This morning before the sun woke up and before my first cup of coffee, my running buddy and I were pounding the pavement around the YMCA. Actually, she was pounding the pavement and I was more like trying not to die from shin splints. She’s training for a triathlon and I’m training for being skinny and while we run, she talks. I just breathe and cry on the inside.

“What do you have going on this week?” she asked right after our third, two minute running interval.

Between heavy breathing and calf stretching, I unloaded a handful of thoughts about our church’s prison ministry and half-way houses and the in-between places our women live.

“I’m trying to flesh out what it looks like to care for those fresh out of jail. How does the church practice hospitality? How do we open our homes and create safe places for our sisters to be able to open up and heal? How do we help them out of one way of living and into another way of life when the deck called life is stacked against them?” I said. “How do we love them well if we don’t quite like them yet?”

She listened and watched the time and then called for the next two minute interval. I ran while she shared.

“I think the problem with hospitality is that most people believe that hospitality is this thing that only happens in our homes. We think it happens around a nicely set table filled with food. But as I’ve been serving in our prison, I’ve learned that the sort of hospitality that Jesus has called the Church to is also the sort of hospitality that goes to where the people are. And for me, that place is the jail. Some of these women won’t be getting out anytime soon and unless we create space for them to feel seen and heard and known inside the jail, we, the church, will have essentially failed them. If hospitality is an outward expression of an inward devotion to Jesus, then we must take Jesus into the jail,” she said. “Even if we don’t know what the heck we’re doing.”

As soon as she finished talking, I knew she had hit on something I had not considered.

And I would have told her so, but I couldn’t breathe.

prison_GT

Hospitality is the thing we take wherever we go because we have the living Christ in us, compelling and enabling us to love others, right where they are. Literally.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the state of my heart. Someone had suggested that the state of my heart exempted me from serving my local community because in her words, an impure heart only damages those with whom it comes into contact.

After I got her email, I spent two months mulling over it. Her words stopped me in my tracks and covered me in shame. They disabled me from going through the mundane, everyday activities of living intentionally. Her words broke me and splayed me wide open.  For days and days, I weighed every line against every truth I know from Jesus. And y’all, after two months of weighing and mulling, I chunked the whole email in the garbage.

Because here’s the truth: The living Christ in us covers the multitude of sins that we have hidden in our heart and it’s the living Christ in us that qualifies us for love and good deeds.

Period. Nowhere in scripture does Christ ever complete his good work in us this side of heaven. We are works in active progress towards Christ-likeness, not sedentary beings waiting on perfection.

This morning, in the time I’ve spent thinking on my conversation with Suzanne and nursing my screaming shins,  I’ve spent time considering what this truth means in light of prison ministry.

And here’s what I know.

If we have the living Christ in us, we can take our beat-up hearts and whacked up ideas about hospitality and meet people right where they are. Even in a jail cell.

We can show up with our big bag of nothing and offer nothing but our presence and know that we’re enough. We can fumble over our words and say the wrong things and still provide a safe place for someone to be heard and known. We can sit in a circle of women with our hands wide open to receive whatever they have to give or say and then close our eyes in repentance for how our flesh rises up in anger or frustration or condemnation.

We can confess our ignorance or prejudice or flat our fear and trust that Jesus will cover us in grace and birth within us a love that knows no barriers.

Because Jesus will do it, you know?

Lori Harris / Posts / Blog

Lori Harris is a Southern born, Texas-missing girl, who is rearing her six kids in a neighborhood some would call the ‘hood. She and her bi-vocational husband have planted Fellowship Bible Church Rocky Mount on the wrong side of the railroad tracks where poverty runs deep and racism even deeper. She coordinates a city-wide MOPS group, passes out PBJs to the neighborhood kids, and brews coffee just to make the house smell like Jesus. She writes at loriharris.me.

  • Julie

    Well, I love this. Our pastor is preaching through Romans, and yesterday the text was Rom. 15:7-13 on welcoming others “as Christ has welcomed you.” Your words here graciously nailed what I heard yesterday, so I believe the Holy Spirit has this for me today. And I went back to read your post about your heart and your serving. Oh, sister, yes, we keep serving with our messy hearts and mixed motives, and we trust Jesus for the outcome and more growth in us. No shame! One of takeaways from Romans has been that we have been removed from the courtroom of judgment and placed in the family of God. Hallelujah!

    February 15th, 2016 11:05
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      I’m so grateful, Julie! I wrestled with a thousand things I wanted to say before landing here. Hope to hear how God uses both messages to move you welcome others.

      February 15th, 2016 13:11
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  • Bonnie

    If we stopped serving every time we had impure hearts, nothing would get done in His name. God uses our impure hearts–it’s pretty much all He has. We’re all messed up.

    And you HAVE to rest those shin splints. Voice of experience here. (Never a runner, only a fast walker and still got them.)

    February 15th, 2016 12:02
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      Amen Bonnie.
      And shin splints are of the devil. 😂

      February 15th, 2016 13:12
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  • Courtney
    http://Www.ouralabamalife.com

    The devil always knows where to hit us, doesn’t he. Because while we are out there, serving and trying our best to be a light for Christ’s kingdom, our biggest fear is that we are doing it all wrong. But God doesn’t call us to perfection, He calls us to Himself. And through Him, we can do it all.

    PS: Stretch, sister. Before and after you run. It’s the key to kicking those shin splints.

    February 15th, 2016 13:00
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      You are so right, Courtney.
      And my shin splints have been so terrible we’ve been stretching before, during and after. They are no joke, friend.

      February 15th, 2016 13:14
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  • Rachel Q
    http://trippingovertypeset.com

    Proud of you for chuckin’ that email in the garbage. If we waited to have it all together and for ourselves to be perfect in our loving of others, we’d never get any loving done. We live out these days moment by moment and I’m constantly catching myself on how I could have done something better or loved someone better and I can beat myself up pretty good about it. But I’m learning in all my imperfection that I’m doing what I can, when I can and growing in the whole process. We are all a work in progress and He’s not finished yet! Thanks for these words! Love them!

    February 15th, 2016 15:55
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      Amen, Sister. We are all a work in progress. And even in our worst efforts, Jesus can make a miracle out of them.

      February 15th, 2016 19:30
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  • Lisa
    http://easttennesseeblessings.blogspot.com/

    Lori, thank you so much for this post! It is uncanny to me how God helped me find you and regularly uses your words and thoughts to minister to my feelings of not being “enough.” You always remind me that in HIM, I am enough because He is more than enough!

    “Hospitality is the thing we take wherever we go because we have the living Christ in us, compelling and enabling us to love others, right where they are. Literally.” Great reminder that I don’t have to live there (just yet) but that taking hospitality with me is enough right now.

    “Period. Nowhere in scripture does Christ ever complete his good work in us this side of heaven. We are works in active progress towards Christ-likeness, not sedentary beings waiting on perfection.” So needed this reminder!

    Thank you, thank you for always speaking Truth in love and being such an encourager!

    February 15th, 2016 16:33
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      We all need the reminder, Lisa. Thanks for your presence here.

      February 15th, 2016 19:31
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  • Sue Donaldson
    http://www.welcomeheart.com

    I would like to run to get skinny but it hasn’t happened yet. Lori, so sorry those words (well -intentioned?) threw you under the bus. And glad you chucked the email. Shame disables and we know where that comes from.
    Hospitality on the go (take-out, I call it) works beautifully. How challenging to me to think of taking it to the jails. Great post and great writing.

    February 16th, 2016 0:10
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    • Lori Harris
      http://loriharris.me

      Thanks Sue. I keep telling myself I’m still faster than everyone on the couch! Jail ministry has challenged our church more than any other. You literally have to give of yourself for the sake of those who cannot come to you. It flips our American view of hospitality on its head and splays open our own prejudices. Thanks for your presence here!

      February 16th, 2016 18:00
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