Recently I had the opportunity to work with a prison ministry outreach program, visiting women's prisons, both regular, and maximum-security facilities.
When I was first invited to be a part of this ministry by my friends Bill and Stephanie Lloyd, I jumped at the chance to go where people might actually need me. I was spiritually up for going where people needed to feel the presence of God and sharing that experience with them.
When the sun set on that Texan day, I found that I had probably received just as much out of it (if not more) than the inmates had. I did not realize how frighteningly lonely it was, and how forgotten female prisoners are when they are incarcerated. Very few ever have visitors, in spite of the fact that they have families on the outside. Most are dropped off and forgotten. Many are suffering the guilt of the crime that had put them there, and how they have let their children down. They did not use good judgment, and were now paying consequences they hadn't thought out. Our goal was to "bring the broken home." In other words, to help them to find spiritual freedom on the inside, even if they did not have freedom on the outside.
Our mission was to create an atmosphere of God's love, self-acceptance, self-forgiveness, and letting go of their "STORY" as a definition as to who they are in the present moment. It was also to help them find gratitude, no matter what circumstances they now find themselves in.
The goal for this particular prison ministry is to eventually build Christian dorms inside, so that those who want to continue to fellowship, can be with like-minded people who will speak the same "language" with them before "lights out" time. The hope is that if, and when, they are eventually released, that they will actually have a chance to walk out with a different mind-set and truly start over. Sadly, many of the girls find themselves where they are, because they were at the wrong place, at the wrong time, and with the wrong people, as well as making the mistake of believing that they were who other people told them they were. They were chained to the past. They did not know they could make a new STORY.
After returning to New York City, and had a chance to think about it, and it occurred to me that it really isn't much different for those of us on the outside, is it?
Perhaps we are not physically locked up, but we could certainly be emotionally locked up.
Couldn't we all use more of God's love, self acceptance, self-forgiveness, and letting go of our STORY?
Often when I meet people (and thankfully I have the opportunity to meet a lot of people) I will ask them to tell me about themselves. They end up telling me their aches, pains, emotional hurts, and past regrets. I don't mind someone being real with me, I like to be told the truth. But that's not who they are, it's how they are. They have become their STORY.
They have actually come to see themselves as their past, where they came from, what wrong they have done, and how people have hurt them. Letting go is letting things be, and doing so without judging your feelings.
Starting over is also available to us every single day, but we can't do that if we are hanging on to the past. Hanging on to our old STORY. We all have the power to make new STORIES. We must make new STORIES, and for the sake of peace, we must allow others to make new STORIES for themselves, as well.
The next time that you start to rip yourself up about something that happened in the past, please let go, stop judging yourself, and know that you are always LOVED. Today is a new starting point. A new beginning. You can change your life.
When we begin to be in touch with who we are, we will know when a person, or situation is right for us, or not. We don't need to tell others everything that's wrong with them. We don't need to get involved with all that drama. We can just calmly accept what is, forgive, or apologize, and calmly let go in whatever way we need to.
Life is precious.