Life Finds a Way –
Outside of our bathroom window, there is a huge limb that was torn down by a massive thunderstorm last year. I was able to get most of its almost twenty-five-foot length sawed off and hauled away but the chainsaw I used stopped working. It was my intent to get to the last, biggest, ten-foot portion of it but never did. Yesterday, while mowing the grass, I noticed there was a plant growing out of the long-dead limb. What was lifeless and useless had become home to new life.
Today is a friend’s birthday. It is a bittersweet day because it is the first one she’s had in over forty years that she cannot share with her partner who passed away. It has been a hard day for her. She has friends who are looking after her, a family that’s doing their best to care but it’s not the same. There’s not an hour that goes by she doesn’t think about him. Not a day where her heart doesn’t ache from the hole death has left in her life. However, in the midst of loss, new growth has begun. It’s slow and most days unrecognizable but it’s there; a new courage and a new strength. The new life doesn’t replace the loss. It grows partly because of and in spite of it.
In the midst of heartbreak that is this world, life finds a way.
Earlier this week I watched a powerful documentary on people being released from prison. It was a story of two men who were sentenced under California’s outdated and recently reformed Three Strikes Law. Simply stated the law demanded that any criminal who was arrested and found guilty three times received a harsh prison sentence often 25 years to life. After almost 20 years of being in place, the penal system and the citizens of California realized it wasn’t effective, led to overpopulation in the jails, severely impacted people of color, and left a trail of broken families in its wake.
The documentary follows two of the thousands of men who have been released for petty, non-violent crimes, after serving decades in jail. The transition for both of them was difficult, however, one was able to get back on his feet stay clean and sober, get married and be promoted in his job. The other man, who had a strong family and church structure, struggled mightily. Old demons such as drugs and mental health issues kept him unbalanced and unable to find his groove the way the first man did. At the end of the documentary both men were still out and making their way the best they could.
As I watched the film I couldn’t help but feel for both of these men. I work with men who are incarcerated and addicted. Addiction is a powerful force for evil and destruction. Incarceration can also be a doorway to a life of crime and recidivism but I’ve also seen men who learn how to make different choices so as not to end up in the same predicament.
Men who do three things greatly reduce their chance of going back to jail or getting back into their addiction. The first is having a positive home environment that might not necessarily be with their biological family. The second is a full-time job, a chance to do something and receive. The third might be most important and that is living a life around positive people, folks who will pull you up not drag you down. These three things, which most of us take for granted, will help men stay balanced, sure-footed, and on the path to a new life.
1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over you will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The Lord watches over you the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The Lord will keep you from all harm, he will watch over your life;
8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.
Another Way –
Our little farmhouse has many quirks. One of the most frustrating is no back door. At one time there was one in the kitchen but someone filled that one in and installed a dishwasher. Today, the handymen made a doorway out of a window in the hallway next to our bathroom they are remodeling. It was loud and dusty but they got it done and it looks great!
I sit here today with concerns about friends, family, and acquaintances on my heart and mind. A good man who I grew up with lost his father in a motorcycle accident on Easter Sunday. Another friend’s father has a mental illness that’s beginning to impact his family’s life and a tough decision will have to be made soon. Still another friend is facing a big battle filled with an extensive surgery and an even more difficult recovery.
I find myself wanting another way for these people who are suffering so much in different ways. I wish I had the power to create one. A way not filled with the pain of death, the uncertainty of life filled with disease. If I could I would knock down whatever obstacles which stood in their path but regretfully I do not have that kind of power.
What I can do is pray, offer and give any help needed and trust that though another way may not be available, the way of kindness, love, and grace, are still the balm of healing and new life.
The story began in the 1990’s with a business owner who was stealing money from his company to pay his personal debt. He was arrested and sentenced to eighteen months in jail at a minimum security facility in Louisiana. It was a tale of bad choices and their consequences, however, the story became even more interesting when he began serving his time.
The incarcerated facility was not only a jail but also America’s last leper colony. Men and women with this dreaded and deforming disease had been housed there for decades. Even with advances in medicine and treatment most of the patients chose to live in isolation than face society disfigured and different.
It was heartbreaking to hear the stories of a resident being dropped off at age twelve never to see her parents again. Another who dreamed of distant cities and sights but couldn’t bear the thought of the stares of onlookers or the disgust as they backed away illness which had ravaged parts of his body. It was safer, easier to be set apart from humanity than be rejected by it.
As I listened I couldn’t help but think of the outcasts, the unlovable, those on the fringes of society judged as unworthy, unclean, unacceptable. I also thought of those with the hidden burdens of mental illnesses, addictions and other secrets kept hidden away for fear of being labeled and ostracized.
Connection, relationship, friendship, love, fidelity with all. Acceptance and grace with everyone regardless of dissimilarities . To draw close to those whom others have pushed away, to listen when the world ignores, to extend compassion to ones who’ve been harmed, to be human to all of humanity.