Thursday, June 30, 2011

When 'Distance' Is A Blessing

You know when you hear bad news,
and later learn it wasn’t quite as horrible as you thought?
That was me and my wife in 2007.
 
When I was sentenced for injuring two people in a drunk-driving accident,
we knew it could have been worse.
 
State law allowed the prosecutor to push for a mandatory-minimum sentence under Oregon’s Measure 11,
which could have given me 72 months of incarceration,
rather than the 50 months with possible early release that I received.

Would you call that a blessing?
We do.

In a list of blessings we had been counting,
it was one more to help affirm our re-commitment to serve and love God no matter what.
 
So after spending my first month in a lock-down facility for observation (read more Here),
I called my wife to notify her of my transfer to the only Maximum Security Facility in the state (read more Here).
Her tears came once again in what must have seemed like a continuously bad nightmare,
and I could hear the fear for me in her voice.
 
Was God there? In that moment?
You bet!

Although it would be difficult to imagine,
 this facility had benefits we would learn about only as we trusted God more.
How could there be a benefit?
Well, the most important reason... visiting!
First, better visiting hours, And they lasted longer.
Since my wife works nights and weekends as a nurse,
she would have missed seeing me due to the limited visiting hours at the “closer” facility.
Second, this place allowed for 3 hour visits, compared with 1 hour at the Minimum Security location.
Lastly, in spite of the depressingly loud,
mechanically controlled metal-bars all visitors must pass through to enter the visiting room,
in this location we could hold hands as we sat across from one another
in what came to be a very intimate time for us. (read more abut this Here)

Intimate? How??
Think about it like this for a minute...

How often do you sit across from your spouse, hold hands, share your day & listen to theirs?
When do we stop long enough to look into one another’s eyes so that you can literally feel the warmth and affection in their gaze?

Maybe when we first begin to date this happens,
but there is little of the deep love and affection as we simply talk and ask questions to get to know one another.
And that’s what this afforded us,
the chance to get to know one another all over again.

Maybe I am a simple man who was glad to learn to love his wife all over again.

But here, we could visit more often without interfering with her work schedule.

So although the drive was farther and seemed longer, it was mostly highway,
and my wife spent only fifteen additional minutes driving to visit me.

And it was God’s way of using her to show His love for me,
because her actions spoke louder than any words ever could.
I will be forever grateful to you my darling wife.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

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?
Self-centeredness.
Criminal??
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?
No.
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?

 

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 Health reported 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.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Where Will You 'See' God - Part 2

Being in jail is one of the loneliest places to find yourself.
When I was there I began to doubt everything and everyone,
except God.
 
You can read more of my back-story anytime,
but let me set up today's idea now:
How our perspective makes all the difference,
in whether we will see God at work in our lives.

On the day I learned that both of my victims would fully recover
from the drunk-driving accident I had caused,
I felt blessed.
And when I learned the details of the collision,
how my car struck the rear right-corner panel,
pushing their car off the road
and into a metal light pole,
which then came crashing down onto the roof
but splitting the cabin perfectly so neither were hit
I was driven to my knees again,
realizing God had been in that moment,
protecting both my victims and me.

The difference - perspective.

Some will see my situation as unfortunate,
a mistake,
a legal blunder in a state where the laws seem harsh.
But here is the truth,
I had been ignoring God.
I had been telling Him that I knew best.
So I lived My way,
as if there had been nothing from God.
But the truth was that I was running from Him,
like Jonah, I didn’t like what He told me.

The same may be true for you.

What will it take for God to get Your attention?
Because He IS speaking to you.
In the minor details of the day.
In the smile of a stranger.
In the kind words of an elderly neighbor.
And in the instances that seem too simple to matter.

Will You stop and recognize them?

11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD,
for the LORD is about to pass by.”
 Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD,
but the LORD was not in the wind.
After the wind there was an earthquake,
but the LORD was not in the earthquake.
 12 After the earthquake came a fire,
but the LORD was not in the fire.
And after the fire came a gentle whisper.
I Kings 19:11-12 NIV

Will it take an earthquake for you to stop and listen?
Perhaps it is time to sit still and be quiet.
Prepare the soil of your heart to receive His word
by removing the interfering obstacles
so Jesus can take root and grow.

 

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Where Will You 'See' God? - Part 1

Our days are busy,
and the noise in our ears - louder than ever.
Cell-phones ring, music abounds,
we have road noise while in transit,
unlimited Internet sites to surf,
more than 150 channels to watch,
all while the kids scream, the spouse yells, the boss demands,
and our inner voice...
goes silent.
 
Where is God in this maelstrom?
 
He is... where you don’t look,
or rather in the places we overlook.
 
Please allow me to tell you a story about my first day...
when I first entered Oregon State Penitentiary as an inmate.

Upon entering I could sense the presence of Satan at work. From every horrible crime you can think up, men are here to do multiple years in a maximum facility, some for life terms, and some on death row. I can still recall that first day when my heart sank into my stomach and I nearly wept on the spot. Not from self-pity, or even the stench, but the disease of despair in the place, a sense of futility or defeat. Even on that day I knew I was enveloped by God’s protection. And in a way I still am. You can read more Here.

And when I walked into the cell I expected to inhabit the next four years, I met Tim.
His own prison term was already fourteen years in on a thirty-seven year sentence.
The crime he committed is not important, but here is what is:

God used him.


Tim listened to my story. Asked if I was an alcoholic who needed help, then proceeded to do more.
More than was asked of him. More than was required. And more than I could ever repay.

Within one week I knew where I could safely go, and where to avoid.
There was a place on the weight-yard where I could lift weights in safety.
And Tim introduced me to people as his cell-mate,
as an “OK” guy,
and as something other than a “sex-offender”.
You see, even behind bars, there is ‘politics’,
and Tim just gave others his “approval” of me.
This may not seem like much to most people,
but here is the point...
even on my first day of incarceration
God was there,
Using Tim.

Later, Tim would tell me how to prepare for the long days and nights ahead.
Because he had experience, and I was someone he could teach.

Now, I am ‘outside’, and nearly ‘free’,
while Tim continues to serve out his sentence.
In the letters we now share, he still extends words of hope,
to make the most of the time we have.

You know what I learned?
That God can use anyone,
Anywhere.
They don’t have to be popular, or good looking,
rich, famous, or powerful,
but they can still speak God’s truth that we so badly need to hear.

Will you listen?

Friday, June 10, 2011

A Vision Of Hope

How do You describe Hope?
Where do You find It?
 
For those of us struggling to find a life of meaning... it may seem elusive.
 
What if you have ‘everything’, but still feel mostly unhappy and dissatisfied?
How does someone who has ‘nothing’ still smile?
Being in prison doesn’t leave one with much.
Hope seems like a luxury.
But sometimes it is all we have.
Perhaps you are in a prison of your own making?
Divorced, you sit at home alone and in despair.
Addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, with a ‘need-to-feed’ that won’t quit.
Or an anger that never gives you a day off.
I struggle to think of those with physical infirmities who are severely limited,
whose entire “life” is confined to a wheel chair, or other restriction like a jail-cell.
 
But God...

When I become despondent and the Words of God are not enough,
I look to others who Have found hope in God.

With No Arms, and No Legs, Nick Vujicic has learned to do more than many,
to be both content and yet dissatisfied to live life without seeking more.
More from God, and more for God.
Nick has learned to give more of himself to others,
and in turn to stand taller
because of God’s grace.
See Nick’s website: Life Without Limbs.org Here

After seeing Nick’s enthusiasm for life & serving Christ to others
I realize that hope can come from anywhere.

And it is only when we use our own story
can those without Hope
begin to see a life with It.

In the past few weeks I have taken a break from writing my life into this blog.
Typically it is because of some simple questions that hound us all:

“Who are you to tell people about Christ?”
“If the people who used to know you and know what you’ve done could see you now, they’d call you a hypocrite.”
“Eventually, you’ll be found out and exposed as the fraud you really are.”

But God...

When I talk of Christ's redeeming grace,
then what I write isn’t about my past,
but of His glory.
Please understand, the story of my incarceration (read about it Here)
is about my failure to run to God,
because like Jonah, I ran away instead.

But God...

Intervened. Reclaimed me. Redeemed me.
Disciplined me, and stood me upright on His rock.

Next week a new short series begins: Where will you “see” God?

Countdown: 38 Weeks (read about this Here)