By Liz Milner
Over the four weeks of Advent, we are featuring writing by the inmates of the Santa Clara County jail. Chaplain Liz Milner, who has previously written for Journey with Jesus, works with both men and women inmates there. Over the past month, she and other volunteers have worked with the inmates in writing workshops, to reflect on themes of hope, waiting, and freedom. These are all issues that the inmates have a lot to say about, and a lot to teach us about. As Mary sings in the Magnificat, “he has lifted up the lowly.” This Advent we lift their words up to you, to illuminate and reflect on this beautiful season. Liz works for the non-profit www.cicministries.org that provides chaplaincy services in Santa Clara County, and can be reached at email@example.com.
Mark 13:28: “From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near.”
Psalm 80:19: “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.”
From Liz: Advent is a time of hope. Hope for something that is promised by God and anticipated, but not yet fully realized and present. During the first Advent, as Mary became aware of the growing life within her, hope grew literally and figuratively. God grew, unseen, yet present. Mary’s swelling pregnancy suggested that the hope was well-founded and that God would indeed come.
Today, we wait with hope once more for God to be fully revealed in our lives, our communities, and our world. We hope for what we do not have, trusting that God’s promises will come to full term, and be born kicking and screaming into our darkness.
This is precious and requires us to pay attention to the signs of hope around us, as Jesus taught in Mark in this week’s gospel.
The jails, places of darkness and fear, are brimming with hope in defiance of hopelessness. We worked with the inmates to write about that hope. The first step was to remember, acknowledge, and face where we have come from and where we are now. Then we looked ahead, with hope, to what we long for and what God has promised.
I invite you to listen to these words, from men and women who have lost almost everything, as they face their lives with courage, honesty, and hope. May the signs of summer stir hope and resilience in you this Advent.
I am hopeful that people forgive
And give chances to those whom they hold grudges to.
And I hope that the world can become a better place for us all.
I am hopeful that everyone can see each others’ unique ways
And learn from one another.
Last but not least think positively, for the fruits
of that thought will sprout and blossom.
I am from the front yard.
I am from gunshots, running from cops.
I am from a broken home.
I am from a weed plant smokes that if you hit it you would choke.
I am from BBQs that end in fights and cops come and someone goes to jail tonight.
I am from where the fear of God is not number one.
I am from soups and beans were what we had and if you cried you got slapped.
I am from drug task kicking in the door.
I am from gunshots at our house, cops coming, someone hit.
But that’s not the end of my story…
I am to a loving wife.
I am to showing my wife that I am worth her love.
I am to being better than I was.
I am to God’s loving hands.
I am to never hurting my family again and making up for what I have done.
I am to better days where people see people for people not color or race and gangs see people not red or blue.
I am to the best I can be, not and until I meet God.
I am from the dope stash hidden in my mom’s extra shoes.
I am from the empty fridge, the dope cooking on the stove.
I am from a drug-induced chaos, going from house to house.
I am from the pot plants in my step-dad’s closet,
that pungent smell that always made me sick.
I am from abuse and neglect, every man for himself
and only coming together when the sack’s empty.
I am from hiding it from the neighbors makes it okay.
I am from half-cooked spaghetti and crunchy mac-n- cheese.
I am from asking Daddy why Mama’s not moving.
I am from wondering if my teacher will see that bruise…
But that is not the end of my story…
I am to my engagement and knowing that I am okay now.
I am to looking past the dope pipe.
I am to telling my sisters that they don’t have to be scared anymore.
I am to putting everything off my back into God’s hands and stepping back.
I am to having a happy home
And everyone coming together as one soberly.
I am to believing that you don’t need drugs to be happy and okay/safe.
I am to being a strong, powerful woman… I show the world.
From Liz: Where are you from? Where are you heading?
As you journey through Advent with Jesus, be aware of how hope and hopelessness arise in you as you encounter stress, or difficult news and situations. How might the inmates’ words minister to you and give you hope?
IMAGE: The image this week was drawn by M, a woman in her 50s, incarcerated at the county jail. I asked her why this image symbolized hope for her. She has been through much in her life, and has experienced great suffering and loss. She said she loves the parable where Jesus describes the Kingdom of Heaven as a net that was thrown into the sea and caught many fish of every kind. She told me that if the net is going to have many fish of EVERY kind she thinks she will stand a chance of being in there! This gives her hope for heaven. Amen.
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