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U R the Same but Different (going beyond the barbed wire…)

I stood outside the prison walls, gazing high at the barbed wire spiraling the top of the fence. Inside, the concrete cracked and crumbled. “The grounds are more depressing than the last one I went to — everything is old,” a volunteer said, HOPE written across her chest in bold black letters. The first inmate I laid eyes on was the same girl who wrote me a six-page letter years ago — the girl whose mind was torn and confused, her breath stale and eyes wild. But this time she was buoyant, her face radiating light.

woman behind bars

Her eyes poured streams of tears when she saw it was me. Unless you’ve been there, you have no idea how much it means to them for someone to care.

Some of the women were the same — the woman with the long silver braid who had aged there, thirty years plus, a lifetime. Some of them were beautiful, eager. Some had the face of wisdom and joy, and you are struck by the fact they are dressed in prison garb. Others were new — had arrived there in the past year — and had that blackness around the eyes that showed deep regret, shame, sorrow.

June Hunt took the mike first. She talked about the cup of anger we can all empty at the feet of God, how we don’t have to carry it forever. I had my own cup to lay down.

Shaking, I took the mike. I told them my story, the story of Jesus describing the kingdom of heaven like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he finds one of great value, he sells everything he has to buy it.

He finds us pearls clammed up, shut up, slimed over, and buried at the bottom of the sea. 

He tells us we have great worth. He doesn’t just say that about me and you, he says it about them. 

Debbie Stuart talked about how the winds of life can blow us to places unexpected, how shipwrecks can transform us into the people God wants us to be. 

We all leave changed. Grateful.

But I do wonder about all the hindrances — why they wouldn’t let us bring a camera even though it was already approved. Why they cut our time with the prisoners so short. They wouldn’t let us hug them or pray with them individually. I wonder why they called a bunch of them out of the room for insulin shots the moment I started speaking. We heard from inmates that no one even announced the event, that no fliers went out, that two guards were anti-Christian, and the worst yet – there were women lined up to come, but the guards wouldn’t unlock the gates.

The idea that the women were lined up to come hear us, but were held back, makes me angry. And I know from June’s lesson there is healthy anger too!! These women need the truth about anger, forgiveness, and value — and they are worth fighting for.

So most of the room was empty. But in a way only God can arrange, it was chock-full of the Holy Spirit. He filled the air. And the women who did come raised their voices with praise.

We are working on a lot of things — approval to get our books in the door, approval to bring the ladies gifts — approval to take pictures from the backs of their heads — and confirmation that the chaplain will TELL the inmates about the event. And how do you make sure the guards let them come?

Pray for the guards, the chaplain, the volunteers.

If God can break through bars of iron, then all of this is no problem. As Debbie says:

We are going to live in such a way that the enemy is sorry he ever tried to mess with us. 

As we left, some women (they call them ‘offenders,’ but I call them ‘pearls’) were walking through the yard waving at us, “Come back to see us!” they cried.

“For I was in prison and you came to visit me,” Jesus said.

We’ll be back. Lockhart, TX, December 12th. You can Sponsor a Woman in prison here.

Believing for More!

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About the Author: Jennifer

Jennifer Strickland is a wife, mom, TEDx speaker, and former professional model. She is the author of Girl Perfect, More Beautiful Than You Know, and Beautiful Lies, among other books and Bible studies that teach women their worth in God’s eyes. Since leaving the modeling industry, she founded URMore.org, a non-profit ministry that provides resources to hurting women and girls. Her favorite moments are found working on the family ranch with her husband, who she calls “the Cowboy”; in her kitchen, concocting a new version of her famous spaghetti; or spending time with their three precious children.

WHAT OTHERS ARE SAYING

Jennifer is a captivating speaker. She keeps the listener hanging in wonder of what’s coming next! Her presentation is not only absorbing, it reveals the truth of God’s power to heal a wounded spirit.

Barbara Brown

Barbara Brown, Former Stonecroft Ministries Regional Representative, San Diego, CA

“The ‘P’ word [perfection] may be the heaviest burden women bear. All the misguided things we do to attain it can keep us away from what we need most – the unconditional love of God the Father. The Girl Perfect Study Guide gives you a map to the wholeness you were created for.”

Nancy Ortberg

Nancy Ortberg, author and former teaching pastor at Willow Creek Community Church

“The Girl Perfect Study Guide shatters the lies girls and women believe and points to the ultimate truth, which really does set us free. I am confident that this study will help thousands discover a beauty, purpose, and worth that truly lasts. Thank you Jen for exposing the ‘perfect life’ and inviting girls to experience God’s ‘perfect love.'”

Allie Marie Smith

Allie Marie Smith, Founder of Wonderfully Made

One of the best testaments to what Jennifer is doing for the young girls and women of today is a comment from my eleven-year-old granddaughter: “Grammy, I want to read this book and hear her again. She’s good and I learned a lot.” This is exactly what I experienced from a grown-up perspective when I was introduced to Jennifer Strickland’s amazing story. Read it and see if you don’t get the real story from an icon model and a powerful speaker of truth.”

Thelma Wells

Thelma Wells, D.D. (Hon), President of Woman of God Ministries
As a teacher, participator, and observer of public speaking for most of my life, I’ve come to realize that many speakers make one of two mistakes when interacting with their audience (especially when that audience is mainly teenagers.) They either expect their audience to climb up to their level (which feels unattainable to the crowd) or they step down to the level of their listeners (which feels cheap and pandering.) The best speakers meet their audience where they are and lead them up to where they want them to be. This feels genuine. This is what Jennifer did over the last few days at our school.
Jennifer Strickland is a funny, engaging, dynamic speaker. She shares truth with authority and credibility that comes from both experience (her story is powerful) and an obvious depth of study in the Bible. The ideas she presents about Value, Identity, and Purpose are truths everyone needs to hear.
I heartily recommend her for your conference, school retreat, or any event where you want your people to be encouraged and challenged with deep, impacting truth.

Andrew Doan

Andrew Doan, Concord Christian Academy, Concord, NH

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