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Episode 7 General Assembly
From Surviving to Living
(07) GENERAL ASSEMBLY (Burning Rubber)

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Do you desire success, respect, love? Do you feel unconditionally respected and loved?

Eight months into my prison sentence I faced uncertainty. While I waited for employment I considered my failures. I hoped for relief, a better future! Distraction from the truth was easier to find.

Discover God’s perfect will for you and learn how He performs it! We’ll uncover the secret of love as God defines it, and how you can experience it today. Listen to the end, you won’t want to miss it! This is General Assembly.


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It was November 2011. Incarcerated now 8 months, I finished the WoW program and became eligible to work again. I’d been fired from my last job so I could not choose the next one. Nervously I checked the mail daily, waiting for a job assignment. The prison would assign it to me based on the needs of the prison. It could be anything.

Starting wages in prison varied from 25 to 50 cents an hour and top pay ranged from one to two dollars. A few jobs even allowed for $4-$6 per hour occasionally.

Prior to incarceration I struggled to manage money. I saw this as a performance issue. Financial success that I could proudly demonstrate – and I enjoyed showing off – would give me the approval I craved. So, I struggled with what my apparent failure said about me. I did not budget; I hated the rigidity, the very concept! I sometimes engaged in “retail therapy” whether or could afford it or not. I never really could afford it. If I could, I would attempt to out-earn my over-spending. I had written bad checks in the past and also played beat the bank with a check. the anxiety of such behavior eventually became too much, and I stopped using checks completely.

I remember the first time I saw the inside of a jail cell. My husband and I had moved to a small town and lived on his income. We struggled. It’s not hard to imagine. We had one car, used food shelves, saw our utilities frequently turned off, and were pretty skinny. On the flip side, we both smoked a pack a day.

To purchase food, I’d written a check I was sure would clear…eventually. I spent it at the local grocery store. It did not clear, and we couldn’t afford to make it good. This wasn’t the first time this had happened. It was the first time I was arrested for such a thing. My parents and husband found money immediately to pay the fine and I was released within a few hours.

At the time, I felt trapped in poverty, unsure how to escape into stability. I worked from home, sometimes 2 and 3 jobs, while raising our 5 children. I felt desperate to quit smoking. Nothing ever seemed to stick. Inside I died a million deaths, more miserable than the day before.

Can you relate? Do you struggle with finances, addiction, or relationships? Are you looking for solutions?

I thought many people did better. I tried to avoid thinking about it too much. When forced to face my behavior I used justification, excuses and blame-shifting. I yearned to be a self-disciplined financial success!

C.S. Lewis states accurately in Mere Christianity, “No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good.” He states further, “Unless we really try, whatever we say there will always be at the back of our minds the idea that if we try harder next time, we shall succeed in being completely good….

“All this trying leads up to the vital moment at which you turn to God and say, ‘You must do this. I can’t.'”

Admittedly, I did not correlate these behaviors with God at all.  I did feel they were painful and undesirable. I was the “try harder next time” person.

Do you find yourself seeking success or trying harder in order to be liked or feel worthwhile?

Alarmingly, if I could not manage wages at hundreds of dollars a week or thousands of dollars a month, how was I now going to manage living on just a fraction? Successfully With sanity?

Most inmates receive only half their paycheck. The rest is taken in enforced savings, fines, fees, and the like. For many (and often me!) that meant working for 12.5 cents per hour, full-time, and receiving a two week total paycheck of $3.50 on average.

I struggle with what to share here. How do I adequately contrast life outside of prison, the foreign world inside prison, and where I fell in the mix? Some things about prison are shocking to learn no matter who you are. I’m not suggesting these things are good or bad.

When I first arrived at prison, I was loaned $15 from the prison whether I needed it or not. This $15 would be paid back from my first paychecks, which I would not earn until I had finished R&O. For some it could take months and months to repay this $15 because their monthly pay is so low.

I was also loaned a few needed items such as an alarm clock. We were warned we must return these after orientation. The prison strongly recommended we use our loan to purchase our own alarm clocks and other important items that would set us up for success.

This is no small suggestion. The prison runs on a firm schedule and individual cells have no clock. Failure to stand at one’s cell door for an inmate count results in discipline. Failure to go to work at the right time results in discipline. Too much discipline escalates to worse discipline. Alarm clocks become a lifeline!!

Orientation lasts 2 weeks, just enough time to order these things before loaners are taken away. Many inmates do not order their own. It is hard to imagine future consequences when faced with immediate suffering. For example, one often arrives at prison from county jail dirty, hungry and in pain, without personal belongings. Purchases other than an alarm clock seems more significant. Like shampoo.

Inmates are expected to pay for almost everything except food and shelter. They must do their own laundry, for example, with laundry soap they have purchased. All hygiene must be purchased, as well as paper, pencils, envelopes, school supplies, and so on. If an inmate wishes to call someone, they must pay for phone time, which can be expensive.

Where do we shop? Canteen. What is that? Canteen is a retail store currently run by MINNCOR in Minnesota. MINNCOR is the state’s prison industry program formed by the Department Of Corrections.1 In 2003 MINNCOR took over and centralized the state’s canteen operations which had previously been run autonomously at each facility.

Even though prisoner wages are very low, canteen does not have low prices. It also does not have much variety. I don’t know why, but both things surprised me. Did these people not know where the good prices could be found? Did they not understand supply and demand? (No and no)

Canteen will be ordered by inmates on a Sunday, for example, and their order will not arrive that week, but 2 weeks later. MINNCOR is frequently out of stock without warning on many items (so many items). Inmates are limited to how much they can order and to the amount of property they are allowed to keep in their cell. This means scrupulous planning, budgeting and ordering if one wants to succeed! Failure, anger, so much anger and frustration were about to enter my future for years!

So much could be said about this. I imagine I will say more in the future. It’s an emotional subject. Such potential for growth can be found here. I raged when my order was short without warning. I overspent. I went without unexpectedly. I ranted about the system. I blamed prison policy. I blamed MINNCOR outages for my inconveniences, discomforts, and hardships. In short – I justified my own behavior, made excuses, and shifted the blame to others.

I did order that alarm clock while I was in R&O, but not because I was wise or future forward thinking. I lacked the ability to look ahead and be afraid of the discomfort that was my future.

My excuses and blame-shifting extended to my depression and mental health. I remember overhearing 2 women discuss a book by a popular Christian writer. The book covered the topic of mental health. As I listened, I became angry, outraged. I’d suffered depression for decades, was desperate for relief. I had not read the book, but it sounded as if the book implied, I didn’t have a health issue, but rather a spiritual one.

‘How outrageous!’ I thought. Confident of my Christian upbringing, I was certain that if something was wrong with me, then it must not be my fault. I had been forgiven, I was saved, and most important – I had gone to church a lot. I knew lots about God.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who thought this way. Years later, I sat in the clinic waiting room. The room quickly filled up and suddenly discussion was lively. It quickly turned to mental health and this same book was mentioned. “As if my depression has anything to do with God!” the woman next to me scoffed. “How stupid!”

I now had a very different opinion. In the intervening years I’d learned something. My inability to cure myself of something doesn’t prove it’s not a problem between me and God. In fact, I’d learned proof positive that the only person who can cure me of anything, sin or otherwise, is God Himself. And if it is, in fact, sin – only God can cure it.

Jesus says many times to people, “Be healed.” When he does, He is not telling them to heal themselves. He’s making a declarative statement. He’s preparing them for the work HE’S about to do for them. He’s the healer. They will be healed by His power.

It is no different with our sin. God say, “Be perfect, for I am perfect, be holy, for I am holy.” He is not telling us to perfect ourselves. God is declaring and preparing us for the work HE’S about to do, for us. God is perfect – we will by holy by His power.

We can accept it or reject it. For decades I was outraged and searched for ways to heal myself.

back to November 2011. Faced with retail priced necessities and low wages I set my heart on the highest paying jobs and hoped for the best. I wanted to use some of my past coping skills (out-earn my overspending). These good jobs were the MINNCOR industry jobs. Finally, I was rewarded with an assignment – and industry it was – General Assembly, known to us inmates as Rubber.

I began the week before Thanksgiving.

Dear listener, Jesus says “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’[c] 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Matthes 22:27-28

God talks often about love in the Bible. When I first began reading it, I wondered what it meant. As you can tell, I was a person very interested in performing well, so I wanted to know how to do it, well, right! Was Jesus describing a feeling? What kind of feeling? A behavior? What behavior? I was hoping for a dictionary definition. Thankfully God doesn’t disappoint. Did you know He provided us exactly this in His Word? He did! It’s in I John 3

This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands.

That’s awesome! I was shocked, actually to discover that love of others is loving God, and loving God is obeying God. So, it all boils down to obeying God.

This makes sense. What are God’s commands? The Bible calls them “His ways.” His ways of doing and being right to be more specific. Women – we have ways, don’t we? Ways of doing and being right. Yes, we do! Men, if you’re married, you know all about women’s ways. Your woman has a way!

Well God has His ways, and His ways are perfect.  Now this isn’t about rule following. It’s about love. Have you loved someone? I bet they had likes and dislikes different from yours, maybe even at times uncomfortable for you. Did you discuss it? Did you adjust? Adapt? I bet so. As you did, did it feel like love, or keeping commands? I bet it felt like love.

God tells us in Proverbs 16
Roll your works upon the Lord [commit and trust them wholly to Him; He will cause your thoughts to become agreeable to His will, and] so shall your plans be established and succeed.

CS Lewis says in his book mere Christianity, the rule for all of us is perfectly simple. Do not waste time bothering whether you love your neighbor; act as if you did. As soon as we do this, we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.

He goes on to say, the worldly man treats certain people kindly because he likes them; the Christian, trying to treat everyone kindly, finds himself liking more and more people as he goes on – including people he could not even have imagined himself liking at the beginning. This same spiritual law works terribly in the opposite direction – the more cruel you are, the more you will hate, the more you hate, the more cruel you will become and so on in a vicious circle forever.

Good and evil both increase in compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such importance. The smallest, good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which a few months later you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of.

Listener, A thousand people wait on the other side of your act of obedience today.

Dear Jesus, I pray for the person listening right now, and I pray for me, that you will teach us your ways. We want to commit to you, trust you, obey you. Teach us more about love. Amen

Be encouraged, today!

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