A whirlwind weekend is coming to a close, today will be just as busy and yet the string of holy moments deserve to be considered each on their own. A vision begun over a year ago for a ministry pursuing restorative justice culminated in a 13 hour training with 25 folks who are interested in exploring mentoring relationships with those returning to the community after incarceration, those who are on supervision with the probation department. Each step of the wondering, wishing, planning, researching came together as we learned from a man who traveled from Vermont to help us establish the structure and resources and boundaries to take the next steps. His evidence-based approach has proven results and his wisdom was astounding. He gave to us freely, he challenged us deeply, he gave us much more than his presence for the 4 days we have spent with him. While I celebrate him, I am also in awe of those who chose to participate, those who supported us by providing meals and cleaning up the kitchen. The broad base of encouragement we have received allowed us to be fully present, to not miss a word.
I thought originally I was moved to be involved in this project after reading “The New Jim Crow” by Michelle Alexander, a book which spoke to my social work heart. After developing a relationship with the men and women at the local probation department, later interviewing my own officer from almost 30 years ago, I thought I was doing this for my own healing. I even considered I was doing this because I had lost my son after 4 years of his own incarceration, it was 3 years ago today that we picked him up from prison to bring him home quickly and then on to his half-way house before he could finally return completely to our nest. I thought I wanted to be involved in this ministry to provide what my son lacked, a circle of support and accountability that would ensure a greater chance of success. I am motivated to save another mother’s child, even while I mourn the death of my own. Or maybe it was the echoes of the voices of women I left behind in prison, those who begged me not to forget them, to do something, anything to make their lives better. Each step along this journey has proven that my deep involvement with the ministry is personal, is healing to me as well, even as I see how it is already touching the lives of others.
We watched d a documentary of the Vermont program in action, we listened to the stories of folks who are the core members of these circles as their lives post-incarceration unfolded. Ugly resentment and jealously rose up in me as I desperately wished we had started this program 3 years ago so my son could benefit even as I watched a young man battle with his addiction and eventually return to prison. I became so invested in his success that when he fell, I was heartbroken again, tears too numerous to discretely swipe away covering my cheeks. And yet, and yet, there is hope.
Hope in the questions and searchings of those who attended the training. Hope in the commitment of those who filled out paperwork to come along side those struggling in our community. Hope in leaving where we are comfortable to step into an unknown, a place with no guarantees of big joys or happy rewards. I found hope and healing being in the presence of a community that is willing to see addiction and violence and manipulative behavior and then look deeper. I found the washing away of stigma as the flood waters of mercy and acceptance flowed around the room and my heart broke some more but in the best possible way.
I cannot not see the timing in this all, the fact that the grief group I agreed to attend begins tonight, an expected circle of my own of support and accountability, a place to look at my aching heart and my lost dreams and find comfort. I cannot not see the lights above the stairways at every entrance to the courthouse, small circles of light that shine on everyone who passes through the doors, lights that were shown to us at our very first meeting with probation, something you have to look for, that are missed everyday and yet they are unmoving, they are constant. I can see God deeply present in all we are doing, reminders of His love and unrelenting pursuance of our souls, of mine.
While I am filling my days with activity, pulling on stands of connection in order to avoid the overwhelming sadness that surrounds me, maybe I could be accused of avoidance, of not facing the loss and grief and devastation head on. I certainly point that finger at myself often enough. This weekend though, all the days and weeks preceding, meetings and copies and emails and planning, have kept me returning to the church, kept me within my safe circle where I can be vulnerable and authentic and still contribute to something bigger than the hole in my heart. That very willingness, that draw to connect, to accept the grace that is freely offered to me, I know I am merely riding on the backs of those who have stronger faith, deeper spirituality, less doubt. And that is okay. We all need to be carried sometimes, we all reach out, we lift others along the way too, if we are truly committed to this Jesusy thing. In the midst of all that is wrong and broken, I am borrowing the hope of others, the joys in possibilities, the new beginnings and the shared pain of endings.
I see you God, I see what you are doing in placing those who deserve my trust right in my path, knowing that one day I might just extend that trust to you. The long game, where ultimately I offer up my entire life and heart to you, I see it. Today I can give the pieces that reflect your light, ever crowding out the darkness that once controlled my choices. This day I will rejoice a bit and be glad of new ministries and circles of support and accountability and maybe find some rest.