July 12, 2014
Saturday, 3:00 p.m.
Letter #339: Living in Victory
When I began teaching piano at age 15, just two students were willing to take a chance on me. Those poor kids eventually learned a little about piano, and I learned a lot about teaching. Those first months taught me volumes that served me well in later years.
I feel as if I’m back at the beginning again, learning how to teach, to motivate, to mentor. Except instead of teaching two obedient home-school boys how to play a diatonic run in sevenths (I never actually taught them how to do that; it was just so I’d sound impressive), I’m teaching career criminals how to love God and live for Him.
I’m such an imperfect, flawed mentor-motivator that it makes me feel sorry for the guinea pigs (not actual guinea pigs) I work with. I can only pray to be what is needed, say what is needed, push where it is needed, and wait where it is needed. So much more is at stake than an imperfectly-played sonatina or concerto. Character, relationships, lives, future … these are the stakes, and losing is not an option.
For over a month, including the entire month of June, Joe went through a deep valley. He’d weathered the news of his mom’s death, but hadn’t really faced it. As the reality sank in and hopelessness grew, Joe’s world seemed to cave in on him. Despondent and discouraged, he grew distant from me and stopped participating in our daily devotional time we would spend reading the Bible and praying together.
As his cellie, I felt every bump in the road. It seemed as if every event in the day made him irritable, and I was no longer a go-to source of encouragement and help for him. Instead, he sought out closer friendships with guys who, let’s just say, aren’t very nice.
Not only did church services become a thing of the past, Joe avoided any interaction with the Christians in our pod. He was miserable, and I felt powerless to help him. I tried to respond as kindly as I could, no matter what, but I recognized this season in Joe’s life as a spiritual problem, not simply a character problem. So, I prayed.
I kept the stress and worry of it all inside, though many guys here asked me about Joe’s change in attitude. I believed God would get the victory, but Satan was trying one last-ditch effort to drag Joe down in defeat.
As I finally let you all in on the difficulties we were facing, I was hopeful, but not much. My energy was down, and I needed a re-charge. To make matters worse, the process to get my letter typed up here got delayed, and my letters didn’t get sent out promptly from the prison. But before my dad even told me that my letter was sent out to you, I knew. I could tell immediately that my family was praying, for me, for Joe.
The next day, Joe told me that he was tired of living the way he’d been living, without God. He said he knew he needed to change, to get back into studying and praying. This went on for a week; every day I’d let him know that I was available whenever he wanted to do devotions or pray, and every day he’d tell me he wanted to, but not now.
Then, finally, a week ago, I got Joe back, except different. He’s started keeping goals, reading Christian books, and unbelievably, he’s happy. All day long. I couldn’t be happier for him.
My mom told me that one of her Sunday School kids came up to her a couple of weeks ago. This sweet girl, Sarah, told her that after their family had written to Joe, Joe responded. “We just got a letter from Joe!” she’d said.
My mom asked Sarah to please pray for Joe, because he was having a tough time, and she said she would. Thank you, Sarah! God answers prayers.
Thank you for those of you who pray and love and serve God. We notice.