Humility: From Both Sides Now

\"Robbe

I\’ve looked at clouds from both sides now;
From up and down, and still somehow
It\’s cloud illusions I recall;
I really don\’t know clouds at all.

[Lyrics by Joni Mitchell. Published by Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC]

I think about this song often, because of its title mainly. For me personally, I’ve been on both sides of a journey; both sides of the cell wall in a county jail.

My relationship with the county jail did not begin on the wrong side of the law. My first trip to the jail was with a woman who had performed a prison ministry for many years. I genuinely wanted to  help those whom much of society forgets, and those are the women behind bars. I loved it from the first day. We had two hours every Tuesday night to talk to the incarcerated. I felt as if I was where God wanted me to be. I quickly found out that most of the women had drug and/or alcohol problems, and that most came from broken homes. The lack of a father figure was a common thread. I once asked a group of women how many were raised in a family of divorce, and every single one of the 14 hands went up; mine included. However, I didn\’t see myself ever being in their position.

I had a soft spot for those women who were not only in jail, but who were “on the wall.”  The wall is solitary confinement. It is a cell the size of a large closet with a toilet and a cot. The reasons that someone is banished to the wall vary from health reasons to being punished for fighting or insubordination. All I know is those on the wall may as well be in Siberia. The isolation alone is punishing enough. I suppose I understand its purpose, but it is sure hard to observe. We could only stand and talk to them from behind a small opening in the door. Some cried a lot, but most just wanted to talk for as long as possible. We humans weren\’t created to be alone. We are more like the horse – an animal with a herd mentality.

I remember one woman in particular who had been on the wall for over two months straight. No one sent her letters. No one came to visit,  except for her court-appointed attorney. These are the people I consistently remember, and for whom I pray. When God tell us to \”fight the good fight\”, He isn\’t kidding. (1 Timothy 6:12)  For these women the fight is a struggle.

Of course, I didn\’t know at the time that my own fight was about to begin.

Crossing Over

My journey to the other side of the system was about five years ago when I was arrested the first time for DWI. I had never been taught any coping skills, so when the emotional pain from my childhood became too much, I medicated myself with alcohol.  Since Texas is considered a \”drinking state,\” from what I\’ve been told, the DWI laws are strong. Law enforcement is all business when it deals with a person who has been drinking and driving, and it should be. We have all seen the damage that driving while impaired can do, injuring and killing innocent people. I use the word “impaired” to emphasize the fact that it’s not just alcohol that makes driving dangerous. It is also prescription pills, and even some over the counter medications that can and do alter a person’s reaction time.

I must say here that I thank God every day that I did not have an accident, nor did I have my children, or anyone else, with me in that mini-van when these shameful events occurred. In the State of Texas, if you are arrested for DWI with any minors in the car, it is a flat-out felony.

It’s incredible where the feeling of shame can take you. Jail is made for punishment. But oftentimes, we are already punishing ourselves for past sins with drugs or alcohol. Having handcuffs placed onto my wrists and being read my rights only confirmed what I already thought about myself. I was better removed from society; better removed from the land of the living. As I was led away to holding, I suddenly realized why I was drawn to these incarcerated women through the prison ministry. I was one of them.

My first night was spent in what is called the tank.  It\’s a holding cell for about thirty women. There are about thirty cots that provide each prisoner with not much more than a bed to sleep upon. Your cot is your space. The more time you have to spend there, the more like your home it becomes. My tank was D-4.

When I walked into the cell, the only cot left had Catholic cards stuck on it with toothpaste. I had only been a Catholic convert for about seven years, but I knew as soon as I saw that space that God was there. That is not to say those cards were the only signs I received. However, I was hysterical my first night and when I saw all of the Catholic-Christian stuff pasted everywhere, it was comforting. Ironically, my cot was the only one like that at that time. It was like Divine Intervention led me directly there.  Thankfully, my stay was short.

Once Was Not Enough

While on probation for the first offense, I was arrested just a few months later for another DWI. My stay in the tank the second time was worse than the first, because it lasted 22 days. I was supposed to stay for 30 days, but the judge took pity on me when my mother-in-law passed away, and he released me so I could attend her funeral.

To add to my shame for this second offense, I had to wear an ankle bracelet called a SCRAM device that detects any alcohol if you decide to drink. I also had to attend classes and rehab, and have a blow device installed in my mini-van. That device was always an interesting conversation piece for people who did not know of my sordid past. I couldn\’t start my van without blowing into the machine for seven seconds. So, this was all another huge lesson in humility, to say the least.

Nourish the Soul

It’s been a humbling experience, this addiction thing. I must say that God does work full-time in these jails and prisons.  I\’ve seen how quickly we can we cross over from one side to the other by our own frailty.

There is a saying that I heard once in rehab, “You are unique –  just like everyone else.” We are all children of God; special, unique, loved.  The people you see under the bridge, sitting next to a building to keep warm, or standing at the street corner with a sign, they didn\’t start out there. People never crumble in a day. It takes time.  I once met a man in one of many stays in a rehab facility that looked like a bum in every sense of the word. Then I learned that he was a graduate of Harvard University. That news blew my mind.

You can\’t judge a person by appearance alone.  We all carry wounds and hurts that challenge us and are invisible. We all seek to find forgiveness, salvation, healing….we just have to know where to look.  And seeking to find healing in a bottle of alcohol, or drugs, only retards the healing process and robs us of the life we deserve.

So, now that I have shared my journey, you can understand that I\’ve seen not only people from both sides now, but also myself. And while Joni Mitchell came to the conclusion that she didn\’t know clouds at all after seeing them from both sides, I know that as a human being made in God’s image, I am capable of doing very good things. Being a sinner, I am also capable of doing very bad things.

In closing, let me share a Native American (Cherokee), proverb with you. There is a legend from the Cherokee Nation that goes – an old Cherokee told his grandson: “My son, there is a battle between two wolves inside us all. One is Evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, resentment, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is Good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy and truth.” The boy thought about it for a moment, and asked: “Grandfather, which wolf wins?” The old man quietly replied: “The one you feed.” 

God doesn\’t want us to feed our fears.  He wants us to nourish our soul.  “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.”  (2 Timothy 1:7)

© 2014. Robbe Lyn Sebesta. All rights reserved.

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23 thoughts on “Humility: From Both Sides Now”

  1. Pingback: Review of Son of God - BigPulpit.com

  2. Robbe Lyn thank you for sharing this! I love the Cherokee proverb and the verse from 2 Timothy. That really speaks to me. I agree with the others — write on!

    1. Thank you David! I really like that story from the Cherokee too and I’m so glad to know it speaks to someone else and that I shared it. Your encouragement is so nice to hear, thank you for reading!

  3. The 8th commandment says we must not bear false witness.

    The flip side of this is that we must live the truth and glorify God through our lives. Holiness involves knowing yourself and manifesting yourself as you really are.

    You have single handedly humbled millions of us who should aspire to what you have said and done here. Millions of us.

    You are so gifted.

    1. What a nice compliment Jeff, thank you! That is very kind of you to say. My un-doing was done in such a painfully public way that the days of me trying to appear as something I was not were over instantly. I must say, as terrible as addiction is, you find out who you are, and you also find out who your friends are very quickly, when you fall publicly. That has been the silver lining for me. I never again will care so much about anything as I do about my relationship with God. People scatter when bad things happen, while God sticks around. When I am doing my best for him, the right people stay in my life. Again Jeff, thank you so much for such a huge compliment. I truly appreciate it.

  4. Thank you Robbe Lyn for being so genuine and for sharing such a personal part of your life. Your wisdom and new found perspectives help light the way for all of us.

    1. Mary Ann,
      Thank you for reading and for your kind words. To have such a shameful past, it’s so nice to have such supportive people surrounding me, for it hasn’t always been so. And this is what every addict/alcoholic needs, but unfortunately, doesn’t get. They are always in my prayers!

  5. You are a gift from God to all of us who are blessed to know you! You have found your true voice. Write on, my friend in Christ, write on!

    1. Thank you J….I told Stacy earlier, that if just one person can be helped from me sharing my sordid past, then all of my shame and turmoil has not been in vain. I’m so grateful for CS and people like you who are full of the Holy Spirit, where it’s been a safe place to share such painful experiences.

    1. Aww!! Thank you Stacy!! I love you guys too…more than you can know! You’ve been a God-send for me indeed!

  6. Excellent realism. Jail is not as remote as people think. I could have been jailed twice for excessive force against criminals ( once a citizen’s arrest event) but I was simply lucky in having a judge who ignored the defense lawyer in a tough town. But I know God wants me to be nicer in the future on the street but in home invasion at night, even God presumes murderous intent in Exodus 22:2-3…” 2 If the thief is found breaking in, and he is struck so that he dies, there shall be no guilt for his bloodshed. 3 If the sun has risen on him, there shall be guilt for his bloodshed.”. Subtly implied is that he’s a burglar if its daytime but a murderous robber if at night. When I registered my tactical shotgun with my city police, the cop on duty said…”ya know, you can’t just shoot a guy who’s just taking your tv when you walk in.”. I retorted, “Are we talking HD”. I’m joking. But the cop knew the essence of Exodus 22:2-3.

    1. Nannon31, thank you for your insight and for sharing! It’s so very true isn’t it? Jail may be in the center of your city or town, or just a few miles away, but once you’re on the inside, you may as well be in Siberia, for that’s how it feels. Especially like I said, for those in solitary confinement – On the Wall.

    1. Well a big thank YOU for helping me with this Diane, my dear friend. Like I said before, I feel safe with you, and that is a great attribute to have! 🙂

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