Singing in prison – observations during my time as a volunteer in a women’s prison

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photoEight pins

Four needles

This is the number of items the ladies at the North Carolina Correctional Institution for Women are allotted for the weekly quilting program. Eight pins, four needles, no more, no less. Lose them or forget where you placed them, things get VERY awkward and tense. Panic ensues.

20140624-131947-47987294.jpgI volunteer at the prison twice a month and help the ladies create simple quilts and pillows by hand. I first learned about this program through my church, (The Summit Church’s) initiative to bring the gospel to the prison.

Inmate Overcrowding StaffOne woman I have grown quite fond of is “Sally” (not her real name). With a scheduled release date of early August, Sally is probably in her mid-30’s. She greets me with an easy smile and wears her chalky mint uniform as well as one can. The hint of mascara (or the prison equivalent) makes her face youthful, dare I say pretty. Sally’s nimble fingers are a stark contrast from most of her peers. Their hands often shake and have nerves such that they can’t focus on pulling thread through a needle consistently.

Sally remembers my name which is also unique. Last week, another inmate “Erin” needed some help and yelled, “Lady!” even though I had told her my name only minutes before and we’ve spent time talking on several occasions.

Sally’s quilts are among the best constructed. The lines on her fabric are straight; the stitching of similar distance and shape. I wonder if Sally realizes her potential, I see glimpses of victory in her life.

Honestly I find it hard to even imagine Sally committing a crime. She has such a gentle countenance.

And yet, there she is.

Seal_of_the_North_Carolina_Department_of_Correction.svgSoon she will be released from prison. Sally will no longer be told what to do. Her pockets won’t be inspected. She can then use scissors that really work and buy her own fabrics and notions. She will be able to come and go as she pleases with only a few limitations according to rules given by her probation officer.

Heck, Sally can even fancy to sport an underwire bra upon her release if she so chooses. Based on my observations, if I were released from prison, it would be my first purchase. Supportive undergarments are strictly forbidden in prison but trust me, VERY desperately needed.

We sat on the carpet in the special programs room. Instead of volunteer and inmate, it was like two friends crafting together. Straightening and stretching her quilt top, I offered some assistance though Sally really didn’t need it.

A little later on, while helping another inmate, a song came on the radio. I heard Sally singing. “My God is awesome. He can move mountains. Keep me through the valley. Hide me from the rain. My God is awesome. Heals me when I’m broken. Strength when I’ve been weakened. Forever He will reign…”

I perked up and pondered. Could I be singing this song if I were in prison?20140624-131950-47990080.jpg

“Do you like this song?” I inquired, partly surprised to hear someone in prison knowing the lyrics. I hear this song frequently at church and almost always lift my hands in praise. I guess it surprised me to hear a woman in prison singing these words so freely.

20140624-131952-47992382.jpgShe looked at me and with a gentle Southern twang said, “I do.”

Each time I visit, I fight every temptation to never return. The buzz of the prison doors unlock to let me in is like a lightening bolt going through my body every time. It rattles me to the core. Even so, I’m not deterred. I’m not there on my own strength.

This is the video that I saw at church which first peaked my interest. The Lord spoke to my heart. http://www.summitrdu.com/about/stories/

These are two videos of men who are involved in prison ministry and experiencing transformed lives!

As I consider my own struggles and pain, Sally comes to mind and so does God’s Word. Romans 5:3-5

Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

I’d love to hear your thoughts about all of this! Leave a comment, it encourages my soul!

Summer words

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20140619-122658-44818081.jpgWriters’ group – we all put one word in a bowl. Something that reminds us of summer. Then we go around the room and randomly draw a word. Timer is set and off we go, pens grabbing words from our women’s hearts. This is the word I chose. At first I sat there, unable to summon forth much, but what surfaced was sweet memories.

Sprinklers

The smell of freshly mown grass

The perfume of chlorophyll and Copper Tone

Feet on vacation – released from sneakers and school

Run towards the misty prism arch

Skip over the sprinklers

Giggles

Squeals

Droplets of water glisten my back

Fingers catch the sun

And later a few fireflies

…carefree girl20140619-151229-54749522.jpg

 

Does anyone else have a sprinkler memory? On this steamy summer day, I’m refreshed thinking about this and would love to hear from you!

 

The Summer Plan – guest blog by a mom of four who’s got this thing figured out

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photoToday’s blog post is from a fellow West Point mom.

We’re facebook friends and when I saw her post, I asked if I could publish it on my blog. She agreed. I just love the spirit of her message and the fun and forceful way she mothers.

I’m done, here’s Danelle!

Ever since I’ve been a mom each summer I try to have a very basic guideline for what I expect on a daily basis. (Otherwise I get grouchy and they get bored.)

I laugh because my kids freak out about our plan every year, but if you look closely, only 2.5 hours of their entire day is spent doing anything they don’t choose to do.

Here is how we’ll try to redeem the time we are blessed with this year:

The Summer Plan

Daily–
TV/gaming/computer/screen time (and, yes, watching tv with your sibling “counts” as your own tv time…I wasn’t born yesterday)–2 hour maximum
Chores—30 minutes (or however long you’d like to take)

Reading –1 hour minimum
Music—30 minutes minimum
Exercise—30 minutes minimum

Everyone up by 9:00 am

Mealtimes—breakfast ends at 10:00; lunch ends at 2:00; dinner will be at 7:00

Breakfast choices: yogurt, oatmeal, cereal, toast
Lunch choices: sandwich, chips, soup, cheese and crackers, fruit, veggies, leftovers, grilled cheese, quesadilla, ramen
Snack choices: fruit, veggie, granola bar, dried fruit, nuts

*You are expected to put your dirty dishes into the dishwasher and wipe around your place-mat when you are done eatingphoto

• There is absolutely NO FOOD OR DRINK allowed in the basement other than popcorn and water. You must have permission to make popcorn. The answer will most likely be “yes”, but ask anyways
• If you bring any food or drink to the basement you will be charged a $5 fee for this decision
• Chores must be done by 5:00pm
• You can earn extra $ or extra screen time occasionally by doing extra jobs (the frequency of these will be determined by parents and if you get sassy about it, the answer will be an automatic “no”)

Activities for Bored People:

  1. Play a “board” game (get it? Haha!)
  2. Get out a puzzle
  3. Go for a walk
  4. Play with the dogs
  5. Get together with a friend
  6. Make crafts
  7. Bake a treat
  8. Write a song
  9. Write a letter to someone20140617-094240-34960709.jpg
    11. Read your Bible
    12. Listen to music
    13. Pray for someone who is struggling
    14. Use the elliptical
    15. Have a lemonade stand
    16. Write a poem
    17. Call a friend
    18. Call a grandparent
    19. Offer to help a family member with something
    20. Weed the garden
    21. Trim your nails
    22. Make your bed
    23. Organize your closet
    24. Make a slushee
    25. Sit on the patio and stare off into space
    26. Ask a sibling if there is some project you could help them with
    27. Walk to the store
    28. Walk to the river
    29. Have a picnic
    30. Make a meal for someone

Originally from Southern California, Danelle and her family now live in Lincoln, Nebraska.  She and her husband have four kids – two boys and two girls and a dog named FooFoo. Her oldest son is a cadet at the United States Military Academy, class of 2016. She says, “Being a mom has been the most amazing, challenging and important thing I have ever done. I love encouraging younger moms who are right in the middle of the best job they’ll ever have.

Danelle seems determined to be faithful with her family’s time, to lead her kids well.

539620_4131081765991_613836652_nAs I read her suggestions, admittedly I felt a little guilty because I haven’t been so industrious. I need to implement these ideas even if I just only have an orange hair, freckle face 17-year-old at home.

What would you add to her list? Which one do you like the most?

 

What I told my young son the night before his wedding

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Cindy and Mark with brand new baby Aaron

 

Today I am sharing the message I spoke to my son at the rehearsal dinner. My intention for making it public is because it is testimony of God’s faithfulness. The Lord gave me confident and courage to speak from my heart after a period of great struggle. 

From the day my middle olive shoot was born, Aaron has done things early. His due date was September 7. This was perfect because my wedding ring was diamond and sapphire – April and September. It all was going to fall into place so nicely!

But then I felt cramping in my stomach and on August 30, just two days shy of September, Aaron Xavier entered our world.

And that’s the way it’s been. Aaron talked at an early age, went to kindergarten and high school as one of the youngest in his class. He turned 18 while at Moody Bible Institute, the only thing he didn’t do early was potty training but that’s all figured out now thank you very much. :)

All of this early stuff was preparation for his wedding day. Based on his life thus far, nothing should surprise me about my precious boy. He is getting married 10 years before the national average for males which according to the CDC is 29.

But those guys aren’t my Spurny.

Fave pic of aaron and momSince Aaron was a little boy, our family has instilled values, traditions and a belief in Jesus Christ. When I tucked Aaron in at night, I prayed for him. As I sat on his bed, I thanked the Lord for another day of being his mom. My heart is glad each day that I’ve had the honor and the privilege of being his mama. Of course I feel the same way about each of my boys.

One night in particular I remember specifically praying with Aaron about something very special. Not a good grade on a test or for a tooth to come loose. This night I prayed for Aaron’s wife.

We prayed for our kids’ wives throughout their time at home. I remember the Hubs doing it one day around the dinner table for Isaac. He was about six at the time and his little eyes peeked up like, “My what? My who???”

But getting back to Aaron, I remember like it was yesterday because in a way it feels like it was…

I prayed about this “mystery woman/his wife” and as I said this, my sweet little boy, he might have been around 11 years old; he squeezed me extra tight as I muttered those words next to his bed.

And on May 24, 2014, Aaron received her.

She is here. She is his. Our prayers have been answered.

Since Aaron was a little boy, we also did another thing in my family. Whenever we found ourselves doing a skill we thought would be useful in the future, we’d gather up the available boys and call it “husband training.” Whether it was fixing a toilet, hanging a nail, making salad dressing or chicken broth, ironing, mowing the lawn, boom, Nate, Aaron and/or Ike assisted in the efforts. The thought being one day you are going to do this. One day you’ll be a husband and you need to know. In some way, you need these skills to land yourself a good girl in the first place.

In the recent days, the Lord and I have had many conversations preparing me for Aaron’s wedding day. Because I serve a God of All Comfort and Compassion, there is nothing I haven’t burdened Him with that shocks or disappoints Him. God is very good like that. IMG_8475

And in these moments, I have come to Jesus and He has told me, “Why does this surprise you? You have been calling it husband training all these years? What were you expecting? You called it husband training for a reason. Aaron listened. Daughter, your son watched. He took it seriously. He is ready.

Now Aaron is becoming a husband. I become a mother-in-law hopefully to be considered a mother-in-love and I desperately love my son. I am proud of him and the man he is, the husband he will be and the dad I can already imagine.

10371636_10152976488103018_7618892888247892350_nEphesians 3:20-21 “Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

 

 

Five minute Friday – messenger

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20140613-095031-35431905.jpgSeveral years ago, after Uncle Bill died, his family gave us a Bible

We didn’t know it at the time but it was actually not an heirloom from his side or his wife’s side of the family

It actually belonged to his brother-in-law who happens to be my husband’s dad

photo 1This Bible has sat in our closet since then, the pages so tattered, there was no chance of getting it restoredphoto 2

But there is something about owning an old family Bible that warmed our hearts

Recently I began looking through the book

I don’t know what I was looking for, I mean I own plenty of well-made contemporary Bibles that I study regularly

The illustrations and the lessons contained in this particular version discovered, ancient and true – brought a richness of family history

Thumbing through the pages, I see that this Bible was given as a giphoto 3ft to the new Mrs. Ella Virginia Hartley on December 20, 1893 in Washington, DC.

Now it sits in an air-conditioned suburban home in North Carolina, 2014 read by well, me!

The Bible might be antique

But the messenger is timeless

Those family members who read the Bible served the same God as we do 121 years later

Tucked in the pages

I don’t even know how it stayed so perfect

Was a four-leaf clover

A messenger of a different sort hid it away

photo 4How curious to find this

How symbolic to remember that God’s Word contains many undiscovered treasures if we would just open it and look.

5-minute-friday-1Special thanks to Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday writing prompt! I never know what I’m going to be writing about! Join us and see what it’s all about!

What a young man said the night before his wedding – life, death, marriage and God

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photoMy experience with rehearsal dinners is limited and I’m only three weeks into having a daughter-in-law and a married son. That’s a lot to process, lemme tell ya!  So today with permission from Aaron, it’s my privilege to share the beautiful words my ministry-minded middle olive shoot shared less than 24 hours before he got married.

For a young man, Aaron’s words and reflections are beyond his chronological age. I never expected him to speak so beautifully and yet, I am not surprised at his eloquence and maturity either. Nonetheless it still took my breath away, the loveliness and depth of his words. I am a proud mama to be sure.

Aaron spoke after my husband and I both shared. Soon, I will post the words we spoke that night. But as I sat at the table that evening, I wiped away tears full of emotion and amazement.

Here is Aaron’s tribute to his bride-to-be…

My life has been pretty exciting so far. I’ve been able to travel around the world and the country. I go to college in a big city. I work at Starbucks! I mean, what could be more exciting than that?photo

And now, at 19, I’m getting married.

I’d say the Lord has richly blessed me.

More than I know, more than I could ever express. I could not be happier or more excited to join Kelsie’s family; I consider it such a joy. And I have no words to thank my parents and my brothers for the love they gave me and continue to give me as I get older.

Thank you to my friends, especially Caleb and John who have helped me grow over the past two years more than I could have imagined. Y’all have been with me through incredible struggle and encouraged me and advised me so much. To all of you I want to say thank you. Thank you for blessing me. I am a blessed man. I realize that continually and I realize that far too little.

The world thinks of marriage as death, as boring, as stifling. It sees the union that God creates in husband and wife and calls it the “old ball and chain.” And as a very young man getting married I may have to agree with them. Marriage will kill you and it will hurt.

But the Lord has shown me this in a different light.

The song in our first dance tomorrow attends to this. It says,“‘I do” are the two most famous last words, The beginning of the end, But to lose your life for another I’ve heard, Is a good place to begin. ‘Cause the only way to find your life Is to lay your own life down, And I believe it’s an easy price For the life that we have found.”

I was so nervous the day I proposed. I went to the bathroom at the P.F. Changs before we walked to the Chicago River where I was going to propose, the ring in my pocket. My heart was beating so fast; I actually couldn’t believe it. I had no doubt that she would say yes and I was still so nervous. I was pondering the weight of what I was about to do. I was gonna ask this girl to marry me. I really couldn’t believe it. It was such a momentous step, a leap into the unknown, this unbelievable thing that was marriage. And honestly, I feel the same way now. I have very little doubt that Kelsie will also say “I do” on Saturday. But I’m nervous stepping into this uncharted, terrifying territory that is Holy Matrimony.1426411_10200940981183826_384050544_n

But maybe that’s the beauty in it.

The world looks at the requirement of marriage that is dying to yourself with spite and malice – 

I look at it and am dumbfounded that I would be so blessed to have the offer of the love and security within our marriage and to be told that what I have to do in return is to lose my life.

To gain the life that we will have together it means I must lay my own life down. The song goes on, “‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of Man So there’s nothing left to fear, So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands Till the shadows disappear. ‘Cause he promised not to leave us And his promises are true, So in the face of all this chaos, baby, I can dance with you.”

So, in one sense I understand the world’s qualms and cavils against marriage. It will kill you, but it is the most beautiful thing. Thomas Torrance, a Scottish Theologian wrote of marriage, “When a man and a woman come together in this way, they are made to participate in the active will of their Creator, and in their union and society they reflect the image of the Holy God. In them God brings his act of creation to its fulfillment. Therefore when a man and a woman marry, God is at work doing a new thing in which they both share in their innermost being. Ever after each is unthinkable apart from the other.” Life in another, mutual self-giving, for the Moody Bible students with us, here’s a word for you, perichoresis. As Christ lays down His life for His Church, as He gives Himself to us, so it is with marriage. And that scares me, that makes me nervous. I bend beneath the weight of that calling. But it is a beautiful thing.

10313774_766597896705179_8885708818697631266_nKelsie is an incredible woman. I had no clue that I would ever marry a girl like Kelsie, I had no idea that I would ever see such beauty. She’s asked me before why I love her and I quickly responded, “You’re little and cute.” And that’s true, she’s very pretty.

But that falls so short of all who Kelsie is.

She is tender and feels strongly. Not high-maintenance or overly emotional but tender.

She is caring and compassionate, I am often anxious and I’ll tell her. She’ll ask me what I need and I tell her I need to be anxious with her near. I need her compassionate tenderness close to me. She is, as Caleb will quickly say, industrious. I have never seen such diligence and desire to learn about the Lord.

She is constantly reading and teaching me and challenging me. I always feel out-learned because I really am.

She is skillful and talented, at her job as a nanny, she is incredible. With three little boys 5 and under she works incredibly hard and does wonders for children who are not even her own.

10300986_10203755464748160_1785004085953563782_nShe is fun. Kelsie and I are both homebodies. Most of the time we just want to sit and hang out drink some coffee, read, watch a movie. But there’s no one else I want to sit around with.

She loves Jesus, is captivated by His grace. It is a beautiful thing to see the girl you love continually encounter Christ. And she is little and cute.

That is the beauty in Kelsie, the truest beauty that comes from Christ in her. I am a blessed man, more than I will ever know, or ever feel, or ever express.photo

And I’m nervous about this Saturday, and for that matter, the next 20 or 30 or 100 years that we have with one another. I am blessed man but I am also an unable man.

So I pray that God will love Kelsie through me. I read that we love because Christ first loved us. So I ask the Lord that we will, in the love of Jesus only, love one another.  Thanks y’all.

Here is the link to Aaron and Kelsie’s first dance as a married couple. You have to listen to it!

I was honored to share this with you, thanks so much for reading!

 

Five minute Friday – hands

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photoI usually quantify how interesting my life is based on where my feet take me

But too seldom do I consider my hands

What they do, where they go, how they have traveled in some ways differently although my hands and feet are connected to, um, photo me – DUH!

Have you ever thought about your hands?

Their magnificent versatility and productivity? Their ability to create, love, maneuver?

Clap your hands about your hands! Raise the roof about your hands! Lift those bad boys up to the Lord in praise!

In the last several weeks, my hands have grasped balls of Kleenex as I spoke a tribute to my middle son the night before he got married.

They tearfully carried a bouquet of flowers as I walked down the aisle and found my seat as the mother-of-the-groom.

My hands cupped around my son’s handsome face as we had our mother/son dance. Gracious!10172643_10203755528669758_7964348490121130609_n

And since

My hands have prepared a meal for a cancer patient whose family is burdened and needed a respite.

They have turned pages in a book and my Bible.

They have pointed to paint colors as we redecorate a room to welcome our married kids into our home one day for visits.

My hands also have gone to the women’s prison and helped inmates.

Their shaking hands

The ladies often move the fabric harshly as if those hands haven’t seen much love.

sewing simple quilts and pillows – many can’t even thread a needle or make a knot at the end

And that’s when my hands sweep into assist

So today, on this Five minute Friday, I will appreciate the gift of hands, what they are able to give and 5-minute-friday-1receive. Give thanks to the Lord for the splendid design of hands!

I’m not the only one writing about this word. Check out the other folks writing about hands by clicking here!