the years. Though I would not lay claim to being the wisest person who ever lived, I hope that I have gleaned enough knowledge on the Pathway of Life to be able to share my conclusions and experiences with the next person who wants to know about them. It is a privilege to be asked for advice. I will honor that gift when it is again given to me. I will share what I have learned…and I pray that the words I will use and the experiences I will talk about will be the right ones to hear for the person asking.

We all walk our own Pathways of Life. We all learn, but at our own pace. One day you will awake and realize that you turned out to be the very person you always hoped you would become. Be proud. It is then that you will realize you have arrived on the doorstep of Wisdom.