It’s Rhonda Bear Day!
This morning, when Stand in the Gap’s Rhonda Bear drove from her home in Claremore to Oklahoma City she had no idea that it was officially HER day!
Tulsa World readers saw her photo on the front page of the Metro section. Ginnie Graham’s article “Inmate to inspiration” profiled Rhonda and how she “helps women navigate life after incarceration”.
Across the state, members of her Stand in the Gap spiritual family, her actual family, and her fellow Stand in the Gap staffers were in their cars, heading to OKC’s Tower Theatre to hear Rhonda give her first TEDX talk. And Governor Stitt was filming a video, declaring Friday, April 5 “Rhonda Bear Day” in Oklahoma.
Surprised and honored, Rhonda took the opportunity to point at her goal, reuniting children with safe, sober, healthy mothers after incarceration and reducing Oklahoma’s rate of incarceration. “This was an amazing day. But I don’t want to miss the real message. Investing in people changes people. I am a product of SO many loving me unconditionally and that love changed my life and propelled me to go forth and change others!“
RHONDA BEAR is the Women in Transition Program Director for Stand in the Gap.
In her past, a longstanding drug addiction, attempted suicide, jail time, and dysfunctional family drama were writing Rhonda’s story. But with the help of her own Stand in the Gap family, Rhonda’s present and future tell a very different tale.
RHONDA'S STORY IN HER OWN WORDS
Everything changed when I was nine years old. My father announced that he was in love with the babysitter. My mom got a gun and tried to shoot him. The babysitter’s father tackled her in the kitchen. The next day, my mother loaded a U-Haul trailer and moved my two sisters and I to Texas.
In Texas we were living in deep poverty. More for the money than anything else, my mother married her high-school sweetheart who had grown up to be relatively wealthy. Unfortunately, he’d also grown up to be a violent alcoholic.
When I was 13 years old, my soccer coach offered me a Valium to “calm my nerves” before a big game. It was the best feeling I’d ever had. By the time I was 15, my mother was divorced again, I was addicted to barbiturates and shooting up meth. I was running with a dangerous crowd, kicked out of my mother’s house, kicked out of my foster home, and stealing checks to buy drugs. Soon I learned that I didn’t have to steal checks to get drugs, I could have sexual relationships with the lawyers prosecuting my case, the charges would go away, and the drugs would keep coming.
It took my attempted suicide to make me wonder about life after death. While I was recovering in the hospital, I met a youth minister who led me to Christ. I had an amazing transformation. Laying down the drugs, I started to memorize scripture.
Young and Alone
Eventually, my mother’s new boyfriend decided he wasn’t interested in raising her children. The two of them emptied the house of all our belongings and went off on an indefinite “vacation” leaving my sisters and I to fend for ourselves.
I left Texas with a biker gang. I ended up in an organized crime group in south Louisiana. I was addicted to cocaine and Valium.
With the help of a neighbor, I eventually left and went to Teen Challenge. I lived there for a year, clean, sober and growing in my relationship with the Lord.
When my time in Teen Challenge was over, I went to Oklahoma to find my mother. Instead, I met the son of a Baptist preacher. He loved me, and he thought he could keep my drug habit “in check.” When I got pregnant, we got married. Three children later, I was completely addicted to meth.
The Cycle of Abandonment
I lost custody of my children twice. I was wanted in six counties and two states. I weighed 90 pounds. I kept getting arrested, but I would get bailed out and then jump bond. I spent one freezing night hiding from police in a brush pile.
That night, hiding in the sleet, I prayed “God, give me the courage to do something with my life.” The next day, I went to a detox center in Tulsa. I called the District Attorney’s office and promised to turn myself in if I could spend one full day with my children.
I hated myself for loosing them. I knew the feeling of abandonment. I had lived it, and now I had done the same thing to my children. I had chosen a relationship. I had chosen drugs. I had chosen everything over them. And I knew exactly how that felt.
So my children and I spent one day together. I apologized for the mother I had been. And the next day, I turned myself in.
In prison, I had the opportunity to attend a Kairos weekend. That’s where I met Eileen.
The Stand in the Gap Story
Eileen was a volunteer. She and I connected in Christ. Even after I was moved to a different prison, she continued to visit me. And when the time came for my release, Eileen suggested I join a Stand in the Gap family.
I was torn because I’d promised my children that I’d come back to them in Tahlequah and the Stand in the Gap family was in Tulsa. Eileen just asked that I pray about it. When I was accepted to a transitional living house in Tulsa, and had joined my Stand in the Gap family, the Lord brought my children to me. The court gave temporary custody of my children to Stand in the Gap ministry.
It was amazing how this group of people came behind my family. We prayed for a job. I got an amazing job and worked there for nine years.
We prayed for a car. I wanted a Volvo, and the kids wanted it to be red with a sunroof. A woman called Eileen at her church wanting to donate her car. It was a red Volvo with a sunroof.
We prayed for a house. Specifically, I prayed, Lord, could there be a maple tree in the front yard? I found one in the right school district, equally between my job and the kids’ school, with a beautiful silver maple in the front yard. I prayed, Lord, thank you but I want to tell you a secret, I really wanted a red maple, not a silver. Four and a half years later, when I got married, there was a five-year-old red maple in the front yard. My husband was planting that tree about the time I was praying for it.
Today, I’m back in prison.
But this time, I’m a DOC volunteer, teaching Stand in the Gap’s Women in Transition curriculum behind prison walls. My husband and I run four transitional living facilities for women in Claremore. I’m a kairos volunteer. I’m working in the state of Oklahoma to make a difference in the lives of women and their children.
One of my defining scriptures is Psalm 142:7, “Set me free from my prison, that I may praise your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of your goodness to me.” I always felt that the “righteous gathered around me” was the perfect description of my Stand in the Gap family. When times got tough, they didn’t quit, they just prayed harder. And God showed up.