By Dori Knight
The wrinkled card lay upon the cold, concrete table in the womenís cellblock. It was made of notebook paper; the cover designed in a random pattern of pink and red hearts, glued to the crumpled page with peppermint toothpaste.
At first glance, it looked as though the hearts had been cut out of magazines, but that couldnít be true, because inmates werenít allowed to have scissors. Instead, they had drawn heart shapes on the colorful pages and traced those shapes over and over again, until finally, a heart fell free and fluttered away.
The heavy pen lines were still visible on each piece: black and blue marks around their hearts, much like the emotional bruises of the women who drew them; the same women who regarded me cautiously from across the cellblock table.
A letter was tucked inside, and they wanted me to read it aloud, so they gathered around like children at story time. Indeed, there was a child-like expectancy in their expressions that had not been there before: elements of the little girls they once were Ė wanting so much to please, but afraid of being ridiculed.
Shame crept over me. If only they knew how I had tried to get out of my prison ministry obligations that night. Thanksgiving night was a time to be surrounded by people who love and appreciate you, not a time to sit in a cold prison with cold women, who couldnít care less if you ever came
Three months of Bible study had not made a dent in their armor. They whispered to one another and passed notes during the lesson. They only came because there was nothing better to do. I was like the teacher left in charge of detention, and I was resented for it.
The resentment was one thing; their total lack of appreciation for the Lord was a different story. Each week, I played the same CD, hoping they would learn the lyrics and join me in praise and worship, but they didnít. They never sang. The words hit the hard, brick walls and shattered, falling flat upon their deaf ears. It broke my heart, and it made me cry.
The temptation to quit and never go back was a weekly battle, but these women had nobody else. Besides, I had given my word that I would be there on Thanksgiving, and I couldnít break it. The trip was made unwillingly, more to fulfill my duty and assuage my conscience, than out of any real hope of doing much good.
"Go ahead, Mrs. D.," Casey encouraged, "Read us the letter."
I prayed silently for strength to get through to the end, cleared my throat, and began to read:
"Dear Mrs. D,
You said you would be here tonight, even though it was Thanksgiving, and even though thatís hard to believe, we know that you always come when you say youíre coming.
Lots of preacher ladies come and see us, but youíre the only one who keeps coming back. Every week you come and read, and you play that song and thank your Lord for the cross, and you cry.
At first we didnít know why you were crying, but we think we know it now. Sometimes there ainít enough powerful words to say what youíre feeling, and you just got to cry.
You ainít never asked us what we did to get in here, you just love us anyway, and you tell us thatís what Jesus does. You donít know that some of the things we done were really bad. They were so bad, we were sure that God couldnít forgive us or love us again.
If you get this letter, itís because you showed up tonight and kept your word, and weíll know that we can trust you. Weíll know that you ainít just talking. So if you are reading this, we want to ask you to do us a favor. We want you to help us ask Jesus into our hearts.
The only thing we ever used to talk about was getting free from this place, but then you came and gave us hope, and now we talk about a different kind of freedom. You need to know that ainít none of us ever thought we would find our freedom in a jail cell.
Thank you, Mrs. D, for showing up and respecting us even if we donít deserve it. Your visits are all we have to look forward to every week, and we appreciate you so much. We love you.
Love, The Girls"
That was the night that I learned the true meaning of appreciation. It doesnít come in every store-bought card, and it isnít necessarily inside every smartly wrapped gift. Appreciation often comes from the least expected quarters, at the least expected times. It exists within the giver; it comes from a heart made tender by Jesus.
Ten women came to the Lord that night and asked Him into their hearts. They confessed their sins to Him, and thanked Him for the cross. Ten drug addicts and murderers were washed free of sin, and became daughters of The Most High God.
I cried again during praise and worship that night, but this time, it wasnít out of frustration or heartbreak: the women, it seems, knew all the right words, and they sang Ė like a chorus of angels, they sang.
Copyright 2004 Dori Knight
Dori Knight is a syndicated humor columnist and a freelance writer. She is a transplanted city girl, living in the rural southern countryside with her busy husband and active children. In her free time, she enjoys planning what she would do if she ever had any free time. Dori is the Editor of A Merry Heart and you can visit her on the web at www.doriknight.com
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