I’m sure you’ve figured by now, by my infatuation with Joy from InsideOut, that my hair is now blue! I am so excited as the sun rises to be able to surprise the girls at GBC with my hair. None of my peeps back home would be surprised, just a lot of eye rolling…
This morning, as beautiful as it is….sucks. I know that today is our last day with the girls. I have fallen so helplessly in love with them and their babies, the facility and the program. How in heaven’s name will I be able to say goodbye. Several inches of snow is predicted for this evening, so our plan is to pack up ‘camp’ this morning and leave GBC a little earlier than originally planned, and head towards home. Never would I have imagined how quickly this camp feels like home. The routine of making coffee, journaling, no tv, no cellphone, and talking to my neighbor through the paper thin walls, has become a new normal. Knowing that every time Shelly drives my car to GBC, she will spin gravel out the driveway. Knowing every turn on our commute, knowing that the @#$%ing cupcake shop will be closed, AGAIN! Knowing, that this.is.it. My heart hurts. I haven’t even left camp yet and the tears are streaming.
The cars are packed to the brim! We have gifts and decorations, food and a big ol’ secret…The girls have no idea what we have planned for them today! When we arrive to GBC, we leave the surprise items in the vehicles. We just carry our normal daily items. (Funny, how that too has become normal) We sign in, as policy requires, but we are family now; no one needs our ID or our car make/license plates, we know the staff by name. Family. As we roll into the room, the girls sleepily come to greet us. They too know it’s the last day. I can feel the clash of emotions, excited to see us yet, sadness knowing how the day will end.
The team is quite giddy knowing OUR plans and our hearts sing with gratefulness with what God had planned for us. As I told the girls on Wednesday, “I’m not sure if I’ve done a hill of beans of good for any of you, but I know what you’ve done for me”, I know God has wrecked my heart and given it a new desire and purpose. I’ve learned and affirmed, when you get stretched to the end of yourself, that’s where you find Him.
The ‘craft’ we have planned for today is to plant little flower pots with flower seeds. These sweet little pots are such a big beautiful metaphor for what has happened in this place in 5 days! We all have taken our little lives; filled with dirt and hurt and brokenness and planted seeds of hopefulness and Forget-Me-Nots. With nurturing and watering these seeds planted will become beautiful flowers reaching towards the sun. If the seeds planted are not nourished and fed, nothing will ever grow from them.
The girls were pretty jazzed to play in the dirt and were concerned about the seed planting process [that metaphor was not lost on me either]. The girls would like to take their flower pots back to their rooms right away, but ohhhhh no, we have a plan! After all the potting materials have been tidied up, we kick the girls out of their own space. Yep, OUT! We let the staff in on our surprise and they are IN! They make sure the girls are out of the vicinity and even put paper on the window so there is no peeking!!
The team is buzzing around with such excitement! These girls are our family now and we plan to throw a shower like we would for any of our family (that we like). We have glittered and painted, glued and giggled. We cannot wait to see their faces! We are looking over the room and I can’t help but cry. It is positively beautiful, I pray they can see our love in the glitter. We invite the staff in to have a peek before the girls, the tears begin to trickle down their cheeks as they take it all in. It’s so beautiful to see that although they are paid staff, they have a genuine love for the girls here. We ask the staff if we can pray with them before the girls come in, they are so open and more tears flow. It’s difficult sometimes to remember that we are in a federal prison building, when all we see around us is love.
Ready, set, open the doors!!!! Oh how I wish I could share the photos of the looks on their faces! The wide open gasp of wonder and awe. The hands to their mouth in disbelief and tears of gratitude. Each guest has her designated place. Their flower pot now has their name and a fancy parasol thingy. They have a glittery, picture frame with a photo of their baby. I don’t share this with you to pat ourselves on the back, but to share what love-in-service looks like. It would be easy to scoop potatoes from the backside of a table, to sing a couple songs and preach a fancy sermon. Making it easier to go back home and feel so proud of what we ‘did’. Maybe that is the first step God has called to you, the first stretch of a servant heart. The most brave moment is always the first step. But this team wasn’t called to take a first step, we were called to take a big jump off the ledge. To become really uncomfortable, to be vulnerable and transparent. To love, yep….to just love.
We shared a beautiful lunch with the girls at their party, the kind of lunch you would expect at any shower. The girls were taking-in the decorations and food and hopefully reflecting on the love spent on them. Yes, love is an investment and not to be squandered or cheapened. I’ve never met a group of women with such gratitude and honesty. The life lessons learned in this space have transformed many women over the years, and in this moment, I understand so much more about me. About my identity, my purpose, my heart and my own rocks; the hurts of my very soul.
I can’t help but look at the girls with new vision, a hope and deep love. A kinship, my girls. I wonder if that’s a sliver of the way that God looks at us? I’m quite certain He looks at me and shakes His head occasionally, I cannot begin to understand the depths of unconditional love. We ALL place conditions on love. Maybe not so blatantly stating “if you don’t do ‘this’ I won’t love you” but that disappointment and crack in our heart when someone we love falls short of our expectation. The cracks can spread and no longer can it hold the weight of it all. It is just broken.
As we finish lunch, we invite the girls to the other portion of the room. Again, each girl has her designated place. A LARGE gift bag awaits each mama with a brand new 31Gifts diaper bag that so many of you graciously sponsored, pj’s and onsies, an outfit and bubbly-bathtime bundles. Surrounding the big red lounger sits gift bags with diapers in sorted sizes. It’s like a Christmas gathering with family, as each girl, one at a time, opens her gift bag and shows her goodies. The ooh’s and aah’s are what you would expect from any baby shower, but I don’t recall ever crying at one.
Shelly wrapped up the trip with a beautiful message and prayer and invitation to the mamas that we would pray over the babies and with them individually, if they so desired. It was my deepest honor to pray with two mamas and their beautiful babies. I continue to pray for all of them. Each one of those mama’s left a stamp on my heart. ALL the babies are now included in photo album alongside my own Grands.
Gah! It’s the time I dread….
The mamas who were slightly skeptical of us the first day, are now hugging us goodbye with unrestraint. The questioning eyes are now shedding tears at our departure. I’m overwhelmed by the gratitude of these girls. I can already sense some of the cynics, as you read this, thinking “yeah, of course they were happy, they got stuff”. So many of the girls listed their thanks, at the top of their list, the time investment in getting to know them, lastly…the stuff. And this is where we have it all wrong, it isn’t about the stuff. Life, love, relationships, service to others…it isn’t about the stuff!!!
A mama whispered through her tears, that she was thankful that we never treated them like prisoners. Each day, as we drove the mountain roads, when we crest the top to where the facility is located, we were greeted with razor wire and tall-tall fences of the neighboring State Max Prison. I had expectations of entering a prison, but never did I expect to find peace within the walls of GBC. Only in the moments before entering the walls of GBC, did I feel like I was going to meet prisoners. And it’s upon leaving there that I realize we are all prisoners. We are all shackled to some shadow in our past, chained to a job we dislike or sentenced to a life we expected more from. It sometimes feel as though we are serving a life sentence in purgatory. But within the walls of Greenbrier Birthing Center, something new was born in me. A deeper belief in 2nd and 22nd chances, a weight lifted in casting off burdensome bindings, a surrender to preconceived beliefs of how things ‘are’ or ‘should be’, and the beginning of birthing pains as to what might be.
I am forever wrecked, broken and ruined… and could not feel more fulfilled and complete.