I’m going to just have to spend one more day on the women at the Susan Burton home we visited last Saturday in the Watts area of Los Angeles. They are so inspiring. I wish you all could have been there.
When you go through lower-income areas you realize how people can be economically trapped only blocks away from freedom, and never get out. The poverty breeds drugs, alcohol abuse, gangs and crime. Kids growing up in this environment hardly have a chance. These women ended up in jail for what they called an “accident,” when in reality they were born into an accident. They didn’t have a whole lot of choice.
I grew up just a few miles away from Susan’s house and didn’t have any bars on my windows. I walked to school, played in the neighborhood and had tons of choices and encouragement to make something of my life. I was a senior in high school when Watts burned, and I can remember wondering why.
And yet, on Saturday, we were greeted by joy. There was freedom, appreciation for life and the hope of making something better out of their lives. They met us with hugs and heart necklaces as if we were long-lost relatives. One of them, Karen Fields, gave us a Christmas card she signed with a note, “Something to say thank you. Would like to wish you a very beautiful Christmas filled with so much joy as well as happiness.” On the front of the card it reads, “This Christmas, celebrate the very best gifts of all – a heart filled with love, a home overflowing with joy, and a world full of hope.”
Nothing could have said it better. When we walked inside, we realized we were in that home. We were met by hearts filled with love, a home filled with joy; and when they talked about their lives, they were introducing us to a world full of hope. That’s what they were seeing for the first time in their lives – hope that things were going to get better. They could see it and touch it, and see living examples of it all around them. The anticipation was contagious. There may have been bars on their windows, but not over their hearts and minds.
You should have seen them open your gifts. They longed to thank you. They wondered who you were; what you were like. They wanted so much to give something back. That’s what impressed me the most – how we were received with so much joy and appreciation. We may have brought most of the gifts, but they brought most of the love.
Almost 50 years ago Watts burned. We were close enough to worry. Some of the smoke drifted over our neighborhood. I remember looking down my street wondering if they were going to come burn my house down. Today, a house there with bars on its windows has become a house of hope. And the institutional bars these women were behind for so long are now behind them. Pray for them, that they may be able to continue on the path they have begun, and that the grace that has been freely bestowed on them would turn outward to those in similar situations so as to set others free as well.