December 28, 2014
Sunday, 10:00 p.m.
Letter #363: Spreading Christmas Cheer
I’ve learned many things since being put in prison. Besides a deeper level of contentment and joy, I’ve learned that it doesn’t take much to bless someone else, especially if you are sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s promptings to reveal who and when and how.
Just before Thanksgiving, I was practicing with the choir, getting ready for the Christmas concerts, when a guy from my pod asked me if I had any ideas on ways he could earn extra money. I gave him some suggestions and sent him on his way.
A week later, I’d moved to the other compound. However, I still return to my old compound a couple of days a week to help with the choir, so I happened to see the guy who’d asked me about earning money, while I was working with the choir. I quickly excused myself so I could see what he wanted.
Steve was a good friend of my last cellie, Joe. They’d known each other for years as part of the Odinist religion, and Steve even knew that Joe was stealing from me. Steve and I don’t see eye-to-eye on a lot of issues, mostly because of his typical Odinist white supremacist leanings. However, I have chosen to be kind to Steve, knowing that his chance of seeing that Jesus is alive by seeing Him in me. As I shook his hand just outside the room where the choir was practicing, I could tell that something was wrong.
Steve again asked me if I had any ideas of ways he could make money. “I’m really desperate,” he said, and his chin trembled. I knew that all of Steve’s efforts recently have been focused on his release from prison near Christmas next year, saving every dollar for that purpose. But something had changed. I’d never seen this 6’2” tough guy like this before.
“My 8-year-old son, Ryan,” Steve told me, “doesn’t have any winter clothes. And I sent all my savings to buy him a bike for his birthday two months ago.” Tears welled up in his eyes, threatening to spill over.
I knew immediately that God wanted to hug Steve and his family, so I said. “Steve, don’t worry about your son, God is going to take care of him, okay? I’m serious. Don’t worry about him.”
That was all I could get out before I lost it, tears pouring out. Not wanting to make a scene, I turned into a corner, covering my face with my hands as I sobbed. Gratefully, Steve took off, probably to avoid looking as if he’d slapped the tears out of me. I had to rejoin the shocked choir who hugged me and listened to what had happened. Four of them got teary, with a couple of the guys offering to help in some small way.
I got the details on where Ryan lives, then my dad contacted his family. Steve’s mom was shocked to hear from my dad, but agreed to shop for Ryan if money was sent to her. Through the generous donation of someone who gets my letters, Ryan was able to not only get all the winter clothes he needed, but school supplies as well. I got a note from Steve, clearly overwhelmed and grateful, while his mom sent a note to the donor expressing her gratefulness.
Someone else reached out to me and asked if they could sponsor a Christmas party for me and whoever else I wanted to bless. They sent money to my cellie’s prison account (since mine gets half taken out for “rehabilitation”), and Duffy helped me choose all kinds of fun goodies to purchase from the prison commissary to make it an unforgettable Christmas for 30 surprised guys.
I got permission from Mr. Lohman, my boss, to use the unit’s multi-purpose room on Christmas Eve, and Duffy asked our counselor for permission to use a huge cooler for ice water for the event. We brought packs of Kool-Aid and made really strong shots of it for guys to mix their own drinks. It was like an open bar of saccharin juice. Very Christmasy.
For the goodies, we had our good friend, Phillip, help with all the preparations, toasting bread and popping fifteen bags of popcorn. Duffy and I separated all the smaller items into individual plastic bags full of Hershey’s miniatures, gummy bears, Jelly Bellys, and chocolate -covered peanuts. Another bag had a mixture of all kinds of chips and pretzels and a half bag of popcorn for each guy. We also served cinnamon toast and sweet rolls, both spread with a Nutella chocolate-hazelnut frosting of sorts and sprinkled with white chocolate chips. Our goal was clearly diabetic comas for all, and we nearly succeeded.
As the guys entered the room, I was playing Christmas carols, and Duffy showed them to their seats, where we’d put a handmade placemat featuring one of the verses from the Biblical account of Christ’s birth. After a prayer and welcome from one of the church leaders, the guys each took turns reading aloud their verses to reveal the Christmas story.
I spoke about having a heart of repentance as we enjoyed the blessings provided by a family who has a heart for redemption and restoration. Many of the guys were moved to tears by the generous display of kindness, while one of my closest friends shared about this year being his first true Christmas since accepting Christ as Savior. His speech touched everyone.
I coordinated a group of us who read a dramatization of Biblical prophesies and lead in a short round of Christmas carols, but the real joy was watching the guys enjoy themselves and the fellowship of other believers. I was struck by the tangible analogy of my own salvation: a gracious God choosing to reach into my world and bless me. May I learn to be like Him … and like His children who choose to love the unlovely.