A Makeover in the Making
—Isaiah 51:1-3 (The Message)
Deep into a South Carolina August afternoon it's not unusual to feel tired as the heat saps one's strength. But for Gina on that particular August afternoon walking down that particular dusty road, the tiredness she carried wasn't just the weight of the searing heat. She wasn't just tired; she was sick and tired of her life. She finally had enough.
Gina had been in and out of prison, and every time she was released she did not report to her parole officer. This failure to report put her on parole violation, so another warrant was issued. Every time Gina would run until they caught her. She was offered counseling, and she attended addiction treatment. It just didn't matter. Whatever happened, happened. She knew the routine.
Gina had been on the run over two years this time. Her life was a boring cycle of using cocaine, prostituting to pay for it, going back to church with her grandmother to try to turn her life around, going back on the street to get money to get drugs to get high, then go find her grandmother and start praying again, then back on the street, and so on.
But that August afternoon Gina hit bottom, and there was no one but God to talk to about it. So she prayed for help, and this time she meant it. She claimed God's promises for herself. Gina laughs now describing how God answered her desperate prayer that hot afternoon: "God had me arrested and put back in jail. Tough Love!" But her prayer was being answered. In jail there were no men and no drugs for her. Most important, she was finally "serious about right living." In her cell all she had was a Bible, and all there was to do was ponder and pray.
At her hearing Gina pled guilty because, as she said, "she was." Then she returned to her cell to wait for sentencing. But the wheels of justice roll slowly, and Gina sat in the city jail just reading her Bible and praying. When Gina went back to court the public defender requested time served since she had been in jail more than five months already. When the judge asked if she would return to her old address, before the lawyer could open her mouth, Gina jumped to her feet and spouted "No, no! I should never go back there! I'm going to live at Killingsworth!" Gina had overheard others in jail talking about a where place she could turn her life around.
Although Gina had not spoken to anyone at Killingsworth Home in Columbia, S.C., a United Methodist Women national mission instititution, had not filled out an application, nor even knew where it was located, she was absolutely sure this was where she was to be. She was equally as sure God would open that door. She was convinced her August afternoon prayer was still being answered. And so it was.
Shortly after moving into Killingsworth Gina shared during a Monday night house meeting that she loved her new job in food service. She observed that in her former "illegal entrepreneurial job" she always felt shame, but that in this new and very legal job she could greet people with her head up, smile, and say, "Would you like fries with that?" She loves her job.
Recently Gina reflected that she had stayed at Killingsworth longer than she had stayed anywhere for years. She didn't run this time, and she is seeing her parole officer regularly. She's been promoted at work and is proud that she has successfully completed an anger management class. The "dead ground" she walked that hot August afternoon has been transformed. She celebrates with gratitude that she has stayed clean for ten months, and she now returns to her grandmother's church for services on Sunday and for the weekly Narcotics Anonymous meeting on Tuesday evenings.
Gina had wandered far into the wilderness. And yet she was repeatedly drawn back to the Rock of her grandmother's faith. Even in her craziest times she kept returning to the place where she sensed solid grounding and promise of abundant life; walking that dry dirt road in the searing August heat she finally worked one of the Twelve Steps honestly: she "made a decision to turn her will and her life over to the care of God." She surrendered her will and fell into the quarry of her life, into the arms of God. And to her amazement and joy, a garden of hope and possibility began to take root.
When we live an honest Lent and allow ourselves to walk that hot dusty August road that exists in every heart, may we too be able to acknowledge the "dead ground," the "moonscapes" of our lives. May we be as brutally honest as our sister Gina that we may find, as she did, God's Easter joy of "exuberance and laughter, thankful voices and melodic songs."
Holy, Loving God, walk with me along all the empty dry paths of my life. I reclaim your promises for myself as I celebrate returning once again to You, the source of my life and hope. Fill my emptiness with Your fullness. And I will praise you with exuberance and laughter and with a very thankful heart. Amen.