But if this was all there was to deal with, that would be quite challenging enough! For some families there are extraordinary additional issues. What if you were convicted that your loved one was truly not guilty of the crime they have been convicted of? Or what if they were guilty of running with a rough crowd and wound up being in the wrong time and wrong place, only to have someone guilty of heinous wrong doing but familiar with gaming the system getting a lighter sentence than a first offender with a misguided sense of loyalty. (I suspect that the latter scenario is part of the reason female incarceration rates have soared in recent years.) Either of these circumstances adds the challenge with even more legal fees, time and focus and energy expended to seek a more just outcome. What if your incarcerated person has unusual health problems and poor or inappropriate medical care is making a modest sentence into a potential death sentence? What if the prison where your incarcerated person resides is hours or even days away from where you live? What if they had been closer and an administrative error resulted in an unheralded move and it was days or weeks before you learned what had happened? What if you watch beside your parent's bed, haunted by the specter of a beloved child or spouse not far away in miles, but unable to hold the dying person's hand or even speak to them by phone and you know they will not be at the impending funeral? What if your child is sick and the child's beloved incarcerated parent can not be there to comfort them?
For each person affected by their own incarceration or the incarceration of a loved one and/or family member, there is a unique journey of challenges, hopes, dashed hopes, distraction, and, we hope, growth. Every letter is a mine-field -- do we tell about the family reunion or wedding or funeral missed with details and family stories, even though it might make them feel with deeper pain the loneliness of their situation? Do we encourage that the appeal will go through or the parole granted or try to calmly encourage caution, lest a broken dream drive them to greater despair? Do we explain our own health issues, when they can do little to help, but might leave them with a sense of betrayal and guilt if a medical procedure goes fatally awry? Do we tell them that their children miss them or leave them wondering if it matters to their children that they are not a part of their day-to-day lives?
So following the instruction in Romans 12 seems pretty challenging: " So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.."
I'd never say anything God asks is easy, but I've learned it is often powerful in ways I am still learning to appreciate. So I believe there is merit in laying EVERYTHING down as an offering to God, even our doubts that we can understand or execute what God is calling us to do.
So, let me offer this prayer for us all:
Almighty and All-Knowing and Loving God, I'm just going to be as transparent with You as I know how to be. I'm feeling overwhelmed and under capable today, Lord. Everywhere I turn there are challenges and my imperfect responses are blinding me to Your Love in all this. So please show me, Lord, what You know I need to do and, when I'm turned in the right direction, give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other, and teach me to offer my hands for Your use in my life and in the lives of those I love and serve. Help me to be more mindful of Your presence and ability in every situation and action before me today, Lord. Help to remember Romans' words: "Take your everyday, ordinary life and place it before God as an offering." Lots of the parts of my life right now are pretty awful. Help me pray my way through the day with every challenge, fear and disappointment being laid before You so that You might teach me what You want my response to be, that You might let me see Your covenant shining in the midst of darkest moments, that you might let me reflect the light of Your persistent Love and Mercy and Grace into my actions and relationships and responses. And because I trust You, Lord, I'm going to say thanks to You now for all You are opening my heart to experience.Thank you, Lord! Lord, help my unbelief! In memory of Jesus' blood shed for me, AMEN"