She approached the podium with confidence and joy. Looking at her outward appearance, one would never guess the horrors of her past. Without missing a beat she began “I grew up in a violent home…drugs, alcohol – you name it. I was always angry. I didn’t know there was another way. When I ended up in prison, I remained angry for a long time. After six years, I finally responded to the outreach of a loving chaplain. I don’t know why, but my heart opened up just a bit and over the next six years I began to change. I discovered that I wasn’t a horrible person. I understood that despite my past, God really did love me. Through the love of the chaplain and all of you volunteers, I was reborn and given another chance in this life.”
“And the prayer of faith will save the sick person, and the Lord will raise him up. If he has committed any sins, he will be forgiven.” James 5:15
There is no substitute for love. Ashley (name changed for privacy), a recently paroled inmate, experienced the unconditional love of God through the love poured out to her from many prison volunteers. Bishop Robert Barron defined love as “to will the good of the other, as other.” I personally love this definition as it truly captures the essence of what it means to love – giving of oneself for the benefit of others. This type of love is transformative and essential for human flourishing.
Ashley’s life took a dramatic change in prison when she opened her heart to God’s love and mercy. This experience was only possible when others met her exactly where she was – in an emotional state of sadness and anger – and brought Christ to her. It then took years of just being present to Ashley – where the volunteers provided her with love, for Ashley to realize that she was worthy of God’s love and forgiveness.
I think this is how it is in life for all of us. We all experience times when we don’t feel worthy of God’s love and mercy. When this happens, we get angry and push Him out of our lives. But then things tend to become worse without God. It usually takes the love of a friend or family member to remind us that we are indeed loved and forgiven by God. It may take days or even years for this transformation to happen in your life or in the life of someone you know, but keep loving. In the end, God always prevails.
God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in distress…
Ashley is now living in freedom as a responsible citizen, working a full time time job. She has big plans to give back to her community because she “felt so loved by others when she could not love herself.” I was privileged to hear her story at this gathering of prison volunteers. The men and women who volunteer go about their work quietly each week. They seek no attention or recognition. Their reward is simple – it is the “Ashley’s” whose lives are transformed in love. We can all make that difference every day, no matter where we are in life. The recipe is simple – will the good of the other, as other! It sure does make a difference – one person at a time.