Because some of you asked…
She cried when we sang happy birthday to her. I never cry when people sing “Happy Birthday” to me. Usually, I smile and soak it in. But this was not a normal birthday celebration. This was a song sung by some well-dressed women who had just attended a nice ladies luncheon – and some women in orange jail garb.
Let me back up a minute.
A few months ago, I agreed to speak to some women in Oklahoma for their monthly ladies luncheon. When I agreed, they invited me to join some of them when they went to the local prison and speak there too. Sure, why not?
I asked if I could gift them a copy of one of the books I wrote and they readily agreed.
I mentioned on my social media I was speaking in a prison and wanted to gift my book to the prisoners. Within an hour, I had more than enough money to cover the cost. I signed them and loaded my car for the five-hour trip north. I even drove through tornadic winds to get there. Branches were blowing across the highway and there was no way to get off the highway and take cover. I felt a little bit like Dorothy on her bike.
After I spoke to a room of about 100 well-dressed ladies, I followed a few of them over to the jail. I stood in the lobby with my box of books and my “talking notes.” Five other ladies waited with me. They do this every month and were holding their bags of homemade treats and toting coolers of chocolate milk and lemonade.
When the woman in charge checked in, we were told we might not get in that day. We tamped down our disappointment as we circled up and prayed for open doors. I asked for open doors and open hearts.
A few minutes later, the jailers escorted us in.
Once in the room, the ladies I was with started setting up to serve the food and drink. The ladies bring pretty plastic tablecloths, floral plates and matching napkins for the women. They don’t just hand them a Twinkie and a juice box. They work hard to make the female prisoners feel special and cared for. I was touched by how well the women serve them.
I talked to one inmate who had just had a baby. I asked about the child’s name and she talked lovingly about him and her other child. She told me she had been “locked up” her whole pregnancy. My face probably didn’t hide the concern I had for her and her children so she said, “It’s okay. I get to see him every Wednesday.”
Let that sit with you a minute.
The luncheon ladies sing “Happy Birthday” to anyone who has a birthday that month and they get an extra cupcake. Two prisoners stood in front of their fellow inmates, holding their cupcakes, as everyone sang to them. One young gal cried. She stood there as tears started to fall down her cheeks. I teared up and tried to swallow the lump in my throat as I watched her wipe her tears away. I wondered if she cried because no one had sung a simple birthday song to her in years – or ever. Or maybe she was sad she’d be in jail on her birthday. Whatever the reason – I know I’ve never cried when people sang to me. Have you?
When I told them I was gifting them books because of the generous people who donated, they cheered!
I spoke to the ladies and presented the Good News of Jesus. I told them how God had been with me during very hard times in my life. I told them about some of the difficulties my brother and family faced – and still face – due to my brother’s skiing accident. And I told them how God has helped him live his life as a quadriplegic for over 30 years in a triumphant fashion.
I told them how I found hope and joy in Christ after my son was stillborn.
I told them how one of the women who paid for a book spent time in jail and how she met Jesus there. I told them how she used her time in jail to study the Bible and grow closer to Jesus and now leads worship at her church on Sundays where she attends with her husband and three sweet children. I told them that could be their story too.
I asked the group if they wanted to start following Jesus and prayed with them. A third of them did! Though they will be imprisoned physically a bit longer, some chose that day to gain spiritual freedom. I pray they walk out of jail free of their burdens, addictions and bondage of every kind. I pray they find a faithful friend in Jesus – like I did.
I pray that young mom can see her son everyday.
And I pray that woman only knows joy when someone sings “Happy Birthday” next year as those she loves surround her.
My trip to jail touched and changed me.
Sing to the Lord, bless His name;
Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Psalms 96:2
If you don’t know what book I’m talking about above, you can find it here.