There I was. There we were. Four women squeezed into an elevator with 7 young men and two guards. My team at the Juvenile Detention Center headed to the girls unit.
We had gone through security, finished our initial check-in and received our bright orange stickers that announced we were visitors. Escorted to the elevator, this was my first visit and I was more than a bit anxious.
The elevator opened slowly at the second floor. Older boys dressed in blue entered the elevator. Both guards gave us a nod of reassurance. We ladies moved against one wall of the elevator. The tight squeeze only intensified the pounding of my heart. It was going to take more than a slight gesture to assure my body it was safe. I was powered up ready to fight and run! Then the doors closed.
“What on earth am I doing here? What was I even thinking? I could die in this elevator! Okay Robyn, take a deep breath. Remember, God has called you here.” I did believe that last part… AND in the moment it felt like I had totally lost all common sense, that God was crazy and this little adventure we were on was way too risky. Either God had made a huge mistake or I had not listened very well.
Our arrival on the girls floor brought looks of contempt and curiosity from the guards and residents. I quickly scanned the room. Girls sat on stools around stainless steel tables bolted to the floor. Blue doors lined the far wall with “private rooms” that afforded no privacy. The television droned as several watched like zombies. There were a few tattered books on a case. Two public showers tucked in the corner of the common area with no curtains. The faint smell of bleach lingered in the air.
And the girls, they were just babies. Ages 10-17, many with a countenance hardened beyond their years.
We were quickly introduced as members of the religious staff. I could feel the tension rise in the room. Eyes rolled, sneers broaden, whispers floated and a few snickers cut the cold air. Body language screamed, “I dare you to speak about your God.” This was going to be a tough crowd.
And me, I was the speaker for the evening. We were scheduled to visit all four pods that detained approximately forty-four girls. I had fought for the topic and now …. “Oh Jesus, you had better show up here tonight, because I cannot pull this one off.”
I cleared my throat, took a deep breath. Intentionally looking each girl in the eye, I began to tell my story of being abused as a child. Suddenly, my body relaxed and the words flowed from my mouth as I leaned into the One who had brought me to this place.
Soon all eyes and ears were attentive. Some remained tough with arms tightly folded, while others let tears flow freely. I shared how the wounds I had received as a young girl did not come alone. They had brought messages with them, messages that had stuck to the core of my heart, “dirty, stupid, ugly, crazy whore – it’s your fault.” And my little girl heart grabbed onto the lies about my dignity to make sense of my world and the awful things that happened. There was no one there to help me; I had to figure it out on my own. Using lies to care for my heart helped me stay alive as a child, but eventually left me a woman imprisoned in shame and hatred.
Finishing, I told them how dangerous it was to take our wounded and broken heart to anyone or anything but God. The room was silent. The rules state we cannot ask the girls about their stories. They can share, but we cannot initiate. So, I asked if there were any questions. A hand slowly rose. “Miss Robyn, you told my story.” Several girls nodded. I felt tears sting my eyes.
We handed out coloring pages, crayons and hair ties. They eagerly took and enjoyed these simple gifts. As they were coloring we offered to pray for the girls individually. Several timidly came and we heard their stories of harm and the harm they had done to others. Most were runaways, chronic truants or detained on theft or assault. I listened care-fully and prayed fervently for and over these hurting little girls.
We did not make it to all 4 pods in the unit that night. I had finished speaking in pod #3 where they appeared to sit unresponsive. No questions only vacant eyes blinked my direction. Not much seemed to engage their hearts. One of my team shrugged. I was tired, discouraged, and ready to leave.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I saw a body powerfully moving towards me. She was the leader of the pod. I had noticed her watching me and every other girl in the room. Apparently she had earned her status. The guard moved forward and stood alert watching for signs of trouble, ready to intervene.
“Well, here it is.” I thought as she approached putting her face in mine. Toughly the girl spoke, pointing her finger with her blazing brown eyes locked onto mine. “We get a lot of church ladies that come up here. Thinkin’ they can make us all good or somethin’. Tellin’ us about God and all that. Look around. See where we at. I’ve been watchin’ you Miss Robyn.”
I stood with her, never taking my eyes from hers or backing down as she continued. “Miss Robyn, you are different. You are the real deal. Will you pray for me? I want what you have.”
Umm…yeah, I was relieved to say the very least! And I was curious. How did she know that I was the “real deal”? “Dang Miss Robyn, it’s in your eyes! You know that. It’s always in the eyes.”
And there was no death, no black eye or even spit in my face. I told her about a life of freedom she could experience that very evening – yes, in spite of her circumstances. All she needed was to believe and simply ask. She was all in!
There I was. There we were. And I knew that I had been no different than any other little girl I had seen that night. We all yearned to live in true freedom.
I walked away grateful for the safe embrace and healing care God has given to my heart. Astonished at the adventure and freedom He invites my thriving heart to enjoy each day. And longing, longing for so much more… for me and for every other little girl’s heart.
Oh yes dear Jesus, let your truth set our hearts free!
Robyn Whitaker lives in Texas with her beloved husband of 32 years. She has an adventurous heart that is learning to breathe. Lover of truth, seeker of story, aspiring author and newborn dreamer, this mother of three is in search of redemption and living her Kingdom purpose. Robyn writes here.