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Birds and Broken Wings

When I was younger, my mom used to say about me that I was the one to take in the bird with the broken wing. I never really liked that assessment because I thought it made me weak, that I was a sucker for frailty. And in that same era of time, I was also a very self-focused person. So being a wing-fixer seemed inconsistent with my actions, which were all about taking care of myself first.

Fast forward a few decades and many life lessons later, and now I hang out in jails and prisons with rule breakers and the world's rejects. The tables where we meet are lined with broken wings. But what is different from my youth is that I have no desire to fix them. I simply want to sit with them and do as I was instructed, "Teach Them Who I Am". All relationships are assignments from God. And all of us fly crooked with perpetually broken wings. What I understand today that I didn't know as a kid is that we can't fix what the world breaks. That requires a power greater than us. But the assignment is for the broken to love the broken and show them that they always have the option to fly. We just need to show them where that power resides.

Tonight was a powerful night in jail. The kind of power that is beautiful yet exhausting. Their sorrow is overwhelming - but they keep coming back. One woman, new to us, was born in prison and soon will go out into the world to swoop up her children knowing that in order for her teeny family to survive, she has to turn her back on every single person she knows and re-root herself in new, scary soil. Several have lost loved ones while they are incarcerated and must deal with not only the loss, but the pain of not being able to attend the funerals. They carry their pain in ways that are visible - heavy boulders sitting on their chests, keeping them from being able to fully breathe. They suffer from a lack of spiritual oxygen.

None of this is ours to fix. At best, we can comfort a broken wing. But what we do get to witness is the emergence of Joy. Not that band-aid we call Happiness - no, they have a real shortage of temporal happiness. In the midst of a heavy night, Joy was the victor. Several ladies acknowledged the leadership of one or two who are holding Bible studies during the week when we aren't there. One mentioned her awe at the complete transformation of another (whom she has known and disliked all her life) inmate who is being transformed because of her new relationship with Christ. Two women came tonight with biblical resources they are studying on their own that they were excited to share with us. All 10 of them acknowledged that they feel changed, lighter, more hopeful since coming to this bible study. There is literal, physical transformation taking place - even in the one who is not yet a believer. They stand taller (confidence). They hold their eye contact longer (trust). They are quicker to engage in our conversations in the Word (faith).

I am most touched these past recent weeks at two things: 1. The progression in their relationships with us and each other. They are seeing the fruit of being in community. And 2. Their desire to pray for us. They know that they are loved, and it matters to them. That's the kind of power that is exhausting.

My mom is one of the smartest people I know. Perhaps she always knew I could never fix those wings, but that my heart would perpetually bleed for their pain. "Teach Them Who I Am," God said. My response: "No, hell no. Not them. Anyone but them." Parents of rebellious children are wise to let them sit in their own stink for a while. When we choose obedience two things happen: 1. We honor the parent and 2. We flourish. Praise for excellent parents. Bring on the birds with broken wings. Bring on the flourishing.

Written by: Carla Ward

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1 Comment

I appreciate you showing a difference between wanting to "fix" people and simply showing or telling about Jesus. He is the Fixer! I tend to forget that sometimes and was just talking to a friend about it as she also tends to be a "fixer wannabe". I don't know much about prison ministry, but I do know some about the loneliness and separation experienced. My stepson has been incarcerated several times, and was locked up when his father passed away. He is out now, but seems to have no direction in his life; he had wanted to come and help his dad, but that plan was derailed while he could do nothing. Thank you!

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