I need for people like you to show you are not ashamed to be seen with people like me.
That is what she said when I asked her what she needed. She is a woman who has been incarcerated. She has served her time. She does not run in my circles. She does not have access to the same privileges I do. She wants a better life, and more than anything else, she says she needs for people like me to help lift the blanket of shame that covers women like her. I can do that first and foremost by standing beside her. To do that, I will need to seek her out. People like me don’t mix with people like her. She doesn’t live in my neighborhood. She doesn’t go to my church. She doesn’t work where I work. She doesn’t shop where I shop. I don’t know her. I am afraid. As a follower of Christ, this cannot be. Jesus went out of his way to find the marginalized, the feared, and the lonely, restoring them to hope and to community through words and actions.
We need jobs.
That is what she said when I asked her what women coming out of incarceration need. If I can’t hire her, I can help her with a job search. I can sit with her and practice interviewing skills. I can help her write a resume. I can help her brainstorm. I can introduce her to someone who could hire her. I can believe the best in her and for her. What does that cost me? A few hours of my time. An ounce of my hope. A pound of my courage. A small price to pay to turn belief into action. Action fuels faith, faith fuels action. Next thing we know we are all heading someplace new.
We need to learn how to talk without cussing.
She said this and I laughed. I was surprised. It had not occurred to me that she would voice this need. She knows she needs to let go of the language of the streets and the jails in order to access new work. She cannot let go of these words without something to take their place. She needs a conversation partner. She is giving me permission to give her feedback. She wants practice. Every time we talk, every time I listen, I see we are not so very different, me and her. We both use language that doesn’t express what we truly want and need when we are afraid.
Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.
These were among his final words to his disciples. Jesus told them they were to continue to live into the full story of God’s love in this world. This story is our inheritance, and it proclaims redemption, time and time again. Old things will be made new. Lost ones will be found. God’s mercy is without limits, borders, or boundaries. We are not meant to keep this inheritance to ourselves. We are to spend it on others as lavishly as Jesus did.