the lowest place

Christmas came early for me last night, and my heart is completely need for further celebration though there are still gifts to be exchanged and family gatherings to be enjoyed! For four years, I have travelled to Bellamy Creek Correctional Facility to celebrate the season with men who will not be going home this Christmas. When people hear that I do prison ministry, they often thank me for the 'sacrifice' I am making. What might be hard to understand is that prison ministry is one of the most fulfilling things I get to do!

My audience is dressed in prison-issue blue and orange with look-alike black plastic oxfords. Some faces show pain, grief, anger, and despair while others are stone-cold, protecting the pain within.  I scan the room as I sing, searching for eyes to connect with and hearts to love. Some look at me, some do not, but I love them anyway. I love them all. I don't have to know what they have done. My job is not to judge - just to let Jesus love them through me. And He does! As the music plays, hearts soften, and tears begin to flow. Eyes close and mouths move with mine as we sing familiar carols. Some smile, and I weep as their voices grow louder than mine.  

"Long lay the world in sin and error pining 'til He appeared and the soul felt its worth..."

Then I speak, sharing the story of how God appeared in my life in such a radical way about 15 years ago. After a simple prayer, the Lord opened doors for me leading me from a dark and desolate place where I thought I had failed God into the land of my destiny. I spoke about Bethlehem and the manger....not the Hallmark Christmas card scene but rather the reality of a dark, cold, and dirty cattle stall that reeked of animal urine. How could God be born in such a place? Actually, how could He be born in any other place? His glory only comes in the humble places. His love can only be received by the humble-hearted. God delights in bringing HIs light into darkness and transforming stables into throne rooms. This is the story of Christmas - the possibility of God's ridiculous, miraculous love that can take what is dirty and turn it into something glorious. 

As I share, stoney faces have melted, and tired eyes glisten with a spark of childlike faith. "Let's pray together", I offer, and heads bow, eager to receive. One final song, and all are on their feet. We share a moment of joy and connection as they line up like kindergarteners hoping to shake my hand. No hugs are allowed, so the touch of a hand becomes precious. How I cherish the touch of each hand, knowing that God within me is touching them. Or perhaps God within them is touching me? I have no idea what the Lord will do in each man's life, but I do know that we all have had the possibility of an encounter with God and with it, the possibility of a miracle. 

What more could I ask for for Christmas? I have already been to Bethlehem!  My heart is glowing, and I can't wait to go back.