Feeling God’s Love in the Badlands

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When I was a teacher four faculty members including myself would take the eighth grade class on a week long trip to South Dakota. We would leave on a coach bus around midnight on Saturday and return the following Friday afternoon. With all the stops (and let me tell you, with 50-60 Middle Schools kids we definitely took our fair share of stops) from Milwaukee to Badlands National Park in South Dakota it took about fifteen hours.

For the majority of the students this was their first time they were away from their families for an extended period of time. Most of them adjusted just fine and were actually thrilled to be away from their homes, and especially from school, for a whole week.  The trip was an outdoor trip with four nights of camping, along with hiking and exploring the area almost every day. The goal of the trip was to bring the class closer together and to build a bond as a new school year kicked off.  There were many team building activities and games, along with nightly worship and devotions. For the most part, the goal of the trip was attained and each school year always seemed to be a good one.

Being with eighth graders for a week brought forth plenty of hysterical moments that took place, along with lots of other good memories. Every morning I would try to be the first one up so that I could hike to the top of a cliff overlooking our campsite, watching the sun come up. Every trip we would go to Mt. Rushmore at night, watching a presentation on the building of it, and honoring all the war vets in attendance. It’s a beautiful scene at night with all the lights shining on the monument and the students were mesmerized by it all.

One year we found a student sleep walking as she tried to enter through the side of the tent of the male chaperones, thinking it was hers. Talking to a sleep walker can be quite hysterical, but at the same time could be scary, considering we were in the middle of nowhere, and if a student actually wandered off, who knows where they might end up. We were able to quickly get this girl back to her appropriate tent, but it was fun to talk about for days afterwards.

At Custer State Park, buffalo freely roamed. Before setting up camp, we would always ask for volunteers before telling them what we needed them to do. Once we got the volunteers, we told them they were in charge of cleaning up the buffalo dung that was splattered everywhere throughout the campsite. Of course, some of the students groaned and moaned about volunteering, but it was incredible to watch the positive attitudes some had in doing this task. Those were usually the ones at the end of the school year who were the student leaders, encouragers, and uplifters.

One year, the male chaperones decided to dress up in Halloween costumes, and hike up Harney Peak, which is the highest elevated spot in South Dakota. The kids thought we were crazy. And maybe we were just a little bit. HA! But we did it and took pictures to prove it!

And I’ll never forget sleeping under the stars with just a sleeping bag and pad and no tent. The temps usually got down into the 30’s and 40’s at night, but bundling up in a warm sleeping bag, falling asleep while looking up at the stars and constellations was breathtaking.

I chaperoned these trips for three years. Lots of memories were made for both the leaders and students, along with many unforgettable stories. Every trip was different in some sort of way, not by what activities we did, but by what students were on the trips. Middle School students are so unpredictable. They can catch you off guard by what they say, do, and think. But God loves each of them the same. I was in charge of the devotions the first night we camped in the Badlands. The group gathered at dusk among the crazy yet beautiful rocks, dirt, clay and mud formations all around us that seem to shoot straight out of the ground (thus calling this place the Badlands). My devotion was on the love that God has and always will have for us. It was great for the students to experience firsthand the love God has for us by what He created. It was also definitely a night that got their attention and was impactful for many on what is yet to come.

As I explained to the students, it’s good for us to remember that God created the Badlands….and they are beautiful in their own way. God created each one of us…..and we are beautiful in our own ways. And there will come times in our lives where we will feel like we are living in Bad Lands for we will all have bad times at some point, and yet God is there, watching us, caring for us, and if we would just stop and look up, we can see the beauty that is around us, no matter what times we are going through. He is there, He is faithful, and He is in the middle of it all.

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Change

change-of-heart

The other day I was watching television and an advertisement for the iPhone 7 came on. As soon as I saw the commercial I started chuckling to myself, and was thinking about the iPhone 4S I had right before being incarcerated. Of course, I knew change would occur being away from society these last three and half years, but I couldn’t believe how fast change has been occurring, especially with technology. Phones have changed, television video game systems, even computers. All have been changed for the better – for faster connection, better picture quality, and clearer communication –  to fit our needs in this ever growing and changing society.

When I leave this place, I know I’ll have to adapt once again to the changes in our everyday world, especially when it comes to the speed of it. Prison living is a very slow paced living, with a ton of waiting being done daily. Just the other day we had to wait until 7:45 pm to eat dinner, which is usually 5pm because an inmate left on medical leave, and, for some reason,  the compound didn’t record it, and thought he had escaped.  So we had to wait until it got all straightened out. Believe it or not,  that happens quite frequently here. But that’s a whole other story.

Outside these walls it’s a very fast paced world. Everything is done with speed. It seems to me people think the faster things go, the better life and the world is. I know I did a blog a while ago on the speed of life. And I said to slow down, look around and enjoy what God has created for us. But it seems as if everyone is always in a hurry.

People are changing as well. From the pictures I have received from home throughout the years, my nieces and nephews have all gotten bigger and taller. It’s easier to understand them when I talk to them on the telephone, too. Research shows that prison preserves you. Inmates eat healthier and exercise more, thus prolonging one’s life and look. I do eat healthier here (no greasy burgers or large pizzas I constantly craved) and exercise frequently. But I admit, I still am changing. A few more gray hairs have been starting to pop up on my head and face, and I have been getting a wrinkle or two on my skin as well. And some days when I get out of bed in the morning I ache! Maybe it’s just my mattress – at least I hope so. I don’t think 36 is that old! HA!

One thing I do know that is changing daily is my heart. I wouldn’t say my heart was ever hard or calloused, but it did have negative tendencies quite often. The few years before coming here my heart was constantly angry at others, upset with myself, stressed at work, and I did not love others the way God wanted me to love. Overall, I did not feel good about
how my life was going. I was not enjoying life, and started going down the wrong path. But since entering the world behind walls, my heart has drastically changed for the better. I hardly ever get angry, upset, or stressed anymore. And believe it or not, I’m enjoying life so much more now, inside prison, than I was the years leading up to the incarceration. In my opinion, change is a great thing…..especially when it is a change of heart for the better.

I know there are people out there whose hearts are still hardened  towards me from the terrible choices I made five years ago. I know I deserve it. But I pray daily for forgiveness from them and that one day God will soften and change their hearts and that someday they will reach out to me. God’s timing is perfect and I trust Him with all that. He definitely knows what He is doing in my life and in this world.

Even though we are changing every day and this world is constantly changing, God and His Word do not change. If you or a loved one is struggling in life right now or is having a difficult time forgiving someone, pray to God for a change of heart, remembering that He is the same forgiving and loving God yesterday, today, and forever. Turn to Him for the change you may need.

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