Last week a woman in our support group brought an exercise to our meeting called: “Writing a memoir in 6 words.” We decided that it would be fun to define ourselves, then re-read what we wrote in 6 months to see how we’ve grown. These are some of the things we came up with, “It’s not great; work in progress,” “Convicted myself. Acquitted myself. Freed myself.” “Seeking, learning, growing; hoping to understand!” The one I liked the most was, “I’ve made all the best mistakes.” I decided on: “My struggles are becoming my miracles.” I’ve probably earned a masters degree in the adage: “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” I think I can now say with credibility that there is life and freedom on the other side of struggles.  I know what it feels like to be so depressed and scared that it’s hard to breath; to be grateful for the life you once had, but have no hope that life will ever be good again. I know what it feels like to feel an isolation, and loneliness so deep you want to die, but know your family deserves more. I know what it feels like to be plagued with the bondage of addiction and wanting desperately to be free! I know what it feels like to watch everything you’ve worked for go up in flames, and have no hope that you will ever be able to rebuild it. I know what it feels like to be so vulnerable, and traumatized that you literally lose your mind; then have to climb out of hell to get it back again. I know what it feels like to be separated from your family for years; knowing you still have years in front of you, and hoping for a miracle. I fasted and prayed for months waiting for a judge to render a fair decision in my legal case. Now I can testify that when I humble myself, and do my part our Heavenly Father gives us the miracles we need most! I have been given peace of mind, a stronger connection to my family, and the understanding that there is a perfect plan for us; that all will be right in the end! What more could I ask for?

I think one of the reasons that I enjoy teaching, “Explaining Your Conviction”, so much is that I like having the opportunity to use my hardships to help others.  A while back a woman shared how traumatic her sentencing was. She said, “While I was waiting to be brought out for my sentencing I just kept singing a song my mother used to sing to me when I was a child, and begging God to give me strength! When I got into the courtroom my lawyer and the prosecutors were laughing and talking with the judge.  I thought, ‘Don’t they know how terrified I am that my life is in their hands right now.’ I have never felt so alone!” I share my experiences too, but I point out that even though my experiences were painful I was still responsible for them. I doubled and tripled down on bad decisions, and participated with the government every step of the way. Of course it wasn’t really a fair fight; they have the nuclear weapon;) I was walking with one of my friends yesterday and she said: “The government is so proud of their 98% conviction rate, but they should be ashamed of themselves! No one is right 98% of the time! How many innocent people plead guilty because they have no choice? The government always gets their pound of flesh whether they’re wrong or right. I would have had a better chance of getting justice as a black man in South Africa!” Maybe she’s right? But I’m not going to focus on those things. I want to help women re-frame their mistakes because it gives them their power back. I want to help women find their voice.

Some things in life just aren’t fair; there are things I will never understand. But I have learned a few things as I have trudged the road of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”.  When I am depressed or overwhelmed, and can’t see my way out of a problem or when I feel misunderstood or insecure, and my problems seem insurmountable or when I am broken hearted and don’t think that I can take another step, I do some simple things that really help me. I get out of bed even when I don’t want to. I find someone worse off than me, and I do something to help them, and I go to support group meetings even if I don’t want to. I say a prayer of gratitude for all of my blessings, and usually before I get done I feel a lot better. These things might seem simple, but they are the solution for me. I Get up when I don’t want to; I Do something for someone worse off than myself; I’m honest and vulnerable with my feelings, and I find something to be grateful for. Sometimes just listening to someone else can make a difference in their lives. At the last prison I was at my boss used to take a few minutes every day to listen to me. She didn’t always agree with me, but I knew she understood me, and that helped me so much! Everyone wants to be understood.  And when I’m really struggling and if all else fails I write on a blog:) I love you who read my blog! You do me a great service just to read; a greater service than you will ever know! I think I can say with some credibility now that when we turn to our Father in Heaven our struggles will become our miracles. Thanks for following along:)