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4 Things I Learned by Choosing Courage Over My Comfort Zone

  • Jennifer Waddle
4 Things I Learned by Choosing Courage Over My Comfort Zone

Each of them sat politely on my couch with hands folded and Bibles on their laps. Looking expectantly at me, waiting for me to impart words of spiritual wisdom, I suddenly felt a wave of unexpected emotion.

“They look so normal,” I thought. “Like ordinary women, gathered together for Bible study.”

Immediately, I felt guilt and shame over my preconceived notion of what I thought they would look like. These women, having just been released from prison, were nothing like I’d expected.

Even my husband, who is the kindest, gentlest man on earth, had been apprehensive about me leading a Bible study for ex-prisoners. And when I told him they were coming to our house, he was even more alarmed. “Shame on us,” I thought, as I smiled at their beautiful, eager faces.

Never in a million years did I think I’d be leading a Bible study for women coming out of prison. Yet there I was, trying to walk in courageous obedience to God’s call. It had started with my friend, Marlene, who had been courageous enough to start Esther’s House, a Christian home for women. Her program was like no other, a place where women, seeking spiritual growth before integrating from prison back into society, could live for a period of one year.

Part of the Esther’s House program was weekly Bible studies. My friend knew that I had written and taught many women’s Bible studies before. So when she asked if I’d be interested in leading a study for the Esther’s House ladies, I sensed a stirring in my heart that both surprised and scared me.

I remember thinking, “Could God really be asking me to lead a Bible study for ex-prisoners?“ That was WAY out of my comfort zone! But bit by bit, the Lord produced a tiny flame in my heart and prompted me, by His Spirit, to lead these women the best I knew how.

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"We learned that anyone can find themselves behind prison bars, in one form or another"

Prayerfully, the first study I chose was written by Jennifer Rothschild called Lessons I Learned in the Dark. It was actually a book based on her own life experience of going blind at the age of 15. Following that study, we went right into Rothschild’s book, Lessons I Learned in The Light. The comparative studies of darkness and light couldn’t have been more profound.

We learned that anyone can find themselves behind prison bars, in one form or another. We learned that sometimes, it’s in our dark cells that God reaches us most intimately. And we learned that everyone makes mistakes that only God can redeem.

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"I learned deep and important lessons from them"

My heart went out to the ladies, more and more, as I got to know them and realized that their stories could easily have been mine. It was only by the grace of God that I never had to face those kinds of consequences.

During those years of mentoring the Esther’s House ladies, I not only prepared lessons for them, I learned deep and important lessons from them. Here are four life-changing things I learned:

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1. Humility

After our very first Bible study together, I knew in my heart that God was teaching me a huge lesson in humility. My preconceived, judgmental thoughts had no place in my Christian walk.

My respect for those women grew exponentially as I witnessed them yearn for God’s truth more than I had ever yearned for it myself. I saw them work diligently at Esther’s House, doing their weekly chores with joy. I found myself in awe of the self-discipline that was being taught in that half-way house—discipline that I didn’t have in my own life. Most of all, I was humbled by their eagerness for the things of God. More than anything, they wanted to know Him, love Him, and serve Him.

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2. Grace

Along with humility came showers of grace that filled my home and my heart as I met with those precious ladies. Anything they had done in the past was wiped clean by the blood of the Lamb, just as my own sins had been. In the end, I had nothing but grace for them, unlike at the beginning when underlying judgment filled my heart.

My experience with them reminded me of the song, Only By Grace, by Graham Kendrick, which says, “Only by grace can we enter. Only by grace can we stand. Not by our human endeavor, but by the blood of the Lamb.”

Our Gracious God redeemed those girls from a life of prison to a life of freedom, and I was reminded of the priceless gift of grace.

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3. Purpose

As we went through several Bible studies together, the ladies and I opened up about our God-given purposes. It was amazing to hear about their goals of not only reuniting with their families, but also their goals of helping others.

Their time in prison had led them to a relationship with Christ and had given them a much greater purpose for the future. By hearing their hearts, my purpose in Christ was refocused and refueled as well. I knew then, without a doubt, God had called me to encourage women in faith and life—no matter what their background.

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4. Hope

Perhaps above all the things the Lord taught me during my time with the Esther’s House ladies, He taught me hope.

“Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:5 NKJV)

As I grew to love them, anticipate spending time with them, and eventually watch them move on in life, I never lost a sense of hope. For when their situations seemed hopeless, God restored them and gave them a future.

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"God restores us and gives us a future and a hope"

What a beautiful reminder for us, that beyond the bars of any stronghold, God restores us and gives us a future and a hope.

The often-quoted Bible passage, found in Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope,” sums up my experience with the Esther’s House ladies. For in our feelings of hopelessness, our thoughts of despair, and our feelings of failure, there is hope in God! That is what keeps us putting one foot in front of the other. That is what lifts our weary heads. That is what gives us a glimmer of sunlight through prison bars.

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"God knew that I needed to step out of my bubble"

Teaching a Bible study to women who had just come out of prison was never on my radar. If it hadn’t been for my faithful friend who followed the call from God to open Esther’s House, I would never have contemplated such a thing.

However, God knew that I needed to step out of my bubble. He saw that I was stuck in comfort and complacency, only wanting to stick to the familiar. So He opened a door that I didn’t even know existed. And oh, how grateful I am for those years!

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"I continue to be humbly amazed at what God can do with a fearful, judgmental girl like me"

I can’t help but smile every time I think of one of those ladies or when I see their social media posts about life and happiness. My heart is filled to the brim with overwhelming joy, thinking about each of them living in the freedom of the Holy Spirit.

Most of all, I continue to be humbly amazed at what God can do with a fearful, judgmental girl like me who thought that all “criminals” were scary and untrustworthy and that teaching the Word of God to ex-prisoners was most definitely for someone else.

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"Be open to the leading of the Spirit. Be open to people you wouldn’t normally associate with"

Please don’t underestimate what God can do in and through you. Never say never. I know it’s cliché, but it’s true. Be open to the leading of the Spirit. Be open to people you wouldn’t normally associate with. And be open to the work God might want to do in your own heart through a few precious ladies who can teach you beautiful truths beyond the bars.

Jennifer Waddle is best known for offering Biblical encouragement for women in the trenches of life. She is the author of several books on Amazon, including Prayer Worrier: Turning Every Worry into Powerful Prayer. She is also a contributor for GotQuestions.org and WomensMinistryTools.com. She resides with her family near the foothills of Cheyenne Mountain—her favorite place on earth. You can connect with her at www.jenniferwaddleonline.comor check out her books on Amazon

This article is part of our courage theme for the month of August on iBelieve. What is courage? Usually, we associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak honestly and openly about who we are and about our experiences -- good and bad. We believe this kind of “ordinary courage” is what God calls us to live into every day of our lives.

Check back here throughout August for a new story of courage as our writers tackle what it means to be faithful, courageous women in a culture that values comfort and conformity.



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