under Written on March 23, 2010

It was Thanksgiving Day, around 5:30 pm, we had all just finished dinner and had gathered close for a time of sharing, prayer and worship. I remember there were at least 15 of us, and we were studying 1st John, chapter 4. It was such a powerfully sweet, emotional time as we read aloud.

Anne read, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”. Tears were streaming down some of our faces and we were all beginning to perspire. It was so hot, especially with 15 of us packed in that 8 by 10 foot cell.

I spent Thanksgiving Day 2006, as well as 56 days before and 26 days after, in the Roanoke City Jail. While jail was as bad, and even worse, than “they” say it is, I experienced first-hand that our sovereign, omnipresent God is there. He does meet with those who seek Him, whether in a church pew, a palace, a gutter, or a jail cell.  I learned during those 83 days that nothing keeps God out when he is truly, humbly sought…not walls or bars, or even hatred and evil can keep the living God from responding to those willing to surrender to Him.

If you met me on Thanksgiving Day 2003, you may have described me as an energetic, talented, blessed mother of three beautiful daughters and wife of an adoring, Godly husband. The truth was, I was a fearful, drowning alcoholic, trying desperately to keep the ‘real me’ hidden.

As alcohol slowly took the place of God in my life, I began spiraling out of control. Ultimately, I received three DUIs within 18 months. The “house of cards” finally collapsed, and I entered treatment at a residential facility on April 17, 2006. And while I have remained humbly, gratefully sober ever since, I had debts to pay and consequences to bear.

As we prepared for my September 2006 sentencing trial (for my 3rd DUI), I unquestionably plead guilty, but greatly feared incarceration. I faced the judge with truth, humility, evidence of change and four significant character witnesses. While I knew there would be jail time due to the state’s minimum sentencing requirements, my sincere prayer and greatest desire was that the judge would grant me permission to serve my time on weekends. He did not.

That wise, fair and discerning judge told me that while he was satisfied with my progress, I deserved no more favors and I needed to go away for a time to grasp the severity of my actions. I was mortified and felt somewhat abandoned by God at the time, but God actually was working through that judge on my behalf.

My disappointment and fear were palpable and I remember thinking to myself, “Ok, I can do this…I will simply endure it…I’ll do my time anonymously and keep completely to myself…” God had other plans.

After spending my first 24 hours in the “Hole,” I was placed in an already overcrowded section, the third person in a cell built for two. As I lay on the floor, quietly weeping, praying and trying to be invisible, a woman named Amanda asked me if I wanted a candy bar and to read her “Daily Bread” devotional. I managed to thank her and borrowed her devotional as well as a Bible she had borrowed from the jail library.

The Lord took me to Romans 5, 3 – 5. I have it marked in my bible today with the date 9-30-06. It reads: “…but we also rejoice in our sufferings because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.”

I thought, “I’m not just supposed to survive this…I’m to rejoice in this! Not only did I bring this misery on myself, but if I rise to this in His power and even rejoice, He’s promising me perseverance, character and hope…hope that does not disappoint.”

He reminded me that because I am saved by His grace, I have brought Him and His Holy Spirit into that jail with me. I became aware of the enormous responsibility I had to “be Jesus” in that environment…not to just “survive”, but to be open and alert to what He had planned for me there.

Amanda eventually invited me to a small devotion time three of the women were holding in one of the cells almost every evening.  (The jail offered organized bible studies, but they were extremely hard to get permission to attend and they were infrequent as well.) Our small group soon grew to 5 or 6. When the woman leading the devotional time was transferred to another prison, the remaining women asked me if I would take over leadership. I agreed, and even though I didn’t know what I was doing, God did. He spoke to us though His word and through the heartfelt prayers of those broken women every single evening.

It was interesting and amazing to watch God work as more women responded to our invitation to attend, even as the others jeered and made fun of all of us. Regardless of how many wanted to be there, we had to limit our gathering to a single cell (built for two) to keep any “organized religious gathering” out of the common area.

So, when 15 sweaty, damaged, precious women sat on top of each other in my cell on Thanksgiving evening, 2006, it was indeed a blessed day! God was there. He was at work. There were those who met Him for the first time, those who surrendered to Him, those who came back to Him and those who just listened. I know the whereabouts of only a handful of those women, but God knows not only where each of them are, but he’s numbered the hairs on their heads.
As for me, I greatly regret the pain and damage I caused while active in my sin, but I am overwhelmingly grateful that once I surrendered, and once I CONTINUE to surrender, my God is a God of mercy, forgiveness, healing and restoration.