November 26, 2017
Sunday, 9:00 p.m.
Letter #475: I’m Thankful
Happy Thanksgiving! I hope you had a blessed day filled with many grateful memories of all God has done for you. I sure did!
The prison typically makes some sort of effort to make Thanksgiving special. Since it is largely thought of as a food-centric holiday (ah, how I wish all holidays were food-centric! Darn you, you low-performing non-food-centric holidays such as President’s Day and Columbus Day!), the kitchen staff typically attempts to serve some traditional Thanksgiving fare. After all, the next-best-thing to eating a Thanksgiving feast with your family is … eating a Thanksgiving feast with convicted felons, right?
This year, our trays were piled high with turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, candied yams, bread, and pineapple-upside-down cake. Those of us on the vegetarian diet got two pieces of homemade pizza instead of the turkey. Everything tasted great, but it is impossible for me to tell if that is due to 9½ years of prison food conditioning me to not expect much or if the food actually tasted great. Probably the former. So, okay, it was “prison-great.” In any case, I delightedly stuffed my face.
I kept the yearly tradition I began the first year of my incarceration, which is to invite a Native American to eat the Thanksgiving meal with me. Prison life draws out the faintest strain of Native blood in anyone, often just so they can enjoy the extra perks—such as smoking herbs at their religious ceremonies—the “Native” designation brings.
For this year’s Thanksgiving meal, however, I chose to invite a bona fide Native American to eat with me. I mean, he is the spitting image of every “Indian” stereotype you may conjure up, just with more clothing and lots of face tattoos. Not surprisingly, he goes by “Indian” as his prison moniker. Not surprisingly, I do not go by “White Man” or “Pale Face” as my prison moniker.
The only requirement I make of my Indian friend (relax, it’s his name, remember?) at dinner is to participate in a basic food-swap ritual. And this year was no exception. Indian gave me his kernels of corn, and I gave him my pizza. Not exactly like the first Thanksgiving, but close enough.
Indian is good-humored, telling me after we’d completed the trade not to shoot him in the back. Hey, my ancestors came over in the early 1600s, buddy. That wasn’t us. Probably.
I was brought up in a grateful home that cultivated thankfulness for even seemingly small acts, insignificant gifts, or subtle attitudes. It was understood that God wants us to “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.” (I Thessalonians 5:16–18 NLT) It wasn’t just taught, it was consistently modeled for us by our parents. How glad I am now for the practice of a grateful heart regardless of circumstances! It means that it is much easier for me to find the good—to find God—in any circumstance, even the tough ones.
When we are rooted firmly in our faith in Christ, our lives built on Him, our “faith will grow strong in the truth” we were taught, and we “will overflow with thankfulness” (Colossians 2:7 NLT). That is, a thankful heart should be a natural by-product of a strong, deeply-rooted faith.
Well, I must admit that my life-circumstances are pretty great, making it much easier to rejoice in them: I have a supportive family, dear friends, and I live comfortably, warm, and well-fed. And, my faith in God has grown in so many ways this year, as I’ve needed to rely on Him more than ever before. I am truly happy, an overflowing, bubbling-out-of-me kind of joyful everyday expression of my grateful heart back to God. It comes out as I lead worship or speak truth into the lives of the men around me.
One guy here more than any other is responsible for helping me maintain a joyful heart, my best friend, Daniel. He is a true friend, listening and encouraging and praying with and caring about me. He and I have served on the worship team together for nearly a year-and-a-half, but we really became close when his job as a GED tutor (in English and Spanish!) landed him in my dorm with everyone else in Education.
Knowing Daniel has been in prison for over four years without ever having a visit, I asked my parents if they would be interested in visiting Daniel the next time they came to see me. They filled out the forms, mailed them in, and got approved rather quickly, so they decided to visit the two of us for Thanksgiving.
I couldn’t wait to introduce my buddy to my parents, a fun aspect of my prison journey for several past cellies and good friends over the years. But every once in a while, I come across a guy that I just know will be in my life for a long, long time, thanks to his godly character and sweet disposition. Daniel is such a man. Because he is relatively young in the faith—four years—and is only twenty-seven years old, the Lord often gives me the privilege of mentoring him.
So this Thanksgiving was really special for the both of us: I got to be with my family, and Daniel got to be treated like family. Everyone can use a little love, and my parents sure are great at showing love to those who need it most. I am thankful!