The Sentence for My Crime: Mercy

January 24, 2014 | 15 comments

I’d never been to that church before, so it both surprised and amused me when someone in charge thrust a stack of paper bulletins into my hands.

“You can hand these out,” he said, motioning to the glass doors. “They’ll be here soon.”

Within minutes, a long line snaked out the door. Some of them looked as surprised as me, to find a strange, grinning woman greeting them at their own church, on a cold Tuesday night in January.

I made a point of looking every person in the eye. It seemed so small, but it’s all I had to offer.


I thought to myself: How happy some of these folks looked. And I guess you could say that surprised me, knowing what I knew about them, knowing a bit of the baggage they brought through the church doors. But I saw it in the way their eyes were all lit up, like they were anticipating God Himself had promised to show up at the service. And I felt a bit jealous, how they’d come so expectant like that, like they’d be looking forward to this all day.

And I couldn’t argue with them, knowing what the Bible says about such things. God tends to show up like that, for the Good Book says He’s enthroned on the praises of His people. God arrives, as if chauffeured inside the very hearts of those who believe.

But the weary were among them, too. The weary and the shame-filled and the heart-empty — these ragamuffins with baggy pants and drooping shoulders and sagging spirits, wanting just a droplet of grace tonight. These were the broken beggars of mercy.

The opening songs began, and I sat over on the right side, chin quivering, as we stood together — one body, sinners made saints — to sing, “O How He Loves Us.”

Last time I sang that song, I was in a room filled with women attending a retreat led by a friend in Nebraska. But tonight? I was in a room full of criminals, and they all wore this one word screenprinted, in fat bold letters, down the side of their knaki pants: INMATE.

No, the Iowa mama didn’t have that word streaking across her Miss Me jeans. No one there saw my sin, not the way God does. I have no scarlet letter. But God knows, I’ve been in my own kind of prison. I’ve got a criminal record. Guilty as they come.

But. Yeah. He loves us. O, how He loves us. Oh.

I was the thief on the cross, whispering through cracked lips to Jesus, begging for a droplet of grace: “Remember me when you enter your Kingdom.”

And God, our judge, delivers the sentence: Life in grace, without parole. 

Joining Lisa-Jo Baker in her five-minute, free-write exercise. This week’s writing prompt: VISIT. I’m sharing about the prison church service that a few members of our church attended on Tuesday night.

(“Life in grace with parole” is a phrase borrowed from our friend Jason Wiersma, who leads the Living Stone Prison Ministry in South Dakota.)

by | January 24, 2014 | 15 comments


  1. Dawn Paoletta

    I am after you at Lisa_Jo’s today, dear Jennifer! OK, so right there, Life in grace without parole…chills down my whole body. Wow…Amen. That is powerful…so blessed by your words. And hanging on to that beauty. I’ve been a prisoner before, but Lord, have mercy- now I am a prisoner of grace with no parole! Hallelujah!

  2. Eileen

    Love love love it!

  3. Mary Hill

    Hi, I am your neighbor also on Five Minute Friday. I loved your post. These ministries are so vital and change so many lives. I really enjoyed your “visit” post.It is ironic how I touched on the same theme in my post. I know the Holy Spirit is on the move working in the lives of all of us Five Minute Fivers.

    • dukeslee

      Well, hello neighbor! We are so delighted to be a part of some area prison ministries, and are always blessed to participate in worship services. Humbling grace, always.

  4. Linda@Creekside

    ‘broken beggars of mercy.’
    yep, that about sums it up. for who I am.

  5. Karrilee Aggett

    Oh my word… how He shines through yours! Love this!

    • Pat

      Absolutely agree Karrilee, I’m such a fan.
      Please don’t let anything compromise the sweet and authentic person you are, Jennifer Dukes Lee. I just love you.

  6. Amy

    Jennifer, this is just such a beautiful reminder of how much He does love us. Each of us. No matter where we are or what we have done He is there waiting on us to cry out to Him. Thank you for sharing

  7. Alia_Joy

    This is so beautiful, Jennifer. I remember that song during JT and how I had to gulp down grace and think of my stone with the black marked word across it. You’re right. Guilty as they come and yet free. Completely. Loved this write.

  8. Rachael

    Wow..I will take that sentence: life in grace without parole. Open the prison gates….

  9. Richelle Wright

    wow! what a phrase – life in grace without parole! amen!!!

  10. Kelly Greer

    How did I miss this? You saw them witb Jesus eyes Jennifer…isnt it the most glorious sight of all? You put tears in my eyes and a lump in my throat.
    Hugs friend!



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