Surreal… As I exited the car and began walking up the cold stone path, I could not believe I was back after all these years. The light gray buildings, the tall fence and the barbwire at the top made it look like a fortress. Guard stands everywhere and the sound of the big, clanking lock slamming as you entered the gate to be searched, all still the same. A giant lump began to form in my throat. When I was fourteen I had come to a place like this to visit my brother. "Please don't search me with that wand." I can still remember the guard had to use one of those wands, and he put it in places that I would've rather he didn’t. Thirty years later, the pages of my life were turning like a whirlwind in my head, and all I could think about was the look on my brother's face every time I had to leave visitation with him. Vacant…Somber...Walking through the prison yard down the long, cement path that seemed to go on forever; breathless and heart-racing, we finally reached the chapel. Entering, I was struck with the beauty of the mural that was on the wall directly in front of me. It could've been in one of the most beautiful churches anywhere in the country if you forgot where you were for a moment. I'm sure each woman who was coming was trying to forget where they were, if even for a short time. Women began to enter the room. Some had smiles on their faces, some looked sad or somewhat lost. Some looked content to be there. Suddenly, I was struck with the oddest thought. If these women weren't in white uniforms but in regular clothes, they could be in any church in America. Now, I know prison ministry isn't the most sought after, but I think there was a deeper reason I was having that thought. Let me confess. I was dreading going there because I was afraid of what it might "do" in me. I have been in and out of many prisons, and each one of them made me uncomfortable. Probably because I was young, or because someone I loved was in there, maybe both. But something began to happen as I started to speak to the sea of white uniforms. I felt very at home. Yep, it shocked me, too. Forgetting where we were, I felt like I was in church. I could relate to them because, for a moment, we were just women in a room pursuing more of God. People in need of a Savior, because we are/were in prison. I may not have been in a white uniform, but I know what it’s like to be bound. I was a woman who had been in prison in her mind for years. Let's face it. Long before they were locked up physically, they had to have been locked up mentally and spiritually. The outward manifestation was evident in whatever crime they had committed. But, prison is not just a physical location. The only difference is geography between women in the church and women in prison when we're talking about being locked up in our minds. The enemy whispers in the three-by-five cell of your mind no matter where it’s located. That’s what he did to me. Because of my past, the enemy kept me bound in a belief that I was unworthy to be loved by God and others. And as patterns in my life continued to repeat themselves, so did the destructive behavior and the dissolving of relationships which seemed to prove the enemy to be correct. That belief was a lie I had believed for the majority of my life. It absolutely held me captive. If anything has ever held you captive, you've been in prison, too. You might not have had to wear a white uniform or a number on your chest, but there was an invisible label that marred your identity. More than barbwire or a big steel lock, a belief is a force to be reckoned with. I have all but wrestled that belief to the ground, like a dragon slayer. Sometimes it tries to rear its ugly head, even in my beautiful church that I attend regularly. He is a relentless accuser. I want you to think back with me to the worst moment(s) of your life. How often do the thoughts of whatever happened with you in that moment plague your mind? More than the threat of Ebola is a spiritual battle that has been waged on all of us, and the spiritual warfare we fight is simply choosing which voice we will listen to in the middle of our battle. When we have listened to the voice of the enemy time and time again, he steals our voice, kills our ability to choose wisely, destroys what we believe about ourselves and God, and leaves an aftermath of prison bars to look through. I’m guilty as charged for listening to the “other” voice. There was a woman in Scripture who was serving a life sentence to the spirit of rejection until the day Jesus showed up and did His very own prison break. The woman at the well in John 4 lived day in and day out with the fact that she was an outcast for having five husbands. One encounter with Jesus busted her out of the place in which she had been bound. In the ever amazing passage Jesus says, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water (NIV, John 4:10).” And after a few verses the woman replies, "Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.” Such a classic line. Because Jesus is putting His finger on the fact that until you trade the thing that you keep trying to fill your empty places with for the only thing that will ever fill you, you will never be satisfied. The woman at the well had been lied to by the enemy, too, until Jesus came to take the lie and replace it with His truth. I stood before a group of women at the prison. They, or at least some of them, were able to discover that they had been trying to fill themselves with things that could never fill them like Jesus could and that the holes in their hearts may have prompted them to do something that led to the bars that they were currently looking through. More than the fortress with a multitude of cement cells was the fortress of lies in their minds that needed to be torn down. But there's a little more irony to be had here. The very place that I believe the woman in scripture felt most rejected daily was when she had to walk the path to the well because she consistently had to watch all the other women go without her. The very place that was once her stumbling block became the place she was set free. The very place that she was always made to feel uncomfortable, now, with Jesus, she was very comfortable. Life is funny. Sometimes it seems as though the only way to really appreciate something so amazing is previously to have walked through the same place in pain. In years past, I had been asked to go speak at prisons, but I declined because of that pit inside of my stomach, as I was afraid of what it would do in me. What memories would it bring back? And just as I thought, it did “do” something to me. It changed me, thank God. As this month we set aside one day we call Thanksgiving Day, I want say that I'm thankful I went to prison. The Bible says we'll go from glory to glory and thank God, He never throws in the towel for us. The place that once brought me a terrible level of discomfort was the very place I returned and felt a new level of comfort, with Jesus. Are there some places in your life you know you are trying to fill with things that will never fill you like Jesus will? Let’s break you out of that prison mindset. Ask Jesus to reveal the lies you’ve believed and replace them with the truth of how He sees you. Where is a place in your life that once caused you pain? Ask God to take you back there, if even in your mind. It may surprise you. When you ask the Lord to come with you, the very place that once caused you pain could be the very place you find freedom.