Posts Tagged ‘prison’

Many of you may be wondering why, after finally finding a nice steady pace, I suddenly stopped posting…yeah, there’s been the  occasional re-blog, when I see something I find especially moving…but no writing. And isn’t that the whole reason I started this blog, to give myself a forum to practice my art? Well, that is an interesting question, so let’s examine this idea.

I must admit that I have let myself become pretty divided lately…after all, I am just a guy, and I have trouble doing more than one thing at a time very well; multi-tasking has never really been one of my spiritual gifts. Here lately, I have reached critical mass – taking care of Karen as she slogged through cancer treatment; handling an enormous level of responsibility trying to drive the design process on a complex construction project at work; helping to kick-start a prayer-and-share ministry at a halfway house; and “standing in the gap” at the church while we struggled through the transition period without a pastor, or much of a leadership team at all, for that matter. The Lord has been with me, and these things have prospered…I have been blessed to have been a part of it all. But even seasons of insanity come to an end…and strangely enough, that has been the problem!

Karen has finally reached the end of her regimen – only two more radiation treatments and one more follow-up, and she will be done, hallelujah! The project has been designed to a fare-thee-well, and actual construction begins next week. A new crop of volunteers has been trained for prayer-and-share, and a routine has been developed, duties spread around. The church has merged with another fellowship, so we have a pastor, and a staff, and budget, and a vision. Suddenly, I don’t have a gap to stand in, and it has left me off-balance and questioning  my role, and in fact my value, because that is just how I am wired.  I have a lot of trouble functioning well unless there is a crisis going on…smooth seas and clear skies leave me twitchy and anxious, and I have never really understood why; in truth I still don’t. But that doesn’t mean that I have to accept that as a healthy or right way to live, because I can recognize that it isn’t…it’s just a matter of learning a new way to behave; substituting better habits in the place of bad ones, and rediscovering passions from my past that I have allowed to wither under the weight of “busyness”.  I have been working on that very thing for a few months now, with success, and so I think I can expand this behavior into other realms of my life.

Back on New Year’s Eve, I made two  life-changing decisions: I stopped smoking cigarettes, and I started distance running…something I really enjoyed back in high school, but allowed to die out.  I also began blogging about the journey, at the suggestion of a friend, who reminded me that accountability and support from others in a similar situation are invaluable for making commitments stick. She was right, and I have so far succeeded: I have not smoked for nearly 12 weeks; I have run almost 80 miles this year; I have completed one 5k race, and and I’m signed up for a 10k in May; and my running blog is doing quite well. So, let’ s apply some of these principles to my current issue: how to spend less time in agonies of doubt, and more time pursuing my God-given art of writing (the reason I began blogging, remember?) Here’s what I came up with:

I have registered for the Blogging from A-to-Z in April Challenge, as a way to encourage myself to write something every day for a month. I will focus on themes relevant to Christianity (my own unique spin on the challenge) and in the process, try to recover some of my joy and wonder at the purpose God has placed in me – to express in writing how great He is, and yet how accessible He is to any who will seek after Him. THIS is my role, THIS is my value to the kingdom of heaven…and I am grateful that the Lord is patient, and continues to minister to me and encourage me. He has done this through many mediums – the sermon series our pastor is doing on how God’s plan for humanity has always been that we are blessed to serve Him and to serve others for His glory; the brothers at the halfway house and at the prison where I serve, who are constant examples of how God’s grace extends to “the least and the lost” of this world, and that our worth in His eyes is in no way dependent on how the world sees us; and by a book I finally picked up off the shelf and started reading: Quitter, by Jon Acuff, who tells how finding fulfillment of our dreams is more about recovering than about discovering…a message I really needed to hear! (Jon also recently reminded me that artists are specially blessed by God, and that writers are artists.)

I welcome your comments, and pray that God will lead me in finding 26 creative ways to write about Him in April. I have heard that once you do something 21 times it has become an ingrained habit…let’s put that to the test again, shall we? Stay tuned, spread the word, I believe some wonderful things are about to happen!

Hi everybody! I haven’t done much “free writing” here lately; seems like everything has been purpose-driven: sermon texts, bible studies, reblogs of (really great) work by others, and discussions in apologetics – that’s pretty much the index for the whole last month, isn’t it? Well, today I want to ramble a bit, so thanks for reading along, or you can click away…the wonderful freedom of the Internet, that no one is forced to suffer a bore! (But I really hope you aren’t bored by what I say, and if you are, why are you still reading this sentence?)

One thing on my mind is “perception”. This has been pinging at me from a few different directions lately. I live a life with many facets, like most people do, right? But it always amuses me a little when friends from one area seem stunned to learn that there is more than one side to who I am…as if the part they interact with is all there is to me, when they themselves are many-sided people…we all are, aren’t we? Or has TV corrupted our minds to the point that now we think of each other as characters in tiny little reality shows…you’re either Snooki or Honey-Boo-Boo; a ballroom dancer or a guy who makes duck calls; you bake exotic cakes or build exotic motorcycles or wear and create exotic tattoos, and that’s all I need to know. The only exception I can think of is “The Most Interesting Man in the World”, but even he exists only to hawk mediocre Mexican beer (I don’t always seem condescending, but when I do, there’s money in it!)

That last one highlights the confusing flip-side to this: the lengths fiction goes to in creating back stories for characters…imaginary people can be shallow, because they have a limited purpose and don’t need much more than shadows and suggestions for us to decide how we need to view them. Writers know this (or should know it); lazy writers use stereotypes as  a quick and easy way to get the audience where they need to be to understand the plot…who are the “bad guys”, who are the “good guys”, and what are their motives? For the purpose of entertainment, that’s fine…I really don’t want to invest a lot of time and energy “doing life” with a cartoon. But real people are not entertainment – it is very multitude of interests we have that make us worth knowing – yet we are becoming conditioned to treat everyone outside of ourselves as if they exist merely for our own benefit or amusement…and it’s working. This near-sightedness, or tunnel-vision, has direct impact on how we interact with others, but sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one who notices it. Let me share two examples from experience.

Recently, I was approached by my employer, who wanted to discuss my future with the company, so he asked me into his office and closed the door. (Does anyone ever enjoy that moment, wondering what is coming next?) He expressed his appreciation for my contributions to the company, and the efforts I have made to improve both communication between office and field, as well as efficiency in the execution of our work. Of course, I am sitting there waiting for the other shoe to drop – in the past, these speeches have proceeded an explanation of why my contributions are no longer needed – and he blows me away by telling me that he wants to invest in my future; he feels I can be of greater benefit to the company by training others in the way I approach a project than by doing the work myself. I am humbled, and grateful…with my wife’s illness, the prospect of losing by job and health insurance fills me with cold dread…and so we begin to discuss some concrete details. He was surprised to learn that I have already been through several of the management and leadership courses he had in mind; that I have previous design, engineering, and CAD experience, going back over twenty years; that I have already purchased some of the collared shirts that office employees wear instead of the logo t-shirts of field crews (out of my own pocket, because the company only provides one set of “uniform” shirts); and that I have public-speaking experience from preaching at my home church…I am much “more” than what he thought I was, and it confuses him…why I am content to “plod along”, when I could be leveraging into higher paying jobs? But I have a checkered history, which limited my options long ago; I still believe that faithfulness and loyalty count for something, even in today’s economy; and these people have been patient, understanding, and supportive of my ministry work and the difficulties of Karen’s illness…how could I receive that, and then leave because someone offered me a dollar or two more an hour?

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Many of my partners in the prison ministry attend a United Methodist mega-church in one of the wealthy enclave communities that surround Houston. They have invited me to participate in any number of the “small group” activities they participate in (I guess 300 men in a discussion group is “small” when Sunday worship attendance is 8,000, but I belong to a church of less than 100, so it’s weird) and I have accepted once or twice, but the “character” disconnect seems to make it strange and uncomfortable for them. These are, by and large, good Christian men and women; but also, by and large, they are white-collar professionals, from good families, with college degrees. So when we shake hands, and they are surprised at how strong and rough my grip is from years of physical labor; or they want to meet at 6am on a weekday for coffee and fellowship, but I must decline because I am either already at the jobsite, or commuting to get there for 7am start time; or when someone asks for a donation to a worthy cause, and they reach for checkbooks and write zeros, while I’m counting cash from my billfold and thinking about how much gas I have in the truck…I am somehow “less than” the person they assume I am, and it confuses them…how can I do this ministry, giving so much to these people, when I have so little of my own?  But while we may serve as brothers and sister in Christ on the teams in the prisons, I have a substantial difference in perspective: they serve in obedience to the call of Jesus to reach “the least of these”,  and while that is also true for me, I do it more because I was once one of those “least”. There is a vast distance between “sympathy” and “empathy”, and the former does not guarantee the latter. I love my friends’ giving hearts, and how they serve because they are richly blessed; but I serve how I do precisely because I have nothing else to give except myself…and I also consider myself richly blessed.

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I don’t know that any of this has a point…I said this was a ramble. So I will leave you with the closest thing to an explanation for how and why I act, work, serve and DO the things I do..I have made this a focus of my devotional time for about two years now, and it continues to inspire me; perhaps it can do the same for you: Colossians 3:23-24, NIV

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.

Just so you know…

Posted: November 11, 2012 in Uncategorized
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I apologize for not posting last night, but a series of unfortunate incidents did some injury to my to- do list. Let me explain… it’s a good quick story.

Karen has not yet been called to serve on the Outside team for a Kairos weekend, but she always attends the Closing. This year’s sudden drop in attendees from my church created a logistics problem – I had no driver from Houston to the prison for Karen. Three consecutive contingencies fell through, and I was left with only one option. I left the base camp at 10:30, drove home, packed up Karen and drove back. We got to bed at 2:30, up at 5:30, in the gate at seven; by worked the day with the Outside team and came in with them for Closing. We got home two hours ago, and here we are.

I need a day or so to process, so look for that post on Tuesday. Short version: God’s grace is greater than the darkest prison cell, and tonight forty-two men shouted out in joy, celebrating that truth for themselves. He is mighty to save!

Tomorrow will be the regular lesson in John’s Gospel. Now it’s off to bed, due at the office at seven am. Good night, and may God grant you that same measure of joy.

Following hard,

Who is the church? WE ARE!

Posted: November 9, 2012 in Uncategorized
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That declaration sums up the theme of the first full day in the prison. The program is a short course in the Gospel, with a series of ten talks and related activities, where we try to express the wonderful gifts of love and forgiveness that Jesus offers to all who will accept Him. Today’s focus is on ourselves; we talk about personal responsibility, and how the choices we make have costs and consequences. We talk about how God wants a relationship with us, and about how He provides a community to help us maintain that relationship. Tomorrow the discussion will center on forgiveness – both receiving it and giving it, as a means of overcoming negative choices in the past, and empowering better decisions in the future.

I delivered my talk this morning, and as usual, the Lord replaced many of many words with His own; sometimes I wish we could record this stuff, because I don’t really hear what I’m saying… I’m too busy listening to the Spirit in my ear informing my speech as I give it! I know I was used today,I could see the lights coming on in their eyes as I spoke.

Giving that talk was the hardest thing I have ever done. God required me to share a part of my testimony I never talk about, things I am truly ashamed of… but apparently they needed to hear it- half a dozen men came up after to tell me I was giving their story. That’s how this works… He uses what He has done in our lives to demonstrate what He can do in their lives, that they may have hope, which is in very short supply in that place. (Many of these men will likely die in there, it is a maximum security unit.) It’s that opportunity that draws me here, the chance to relay the message that it’s never too late to come to the cross, lay our burdens down, and find rest.

I am excited by what tomorrow will bring, and exhausted from today, so it’s off to bed and up early again in the morning. I will break normal scheduling and post through the weekend to finish the story for you. Next week when I’m back home I’ll share some links to the ministry, in case you ever feel moved to learn more about prison work, and how you can get involved. See you tomorrow!

Following hard after Him,

Introductions and introspections

Posted: November 8, 2012 in Uncategorized
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Today was meet and greet at the prison: we bring our participants in, sit 75 people in a circle, and speak a minute or so each on who we are, where we’re from, etc. In a group this size that takes some time, and I found myself listening to their answers and remembering what my time behind bars was like. That’s one reason I do this work – I can relate to the hopelessness in here, and I think Jesus is a better answer.

All that remembering makes me that much more grateful to God for saving Me from myself… in the morning I get to deliver the opening talk, my topic is Choices. We want these men to understand that they got where they are in life because they made choices that had consequences. All choices do; no matter how badly we want to escape it, we must all eventually pay. (Prison makes that message easier to receive) We aren’t trying to make them feel bad, but until men realize they are responsible for what they so, how can repentance even seem reasonable?

But, man, writing that talk sure does me no gentle kindness. God doesn’t waste anything…He gives me this assignment, and gets two rounds of soul searching for His money! There are still many things I must repent of, many choices I have made from selfish or unkind motives, that Jesus is not gonna let me make it on – I have to choose to change. He is Lord, and I must submit, lest He say, “I never knew you.”

That’s all for tonight, got some other work to do before bed, and we go in at seven am. Look for another update tomorrow.

Following hard after Him,