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It was April 2016, and I’d spent the past three months trying to find a home in Minnesota for my son Tim. It was not going well. Tim, now age 13, seemed despondent. He’d spent the past 2 and a half years in a slew of foster and group homes in Washington, so many we’d lost count. Tim was desperate to go home. I was hoping to find someone in Minnesota to care for him until I was released from prison.

“Did you see who’s back?” I turned to see who Jen was talking about. The day room in Tubman was full, women watching TV and playing cards. “There, by the window,” she added pointing to a woman sitting by herself.

MCF-Shakopee was originally built to house a mere 250 women, but with expansion and make-shift modifications, had increased the prison capacity to 600. At times the population would swell to over 700.

For overcrowding relief the DOC would HoF out male and female inmates, housing them off campus in county jails. Some inmates were gone a few months, some an entire year. Spending a year in county jail can be a very rough experience.

I followed Jen’s hand and saw Tiffani sitting by the windows. Tiffani,in her early 20’s, stared out the window sucking her thumb, rocking back and forth and gripping a strand of hair. I remembered her well and my heart sank. Tiffani was difficult, like thirty behavior problems in one package. Right now, however, she looked pitiful. I narrowed my eyes and considered.

Still reading my Bible every day, I’d noticed that Jesus often prayed all night. I quickly realized that if Jesus needed to pray for hours then I needed to pray more too! I’d created a prayer list to help. Jesus also stressed our need to love people. I was not good at that either, but I was starting to ask God for the ability.

Are you interested in a more fulfilling prayer life? Do you struggle with this?

“I nearly screamed, ‘I will not be ignored!’ I was also badly behaved.”

I wondered if my prayer list might accomplish both goals. I stared at Tiffani and thought. She was an ABE student, which meant she would soon be in the class where I was a tutor. “Great, just great,” I thought miserably. ‘As if loving others wasn’t challenging enough,’ I snorted.

I considered adding Tiffani to my prayer list. I didn’t want to. Tiffani continued rocking in her chair, sucking her thumb, and staring out the window seeing nothing. I’d rarely seen her so quiet. Sighing, I decided I would pray for her and turned back to my friend.

“Hi Mom! Guess what!” I paused and waited with excitement. My relationship with my parents was strained. Truthfully, it was closer to awful. ‘Nice’ was what we always tried to be. Defensive, hurt and angry were just below the surface. As I read about love in the Bible, and I puzzled over how to apply it here.

One day I read -

Regard (treat with honor, due obedience, and courtesy) your father and mother, that your days may be long in the land the Lord your God gives you. Exodus 20:12

I noticed it was one of the 10 commandments and the only one that came with a promise if obeyed. I puzzled over its meaning. I understood respect, but I wanted to obey God exactly as He desired. Did I have to feel affection? Admiration? Would I need to ignore my own pain? I was hurting, angry. Should I ignore what I felt in my heart? Did this mean never being validated?

I had long felt rejected in many ways – marginalized, minimized, discarded. To compensate I’d nurtured my hurts, grown them. I nearly screamed, ‘I will not be ignored!’ I was also badly behaved.

The idea this might be a permanent situation, to be forever victimized, seemed horrible! I tried to wrap my mind around it. I could not imagine warm feelings coming out of it. Feeling stuck, I prayed, “Dear God, I see this command. Please teach me what it means to You so that I understand it.”

One thing I did feel was confident. God would answer that prayer. The past few months had taught me this. I was now reliably sending child support, losing weight, giving money to charity and I hadn’t missed a day of work in a year. I was not just brushing my teeth but flossing them every day, making my bed every day, and this list was growing. I was finding it hard to recognize my own self! It was wonderful.

“What is it?” my mom asked, in answer to my excited ‘Guess what!’

Jesus replied to them, ‘You are wrong because you know neither the Scriptures nor God’s power.’ Matthew 22 : 29

“I’ve committed to being a respectful daughter who honors her parents! I read it in the Bible and I want to do it!” I burst out. I had not yet learned how to obey God’s command, but I was so confident God would make it happen I had to share the news.

“That’s impossible for you,” my mom responded immediately, interrupting. Surprised, I became speechless. I’d always thought of my parents as religious, knowledgeable about the Bible and God. My mind immediately flashed to something Jesus told the religious leaders of His day..

When I’d first arrived to prison my anger had been so acute I’d woken roommates in the middle of the night by swearing loudly in my sleep.

We ended the call and I prayed, kept praying. God’s commands felt counter to everything natural for me. I waited for answers and read. When I got to the book of Proverbs I became very interested. The first couple of verses promised some great things to the reader – wisdom, prudence, discretion, understanding. I wondered what some of these words meant, especially ‘discernment.’

I looked them all up in the dictionary, went searching for answers. I found a great description of discernment – it’s the expertise to easily tell the difference between two things that look alike to a lay person. For example, if I have an apple orchard I may easily discern the difference between two different breeds of apple. Anyone else may think they are the same kind of apple, even after careful study.

This excited me! Jesus often said the kind of people we are is made obvious by our ‘fruit’ – our results and behavior. I seemed easily fooled! I was twice married and both times I had thought I was marrying a Christian man. Both times I was painfully wrong. Clearly I had no discernment, but I wanted it! I dug into the book of Proverbs, ready to learn.

Michigan apple varieties

Often anger felt good, energizing. I didn’t realize how empowering I believed anger to be.

“My birthday will be horrible!” Amy complained the next day in class. A common sentiment, birthdays in prison were rarely fun. I looked over at her desk. Two women stood with her deep in conversation.

“I know what you mean,” Cathy soothed. “I’ve been here a year and my family has never sent me a letter or money.” All three women nodded their heads in understanding.

“Well I’ve given up on having a nice birthday,” Amy finished. She dropped into her desk, sulking. Special days here could be difficult. Suddenly I had an idea. I rose and headed for Amy’s desk.

“Amy, I heard it was your birthday,” I said as she looked up. Amy nodded, waiting. I kneeled down beside her and asked, “When is it?” She told me. Taking out a piece of paper I thought a moment and asked, “Would you mind if I sent you a birthday card?”

Surprise lit up her eyes as she smiled. “I’d like that!” she agreed. Greeting cards were purchased on canteen, which was unreliable. Never wanting to miss a special day for my children I’d learned to buy many in advance. I wrote her birthday on the paper along with her name and OID.

Standing again I surveyed the classroom. Twenty women busied themselves with work. Tapping my pencil I thought. Then I headed for the next student. “Kari, when is your birthday?”

‘Maybe I can’t make a good birthday for myself,’ I thought, ‘But I can help someone else.’ Soon I began keeping careful notes on a calendar in my room, and birthday cards became a regular canteen purchase.

 A few weeks had passed since I’d added Tiffani to my prayer list. Since added back to our class, I now saw her every day. This gave me the chance to discover how I could pray for her better. As I did so I found something interesting begin to happen. I began to care. Instead of wanting her to go away I wanted her to feel better. I prayed for her to get better. I cared about the outcome.

Anger, however, remained a problem for me. When I’d first arrived to prison my anger had been so acute I’d woken roommates in the middle of the night by swearing loudly in my sleep. I had nightmares of conflict and pain. I was ignorant of the fact that I had a rage problem, though. Once, many years earlier I had read that depression can manifest as anger. That resonated with me. I was not sad, but mad, so mad I felt paralyzed into inaction.

I didn’t realize how severe my rage was until given an anti-psychotic as a medication booster. This med was used to increase the effectiveness of my anti-depressant. I did feel better. I also stopped having angry nightmares and swearing loudly in my sleep. Then I learned it was an anti-psychotic and connected the dots.

There was one big problem. This extra medication had serious side effects, causing me to have tremors. Reluctantly I had stopped taking it years before, and the rage returned. Rage seemed to me less an emotion than a state of being. It didn’t feel like a constant emotion, but it was ever ready to explode onto the scene.

During my married life I’d thrown dishes and cell phones, stormed out of rooms, stomped out of the house, and worse. Often anger felt good, energizing. I didn’t realize how empowering I believed anger to be.

Sitting on my bed after work I read the Bible as I waited for dinner. I was again reading the New Testament. I came to these verses and after a quick scan I skipped them, then stopped…

This year had been very unusual for me, but God was about to set off rockets.

"Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice." Ephesians 4:31

 

 

I had ignored this at first because it sounded unreasonable. I was willing to try; I’d been trying for decades! It was impossible. Now I reevaluated. Just like honoring my parents, this must be doable or it wouldn’t be in here. I was learning I don’t do the work, God does.

I re-read it and considered. I reviewed all the blessings God had given me this year. I compared this to my life previously. No! I could not go back to that! I was desperate to keep God, certain now that I needed Him. This verse said I cannot have God and my rage too. I closed my eyes to pray.

This year had been very unusual for me, but God was about to set off rockets. I had no idea. I began to pray, unsuspecting. My plan was simple – just admit to God that I’d read this verse and understood I had to choose- Him or my anger. I wanted to tell Him that I needed Him. I did not know how to get rid of my anger, but I understood the choice, and I choose Him. I said that all to Him.

I thought this would be like when I asked God for help understanding how to honor my parents. I’d ask often and slowly learn, trusting Him for answers. Before I could open my eyes, however, the room lit up like the brightest day. My eyes were closed, but I saw it through my eyelids. Before I could wonder about that an enormous weight lifted from me, and great pain disappeared from my body. Immediately I knew this weight and pain had always been with me. I’d become so used to it I didn’t notice.

Now that this weight and pain were gone I felt staggered. Imagine having a migraine for 30 years and then immediate relief. It was like that. It sucked my breath away. At once I realized rage had been a physical presence in me, and it was gone. I could tell because I’d occasionally experienced mild relief from some medications. I knew what it could be like. This however, was a total cure like I’d never experienced before.

My eyes snapped open in wonder and shock. Like a physically ill patient suddenly better I wanted to test the cure. Mentally, tentatively, I explored the sore spots in my mind. I prodded the once angry, easily irritated places. I was ready for immediate relapse. I had not asked for nor expected an immediate answer from God. In fact, if you’d asked me prior I might have told you I doubted God did such things.

Now I sat wonderingly, in awe. I lifted my arms, watching my hands, curious to see if anything else was different. Confidence was slowly bleeding through me, certain of God’s work. A fatally wounded body knows it’s dying. A person cured knows the illness is gone! I KNEW. I also knew God’s cures are permanent.

I ran to the phone again, curious to see how this would work when things got tough. Let’s dive into the deep end of the pool!

While I might get angry in the future, my rage, which had been a constant burden, never returned.

It is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.

Philippians 4:13

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  1. Reflecting on Holly’s challenges with family relationships, how can we apply the concept of forgiveness and honoring parents to our own lives, even in difficult circumstances?
  2. How can we incorporate the practice of empathy into our daily interactions, following the Holly’s example of reaching out to others in need?
  3. How might we embrace the power of small acts of kindness and generosity, as demonstrated by the Holly’s gesture of sending birthday cards, to enrich our connections with others?
  4. How can we cultivate discernment and wisdom in our decision-making processes, drawing from the Holly’s journey of seeking clarity and understanding?
  5. Reflecting on the overarching message of the passage, how can we apply the lessons learned from the Holly’s experiences to our own paths of development?
  6. How might we embrace a mindset of continuous learning and growth, inspired by the Holly’s journey of self-reflection, resilience, and hope?

WELCOME!

A brief note or two for first time visitors. First, welcome! I'm so glad to see you! Are you in need of rescue? Here is my rescue story. I share it because I know it can be your story too! It is my prayer that every post lead you one step closer in your walk with...

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