Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Couldn't Keep It To Myself

Mid April. Spring is sprung in Southwest Louisiana. Socked in with rain. The river runs brown with mud, but the azalea's persist; puddles of color blossom beneath mammoth bushes.


It's been a few months since my last post, and I apologize. Time restraints, plus my inner writer's voice, "Who wants to read what I have to say?" have kept me away. But this past weekend, invigorated by the Jambalaya Writer's Conference in Houma, Louisiana, I have found my voice anew. I want to thank the keynote speaker, Wally Lamb, for part of my recovery, and my good friends of the Bayou Writers Group from Lake Charles, LA who never cease to "Encourage, Educate, and Inspire" me whenever we get together. bayouwritersgroup.com


A fan of faith not fate, I feel it is no accident; I signed up in February for the Jambalaya conference completely oblivious that Wally Lamb, too, shares my passion for women's prison ministry.


A privilege to talk with him, I purchased two anthologies he has edited from the women at York Correctional Institute (Connecticut), where Wally has co-facilitated a writing workshop for the past sixteen years. 


In the book, Can't Keep It to Myself, Wally Lamb's acknowledgement, filled with insight and grace, accompanies the true stories of incarcerated women who, as Dr. Lamb states, "are 'tough cookies' not because of their crimes but because they will neither be defeated nor silenced." 


Honest with the reader and themselves, the women pour out their private and painful experiences and the poor choices they've made. In this process of healing, they give us the opportunity not to fear the incarcerated, but see them as human beings on a common journey with the rest of us. 


Still searching for my place in the universe jigsaw, I just can't keep this book to myself. I will continue to read and share my musings about prison ministry and Wally Lamb, author, educator, and volunteer.  wallylamb.net



Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Throw Me Something, Mister!

It’s Carnival Season in Louisiana. The French tradition of Mardi Gras is upon us. Children are out of school for three days, businesses close to accommodate throngs of parade goers, and noisy revelers dance in the street.

My cousin, a snowbird from Indiana, is visiting. I encouraged her to come this week, so we could “pass a good time”. Sunday we hit the parade route to see the Children’s Parade. A first time Carnival goer, it was fun to see the foolishness afresh from her perspective.

Hours prior to the floats arrival, police stand in groups of two or three encouraging the swell of people to stand behind protective barricades. Their cruisers block the intersections, flashing a constant blue strobe adding to the organized chaos.

A couple ride past on bikes, down the empty pavement lined with partiers. They stop to visit with the police. The woman wears jeans and a t-shirt while the man sports a black full body cycler’s suit, rainbow wig, and black face. Behind his ten-speed, he drags a child’s wagon with some serious stereo equipment pumping '80's tunes. Children wear hats that light up and dogs trot past in tutus. A vendor pushes a cart selling glow in the dark wands and feather boas. A vibration and cheer snakes down the street. “It’s coming! The parade’s started!”

Two hours of floats filled with Boy Scouts and family kewes, alongside organizations devoted to excess. Interspersed with dance teams are convertibles caring Little Mr. or Miss Whatever pageant winner. I haven’t been to a parade in years.

Lundi GrasMonday, rain mixed with cold breezes licked the area. We took our revelry inside to the local civic center for the Costume Promenade. I wanted to give my cousin a close-up view of the sequined gowns, satin, beaded tuxes and huge feathered headdresses. I’d never been to one of these events, a veritable who’s who of people in the community. From our perch in the balcony, we spent an hour and a half watching the royalty dance down the runway while an announcer gave important info on where people graduated from high school. Slipping out early, we detoured down a hall and walked into the staging area, getting a glimpse of how the royals sweat. Up close, we oohed and ogled the participant’s over-the-top evening attire and won the title “feather groupies”.

Fat Tuesday—this afternoon, we dined early at a café on the parade route and poised ourselves to stand in the cold to watch the Krewe of Krewe Parade. “Throw me something, Mister.” Seasoned now, my cousin hooted and waved, securing two more gallon Ziploc bags of beads to pack in her suitcase.

     
Tomorrow’s the beginning of Lent, a time in the church community of reflection and self-denial. I think I’ll give up parades. 

Monday, February 9, 2015

Enlarging Our Vision

Along with my family and writing, prison ministry is my passion. In January I was elected President of the Board for The Open Door Women’s Prison and Re-Entry Ministry. I am honored, as I serve alongside some amazing women. Masters in their faith, I have grown to realize the meaning of the church. From differing denominations and faith backgrounds we come together in holy service. Christ’s hands and feet on the ground, working with the least of these who made choices that landed them in jail. 


The scope of what’s about to happen within the Re-Entry mission field is exciting, but frustrating as well. Within days of accepting my present position, the Board was told the building where we've had our offices since 2006 is being sold. We have to the end of February to relocate. Meeting on a weekly basis for the past month, the volunteers who serve The Open Door have worked enthusiastically as we see God’s vision unfold in dynamic ways. Enlarging our vision to meet God’s has been the challenge. 

At church yesterday and repeated again in my morning Upper Room devotional was the theme to show God's awesome grace and love to everyone we come into contact: the surly checker at the grocery store, the man who cut me off in traffic, those who have hurt me. Sometimes, I have to be reminded the point of my existence and my passion. I must go, now, one of TOD's Re-entered Citizens is waiting for the Spirit of Christ to drive up with skin on.  

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Good Marriage

My passion for prison ministry is officially married with my writing. A column I call, Beyond the Wire, is now a feature in a local magazine, The Voice of Southwest Louisiana. A brainchild of my early morning muse, writing journal articles is a stretch from my comfortable fiction where I’m allowed to wax poetic and lie.


I chose The Voice because it focuses on positive aspects of the region and people from the southwest area of the state. That seemed a good marriage for my column, concerning The Open Door Prison and Re-Entry Ministry. This monthly column features volunteers and a few of the clients, whom The Open Door helped find new beginnings. 

Visit The Voice of SWLA, www.thevoiceofsouthwestla.com 

and see my January article, “Crime Fighters” under Favorite Columns. Let me know your opinion. 




Monday, January 12, 2015

Not a Cliché

At the local gym, recently, I ran into a man who lost his wife over the Christmas Holiday. We had become acquaintances over the years through our morning exercise ritual. Obviously devoted to each other, the older couple shared a good-natured sense of humor that always delighted me.

Shirley’s illness arose quickly, but she lingered near death for several weeks. Never good at funerals, I skipped it. Seeing her husband, George, sitting with a friend after exercise, I said a prayer that God would be with my mouth and guard the door to my lips, as I exited the building.

I hate the obvious platitude, “I’m sorry,” that awkward acknowledgement necessary to move on. I planned to express something simple, but less trite. Rubbing Georges shoulder, I proceeded to fumble and say exactly the “I’m sorry” I didn’t want.

Quite relaxed and gracious, George relieved my bumbling, mentioning how Shirley always said she was “ready,” but how none of us really are. “We’re hardwired to live.” Hand still on his shoulder, I nodded remembering her words and 

took a swig from my water bottle. Then he surprised me by adding, “If they sold tickets to heaven, I doubt anybody would stand in line.”

I’m not sure if it was nerves, or the quirky way he came out with it, but I started to laugh, and promptly squirted a mouthful of water over my grieving friend. A good sport, he acknowledged my ridiculousness with an amusing comment. Certainly not a cliché moment, the incident broke the tension, I so feared.

Strange how God answers prayer. 

Monday, January 5, 2015

The Battle Begins

Monday—the very first one of 2015. I’m not into resolutions. The sound of breaking glass comes to mind, an entire hutch of china overturned. A Hollywood vision includes me running through a burning woods with my arms overhead to protect from hot falling promises.

Now GOALS, that’s another subject. Those are expectations we are reaching for, like the next rung of the monkey bars. This morning as I returned to last year’s goal to exercise regularly, I ran into a writer friend on the walking track. We spent thirty minutes catching up, encouraging each other in our careers.

Once home, over coffee, I set a schedule, blocked time to write more consistently, submit weekly, and blog regularly. It looks great. Very neat and orderly on lined paper.

But my Christmas present lies open next to the DVD. I hear the evil footman calling me. “Come gorge on season three in the boxed set of Downton Abbey." Ooh, and look at that stack of novels I received. They’re piled a foot deep on the table next to my rocker.

Those damn monkey bars. Even as a child, I could never get beyond the third rung. Where’s Gollum when you need him with that disappearing ring act.

The battle begins. Bring on the fire.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2015 Promises to be a Great Year

It’s 2015, and I have set some lofty writing and publishing goals. After much research and prep, I’m getting a website up this month. My plan includes improving my electronic skills. I have a devotional pending for the Upper Room www.upperroom.org and a series of articles about The Open Door Prison and Re-Entry Ministry to be published in The Voice of SWLA www.thevoiceofsouthwestla.com. Yes, 2015 promises to be a great year.., and yet, I feel guilty. So many blessings, I don’t feel worthy.

Psalm 23, verse five comes to my mind. “You set a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” 

I envision a large round table covered with a white tablecloth. A delicate silver cup with a handle sits in the middle, engraved with my initials. I’m trying to see the faces of the people sitting across from me, but I don’t see any enemies. Over the years, I’ve tried to forgive those who have hurt me. Sometimes I have had to take the pain and lay it down SEVERAL times. The chairs appear empty.

Wait! There’s a shadow, a puff of smoke rising. The chairs aren’t unoccupied. They’re filled with apparitions and mirrors. My smarmy “selves” are seated all around. Those annoying characteristics, like perfection, sarcasm, self-centeredness, criticism, and negativism have all come to the Table. He offers me the Host. I swallow the bread and wash it down with the juice. "God forgive me my trespasses." But I don’t.
   
“You anoint my head with oil.”

The shepherd of Bible times oiled the sheep’s head to keep gnats with unseen disease away from their eyes.
Have you ever seen a child bend down to pick up a toy and miss the edge of the table by a fraction of an inch? What undetected calamity am I protected from every day—covered by the healing oil of grace. The human cells divide, sluff, repair, produce antibodies, unseen mysteries of which science only dreams. "Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned."

“My cup runs over.”


He pours into my little silver cup blessings beyond full. Overflowing and beyond my imagination.

Yes, 2015 promises to be a great year. Now you guys at the table scram, I’ve got work to do.