August 14, 2016
Sunday, 5:30 p.m.
Letter #448: A Friend in Need
I often ask God to please make it obvious whom I should minister to or when I should say something to someone or what projects I should focus on for the most impact. I’m always afraid that I’m going to miss out and not see the need. I’m afraid someone who was supposed to be blessed by me won’t because I might not be paying attention, absorbed in my little world. I ask God to make it clear when He wants me to act, since I really do want to be used by Him to care for those in need. Well, I recently had a couple of obvious ones.
I could see tears flowing from where I was sitting up on my bunk writing a letter. Dusty, the guy God had prompted me to pray for while running on the yard a couple of months earlier, was standing next to his bunk, face buried in his hands. Looking up, he caught me staring, trying to discern if he was crying or not.
“You okay?” I mouthed in his direction, and he just nodded, eyes red and puffy. Yeah, he wasn’t okay.
I jumped down, walked over to him, and put my arm on his shoulders. “Dusty, what’s wrong, Buddy?” I asked him, staying right next to him, so he could tell I wasn’t going to leave anytime soon.
He just shook his head, so I repeated the question, not to pry but rather to coax the troubles out of him. A loner, Dusty spends most of his days coloring or reading, and whatever he was going through wasn’t going to get handled doing one of those two activities.
“My life is horrible,” he finally blurted out. “I didn’t do what I’m accused of, I’ve lost everything, and I really just want to end it all. I wanna die right now.”
I immediately remembered the Holy Spirit’s prompting when I’d first seen Dusty, months earlier. God spoke to my heart at that time, asking if it would change my attitude about praying for him if I knew he was contemplating suicide. Yet in our casual-acquaintance-style friendship in the dorm, Dusty had only truly opened up to me a couple of times. I felt inadequate to comfort him, but God gave me just the right words to say to encourage him and give him hope not based on his circumstances but on God’s bigger plan and purposes for his life. I’ll be making a more concerted effort in the days ahead to be involved in Dusty’s life, since I’m the only friend he has here.
Another guy I’ll call Steve was placed in the Industrial Painting class with me, though he’ll leave prison before the class ends. Though he’s served a mere eighteen months in prison, Steve’s abrasive personality has landed him in a bunch of trouble with other inmates. The first time I met him, his negativity and aggressiveness flowed freely as he told me how much he hated his bunkie, who turned out to be a good friend of mine.
Steve told me that he’d placed his “paperwork”—our term for documents that list your charges—on his own bunk and then announced to his entire dorm that he hates child molesters and rapists. He told everyone that he doesn’t have “bad paperwork” like that, but “good paperwork.” Mind you, he hit a woman … that is unfortunately considered “good” by prison standards, I guess. He then challenged anyone and everyone to show their own paperwork to him, to prove it wasn’t bad.
This did not raise Steve’s popularity, but he in fact continued hating anyone who wouldn’t show him his paperwork. I knew he needed desperately for someone to befriend him and actually care about him, so I made a point to get to know him during our class breaks. He was constantly calculating how many days, hours, or minutes he had left in prison, and I was constantly trying to have him enjoy those minutes.
One day, Steve asked me what I’d do if I found out one of my children (the many I’d like to have someday) was “gay.” I said I’d still love that child. Then, he asked what if I found out the child wanted to change his or her gender. I again said that I’d still love my child; after all, while I was still sinning, God loved me enough to let Jesus die for me, but … I imagine it would be so hard. No response from Steve, so I looked up, and his eyes had filled with tears.
I immediately put my arm around him and said, “I’m sorry, Buddy. Who is it?” He told me how his only daughter was beginning the process. He didn’t know what to do. Turns out, his hatred of evils included, at least at one time, gays and transsexuals, but he couldn’t hate his daughter.
As a devout Mormon, Steve tried to live a holy life while using scripture to justify selective hatred. His dorm behavior soon got him kicked out and forced to move to another dorm (amid cheers as he left). He soon occupied the very bunk my buddy (and previous project), Justin, had recently vacated, in my dorm. I knew God had brought him to me.
Soon, Steve was the Justin replacement, spending hours by my bunk, talking to the only guy in our dorm who actually cared about him. I counseled him on how to be a dad to his new “son” while not condoning the sin. God gave me all the ideas, and his heavy burden lifted with a renewed vision of unconditional love.
I knew his respect for me was growing, though conditional on a fact he assumed: that I must have “good” paperwork. I knew I didn’t have to tell him, but I believe God wanted to use me to teach Steve unconditional love, so I chose my timing well and told Steve I’m the type of person he hates. He was stunned and said how much he appreciated my honesty. I told him how all of that is in my past, so I have nothing to hide. He said it was an honor to be my friend.
Steve left early yesterday morning. As I did with Justin, I woke up early to pray for him as he left. Whether he’ll write or not, I don’t know. I just thank God for letting me sometimes be His voice of comfort and peace to the hurting. I want to care, Lord!