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Month: January 2018

Rejoice and be glad

Rejoice and be glad

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. – Matthew 5:5

I hand over my ID to the officer, get my badge and walk right in. I walk past the waiting room filled with family members and friends of inmates, waiting to connect with their loved ones who are incarcerated. I walk through the door – oops, wrong one. The door reads, “Minimum Area” – nope, that’s not where I’m going. I spot the door on the other side that says, “Lockdown Area.” Yup, that’s where I’m going. Wait – am I sure? Yes. I’m sure.

I walk through the jail grounds and I start singing…”Be with us, Mary, along the way, guide us every step we take. Lead us to Jesus, your loving Son, lead us to heaven, come with us come.” Like a mantra, I sing and pray this song to calm my nerves. Didn’t really know what to sing, but apparently my lips just started moving to this song, so I went with it. Thank you, heart!

I wasn’t sure what road to walk down, so thank goodness there were signs. I remember turning myself around at one point because I was disoriented as to what direction to go in! Luckily, I found my way. I could only imagine what the officers watching the cameras were thinking. Oh well!

As I walked, I reminded myself of the prayers surrounding me and the Spirit that is with me. Many, many steps later, I get to the unit, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to the sound of the heavy door buzzing me in. I jumped a little bit because it startled me. It is as loud as I could imagine a gunshot to be. And I have no idea what that even sounds like in real life. I walk in, check in, the officers greet me, and I go right into the room. Not knowing who or what to expect, I am there, and peace takes over. There’s a common smell that meets me when I walk into the dorm, and the officers announce that it’s Bible Study time.

A couple of the “Trustees” set up the chairs for me and greet me. Then in comes the group!

We reviewed the Beatitudes and discussed the challenges presented in society and culture vs. what God values and what matters. A man shared his “spiritual awakening” story – enough to bring anyone to tears. Not one word out of the men after this man shares his story. Just silence, as if we were all holding his words and tender heart. A few silent beats, and then they clap and a few men shook his hand. They were so moved. So many stories, so much hurt, and so much pain – deep-rooted experiences are carried in the tired eyes of these men. Within each story, it is almost as if you can feel their hearts speaking. And I do, and it is enough to silence me at times, and just let the moment reveal itself.

There is nowhere to hide, nothing to even try to conceal. They are who they are, and it is beautiful to listen to, and to be invited into. Tonight, one of the men shared with us, “I pray that the Bible may be like a cup of water for me. That it will quench my thirst, and be what I need when I am thirsty for Truth.” The brotherhood that I witnessed tonight in this group was a gift. The men affirmed one another, applauded each other, shook each others’ hands. I get to witness this?

I don’t think I said “Amen” so many times in the course of an hour of faith sharing. There was just no other word that would be appropriate. Often times there was no acknowledging response that I could give, other than, “Amen.” For someone who talks as much as I do, that hopefully illustrates how powerful those sharings were. I pray for these brothers of mine, and for the women I saw the other day. They struggle with fear of the unknown future and anxiety and uncertainty. Each day, I pray for hope and enlightenment. That they may encourage one another and build one another up, as they anticipate the next day.

I left the unit, breathing in the fresh air, looking up at the sky, and walking my little legs towards the “EXIT” sign. Just like that, I get to walk out. As I passed on by, I saw a few of the family members and friends a few steps closer to seeing their loved one. During visiting hours, they could interact with their loved ones through a glass pane, with a black telephone connected between them. I walk on by, close the door behind me, and say a prayer for them.

Probably wondering who I am, and how it is that I get to just walk in and out, I smile at them and drive home.

Sunshine and Light

Sunshine and Light

My weekend was beautiful! God has been working in my life in truly amazing ways, and not to sound cliche, but truly, He has been so good. It was a pretty rough Fall season, and each day, I yearned for renewal and healing and a new season of life, and I am slowly seeing light and sunshine and what it looks like to be joyful with each new day.

Having a faith-filled community and friends that I can call upon for any time I am in need, is something I would have not recognized, were it not for these keen awareness that has been building inside and around me. For that, I am grateful. I am getting in touch once again with what I enjoy doing, what brings me joy, what saddens me, and how I can use this one precious life of mine to serve others and delight in each moment. Some days and minutes and hours are easier than others, but I am continually drawn back into this sacred space.

Gratitude has come in abundance in my life. I could not be more grateful for an amazing set of coworkers that I get to be surrounded by each day, family that I could reach out to at any given point of the day, friends that are only a phone call or a text message away, and a healthy life.

This weekend, I volunteered with students, bought myself a succulent, bought my LaLa succulent a home (“LaLa” is her name), took a nap, took a yoga class, then climbed. I felt strong, and I had fun. I went to the grocery store, bought myself some fruits, veggies, and all things healthy (my fun item was a box of snickerdoodle cookies), and made myself a delicious salad for dinner. I practiced my music for Sunday’s mass and called it a night. I thought to myself, “Thank you God for a day where I could enjoy the sunshine and do what I love doing!”

The next day, I got to sing at mass again where I was reminded of God’s amazing grace, drove over to the Farmer’s Market, ate a breakfast quesadilla on the sidewalk next to a super cute little toddler, bought a harness and some chalk, went to visit the women at the jail and brought them communion, ran at the gym, took a yoga class, then climbed. I came home and was grateful for a day full of goodness and light.

The readings we went over today affirmed and encouraged the women I met with. It was truly amazing to see how they made links and connections with what scripture was saying to them. It was a gift to watch their eyes light up, teary-eyed, recognizing that God’s presence was with them. To be in that space is sacred.

I’m not sure what could have made my weekend any better. Do I miss my dog? All the time. But I have been gifted with so many things and people, that when I continue to look up, I am continually encouraged and surrounded by so much love.

You Matter

You Matter

“Brother, you’re someone to somebody. You matter.”

When I asked if there was a need in any of the other dorms for a chaplain, I didn’t think that it would lead me to a new chapter in my ministry – this time, in the men’s jail. I had a few unfortunate experiences in the men’s jail when I was back in Baguio City, and it left me feeling uncomfortable and uneasy. Luckily, we caught it with enough time when I was over there in the PI, that we started requesting more officers to be present. When I decided to start up my ministry again here in norCal, I def had no desire to be placed in that unit. Women all the way..at least, to start!

This time around, my ministry took a new direction and headed me to this new unit this month. Leading up to this evening, I sought out my prayer warriors and let them know that I needed their prayers. I didn’t know what to expect. Texting friends, calling on them to pray for me as I embarked on this new journey was a gift in itself. I am grateful to have community that believes in prayer. I had been used to the women’s unit for so long, that this just seemed like a whole new playing field. So many anxieties, questions, thoughts, fears…and yet, at the same time, I felt very much strengthened and supported. I continually thought to myself,”Me? God, are you sure? You want me to go?”

In preparation, I went to the library (what?!) and rented “Just Mercy” by Bryan Stephenson. I listened to this audiobook as I drove from norCal to soCal and back over the break, and was continually hit hard with emotion at varied times. I was encouraged by the work of EJI, and I felt gratitude to be a part of journeying with those who are incarcerated, even if in the slightest way. Filled with fear? Oh, definitely. But, at the same time, encouraged.

I knew it would be a change, here in a new unit, and yet, with so many thoughts in my head, and feelings in my heart, I walked on through.

I was shadowing someone this evening, and I already got so nervous! There were more doors in this unit, there were different walkways to go through, different check-ins. “Ah, metal detector beeped! Was it in the underwire in my bra? I swear, I don’t have anything! No cell phone, nothing! Just my Bible and my altar trinkets!” I was OK. I thought to myself, “Crystal, breathe.” But I remember thinking to myself, “Hmm…when I come here the next time on my own, will I remember all the turns in this corridor?” I guess I would find out soon enough.

Got to the unit, and as soon as we got to the small room within the dorm, I was immediately at ease. Immediately. I had said a special prayer to all my patron saints, and never felt alone. This feeling was unlike anything I could describe. The power of prayer – that’s what it was.

We talked about God’s love for us, how God loves each person unconditionally – without end. We reminded the men how they are beloved – how we are each a child of God. We reflected on scripture and it was faith-filled. I will always remember a moment when one of the guys was looking down at the floor, and then he looked me in the eye after a pause in discussion, and said, “What happens when the system doesn’t see us and treat us like that?” Another man interjected and said, “Brother, you’re someone to somebody. You matter.”

That evening, each man started his prayer intention, in praying for his mother. It struck such a chord with me, and in that moment, I was reminded yet again, each person here is not just a number. These individuals are living hearts. Perhaps mistakes have been made, maybe truly terrible ones, but I wholeheartedly believe that we are all imperfect beings. And if I could play any part in sharing compassion and understanding, and presence with these brothers of mine, I will gladly do it. I believe in restorative justice, and I believe in supporting others through the process.

I believe in healing – for those who have been offended and those who have offended, and I recognize it will be a long road, but the Holy Spirit is so present in that dorm – at least, in that meeting room, and each time I visit, I am confident, we will be one step closer towards that lasting peace.