My life has never been fair.
I realize this Sunday morning, sitting on the strange chairs at the Rusk County Jail. Strange because they are wide and blue and have no legs, only a curve like a giant L. My sister and I sit across a table from two ladies in bright orange suits. We are locked into a small room, surrounded by pale block walls, no windows, no sun. That would be the worst part of jail: no sun. That and the cameras that watch every movement you make, even your times on the bare metal toilet. Maybe the toilet would be the worst part.
These women–I don’t suppose anyone can look really classy in baggy, neon-orange sweatshirts and pants. But their faces are open and soft. Not like the hardened faces I half expected when Kathy and I first talked about doing Bible studies at the jail.
I have rarely met any two people who are so open to God, so hungry for him.
*Daphne has her Bible with her, the one we gave her last week when we came with Chaplain Elaine. This week is the first Kathy and I have been here on our own, and we are glad to have Daphne, so eager and involved, to break us in. She has underlined verses in her new Bible already, from John 3. “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
She explains the plan of salvation to *Chloe, the other woman, in simple, clear terms easy to understand and spoken from the bedrock of experience. When I try to go in-depth and explain it better, I stumble and falter, not knowing how to put something I’ve known all my life–something so basic and broad, like water or sunlight–into words.
But Daphne knows. She has been there.
“I was on meth,” she tells us. “And I sold meth. Not anymore. My mom messed up her life; she committed suicide. I don’t want that for my life.”
Daphne is the one who was there for Chloe, told her about Jesus, brought her to Sunday morning Bible study.
“I think you must be my guardian angel,” Chloe says.
Chloe, whose face is so young, vulnerable–she can’t be twenty yet.
She cries because she doesn’t know where she will go after jail or if her landlord will still let her into the house, cries because her boyfriend hasn’t always been good for her but she still loves him. I think Chloe has few people in the world who care about her. Her dad is abusive; others in her life have abused her as well.
We tell her God loves her, loves us all. “Why?” she says.
Because He created us; we are his children.
And her face lights up and she nods, leftover tears on her eyelashes. “That makes sense.”
She wants to ask Jesus into her heart, wants forgiveness, wants to be baptized, wants to change. I have never met someone so eager to change, so READY for it. Most of us change only in the midst of screaming and dragging and kicking our feet, insisting any bad is not our fault; proclaiming our own goodness as loud as we can.
Chloe is not like that. She is at the end of herself with no answers left: only heart and questions and a desire for something better.
“My landlords invited me to church, but I told them I’m not really a religious person,” she says.
Jesus isn’t about religion, we tell her, and she nods, knowing this already. “He’s like having a best friend,” she says.
She KNOWS. She knows.
And I think, Oh Jesus, this is why I love you, why I thank you a million times. Because you are not a religion, not cold tradition or rules. You are a best friend.
I compare my own life to Daphne’s and Chloe’s and know that it is wildly unfair. I am surrounded by family and friends who support me through every tiny trial. I have never been abused, never known drugs, barely had a cross word spoken to me in my life.
“Your family is unusual,” my friends have told me. “Your family is rare.”
“I would give anything to have a dad that loved me like that,” a friend said to me once. “You could just tell by the way he talked, he would do anything for his children. He really cares about you.”
Because of this unfairness of my life, I feel great responsibility. I have choices to make. Out of all my bounty, what can I give? What am I willing to give, or will I only be selfish, locking my riches into a cupboard and sifting my fingers through them now and then, gloating?
I tell Chloe a little bit about my dad. Tell her that when he was a young teenager, he was rebellious and into all kinds of bad stuff. He beat up his mom and ended up being sent to foster homes, even though he had parents who loved him. But then he came to the end of himself and gave his life to God, and God changed him. Today he has a family and a happy life. God can do that for you, too, I tell her.
Thinking about my dad now, I know that my life is unfair because at that point in his past he made a decision for God.
And my life isn’t fair because my grandma prayed for my dad and had faith that God could change him. And my life isn’t fair because someone before my Grandma’s time led her to the Lord, and someone before that led that person to the Lord, and all the way back through time in a long line that leads to Christ.
Maybe fifty or a hundred years from now, there will be someone–a young woman, maybe, who looks like Chloe–saying, “My life is unfair because of the decision my grandma made in a jail long ago, and the life she led that followed it.”
Maybe, somewhere, there will be someone else who says, “My life is unfair because of a woman named Luci who cared.”
We cannot see into the future. We can only learn from the past.
*Names changed to protect privacy.