I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have ￼learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need” (Philippians 4:12).
Unlocking the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need doesn’t feel like much of a gift while the backbreaking weight of tribulation bears down. Tinita Parker is painfully acquainted with the sorrows that come from being brought to the lowest of lows.
Just seven years ago, Tinita lost her home and was forced into survival mode. For three months, Tinita had to take care of herself, with three children in tow, when they found themselves homeless and living on the streets of Philadelphia.
Tinita’s family could no longer live the typical home-sweet-home kind of life. Though they found lodging in hotels, the money ran out, and they began bouncing from place to place, hoping the police wouldn’t chase them off. Tinita tried to stay strong for her children, especially in her faith, through prayer.
One night, exhausted from carrying belongings and weighed down emotionally, Tinita checked her family into a hotel. But the next morning, when her credit card was declined, the manager showed up at her door with a police officer. And just like that, Tinita was arrested, landed in prison, and her children landed in foster care. Her family was devastated and separated in just one moment.
The Charge And The Change
Despite the agony of not being able to see her children, Tinita made the most of her time in prison. The next six months were life-altering. She began working in the prison library. She helped the women around her by typing letters for them and researching laws to help them with their cases. Tinita also began a Bible study with them. They read the Word, prayed and encouraged one another a few times a week— sometimes more.
As the ladies around her grew in knowledge of the Truth, so did Tinita. She was grateful to attend church services any time they were available and even sang in the choir. And God began to move.
Serving Jesus On The Inside
“I would sit in the yard, read my Bible and talk to God as I looked up at the heavens,” says Tinita. “I would often feel a sense of peace come over me. During that time the Lord showed me He had been with me always.”
But Tinita still ached to get out and get her life back on track. She decided to enter Options Unit, a special program for those who struggled with addiction. She hoped her participation in the program might expedite her ability to go back home.
The Options Unit was a game changer in Tinita’s life, shining a ray of hope that Tinita could redeem her time left on this earth. The counselor would tell them, “You ladies are not criminals. You are just women who have made bad choices. This is your chance to make it right.”
As the counselor met privately with Tinita, she was faithful to encourage Tinita with the Word of God. Tinita was able to talk through her problems, her struggles with her children and her feelings about being alone in this world. The counselor was kind to her and gave her many special opportunities to speak and join programs.
Tinita remembers, “I always believed that she had a hand in me going home. She always said ‘Tinita you don’t belong here.’”
Tinita says she “surrendered to the Lord completely” during her time in the Options Unit. She was walking closely with Him, no longer depressed, and she was comforted that He would always be enough no matter what.
Remembered By God
When Tinita was released from prison, she got a great job, bought a house and served in the church. Things were looking up, but storms were on the horizon again.
Tinita was laid off from her job, and once again she found herself with her children carrying their belongings from place to place. Weary from walking and swollen due to her diabetes, she got a hotel room and wrote a check. But when the check bounced, a police officer bounced Tinita right back to prison.
But it was a blessing in disguise.
Due to her diabetes, Tinita was sent to the medical unit for insulin. While she was waiting there, she saw her counselor friend from few years earlier walk past the doorway. Hiding her face in shame, she hoped her friend wouldn’t recognize her. But she did.
“What do you need?” she asked Tinita. Puzzled, Tinita looked up. “You asked God for help, right?” questioned the counselor.
Surprised, Tinita replied that she wanted to call her children.
Tinita’s friend allowed her to call her children and also gave her a pass to use the phone whenever she wanted. But that’s not even the coolest part. Since they had last met, her counselor friend had had a stroke. Though she recovered physically, sadly, she never regained memories of her husband or her family.
But she did remember Tinita.
Not only that, her counselor friend put some money on her account so Tinita could purchase some personal items she needed. Tinita was humbled and grateful for how God moved miraculously on Tinita’s behalf through her friend.
“I couldn’t believe she was helping me like this. I began to cry. I was just blown away at what God had done,” remembers Tinita.
The Freedom To Return To Prison
When Tinita was released from prison, she felt the Lord calling her to finish the book she had started writing after her first prison experience. And by God’s grace, she says, she finished the manuscript. But that’s not all.
As God continued to move all around Tinita, she was clearly seeing His hand at work in her life. God opened doors for her to tell her story. And you won’t believe the doors that have opened.
Tinita is heading back to prison. But this time, instead of being captive by the state, she is going back captivated by the love of Jesus. She’s returning as a free woman, hoping to share the encouragement and love of Jesus with the women there. Tinita desires to be the friend who believes in them like her counselor was for her. She doesn’t want them to be labeled by their deeds but instead wants them to know the cleansing, healing power of Jesus Christ.
Tinita has felt God’s mercy as she begins this ministry in obedience to Him. But it hasn’t been without challenges. She was almost turned away. She had taken Bibles and copies of Shattered to give to the women, but when the guards searched her things, she was told she couldn’t take the Bibles. Only the magazines. But she was okay with that, and so was Shattered!
Tinita considers herself a shy person, but little by little, God is giving her boldness. As she sat before the ladies, she was nervous to speak. But Tinita opened her mouth, and God was faithful to fill it with the words she needed. And God did not disappoint. Tinita’s testimony was well received by the women, and before she left, she reached out to the ladies with prayer and support.
But most of all, Tinita gave them hope. None of them could believe that Tinita had once been on the other side of those walls. Through her story,and the stories of many others in Shattered, she left them with the hope that change is possible. And she prays those stories will break down the barriers to belief in their hearts.
Because of her story of what she has been through, Tinita is able to offer comfort to the women, having received the comfort of Christ.
“I know what it is like to be separated from your children, homeless, hungry, to be imprisoned, sick and have no one to help you.”
Though the pain and suffering was heartbreaking at the time, Tinita realizes the gift she offers through sharing her story. God had a purpose in every bit of it, and she is careful to give God the glory for it all by pouring out her life for the sake of the Gospel.
Unlocking Secrets Behind Locked Doors
Behind the locked doors of prison, Tinita has unlocked the secret of suffering well. She knows God is good even in the tough times. Come what may, the greatest comfort is knowing we are restored to a right standing with God for all eternity through the goodness of Jesus Christ.
“I don’t want to be rich or have a mansion, nor have 12 cars,” Tinita said. “The only thing I want is for God to say, ‘Well done my good and faithful servant.’”
Well done. No matter her past, in Christ, Tinita is sure to hear those words. In Christ, Tinita’s suffering has not been worthless. In Christ, Tinita is forever free.