I realized, my first Sunday morning volunteering at the Rusk County Jail, how very unfair my life has been. My sister and I sat across from two women in bright orange suits, locked with them into a small room of pale block. No windows, no sun. That would be the worst part of jail — no sun. That and the cameras that watch every movement you make, even your times on the bare metal toilet.
The faces of the women were open and soft, not hardened as I’d expected for women in jail. The older woman, Daphne, had brought her Bible, with a verse underlined from John 3: “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved.”
She explained salvation to shy, sweet-faced Chloe in simple terms spoken from the bedrock of experience. When I tried to explain more in-depth, I faltered, not knowing how to put something I’d known all my life — something as basic and broad as sunlight — into words.
But Daphne knew. She had been there. “I was on meth,” she told us. “And I sold meth. Not anymore. My mom messed up her life; she committed suicide. I don’t want that for my life.”
Chloe cried because she didn’t know where she would go after jail or if her landlord would let her into the house, cried be-cause her boyfriend wasn’t always good for her but she still loved him. She seemed hungry for love, told us her dad had been abusive.
We told her God loves her, loves us all. “Why?” she asked.
Because God created us. We are his children.
Her face lit up and she nodded, leftover tears on her eyelashes. “That makes sense.”
“My landlords invited me to church, but I told them I’m not really a religious person,” she added.
Jesus isn’t about religion, we said. She nodded again, knowing. “He’s like having a best friend.”
And I thought, O Jesus, this is why I love you, why I thank you a million times. Because you are not a religion, not cold tradition or rules. You are a best friend.
I compared my own life to Daphne’s and Chloe’s and knew it was wildly unfair. I was surrounded by family and friends to support me through every tiny trial. I had never been abused, never known drugs, barely had a cross word spoken to me in my life.
I told Chloe a little about my dad: that he was rebellious as a teenager, that he beat up his mom and was sent into foster homes even though he had parents who loved him. That he came to the end of himself and gave his life to God, and now had a family and a happy life. God can do that for you, too, I told her.
I think of my dad’s experience now and know my life is unfair because at that point in his teen years, he made a decision for God. It’s unfair because my grandma prayed for him, believing. It’s unfair because some godly person led my grandma to the Lord, and someone else led that person to the Lord, all the way back through time in a long line that leads to Christ.
Maybe 50 or 100 years from now, a young woman who looks like Chloe will say, “My life is unfair because of the decision my grandma made in jail long ago and the life she led that followed it.”
Maybe someone else will say, “My life is unfair because of a woman named Luci who cared.”
We cannot see into the future. We can only learn from the past.
When Lucinda J. Kinsinger married Ivan in 2019, she moved from Rusk County, Wis., to Oakland, Md. She is the author of Anything But Simple: My Life as a Mennonite and blogs at lucindajkinsinger.com.