Once in a while Himself and I, in our 50th year of marriage, consider our surroundings and ask each other, how did this happen? How did two kids from the upper midwest end up deep in the heart of Texas? How did the straightest, stodgiest people on the planet wind up doing prison ministry?
Today I found a journal entry that helps explain. Here it is, from July 16, 2006, when we’d been here two years:
Let me go back about 25-30 years. For a brief time I did home nursing care for Manpower. I’d been a medical transcriptionist and understood medical terminology; I’d worked as a nursing assistant and had always had an interest in and some knowledge of nursing care. Further, I had a Realtor’s license and had managed a Christian bookstore. All that to say, in my own opinion, I was not somebody fresh off the street. Self-important, one might say.
Imagine my indignation then, when the wife of the man I was to take care of that afternoon asked me to iron her husband’s pajamas. Iron pajamas for this old man? I don’t even iron my own husband’s pajamas.
I brewed my annoyance for a while as I took the man’s temperature and blood pressure, gave him a bath and dressed him in fresh clothes. Just as I was about to sit down and read a book while waiting for his wife to return, I sensed that “still small voice” intruding into my thoughts.
Daughter, I thought I heard HIM say, I’d like to iron that man’s pajamas. Might I trouble you to stand by the ironing board and let me use your hands to do that?
I ironed the pajamas.
It changed my life. I then understood ministry as servanthood. We do nothing unless we are available to facilitate HIS ministry.
Another time I believe I heard “the still, small voice” was when we contemplated moving here and heard “Count the cost.”
It didn’t take a genius to figure out the meaning: If we moved to deepest, darkest Texas we wouldn’t be seeing nearly as much of our grandchildren.
So I’m feeling all of that–the cost, the loneliness…when I go to work Thursday. Here’s what I wrote in my journal Thursday night.
Today at the prison, God met me and reminded me why we are here, and why I’m so glad we persevered through my health, Carl’s health, relationship issues, the whole thing. I visited (I hate to say counseled) with a woman who has just returned from the psychiatric unit.
She’s schizophrenic/affective, a “cutter,” and I don’t know what else. She’s a scary looking woman, with wild eyes staring out of a haunted face. There are those cutting scars in various stages of healing all up and down her arms. She’s skinny, very tall–like a man you wouldn’t want to meet on the street. And let’s not forget: she’s in a maximum-security prison.
But she looks at me with those deep, sorrowful eyes, tears ready to drop, and wants to know, “Am I hearing demons, Miss Elaine? Who is talking to me? I know it is not God. He wouldn’t tell me these things. But do I have demons? How could I have demons? I love God. I’ve been born again…”
Who on earth is going to love her but Jesus? And if He’s asking me to put my arms around her and love her for His sake, I am HONORED!
Yes, the cost is great. I can barely see for tears now, just thinking about the dear faces of my precious, beloved grandchildren and our own children. But they have lots of people to love them. These women in prison don’t.
We had a wonderful time raising our children. But that’s over. It’s painful to recognize that, but as my Uncle Hez said, “the work is finished.”
This season has just begun.