Happy New Year! It’s unbelievable to think another year has come and gone and here we are in January, 2015 with the hope of a fresh start. 2014 was huge for us here at City of Faith with the ground breaking of our new administration offices, our first ever Pudding Cup 5 and 10K, numerous volunteer opportunities and a significant increase in our population. It’s been fun to watch us grow and have more people to not only care for but to have them care for others in our community.
2014 also brought about personal victories as well: my youngest daughter married the love of her life, my oldest daughter and granddaughter moved back to Arkansas from Washington, my dad and mom were reunited in heaven and I was able to celebrate my husband’s 60th birthday in Times Square in New York City. In addition to these wonderful events, I began a personal bible study with the help of The Village Chapel in Nashville, Tennessee and as God always (I mean ALWAYS) does, He expects you to walk out what you learn. Please allow me to share one very hard lesson:
Every December the Federal Bureau of Prisons conducts a “full” monitoring of our facility. This is the only time I’m afforded the luxury of actually knowing when they’re coming. This usually means a time of deep cleaning, putting on our best face or “rolling out the ‘company’ rug,” if you will. This year was no different. I spent the week prior to the monitoring barking orders, cleaning, getting the residents mentally prepared, hovering over case managers to have their “files in order,” and just generally being a pain in the butt to all involved. I constantly reminded the residents of the rules: no smoking, no food in your room, no cell phones! Bark, bark, bark! “We know! We know! We know! We got you Ms. Wims. Don’t you worry, we got you!” I was as tired of hearing my voice as they were. Well, the inspection came and went well and while I found myself in a somewhat celebratory, relieved mood, I couldn’t stay there long because I was studying the book of Galatians and was forced to rethink some things. I have been at City of Faith 19 years and for some reason known only to the heavenlies, I was now having to consider the Apostle Paul’s teaching concerning the difference between law and grace and somehow apply this to the City of Faith population. We are a facility of rules (as we should be). New rules are made all the time. Some are so burdensome that it’s hard to comprehend living their lives bound as they are. Still, I’m conflicted knowing it’s necessary. Where does grace come in? How much grace can I give without the house running amok? Jesus gives grace fully and completely, resulting in peace and creating heirs. All the law ever did was create prisoners. However, without the law we’d never know our need for a savior. So I decided it was time to stop being “that guy.”
I called a house meeting on a Sunday night to discuss these profound things with the residents. The room was filled with faces that were either mad or relieved to be there (instead of prison) and some were just plain indifferent. I discussed a few of the things I was learning and how hard it was for me to change considering how long I’ve had to operate in this mode. I also told them of a friend of mine who said to me, “What do you expect from them? They’re JUST inmates doing what inmates do.” That statement made me sad because if I thought for a minute this was true, I would have wasted 19 years of my life which would be my own personal prison sentence. No. They’re not just inmates or rule-breakers. They are God’s own creation and I looked at their faces knowing exactly what I had to do. So 2015 rolls in with me allowing cell phones (a certain kind with no bells or whistles and I have to know the number and no you can’t use them for accountability and no you can’t call each other and no you can’t use them in the facility and no and no and no) and e-cigarettes (no you can’t smoke real cigarettes and no you can only have this orange kind and no you can’t refill them and no and no and no). Baby Steps. But I’ve got to tell you just showing this little bit of grace changed the whole atmosphere of the facility. I saw people smile. I saw faces soften and heard sincere gratitude. I felt tension in my own heart melt away. Paul was right when he said, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” Gal. 5:6b. Do I still have a job to do? Yes, I do. Do I still have to be the heavy handed halfway house director? You better believe it because I know I’m dealing with human nature. But I can shed some grace when needed and we can all be just a little more free. I pray you all have the best year yet! Terry