Saturday, July 30, 2016

New Post: "Ten Years Ago Today"

Ten Years Ago Today

Do you recall where you were one-year ago today?
What about two-years ago? Or five?
I dont.
The memory of those days has passed by with little significance to me.

However- I know what life felt like 
on this day Ten Years ago.

For the first time ever - I awoke in jail.

The harsh reality in a series of poor choices
left with me with little hope for what was to come.
But in that moment, God reminded me that He was enough.

I wasnt confident to believe in His plans moving forward,
But looking back... I can see God's hand at work in every step of the way.
I had moved forward in faith, not knowing what the outcome would be,
and He has been faithful, not to leave me alone in the disaster I created.

Looking back, I can hear a whisper;
"Be still, and know that I AM God."
And I learned to stop, then appreciate that moment He had given me.

How do you learn to appreciate Incarceration?
How do you learn to appreciate fear?
How does anyone learn to appreciate separation from loved ones?
How does one learn to accept the brutality of mankind toward another?

I did not become thankful to God for the situation I faced,
yet I did learn to be grateful to Him in the circumstances.

He was faithful, even when I had doubts.
And when things seemed to go from 'bad to worse',
God was there, reminding me that He was not done with me yet.

I will summarize some of the events, and what they meant to me:

  • In jail, before my conviction, God gave me a fresh perspective in a book.
    • Then He brought a volunteer chaplain to pray with me.
  • God allowed my now wife and I to be reconciled.
    • and before my prison-term began, we were able to marry.
  • He provided me a mentor to help guide me.
    • and the Lord sent friends to visit me.
  • Christ provided the right cell-mates, and others who watched over me.
    • even though I witnessed gang-violence, stabbings, and rape.
  • Jesus had me sent to nearby prisons with better visiting hours,
    • even though this was the oldest maximum-security prison in the state with inmates facing life-sentences and death-row.
  • The Lord allowed me to teach and tutor men towards earning their GED;
    • although some could barely read, and fought the idea of change.
  • God gave me jobs where I could earn $2 a day;
    • where even the physical labor allowed me outside the walls a few times each week.
  • The Holy Spirit was with me in the 16-hours days of the 'early-release program',
    • even when the program left me feeling broken & alone, He did not leave me.
  • After my release, God allowed me to complete parole and probation,
    • even with daily meetings requirements, no job, and no ability to drive.
  • And though I was unemployed for three-years after my release,
    • God allowed me to complete certification as a Life Coach, become a mentor, and volunteer to help others who are in transition.
  • Then, God gave my wife and I children, brought me back to my old job, and even allowed me to buy a home.
When I thought all was lost, God provided.

He gave me purpose, and I was faithful to share His Word,
with those who wanted to learn about Him through a Bible-study.

I read today of Henri Nouwen, “If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone.”

When we clear our minds of past and future thoughts, we can be in the moment that is, and this, Nouwen says, is the place where we are most likely to encounter God.

God hasnt shown me what to do next,
and though my attempts dont always succeed 
I dont believe He is done with me yet.

I am a convicted felon, and a father,
but God says I am something more...
I am His.

Time is passing by rapidly,
and without special events taking place,
history could be made with little notice.

Could you be moving too fast to hear God?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Archived Post: "The Man Who Cared - Late"

The Man Who Cared - Late.

When I was in jail,
immediately after "The Accident" 
but before my first court-date,
and still unsure what the future would hold,
I met a man who came to discuss Christ.

It seems that new inmates are the most susceptible
to depression, self-loathing, and hopelessness
upon first becoming incarcerated.

Yet at the same time this is when:
People are most receptive to God.
"When in transitions of life, 
or under some strenuous tension
that seems too much to handle on their own.”
‘Smart’, I thought. His coming here now.
To reach people when at their lowest.

But then he told me why He does it...
For many years He seemed to have the perfect life, 
but then all of a sudden, it wasn’t.

For twenty-six years he had been married to a wonderful woman.
Had his first child when he was 28.
Then two additional at ages 30 & 32.

But within one year
of the final child leaving for college
so did his wife.

It seems he had been a workaholic.

Leaving his family for days at a time on business
or even during ‘vacation’, he would need to ‘plug-in’.
The thing was, he had enjoyed his job.
And his family felt it.

So within two-months after the last child moved out
his wife told him how he had never listened
and never completely given himself to their family.
So she left and filed for divorce.

The kids seemed to side with their mother
because she had been the person
who had held the family together.

Missed opportunities to connect with loved ones
all because the allure of something else was so great.

Substance abuse? Nope.
Gambling? Nope.
Some other addictive behavior? Nope.
Infidelity? Uh-uh.
The cause?
You would have to ask the family he never saw.

And that’s how he views it, as a criminal offense:
to withhold love, attention, and affection
from the people he swore to give of himself most.

After eighteen months, his ex-wife was re-married.
And for many years, he was all alone.

The kids visit him on father’s day,
but they spend major holidays with their mom.
Are they the neglectful ones now?
Maybe. But that’s not the end of it...

Somehow he connected with a church, and Prison Fellowship.
He saw how he could give to ‘those’ who could never re-pay.
It took a few years for him to get past 
the idea of ‘doing penance’ in jails.
Now, he does it because he enjoys it.
And his kids see it too.
Are they healed?
But somehow the pain of their neglect
has helped others through his volunteering.
And healing can begin for everyone
because he was willing to make time for others.
Will you?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Archive: "A Lifetime Of Rebellion"

A Lifetime Of Rebellion
Original Post: January 31, 2012

Do you consider yourself a rebellious person?

Too often I find myself in rebellion
to both God & man.
So when I ended up in prison (read about HERE)
it wasnt because I was evil
nor was I ignorant of the state laws
however, I WAS angry,
and in rebellion.

Consider this...
when you find yourself disobeying
a person in authority or rule of the land
do you consider it a lack of trust?

Or do you see it as a sign of faith
in no one and nothing,
beside your own understanding?

If our disobedience could stop here
then maybe it would be simple to overcome
but then we often become bitter,
complaining when other people point out our behavior.

"To celebrate & praise are the opposite of complaining."

Can the people who know you best
lift you up in praise and celebrate what you have done
because they believe in you?
Or do they merely put up with you??

Are you a joyful person?

If the situation you face is less than ‘stellar’
can you still find peace in accepting the outcome?

Or are you overcome with the urge
to loudly object because you are not the ‘star’
receiving the immediate outcome which you desire?

Gods plans for you may take longer
than you can bare to imagine.
His design may mean we need to ‘re-learn’, again
before the lesson is truly part of us.

Wisdom and patience can teach us
that everything we face may not be for our own benefit
but for another who is watching from the sideline.

Is our stubbornness and pride
winning us a prize that will last beyond today,
or is it costing us any chance for a better future?

When I was preparing
for my prison sentence to begin
I resolved not to fight back, or run,
but to accept that which I had earned
and to somehow open myself up to God more.

You know what He did?
He told me early on that if I trusted in Him
He would use me to reach others
not because I was holy, or perfect, or good,
but because I was willing to change
to become the obedient servant He could use.

Gods plan for you
far outweighs anything you can do on your own.
But the rebellion has to end
and instead we must open ourselves
and invite God to use where we are at that moment.

It may simply begin by speaking a kind word,
giving someone a gentle hug,
or wearing a smile in spite of our pain.

Be useful.
Be part of the solution
instead of only rebellion
that puts us at odds with one another.

UPDATE: July 2016
This month marks ten-years since the accident.
Yes- that's 10 years since I drove drunk and injured two women.
I have been re-posting from the archive
and I feel soon that God may call me to end this writing effort.

Has it helped me to write? 
Yes- to give words to the emotional struggle, 
the strife faced being a criminal,
problems from a lack of internal direction,
defiance against God and society.

Has it helped others? 
Perhaps- atleast some have said so.

Is there a long-term effort to be sustained here? 
I dont know; only God knows for sure.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Mercy. Compassion. Forgiveness. Do You have any to give?

Mercy. Compassion. Forgiveness. Do You have any to give?

What do these words mean to you?
Perhaps you will read the name of this blog - AmericanCriminal, and quickly move on to another destination.
Or perhaps you will tell yourself, "Criminals? They don't deserve anything from me!"
And maybe you're right.
However, let's agree they deserve everything they get, and nothing from you.
What about their victims?
Or rather, the indirect victims of their crime,
often the most overlooked.... the children they leave behind.
What do these young ones deserve?
Forgiveness for being born to criminal parents?
Could You be the one to give them something?
You may never return to read this blog, so I will ask you to do one thing...
seek out Angel Tree, and give something.
Give to the indirect victims of crime, the children.
Don't just think about it. Do it.
Today. And next year.
Plan on helping reduce a little suffering in the world.
Give compassion. Now.
Show mercy. Now.
Will You forgive the criminals enough to help their children?

Monday, June 27, 2016

Re-Post & Update: "What's the Effect on Us When Helping Prisoners?"

Friday, June 24, 2011

What's The Effect On Us When Helping Prisoners?

Do You ever doubt what you could offer a prisoner?
Question the value of what you have to give?

I often wonder if God could use me to do anything worthwhile.
How is what I say ever going to make a difference?
But the point is not whether I have anything important to say or teach.
Its about my obedience.
Allowing God to use me for encouraging others.
Will I make a difference?? 
That's not My job.
My job is to be willing.
To show up.
To invest.

It is bad to go without water or food
but it is worse to starve for connection, 
and to die of thirst for hope.

Are you lost for purpose?
Does feeling loved escape you?
Here’s the answer:
Give more of yourself
more than you feel you should
more than is deserved.

  • Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s obsersvation: Generosity is a Wonder Drug. Anyone can lift their spirits dramatically by giving, helping, volunteering, or directly donating to those in need. Researches have a name for the medicinal power of giving: Helper’s High. This is the promise made in Isaiah 58: 7,8. “When you share what you have to help others, in that moment, you are worth something – and it will help you ease any pain.” Dr. Stephen Post of the Institute For Research on Unlimited Love offered this: ”To rid yourself of negative emotional states, push them aside with positive emotional states, and the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.” Looking for a positive emotional sensation? Volunteer. Women participating in a study by the Institute For The Advancement Of Healthreported that after volunteering time to help others, they had a physical experience similar to meditation or a vigorous workout. In a compilation of studies recently published, the exact phenom becomes clear: When we perceive that we’ve helped someone, we trigger the reward center in our brain, which produces Dopamines, Endorphins and Serotonins. These powerful chemicals give us feelings of profound joy, calmness and spiritual connection. We get as high as a kite, or gain the internal/chemical feeling of true Richness. We lift off, emotionally, and it lasts for days, sometimes weeks. Researchers found that you could reinject yourself with the WonderDrug Of Helping just by thinking about it. In his research, Dr. Post also observed that when we are in Helping Mode, our body produces Oxytocin, which is known as the “bonding hormone.” When faced with a crisis or a problem, people on Helper’s High spring into “Tend and Mend” mode, instead of the more aggressive “Fight Or Flight” mode. In other words, Helper’s High brings out the emotion of trust and nurture.
Give love by sharing your time.
Once a month, spend time with a prisoner.
Connect, and find a purpose outside of yourself
by loving on someone who cannot begin to earn it.

To some, you may be the only face of Christ
they ever come to know.

Update - June 2016
Last weekend my 6-y/o daughter took some of her own money,
we went to a local grocery and bought gift-cards specific for that store.
We then went in search of local homeless to give them a gift.
We found only one- and she refused us, saying she only takes cash.
We both left a little sad, and went in search of others to find.
With no luck, we returned home, 
but made plans to keep seeking those with 'signs' requesting help.
I am proud of my daughter!
We cannot help everyone, but where we can- we will be obedient.

When you face rejection, how do you remain faithful?

Saturday, June 25, 2016

New Post: "Weighing Your Power"

Weighing Your Power
How do we weigh the power of Words? Or Music? Or Wind?

If science says they cannot be weighed,
then how do we know they are real?

We can weigh volume - the affect of music on the air around it,
but not the musical notes themselves.

We cannot weigh the wind, nor the written Word of God,
yet we cannot deny the power of either.
But we can measure the speed of the wind,
and we can witness the power in words.

Does God then give you and me power that we have yet to weigh?
Or worse yet, that we have misused??

I was reminded this week of the similarities all people on earth share:

  • our birth, 
  • death,
  • our lack of control for either.
This sobering reminder came as we face another sick and dying family member.
But in this I find connection with every other person who has ever lived:

We have all suffered the loss of someone we care deeply about.

Although this awareness shows me how truly weak I am,
it also allows me to unite in one spirit with others.

Whether death comes from the brutality of man toward one another in war,
through the ravages of sickness, disaster, or a terrible accident,
we each will continue to lose those we love,
until it becomes our time to leave this place for the next.

How do we find any comfort in this?
By recognizing the One Power we have-
our ability to sit, connect, sympathize with and encourage one another.

And this is this second part of the commandment Jesus Christ spoke:
"to love you neighbor as yourself."

Even former enemies recognize the pain of loss.
We may apologize, even when we took no part in the atrocities,
not because we want to take on a burden of responsibility,
but because we wish to share in the loss.

Perhaps this allows healing to begin,
when we feel deeply the loss of another,
so they dont feel so alone in their discomfort.

So- how do we weigh our own power?

Perhaps it is best measured in the lives we touch,
in what we give and dont expect in return;
by speaking gently, showing kindness, 
through the time we give to share in another's burden.

The pain we bare can be reduced when someone else helps us to carry it.

Where do you turn when you face life's greatest pains?
Do you turn toward the pain someone else is living through?

This is the greatest way to show Christ's love to the world,
by being a church that does life together,
reaching-out to share in our common losses.

I wont pretend that I am perfect in this,
I am weak in the face of such struggles,
but I know what grace looks like,
because Christ has given it to me 
through those who follow Him,
and have walked with me in the darkness.

How do you measure your life?
Let it be by the lives you touch with the love of Jesus.

"Small thinking 
does more to limit our future and how God can use us 
than any other factor or experience."

Saturday, June 18, 2016

New Post: "Is It Better To Be 'RIGHT'? Or 'KIND'?"

Is It Better To Be 'RIGHT'? Or 'KIND'?

We know the answer, but we dont like the cost.
You and I want recognition.
We want to feel rewarded somehow.
We like applause, to be listened to and respected.
But- Kindness? Gentleness? Tenderness?
It makes us - what?

Who do you and I become when we exchange esteem with meekness?

Or we can think about it like this...

Why do we avoid kindness, especially when we desire it for ourselves?

I think we should consider that we are fearful to appear to be weak.

Its not that we dont like kindness,
as we surely appreciate it in others,
but we dont want to make the effort, take the extra time, 
and we surely dont want be seen as 'easily taken advantage of.'

Instead- we argue to win the point.
We raise our voices and get angry.
We belittle, correct and push-down the other person.

We see society rewards the quick tongued,
and gives attention to those with a smart come-back.

But at what cost?

You have heard it said that after time has gone by,
it is the memories of how people felt around us that lingers most.

So do we attract people into our lives by what we say?
Or do we find more friends when we dont try to get the last word?

I am definitely one to stand-up for myself,
and I would never advocate that we allow others to walk on us,
but when the day is over, who do you believe other people will trust more?

If Christ was able to be with you in the darkest moments of life,
would you expect Him to open His arms to give you a hug?
Or do you think He would have a lecture planned?

And when people are mean spirited with you,
and the only desire is to defend yourself and get even,
do your actions speak acceptance, or rejection?

Most often when people insist on "Being Right",
its to overcome their own deep inadequacy.

When people speak words of correction- is it really about you?
Or is it their own struggles?
Their desire for to reclaim some part of what they have lost in life?

Could you give it to them?
Would you lay down your right to respond-
then give them what they need most, yet dont know how to ask for it?

Be kind, and have courage that in this moment,
what is needed most is your willingness to let someone else win.
Let them vent their pain.
Then hold-back from adding to it by introducing your own,
no matter what vile thing they said.