204 | Christmas Décor and Quitters

December 15, 2011
Thursday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #204: Christmas Décor and Quitters


Dear Family,

“It’s beginning to look a lot little like Christmas … ” I’ve hung up several old Christmas cards in my cell. Above one with a manger scene, I placed a shiny piece of cardboard from a package of rechargeable batteries, cut in the shape of a star. (Well, not an actual star, since they, like our sun, are spherical. This is a decidedly kindergarten five-point varietal.) Angel cards hover nearby, and pictures of elders from my home church, cut from an old church pictorial directory, are on a shelf nearby, standing in as wise men. It’s as good as it’s going to get, it appears.

Remember last year? At Florence, we all got to decorate our pod, the hallways, even our cells. I completely covered my cell door with colored paper and a huge swath of “ribbon” and a bow, not unlike you see done to large garage doors. The wrapping peeled back to reveal the words “Holy Bible” in gold inside, and a tag read, “To: the World. From: God,” symbolizing Jesus’ birth as the living Word of God. Staff took pictures of it and complimented me. Since I’d only had light blue paper and white paper, my door looked like the flag of Norway was birthing a Bible. (Gratefully, common knowledge is not exactly common in prison, and no Norwegians were offended that I know of.)

Last year, I gave gifts and Christmas cards to everyone in my 40-man pod. Now I’m in a pod with 120 guys, making the logistics on gift-giving quite different. I’m making Christmas cards for many of the men, and Phillip and I decided to purchase dessert items for our unit’s Christmas party with all the Christian brothers on Christmas day. We have boxes of Hostess cupcakes, oatmeal crème pies, powder donuts, popcorn, and more under the bunk, and it is extremely difficult to not celebrate a week early and bring a little sugar rush of Joy to our World. Alas … “soon it will be Christmas Day.” We shall wait.

Disappointing to me this week was the fact that one of my primary guys I tutor in exit strategies quit on me. I remember the dozens and dozens of piano students who quit lessons through the years, and it was always tough to not feel like a failure as a teacher. After all, I hope to inspire and motivate, not discourage and frustrate. No matter what reason is given, it is hard to not take the quitting as a rejection personally. I know I’m not the world’s finest instructor or mentor, and I know I can be exhausting (can I get an “Amen” from those of you who have been “motivated” by me?), but it still feels fairly rotten to have someone quit.

Worse yet, I really liked this guy, believed he really had potential, and I’d already invested many hours into his training. I’ve known him for three years, and I’ll always hope and pray he does well when he paroles—in 10 short months—but it is frustrating, nevertheless.

This reminds me of the guy who quit reading lessons with me (daily), saying he’d decided to just pick vegetables like his parents, so he wouldn’t be needing to read. Argh! Now I get this other guy, who has no clue where he’ll live or work or go to church. He knows nothing about building credit, time management, interviews, or business. He’s never had a checking account, credit card, or job. And now he tells me that he’s prayed about it, and heard from God that we’re not heading the same direction. He’s writing a book. It’s taken two years to write three chapters … I’ve edited books. He’s wanting to launch a worldwide ministry, yet has only four pages of notes on it—no business plan, no action plan, no resource list, and now no mentor who has filed several successful applications for 501©3 status … if he only knew what that meant. Argh!

I almost wish I didn’t care so much. Why does it bother me? I’m sure he’ll do fine, but at what great length of time and resources? I know I can’t run someone else’s life—mine is enough—but I can begin to imagine the pain of a wayward child’s parent who sees a life slipping away, wasted or under-utilized. Is this how God feels when He sees me? When he sees you? I pray to live to His fullest potential. I don’t quit.