February 28, 2009
Saturday, 6:00 p.m.
Letter #75: My First Year: Highlights, Blessings, and Lessons Learned
Greetings! (and Happy Anniversary to Me!) Yes, today marks quite the unique milestone: one year in the state penitentiary system. Exciting! Awesome! An experience you’ll never forget! (Unfortunately!) So, as my time here draws rapidly to a close, sort of, I take a brief look back on this past year at some of the highlights, blessings, and lessons learned.
I am profoundly grateful to God for the blessing of being located so close to my sweet family! This has made it possible for me to receive weekly visits since being transferred to Salinas Valley State Prison last June, without the added strain of being located in Southern California. Constant daily blessings are also mine, thanks to the many of you who lift me up in prayer every day. Thank you for your faithfulness to God as He sustains me for His purposes.
As I have experienced a period of continual free time this past year, I’ve learned so many things about myself. I feel, in one sense, as if I’m practicing for my “retirement years,” in which I will be faced with unusually large amounts of free time to do with as I wish.
I’ve been privileged to be around great examples of mature believers who used their retirement years for God. I think of Charles Culverson at Oak Grove … God’s man! He never has stopped giving of his time, talents, and resources to impact people for the Kingdom.
I think of Bob Bailey, who also doesn’t know the meaning of the word retire, having done it twice already. He and Mike Beckett seem to have gotten the term vacation confused with the term mission trip, praise God! These and others have inspired me to make the best use of the time I have on this earth to serve God. No excuses.
I have it easier than all of you too—for me, it’s fairly obvious where I’m supposed to serve God at this time, ya know? Now it’s up to me to glorify my Father with every breath I take while on this mission field.
This year, God worked in my heart, dealing with my sin. Far more damaging than any crimes were the attitudes and feelings I’d allowed to develop for many years. I’d done a fairly good job of playing the part of a dedicated Christian, and certainly I desired in many ways to please God and serve Him with my life. But I allowed my own desires to fester in my heart, which grew into the very problem spoken of in James 1:14–15, bringing forth death. I am grateful for God’s incredible forgiveness and mercy! He is teaching me to keep close accounts with Him and with accountability partners. I want to be usable for His plans for me, no matter where He leads.
I am grateful for my God who restores! His insanely gracious forgetfulness has led Him to restore to me some of the very ministry opportunities that I had while free—opportunities that I forfeited to instead serve sin. I’m again playing the piano for worship services, training an a cappella quartet, encouraging the elderly, befriending the disabled, comforting the lonely, sharing with the needy, and witnessing to the unlovelies and sinners.
Additionally, I’m grateful that the Lord has granted me a full scholarship to Bible college, something I never thought I should “waste” my time pursuing! Every week, I preach to a group of about 20 on the yard for an hour (Thursdays), and I’ve just been asked to lead worship at the chapel’s mid-week (Wednesday) services. Only God could grant me the privilege and joy of serving Him in these very ways that brought me such joy while free! Praise Him!
As a bit of fun for each of you, I’ve designed the enclosed “Prisoner for a Day” challenge.* You pick ANY 24-HOUR period of time before March 3, 2009, and try to accomplish as many of the challenges as you can. The goal here is not that you waste a day, so please don’t do more than you should or can. The goal instead is the same as that of a short-term mission trip: to increase your heart’s sensitivity to a forgotten mission field, so that you would move with compassion to pray more fervently for souls here to be saved!
Enjoy the challenge, and then send me a copy of your completed check-off sheet and a brief journal entry about what you experienced. I’ll announce the winner in April.
Much love, and God bless!
Terms of Contest:
- You may keep any and all electronic devices with you (cell phone, laptop, etc.) while doing this challenge to help prevent a negative fiscal impact on your participation. However, you may want to experience a day without them.
- Winner will receive a gift handmade by an actual prisoner of the State of California!
- Contest open to all U.S. citizens and illegal undocumented immigrants, too, so share a copy today!
P.S. I wrote a total of 489 letters this year, but 0 emails and 0 text messages! If you’ve written to me and haven’t received a reply yet, hang in there! Thank you for your letters and visits!