April 22, 2012
Sunday, 8:00 p.m.
Letter #221: Phillip, Feet, and Friendship
The moment has arrived—yesterday Phillip was told to transpack (prison-speak for “box up all your worldly possessions”), which means he’ll be headed back to a prison in California until he paroles. This time it wasn’t an April Fools’ joke, so I helped him pack up his belongings, including a custom-fitted guitar case made from cardboard boxes and an abundance of packing tape.
Though we live together, we don’t always get to spend a lot of time with each other, so we’ve made a concentrated effort to spend quality time together these past two days in anticipation of Phillip’s departure early on Wednesday morning. We did lots of singing, guitar playing, budgeting, goal setting, devotional reading, and laughing.
Everyone here has been asking me if I’ll miss him, knowing how close we are as friends. In some ways, I’m sure I’ll miss having him around: he’s been a perfect, couldn’t-ask-for-better cellie, and he adds a lot to our quartet and choir, handling the high tenor roles beautifully, etc. But, in every other way, I’m so glad he’s graduating from this prison experience to the next big chapter in his life.
This transition for me is similar in many ways to when my best friend got married. Everyone assumed it would be terribly difficult for me to lose my twin brother, but I was so excited and happy for him that there wasn’t a sense of loss at all. (I was more disappointed to see his beautiful bride taken off the market, actually.) 🙂
When it is so clearly evident that God is at work, transitions are easy for me. This one has been easier than most because I know I’ll be involved in Phillip’s life as he leaves the life behind bars, and I’ll be excited to hear how God uses him to be a blessing to others.
To commemorate this parting of ways, Phillip suggested that we have a time of prayer and our own foot-washing service. I agreed, and we’ve been waiting for the right moment, i.e., when it was a sure thing that Phillip was leaving.
I’ve only ever been part of a foot-washing service once, three years ago with great friends and ministry partners in Salinas Valley’s prison chapel. The example, of course, for such a service, is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. His life, a model of servitude, formally demonstrated this concept to us when He got up from the table at the Last Supper—the Passover celebration meal with His disciples just prior to His death—and washed each man’s feet. Detailed for us in John chapter 13, we see that Jesus instructs us to follow His example and wash each other’s feet.
For our little ceremony, Phillip insisted on leading. He’s accustomed to following my lead in just about everything here, so it was a sign of his maturity that he was ready and willing to be the organizer and facilitator of our service. First, we filled one of our rugged plastic bins (for storage of property) with warm water. Phillip stood and read from the Scripture account before we both knelt in conversational prayer, thanking God for the privilege of following Christ’s example through this symbolic act.
Then, Phillip said some kind words about me and took my feet and carefully washed them, drying them with his towel. If you have ever done this or had it done for you, you know how humbling this whole activity is. As the one being washed, it just doesn’t seem right to allow anyone else to wash your feet. As the one washing someone else’s feet, well, it isn’t natural to subject yourself to do such a thing.
I switched places with Phillip, read from Scripture, and then took time to mention five character qualities I admire in him and commended him for them. By this point, I looked like I’d been dicing boxes of onions all day.
After I’d washed and dried Phillip’s feet with my towel, I prayed for him, placing him into the Lord’s watch-care and guidance. We hugged, and just like that it was over.
This simple gesture of humble service wasn’t easy. Even though we’re the very best of friends, we had to overcome feelings of awkwardness and embarrassment and focus instead on serving the other. I can’t imagine what Jesus went through, washing Judas’s feet—knowing Judas was about to betray Him. What an example!
At tonight’s weekly Bible Study for our unit, the twenty or so men gathered around Phillip, laying hands on him and praying for him. Please continue to pray for him, as we just received official word that his exit date had been miscalculated, meaning he’ll stay in prison an extra month, paroling on July 7, 2012. God knows best!