Letter #481: Incarcerated Perspective

***A bit longer than usual, but trust me, it’s worth it.***

Dear perspective,

Skype. A phenomenal invention for long distance relationships, but what if the only interaction you could ever have with loved ones was via Skype? The only way you could see them was through a video screen? No hug, no high five, no pat on the back. What if the only way you could hear them was by holding an old school telephone to your ear?

Skype. A pretty sweet invention for long distance relationships. What if the person on the other end of the call was really only a cement wall or two away? This is reality for 793 out of every 100,000 Americans…and that’s if they get visitation.

You are not what I expected to write to today. Sure, I’ve always known normal is relative and people are incarcerated, but to really stop to think about jail being normal for people brings a great deal of you to my life.

A friend of mine ended up at my APT a few nights ago and two hours later I gained more of you than I bargained for one evening of my life. Through a crazy series of events, a God-ordained series in my opinion, she ended up at the county jail visiting an inmate she’d never met. Being a first time visitor and never being incarcerated, she was an amateur in all respects. Jail can be scary. I’ll never forget my 4th grade field trip where we toured the Lawton jail as the inmates stood behind their cell bars staring at us, sometimes hissing, sometimes hollering profanities. If I planned to do anything arrest worthy pre-4th grade, my mind quickly changed that day.

My friend arrived confidently, trusting the Lord had orchestrated her visit. No part of the story should be left out. This can’t do it justice. Every moment is unbelievably eye-opening from 17-year-olds with their newborns to visit their baby’s daddies, to the 15 minute maximums of actual conversation, to Skyping rather than truly seeing, to the fact that visiting people in jail is people in our society’s normal. Maybe I’m simply naive, but my eyes have been opened to a whole new stage of reality.

After waiting nearly two hours, having multiple confused conversations of why she would be visiting someone she’s never even met and building trust with her fellow visitors, the most ironic thing possible happened. The sister and niece of the girl she was visiting, a pregnant 21-year-old with three kids at home who had been arrested on meth charges, were also visiting. Imagine the confusion if you were going to see your sister or aunt, and some random, beautiful, 22-year-old girl was there too. Strange. A really neat conversation ensued between my friend and these two, and they ended up loving she had come and even asked her to pray for their family. They prayed in the jail’s waiting room. It was now meeting time.

What would you be thinking if you were in jail, saw the same people daily, had no control over your schedule and some random visitor showed up to see you? I’d be a little weirded out. I’d also be ecstatic to have someone to change the monotony of my life. She accepted seeing my friend, and it began. Some awkward initial conversation with a silent moment or two, but overall conversation flowed well. My friend had been praying for the ability to be real throughout the conversation. She succeeded and was able to meet this girl, an inmate, where she was.

Seeing my friend, you’d never guess it in a million years, but a big reason she ended up at the jail visiting this girl was because it could’ve easily been her. She had been through a season that could easily have landed her pregnant and in jail for meth charges just like the girl she was visiting. She’s not. She’s thriving and has passion, fervor and purpose to make a difference in this world. She will make a difference.

My friend was able to explain her story. Why she showed up. She shot her straight and played all her cards, even the ones she isn’t most proud of. She shared with her the truth that allowed her break away from the path that could have led her to prison. “Your past has the ability to define you, but it doesn’t have the right to.’ You get to actively choose to overcome the past, stupid decisions on your own accord or crap you had no control over because others took advantage of you. It’s a daily choice to fight or to succumb.

Not in an over the top fashion, but just in a this is my reality and what saved me from a dark path conversation, my friend got to share about Christ with the girl in jail. The Forgiver of Pasts. The Prince of Peace that surpasses all understanding. She was able to offer her hope. Hope in overcoming the cycle of jail, release, drugs, jail. Hope in going to rehab. Hope in the most important thing: eternal freedom.

15 minutes. In my head, I think I over-glamorize how the conversation actually shook out. In actuality, I think it probably wasn’t much different than a 15 minute conversation I would have with someone I just met on a plane. Normal…minus the video screens and phones.

The inmate asked my friend to come back. She wanted to hear more about the option of rehab. Heck, she probably just wanted someone to talk to next week…I doubt her schedule’s super busy. However, a situation that could have ended unbelievably bad, one that would likely have most of us in a state of anxiety, ended with hope. Ended in a potential friendship. Ended with Christ being glorified through His redemption in one girl’s life who is using it to provide hope in another’s.

This story written as a blog post doesn’t do it full justice. However, this story warms my heart and brings life to my soul. This story challenges me to get out of my comfort zone. This story reminds me that although I live in a bubble of believers, there is a world out there needing light. This story reminds me of my need to be bold, to obey the Lord’s leading. This story brings great you to me.

May my heart be stirred and my mind obey,

Beyond challenged

Letter #155: A Peony for Your Thoughts

Dear comfort zone,

I love when I’m pushed outside of you. Actually, I love and hate it, but mostly love. I enjoy being challenged. I embrace learning new ideas and ways of doing things. I even sort of like being uncomfortable. Weird, I know.

Being kept on my toes is healthy for me. I’m always up for a new adventure…even if it’s out of my normal. Why am I talking about this today?! Well friends, I’ve come across a blog that rivals every bit of “comfortable’ in me, and I love it. When someone thinks Lindsay Rother, nail polish, bangles and fashion are as far from those thoughts as far can be. On the flip side, I’m likely more encompassed by thoughts of tennis shoes, t-shirts and short, colorless nails (hopefully a few others as well!).

So, when I read this blog, I feel like I’m in a whole new world. It’s the antithesis of me, and I’m definitely outside of you. I dream of being fashionable and trendy. I wonder if I’ll ever choose a front tie top or trench coat over a North Face rain jacket or a new pair of Tempos. I’m not kidding, I’ve probably learned more about spring trends in the couple weeks I’ve been a reader than I’ve stayed updated on March Madness or the daily news. I may not rock the trends, but I’m at least aware!

I’m warning you, our blogs are as different as Lady Gaga and Anne Hathaway, but my goodness we can learn from them both…Anne, how not to host the Oscars, and Lady Gaga, well why we should avoid drugs! The neatest thing is Kathleen, the blog author, and I are as different as our blogs, yet she has become a dear friend. So, here’s the blog that’s forced me outside of you in every way imaginable. A Peony for Your Thoughts…Some things in life are too sweet not to be shared.

Hoping to become a bit more fashionable this year,

Seeker of fashion within the camp world


Letter #78: Hawaii: Comfort Zone?

Dear comfort zones,

You are easy to get caught up in. It’s comfortable for me to go to work all day, then make a sandwich for dinner. It’s challenging for me to think through what I’m going to cook, have already grocery shopped to have the ingredients and make a home-cooked meal. It’s comfortable to have Chili’s be my go to restaurant in Branson (I love their salsa!). It’s hard, umm…ok, more of an out of my norm, to try a new, local Branson joint. It’s easy to lay in my bed until 7:30, throw myself together and make it to work by 8. It’s SO hard to get up at 6, do Insanity, then go to work. It’s comfortable for me to simply maintain the relationships I have in my life currently. It takes effort to branch out and make new friends in a new place and to be honest, it’s awkward at times.

Institute friends at Sam's going away party. Top row: Sam, Marissa, Me, Laura. Bottom row: Joy, Rachel, Caroline

We say we want to avoid you, but if we’re honest, we enjoy how easy life can be in the middle of you. You are hard, inconvenient and challenging to distance ourselves from, but if we’re going to grow into the people the Lord intended us to be we have to branch out. Taking steps of faith, getting to a point of being uncomfortable and experiencing newness or change allows us to see God working rather than relying on ourselves.

Today, my friend Sam Pace leaves Branson. I knew Sam from OSU, but we weren’t great friends. Then, we went to the Kanakuk Institute together and became better friends. Then, she decided to stay in Branson for a semester to nanny and apply for law school, and our friendship solidified. Today, she departs to go home for the holidays, then she’s moving to HAWAII for the semester before starting law school! This is the epitome of stepping outside of you, and today, I am inspired to get out of mine. She is moving there knowing one person. That’s it. Now, don’t get me wrong…it’s not like the beauty of the island is going to be trying, but not knowing people, not having a job lined up, not knowing the culture…this is a leap of faith. Plus, I now have an excuse to vacation in Hawaii!

These are pictures from her going away party. We even decorated brownies! I made this! OK, Frosty is a bit deformed, but this is a big step for me in my craftiness!

I don’t know who Neale Walsh, but I love this quote from him: “Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.” I don’t know if my life began because I started Insanity, but I do know that often times when I’m outside of you, I see the Lord working more in my life than when I’m in the middle of you. Sam, enjoy ‘beginning your life’ in Hawaii, as I learn to step out of being comfortable here in Branson.

Inspired to branch out of you while exploring a trip to Hawaii,

Attempted comfort zone avoider