Donna again contributes to our blog. I asked her the following questions: “How did you come to know Christ?” or “How do you hang on to Christ while in prison?”
I recently attended the Kairos Walk. It’s a spiritual awakening or what I like to call Woodstock for Jesus. We had several sharing groups – a time of eating, discussions, and prayers. We participated in worship services, lectures and presentations. I feel revived in my spirit since the experience. I liken it to the occasion in which David brought the Ark of the Covenant back to Jerusalem. God’s presence with him, David danced and worshipped himself naked. We were free to bear our thoughts, cares and fears before God and his people. It is a wonderful experience.
1) How did you come to know Christ?
I love nature, and I believe my love of plants, reptiles, and some small insects were my earliest knowledge of God. The simple joy and love of Christ has always been timed into those simple pleasures.
As a small child, I attended St. Phillips Lutheran Church with my father, mother and siblings. I attended Sunday school and was confirmed a Lutheran through catechism at eleven or the spring I turned twelve. Each Sunday, certain scriptural readings were included in the lay/congregational readings. I recalled the doxology “May the Lord bless and keep you. Until we meet again, may His face shine upon you and give you His peace.” and “Create in me a clean heart oh God and renew a right spirit in me.” I believe Psalm 51:10 was done in preparation for receiving the sermon. I’m unsure for as a child “Sunday school-Sunday and Monday school-Monday was a societal ritual.
My mother was diagnosed a schizophrenic prior to my birth. Over the years she refused medications and in the years to follow, a mentally ill person could refuse hospital confinement. The things I witnessed caused me to doubt the mystical Jesus I once believed heard my cries because I was a kid. As doubt turned to secretly denying the existence of God, I lost the ability to cry, show empathy, or sympathy. In the scriptures Eve ate the fruit and knew “good and evil.” My mom’s disease gave me knowledge of good and evil.
Initially, it’s a passive rejection of God. At age 27 I took my first drink and smoked a cigar. I began redefining my sexuality. Professionally I experienced pseudo success on the world’s stage yet spiritually I was an abyss.
In 1992, my mom died. I was angry. God should have healed her before she died, was my thought. God had deprived me of a mother’s love and care and gave the dysfunction of marginalized people. I smoked cocaine with a cousin still living in poverty, on the night before my mother’s funeral. What was once social drinking became an everyday occurrence. Most times I’d pass out thinking about how much my mom never had, places she had desired to visit yet never did. I would wake angry.
In 1997, the anger imploded. While suicide did not come to fruition, homicide did. Stronger my desire was to harm myself, and yet I took a woman’s life I had only met twice prior to her murder.
I hated myself, I wished I had never been born… I hated God more. I never knew why He allowed the woman to die and me to live. My drinking and drugging had made me an enemy to my friends and family. I deserved their loathing.
Two days after the murder, I was in the county jail. I was afraid and feared. It was the most confusing time of my life. After my conviction I was placed in segregation. I was scheduled 23 hours in my cell and 1 hour out. I rarely got out. My outings were just another way to torture me. I’d be allowed out and 15 minutes later was returned to my cell. Strangely, my soul had known this before going to jail. The torture was so familiar to my soul that I felt at home.
While in segregation, another offender was housed there with all the liberty of offenders in general population. Her name was Juanita, and she began coming to my door asking the officer if she could be allowed to read me scripture. On her first visit with the ‘pie hole’ in the door she asked my permission. I informed her I lacked interest in God and other people… she was not deterred. My language became more abusive as daily she’d read the KJV of the Bible. One day after six weeks or so I made Juanita a promise: “The officers will slip up one day and open my cell and on that day I would shred her Bible as I stuffed it places too difficult to find on her body.” It was on this day as I plugged fingers in my ears and “la la’d” my way to sleep that I heard “Create in me a clean heart oh God and renew a right spirit within me.” I was infuriated. I threw a cup of water out the ‘pie hole.’ She closed the flap and continued to read – each day that followed for about a week. Then it happened. My door was open so that I could shower. I made a bee line for her door as soon as the officer secured the unit. She sat on her mat reading the Bible, her door wide open. I tried to get to her but couldn’t. I wasn’t afraid. I had kicked down solid wood and steel doors, yet I couldn’t walk through her open door. She turned her face to me and said “God knows you’re angry. He wants you to give Him your anger and stop hurting His creations. God desires to create a clean heart in you.” My tears began to flow, tears that were decades locked away. Psalm 51:10 became a prayer for me daily. Juanita continued to read me scripture until I received a Bible of my own.
After my experience in the county jail, I continued to have reservations. I could believe and trust God for some things but not with all of me. I didn’t know how I could receive a ‘clean heart’ but I longed for it. I continued to read the Bible, attend Church and seek answers for my life. I was once in attendance at a service where Jesus’ crucifixion was being taught. The minister said “we deserved death and Jesus paid our penalty.” I was told I would die for my crime of murder. Yet I sat in a chair in the prison’s chapel. Jesus did that for me. I was baptized after that service. I believe in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus lived and died so I could live. I live expecting His return.
I’ve had two heart attacks and several serious illnesses while in prison. The TPPW policy of “adequate medical care” has not kept me – Jesus has.
2) How do you hang on to Christ while in prison?
Through prayer, Bible studies, worship and fellowship I am connected to the body. I identify Jesus in others, and in our circumstances. I believe love and discipline are God’s to give. This aids me in forgiving myself and others.
The means that I began to believe Christ as a child through nature is how I am assured that Jesus lives. Each day there are birds, rabbits and nesting insects here. My favorite reptiles are amphibians – frogs to be exact – and God has supplied ample frogs here. I choose to believe He does so because He loves me.
God has placed wonderful followers of Christ Jesus in my life. I am restored as a member of the body of Christ. Those I’ve met through DLH are God’s hands and feet carrying out the service of love.
To read more about Donna, check out her first post with Selah: Donna’s Story