December 20, 2015
Sunday, 7:00 p.m.
Letter #414: Christmas Greetings to All
You may think that the holiday season isn’t all that busy for me, since I have no Christmas shopping to get done, presents to wrap, or big Christmas dinners to prepare for, but I somehow have managed to retain all the hustle and bustle of Christmases past in my current less-than-Christmasy location. And not surprisingly, making sense of it all, that is: remembering what all the fuss is about, is just as difficult in prison as it ever was in the free world.
My over-worked, under-paid schedule these days is filled in large part due to the fact that I have some pretty incredible friends and family. (Some of you are not-so-incredible. You know who you are. Kidding!) And with such amazing support, I feel the need to send you each at least ONE personal note a year, which I do in the form of my annual Christmas card. This year’s list of recipients topped 230, which included over sixty to inmates and their families. This mammoth undertaking would be impossible without the gifted support of my twin who turns my meager artwork into cards for me, and my parents who sponsor the postage. I learned a valuable lesson about people when I was still a teenager, and that lesson impacts every letter I write.
When I was fifteen, I met a man whose godly life and wise teaching challenged me. Later, I worked for him, and he told me his secret to success was that he tried to keep in touch with everyone God brought into his life, recognizing each friendship as a divinely-appointed gift that should not be taken for granted. I took his advice to heart, and God has truly blessed me with great friends, despite my personal struggles.
Through the years, I tended to keep in touch with people when I felt I had the time or if I needed something. In the four years or so leading up to my incarceration, and especially during my final nine months when I was out on bail, I was a terribly selfish person and a horribly absent friend. I avoided good-hearted people in my life, so hell-bent was I to live life as I wanted. Thus, I wouldn’t have been surprised at all if the only people who cared to have anything to do with me once I went to prison were my parents and a few close family members.
The overwhelming grace of God, however, means that He chooses to love me through some of the nicest people ever, and the crazy thing is that many of the people who read my letters are people I’ve never met. Many others I haven’t seen for fifteen or twenty years, and one I haven’t seen in over thirty-five years. God is good.
But keeping in touch with people God has put in my life isn’t just about filling up an address book or competing for the Most Popular Prisoner award. (Charles Manson has me beat by a long shot, with thousands of letters a year.) I’m not trying to engender sympathy, convince readers of my personal righteousness, or pretend to be the same guy you once knew. I don’t even feel sorry for myself, so I certainly don’t want anyone else feeling sorry for me! I am not personally righteous except for who God has made me to be through the death of His Son. And, I definitely don’t want to be anything like the guy I once was. I’m not sure I even know who I really was.
No, my need to write, to keep in touch with good friends and acquaintances is because I believe it is the right thing for me to do. I voluntarily removed myself from your lives, so it is incumbent upon me to strive to keep our friendship intact. And, it seems that a simple Christmas card is the least I can do to express my gratefulness for yet another year that I’m not completely cast-off, marginalized, or forgotten. I know the realities of life get in the way, and the realities of prison means that I’m far more likely to have time to write than you ever will. But, thank you to those who do.
So, I’m not just writing gobs of Christmas greeting to 30 states and four foreign countries because of some long-standing Christmas tradition. Or am I? I’ve thought of that very first Christmas, when God chose to dwell among us, as how this whole Christmas card thing got started. Rather than send us a family photo with a recounting of the year’s events, God sent Jesus. Never mind the fact that God can’t fit in any picture, nor could our lifetimes contain enough moments to hear all He accomplished in one year, He chose to get personal, letting His world collide with ours. This incredible gift was both for the masses and personally for you, the truth of its message written on our hearts.
Jesus. His prophesied name, Emmanuel, meaning God With Us makes the unmistakable claim that God CHOSE to live with us, be with us, care about us. The more that I grasp how big, how holy, how awesome God is, the more I am humbled that He chose to love me and chooses to love me still.
Jesus acknowledged the truth of this simple equation when He pointed out that a sinful woman loved Him much because she had been forgiven much. He said, “But a person who has been forgiven little shows only a little love.” (Luke 7:47) I understand that truth in a way I never understood it before.
The church choir gave two packed-house performances (packed = 60 guys) of the Christmas cantata the choir director wrote. I actually sang with the high tenors and even had a few speaking parts, and I lead the choir in “Mary, Did You Know?” with an arrangement I taught them in choir class. It wasn’t quite like singing at a high-end department store, but I’m making some new Christmas memories. And, if I can’t be home for the holidays, I can at least be with the Homies.