On Being Shut In
By Billie Marie Zal
When I was a little girl I used to dream a lot, and often I found myself sleepwalking, and one night mother got up and found me “missing” from my bed.
We lived in a tiny three room house near a large refinery in southern Arkansas at that time, and so it would be no hard task to find me. After a quick search of the home, however, I was nowhere to be found. Becoming alarmed, mama got daddy up and they ran outside calling for me.
I suppose that all the commotion awakened me. When I opened my eyes I was in total darkness. An old featherbed surrounded me, and I was dripping with perspiration. I had wandered into the walk-in closet, shut the door and curled up in our featherbed. And it was mid summer!
I was momentarily terrified, for I hated being shut in, and to find myself in such a place caused me near panic. Hollering for mama and daddy to come back inside, I ran to them, shivering with fright. Within a few minutes I was tucked safely back into bed and I determined never again to “sleep walk.”
It is not unusual to be afraid of being shut in. I have spoken with folks for many years about their various fears, and this symptom of claustrophobia usually crops up in nearly every life. We all want to be free, and we make our bid for freedom possibly from the moment we leave the confinement of the womb.
The troubles come to us when we fail to accept the limitations that will preserve us from harm. We mistake limits for confinement, and then our lives become one long stretch of misery. For it we are to know god and to become His children, we must of necessity know what limits are ours and when to go no further. We need lessons on being shut in.
I read once that parents become good parents when they learn to set limits. When my own son was tiny, setting limits was so difficult for me. He was a “free spirit,” and I sensed his desire to roam free and wild, even when he was a sturdy two-year-old. We lived out from town on a small acreage that had once been an old apple orchard, and we had no fenced yard. No matter what the weather was he could hardly wait to “be outside.” He was an unusually bright
child and we conversed quite normally since I was alone most of the time and he was my only companion during the long days. I told him he could go so far, and no farther, and he agreed.
For several days I sat at the window in my kitchen and kept watch over him. A two year old looks so very tiny in such a big world. He was so good. He got a couple of apple crates, one larger than the other, and laboriously set them up to resemble a pulpit. It was such a treat to listen in on his made up sermons as he stood on the box, pounding the pulpit and urging all the good people to go to “cerch.” His only congregation was an assortment of neighborhood cows, and the birds that flocked to our feeders. But he faithfully preached every afternoon to his followers.
Deciding that he would not go beyond the boundaries which I had set, I lessened my watchcare over him and got things done, happily assuming that he would be obedient. But one day I looked out to see him preaching on his box and to my dismay he was gone. Running outside I began to call to him. My voice seemed to mock me as the winds carried it off into nothingness. My baby was clearly gone.
By now I was doing the whole “what if he has been kidnapped?” bit in my mind. My heartbeat roared in my ears and my legs trembled as they became weaker from the fear that enveloped me. The next house was about one or two city blocks away, over little grassy knolls and down through a crevice or two. I ran toward it, praying that he had gone in that direction.
Suddenly, beyond an old gnarled apple tree, a tiny black headed boy appeared. The relief at seeing him alive and unharmed made me cry. I ran toward him, grabbed him up into my arms and held him close for a moment. Then I set him down, picked a good, keen limb off a young tree, and tanned his hide all the way home.
When we got back to where I had set the boundary, I stood him on it, and I said to him once again, “This is as far as you can go. This is your yard, and if you go any farther I will have to give you another spanking, and another, until you know how far you are allowed to go.”
He was an intelligent youngster and he received discipline well. Though I often checked on him after this incident, he never again went beyond his boundary. Then, when he was a little older, I increased the boundary according to his ability to handle his newly deserved freedom.
This was to be a help to me when I later became a babe in Christ. If we really believe
God we will never consider ourselves as “shut-ins.” For God is our Father, and what parent could know more than He what is best for us, since He made us? He sets limits for us, and makes them known to us. Whether we obey them or not determines what kind of life we will have - a good life of a bad life.
Time and again after my salvation I have had to go through the discipline of being shut in. There were the long periods of confinement to a bed right after I was born again. The thought of those days could cause me such anguish today had I not learned the deep lessons of faith on being confined to the discipline of a frail and weak body during those years. I learned so much; I learned how great a love God has for me - a brave love that does not stop the chastening until the desired effect in my life is perfected.
There were other times of confinement. I was so shut in when we left the North and moved to a southern city, uprooting our home, and our ministry of Bible studies. I was not well received in that little town. I loved black people, and so I was called names. I didn’t conform to the most popular religious denomination there, and so I was “off on my teaching.” I fished on Sunday and so I was a reprobate. On and on ran the rumors, and my heart was broken.
But when our hearts break, the wounds leave wide open spaces for God’s love to pour in, and I learned to love people who hated me in that town. I was so alone those six years, and my son was so alone for some of them. Being an American Indian, he had the usual harassment from southern children. Questions like, “Where is your tepee?” were flung at him, and together we would discuss the feelings he had and how to deal with his feelings. Always he would come out of his room smiling and thankful that he was not ashamed of his wonderful ancestry.
But the hardest part for me was the lack of Christian fellowship. I would be so lonely that I would sit out the Communion set on the coffee table and just have Communion alone, with God. By accepting my lot in life I learned that God Himself controlled my environment and He wanted me to learn a lesson in faith. He wanted me to love Him for Himself, not for the friends He could give me, nor the fellowship that I coveted so dearly. I was just to love Him for Himself.
It was a limitation set for me, most definitely. I could go so far and no farther. If I was to have a friend, He would and could certainly provide one. If I was to enjoy spiritual fellowship, could He not send those who loved Him as I did? Was He not enough!?
This lesson is probably the most valuable lesson of my Christian life. It has carried me through every conceivable kind of trial. It has been my stronghold uphill and downhill, in joys
and in sorrows. It has kept me on the right path when I would have given in to the enemy of souls and been misled by my emotions and my mind. Is He not enough?
When we finally came to our mountain in Northwest Arkansas, I thought that now I would no longer be shut in. There would be long days and lovely starry nights. I would be free to roam our forests and rest in the beauty of it all. But after we moved into our home, nestled on a ledge, I realized that again, I was shut in. There is not a window in our home that has a “wide open view” (I had always loved such a view, and in California I could see out for miles in almost every direction). Not only that, but the house is surrounded by tall, stately oaks and every kind of shrubbery. At first I felt that I must cut it all down, just to get a look at the outside, but the winter sparrows use the shrubs for their nesting places and their song is sweeter than most sounds on earth as they get together for evening vespers.
The rocks outside the breakfast room windows are secret hiding places for tiny chipmunks and squirrels who peek through at me as I press my face against the window and watch them feed. My view from the desk as I write is enhanced by beautiful white Saanen goats-behind fences, to be sure, but always there, ready to respond to human love.
My walks in the forest are limited to two or three a year, but when the opportunity comes how wonderful these walks are. Sometimes when we are permitted lots of freedom we do not enjoy the lovely things around us as we should. On being shut in, I savor the experience of a few minutes in the back yard, or a romp with the dogs, or just running outside at night to look at the canopy of stars and remember that God made them all, and such a God is my Father.
I am sure that all of you who read my little story have felt shut in. Some of you may be ill, confined to a bed or a wheelchair. Some of you may be suffering a great sorrow and its waves wash over you and shut you in to a terrifying darkness. Some of you may be shut in to a situation where your loved ones are unkind, and unreasonable. Some of you may have youngsters who have literally shut you in to a life of anguish and misery.
It is so easy to give in to despair and fight against your situation. It is so hard to accept and believe God loves you. And yet, if you take that step in faith and embrace the experience of being shut in, you will discover that a whole new world of liberty is yours, and nothing will ever shut you in again.
Note: Billie wrote this prior to her starting the prison ministry in 1986. In November, 1991 she republished the message with the following Notice at the end:
This message was written many years ago, and as the years have flown by I have been “shut in” more and more by circumstances, and I learned that yes, we have the choice to look at the circumstances or look unto Jesus, who is truly the “Author and the Finisher of our faith.” I believe that God gave me the message for just such a time as this: my brothers in prison are all “shut in,” but never forget that you are also “shut up unto God.” I especially reach out to those of you on Death Row at McAlester, Oklahoma, who by now are probably quartered in the new “underground unit.” You have told me that there will be no window to see out, and no cell door open enough to talk to others. My heart is with you. I do not know what I would do in your situation, except the one thing I have always done when I am at the “Red Sea Place in my life.” Go to God. I am having very special prayer for each of you. Hold on….Tomorrow Comes the Song!
And remember that you are loved.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Even though Billie has been gone four years many of you still mention her in almost every letter. One dear brother still addresses the envelope to her. She had a special love for prisoners, and it came as a gift from God. She received this gift of love with open arms, and that is why all of you who knew her remember her still, and miss her. So I’m going to share a short message she wrote in February, 1992:
What can I say to those of you at Tucker Death Row who have recently lost a friend to execution? My heart is knit together with each of you in your sorrow, for are we not commanded to “bear one another’s burdens,” and so fulfill the law of Christ? My one consolation in this murder is that our brother was “like a little child.” Before he was executed he told a friend that he was saved. He is one of God’s “little ones” and now he is enjoying the One who took him home.
I was called by God, and given specific instructions as to how I would minister to these forgotten men. The numbers have grown from eight to many, many more, and instead of receiving help from those in the free world who shout and praise God and “give evidence of their baptism in the Holy Spirit by speaking in other tongues,” this work has been shunned. One person whom I asked if they would like to help so that a prisoner could receive a few dollars for canteen, or a TV or radio, or fan, replied, “They get what they deserve.” If all of us got what we deserved we would all be in hell.
No matter, this work is precious to me. I prayed (interceded) for revival in the prisons in 1987. That year I broke both my arms, one in early summer and the other in late fall. We do not pray aggressively without a counter attack. But the revival is happening and I praise God every day of my life for the life that is being given to all of you - the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ.
I have never liked these cold, dark days of winter and I’m sure that’s true for most of us. Winter is wonderful with that first snow fall. Everything is suddenly so beautiful and the forest seems so quiet and almost warm. But its been a long time since we’ve had any real snow here.
We had a good Christmas at Brian and Gail’s. The house was so pretty and the food was good, and I truly wish that it was possible for everyone of you to have been there.
We received so many lovely Christmas cards and mail, and we thank all of you. Your words of thankfulness and love brought tears to my eyes. I am ever amazed at God’s work in the human heart and His ability to change a person with His grace and mercy.
After many years of failing health Rodney’s Mother, June left us for a better World on December 14th. We miss her because she loved us, and we loved her. She was a loving and caring lady, and always ready to forgive and see the best in a person. Many of you do not realize how important forgiveness is. Matthew 6:14-15 tells us that God won’t forgive us, if we do not forgive. And God can give all of us the capacity to love and forgive. That was something Rodney’s Mom showed me.
Happy New Year from all of us! (Front) Ed & Shirley (Back) Brian & Gail, Rodney & Margaret, Jay
Prayer Requests for January, 2008
For Marshall Ellis’ parents who are both ill. His Mother has Alzheimers, and his father was recently hospitalized and had to have two surgeries. Marshall is at Chester, Georgia.
For Willie Scott, Pine Bluff, Arkansas, who is being healed of prostate cancer and is receiving the last of his treatments. He will be tested this month to see if he is “cancer free.”
For Francis Nolan Holland’s sister, Donita, who has breast cancer. Nolan is at Tucker, Arkansas.
For Lonnie Burke, Mt. Sterling, Illinois, who is recovering from a stroke. His condition continues to improve.
For Ted Ricks, at Cushing, Oklahoma, that God continues to watch over him.
For Courtney Hadley’s grandmother who was in an automobile accident and will have surgery to remove glass in her face; and for Harry Lawrence’s Mother who has some health problems. Courtney and Harry are at Dixon, Illinois.
For Bobby Linscombe’s celly, Ron, at Iowa Park, Texas, who is trying to get his case reversed through prayer.
For Michael Small’s cousin, Jeffrey, who has diabetes and is in bad health. Michael is at Menard, Illinois.
For Stephano Jackson at McAlester, Oklahoma, for a transfer this year.
For Rudy Sisneros’ friend, Patsy & her family, for their salvation. Rudy is at Buena Vista, Colorado.
For Sonny Collinsworth, McAlester, Oklahoma, for a transfer to Holdenville or Lexington.
For Jerry Herring, Huntsville, Texas, that he will find a place to parole to.
For Anthony Grayson, Fallsburg, New York, for wisdom while putting together his appeal.
For Robert Heffernan, Brickeys, Arkansas, for health, and that he’ll be able to walk on his own soon.
For Pastor Melissa Scott and her ministry in Los Angeles, California.
For Sister Ann & all the Carmelite Nuns in Little Rock.
For all of us at Wingspread.
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