Jesus, Light, Michigan, Stories from the Island

Sunny, Semi-Serene September

I last visited Mackinac Island on a cold and mostly cloudy weekend in October 2014.

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If you know anything about the island, you know that cars are not permitted there. It’s all walking, bicycles and horse-drawn taxis.

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The island bustles with tourists and clip-clopping horses all summer long. But by late October it is a quiet retreat. A beautiful, quiet retreat. This view from my balcony, with the lone worker heading to his early-morning post, captures the autumn serenity.

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The nights in October are serene, too.

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Gone are the late-night bar hoppers, catching the last ferry back to the mainland. Nothing left but the peaceful glow of quiet streets.

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Excitement was high on that last trip as my daughter, two of her friends and I boarded the ferry to the island.

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Excitement was high as we checked into the Grand Hotel.

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And excitement was high when we returned, as we contemplated all that God had done.

Back then I shared a little something my daughter wrote in the afterglow.

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I’m sharing it again:

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 revisited the island this morning for two reasons:

1. WordPress prompted me to do so.

2. I am planning to return with another group of women. Hopefully in sunny, semi-serene September.

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church nonsense, faith, Stories from the Island

Misfits

I may have said this before, but I often feel like I am stuck in kindergarten.  I sit in the audience and learn the same elementary lessons over and over, week after week with no hope of graduation, because women aren’t allowed to graduate.

I don’t belong in the audience listening to the laughter at the opening joke and receiving a weekly dose of shallow truth.  So some weeks I stay home and do my own Bible study.  Dig deeper than my pastor dares to go.  Like this week.  I stayed home on Sunday and my hubby went without me.   “Sorry, Honey,” he said, “but your husband is in leadership.”

“Yeah, see if you can do anything about that sinful misogyny, wouldya’?”

I didn’t skip church altogether, though.  I went Saturday night.  To a different church.  Donna called and said the women from the island were going to have a little reunion at her church for the Saturday evening service.  She invited me to join them.

When I got there I discovered only a few of the island women.  Instead, there were three rows of her friends, there to celebrate her birthday.

I sat next to Ronald.  He asked me if we were in a church because it sure didn’t look like one.  It looked like an auditorium.  He asked me why he wasn’t invited to the island.  I told him he wasn’t pretty enough.  He sang along and leaned over to say, “I bet you didn’t know I could sing like that.”

Afterward I was invited to join the group at a nearby restaurant for dinner.  Twenty five of us.  I sat next to Donna and asked how she had met each person at the table.  They were a varied group, collected over many years of street ministry.  Many of them were part of a newly formed Bible study that was meeting at Brenda’s house.

As I said my good-byes, Ronald asked, “Will we see you again?”

“I hope so.”

“Why don’t you come to our Bible study (which meets clear, clear, clear across town)?”

“Maybe I will sometime, if I am invited.”

Brenda spoke up and said, “Yes, come.  Everyone talks and shares.  We’ve become very close.  We pray for one another, anoint one another.”

I sighed, “I wish church were like that.”

Ronald said, “Yes, come hang out with the misfits.”

I smiled, “We’re all misfits in one way or another.”

Jesus was a misfit.  He wanted to talk about His Father; the Pharisees wanted to talk about the Law, more specifically all the tedious man-made things they had added to the Law.  I’m not saying that I am like Jesus.  I’m not saying the leaders in my church are like the Pharisees… well, maybe I am.  A little.

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bluesbby, Creative Commons

This is Brenda’s story, told in a quiet, halting voice:

Hi my name is Brenda.  I came from a rough life that was …um… but God has changed me.  I was gang raped at the age of fourteen and I ran away from home.  My life went down from that point.  I became a prostitute and I started using crack cocaine.

I wound up going to penitentiary… several times, I stayed in somebody’s institution – mental institution – rehab, mostly prison, so locked up.  In the process, when I was in those places, God was still speaking to me.  Every time I went back to the institution, He was speaking to my soul each time.

Whoever this is helping today, God is a deliverer.  No matter what you’ve been through or whatever challenges you’ve ever had in your life, it will be easy when you turn your life over to Him.  Well, my walking hasn’t been that easy, I still struggle in a lot of areas, trying to get myself together.  When you’ve been in bondage so long, and caught up in yourself and the things of the world, you lose sight of what is real and what’s not.   But today I am saved by grace, and I’m loving my new life, there’s nothing compared to it.  I’ve found so much joy now.

Where I really want to help someone is, I’ve been in a lot of abusive relationships, too.  Be always careful about who you let in your personal space.  Men will deceive you and lead you to the bedroom so quickly.  And you lose sight of yourself and they start taking control of you and tell you stuff that you don’t believe that you are…. um… what I’m really saying is, they start working on your self-esteem and breaking you down.  And when you start thinking less of yourself you don’t care what you do.  But I’ve been delivered from that, too.  I’m just grateful to God today that I am here, where I’m at, just praising Him, just thanking Him for the change that He has given me in my life.  I’m just grateful to be alive.  I put myself in a lot of dangerous situations and I’m grateful that I didn’t die out there in the streets.  I know I was covered by the blood of Jesus.  Thank you.

Afterward, Brenda shared that her boyfriend – her very first boyfriend – was among the gang that raped her.  He set her up.  How do you recover from that kind of betrayal?

Seeing Brenda Saturday night so full of joy, inviting me to the Bible study at her house, only God can do that.

© The Reluctant Baptist, 2014

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faith, restoration, Stories from the Island

Misguided Commitments

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Creative Commons: Stefano Campolo

The small woman
Builds cages for everyone
She knows.
While the sage,
Who has to duck her head
When the moon is low,
Keeps dropping keys all night long
For the beautiful, rowdy prisoners.
-Hafiz

I stood behind Betty in the bustling lunch line.   It was our first opportunity to become acquainted.  She told me that she is retired from social work, spent most of her career in protective services.  “That’s a really tough job,” I acknowledged.  “It’s not the job I wanted,” she confessed, “but it is where God wanted me.  He held me there.”  Had the setting been less chaotic, had her turn to order not been quickly approaching, had I understood that she was trying to tell me something, I would have asked her to explain.  Instead I switched the conversation onto a shallow track and merely shared that I had been a social worker in an adjacent county.

Betty is a key dropper, one of the volunteers who drives into the city to reach out to prostitutes.  I thought that, plus the fact that she is a retired social worker, was the whole story.  But then she took her turn in the share chair Sunday evening:

I grew up a child of the sixties – very shy, lonely, naive, never dated anyone in high school, never went to the prom or any dance like that.  One night, between my junior and senior year, a friend of a friend came over and crashed our girls get together.  He was the first guy to think I was worth attention.  And so we went out.   He wasn’t like anyone I had ever known before.  He was a bad boy.  I looked up to some of the things he did that I didn’t have the nerve to do – to get angry, to show emotions of any kind.  So in a strange way I kind of respected him, but not in a good way.

We went out for awhile and then I went off to school and he went off to Vietnam.  I had made a commitment to him.  I was going to wait for him and I sincerely meant that, because I was grateful for his attention to me.

I got done with school and he got done with the army about the same time.  But along the way, the few times I had seen him I realized that we were going in different directions.  But I made that commitment and to me that was big.  Misguided but big.  So he asked me to marry him after he got home and I said yes.  I knew there were red flags, I wasn’t totally sure this was a good decision, in fact a lot of me said it’s not a good decision.  But I went ahead and married him, then realized how much Vietnam had changed him.  He came back angry with God, addicted, a womanizer.   All Bad traits.  So our marriage went from bad to worse.

Then our daughter was born.  He was not a good father, he was emotionally abusive to her, to me, it just kept getting progressively worse.

Finally I realized I had to get away from him.  I knew… I didn’t want to get a divorce… I was committed to “’til death do us part”, but I didn’t think God would want me to stay in an abusive relationship.  So I finally got up the nerve to say I wanted a divorce.  Then the threats started getting very desperate.  He threatened to kill me.  He said, “I’ve killed people before, they’ll never find your body.”  We had a submachine gun under the bed.  I lived like a prisoner in the house for several years.

Finally I contemplated suicide, but then that would leave my daughter with him so I ruled that out.  I thought I would end up in a mental institution, it was getting so bad, he was so controlling.  He put tape recorders in the house and he would stalk me when I went off to work.  It was unreal, but it still looked good on the surface.  He had a position of authority and he had to make it look good.

So finally, you know, when God is all you have left, then He is all you need.  So I started praying, “Lord, please create a distraction where I can get away from him.  Please create a distraction.  He won’t let me go voluntarily.  Please.”  Five nights in a row I prayed.  On the sixth day we were out of town and he said, “You know, there are people jealous of me.  You’re going to hear some things and it’s all lies.  They’re just jealous of me.”  I said, “What are you talking about?”  He wouldn’t explain.

We got back home and in the newspaper there was a story about people in his office who had been involved in a gang rape.  He was one of them.  This was why he was becoming so much more desperate in his behavior, so much more abusive.  He was looking to stay out of prison, looking to control me, looking to not lose what he had, not lose his image.

That was all I needed.  I said, “Thank you, Lord.”  It took two years, but I got away from him with my daughter.  I swore to God that I wouldn’t forget it and that I would help other people get away from situations like that.  My career was social work and I was involved with women in the same situation.  They would say to me, “You just don’t understand,”  and I would whisper, “Oh yes, I do.”  I worked for the state so I couldn’t talk about God but I would wear a cross and let them bring Him up to me.  Then I could tell them, “A commitment to no man comes near to your commitment to God.  He will see you through.”

Life is too short for misguided commitments.
Life is too short to take the shallow track.

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/dp_prompt/no-time-to-waste/

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Jesus, Light, love, restoration, Stories from the Island

Dancing With Grace

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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.

P.S. If you are new to my blog and you have no idea what I am talking about, you can catch up herehere and here.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Crossing the Water

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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.

Amen.

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faith, life, restoration, Stories from the Island

Surprised By Joy

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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.

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Stories from the Island

Tucked In

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I am back from the Island all tucked into bed with my computer, a pile of kleenex, chicken soup and Nyquil.  My brain has the same texture and color as the sky that greeted our arrival on Friday – gray, thick. foggy – and my nose is just as drizzling.

There is a lot to process and say about these last few days – observations on joyful redemption and lessons on how it is done, for starters.  But drowsiness is threatening to overtake me.  Had to cancel today’s trip to Chicago.

I’ll write more soon, friends.  Just wanted to let you know that I am home – safe and sound and sick.

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