Tag Archives: Freedom

Chained Freedom-Part 2

My guard was up when we first walked into the prison cafeteria where I was going to speak. All of the inmates wore identical t-shirts and dark-colored denim pants stamped in orange with the initials of the prison they currently called home. I had wished that I had worn my “tough girl” clothes, but instead I chose to wear my pansy, princess attire. Ha, ha, ha. I wondered how they would receive me…would they think I couldn’t relate because I had never been to prison?

The room started to fill up fast. Some looked like your typical next door neighbor, school teacher, mother, grandmother, and a few that looked pretty hard core. They wore no chains around their ankles or handcuffs on their wrists. There were no barriers between us, we were permitted to mingle unrestrained.

This unique opportunity was extra special to me, not only because of the setting, but also because it was my mentor (Patti) who invited me to speak at the prison. Years earlier, God used Patti to pull me out of my old lifestyle. When I first met her, she was volunteering as a recovery mentor at the women’s prison and at local jails. One day, while driving me to rehab, Patti took me to the jail and gave me the opportunity to encourage and pray for a young, pregnant inmate who had plans to return to her abusive boyfriend upon her release. It was an honor and a major boost of confidence that Patti trusted me in that way, despite the condition of my life at the time.

Patti began my introduction to the women of Coffee Creek by telling them the story of how we met. Humble, grateful tears slid down my cheeks (I was thankful to have waterproof mascara on). My nervousness left me as soon as I began to speak, I felt as if I was talking to a group of close friends. I was in my element.

I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself while on stage because of a truth the Lord revealed to me. I drove five hours with the purpose and intention to “minister” to and encourage these prisoners but in reality I was being ministered to and encouraged by them. Some of those Girls were more passionate about their faith than most people I see in church.

Jesus used me to remind them that they were freer behind bars then most of the people on the outside. He wanted them to know that their ministry was where their feet were placed and He wanted to use them as a light in that dark place. I encouraged them to make the most out of every opportunity by witnessing to each other, the officers who guard them, and every missionary who comes into “help” them. I reminded them that they have a very unique perspective and special relationship with Jesus that needs to be shared.

Patti interjected when I had finished telling my story. She explained to the women, “God is no respecter of persons. Michelle was changed by Him and the only thing she did and continues to do is go ALL IN with Jesus.” Patti asked that all the women who wished to follow my example to raise their hand or stand up. The response was overwhelming. Women stood to their feet and hands shot up all over the room. I could hear them sobbing, sniffling and agreeing with me in prayer.

You see, when a person loses everything that ever mattered to them and all that remains is their relationship with the Lord, they realize that He is all they need. We should envy this kind of authentic relationship with Jesus that these precious women possess. We don’t have to get locked up to experience it either, it’s available to all of us.

Our time together concluded with us swaying side to side, hand in hand, singing a praise song to Jesus. I thought to myself “I never want to forget this moment, this is absolutely beautiful. I can picture us singing together in Heaven someday just like this.”

I realized through this experience that many of the inmates are freer than most people on the “outside.” The freedom they know is the same freedom offered to us all, but sadly many of us don’t walk in that truth. If you are a Believer in Jesus, then your “prison sentence” has been forgiven….you have been pardoned by the sacrificial love of your Savior and the prison door has been opened for you. You must make the decision to take His hand and allow him to walk you out of the walls that contain you. The Lord approaches you and says “Come, take My hand. I died to set you free & you are free indeed…now kick that self-made prison door open and walk out of there!” Okay, Jesus didn’t exactly say that…that is my interpretation.

“The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me, because the Lord has anointed Me to preach good tidings to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound Isaiah 61:1

Chained Freedom-Part 1

I shared my story last week with 100 inmates and several workers at Coffee Creek Women’s Correctional Institute. It was an absolute blast and I can’t wait to do it again. Speaking at a prison is different than sharing my story at a church, because it has the potential to be a bit more dangerous. For instance: I wanted to wear a scarf with my attire but thought, “Um…not smart. A scarf can easily be turned into a weapon I could be strangled with. Better not.” Sometimes I do crazy things and then realize afterward the magnitude of what I just did, but it doesn’t dissuade me from getting my hands dirty for the kingdom’s cause. It’s actually quite the adrenaline rush, you should try it.

My husband, two girls and our puppy joined me for the drive there. It was really neat for them all to feel involved in what the Lord is doing through this ministry. It took us almost 5 hours to get there and I needed to find a place along the way to get ready, so I did my makeup in the car and performed a wardrobe change in a Denny’s restroom along the way. I also felt the need to make a change of heart, because this audience I would soon be speaking with was important to me and I wanted to be used mightily to give them hope. I wanted something fresh for them, not a recited testimony. I wanted to tell them everything the Lord wanted me to say, so I asked my friends to pray over this event, and I surrendered my words, fears and hopes to Him.

About an hour before our arrival, The Lord gave me the song “Freedom Reigns” by Jesus Culture. It’s based off the scripture, “Where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom”. Using my smartphone, I found the song on YouTube, put in my ear buds, cranked the volume and proceeded to lose it (don’t worry, my husband was driving). My emotions overtook me as I pictured these women behind bars, some having lost their kids or grand kids to foster care or adoption. Many lost their homes, jobs, marriages, kids and even their teeth. From the outside looking in, they appear to have nothing…they are the shame of society…marked for life. BUT Jesus is in that place and therefore they are able to experience the freedom only He offers. He loves them so dearly, so deeply and He imparted that same compassionate love for them into my heart as I listened to that song.

The closest personal experience I could relate to imprisonment was the year and a half I spent in rehab nearly a decade ago. Normally when I talk about my rehab experience I gloss over it and only share some of what the Lord taught me there. I don’t often share about the hard times in rehab because of the painful memories of being without my two young boys for so long, but I felt compelled to be vulnerable with these women.

The realization of what I was about to do hit hard when we pulled into the parking lot and saw the looped barbed wire atop the fence which encircled the compound. My daughters were very nervous for me, one of them said “please don’t die in there,” as her eyes filled up with tears. My family prayed over me before I walked through the gates and out of their sight, into the cold-looking, steel-doored, concrete fortress. Nervousness set in as I awaited my turn through the metal detector. Through thick, shatter-proof glass I saw for the first time some of the women I would be speaking to.

“Okay, Lord here we go. Have your way through me.” My heart felt like it was about to pound out of my chest as the adrenaline started to pump through my veins.

Listen to this song, so you can hear what I heard and picture these same women.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M753W0JeANk

TO BE CONTINUED on Wednesday……….

Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.” Hebrews 13:3

1 Step

It’s not my usual practice to minister to men unless I’m sharing my story at a church or my husband is beside me, however a couple days ago I was compelled to make an exception and write this letter to a friend’s husband. I’ve been mentoring his wife and daughters for several years now and have become like family, so he knows me pretty well. Needless to say, his wife is miserable as she is married to an alcoholic who confesses Jesus as his Savior, but won’t let Him save him from alcoholism. She does not want to divorce him, in fact her one desire and now demand is that he quit drinking and then she will return home, but until then they will live separately.  (The names have been changed out of respect.)

Dear Joe,
This is not your typical Christmas letter, in fact you’ll probably never receive one quite like this again. I know that things are really tough for you right now, especially with your family and I want to reach out and be the hand of Jesus to you in this moment. I wanted to do this in person, but wasn’t sure when that could happen and just really felt led to do this now, so I pray that you will receive this letter in the right vein.

I know you’ve tried many times before to quit drinking, but always seemed to fail. Well you are NOT a failure. You are human and humans mess up, however you are different than most humans, because you are a son of the almighty God who sent Jesus on your behalf not only to pay for ALL of your sins, but to set you free from the power that sin has HAD over you. “Jesus came to set the captive free and whomever the Son sets free is free indeed.” You are in a self-made prison of alcoholism with Satan as the warden, but I am here to tell you that Jesus opened that prison door. So why are you choosing to still sit in there? Get up and walk out. You are FREE. I know you don’t FEEL free, but the truth is, you are. You just don’t know how to walk in that freedom.

I’ve known your family for several years now and one thing I know is that you all love each other very much and don’t want to give up on one another. I also know that you are some seriously strong willed suckers! How do I know that? It takes one to know one. I’m writing to you as one strong willed sucker to another who also struggled with alcoholism. You can do this. I know you have a long list that you THINK you have to accomplish to get your wife to move back in and to get free from this addiction, but you don’t. There is 1 thing on that list and that’s it, but it’s going to take every bit of your will power to take this 1 step that I believe the Lord is asking you to take right now; make the CHOICE to surrender your WHOLE LIFE to Jesus and ALLOW Him to be your Lord.

You are literally 1 decision away from getting free, staying free and getting back ALL that Satan has stolen from you! Are you seriously going to LET him come in and rob your house, take your family hostage, take your joy and hope, take your faith in God and His power to heal you and your family? Hell No. You need to fight for what God has blessed you with. You have one life and it may be messed up right now, but you have the opportunity to FINISH STRONG my brother. Take that seriously strong will that God has blessed you with and make the choice to surrender once and for all to the Lord. Give Him everything including the alcohol and then watch the miracle unfold before your very eyes and the eyes of your family.

I talked to someone I know about you this morning and told him I would be writing this letter. He lives near you and struggled with alcoholism for many years. It cost him so many things…but praise God he just celebrated 1 year sober. I let him know that I’d be sending this letter to you and IF you’re ready to do this, he’s glad to help.

There are so many different options for getting clean and sober, but none of them work if you don’t choose to go “all in.” I believe the other times that you tried to get sober and it didn’t work, was because you half-assed it and did it in your own strength verses leaning on the Lord’s strength. My family members have taken the AA route and I went away to a Christian inpatient rehab, both ways worked. So my prayer for you is that you will take that strong will of yours and make the most important choice and surrender your WHOLE life to Jesus.

Merry Christmas,
Michelle Caswell

Is this a letter that I could have written to someone in your family? If that’s the case, I know you’re tired of it and want to give up. It may appear to be a hopeless situation, but “With God ALL things are possible.” She or He is only 1 STEP away from a complete life change. I am the walking talking proof of that and so are many of my friends.

If I were to change the name and the issue, could I have written this letter to you? The best gift you could give your family this year is to get the help you need. You are only responsible for your part, they are responsible for theirs and the rest is up to God. Is there an area of your life that you have tried to stop doing on your own, but haven’t been successful like viewing porn, cutting yourself, an eating disorder, having an affair, drugs, alcohol, cigarettes or anger issues? There are so many programs and ministries equipped to help, but none of them will work without you first making the CHOICE to go “all in.”

I went through a 12 step program while I was in rehab, however I don’t remember most of the steps, because only 1 really mattered in the end. I’ve decided to keep the main thing-the main thing, because the 12 steps didn’t save me, Jesus did. However, He did use those 12 steps and other tools to aid in the healing process.  So, if you are ready to deal with your part, then find a program, a counselor or whatever you believe will work for you, just know that NOTHING will work until you take the 1 Step towards Jesus and choose to never look back. Consider giving your whole life to Jesus today, not just part of it. He is the one who can set you free and keep you free.

Merry Christmas to you all.

A Good Trade

20131013_094312A dear friend of mine asked me to pray for his niece who was hooked on heroin and involved with a much older man in an abusive relationship. Over the next several months I prayed earnestly and specifically as I could vividly imagine what she was going through. Several months later the Lord had His way and brought her to live in the ministry that I worked at. She strutted in with her hardened exterior, sunglasses to cover her black eye, dressed head to toe in black, topped off with a leather jacket, combat boots, a tutu and several piercings on her face.

She didn’t believe in God at the time, but she knew of Him through her grandpa whom she dearly loved. She was in no way a Christian at the time, on the contrary she actually used to be a practicing witch. We shared similar personalities and past experiences, making it easy to become very close as I took her “under my wing.” I didn’t push God or my beliefs on her, but I in no way hid my faith either. I shared my past experiences and how I was able to get out and stay out.  She watched and wondered, later telling me that she admired the freedom I had and secretly desired it.

A former Atheist had the privilege of leading her to the Lord and a former drug addict (me) had the privilege of teaching her how to surrender her life to Him. Keep in mind that I had nurtured this relationship for some time, so she knew I cared about her and respected her. Once she was saved and had the desire to get free and grow in Him then I was able to help, because it’s impossible to help someone who isn’t ready or doesn’t want it, but if she is…watch out, she’s about to grow rapidly. And she did!

The scripture God gave me for her was “Old things pass away, behold a new creation” 2 Corinthians 5:17 or as I like to say “out with the old and in with the new.” I always challenged the “fighter” in her to get rid of ANYTHING that stood in her way of total freedom in Christ. “You went all in for Satan, so why would you give God any less?” I lovingly nicknamed her “Camarillo the Southwest Princess” or Cam for short.

I always start small, so the first thing I asked her to surrender was a shirt she wore all the time (including to Bible study) that said “Satanic” on it. She said “What’s wrong with my shirt?” I laughed and said “You’re kidding right?” She giggled and then chucked the shirt into the dumpster. I encouraged her to get rid of anything from her old life that triggered her, made her feel shame or represented glorifying another god.

Her appearance offended a few people who thought that she shouldn’t be “allowed” to wear certain kinds of clothing or have all the piercings on her face, because she didn’t “look” like a Christian. Well what does a Christian look like anyways? Some suggested that I have her take them out, but I knew that I needed to wait on the Lord’s timing, so that she would be ready to surrender that part of her past. I have learned to follow Jesus’ example by focusing on cleaning the inside rather than the outside, besides the outside eventually begins reflecting the inside on its own. Side note: I am NOT against piercings or tattoos, I have them myself, in fact my son is a tattoo artist and I even paid for his first tattoo as a graduation present. This was a personal journey that this particular Girl was on and the piercings represented her old life that she was trying to rid her present of.

Several months had passed and Cam was now living with me. She came in one day with some of the Girls and noticed a ring I was wearing that had a huge amber colored stone, she grabbed my hand to admire it “Shell that is a seriously awesome ring!” She giggled and said, “Can I have it?” I kept showing it to her as I plotted my move. “Here, want to try it on? I’d be willing to trade you.” She responded, “For what? I don’t have anything.” I replied, “I know…I’ll trade your tongue ring for my ring.” She started cracking up as she proceeded to unscrew it from her tongue and spit it into my open hand. Then she took my ring, put it on her finger and said “Thanks Shell that was a good trade.” I went over to the garbage can to throw away her spit covered tongue ring. “Out with the old and in with the new.”

Camarillo still comes to me for advice, encouragement and prayer, but I also go to her for the same things now. That’s how this whole thing should work. The Girls you mentor should pass you up or at least become your equals, spiritually speaking. She has over three years clean and hasn’t been in an abusive relationship or any other romantic relationship since. I can’t wait to meet the man that the Lord has picked out for this precious beauty of His. She faithfully serves Jesus wherever she goes, looking for opportunities to share His goodness with others. Her outside is still edgy but her heart is all mushy for Jesus. Her demeanor is full of joy and humble confidence in Him, all because she made the choice to give it all up for Jesus who gave it all up for her and now she’s one of His miracles. She recently informed me that in the not-so-distant future she’ll be moving to this area to work alongside me in Purely His, so we can reach the un-reachables together. My heart is overjoyed by this news!

I spoke with The Southwest Princess today to ask permission to share this story with all of you and she said “Yes!!! I’m honored that you would want to write about me. Surrendering is never pleasant at the time, so glad I did it!!! Still have to do it constantly though. Lol.”

What’s in the way of you becoming all that God has destined you to be? Is there something that the Lord is asking you to give up for Him today?

Punishing Myself

I remember stomping my foot on the ground trying to get the words to come out of my mouth. “Grr” as I wept bitterly, “How do I forgive myself for neglecting my sons? How do I forgive myself for aborting two of my children? How do I forgive myself for all the men I had sex with?? Lord, I am having such a hard time getting these words out of my mouth. I know that you have already forgiven me for everything I’m about to forgive myself for, so who am I to still hold these things against myself, when you aren’t? Lord, I remember the time that I woke up after three days of no sleep back when I was tweaking out on Meth and there on the refrigerator was a sticky note written in my own handwriting ‘STOP PUNISHING YOURSELF.’ I think that’s what I’m still doing; punishing myself. I seriously HATE the things I’ve done and the things that happened to my boys, because of my STUPID choices. Lord Jesus, you were punished for these same sins that I’m punishing myself for, as if to say, that what you did for me was not enough. But I know better. I know that when you died for me, you said ‘It is Finished.’ Please Lord, give me the courage right now to do this. It’s time.”

I inhaled a deep breath along with the courage He just gave me and I received the gift of forgiveness and gave it to myself. Angry frustrated tears poured from my eyes as I said out-loud “Lord Jesus, I choose to forgive myself right now. I forgive myself for neglecting my sons. I forgive myself for doing drugs all those years. I forgive myself for being promiscuous. I forgive myself for killing my two children. I forgive myself for taking this long to surrender my life to you. I’m making a choice right now with my own free-will to never hold these things against myself again. I am unhooking all of these sins and things I’m ashamed of and I am hooking them to you. I no longer owe myself a debt. It is finished and I am free. Amen.”  

Forgiving myself was the hardest. The lie I believed that kept me from doing it sooner was “I knew better,” so therefore I didn’t deserve forgiveness. But the reality is, no one DESERVES forgiveness. It’s a gift that is offered to all, but only some choose to receive it and it doesn’t work unless you do. Just knowing the facts about forgiveness, doesn’t set you free, it’s in the receiving and accepting the truth that sets us free.

What helped me to get to the place where I could get those words out of my mouth was dwelling on God’s sovereignty. He is above all and knows all, including all the sins I committed and He still chose me-He chose to die for me and pay for my sins, so I didn’t have to. If He says I’m worthy of forgiveness than who am I to say I’m not? It showed me that I had a lot of prideful arrogance deciding for myself, whether I deserved forgiveness or not. Grace and forgiveness are a gift from God-no one deserves it-no one earns it and no one pays it back-it’s a totally free gift. Our job is to receive it and then give it away.

Forgiveness is such a HUGE key to getting free in Christ, but it’s not easy and sometimes you will feel pretty weird afterwards. There are times that I will feel very light and even joyful, other times I just need a nap because the emotional drain, but this time I got a migraine that lasted two days. God didn’t make our bodies to carry the weight of bitterness that comes from not forgiving those that wronged you, including yourself.

Feelings, Opinions or Truth?

Here’s the real question…do you want to be set free from believing that you are unworthy?

Well then…it’s the TRUTH that sets us free, not other people’s opinions or our feelings!

“Know the Truth and the truth will set you free” John 8:32

Just get to know Jesus who is the Truth…He is willing and able to set you free! It’s all about a personal relationship with Him. When you discover that He sees you as WORTHY then you will begin to see yourself in a different light and it won’t matter AS MUCH what others think of you.

 “Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life” John 14:6

Stop Faking It

Most of my life was spent desperately seeking approval! I did whatever it took to get it, including changing who I was. I finally got to the point where I confessed, “I feel like I’m upside down and inside out. If someone were to ask me what I like to do…I couldn’t answer. I am so lost. I’ve become what everyone else wants me to be and now I hate myself!” 

If I was around church people I acted “churchy,” if I was around gangsters I used slang, if I was around rockers I would act tough and hard, you get the picture. But there came a time when I got fed up with living someone else’s life…it was time to discover who God created me to be and start living the life He planned for me.

Can you relate or am I the only one who’s struggled with this?