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“Three Things I Learned in Prison”

I’ve learned a lot from my time behind bars. No, not as an inmate…as a volunteer. For the past three years, I’ve worked with VIPS (Volunteers in the Prison System). Our team is composed of ladies from several Houston area Churches of Christ. We teach classes at Plane State Jail in Dayton, Texas on everything from recovery to character.

The prisioners aren’t the only ones who benefit from our interaction. I’ve learned some valuable lessons, as well. I’d like to share a few of them with you.

1. God gives second chances.

I’ve witnessed inmates, who were formerly enemies to themselves, their families, and society, give up long-standing, harmful habits and lifestyles to follow Christ. They are proof that as long as blood is running through our veins and we are in our right minds, we can follow Paul’s example—“…forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before. I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13,14 ASV)

2. God will bring us to our knees.

Many of the inmates at Plane State are repeat offenders. They’ve had numerous opportunities to change their lives, yet have persisted in their old ways. Before transformation can take place, the hardened criminal often has to hit rock bottom. And not just rock bottom, completely bottomed out—upside down, topsy-turvy.

Inmates share stories of losing their husbands, health, homes, jobs, and even their children. We’ve prayed with ladies who’ve have had their custody rights temporarily, and in some cases permanently relinquished by the state.

How much does one have to lose before they give up a life of sin?

This question brings to mind a game my friends and I played as kids. One of us would bend the other’s thumb back until they cried, “Uncle!” The challenge was seeing if you could handle the pain without submitting to the command. It never worked for me. I said, “Uncle!” as soon as my thumb went backwards. But other kids could endure the pain until their thumb turned shades of red and then white.

Just like in the game of “Uncle,” some of us have really high pain tolerances and it takes a lot to get our attention. Rock bottom for one is not necessarily rock bottom for another. Because God loves us, He does what’s necessary to save our souls. This includes, giving us a ticket to the deepest recesses of agony, where our soul cries desperately for Him.

I can’t imagine being brought lower than a Texas prison cell with no heat in the winter and no AC in the summer.

My prayer is that my stubbornness will never require God to bring me to my knees.

3. God gave us resilient spirits.

Beyonce sings, “I’m a survivor. I’m not gon’ give up, I’m not gon’ stop. I’m gon’ work harder. I’m a survivor. I’m gonna make it.”

I’ve met some real survivors in prison. Women who’ve battled major obstacles since birth: poverty, single parent homes, drug and crime infested neighborhoods, inferior schools, and parents incarcerated. They’ve been molested, abused, and trafficked for someone’s perverse pleasure. As a result, they’ve spent their lives searching for love, moving from one destructive relationship to the next.

These inmates were left empty, hungry, barely hanging on, yet not destroyed. They survived because God gives each of us the ability to rebound no matter how difficult things are. No matter how low we’ve traveled, God can remake us into his daughters or sons as Paul mentions in II Corinthians, 5:17, “Wherefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature: the old things are passed away; behold, they are become new.”

The Lord will bring us back to life, if we let Him, and He can do it anywhere, even from behind prison walls.

Copyright 2011 by Dwan Reed. All rights reserved.

A Spice Rack of Coping Skills

During my first year of marriage, I accidentally set the stove on fire. I didn’t realize that wet fish and boiling grease don’t mix. Although I still don’t have the Mind of a Chef, I no longer burn vittles. I have progressed from the early years of seasoning my chicken with only salt and pepper to using a variety of spices such as garlic parmesan seasoning, onion powder, poultry seasoning, Cajun spices… My dishes have gone from simple edibility to savory, flavorful, and downright interesting fare.

I’ve learned over the years that spices are very important to a good cook. In the same way that special seasonings create a variety of flavors, a repertoire of coping skills provides a variety of ways to approach the obstacles of life. As a therapist, I often meet clients who have only two or three methods to deal with anger, depression, shame… Their coping skills usually consist of (1) go smoke a cigarette, (2) cry, or (3) call a friend. There is nothing wrong with crying or calling a friend, but we need more in our spice rack than that. Just like it takes more than salt and pepper to season brisket, most of us need more than a few coping skills to deal with life, effectively.

Over the years, my clients and I have brainstormed lists of coping skills that help in dealing with difficult feelings and life stressors. Below are some of the ideas generated. I hope you find these helpful. Feel free to pass them on.

Read Bible
Deep breathing
Attend a support group
Take up a hobby
Make something
Eat a healthy snack
Look outside
Watch a funny movie
Read a book
Listen to music
Go for a walk
Go for a drive
Visualize a calm place
Hug self
Large movements
Talk to a friend
Warm bath
Take a trip
Get your nails done
Spend time with animals

Children and Coronavirus

Helping your Child through the Coronavirus

Pandemics are tough for adults to understand and respond to, and even more difficult for children who lack knowledge and experience on how to overcome challenges. A common result of natural disasters, pandemics, and major life crises, in general, is that children are severely traumatized and have difficulty managing their emotions. A child should be able to be a child even during nationwide upheaval. Their innocence and fun should not be halted.

Following are some suggestions for you to help your child, during this difficult time.

Children react to disasters in a variety of ways. Some become tearful and clingy. They may regress to earlier life stages (i.e., bed wetting, fear of the dark, thumb sucking), become irritable or aggressive, or withdrawn and worried.

Youth are not good as adults at communicating their feelings verbally. Children tend to act their feelings out. Let your child know that they are important to you and that you are interested in how they are feeling. Give your child lots of hugs and reassurance that everything is going to be okay. Spend one-on-one time listening to their perspectives. Some children (and adults) process events by talking about them over and over again. Children ask lots of questions. Try to answer their questions the best that you can. It’s okay to say, “I don’t know. I will try to find out for you.”

Children need lots of encouragement during an event like this. Praise them for any small or large contributions they made in helping the family make it through the crisis. These contributions might include: doing what they are told, not fighting with their brother or sister, keeping their bedroom clean, staying inside, and keeping up with their homework.

For young children, play and art work is a good way for them to express their emotions. You can learn a lot about what a child is thinking and feeling by observing their play or art work. Encourage your child to write a happy ending to this crisis, or to draw it in a way that is empowering for them. Don’t be worried if you see them playing out crisis scenes over and over again. They are expressing their feelings and learning to master their environment through repetitive play. If your young child seems particularly distressed about any aspect of the pandemic-crisis, seek out a licensed counselor.

Children can become overwhelmed by disturbing media messages about the pandemic. Be sure to monitor your child’s intake of television, radio, newspaper, and social media. When children see television images relating to the pandemic over and over again, they become frightened for their own safety and that of their loved ones. Remind your child that they are safe and that the adults around them are working daily to make sure that they are going to be okay. Discuss how God is in control and He is guiding us through this difficult time.

Helping others is a powerful way to divert children from their own worries. Identify people or causes in your community that your child can assist with. There are various ways children can help others who are impacted by the pandemic, such as writing encouraging letters, baking goodies, making artwork, cleaning up yards, and making care-packages.

This is a good time to model self-care for your child. Children need to know that no matter what happens, we still have to take good care of our bodies and our minds. Let your child see you exercise, make good food choices, get the proper amount of sleep, and spend time in relaxation.

Be careful about burdening children with adult issues, such as, how this pandemic is affecting your job, your fears about your family and friend’s health, your concerns about the spread of the virus, your frustration with your child being out of school, quarantine etc. Dealing with adult issues over which one has no power or control is frustrating and scary for a child.

Staying inside can become quite boring for children (and adults). A regular routine is very important for children. Below are a few suggestions of things that your child can do alone or with others in the home, after they have completed their school work and chores:

1. Read the Bible and learn more about their favorite Bible characters.
2. Write a letter to a single or elderly adult who lives alone.
3. Complete a puzzle.
4. Look at pictures of puppies or kittens online.
5. Play a game. Learn a card game.
6. Put on a play.
7. Try on all their clothes and put together new outfits. Have a fashion show.
8. Bake with an adult.
9. Do artwork. Color.
10. Look in the mirror and do a self-portrait.
11. Write down all the things they are grateful for.
12. Interview family members.
13. Go on a home scavenger hunt.
14. Read. Write a book. Write a song. Write a poem.
15. Have a parade in the house.
16. Exercise and stretch. Dance
17. Move in slow-motion throughout the day.
18. Skype with a friend.
19. Collect bugs
20. Wash the car.
21. Plant a garden.
22. Do tongue twisters
23. Play hide and seek.
24. Have a picnic on the living room floor.
25. Play charades
26. Play hot potato
27. Arm wrestle
28. Make crazy hairstyles

More suggestions at