Christmas 1994. This year stands out to me above all other Christmases I’ve ever experienced.
My life had fallen apart just six months prior. The tapestry of my heart had unraveled into tiny, fragile threads. My marriage had abruptly come to a halt and would soon end in divorce. My precious 11-month-old son held my focus while I was hurled into the world of single motherhood. My heart ached so deeply. My son’s first Christmas was supposed to be happy and exciting, yet my emotions didn’t agree.
How would I ever survive this heart-wrenching journey in my life?
I’d hesitantly made plans to go Christmas caroling with a group from my church. We were scheduled to sing at the men’s prison in LaGrange, Kentucky. Exhaustion from working the night shift at UPS almost pushed me to change my mind and cancel.
But something in my spirit said Go Lisa……you will be blessed.
So off I trudged onto a bus with about 25 other people. The prison building felt so dark and cold, just like the deepest corners of my soul. Once we were ushered through the iron gates by the security guards, our mission began. We had three specific places inside the prison where we’d stop and sing a few carols. As I stood there huddled up against my fellow carolers, my eyes locked with some of the prisoners. The only thing that separated us was the cold, iron bars of their prison cells. Most faces appeared stoic, rough and bitter. Some looked sorrowful. Others seemed to be covered with shame and guilt. My voice cracked because of the lump in my throat.
My heart feels so heavy…..Maybe I shouldn’t have come!
After our last song, we were finally led into the prison chapel. This would be our last stop. The prisoners gathered in this place were regular participants of worship services through the prison outreach ministry. They wanted to be here. No prison bars separated us from them.
These men looked so different than the others I’d just seen. I saw smiles on their faces and heard loud, boisterous laughter. Excitement bustled in that tiny chapel. We crowded together in hard wooden pews and we started to sing. But instead of singing to these prisoners, we sang with them. Our voices mingled together, belting out Silent Night and Joy to the World. The heaviness started to lift from my heart.
Finally one man in the back yelled out that he wanted to sing Oh Holy Night. We hadn’t rehearsed this song. Would we be able to sing it?
As these men began singing the first verse of Oh Holy Night, I could feel my heart almost skip a beat. Their voices rang out with such power. I looked around at these men’s faces and that’s when I felt the Holy Spirit speak ever so gently to me:
Look at them Lisa. Look at the JOY on their faces. Look at the sparkle in their eyes. These men have lost everything, yet they have something so real and powerful that can not be taken away.
And it struck me in that moment what these men possessed: peace…Here in prison!
It didn’t make sense. But peace is mysterious in how it passes all human understanding. Some of them had served many years, while others were just starting out. But they all had Jesus. They’d chosen to embrace their relationship with HIM even though they were at the lowest valley of their lives.
The empty places in my heart began to fill up with something right then…..It was PEACE! And HOPE!
If Jesus could give these men peace in the middle of prison, then surely HE would carry me through the valley of divorce. It wouldn’t be easy, but I knew from that night forward, I craved the peace that these men had. I could trust Jesus with my life even though it felt so messy. He was more than able to take the broken pieces of my heart and put them back together into something beautiful.
I walked into that prison with deep hurt. But I left with dazzling hope.
I walked into that prison with gripping fear. But I left with glorious faith.
I walked into that prison with overwhelming pain. But I left with overflowing peace.
I might not be in a physical prison today, but I sometimes let the troubles of this life take me captive. When I find myself on that path, God gently reminds me of His faithfulness and He lovingly wraps me up in a blanket of peace that only He can give.
What about you, dear friend? Are there crevices deep in your heart full of hopelessness? Cracked places in need of repair? Empty places crying out for hope? Have you locked yourself into a prison of fear?
I urge you to humbly surrender these to Jesus…….the Prince of PEACE.