April 18, 2020
Saturday, 8:30 p.m.
Letter #493: Free Calls, Free Counsel
Prison life is odd. No, I’m not noticing it for the first time, but right now presents such an example of prison’s oddity affecting my communication. Namely, my Christmas letters have not yet been sent out—from 2019—and my visiting privileges have been suspended indefinitely, and I have more than 60 approved visitors, yet I have been granted free phone calls on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Go figure.
The last prison I was at was preventing me from mailing out my Christmas letters, and now this prison tried the same thing. I finally won an appeal on the issue recently, and I’m working with the mailroom supervisor to make certain that our rights as inmates are upheld regarding mail. I’m hopeful my Christmas letters will get to my family and friends sometime before … well, you know. It’s an annual holiday.
In the odd prison world of preventing bulk mailouts and granting phone calls for free, I’ve been taking the opportunity seriously. With help from my mom, who texted dear friends and church family to ask if they’d like to speak with me, I’ve been able to speak with more than ninety different people by phone over the last month! I especially tried to contact those of you who receive these letters and who pray for me. Along with the fifteen-minute-long mini-visits I’ve enjoyed with so many whose voice I hadn’t heard for years and years, I’ve appreciated getting free advice, encouragement, and counsel too.
My niece asked me if I was getting paid to make all these phone calls. “No … they’re just free calls … ”
She interrupted with, “Well, you’re working those phones like it’s a job!” Turns out, my twin was her teleprompter. (Thanks, Bro!)
Funny, yes, but also true. I know it is my responsibility to keep in touch with you, not the other way around (uoy htiw hcuot ni peek ot ytilibisnopser ym—see just how backwards that is?). With phone calls only possible if I initiate the call, it would seem almost irresponsible of me to not even attempt to call you while calls are free! So, I’ve made it my … job … of sorts while calls are free in the middle of the week.
One of my first calls was to a dear lady who has prayed for me for years. As soon as she heard it was me, she exclaimed, “Christopher! Have you been telling everyone there that Jesus loves them?”
I was stunned, stammering a stall-tactic Christianese response that sounded something like, “Well … God sure is good! … He is faithful … faithfully letting me … find guys who … you know, the guys who really need … ” At this point I ran out of gas and stopped. I realized that the Holy Spirit prompted her to ask me that incredibly direct question, so I’d best be direct in my response. “Ha! Well, actually, I haven’t exactly been doing that … but I’ll take it as a challenge from the Lord to be more intentional about such things.” I then told her that I would love it if she would please hold me accountable: in two weeks I’d call her back to report on my progress.
I instinctively knew what the issue was; it has been an issue for me before. It seems that when I get absorbed in my projects—no matter how good and well-intentioned they may be—I lose focus on the things of eternal significance, especially the need to share the good news of God’s gift of salvation. I just don’t care. I don’t care enough about the people around me to, well … tell them that Jesus loves them. I decided I could approach it like a business opportunity and look to strategically handle the task at hand.
First, I called my mom, who gave me great advice: ask for counsel from the elders of our church. Next, I called a few of them, and they graciously gave me incredible ideas. One told me, knowing how I enjoy discipling men, “Discipleship begins with knowing Jesus.”
Another, an avid soul-winner, told me that every morning he asks the Lord to lead him to talk with the people whom God has already been talking to. “Lord, You start the conversation,” he prays. And lastly, I set appointments with a few guys I’ve been developing friendships with.
All of this was beginning to show some fruit. I was actually starting to genuinely care about people: namely, the sweet lady who prays for me that I didn’t want to disappoint. Okay, okay. A few others too. I prayed for God to have me talk with someone He’d already begun a conversation with … and it happened.
I was using a sink in the bathroom, and a couple of sinks down from me was an older guy intently peering at himself in the mirror. Suddenly he turned to me and said, “We’ve never met, but I don’t look like a murderer to you, do I?” (Bet you haven’t been asked that question before, eh?)
I looked at him: tattooed all over, including four tattooed teardrops next to his left eye (meaning he’s “witnessed” four untimely deaths, so to speak), and long, stringy grey hair. I wanted to tell him the truth without becoming his next teardrop, so I said, “Smile for me,” which he did. “There it is!” I happily exclaimed. “See, you see yourself the way God sees you, right? You look at yourself and instead of seeing the past, you see hope, restoration, healing, redemption, and someone with worth.”
He cocked his head, looked back at himself, and nodded. “Yep. That’s what I see.”
I told him about my dad and mom visiting with inmates who’d done heinous crimes and telling them that God loves them “and so do we.” Then I said, “I’m Christopher. Now we’ve met … ”
“Pete,” he finished. I heard him proudly telling another guy the next day that he has “a new friend named Christopher.” What an odd place to make a friend … thanks to free phone calls, free counsel, and the love of a Savior who freely gives salvation to all, even guys who might look like … me.