263 | Phillip Updates: Love, Unconditionally

February 7, 2013
Thursday, 4:00 p.m.
Letter #263: Phillip Updates: Love, Unconditionally


Dear Family,

Happy Valentine’s Day! At this stage of my life—my final V-Day before age 40—I’m not too hopeful love will come my way. It’s far easier to imagine being wounded at random by a flying chubby baby with a heart-themed archery set than to imagine living happily ever after with a beautiful girl. Besides, I’m not a fan of prison romance—those who choose to fall in love with a prisoner. To me, it doesn’t make sense: surely you can find a better qualified marriage candidate besides someone who is behind bars, people! Yet, I see it happen all the time. Several former guards, kitchen staff, and medical workers give up their jobs to visit their love-interests in the visiting room every weekend. One toothless old guy has been writing to his cellie’s sister, who is now selling her house to move to Arizona. They’ll get married this year. I encouraged him to send her a picture. (Smile!)

I’m grateful that God gives me incredible friends and family that more than make up for the sorrow I felt when I got the news that my future wife had probably never been born.  🙂  I’m learning instead to have healthy relationships and focus on giving. It’s not easy, I can tell you, especially when the people I invest time in here don’t always pan out to be wise investments, from an earthly perspective.

Remember my cellie from nearly a year ago, Phillip? At just 30 years old and only four years of prison, I really saw potential in him. We spent hundreds of hours (this is a lot of hours!) planning, training, practicing on everything from interview skills to keeping a budget to developing godly character and keeping daily appointments with God. I taught him how to sing harmony, how to build credit, and how to stay connected at a local church.

As we developed a friendship, I even had him talk to several pastors and Christian workers who have influenced my life. Both of my brothers who are pastors, Michael and David, spoke with him as well as my home church’s overseer, John Shepherd, and my good friend and prison chaplain, Andy Eden. My parents visited with him several times, and Phillip began writing alongside these “Dear Family” letters, seeking prayer support from the dozens of you who read them.

When he was transferred back to California a few months from his parole date, he stopped writing, and despite incredible love and support from my parents and me, Phillip seemed to be more concerned with getting (as he put it) his old life back.

Soon enough, he got it back and was put in jail for nine days for violating the terms of his parole. This didn’t deter him, and he was soon back into drugs. Incredibly, he’s avoided re-arrest thus far and has another minimum wage job.

I know these past seven months of so-called “freedom” have been rough for him, and I pray for him daily that he will stay clear of wrong influences and embrace what he knows is right. I had so much hope for him! I was certain he would prove to be an incredible redemptive story, and he still could choose to turn his life around. But I’m learning a lot from this situation. I’m not yet equipped to address addictions, even if those addictions landed someone in prison and now they’ve turned to God. I don’t have all the answers, and people aren’t perfect. Sometimes, loving them can be so difficult, so I look to love as Christ loved me—while I was still sinning!

Please pray for wisdom, as I’m always working with those who parole soon. May God’s love get ahold of their hearts!