Last week I had the very unique privilege of visiting the birth mom of our most recent foster baby at the OC women’s correctional facility.
It was an experience I’ll never forget because of the sights and sounds, but really because of one moment in particular…
I was sitting at one of the visitation windows (with the concrete stool and phone-just like the movies) with my back to the glass looking at the view.
It was a very small box of an outdoor gated yard. I don’t think it’s used for anything (though it has the look of a prison yard break area), because although there is a high-rising gate, there is no doorway to enter from the building into the yard.
Stretching high above this outdoor area you can get a view of the face of the correctional facility. It’s a grey, non-descript, concrete, dreary looking facade with only slits of what must be windows cut at various places into the concrete… I am assuming these upper corridors are were the inmates are actually housed.
A place with no windows and no doors… a concrete mass as tough and hard as rock itself… from this vantage point you get the feeling like the building can’t breath…
Well imagine the people housed within it.
And that was my epiphany in this moment-sitting there with my back to the visitation window:
this place is the physical manifestation of no freedom.
For most people reading this you probably think, ‘duh there’s no freedom… it’s a prison… that’s the definition and essence of a prison…’
You may even be thinking: ‘architectural success!’ (If you’re particularly out of touch with humanity), but I assure you in that moment all the freedoms and privileges that I have been granted were suddenly thrust into penetrating pellucidity.
The week prior my wife had made the visit and came back shook to her core.
For starters, she had no idea what to expect… from parking to paperwork to grumpy prison guards, dirty, worn and cold passageways all the way down to the moment that she would meet our little foster baby’s momma.
The woman, for starters, was white. (Our foster baby is black). And from there, a list of subtle facial features and personality traits that spoke to the very hard worn path this woman must have walked. That we know she’s walked-from her own admission, court filings and the testimonies of social workers, etc.
The experience was harsh. And it’s safe to say that after a very trying couple of days already for Rylee (sick kids, sick herself, massive scheduling conflict with her husband) it was the straw that broke the camels back.
And my wife is one tough cookie mind you… she’s the same one that, while in college, did a home stay with an, I’ll say “complex,” family in Compton (while she lived in LA for a whole semester).
If that weren’t enough training and exposure to the context of how others live, she spent another stint living alone in Uganda where she spent her days tucked in crammed vans, riding on the back of motorcycles with foreign men and going to the bathroom in a whole in the ground (literally).
The prison and the people had rattled her.
Whatever Rylee’s expectation was, I had enough data points to go on for my visit the following week.
And not only that, but during the past 3 years a combination of working in our particular neighborhood of Costa Mesa while being a large church facility, has drawn in a very wide array of people from the street.
Some addicts, some mentally ill, some just merely transient. Over the years I’ve sat with them and prayed, sat with them and tried to find local services, sat with them and said, ‘no, sorry we can’t give you any money.’
But more than that, sitting with all those people I have this collection of faces-toothless and scarred and dirty and worn that have probably given me a unique insight into this mostly unseen community of people.
These folks… they’re not free. Not any more or any less than baby’s momma who’s locked up isn’t free.
Here’s my point: freedom is given and it is chosen. How we use the freedom we are given determines the future boundaries of that freedom. It can run unfettered or it can be restrained to a drop. It’s all a matter of how we invest the freedom we’ve been given.
And of course I would argue-using a Biblical worldview-that all freedom comes from God. The closer we are to him and the closer we pursue His suggested way of life-the closer we are to the purest form of freedom imaginable.
But most of us, not just these folks listed above in the more extreme examples, like to fiddle around and throw away our God-given freedoms.
Here are some ways I think we toss our freedom to the wind and some things that all leaders must be aware of in their own self-leadership:
- We are free to chose our identities and yet they somehow are never fully committed. While we are not free to chose our race, gender or ethnicity we are totally free to chose the core convictions that form our life legacy. All leaders who wish to lead themselves well must understand that those 3 (race, gender, ethnicity) are only the foundation for everything else to build on.
- We are free to chose the way we exercise our calling and yet most of us never really pick up our gifts and use them. How many of you even now-reading this post-resent 40 hours a day/5 days a week? Is that a joke?! Do you know what that amounts to over years, let alone a whole lifetime?!
- We are free to channel our time, talent and treasure for the good of others yet most of us seldom ever do. Whether it’s allowing our finances to flounder into eventual garage stockpiles, endless goodwill clothes runs or even eating out 20/30 days in the month… whether it’s sharpening our God-given talent into weapons for world change… or whether it’s the ultimate irreplaceable commodity-our time. Turning all of these things into overflow so we can radically bless people outside ourselves seems to never make it onto the table.
- We are free to build a family around a radical vision (much bigger and more complicated than to ‘ensure our species goes on’) yet most of us are content to let our kids grow up on the ‘non plan plan’
- We are free to pray for and visit those who are sick, naked, hungry or imprisoned and yet we will go our whole lives before lifting one single finger.
The ball is in your court. What freedoms are currently being wasted in your life… or at least strongly under-invested? I would love to hear about your honest processing in this!