Roger told me the news last week, just before I went to the jail for the session on Employment Matters. I didn’t tell the ladies at first. Instead, throughout class I told them, “We can trust God!”
I reminded them that He cares for us and loves to give good gifts to His children.
Throughout the night I paraphrased Isaiah 22:22, saying “God opens doors no man can shut, and closes doors no man can open.”
And I knew it was true. I was sitting on news that would blow them away. I could barely keep it inside.
Finally, at the end of class, I repeated,
“God opens doors no man can close and closes doors no man can open.”
“Roger called me tonight and told me some great news.”
I paused for effect, then continued, “Major Espinoza has approved for us to have a pizza party to celebrate your graduation.”
A pizza party.
Two of the women
Every one of them beamed! Smiles broadened their faces, some for the first time in weeks.
I’ve beamed too, for a whole week. Every time I thought of what God is doing in the jail, I could scarcely contain myself.
Through Interfaith Outreach Association’s Life Skills Program, male and female inmates commit to making positive changes in their lives. For 8 weeks they delve into material that many of them have never considered before: Goal Setting, Principles & Values, Time Management, Money Management, Family & Communication, Anger & Attitudes, Employment Matters and Community Resources.
They’ve opened themselves up to receive encouragement from selfless volunteers. They’ve completed homework, which in and of itself is a huge accomplishment for some who read well below high school levels.
Earlier this week as I thought about tonight’s graduation, I wanted to bless the ladies with beauty. I thought of the giant marigolds in our front yard and the flower arrangements I’d contributed as decorations to recent shower at church.
I reasonably assumed I wouldn’t be allowed to bring fresh flowers into the jail.
“What can I do? What can I take?”
I settled on the idea of using pretty paper plates, colorful napkins and bright plastic cups. This afternoon I pulled everything together to pack up.
Something was missing.
I found myself wishing I could use “real” tablecloths.
Still not satisfied, I thought, “if only I had ten pretty placemats that matched the place settings.”
Then I remembered I had a book of 80’s floral fabric swatches, a yard sale find from a few months ago. I borrowed some pinking sheers from my neighbor, cut out more than a dozen varied pieces of fabric, and rolled them up by twos. I placed them into a pretty floral gift bag with a Bible verse about “hope” elegantly written in script lettering.
I figured, if I have to use a tote bag, might as well make it a pretty one.
Next, I tucked the paper products into the bag, followed by a couple of tall kitchen garbage bags. (We’d be responsible to take out all the trash when we were finished.)
I used a pretty, floral die-cut notepad to make a dozen scripture cards.
I tucked those into the “Hope” bag as well.
Just after 7PM we carried six boxes of Domino’s hot pepperoni pizzas through the maze of corridors in the Lynchburg Jail. Buzzers sounded as steel doors clunked open. When we walked through the last door into the classroom, the women were already seated around the table. Some of them verbally expressed their astonishment, others sat quietly with hands over their mouths.
Linda served the pizza, Debbie poured the soft drinks and I passed out the placements and the Scripture cards.
“You’re gonna make me cry.”
“This is so beautiful!”
They were all so grateful.
I read the “beauty for ashes” passage from Isaiah 61, the one that also includes setting captives free. Those words always choke me up! Then I read the 23rd Psalm. I challenged the ladies to think differently about the phrases “He preparest a table before me,” and, “my cup runneth over.”
Several times I repeated for emphasis,
“Surely, goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever.”
These ladies had a chance to taste and see that the Lord is good! I can’t help but think that maybe this is part of what Paul meant in 1 Cor. 2:9 when he said, “no eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind can know what God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Tonight would not have been possible without:
- The selfless leadership of Roger Paul, my friend, colleague and mentor. God used him to prepare the way.
- Domino’s pizza, who donated six pepperoni pizzas. They were hot and delicious and enjoyed by all.
- Major Espinoza and Mr. Trent of the Lynchburg Adult Detention Center and the Blue Ridge Regional Jail Authority, respectively. May the blessing of their “yes,” return to them one thousand fold!
- The volunteers who served tonight, and each week. Dee, Melinda, Betsy, Debbie, Linda and so many more.
- Thank you also to James, Levi and Danner from WSET for covering tonight’s event. (Watch the video below.)
WSET.com – ABC13
If you’d like to know more about Interfaith Outreach Association’s Life Skills Program, helping to set the captives free, leave me a comment here, or @me on Twitter. Don’t be surprised to hear me say that I am the one who is blessed!