I volunteer with a non-profit organization that assists men and women coming out of prison, who are trying to rebuild their life. The following was written by Dave, one of the success stories from this group, written to people who are on the same journey. It is a story of God’s rescue and restoration.
Many days I have thought the worst of things and wanted the best out of life. The two just don’t work together. Sure, we have bad thoughts, but they can’t control us. “If we have no faith in the future, then we have no power in the present.”(Halford Edward Luccock (1885 – 1960) Satan uses the worst to bring out the worst in us. Don’t let him have that power.
Psalm 90:12 says “So teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom.”If we continue on the path of destruction that we are on, we can’t expect the best out of life. We are better than that. Sometimes the chains that prevent us from being free are more mental than physical. I’m not saying all this as someone sitting out here in the free world. I have been where you are. I served two prison terms. The first was a 16-year sentence, of which I served 7 1/2 years.
Proverbs 26:11 says “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” When I got out, as a dog returns to his vomit, I repeated my folly. After just over a year of freedom I was sentenced to 23 years and served 11 1/2 years of that sentence. If you do the math, that is a total of 19 years that I was in prison. It took me that long to realize that the way I was going was not for me. Both my mother and father had passed away. And I lost all contact with my brothers and my friends (if that is what you want to call them). I did, however, remain close to some of my family members (just a handful), and I am very blessed to have them in my life. I’m not saying that they approved of my past, but they love me no matter what.
I also know that we cannot have a positive life and a negative mind. The two just don’t have room for one another. So we have to keep faith in the future, so the power is in the present. I think of everyone who is where you are right now and I know the day-to-day is just that, but Jesus loves you and has a purpose for you. It is easy to say what you want
while you are in prison, but the rubber meets the road once you are out. So apply your hearts to wisdom. The true challenge is to be what you want to be once you are out. It is great that you are trying to do your best where you are at this moment in time. Just carry that out with you and apply what you have learned once you are out and Jesus will take the wheel. You will have good and bad days, as I do, but you can’t give in to the easy way out. I lead a simple life now; it is not boring, it is awesome!
There are so many people willing to help you down a good path. It just comes down to choices that we make. Some can make us and others can break us. I love you all, but most of all Jesus loves you. I hope that in some way this has helped you to stay positive and know that the power is in the present if we have faith in the future. – Dave
A few months ago the pastor of the church we are attending passed out a card to everyone attending. The card said, “God, what are you calling me into?”He suggested we put it up somewhere in our home where it would remind us to ask the question of God for us personally. I took it seriously and put it on our refrigerator. Around that same time, they showed a video testimony of a young woman who was rescued from a serious drug addiction and drug lifestyle by involving herself with a ministry that is run by three people in the church. I was so moved by her testimony that I asked if I could be involved. I, too, came out of a similar lifestyle and had a desire to help other women come to the same deliverance and freedom that I have experienced.
I began attending the classes that meet two evenings a week. One is called Jobs Partnership, where people who have been in addiction, and may also have a criminal history, can come and go through the program and, once graduated, can get help finding a job. They seek to help them rebuild and have productive lives again. They work with employers in the area to help the participants find meaningful work. There are many barriers to people with this type of history when it comes to job seeking. Many employers will not hire them if they have a criminal record. Some of the folks involved have had good jobs, and then suddenly lost them when the employer found out about their past.
The other evening is a Celebrate Recovery Group, which is a God-focused program to help people to find recovery from addictions. From the first evening, I loved being in the meetings. This ministry is run by two women, Michelle and Sue, along with their assistant, Ron. They have a food panty, and also a clothes closet, where the participants can get food and also clothing, free of charge. They truly desire for the people in the group to find wholeness, spiritually, emotionally, and physically.
So how does this all fit in with the question on my refrigerator? Last night was the Jobs Partnership meeting. It was a large group of people. I was sitting next to a man who had been in a gang for many years. This was his first time at the meeting. He was from the inner city and he shared about how he was abused as a child, and ended up in a gang, because that was a place where he thought he could find love and acceptance, the one thing he never had as a child. He shared his story. He ended up spending 23 years in prison for crimes committed while in the gang. He told the most amazing things about how he learned to trust God and how God worked on his behalf. He was there seeking help, because he had lost his job when his employer found out about his history, even though he had been a good worker. I was moved to tears.
I had to leave the meeting early, but later on after I got home, I was again pondering that question on my refrigerator. “Is this what you are calling me into, God, being in this group, helping these people?” I felt the answer was yes, but I felt it was more than that. As I was thinking, I wondered “What gifts do I have?” “How could God use me with the abilities I have?” And that question again, “God, what are you calling me into?”
And then I realized what it is. I am an intercessor. Prayer is something that I love to do and something in which God has used me in many ways in the past. God is leading me to set aside a time each week to pray and intercede on behalf of this group and the people who attend. What an amazing and exciting opportunity!
It reminds me of a of a quote from Mother Theresa,
“We can do no great things, only small things with great love.”
I believe Michelle and Sue and Ron are doing this. The love, time, and effort they are giving these people is truly what Jesus asked of us, because they recognize these people are all created in the image of God and deserve love and respect and dignity. I am truly grateful God has led me into this ministry to help and support, and most importantly, to pray. It is what my heart has desired for a very long time.
And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ Matthew 25:40 New King James Version (NKJV)
I remember the first time I saw Putter Cat. She was at the Humane Society all alone in a cage. I noticed she was a really large cat for a female. She had silky black fur with beautiful green eyes. I had finally agreed to adopt a cat after 10 years of my husband showing me cat videos, cat pictures, cat stories, etc. After all, marriage is all about give and take and compromise.
So off we went to the Humane Society to volunteer. We did that because I had a cat allergy. I thought if I exposed myself to cats over time, I would become more tolerant. So we finally decided to pick out a cat to adopt. There were so many different ones, young ones, adorable kittens, but I kept coming back to her. The name they gave her was Tammany, because she was a rescue from hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. But my husband is one for nicknames, she we ended up calling her Putter Cat. She had been there for over a year, living in that cage. I felt sorry for her having to be in that shelter for so long. I guess because she was so big, and she wasn’t young (4 years old), people didn’t want her.
So we took her into the visitors’ room to see how she would be with us and if I would be allergic (I wasn’t). She ran all around the room, sniffing and investigating everything. So I said, “There are two humans in the room.” When I said that, she turned around, came over to me and jumped on my lap, and looked me in the eye as if to say, “Please take me home.” How could we not adopt her?
She was my first pet ever in my life at the age of 58 years old. I didn’t know anything about cats. We went to Petco and bought all the supplies we would need, and then my husband went to pick her up. I remember the day we brought her home. We let her out of the carrier and she ran all over the house, sniffing and investigating everything. And then she came back to the living room and jumped up on my lap. I guess she was telling us she was finally home.
Tammany was extremely smart. She would bang the cabinet door where we kept her food when her bowl was empty. She loved to be rolled with the pet hair roller. One day I was rolling the bedspread and I thought it would be a great way to keep the hair down. So I started rolling her and she loved it! So every time I was using the roller, no matter where she was in the house, she would come running and flop down to be rolled. No matter how many times we left and came home, even if it was multiple times in a day, she would jump up on the table to greet us when we came in the door. And she loved to get a drink from the tub faucet with her buddy Neo, one of our other cats. All Ken had to do was call out “tub drink,” and they would both come running.
We have a huge, fenced back yard, so the cats can go out there when it is nice. She loved to sit out there and just watch. There is a block wall by our back door and she would just sit there for hours. Or she would go lay in the cool grass and take a nap on a nice day.
She was a beautiful and loyal companion to us for ten years. It was so hard to lose her, and I still cry when I remember her. I hope what my friend tells me is true that one day I will see her again when I get to heaven. She gave us so much love and I miss her so much. I will never forget my beautiful, silky girl. RIP Putter Cat.
For about the past two months, I have been suffering with hives and an itchy rash on my body. I have had allergies to different medicines, chemical, etc. in the past. So I thought it was a reaction to my laundry detergent. So I stopped using it, washing all my clothing and bedding in vinegar several times. Rash continued. So…I decided that there must not be a way to completely wash the detergent out, so I replaced all my clothing and bedding (note: I needed new clothing anyway, because I have lost a lot of weight, so that wasn’t a waste of money). Still had hives and rash. So, I thought it must be a reaction to a supplement I was taking. I stopped taking it. A week later I still had a rash. Then, my husband suggested perhaps I had a citrus allergy, because we eat a lot of oranges and grapefruit. So I stopped eating it. A week later, the rash and hives were still there.
I was itching 24-7, couldn’t sleep, taking Benadryl every night, which helped, but the hives and rash kept coming back, and it seemed to be getting worse. I asked for prayer that the rash would go away and people prayed for me. But still the rash and hives persisted. I was desperate and in tears this past Thursday morning, so I called the Christian Broadcasting Network’s prayer line and asked the person on the other line to pray. We are getting ready to leave on a vacation out of the country in a week, and I wanted to be able to go and enjoy myself. She specifically prayed that God would show me the reason for the rash, and that He would heal me of the rash and hives.
Later that morning, I was making my bed and when I finished, I noticed a small brown bug on my shirt sleeve. Previously, we had seen two of these and the first time I didn’t think anything of it. The second time, it got away from us. So we put this third bug in a sandwich bag and took it to Orkin. They took one look at it and said, “That is a bedbug.” I was devastated. The dreaded scourge you read about, see in documentaries, and hope you never get, was in my house! I was horrified! Me, the lady who is OCD about having a clean, uncluttered house, and I had bedbugs. And apparently, I was extremely allergic to their bites. Right now my arms, legs and upper torso are covered in itchy hives. So God answered her prayer and showed me the reason why, within the same day!
So…the man came today to assess and tell us what needed to be done, and most importantly, how much this was going to cost. They are scheduled to come Tuesday. They do a heat and chemical treatment to every room in your house. They then come back once each week for two weeks for a follow-up to make sure they are gone. Then, you have them come bi-monthly for an entire year as a preventative. All of this costs $2,600. Not only that, there is a whole list of things we have to do before they come to prepare, which will take the better part of the next three days to do! (Thankfully, I am retired, so I have plenty of time to do it!)
The next morning after I called for prayer, I asked the Lord, “Why didn’t you tell me what was causing my hives?” His answer, “You didn’t ask. You have been focusing on the problem, instead of the solution. Read the scriptures you were given by the prayer partner, and focus on the solution.” So I began to read the verses she gave me out loud. I read them all. And then I went to my room, made my bed, and the bug appeared on my sleeve. (Bedbugs can’t fly, by the way.) And then He began to show me the spiritual lesson in all of this.
When this all began to happen, I just assumed I could handle it. I am extremely independent, self-assured, and resourceful. Surely, I must be able to take care of it, but I wasn’t. Why did I not just humble myself and go to the Lord and ask Him what it was and what I needed to do to take care of it? I could have done that, but instead, I relied on my own strength.
The other lesson I learned is that oftentimes we try to treat the result of whatever the problem is, instead of finding out what the root of the problem is. It is more work to do that, but in the end, it works out better for us. We often want the shortcut way, the easy way, but we need to do it the right way to get the correct result. I feel like the entire fourth chapter of the Book of James applied to this situation. Please read it for yourself. I especially think this section is particularly applicable:
“God opposes the proud
but shows favor to the humble.”
7 Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up.
In late October we ate the last tomatoes of summer…those final pieces of fruit that ripened just before the weather turned colder. There is something wonderful about those tomatoes, knowing we are going into another season with no harvest. The last fruit of summer seems like the sweetest and best.
I liken it to this time of my life when I am retiring from my job. The time has come rushing up, when it seems just a few months ago it would never happen. After a year or so at my job, I wasn’t sure I would stay. I wasn’t happy, and things were not going well. I almost resigned and moved on.
But a wise counselor advised me to stay the course, move on to another area, and see if I could adjust. And that I did, eventually landing in the job I am retiring from. And I am so glad I stayed. It is not just because of the benefits that I am richly enjoying, including retiring with a pension. It is what I learned during these last nearly 12 years in this job that has enriched my life beyond measure.
I found myself with a supervisor who was brave enough to sit down with me and show me how I needed to change. Was that easy to hear? No, not at all, but it was also a relief, because I finally understood why I had experienced so much strife and pain in my job. Because of his courage, it helped me to have the courage to look honestly into myself and make the decision to change. And that has made all the difference for me.
I have been able to make friends with some wonderful people in the past twelve years. I have had so many wonderful days and moments in my job, crazy times, even frustrating and stressful times. I have laughed and I have cried. But instead of constantly being in conflict, I have been able to work together with my coworkers, learning, sharing my skills, and contributing to our combined success. I have been able to see my job as a gift.
I have heard it said that as humans we naturally avoid pain and difficulty. We want to take the easy path. That is what I have done so many times in the past. But this time, I chose the more difficult path. Change is not easy, especially changing a lifetime of habits. But change I did, and I am so grateful for the time I have had at this wonderful company.
It is sad to leave, but now I am entering into a new season of my life, looking forward to new adventures and new lessons.
To quote from one of my favorite poems by Robert Frost:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
And King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes: To everything there is a season, A time for every purpose under heaven.