The Power of ONE

“Can you pray for me?” The question caught me off guard. We were in the hallway of the education building where young inmates were coming in for their afternoon classes. YOs are generally not very friendly. Especially with someone they don’t know. The trust factor is a real thing.

First, let me back up.

We had scheduled a special class for YOs (Youthful Offenders) in this particular prison. It’s always our hardest crowd to minister to… but so worth it! The zeal that young people have when they are set on fire for Jesus is worth the difficulty in getting to that point. They are regular world-changers, if we are willing to view them as such. For this reason, we press on.

We had a four-day class in one of the education buildings. We had our own room for those four days. Every morning we would come in and set up our equipment… DVD player, laptop, pencil sharpener and pencils, screen, projector, and workbooks. Then we would wait.

Little did we know what we were getting into that week. When Susannah and I started that first day, we barely knew each other. A few short conversations in person at various events and a couple phone calls leading up to the week. We were just acquaintances, really. That was about to change. We have a saying on my women’s prison team- “Come as friends, leave as sisters.” That’s the way it goes. Intense ministry can make or break you.

For our first two days no one showed up.

That’s never happened to me. There was literally not a soul that came those first two days. We were stuck in a room a thousand miles from home and not a person to show for the time and energy we had prepared. It was discouraging if I stopped and thought about it too long. But Susannah and I were determined to not go there with our minds. Instead, we chose to stake our claim on the hearts of these girls.

We prayed like mad women for two days.

There in that little classroom, we prayed for hours. Once in a while a passer-by would stick their head in our room and ask where our students were. “They’re coming,” we’d say, or “we don’t have any yet.” There were a lot of strange looks from people…especially from the other teachers in the building. One teacher kept telling us- “You came all this way and don’t have any students? Go to the beach or something! I feel so bad…you’re sitting here and you have no one. Don’t waste your time. Go enjoy yourself.” We smiled. He couldn’t see what we could see.

Like Elisha when he saw what his servant didn’t see in 2 Kings 6…Elisha saw the Army of the Lord and his servant couldn’t see, so he was afraid. We could sit and wait knowing that God could still make something beautiful out of our days of sitting and prayer. What if our waiting was for someone else? What if our waiting was showing that one teacher that we were willing to wait for ONE student? What if our patience was proving to him that there is a God in heaven who waits for the one? Even for ONE. What if our waiting showed the love of the Father for one child? Individually. Personally.

By the end of our first day, that room was like our home. We stood at the doorway during break times and talked to the ladies coming by. We had women come in and sit on the front row, telling us their stories and asking for prayer. One at a time, we ministered to them in whatever ways we could. It started feeling like our living room where the broken were coming. I started to wonder if this would be our week.

Over and over I heard the words of Revelation 3:8- “I know your works. Because you have limited strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name, look, I have placed before you and open door that no one is able to close.” (HCSB) I kept feeling like God was setting the stage for something bigger than we could even imagine.

It’s not in numbers friends. Jesus turned the world upside-down with twelve men. I am willing to bet that He can do the same with a few gals from prison. Or He could do it with ONE.

After two days of praying and small talk with those visiting “our house”, we made a bold request and ASKED to track down some students. Maybe sometimes God tells us there is an open door… then He asks us to kick it down. It’s unlocked, but maybe it’s stuck. The authorities said we could stand near the education classes and talk to the girls coming in after lunch. We were all about it.

When the YOs started pouring in the doors, my friend Susannah and I split up and started trying to make conversation with the girls as they walked by. I stood there in a lull, looking for a pair of eyeballs to meet mine, ready to jump out with a smile and howdy-do. I kept whispering under my breath, “Jesus, just give me ONE.” But no one was making eye contact with me.

Then I heard a voice behind me. “Can you pray for me?”

It startled me. A girl who I had seen walk by me had whirled around and stood directly next to me. She had her head down and she was twiddling her hat in her hands. She seemed nervous. I reached for her hands and although she gave them to me, she kept her head down. “Absolutely! What do you want me to pray for?”

Her answer cut through me.

“I want God’s favor on my life. I need help. I need answers.” This was my one. I had come a thousand miles for THIS GIRL.

Fast forward two more days and we were wrapping up our class with SIX GIRLS, ages 17-23. Y’all, that’s a door that we couldn’t have went through if it wasn’t for Jesus.

I had my one and Susannah had her one and each of them had brought friends. We ended the class with six girls who were ready to face the compound with a new zeal and hunger for Jesus. One 17-year-old decided to follow Jesus with her life. Maybe she was our ONE too.

Yes, we cried tears of joy over these girls. But can I tell you what made me cry every single time those last two days?

When that certain teacher would come by and peak in the window and see us teaching the class. Every time he came by and stood in the window or whenever some other teacher or inmate who knew us from the first two days came by and peaking their heads in the door, their responses made me tear up. They knew of the waiting. They knew about the praying. They knew that we had staked out in an empty room waiting for ONE. And then they saw filled chairs and workbooks being wrote in and interactions between us and the YOs and they knew- Jesus is real. I saw a dozen or more inmates and teachers stand in that window over those two days and clap. Quiet standing ovations to the God who believes in waiting for ONE. They would laugh and high-five us. They would give our girls thumbs up.

I’ve never seen six girls so applauded by the rest of the prison compound as these gals were. They weren’t just waited for by us anymore…there was a host of men and women that were rooting for those chairs to be filled. Now they were seeing the answer of their waiting and hoping. Maybe true faith is slightly contagious.

We weren’t standing our ground for ourselves. We were willing to wait because we believed that the Jesus we serve is more powerful than the one who had chained these in prison. Because ONE can change the world. Perhaps the domino affect starts here in the waiting.

Do you have ONE you’re waiting for? Don’t give up, friend.

There is power in one. The ONE named Jesus and He says ONE is worth the wait.

FREE Bible Studies!

Hey friends,

Wanted you to know that my website has been updated with some free resources on studying the Bible…Three video series that encourage studying the Word and living for Jesus.

The Brave and Courageous Living series is three stories of women from different ages and stages of life who have learned what it means to walk in courage and trust in the Lord.

The Secrets to Home Bible Study series is a practical four-part progression of how to lead your own Bible study with other people. It’s fun, hands on, and you can even download the free study guide to follow along and write down your thoughts.

The 16-Day Challenge is a 16 days of discovering your identity in Christ through the pages of Scripture. The free downloadable study guide will help you process through questions and stories. Originally designed for teen girls, this study has since been taken by women (and even a few guys!) across the United States.

If you’re looking for a summer series to encourage your walk with Jesus, this might be the thing!

Have a blessed summer,

Faith Walker

 

Do you take ex-felons?

Do you even take ex-felons?”

I was sitting cross-legged on the floor and the question came from a teenage girl on a chair in front of me. She was just a kid. Still had a baby-face and a childish look about her. Her voice seemed halting. Almost scared of the answer I’d give her.

It was one of my first experiences with Youthful Offenders and juveniles behind bars and they had been so open and trusting of us. We talked around the world about the Bible, Christian living, redemption and grace. They were endeared to our hearts at the end of those four days.

Somehow, they seemed like frightened little children…asking for acceptance and guidance and purpose. They wanted something different. They wanted something real. The Jesus they were encountering was different than they originally thought. It seemed to surprise them. Almost as much as this gal’s question surprised me.

Maybe they thought Jesus wanted cute, put-together girls with pat-answers and perfect stories. Maybe they thought their wounds would scare Him away.

It had been my privilege to sit with these precious girls and open the Word with them. To dispel the myths of Christianity one and a time. To present the real TRUTH and healing their hearts longed for. For once in prison, it felt like we were all in my living room, curled up talking about life like I do with the teenagers who visit me at home.

But their hunger was different. It was more intense. More palpable.

After a few days of “getting into their world” I sat with this 17-year-old who had a prison sentence hanging over her head and listened to her story. She had plans when she got out…plans that she hoped could involve traveling with me and presenting truth across the United States. I smiled at her zeal.

Then I saw a cloud come across her face. She looked deep into my eyes and asked in a timid voice… “But, do you even take ex-felons?”

The question made me choke up inside. She didn’t know. She couldn’t believe that she would be worthy of someone else’s trust or could minister to others with a checkered past.

I looked at her square in the face and smiled. Before I could answer, her friend sitting next to her nudged her. “You don’t know? Of course she takes ex-felons! Why do you think she does this?!”

The gal asking me looked back at me with a curious gaze. “Yes, I take ex-felons. In my line of work, being a felon doesn’t discredit you, it qualifies you.” She smiled with a new-found freedom. “Tell you what, keep in touch and when you get out, we will talk.”

“But friend, you need to know…the most important thing is that JESUS takes ex-felons. He died to make your past just a stepping stone…not a label that you have to wear for eternity. He loves ex-felons.”

She walked away with a pep in her step.

I wanted to say more. I wanted to hug her firm and cup her scared, little face in my hands and assure her that her story was redeemable. I wanted to tell her she was beautiful. To hold her by the shoulders and look square in her eyes and say, “Yes, Jesus takes ex-felons.”

At what point did we start making people believe that their past was unworthy of love or their stories unredeemable? Everywhere I look in Scripture, I see broken lives that Jesus chose ON PURPOSE for His glory. In fact, He rarely picked the virtuous for His plans. More often than not, He went to the slums and picked the most unlikely candidate to fulfill His purposes.

Maybe we should start believing that Jesus takes the messed up and gives them 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th chances. We should start living like we are Jesus to a broken world, looking for a redo on their bad choices.

Jesus takes ex-felons, y’all. We should too.

Captive Miracles

Before I left for Alaska, I was asking God for a word to share with the women I was going to meet there. I was drawn to 2 Kings 5 reading about Naaman and his skin disease.

We have all heard the story. Many of us have also seen it in flannel graph demonstration. Naaman was a mighty man and victorious soldier. His one major flaw is leprosy. This horrible disease eventually disfigures and disables its victims, and he couldn’t do anything about it. It was incurable. He knew his fate and he needed a miracle.

There’s a weird thing that happens when I read most Bible passages. I look at a story in its totality, which is normal, but makes us miss out on the small details. I read the story in totality once. Then twice. I felt God’s Spirit telling me to read it again…a third time.

This time something jumped off the page. “Now the Syrians on one of their raids had carried off a little girl from the land of Israel, and she worked in the service of Naaman’s wife. She said to her mistress, ‘Would that my lord were with the prophet who is in Samaria! He would cure him of his leprosy.’ So Naaman went in and told his lord, “Thus and so spoke the girl from the land of Israel.’” (Verses 2-4) ESV

I had read these verses many times. We know at the end of the story, Naaman is healed from his leprosy. However, I suddenly realized that Naaman was healed because years before a little girl was captured from her home land and brought to serve in his house. A slave girl who knew the God of Israel. This young captive girl knew where to find healing…and she wasn’t afraid to share that healing with others.

I sat back in my chair, a little overwhelmed at this concept.

Where would Naaman be without this little slave girl? Or what if she wouldn’t have had the boldness to give the right information to her master about healing? What if she had been mean and not wanted him to be healed? And strangely enough…what if she had never been captured?

How often I’m guilty of looking at certain moments in my life as all bad…when down the road God might be orchestrating someone else’s miracle.

What if the broken places of your story are being woven in a way that will bring someone else to Jesus and the place that real healing can be found?

That can change your perspective a little bit. Or a lot.

So here is this Israeli slave girl who says twenty short words that completely alter the course of Naaman’s life and end up gracing the pages of Scripture for generations to come: “If only my master were with the prophet who is in Samaria, he would cure him of his skin disease.” It almost seems like a side comment. Like she was throwing it out there…just in case they were interested in the God of Israel and the prophet that knew Him.

Naaman acts on what he hears. Apparently, this captive girl didn’t have a reputation of crying wolf, because he goes right to the king to get this healing process started. He believed her word THAT MUCH.

One man, free on the outside but sick enough to need a miracle for healing.

One girl, in chains and yet free enough inside to point to the Healer.

This is the essence of sharing the Gospel. We don’t have to have all the answers, we just need to know where to go to get them.

 

At the end of our first week in Alaska, we had a room full of female inmates who were graduating from our four-day Bible program and tearfully saying goodbye. This is the message I left with them.

I could see the tears in their eyes. They knew the God of Israel. They were free inside. Free enough to point to the Healer.

Captive Miracles.

Jesus is My Home

There’s something that happens when you travel extensively. Or at least it’s happened to me. And I’m not talking about being able to sleep in all manner of places and talk to sort of people and navigate multiple airports…although those things are true too. I’m actually talking about knowing where you belong.

Where is home, and what determines that it is YOUR PLACE?

It can be challenging to adjust to each new place, new surroundings, and people. I’ve literally woke up in the middle of the night before and had to lay there for a few minutes to realize where I am. Traveling a lot (even in ministry) can make you a little disoriented at night.

Each trip God teaches me big things…which usually all boil down to trusting Him. Last trip, I learned about blooming wherever I am. Don’t let that statement fool you- I haven’t arrived. I am STILL LEARNING how to bloom wherever I am in the moment. Let me explain my inner challenge to you.

You see, I’m a root digger. I love digging my roots deep into the soil of the place I live. My family has moved a lot in my life, and I’ve learned to settle rather quickly in a new environment. However, we are currently living in a home that we’ve been in for twelve years. Translated: we have never lived anywhere longer. So, the root system I have here is pretty serious business.

Then in September 2017, God sent me on an adventure. I was terrified. I was 28 years old and I had never been away from my family for more than six days. Yep, you heard that right… six days. So, I left on an adventure with a friend for 23 days, a thousand miles away from home. We were going to prison for the first time to minister to women we had never met and half of the people we would be working with I had never seen before. I had never been to Florida, and that’s where I was going. It was an all-around adventure.

It was supposed to be a one-time deal, but something happened when I was there. Something tugged on my heart. I cried buckets standing in front of those precious, incarcerated women. In the most broken time of my life, they let me into their weakest moments and I began to heal. They understood my pain and we connected at heart level. After our second day behind bars, I crawled into bed and whispered to the Lord, “I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world.” I meant it. Through tears, I could feel Him doing something strange and wonderful inside of me.

Fast forward 19 months and I’m sitting here staring at a calendar for 2019 where I’m gone more nights than I’m home. Prison does weird things to you. Or maybe it’s the Jesus part.

Anyway, I’ve been on this prison adventure with Jesus for a while now and He keeps stretching me and calling me to trust regardless of how I feel. It’s amazing and terrifying in the same time. It’s beautiful and broken. I’ve seen things in myself that make me squirm (I don’t always have the best attitude when I’m under pressure!) and seen Him call out strength in me that I didn’t know I had (I didn’t…it was His and He let me borrow it).

Still, there’s this “bloom where you are” business.

I’d like to think I’m fairly adaptable, but sometimes it seems like a process for me to acclimate to new surroundings. I like routine. I like predictability. But when you’re on the road, there’s very little that’s certain. Like VERY LITTLE.

Last trip was my longest ever: 47 nights away from home. That’s nearly seven weeks on the road. I moved eight times. This is what I mean by unpredictably. Just when you feel comfortable with your surroundings, it is time to move. Let’s be honest…it’s hard to dig down roots when you’re being replanted every few days or weeks.

One day, at the height of my frustration I started praying about my bad attitude and vented some real emotions about where I was standing. I’m grateful God isn’t offended by my honest emotional outbursts. I told Him that it was hard for me to be here, there and everywhere. I told Him I felt like I was failing at living in the moment and living out of a suitcase. I told Him I wanted to do better, but I had no idea how. “Bloom where you are” loomed over my head and I just didn’t know the practical ways to actually LIVE that way.

Then in a moment, I felt His whisper- “I. Am. Your. Home.”

That’s it. He is my home, and He is always with me…therefore wherever I am, it can be home. I know this doesn’t seem like a huge revelation, but to me it felt like a major life shift.

Whenever I’m on a long trip (and my friends can verify this) I have a countdown of how many days until I get back home. I talk about it a lot. For my nieces and nephews, we call it “how many sleeps until Aunt Faith comes home”. They can wrap their mind around that…and I can too! I like my home. I miss my family when I’m away. I feel justified to count down the days until I return to my people and the place where I belong.

This dramatic shift of heart started alerting me to how much I talked about the countdown. How much I made the people I spent time with while I was away (co-workers, friends, neighbors) feel like I didn’t want to be there. Like they were less important because I really wished I was home.

It kinda made me feel I had been missing the boat. I was missing the TODAYS because I was wishing for TOMORROW when I could be home with my family. I’m not minimizing my love for family…I’m grateful for a gravitational pull to home base. But to overlook the people I’m currently with is slighting and perhaps a little rude. They are people too. People who God has called me to love in the moment.

March was the month I memorized Psalm 84:3, “Even a sparrow finds a home, and a swallow, a nest for herself where she places her young—near Your altars, Lord of Hosts, my King and my God.” (HCSB) When I started memorizing this verse, it completely wrecked my view of home.

The swallow FINDS A HOME. What if that means I’m supposed to hold all things lightly? Find the home in every place I stay? Find my family in the faces of the people I’m with right now? Love fully and embrace each season…even if it’s sleeping on fold out beds or floor pallets and traveling thousands of miles to be Jesus to people I’ve never met and may never see again? Maybe this is what it means to be a stranger and pilgrim on earth.

I think of Jeremiah 29:4-7, “This is what the Lord of Hosts, the God of Israel, says to all the exiles I deported from Jerusalem to Babylon: Build houses and live in them. Plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters. Take wives for your sons and give your daughters to men in marriage so that they may bear sons and daughters. Multiply there, do not decrease. Seek the welfare of the city I have deported you to. Pray to the Lord on it’s behalf, for when it has prosperity, you will prosper.” (HCSB)

What if this season of flying all over the place and learning to be comfortable in the car and figuring out how to sleep on a couch (and not wake up like you slept on a couch…) what if all of this is pointing to One Who wants all of me? He wants me to find my true home in Him, and only Him. Perhaps all these trivial things are just guideposts pointing to the real place I belong. The authentic Home I’ve been craving.

Jesus is where my home is. Home is where Jesus is.

No matter where I am, I can belong. I can be at home. Fully at rest. I can still miss my family. I can still love being at home. But it doesn’t have to define me as out-of-place when I’m not there. Heaven is my forever Home with Jesus…perhaps finding my belonging in Him now is part of the plan.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a kitchen in Alaska, four thousand miles away from my house. I belong here not because this is the place I’m living permanently but because I take my Home with me. His name is Jesus.

Jesus is My Home.

Dear Teen Girl

Dear Teen Girl,

I’m writing this letter to you because I need you to know something…I know you get a bad rap for your age. Maybe some of it is legit (after all, you are a young and imperfect human being like the rest of us), but I believe you are more. You are beautifully created for TODAY and for this time in history. I’m young enough to know that the problems you face are real, and old enough to know you will make it.

No really, you will. I know it seems like no one in the world could ever make it out of these years alive, but you can. You will. (The God that made you has also parted the Red Sea and healed the sick, so helping you through the teen years is very doable for Him.) So, pretend I’m standing next to you, me-a twenty-something and you-a teen…and drink it in. What I’m about to say comes right from my heart. I want you to listen close:

I believe in your generation of young women.

I see in you an amazing hunger for truth that the world isn’t satisfying. The girls of your generation are looking for answers…and you are smart enough to know that this world doesn’t have what it takes. I see in you a desire to know Jesus and discover if He is real for yourselves. I see in your generation a fire to be more than what is expected. To go beyond what is accepted and stand up in a culture that expects so little of teens. I see a passion for being different and swimming against the tide. I see you girls rebelling against culture and saying YES to Jesus in ways that knock my socks off. I know many in your generation believe that your teen years can be some of your best years, some of your most fruitful years. I believe in your generation, but more importantly, I believe in you.

Did you hear that?

I believe in YOU.

You may think the whole world is against you.

It is.

You may think that the entire culture is nipping at your heels waiting for you to fail.

It is.

You may even feel the pressure of your Christian community expecting you to waste your life and make some major mistakes in the next few years.

For the most part, they probably are. It’s just human.

But for all the negative pushing against you, I believe you can be different. I also believe that you WANT to be. Deep down in the recesses of your heart, you desire more than anything to stand up and stand out. You want to do something big with your life and to find out what really matters. You want to know what you believe in and to stop piggy-backing on someone else’s faith. You want to know Jesus personally. To KNOW He is real for yourself.

I believe in you.

I have seen what happens when a girl catches fire for Jesus. I have seen the fire in her eyes as she shares truth unashamed. I have seen the power she possesses to change and challenge an entire generation. I have stood in awe, again and again to watch the path of one ordinary girl…One ordinary girl who chooses to give her 100% to Someone powerful and far bigger than herself.

I believe YOU are that girl.

You see, I believe you are just like Esther. You are come to our generation, to our time in history “for such a time as this”. You were born for this! You are a princess sent here in mission for your Heavenly Father, capable of insurmountable odds and mind-blowing things because of Him. I believe you are crazy-loved and wonderfully perfect for this mission and I believe in you. Esther wasn’t a hero because she was extraordinary…she was a hero because she made some amazing choices in the moments she found herself in. She just did the next right thing and left the results to God. And I believe Esther’s God (Yahweh) in you, could do the same heroic deeds. (Esther 4)

I believe you are like Jeremiah…a young person feeling ill-equipped and yet called to be the voice of God to His people. (Jeremiah 1) You are equipped by the very Hand of God as He puts words in your mouth and wisdom in your heart for the journey ahead.

I believe you are like Timothy…bearing the weight of an incredible spiritual harvest, and yet despised because of your age (1 Timothy 4:12). That’s why I’m writing this letter…because I see that you are capable of showing a dying world the healing power of Jesus. You are about His business!

I believe in you. I love your heart, your craving for Jesus and your zeal for truth. I love your energy…I could use it some days. I love how your eyes light up when you connect with the Word or understand something new from Scripture. I appreciate your honesty.

I believe you are beautiful, chosen, unique, and created for this moment. I believe you are forgiven, bought, secure, and sealed. I believe you are cherished, valued, loved, and adopted into royalty. I believe you are enough.

Can I just tell you, I believe in you for more than the shade of your tan or the silkiness of your hair. You are more than what you look like. I believe in you because I know your Creator…and He doesn’t make anything less than masterpieces. You’re one of them. Every time I see you I smile because I know He has an amazing plan for you. I’m sitting on the edge of my seat…wondering, what will He do next with you?

Why do I talk to teens, write to teens and speak to teen girls like you? Simply put, I want a front row seat for the adventure God has you on.

I believe in YOU. I believe in your Jesus. Put a daughter on a mission for her ALL-Powerful Father, and I believe we have… a winner! That’s why I believe in you!

Keep it up little sis, I’m cheering you on!

Love from, An Older Sister

 

(Originally published on April 16, 2016 on the Polished Cornerstones blog.)

Homies

I know her back story and she knows mine. Our spirits connect at a different level…even though we are about as different as could be.

I am young. She is old enough to be my grandma.

I am short. She is tall.

I have light-colored, straight hair. She has dark, curly hair.

I have pale skin. She has chocolately skin.

I visit from the free-world. She wears an inmate tag.

We were born and raised in different countries, so we have different accents.

But inside, we are made of the same things, and we both are in love with the same Jesus. I am learning that this is all that matters.

 

It was the second day of this particular class and I still hadn’t seen her in the mass of women coming and going. This was unusual since she never missed a class, even if it was her 8th time going through it. After lunch, she came bursting through the door with one of her young friends she was mentoring. I looked up to see her face beaming. She shrieked my name from across the room. She raised both hands in the air to signal how happy she was to see me. She gave me a high-five and held my hand there for a second. “I just love you,” she said. I told her I loved her too. This was our normal greeting.

She started chatting happily to MaryEllen and I about how glad she was to see us and rambled on about life. She wanted to know how we were doing and told us what she was learning.

All the while, the girl next to her stood quietly and watched us. Curious eyes staring. Wondering. It’s a real thing to be invited into the space of others…especially in a prison setting where they size you up with trust issues. I could see it in the way she watched us…she was deciding if she was going to “let us in”.

Finally, my old friend turned to the young lady and introduced us. She waved her hand towards us: “These two girls are our homies. They are locked up WITH US in here.” She smiled at us, ear-to-ear.

I’ve never in my life been introduced to someone like that, and honestly, may never again. But for the moment, it choked me and I could feel the tears rising in my eyes. This was the most beautiful way I had ever been presented to someone.

Ever since starting into prison ministry 18-months ago, my prayer has always been they would see that I’m not just for them, but that I am WITH THEM. My heart is to be a friend to each of them. To listen to their stories. To spread Hope and give Jesus away.

This friend knew we weren’t just for her. We were WITH her.

“These two are our homies.” The words kinda hung in the air.

In case you need to know the exact definition of a homie: “an acquaintance from one’s town or neighborhood, or a member of one’s peer group or gang.” In my words, I call these kind of folks “my people”,  the ones you can count on anytime or anywhere to have your back. In prison and on the street they call them: “Homies.” I’m learning this language and on that particular winter day, it had never been more beautiful.

It wasn’t me in this equation…it was THESE WOMEN who invited me into their world. They let me in. They extended their hands and opened their hearts to me…an outsider who they chose to trust with their friendship. That humbled me.

It’s no small thing to be invited into the inner circle. Our world is full of cliques and groups and gangs and clubs…and we as Christians are no different. We have the power to invite people into our corner of this broken and battered world. To hold out our hand and motion for others to come to our table. To invite the outsider into our inner circle. To hold open the door and point to the Jesus we already know and assure them that there’s room for them and they are wanted.

They don’t have to look like you. They don’t have to act just like you. They just need to be a human with a beating heart and BINGO- you have someone who most likely needs a friend. Not a Facebook like. Not a comment on Instagram. Not a retweet on Twitter. They need a person, flawed, real-life, flesh-and-blood friend.

Go. Be. That. Friend.

Invite that person who is COMPLETELY different from you. Sit at the same table with people who aren’t in the same age group and don’t dress like you do and don’t go to the same church as you do.

“Jesus spent His whole life engaging the people most of us have spent our whole lives trying to avoid.” – Bob Goff

Most Christians want to have friends that look, act and sound just like themselves. I don’t know about you, but that’s a boring world. It’s a poor view of Christianity. What’s more, it’s not Biblical. God is our Creator, which means He is creative…which means He likes color and diversity and being different. That’s why no two snowflakes or human beings are alike. He loves variety. He made it that way on purpose.

What if we just starting loving people like Jesus did? What if we were to celebrate our differences and the God who has created the variety in us?

“These two girls are our homies.” Truth is, my friends behind bars took a chance on letting me in their world. I’m not exactly like them and I am a human with a ginormous ability to fail…but they were willing to risk it and open their hearts to me. They invited me to their table. They invited me to their corner of the world. They called me their homie.

I’m grateful.

Sweet Silence

Hello Friday. It’s that day again that I come to a coffee shop to rest and receive from the Lord. Sometimes I feel like I do the most talking, but I’m learning to sit and listen to Him. Even if He doesn’t say anything. Because sometimes He doesn’t, and I’m reminded of times in life when He has been silent and I crave to hear His voice again.

How sweet the sound of His voice is after silence.

I remember teaching my piano students years ago what a rest in music was. Some of them wanted to rush the musical rest because it felt weird to be at a piano bench for even a couple of seconds when you weren’t actually doing or hearing anything. But over and over I told them the same thing: “Music is always sweeter after a rest.” I don’t know where I heard it, but I knew it was true. A rest makes the listeners lean in with anticipation to the music coming.

Music is sweeter after a rest.

I’ve come to learn (painfully and slowly) that God’s voice is much the same. His voice is sweeter to us after a time of silence. Not because He changes, but because our posture towards Him changes. We lean in towards Him more. We sit on the edge of our seats in anticipation. We beg for Him to speak and crave connection with His voice. We can suddenly identify with King David when he wrote:

“Answer me, Lord, for Your faithful love is good; in keeping with Your great compassion, turn to me. Don’t hide Your face from Your servant, for I am in distress. Answer me quickly!” Psalm 69:16-17 HCSB

I’m in a season of edge-of-the-seat silence. I can see His smile gracing me often. There are moments almost every day that I see His hand orchestrating the moments and answering my prayers. I know He is present and near…but I can’t hear His voice.

It’s hard to be still in the silence. Even when you’ve walked the wilderness before, it still doesn’t feel natural or right or comfortable. Anyway you cut it, the wilderness seasons feel dry. Dusty. Quiet. Silence isn’t comfortable.

I’m one of those people who is a chronic silence-filler. More than once I’ve felt nervous with silence and therefore felt the need to fill it in with WORDS. Sometimes the words are practically meaningless, which makes matters worse. It’s been a process of growing to understand and learning to live out the truth that sometimes being silent is okay. In fact, being still is a sign of maturity and security.

Have you ever been riding in a car with someone you don’t know very well and an awkward silence descends on the vehicle? In those situations, I tend to go inward freak-out mode and start filling the space with unnecessary conversation. The truth is, the better you know the other person in the silent vehicle, the more at rest you can be in the quiet. You have nothing to prove. Nothing to say that’s earth shattering. Just sitting there doesn’t bother you because you are secure in your own skin and at rest with this other person.

Today is one of those days when I am hypothetically in an enclosed area with a quiet Friend. I know He is fully aware of ALL my flaws and loves me anyway. He knows me better than anyone in the world and somehow I feel the need to fill the silence with pointless words. I can see His Fatherly smile upon me as I chatter away nervously. His face says it all. To just be at rest in His Presence. To just sit and soak in all the things He has told me over and over. Even when He doesn’t speak them right now, I know they are true. His promises never change because HE never changes.

Today in my favorite coffee shop I am reminded that His voice is sweeter after the silence. Until then, I will lean in with anticipation and rest in His Presence. Content to ride along with Him in the quietness. One day soon, His voice will split the silence and the sound will make my heart sing.

The wilderness experiences of life create a special hunger in my soul for Jesus. What about you?

Best. Valentine. Ever.

It’s that time of year again…when every store is decorating in red and pink hearts. Chocolate screams at you from every corner and the card section makes your eyes bug out of their sockets with an over-attention to a certain color palette. I have friends who have dubbed Valentine’s Day as “National Singleness Awareness Day” and I can see why.

I noticed this year how many people are moaning about their lack of love. Or their lack of a lover. Or how dejected they feel because they are spending yet ANOTHER Valentine’s Day without a ring on their finger, or a guy period. We talk about “surviving” the day like we are only a whole person with a second half. (Reminder dear friends: God made you to be whole with Him. Until He tells you otherwise, be content and whole with just Him.) And have mercy people! If you aren’t thick skinned, don’t get on social media today! Love is in the air…or in the cloud or something.

Now all of that ranting probably sounded uncompassionate. I’m not trying to be. I just think we as a culture are far too selfish, myself included. I’m not a person unaffected by the voices around me. The truth is, this is my 31st Valentine’s Day and I’ve never had a beau. Not even once. So…I get the initial thought pattern, to feel sorry for yourself on a Hallmark holiday as sweet as this one.

Today I worked half a day in the office and took the rest of the day to go on an early date with my Valentine. Usually I meet with Jesus for a few hours on Friday mornings, but this week I figured it would be appropriate to spend some time with the Lover of my soul on February 14th, even if it was a Thursday.

I’ve been unusually happy this morning. And it’s not because I’m looking forward to dinner with a sweetheart or I know I’ll get chocolate later…I will get neither. My joy comes from realizing the parallel between a day focused on the one who loves you and knowing Who really loves me.

My Valentine doesn’t buy me roses; He paints the sunsets. He doesn’t get me chocolate; He gives me the sweetness of relationships with my family and closest friends. He doesn’t take me to dinner; He invites me to a continual feast of His goodness. He doesn’t plan an outing for me; He compels me to join Him on the adventure of a lifetime! He knows me better than anyone in the world and still loves me.

I’ve spent most of my Valentine’s Days curled up on a couch reading to someone else’s kids. Single people make great babysitters since we have no other plans for today anyway. You know what? I LOVE IT. I love that I am in a season where I can support the marriages around me by giving them a night away from greasy fingers, tugs on the pant legs and wearing spit up on their shirts. Why not use my Valentine’s Days to love someone’s kids?

This is what makes the world go ‘round, folks. People need each other. Not just people in the same stage of life…people in various ages and stages that fit together like a beautiful puzzle. Married people need single people to watch their kids on Valentine’s Day and single people need to borrow married people’s kids when we get “baby-fever”. We need each other for more than that, but that’s just one example.

I keep thinking of Jesus today…more than usual. He can become all-consuming the more you get to know Him. There’s no one like Him. Every other lover pales in comparison. Who else can claim perfection except Jesus? He is so beautiful, y’all. Today I’ve been in awe of His love, mercy and redemption all over again. That He would pick a regular girl like me. That He would love me when I’m unlovable and choose me despite my inadequacies. He keeps whispering His love to me through every gentle breeze and answered prayer. Come to think of it, I’m kinda spoiled…

“Yahweh your God is among you, a warrior who saves. He will rejoice over you with gladness. He will bring you quietness with His love. He will delight in you with shouts of joy.” Zephaniah 3:17 HCSB

Best. Valentine. Ever.

It’s Called Mercy

“I’ve made a mess of my life.”

The woman sitting in front of me tried blinking back the tears to no avail. They slid down her cheeks and I could see she was wearing shame like a garment.

I’ve heard this statement a hundred times in prison. This time, I heard differently.

I could see into her hopeless heart. Craving meaning when her life was a train wreck. Crying out for purpose in the craziness she had created with her own hands. This woman was older than my mama and carried a story that no human should ever bear. Raised in a Christian home, knowing the right things to say at the right time, and yet still…she was here. She had walked a path that ended her locked up behind rows of barbed wire and concrete walls for longer than she wanted to admit.

“I’m not supposed to be here. I should be dead. Why would God waste His time on me?”

Her shame and guilt were palpable. I could see it in her shaking hands, sweaty brow and the salty tears streaming down her face. She felt like damaged goods. Hopeless. Unwanted.

What she didn’t realize is that two thousand years ago, the God of Creation saw this moment and chose a cross so He could rescue her from herself.

I reached out to grab her hand. “You wanna know? You wanna really know why you’re in here?” My question seemed to startle her a little, like I was about to give her a verbal pounding about all the ways she had blown it. For the first time in our conversation, her eyes met mine and her face softened. I hope she saw Love there…because that’s what I felt inside. Compassion.

She stared at be blankly, so I took that as a yes.

“It’s called MERCY. Jesus didn’t want to leave you out there in your sin. It’s His MERCY that brought you here so you could know that He loves you and wants to walk with you. He can use your brokenness for His good. He can redeem the years the locusts have eaten.”

The tears came faster now, more like sobs welling up from inside her deepest gut. “Your story doesn’t scare Him. Your past doesn’t define you. He loved you so much that He didn’t want to leave you to destroy yourself out there. This is His mercy.” I recounted the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden to her…how God’s mercy is what drove them from the Garden so they wouldn’t live in sin, separated from God forever. His mercy and compassion put them out of the Garden so they could one day partake of redemption.

Then He sent Jesus to be the payment for the sins we couldn’t clean off ourselves. He did for us what we couldn’t do for ourselves. That’s mercy and grace.

There are moments in life when you can actually see the light bulb go on inside someone’s else and this was one of those moments.

“It was mercy….” She whispered. I could see it welling up in her…the gratitude. She was connecting the dots, that the God of the Universe, the One who she had known about since a little child, had never stopped pursuing her wandering heart. He kept chasing her. Kept calling her name. Relentless love.

Mercy.

Her voice stopped quivering. “It was MERCY,” she said louder, “It WAS mercy!” She looked me straight in the eyes, “He. Is. So. Merciful,” she said. I nodded and smiled. She dropped my hand, wiped the tears from her face with her sleeve and lifted her hands in the air. “It was MERCY that brought me here! Mercy! Amen! What a good word! It was Mercy! Oh, thank you Jesus. It was mercy.”

Suddenly, she went into worship mode…seeing Mercy will do that to you. There she was with tears coming down her face, hands lifted up, praising God for His mercy.

Now I was the one with tears sliding down my cheeks. I wanted to take my shoes off, because THIS was holy ground.

Mercy is beautiful, friends.

She got it. She understood that the perhaps the most merciful thing God could do for her would be to bring her to the end of herself and to a place where she had to look at Him and no one else. Years of toxic relationships and emotional let-downs made His unconditional love stand out like a beacon of hope in a desperate world.

When is the last time you got a good look at mercy? To sit in awe of what God has rescued you from?

In prison last month, I saw Mercy reach down and rescue a woman who thought she was worthless. I saw Him hold her face in His hands and whisper the truth to her trembling heart: that He couldn’t stand living without her, so He died on a cross two thousand years ago so that He could redeem her. So they could forever be together. She was in awe of that kind of love…and she could hardly fathom she was worth that much to Him.

So are you.

It’s called Mercy.

“I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust ate, the young locust, the destroying locust—my great army that I sent against you. You will have plenty to eat and be satisfied. You will praise the name of Yahweh your God, who has dealt wondrously with you. My people will never again be put to shame. You will know that I am present in Israel and that I am Yahweh your God, and there is no other. My people will never again be put to shame.” Joel 2:25-27 HCSB