June 5, 2008
Thursday, 5:00 p.m.
Letter #32: The Good Kind of “Different”
Hey! I trust you all are doing well—I am! And, if you think things are “tough” for you now or that you are having “difficulties” or that things are “not quite going your way,” try living in someone else’s shoes for a moment! For example, try living in the shoes of Paul, my buddy from Delano. His bad decision to drive drunk one night cost a 19-year-old girl her life. He gets 25-to-life to think about it.
How many times have we made similarly poor decisions? I think of the dozens of times I drove tired, or the dozens of times I went back in the surf while exhausted, etc. Thank God … for where you are, and for what He’s allowed AND prevented in your life! And, most of all, thank Him because He’s given you another day of LIFE to serve Him.
God has given me many opportunities to talk about Him to others. Not all of those opportunities did I use, however. 🙁 I’m a bit more determined now, since I have such a limited time here, to make each day count. For another thing, I’m never guaranteed that I’ll see someone I run into again. He could be transferred, paroled, or rolled up due to suicide watch, a fight, or threats. I could leave for those reasons, too. My time is short!
I also am guessing that only a small percentage of the inmates speak with the staff and C.O.s about their faith. I’ll gladly be counted in that number! In fact, I was pleasantly surprised to find out that the canteen staff—a Denzel Washington look-alike named Mr. Gray, is a born-again believer. I didn’t know I’d be leaving just three days from when I talked to him, but I thanked him for his service and asked him if he had God in him. His answer of “yes” was followed by an analogy of what God was preparing me for, just as God used Moses after a time of difficulty. I was blessed!
The C.O. who escorted me to and from my visits views himself “… as Jesus told us to be the shepherds of our flocks—I don’t do much overtime, so I can shepherd my family.” He has been married 35 years, with 3 kids and nine grandkids. We were able to mutually encourage each other, due to me being obedient to what God was asking me to do.
Obedience in prison is kinda key. Sometimes it isn’t best to talk. So far, so good for me. 🙂 The important thing is to honor the authorities but obey God. Who, in your little “Circle of Influence” might be transferred, fired, moved, etc.? What did you do to make that visitor at church feel like coming back?
Sometimes, just cheerfully serving where God wants you is the key to opening a door to ministry. I had no idea how many guys were watching me as a porter and figured I was a good kind of “different.” One, who joined our group and eventually became a porter too, said, “When I saw your attitude, I could tell you were different, and I wanted to be like you.” Mike professed Christ as Savior only one and a half months ago and is the guy I left the Bible Study to.
Mike’s neighbor tried to take advantage of him one evening, claiming that the “deal” they’d made was for one more soup than Mike had given him. The guy complained until Mike gave it to him.
Back in his cell, the former tough gang-member read Scripture to calm down his riled-up attitude. Satan tried his “logic”: You don’t want to appear weak! This is about RESPECT! Then God taught him from the Word in Matthew 5:39–40, where he saw to “turn the other cheek” if someone slaps you, and if someone takes your shirt “let him have your coat as well.”
Mike told me how he realized Satan was trying to use his meager possessions to trip him up. He jumped up and called to his neighbor through the vent: “Hey! Do you guys need anything else?”
“You sure? Shampoo? Conditioner? Cookies? You guys okay over there?”
Silence, then whispers.
“Uh, yeah. We’re good, thanks.”
They never dogged him again!
My shower shoes ($3) were stolen at Delano. I told God I knew He’d provide. Through my vent yesterday, someone asked, “You guys need anything?” I told him politely, “No.” Later, I asked him who had shower shoes for sale. “I do!” Turns out, he’s the treasurer for the Christian group here. They’ve been doing the exact thing I’d started at Delano: Christians’ tithes are used to benefit those who lack, first-century church-style. Moments later, a bag with shower shoes, a jar of coffee ($6.40), and several soups was sent over to me and my cellie. God worked out the details, providing for my needs ahead of time! In fact, if my shower shoes hadn’t been taken, I wouldn’t have been able to see God’s hand working in the tiniest details on my behalf! Praise Him.
Landing in a holding cell here at Salinas Valley at noon on June 2, four other guys and I soon found out we had serious time to kill. (We got to our rooms after 8:00 p.m.) Drowsiness from my 1-hour night’s sleep threatened to set in, but a battle of doctrine soon kept me up. A guy named Lorenzo was taking shots at just about every tenet of the Christian faith. I’d jump in with my rebuttals, explanations, and truth. “Missing books of the Bible … Jesus isn’t actually God … seven days of Creation? … Adam named all the deep-sea fish? … Other cultures, other gods, etc.”
At one point (I know my family may find this hard to believe), 🙂 I had to educate him on proper rules of arguing. This after making his triumphant point that every road to “God” was a valid one by quoting an ancient Hawaiian phrase: “Many paths lead up the sides of a hill, but the view from the top is the same.”
I told him that in an argument, that is not known as a valid point but as a “cute sound-bite.” (Sound familiar, anyone?) I told him that just because an analogy exists, it doesn’t codify it as a valid one. Then, I explained the words analogy, codify, and valid for him. 🙂
Mostly, I shocked myself by the vast amounts of Scripture I quoted, defending my faith. Okay, it was more like around 30 verses—vast to my feeble brain! The Spirit had my back, prompting me. It was awesome, yet a friendly discourse. We went off to our separate rooms, parting amicably. Good thing, because they transferred Lorenzo into my cell after one day. God is good!
Though I’m still in the “orientation” phase (up to 10 days), I’ve been able to meet a few Christian brothers. They’ve talked to me through my vent or my cell door, and I have picked their brains about life here. Most guys think it’s tough here, but the Christian guys think it’s great how many other Christians are in our building.
Church services are in the chapel Sunday mornings at 9 a.m. and Wednesdays at 1 p.m. Occasionally, an outside group will add a service during another morning (today, Thursday, at 9 a.m. for example). I asked if they have a pianist, not wanting to bump anyone off the bench—the last four churches I’ve played for, God worked it out perfectly for me!
I was told, “Well, we had one, but not anymore.”
“How long has it been?” I wondered, knowing the answer before it even came: “Three to four months, I guess.”
I’d bet it was around February 27, I told my cellie—when my dad prayed I’d get to play the piano here and possibly have a keyboard in my cell. I got tears in my eyes as I recognized the power and sweet love and care of my Heavenly Father. Any ministry in music will be entirely in His hands!
Since that conversation, I’ve met another gospel pianist who is going to introduce me to the professional organist and the resident flautist. They are interested in using me to teach music classes and help set up a chorale—the other pianist has only an octave vocal range.
My current cellie should be leaving soon, since his 16 years are up this month. He’s appealing a poor attempt by the D.A. to get him for not appearing in court just prior to his 16-year conviction. The guy is a sweet, 55-year-old man who is a great cellie. Pray for Lorenzo, that I will help him leave his mixed doctrines behind at the foot of the cross.
God is moving in my life to accomplish what He wants! I love you all!