“Your book changed my life,” the female inmate said. “I’ve read it three times in the past two weeks. It’s the only thing that keeps me going in here.” Tears filled her eyes as I inscribed her copy.
I wanted to hug her, to tell her this is just a season, that it’s temporary, that this too shall pass. Instead, under the watchful eye of the correctional officer, I smiled and asked her about the scripture I had written in her book. “Do you know what Romans 8:28 says?” She shook her head.
“It says that God works all things out for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purposes. And that’s you. I inscribed this verse for you in my book. It’s my prayer over you, your family, and your life.”
It was my bold declaration of her worth, value, and purpose.
Tears streamed down her cheeks. She nodded and mouthed an emotional, “Thank you.”
Twenty other women stood behind her, waiting to get their copies signed. They were hungry for Jesus. I had just fed them the Bread of Life from God’s Word in our time together, and Jesus had come alive for them. I spoke the same truth to each of them, all the while being completely in awe of a Savior who would use a cracked vessel like me to declare His love, passion, and protection over this sea of brokenhearted women.
I remember all too well my own dark days. Like those women who stare at me through sunken eyes, I am familiar with times of suffering. Mine spanned 18 painful years. During my journey, I begged God to somehow use my agony to help others. I didn’t want my pain to be wasted; I prayed for Him to use it for good. And here in this county jail, He is doing just that.
My adventure began almost twenty years ago when my first marriage deteriorated to a very scary place. Desperate to repair my marriage, I tried everything from counseling to submission, but nothing worked. Things only got worse.
Ultimately, I endured a painful divorce, countless court trials, and grueling custody exchanges at the state police barracks. I traversed the gauntlet of single motherhood, carried the burden of being the sole provider, and made parenting decisions alone. And I resisted the guilt my enemy, Satan, piled on, always telling me I hadn’t done enough.
Before my trials, I thought I knew God. I thought I was good enough to get into heaven on my good works. I attended church each week, prayed every day, and did my best to keep the Ten Commandments. I wasn’t Mother Teresa, but I wasn’t Attila the Hun, either. My viewpoint changed drastically the day I met Jesus.
Someone suggested that I start reading the Word of God. I had no idea what that was until they told me it was the Bible. In all my years of going to church, I had never read it, but now I started. I was shocked at what I found—tales of deceit, adultery, agony, and murder! I had wrongly assumed the Bible was one long, run-on, “thou-shalt-not” sentence. Instead, it was full of stories of real people—some of whom made my life look like a cakewalk! It was comforting to know that everyone was a big, hot mess, just like me!
Everyone, that is, except Jesus.
I learned that God was more powerful than I’d ever imagined. One night, as I prayed for God to save my marriage, I had a vision of Jesus. He stood before me; His entire being emulated holiness. Nothing I had ever seen before came close to His purity and goodness. He is Glory, in the flesh.
My eyes moved upward to His face, and I became transfixed on the love shining from His eyes. My world stopped. In His presence, I saw how every cell of my body was tainted by sin. I understood for the first time the precious price He had paid for me on the cross. Suddenly, I knew all my good works were dirty rags compared to Jesus’s holiness. And I knew I could only access God by accepting Jesus’s sacrifice for my sins and entering into a personal relationship with Him.
A loud voice permeated my living room, “Do you accept My Son as your Savior?”
Stunned, I nodded and croaked out a soft, “Y–y–yes.”
In that moment, I surrendered my life to Jesus, and everything changed. I became a true Christian—a follower of Jesus Christ, not a mere observer. I started living for Him and not for the world or myself. The entire trajectory of my life changed.
I wanted to know more about my Savior. I found godly Christian women and pastors to mentor me and help me understand the scriptures. My trials didn’t disappear, but they became easier to bear. I now had hope in the form of Jesus Christ, and I clung to Him. God protected me and brought me through every trial.
As I moved through this process, God richly blessed me by bringing me a wonderful husband and ending my pain of single parenting, giving me a protector for our family, and a spiritual covering. My husband is my Boaz, my kinsman-
redeemer. (See Ruth 2–4.) This man—whom I didn’t even like at first—is my perfect mate and father to our family.
That’s not to say we don’t have difficult times, but we have God. He has helped us navigate the perils of a blended family, negative external influences, and infertility. He has purified our hearts and minds in the fires of working together and combining our lives as older singles—we married in our forties. The Lord has held us as we’ve walked through the grief of losing a child through miscarriage and another child who, as a teenager, decided not to live in our home any longer. God helps us come together in prayer so we can take our eyes off our circumstances and lift our gaze to Him.
We’ve basked in the glory of forgiveness. We’ve seen the fruit of colaboring for God’s kingdom. We’ve been given another child. Yes, God has restored what the locusts had eaten (Joel 2:25) and has answered our petitions abundantly beyond anything we could ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20).
Through every season of suffering, God has been there. As 2 Corinthians 1:4 says: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”
God hasn’t wasted one tear, one painful trial, or one battle in my life. Instead, He has used them to make me stronger in Him, an instrument of grace to comfort others. Who would’ve thought that He’d use my pain to minister to others, especially the incarcerated? Yet God has knit my heart with the afflicted to share His message of hope within the prison and jail systems.
Now, I want to encourage you.
God works all things out for good and for His glory. Whatever you’re going through right now—even if it’s the darkest, most faith-challenging, and isolated season of your life—you can remember, God is there! He will not leave you or forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). He will not abandon you, nor will He allow you journey through your pain alone.
Put your suffering on His altar and ask for His help. He will comfort you and give you the strength to take every next step.
You have access to a big God through the shed blood of Jesus Christ. Nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27). God makes all things new (Isaiah 43:18–19; Revelation 21:5; Isaiah 65:17). He can restore everything the enemy has taken from you and your family (Joel 2:25). And He does not waste anything—no matter how heinous.
If you haven’t already done so, now is the time to come to the God of comfort and share your pain. Tell Him you need Him. Confess your sins—He is faithful and just to forgive them, and He will cleanse you of all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).
Then, ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior. You’ll be amazed at how He will transform your hopeless situation into something amazing that provides hope and comfort to others.
You never know, God might have you start a ministry, an organization, or even write a book! I encourage you to “not despise these small beginnings” (Zechariah 4:10). Even in the hard times, when you feel like you’re living in a wasteland, remember that God is always at work. He is doing something you can’t see. Trust Him and remember “that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them” (Romans 8:28).
And that’s you!