Redeeming a Past of Dirty Laundry

Eric, a name I give all of my former juvenile offenders, wrote the following essay in his Junior College English 1A class. He wrote about coming to a point of reconciliation with his people - his ethnic group. He came to accept and redeem who he was and to whom he belonged. Eric moves us from resentment to love, from brokenness to wholeness, from shame to strength, from little to abundance. Here is Eric in his own words, used with his permission - his essay, "All I Have."

A few weeks ago, I went on a mission trip to Tijuana, Mexico. I stayed with a pastor named Robert and his family for five days. It was difficult being next to Pastor Robert 24/7. We had to wake up every morning by four in order to be at the church by five so we could have a time of prayer, bible study, and fellowship before the workday started. We visited families throughout the day to pray for them, rehearse dramas, and watch over the men that stayed in the men’s home.

I do not know why I had a desire to go to Tijuana. I did not know Pastor Robert or his family very well. I didn’t think there was anything for me to see, learn, or even care about in Tijuana. It seemed as if I had a calling to go. The opportunity to go down there without paying a penny came and I took it, thinking I was in for a free ride. Little did I know it was going to be a life changing ride.

Even though I am Mexican myself, I used to have a lot of resentment towards Mexicans because I had so many bad examples in my life. I thank God for my mother, even though she kept the “Mexican tradition” and had me when she was fifteen years old. I knew it was not normal for me to talk to my father through a glass window. I also knew it was bad when I was four years old and raped by a Mexican farm worker. I didn’t fully understand what it all meant at the time and I am still trying to make sense of everything till this day.

The troubles I went through and the things I saw when I was growing up sparked a flame of shame within me. That flame is what influenced me to be ashamed of my name, to look down on my people, and to forget where I came from. There were many times I didn’t feel comfortable in my own skin. My mother always tried her best to encourage me to press forward, be strong, and not look back. That was something difficult for me to do when I looked in the mirror every morning. It was harder going to sleep at night with the nightmares.

When I was in Tijuana, we visited a mother of five and a grandmother of many. Her house was very small; it had concrete floors and walls, only one room, and her bed was in the same room as the kitchen. There was no air conditioning besides the windows to open when it got too hot or blankets she had when it got too cold. You can hear the rain fall on the tin roof and pray to God the chair didn’t break when you sat on it. I knew she did not have much even for herself.

She was cooking when Pastor Robert and I got there. My mouth became very watery when the smell of chicken tamales and barbacoa hit my nose. She offered me a plate of her freshly cooked food.

“What do you have to drink?”

“Coca-Cola, agua, or horchata.” She replied.

I figured since I was in Mexico I’d take the horchata.

“Do you have any napkins?” I asked.

She looked around and reached into a clean basket of clothing, tore up a shirt, and handed it to me.

“This is all I have,” she said with a comforting smile on her face.

She didn’t even know my name, she didn’t know if she would ever see me again, and she was still willing to give me what she had even if it was the shirt off her back. I never knew so much love could come from something so little, I never knew so much love could come from my own people. Now I understand what “Mi casa, su casa,” means. Now I know and embrace where I am from.

I am reminded of a song written by Keith Green, Your Love Broke Through. Here are some of the lyrics:

All my life I've been searching for that crazy missing part,
And with one touch, you just rolled away the stone that held my heart,
And now I see that the answer was as easy, as just asking you in,
And I am so sure I could never doubt your gentle touch again,
It's like the power of the wind.
Like waking up from the longest dream, how real it seemed,
until your love broke through,
I've been lost in a fantasy, that blinded me,
Until your love, until your love, broke through.

Thank you God for breaking through Eric's brokenness with the power of your love! You took him from his dirty laundry to a basket of abundant love.

Bonnie, Bodie, BJ, Babe, Mrs. Redfern, My Crown: We broke the cycle!

If I spent the rest of my life looking for someone of more gracious character than you, I would be looking over the greatest treasure that exists, right now, in my own household.

You see, what I have right now is complete and full - for you bring good into all of my life – with all of your life.

Your selfless practical giving is hugely evident. You are an enthusiastic hard worker, bountifully resourceful, committed, and generous.

You are not only industrious but you are also money-wise; taking great responsibility with what God has entrusted to us. You possess both integrity and justice. You wisely plan ahead to head off trouble for the household. And yet, your eyes and ears are ever directed to the poor, needy, and oppressed.

When troubles come, you have already prepared us to meet the challenge by providing comfort, care, and provision.

Because of who you are, I am well respected in our community. I am proud to be known as, “Mrs. Redfern’s husband!”

You are clothed with strength and dignity which gives you a great perspective on life and an ability to meet any adversity.

Your wisdom and advice are sought after and esteemed.

Your passion is to take good care of your family.

Yes, we all rise and call you blessed. I honor you with much love. I stand and say, “Wow! What a woman, what a wife – my wife!”

"Many women do noble things, but you surpass them all. Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised. Give her the reward she has earned, and let her works bring her praise at the city gate.”

Bonnie, you are my crown! It is such a pleasure to honor you this day and every day! Thank you for a great love story!

All my love, Tony

PS: Some might be asking, "What cycle?" In my previous blog I mentioned that I am one of five siblings. With one brother, I share my mother; with another brother and a sister, I share my father; and with Marshall, I share my mother and my father. Bonnie and I have experienced redemption! We broke the cycle!