October 22, 2017
Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
Letter #470: A Stoney Heart Melts
Just a few weeks ago, I wrote about winning the election for “Dorm Rep” in a tense and uncomfortable situation where my opponent called me names behind my back and participated in instigating and stirring up extremely violent threats against me. (Read letter.)
As I shared with you then, I believe firmly in God, my Protector, the God of Angel Armies. He watches over me, so I fear no one. I just made the whole situation a matter of prayer. God is my Defender, not me.
Well, my opponent, Stoney, badly hurt his back while playing basketball. He couldn’t even walk without major discomfort, and he approached my friend, Andrew, while we were walking together on the yard to ask his opinion on how to treat it. Andrew has lots of experience with internal medicine and bone health, so he made several great suggestions for Stoney, including a particular type of back massage to help restore the damaged nerves and promote healing.
Knowing enough about massage and having the hand strength to benefit him myself, I jumped into the conversation and offered to work on Stoney’s back once we got back to the dorm. Eyes full of desperation due to constant pain, lack of sleep, and worries about permanent injuries, Stoney gratefully accepted my offer. We set a time for later that day and parted ways. I told Andrew that I’d prayed for Stoney, and I could sense that God had allowed him to go through this painful suffering so that I could have an opportunity to serve him.
The crazy thing is, though I was nervous going into it, I can’t say that I had “no idea” what the outcome would be. After all, I serve an awesome God, and this situation was beginning to have every sign that pointed to Him at work.
I’ve not had many bona fide “enemies” in my life, thank God (well, not many that I know of, anyway!) but Stoney’s hostile words and actions had firmly landed him in that rarest of categories. He’d worked at becoming my enemy. And that very fact placed him in the crosshairs of many awesome Scriptures!
Proverbs 24:17 tells me to not rejoice “when your enemies fall; do not rejoice when they stumble.” Instead, Jesus instructed me to, “Love your enemies! Do good to them,” and in his letter to the Romans, Paul quotes from Proverbs 25:21–22 when he encourages the readers to give food and drink to their enemies who are hungry or thirsty. Jesus asked in His Sermon on the Mount, “If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that.” (Matthew 5:47) I’ve known these Scriptures since I was a child, so I knew what I needed to do. First? I thanked God for giving me an actual enemy to practice on, for His glory. Second, I thanked God for the victory He was about to win as He conquered my enemy with His love.
I asked Stoney to lie face-down on one of the single bunks, then I washed my hands, got baby oil from a friend, and got to work carefully working to straighten out the balled-up nerves that had settled into a large lump near the middle of Stoney’s back. I’m not a fan of intentionally inflicting pain, and it still didn’t feel right, making someone who’d just been so hostile toward me wince with pain, but I knew he needed it. Stoney kept thanking me, and I used the opportunity to speak truth into his life.
I shared with him how God often allows us to go through painful experiences to shape our character, preparing us for future endeavors. And sometimes, I told him, God lets us experience things so that we can understand how others feel.
I shared with Stoney some testimonies of God’s faithfulness to me, despite my failures. He actively listened, captive audience though he was, asking questions and commenting. Sensing an opening, I began to share about my past. I knew that most guys who have been hostile toward me about it just haven’t taken the time to actually talk to me, and Stoney was no exception.
After nearly an hour, I let him up, with a promise to work on his back the next day. Stoney couldn’t contain his joy. “Hey, thank you so much!” he gushed. “I can tell a difference already.” Then, “And thank you for opening up to me, Christopher. I really appreciate it.”
I acted like it all was no big deal, then I took the granola bar he tried to pay me with and threw it back into his food box. “I didn’t do it for pay,” I told him.
Later, during another session, he suddenly said, “Oh my gosh … I just felt all this negative energy leave me!”
“Well,” I told him, “I’ve been praying for you.”
He thanked me, then said he’d actually started to pray too. I encouraged him to pray, and I massaged his back three days in a row before letting it rest for a few days. By the end of it, his back felt better than it had before he’d injured it, and I had a new friend. At least, that’s what Stoney called me.
One night this past week, Daniel and I invited him to eat with us, and Stoney opened up about having a belief in God. The next day, he came and sat on my bunk and talked with me about his childhood, his alcoholic father, his kids.
I’m grateful for his obvious change of heart, a change so dramatic that he’s offered to “back me up” if anyone bothers me. It seemed that everyone heard throughout the prison that I’d beat him in the dorm election, and now everyone’s noticed how close we are. God is good!
“When people’s lives please the Lord, even their enemies are at peace with them.” (Proverbs 16:7) Change is an interesting thing, for while it appears that Stoney has changed, the stony heart that melted first was mine. Change my heart for the lost, Lord!