Annie's first Christmas morning was spent in a motel on the side of the highway after Ryan and I got stranded in an ice storm. Of course no mother really wants their baby girl to end up in a motel on their very first Christmas morning- but most people would relish a story as good as that Christmas eve. By the end of the day we had traveled from Albuquerque, New Mexico to Dallas; driven several hours through mostly closed highways to get a mere 50 miles away; ended up stranded in an ice storm on a back road where a man appeared out of no where and frantically beat on our car window in the dark and asked if his girlfriend and newborn baby could sit in our car because they had run out of gas and were freezing; and we ended up with three extra people in our car, two babies under the age of one, sliding through ice trying to find our way to a motel.
The Christmas miracle was that the couple had no money and no cell service. I assume people passed them on that dark road, but no one stopped. Had we not gotten stuck, and we were driving by, I wouldn't have stopped either. If you stop, you might not start again. And it's Christmas eve. And it's freezing. When we told them we were turning around to go find a place to stay, they declined the offer to come with us because they couldn't pay for a room.
I called my mother-in-law who posted the story on Facebook and by the time we found the motel, two rooms were already paid for.
That was a good Christmas miracle.
But this year's might be better...
On the second to last night of my little Christmas tour, I played at a federal prison. It was my first time to play for inmates, and about an hour before the show started, I could feel myself getting nervous.
Let's be honest, I am just a middle-class-white girl from the suburbs of an affluent Bible-belt town, what could I possibly have to offer female prison inmates? I started sweating. And all the little voices of doubt berated me.
"They are going to hate you. They don't care. They are only going to come to get out of their cells or away from their duties. They are going to be evil and mean and they will glare at you all night and try to murder you with their eyeballs."
You know. Typical thoughts.
Worse than the actual fear of rejection or fear of being eyeball murdered, I started wondering if I had anything to offer them. Sure. I had hope and Jesus and the Bible and all that... but is that enough for a room full of women who don't know their babies and have been left by their boyfriends and who have spent two, three, five, ten years in a place with no freedom? I mean, does Jesus work for people in prison?
Now, not only was I scared of the prisoners but I was honestly wondering if the gospel had the power to do what it says it can do... wondering if Jesus would show up or if I had made Jesus up?
(I have said it before and will say it again: God must have a special place for doubters, cynics, and skeptics. A special little place in his heart for me- the girl who just can't get my mind wrapped around it all and can't ask enough questions and seems to doubt even in the light of unwavering truth and evidence and presence. "Prone to wander, Lord I feel it...")
All that to say. I was scared. Nervous and scared and feeling completely inadequate. As I waited for the ladies to arrive, I started wondering, what will they be like? I mean, what do they look like? Do they look mean or sick or happy or mad or hollow? I know it sounds like a silly question, but I had this desire to know what kind of faces I would be looking into. What kind of eyes?
Murdering or non-murdering eyeballs?!?
Well- turns out it was the minimal security side of the prison and the ladies walked in looking like gym class. They all had cute grey sweats on, and while there were some who staggered in alone, the ladies actually seemed to come in together, as friends. As if they were just roommates at camp coming to a late night gathering.
The room filled with chatter and laughter and conversation. And the eyeballs were far from murderous. They were happy. Filled with a sense of excitement and relief. I noticed some of the ladies crying, literally, from the moment they sat down. You could tell some of them just needed a reason to be allowed to cry and grieve- but sometimes we all need permission to just grieve, don't we? But for the most part, the room seemed to buzz with energy, with something like joy or oddly enough... freedom.
I began to unclench my muscles and tried real hard to stop sweating. I wasn't facing the ladies. I had my back to them and was being told that we would wait another five minutes or so for another group to come in after they received their mail.
Ok. Five more minutes and then we can start and then we can be well on our way to finishing.
And finishing (without crying or freezing and drawing a blank or, you know, without being eyeball murdered) was my goal.
I turned around and it happened so quickly that I can't for the life of me remember exactly how it happened except that I remember,
"OH. MY. GOSH. JENNY. You're Addison Road?"
and I remember the shock in her face
and I remember trying not to look shocked in return
"OH. MY. GOSH. You're in prison?" the thought ran through my head a million times.
and I remember wondering if it was ok for me to go and throw my arms around her and give her the biggest hug I had given in years
and I remember wondering how I could possibly stop crying after the tears instantly started rolling down my cheeks
and I remember wondering what in the world would have led me to think of prisoners as monsters or people that might eyeball murder me
and I remember her sweet face
Glowing. Lighting up. Both of us so shocked. Both of us so happy. Both of us realizing that God had done what only God can do.
A Christmas Miracle.
That I ended up- out of all the shows in the country, heck, all the prisons in the country- getting to put on a concert at the very prison a long-lost high school cheerleading buddy of mine was recently transferred to, will remain a divine mystery to me. A divine gift.
She had no idea I was "Addison Road" and I had no idea she was in prison- much less this prison.
I did run to her. And wrapped my arms around her and we both just cried and cried and cried. And laughed. And I touched her hair. I remember that. Touching the back of her little head and then saying, "What the h*ll are you doing in here girl?!?!" And we both laughed. "I CANNOT believe you are addison road. I CANNOT believe the song that has walked me through the past few years is Hope Now. I cannot believe you are here!!!"
We talked and caught up like long lost friends do.
The show started, and two songs in, me and the inmates were singing a Bruno Mars cover song and Jingle Bells. By the end of the night, there wasn't a dry eye in the room. Start to finish, I felt like it was just me and some girlfriends (and a few prison wardens with guns- still, the nicest wardens I've ever met!) who really needed a night away to worship and be honest and be filled back up with hope and love and have our hearts and souls prepared for Christmas.
Prepared to encounter Emmanuel, God With Us.
When I got home, I went straight to my friend's blog which her sister updates from prison.
I found it ironic. Her most recent blog entry was asking people to be in prayer for her cell-mate who is difficult to live with and is requiring much love.
At the end of the night her roommate waited for all the other inmates to leave and asked if she could talk to me. She wasnt going to come to the concert but she promised a friend and felt bad going back on her word. She said she believes in God. She's also a lesbian- and she doesn't know if those contradict each other- but that seems to be the only thing the Christians around her ever care about and that confuses her. But she also feels like if there is a God, he has left her and she is all alone. Her dad is serving life in prison. Her mom, nearly life in prison. Her husband is in prison too. And her two daughters, one of whom she had days before entering prison- are being raised by family somewhere- and they don't know she exists. She said she has felt like there is no good left in this world and she is deathly afraid of getting out of prison in August. "I have no one. I have no hope."
"But when I saw you run up to Randi and hug her and smile so big and I saw Randy just crying and I knew how badly she had been praying against loneliness and having faith that God would bless her and take care of her- and I saw how much love y'all had for each other, I just knew right then, that God was real. That God could do stuff like that. And I just started believing. You know?" tears running down her face, "I just wanted to say thank you for being so nice to my roommate. I wanted you to know that the concert touched me, but seeing y'all run over to each other and just hug so much and cry and love each other, it just really, really touched me. It made me believe again."
As I sit here recounting what happened six days ago- my heart is full. The only way to describe this Christmas miracle is just by saying it was so, so, so sweet.
When I think about Randi- I don't think Randi the drug dealer. And I said this at the concert that night too. I think about Randi the girl with the beautiful voice who always sang on bus rides and in locker rooms and at FCA worship times. Just sang and didn't care what people thought. I think about Randi, the girl that volunteered with the special needs kids with me, the girl who would chase one of our special needs kids through the cafeteria to help him pull his pants up as they fell off. The girl who would walk them to the bathroom, tie shoe laces, and always be helping the students cook something new in the kitchen. I think of the bubbly girl full of life, compassion, joy and humor.
Seeing her in prison and reading her stories from prison on her blog- I know she is the same girl- with some bad mistakes behind her- but still singing loud for everyone to hear. Still loving the unlovables. Still hanging on to faith that God redeems and that this world is full of joy.
And I am inspired.
I stand in awe at this special gift that God gave me tonight. I couldn’t ask for a better Christmas present (other than to be home of course.) But being that I am here – God truly showed up tonight! Just like He’s been doing so much lately. I always wondered what it would have been like to go to my 10 year high school reunion. And I think that it would have been just like it was to see Jenny tonight! Smiles – tears – hugs – and God’s Presence!
It was beautiful. And I am grateful.
To read about Randi's story and her amazing sister who is helping her blog about her experience, please visit: randisreality.com
To help artists like myself perform free shows in prisons across the country, please consider making a financial donation to the organization behind it all: HopeShows