To set the mood for our storytelling on that final night, I showed Glennon Doyle Melton’s “From My Cold Dead Hands.” None of the women had seen it before. Watching their faces in the soft light of the projector, I felt like I was on holy ground: These beautiful former prisoners were about to drop some keys.
I was planning to tell you about June today. But then my daughter shared her blog post with me, and she did a wonderful job of introducing Brenda. So Brenda it is. I would love to just reblog her post except that it would give away my identity.
So, with her permission, I am pasting it here, minus any identifying information:
Shelby and Lesley and I weren’t the only ones on the island this past weekend. We brought women with us. Women who deserved to be blessed. Women who needed to know how God felt about them and who He created them to be. Women who had stories to tell, stories that would allow us to learn from each other.
We brought former prostitutes and addicts. We brought women who used to work the streets, and women who currently go out and minister to those who still do.
Really, my mom brought them. She planned the whole retreat and listened when God told her who to invite. Perhaps I don’t know all the factors that were taken into consideration when she chose the hotel on the island as our location, but I don’t think any of us thought about the significance of crossing over water to get to an island until Brenda did.
Brenda was one of the women who came with us. When she shared her story last night, we found out she had been gang-raped at the age of fourteen, an incident that propelled her into prostitution, promiscuity, and drug use until she eventually surrendered her life to Jesus.
During introductions on the first morning Brenda said “I know that God brought us across the water to cleanse us from everything that happened over there. When we go back, it’s going to be over.”
I got chills. And I am just so thankful for everything that this weekend was, and a God who brings His children across the water.
I guess I expected them to arrive somewhat weary and heavy-laden, downtrodden and in need of rest. Instead they were lively and strong. Pure joy entered the welcome reception on Friday night as each woman looked me in the eye, introduced herself and shook my hand. All except one. One offered only her fingertips and looked me over with suspicious eyes. “I’m not here to judge,” is what I thought. “Welcome!” is what I said.
The women helped themselves to a spread of cheese and crackers, sliced melons, grapes, pineapple, assorted veggies and assorted dips, smoked whitefish with a beautiful array of fancy toppings and a variety of lemonades and punches. It was just right. Polite, jovial conversation centered around the freshness, sweetness, deliciousness of the food.
Then my daughter entered with goody bags, one for each woman, personalized with her name on it. A handshake would no longer do. One got up and gave me a big hug. “Ohhh, I like hugs,” I exclaimed. That brought several more to their feet to give hugs. One massaged my shoulders when I mentioned that her hug felt good against my achy back. It was going to be a good weekend.
After the reception the chicks and I walked to town for pizza while the hens stayed back to talk. While we were gone Margaret, the one who greeted me with caution, had a seizure. She has brain cancer and in all the excitement of the trip she forgot to take her medicine.
Over lunch on Saturday Margaret told me that she is blessed. She had heard of the Island and had seen it on tv, but she never thought she would actually get to visit. She told me her story – about how she became acquainted with the other women through rehab. About how someone slipped her a drug when she was a young teen and she was hooked right off the bat. She loved the way the burn moved through her body. She loved the effect it had on her brain. Some people don’t like that effect, she said, but she did. She was proud to report that she never sold her body for drugs. She sold things. Things that she had stolen from Home Depot or Lowes. Her father was a sheriff in the Chicago area so she got away with a lot as a teen. But eventually she caught a bus to a new town so that her family wouldn’t know how addicted she was. She left children behind.
But now she is blessed. Blessed because she is clean. Blessed because she and her boyfriend live in a loft – something that has always been on her bucket list. Blessed because today she was on the Island. Blessed because her children were cared for by someone who assured them that it wasn’t them, it was the drugs. Blessed because she has been recently reunited with her children and they have forgiven her – have always forgiven her.
Margaret said that through it all she was aware of God’s love for her. She would often talk to Him in the drug house, to the chagrin of the other visitors. One day she told the drug man that she was done. She was going to get back with God. Surprisingly, he directed her to a Christian rehab facility.
As I got to know the women, heard their stories and marveled at their joy, I began to really understand what Jesus meant:
When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.
When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”
Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”
“Tell me, teacher,” he said.
“Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”
Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”
“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.
Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”
Church, as I have known it for too many years, has been mostly a gathering of Pharisees. Oh how I long for the fellowship of those who love much.
It was such a sweet weekend. June, who you’ll meet next, kept flying “first annual” up the flagpole hoping I would salute. First annual it is. If my little ministry could afford it, it would be first semiannual. I love those women.