September 4, 2016
Sunday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #451: Tempest-Tossed but … Counting Blessings
I just had a very special visit this weekend as my parents came to see me after being in Europe for the entire month of August. Now, I freely admit that when it comes to visits, I am spoiled. No doubt about it. The fact that I receive frequent visits from family and friends is common knowledge not only to those who know me well but also to other inmates and the prison staff. I am grateful for these special times of connecting with those I love, providing a bit of refreshment on a long journey.
The fact that my parents have made a point of visiting me at least once a month (and every week for the first two years!) has impacted how I do time. I have something tangible to look forward to in the short term. Imagine if you knew you’d receive a letter from someone you care about, once a week. Rain or shine, sleet or snow, that letter showed up every Monday. Because of all the blessings it contained, you’d eagerly anticipate Mondays, right? I sure would!
Well, when I know that I’m getting a visit sometime in the month, it gives me something fun to look forward to, as I count off the days. I was looking forward to this particular visit even more than usual since I had not been in much regular contact with my parents while they were on vacation. A couple of brief phone calls hadn’t exactly satisfied my desire to spend time with them as I’d grown accustomed to doing.
Making the visit even more special was the fact that I planned to introduce my parents to my dear friend, David, whose own father passed away just a few months ago. I spent the first half of the day just getting caught up on everything with my mom and dad, and then we brought David out. He is a sweet, kindhearted man who is committed to God and plans to stay involved in my life.
The anticipation of having him meet my family really got to me, and the fellowship was really special. Then my dad visited with him for a while as I spent time with my mom.
It never ceases to amaze me how one visit can so dramatically affect someone. The vast majority of inmates never get a visit. Some get a visit or two a year, and a small percentage get frequent visits. This visit with my dad was David’s first visit in the nearly seven years he’s done time, and it meant the world to him. The fact that someone wanted to meet him, wanted to get to know him, and wanted to simply love on him made a big impression on David.
I watched as David opened up to my dad over a couple of hours. My friend has many regrets regarding his own father, since his incarceration kept David from spending time with his father, time David can never get back. It was a blessing to see David so relaxed and at ease, soaking up the moments with my dad as if it were a visit with his own father.
In a way, visits give us a brief glimpse into the world outside these walls. The people are different. The clothes are different (no uniforms!). The food is different (hooray for fruit juice and chocolate milk!). But the biggest difference I’ve noticed is that there are women and children in the visiting world. We have female officers and staff members, but no older ladies. No babies. It is a blessing to see the men who can have visits from their children spending time as daddies or holding their wife’s hand. I see grown men, tough guys, who are reduced to complete softies as they hold their little ones.
I’ve interacted as little as possible with the children in the visiting rooms over the years, typically just politely responding if one of my friends introduces me to his family. I miss the blessing of working with kids, but my inappropriate actions put me in prison, which means I can’t even see kids—their joy for life, their inquisitiveness, their boundless energy—except in the confines of a prison’s visiting room.
Recently I watched as a little boy played ball with his daddy, thanks to a much more relaxed attitude at this Level 2 facility, which includes a back patio where we can walk around with our visitors. Even that was special for me.
Well, at a recent visit with my dad, one six-year-old boy came up to our table outside and just stood, watching us and looking at the food on our table. We both said hi to him and expected him to leave, but he stayed put and asked about the food. My dad offered him the chips, but he seemed to know he should ask his mom first. He said he was visiting his brother, and just then his brother, who is a good friend of mine, came up to our table.
When my dad asked the little guy his name, the boy picked up a pencil and wrote his name carefully and slowly on a piece of paper I’d been using: John. Knowing how important neatness and orderliness are, I complimented John on writing neatly. John’s brother told us that though he’d had a rough year, John is doing better in school. I encouraged John to keep up his good grades by studying hard.
Then my friend had me show his little brother a few of the tricks I can do, and John tried his best to copy me, especially on the fake levitation. I told him to practice it and show me next time he visits and that I will check in with him on his grades too. He eagerly agreed. Later, I jotted down some ideas to share with John’s brother about ways he can encourage the little guy.
I understand I won’t ever be able to have a ministry with children in the future, but I’m grateful I got to bless a guy whose dad and brothers are all in prison, as God builds my compassion for those who don’t have what I have.