June 16, 2019
Restoring hope for broken women
It was Friday, June 7. I was up bright and early. Enjoyed the free breakfast at our motel.
After a short drive, I was seated beside my wife before 8:00 o’clock in the basement of a dilapidated old building that had once been a fine Birmingham hospital. My son Matt and his wife Tammy were there with us.
Dozens of others, of all ages, strangers to one another, were seated with us. Music filled the air. Women and children began dancing near the stage up front. It was fun watching them because they were smiling and laughing.
The dancing gave way to worship, informal and soul-stirring. The song, “Spirit Lead Me,” by Michael Ketterer, was a new one for me. The words touched my heart, moving me to tears as I thought about what that song must mean to the women in that large room. Reflect on these words and you can sense the mood in that room:
If you say “it’s wrong,” then I’ll say “no”
If you say “release,” I’m letting go
If You’re in it with me, I’ll begin
And when you say to jump, I’m diving in
If you say “be still,” then I will wait
If You say to trust, I will obey
I don’t wanna follow my own ways
I’m done chasing feelings
Spirit lead me
My life is an altar
Let Your fire fall
If that does not light your fire, then your wood is mighty wet!
After the inspiring worship time, a woman stepped up to the podium and began introducing the 17 women who were graduating from the program offered by the Lovelady Center.
Who are these women? The women are “clients” of the Center, which is a faith-based ministry offering hope to broken women who have spent time behind bars. Most enter the Center after their release from jail or prison. Many are on parole and must complete the “Re-entry Program” in order to be released from parole. These women are not choir girls; they are junkies, drug dealers, alcoholics, petty thieves, armed robbers, grifters and prostitutes. Some are homeless women who have been abused and abandoned. The frightening truth is that the majority of these women do not stand a chance for a decent life without the help of a ministry like the Lovelady Center.
Women must test clean on a drug test to be accepted into the Center. Upon entering the program, they meet a tough and loving woman known as “Miss Brenda” Spahn. She created the ministry “to help women who need a chance to obtain the tools to break free and live the life God created them to live.” Miss Brenda runs a tight ship with the help of her daughter, “Miss Melinda.”
Clients are expected to participate fully in the program for a minimum of 9 to 12 months. They are required to earn 64 credits to graduate. Credits are earned by completing classes such classes as Life Skills, Celebrate Recovery, Conflict Resolutions, Anger Management, Criminal Thinking, Parenting, Finance and Discipleship.
Extensive counseling is a requirement of the Center. Miss Brenda explains why: “The majority of our residents have been abused, abandoned and/or carry a tremendous amount of guilt for their bad decisions so counseling is a very big part of a successful transition back to life without the ‘escapes’ previously used.”
Miss Brenda is a devout Christian so faith plays a big role in the operation of the Center. All 400 women and their children (about 150) are expected to attend church services three times a week “to experience the love of Christ” and benefit from inclusion in a church family.
One splendid offering of the Center is a “Job Readiness Program.” Many spend weeks in job training while seeking to complete job readiness certification. GED classes and tutoring are available to those in need of their GED. Judson College teaches on-site classes providing credits toward an Associate or Bachelor degree.
Ministries have a mission. Here is the mission of the Center: “To empower women, through faith-based initiatives, to return to society as well-equipped women of God. To help women rebuild their lives and walk forward with faith-driven hope for a future as contributing members of our community. To ensure each women is taught how to overcome barriers to success by providing access to needed services. You can give a person shelter, food and clothing, but if they cannot support themselves, the cycle of poverty, incarceration and crime will not be broken.”
To my great surprise, I learned that the Lovelady Center is the largest and most successful nonprofit transitional center for women in America. The Center serves 450 women and children every day, providing substance counseling, drug rehabilitation, meals, childcare, career counseling and job opportunities to women seeking a successful life outside of prison walls.
The story of the Lovelady Center is told beautifully in Brenda’s book, Miss Brenda and the Loveladies. It is available in paperback from Amazon for $12.00 or the Kindle edition which is $9.00. I found it inspiring and heartwarming. Warning: If you read it, you will want to help Miss Brenda keep the Lovelady Center going!
If you are curious about why I have told you more than you wanted to know about a women’s ministry in Birmingham, I can explain. I was profoundly impressed with the redemptive work the Lovelady Center is doing to help broken women. This is not just one more rehab center; this is a ministry that is changing lives!
However, my primary reason is very personal. One of those 17 women who graduated on June 7 is my granddaughter Caroline Sinclair Albritton whose 41st birthday is tomorrow. Our family owes a huge debt to Miss Brenda and the Lovelady Center for helping our Clair to get clean, maintain sobriety, and become a new person by the grace of God. You can see the newness in her eyes! They betray a work done in her heart!
We are so proud of Clair for completing this very demanding program that we want to shout it from the rooftops! “Thankful” is too mild a word to describe our feelings!
Yes, our family realizes that a relapse is possible. But we are hopeful! And Clair is hopeful! She tells us her confidence level is high. She knows the path to recovery is not easy but she believes she can stay the course. Miss Brenda understands her need; Clair had to spend several hours in “Required Relapse Prevention” before she could graduate. One solid reason for hope is that Clair’s habits have changed. She explained why this makes such a huge difference: “I have learned that we can’t change our future but we can change our habits and surely our habits will change our future.” Yes!
Clair knows her family is in her balcony, ready to do all we can to assist her in rebuilding her life. We know we cannot do it for her but we believe that, like Miss Brenda, Clair knows now how to access the grace and gumption she needs for a new life. So my final word is a shout-out to our beloved granddaughter:
Clair, you can do it! We love you! We’re in your balcony! You’ve got what it takes! We believe you will make Miss Brenda proud of the amazing work to which she has given her life! Glory! + + +