When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled. “Where have you put him?” he asked them. They told him, “Lord, come and see.” Then Jesus wept. (John 11:33-35 NLT)
On June 11, 2013, I traveled with our Children of Inmates (COI) team to Lowell Correctional Facility with a group of 90 children and their caregivers. We needed two coach busses to transport all of us and our supplies. Lowell Correctional Facility, located in Ocala, Florida, is one of our nation’s largest correctional facilities for women. Lowell is also the first prison we visited with the COI program five years ago. Once every quarter for the last five years, children with an incarcerated mom at Lowell have gotten on the bus with our team at 5:45 am for the five hour drive to Ocala.
Before the trip, we spend time preparing the kids and their families: what to wear, what to bring, what not to bring, and what time to arrive. We also spend time talking to the caregivers about the emotions and/or behaviors the kids might exhibit after the visit. We prepare the meals, the snack bags, the craft project, and the toys. But on this trip, I realized that we don’t spend enough time preparing ourselves. I found myself unprepared for the grief and sadness I would experience this time.
During the visit, I spent the majority of my time talking with one of the incarcerated moms. For the last five years, she’s talked to me about going home. Now, she is only nine months away from her release date. I had expected her to be excited to leave. Instead, she expressed her anxieties about going home, her current health problems, and her fears of not being able to support herself. As I sat with her and listened, I recognized that in many ways she was correct. Coming home to the community was going to be filled with tough transitions that she would have to work through. There was nothing I could say to make it better. So, I sat with her and listened. I assured her that we would be there to support her through the transitions. I felt grief and sadness wash over me.
On the drive home, Germain, Shellie, and I debriefed over dinner. We shared our day’s experiences with the inmates and the families. All three of us felt overwhelmed with sadness. There were no easy solutions for the life situations our COI families were facing. Their suffering was real.
A few days later, I was reminded that Jesus experienced the pain of human suffering. He did not shy away from it. In fact, He spent a lot of His time with people who were suffering. He shared His earthly life with them. When He stood at the tomb of His friend Lazarus, He wept. His answer to human suffering was to take all of our grief and suffering to the cross.
But for me, I am still learning how to be with those who suffer: to listen with a non-judgmental ear, to maintain my own hope in the future, and to encourage them to find hope-filled solutions.
What are your experiences sharing in the suffering of others? How have you learned to manage your emotions?
I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, (Philippians 3:10 NIV)
(I took the photo of the white orchid at Flamingo Gardens on June 15, 2013 and the photos of our COI trip on June 11, 2013.)
“Write what should not be forgotten.” ~ Isabel Allende