Writing has been difficult lately. I guess it is a combination of the crazy of life + a lot going on + spending my time elsewhere. I miss it when I don’t do it, though.
Part of the recent crazy is really good crazy. Since I have joined staff with my church here part-time, my role in the jail and as a ministry coordinator has increased in responsibility, which also means needing to know where to set my boundaries and when to take a step back. That is a really hard concept for me. When I am involved in something, I tend to dive in headfirst without taking a moment to assess what I am actually capable of doing. That is going to be a lifelong lesson for me.
I am still adjusting to the fact that I work for a church. If you had told me that even five years ago, I would have spewed laughter in your face. Not to be rude or anything, but just the idea that a church would find me fit to hire would have sent me into a shame spiral, mentally listing all of the ways I just don’t deserve to be telling other people about Jesus.
But I guess that is what it is really all about. I have heard over and over and over and over and over again that Jesus didn’t come to save the “has-it-all-together” people. He came to sit down with the broken, the sick, the wandering, and the lost. His favorite people to sit down and share meals with were the prostitutes, the adulterers, the money launderers, the criminals, and the kids. Basically all of the people with whom most other people don’t want to spend their time.
That’s always felt like my crowd. I have never felt comfortable among the pious country club types. Put me in a room full of people in cocktail dresses and my social anxiety and panic is almost crippling. I can put on a good smile, but I am thinking of every excuse to use the bathroom or rush home. However, if you put me in a locked room with 25 accused murders, prostitutes, drug dealers, and accomplices, I feel right at home. I would spend more time in the jail every week if I could. I joke with the women there that I am going to rent out a bunk soon. Those women feel like my people.
The irony in it all is that they see me as the Church Lady. I come on Sundays to lead church and Wednesdays to participate in a church-based recovery group. They only know me by my role in the church. They don’t know me as a counselor, a karaoke enthusiast, a once grad-school drop out, or a former theater nerd. They don’t know that my favorite pair of shoes is my cowboy boots or that I loathe anything with a cold, creamy texture (if you put mayo within five feet of me I will start gagging).
While the women in the Orange County Correction Facility Female Detention Center do know large parts of my story, they just know that I come in for church. I believe they also know that I care about them. I hope they know that I believe in them, and have immense hope for their futures. I also hope that they know that I have messed up big time in life, and will continue to mess up big time. I hope they know that I don’t get to come in and “do church” because I have it all figured out. I hope they know that I am just trying to keep the cheese on my cracker as well.
In Saturday Night Live’s second golden era in the late 1990’s (the first was the 1970’s. I wasn’t alive yet, but those are still the episodes I go back to when I want to laugh), comedic actor Dana Carvey played a character known as The Church Lady (see picture above). He portrayed the cooky old women in backwoods Southern churches who see the Satan in everything and have no shame in telling people their faults. The sketches were funny because, unfortunately, there was some truth to them. We all know that person or persons who have no problem at all pointing out everyone else’s flaws and faults, yet can’t see their own. The sketches were also tragic because of the truth in them. Most of the women I work with in the jail have encountered The Church Lady, and have paid dearly for it.
My hope is that by being just as messy and confused and broken as anyone who is incarcerated, I am able to be a “church lady” who communicates hope rather than hopelessness, and grace over shame.