For those teachers, pastors, counselors and others who are involved in prison ministry one thing is made abundantly clear the moment one steps into the building; you can't take anything with you; no wallet, no cell phone, no books (except in cases when special permission is given); YOU ARE THE GIFT.
And for the past thirty years Marian has been helping people who have ended up in the Tioga County Prison by blessing them with the gift of her presence, personality, and faith in God. Her goal is to help others come to know God and set a better trajectory for their life going forward.
My chance encounter with Marian today was one of those "God moments;" a moment of blessing that I had not anticipated. Just as I was leaving the prison she had arrived for a program that she leads for the inmates each week. I'm so glad that we didn't just walk right by each other and that I had an opportunity to hear her story.
Marian and I talked about what it meant to live the best life; to live a life grounded in relation with God and given in love and service to others. We talked about how the example of Jesus has been the driving force behind our common desire to work to better the lives of others. We shared our own brokenness with each other and took time to pray together.
I could sense in Marian a very profound passion for prison ministry and so I asked her, "What motivates you to give yourself in love and service to inmates?"
"It could have been me," said Marian. When she was young and people close to her were making the kind of bad choices that might land someone in prison she felt that she too was at risk. Anyone who spends five minutes talking with someone who has spent time in jail should be quick to notice that one bad decision is all that it takes to end up there. How many of us, if we haven't done something that could have sent us to jail haven't at least thought about a corner we might cut or a sketchy way we might cope with the pressures of life?
Marian has said that her 30 years of prison ministry have given her an increased sense of hope for people; that while it is in the minority of cases she is occasionally greeted in public by people who she has worked with in prison; people who at one time habitually made choices that hurt themselves and others but now live lives that are rooted in relationship with God and given in love and service to others.
Marian, thank you for being God's gift to those in prison who want to live a better life. Thank you for your story that helps the rest of us to develop and increased sense of hope for our own lives and for the lives of others. Thank you for allowing God to work through you, inspiring us to follow the example of Jesus, to give ourselves for others.