Haven of Hope

One might think that a prison is the least likely place a person would find God, but, for me it has become a haven of hope.

Each week when I attend the prison bible study with Level I men, I am repeatedly struck by the sincerity, humility, awareness, and general appreciation that these men have of their lives, and of their journey with God.

Perhaps because I have been praying for a way to find a deeper faith, I have been hearing a medley of doubt run through my head. It is as though the closer I get to finding something very special, the more active in my life Satan has become!

The men I visit are encouraged merely by the volunteers’ presence. That isn’t enough to satisfy me, however. I feel so ill-equipped to be of any help to them! In my head, I am a person who has not had a loved one imprisoned, nor have I lived “on the edge.” I’ve always been law-abiding, gotten good grades in school, and had positive role models. How can I relate to men who have committed robbery, sexually abused another person, or gone back to prison time and again for driving under the influence?

Perhaps, though, I am the right person to be there – precisely because of my background. I know the way I grew up, the way it should have been for so many of these men. Maybe, just maybe, they will see in me something they never had, but want in their lives. Perhaps if there were more people to show them that they truly can turn their lives around, and to show them how to do it, we would have less folks who return time after time to prison.

I don’t mean to say that I know it all. I don’t. But I don’t see the crimes when I look at these men. I see men who have had very positive experiences with religion. I see men who are looking toward a future where they won’t be returning to this lifestyle. I see individuals who have thought a great deal about what they did, about what led them to doing it, and how they intend to change their lives so that they won’t return to prison. I see men who are trying to be better individuals, and men who are good examples. Some are so fired up to know God! Of those men, I am envious. When we face each other to sing, I look around at the many faces and I have to believe I actually see God. I see beautiful creations in whom God is working mightily. How could I not feel hope?

I feel hope for these men, that, when they leave, they will know better lives. I feel hope because THESE are the men I see being released from prison. I feel hope that they will be able to hold onto all that they have gained and use it for good. I even feel hope for me because, if Satan is working so hard to try to cause me to doubt myself – and God -then perhaps one of these days I will have that same glow many of these men have as they prepare to lead new lives…with Christ as their companion.

Heaven…and YOU!

I am reading Surprised by Grace by Elizabeth Sherrill. It recounts her transformation to becoming a believer. I am taking a stunningly beautiful walk, traversing steps of her past. In this insightful memoir, one of her questions is “What is your heaven?”

I imagine many responses would include feelings similar to mine where I hope to someday see certain loved ones once again. Beyond that immediate thought, however, I must confess I never thought enough about such a question to clarify its details for myself, let alone anyone else. One speculation the author suggests is that heaven is different for everyone. For instance, an avid reader might envision being surrounded by books. Another idea is that each of us will have a purpose when we get there. I am intrigued by both ideas.

A part of me wonders if this earthly life is given to us merely to BEGIN to see what we are best at, what we are passionate about, and how we would like to live if we had the opportunity to do it all again. What a delightful concept to think that our past – even our mistakes – have been with purpose! That would mean that the life I have recently begun to see as two-thirds spent has not been wasted. It has taken me so very long to find a path that seems to work – even, at that, I am only a “newbie” – and I have such a long, long way to go on that path, now that I’ve only just begun!

Have you envisioned what your heaven will be like? I invite you to share your thoughts….

Is There a Better Way?

Some people are so judgmental! They have opinions about everything and are quick to judge.

I kind of tend to avoid these people. Especially the ones who seem to have hidden agendas. Are we not supposed to love our neighbors? Were we not told to judge not, lest we be judged? And this quote also comes to mind:  “…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.”

One would so like to point out the scriptural points above to these individuals, but…for those who really need to hear, the words would fall on deaf ears. Besides, doing so would cause me to be viewed as proud, haughty, and to be as judgmental as they.

I am not a confrontational kind of person. I do not like conflict. I do not have any desire to pick a fight with any of these people. However, I do try to quietly turn the situation around. Either I attempt to play “devil’s advocate” and suggest reasons someone might have said or done the things they did, or I try to find something positive about the person or the action. Perhaps, in the long run, (fill in the blank) was needed.

My methods won’t change the world and all its negativity, but I’m hopeful that they cause some folks to realize that there are other ways to look at whatever or whoever was the focus of their comment. No, it may not change a single thing…but it affords me a method for controlling my immediate environment when it borders on the intolerable, and a more positive way of co-existing with those around me who sometimes seem to rub me the wrong way. How do YOU deal with negativity?