The Word Among Us

June 2015 Issue

Give Me Grace, O Lord

How the Holy Spirit nudged me beyond my comfort level

By: Debbie Skinner

Give Me Grace, O Lord: How the Holy Spirit nudged me beyond my comfort level by Debbie Skinner

“Do you know Trevor?” the school counselor asked me one day. The way she said it gave me chills.

Of course I knew him. I have taught thousands of students over the course of my twenty-five-year career, but Trevor was one I could never forget. I loved that kid! I had met him when he was in his early teens and was serving on the junior high student council. He was a go-getter who worked hard to involve everyone in school projects, and he was great fun to be around. When he went away to university, I was confident that he would do well.

Now, the tone of the counselor’s voice told me that something bad had happened. I braced myself to hear that Trevor had been hurt or killed in a car wreck. But no, he was in jail for taking part in a robbery.

For a few seconds, I stood there numb. Why would a kid who had everything going for him be part of such a thing? As the news sank in, an intense feeling came over me: I had to go see him.

Out of My Comfort Zone. After some searching around, I discovered that Trevor was being held in a jail three hundred miles from my home. Amazingly, it was in the same city where I was to attend a teaching conference just a few weeks later!

As I planned for my visit, I prayed. A lot. “I’m scared,” I told God one night in the adoration chapel. This was way beyond my comfort level. Trevor didn’t know I was coming, and I had no idea whether he’d want to see me or what I’d say to him. Also, I’ve lived a pretty sheltered life, and the mere thought of being inside a detention facility made me nervous.

It was prayer that kept me going, especially on the day of my visit. I found the building easily enough (it was just a mile from my hotel), but it took a lot of time to get registered, approved, and searched before I was finally ushered into the elevator to the floor where Trevor was being held. The wait was nerve-racking. To relieve my tension, I kept repeating a prayer-song that I’d learned from a Nigerian priest at a nearby parish:

Give me grace, O Lord.
I need your grace, O Lord,
Abundant grace, O Lord.
Your grace is enough for me.

“I Can’t Believe You’re Here.” The visiting area looked just like I’d seen in the movies, with inmates and their loved ones facing each other through a thick pane of glass and speaking by phone. I watched as Trevor was brought in, seated, and shackled to the table. No one had told him who his visitor was, and he looked surprised as he picked up his phone. As long as I live, I will never forget his first words: “Mrs. Skinner, I can’t believe you’re here. I had a dream about you last night.”

All my nervousness vanished away. “Of course I’m here,” I said. “I love you, and I wanted to come and be with you in person.” Trevor began sobbing, but somehow I held it together, even though it broke my heart to see him in those surroundings. We visited for a bit, and too soon it was time for me to go. Again I told him that I loved him, and I promised to write.

That was the first of many visits. They got easier, in a way, because after Trevor‘s sentencing, he was moved to a lower-security penitentiary that was much closer to my home. Getting approval for each visit involved some paperwork, but our time together was much more pleasant. We sat and talked in a big common area, without any separating barriers. I could go outdoors with Trevor, buy him a soda, and even give him a hug.

In reality, though, I never found it easy to be inside a prison. Fear ran through me each time I went in, especially as I followed the guards through one set of doors after another. The sound of those big metal gates slamming shut behind me, locking me further and further inside, was eerie. Even though I knew that I’d be walking out again, I felt trapped, as well as upset that Trevor and so many others had to live in such a place.

Still, I kept visiting, pleading for God’s help and prompted by an enormous sense that I should be there for Trevor. “Give me grace, O Lord. . . . Your grace is enough for me.”

I Believe in You. In between visits, we wrote to one another—sometimes often, sometimes not. Always, always over the next four years, my letters told Trevor that I loved him, prayed for him, and believed in him. Knowing the kind of person he really was, I was sure that he would take the negative circumstances of his imprisonment and turn them around to make a positive difference.

My belief was well-founded. After Trevor finished serving his time and was released, he resumed college and got a job on campus. I called on his twenty-fifth birthday, and he said he would be graduating the following semester. When I pulled his graduation invitation out of my mailbox some time later, I was thrilled, but not surprised. I wouldn’t have missed that event for the world!

Trevor now has an advanced degree and a successful career, and he continues to move forward. I feel very blessed that I was able to reach out and support him in his time of need. The situation was dark and sad, but being part of it gave me a sense of happiness that’s very hard to describe.

The experience also brought me closer to God. I felt that he was walking beside me the entire way. It’s as if his arms were encircling me in love, and I was given strength and confidence to do things I would never have considered before. It wasn’t dramatic—no blinding flashes of insight or “Holy Spirit moments.” Yet as I prayed, I just knew what to do, and did it. I discovered that his grace really was enough for me.

Maybe the Holy Spirit believed in me, just as I believed in Trevor.

Debbie Skinner is a retired language arts teacher.