Prison

A Feast to Remember

IMG_4094We all came, some new friends and some old. We gathered at the table and we broke the bread and drank the wine. All to celebrate fourteen years of a rebuilt life.

And as the stories were told, we remembered.

He was a boy then, and now he’s a man. And he never wants to forget what almost cost him his life. The foolishness that lead to the arrest, the imprisonment, and the walk to freedom.

But most of all, on this anniversary of his release, he remembers the people who helped pull him from that pit.IMG_4093

So that night, Tommy, his youth pastor and friend asked,

“Daniel, do you remember the first time I saw you at the jail? You were on the other side of that glass, and we were talking on that phone. And I said, ‘How did you get there and I get here?’ Do you remember what you said?”

He didn’t even pause, “I told you I stopped listening to the people I respected.”

And for over an hour we feasted at that table, and we shared our stories. And we became full on the evidence of Gods greatest miracle.

IMG_4092The restoration of a man’s soul.

Over two thousand years ago, twelve men gathered around a table. And as He broke the bread, and He poured the wine, He told them to remember.

To daily remind themselves how His body broke, and His blood poured out.

And how their souls will always need nourishment as much as their bodies. And without Him, they’ll never be full.

This Easter, I challenge you to prepare a feast. To invite all those you love to the table. Gather them around and break the bread, and pour the wine.

And let the conversation flow. And as you do, remember all the ways He has restored your soul.

Jesus Christ Crucifixion on Good Friday Silhouette

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My Prodigal Heart

Fourteen years ago, Daniel walked out of this prison a new man. In honor of all he’s accomplished I’m re-posting this.
66309-dsc00209The fog had not yet lifted the morning our van climbed the hill to the Staunton Correctional Center to pick up our son Daniel. His five and a half-year sentence for foolish crimes he’d committed were over and we could finally take him home. To keep Daniel from spending one hour more incarcerated than necessary, we made the 2-½ hour journey the night before. At 6:30 that chilly March morning, he was free and we were there to greet him.

It felt strange pulling up that long road in the dark dawn. A thick fog made the prison seem eerie. Inside the car, silence fell as none of us quite knew what to say. Our daughter Kelly and her husband Dan had spent the first five years of their marriage making sacrifices to visit Daniel. Tim and I couldn’t quite grasp the reality of not spending our week-ends driving to a prison. None of us knew what to expect.

Tim, ever the prankster, went to the guardhouse with a “Get Out of Jail Free” card, but the guard didn’t seem amused. Then we sat in the van and waited. The sunrise began to burn off the fog, but a thin grey mist still made it difficult to see across the yard.

It was strange to think Daniel would just walk out the gate we had entered so many times. It seemed an odd process when so much effort had been exerted to keep him inside.

Suddenly, someone in the van said, “there he is!” But we all seemed frozen.

Carrying a large cardboard box, Daniel stood just on the other side of the sally-port gate. A guard stood by his side. Daniel didn’t move as the first of the two gates opened. There was a brief exchange between the guard escorting Daniel and the guard at the hut, and then the second gate opened and Daniel walked to freedom.

At the same time, the vans doors opened and we all leaped out. Daniel’s blaze orange baseball cap covered his curly hair and his old prison issue denim jacket was unzipped. Underneath he wore a tan shirt that still had the creases from having been just removed from its package.

Without speaking, Daniel stood next to the car as if unsure of what to do next

Even though we had new clothes for him back at the hotel, I could no longer stand seeing Daniel in prison garb. I removed his cap and asked him to take off his jacket. As soon I spoke, the words of the Father of the Prodigal Son echoed in my mind. “Hurry, bring the royal robe…” Tim took the box from Daniel as I shoved him his father’s jacket that was laying on the front seat. He pushed his arms in the sleeves and climbed into the front seat.

On the ride back to our hotel I marveled at why I didn’t love our obedient daughter more than our prodigal son. In so many ways it seems prodigals get to eat their cake and have it too. It’s always seemed unfair in a logical sense, yet emotionally, it’s crystal clear. But I sometimes struggle with putting the two together.

Perhaps it’s because I too have the heart of a prodigal. In my own frustrations over the direction God is leading me, I too have run away, taking with me God’s inheritance. I seldom hesitate to shake my fists and stomp my feet because God didn’t do something I thought He should. After hours anguishing over my foolish tantrums, I marvel at a God who loves me in spite of them.

Too often, I measure myself against folks who seem to do the right thing no matter what. I cringe as family members tell how they never complain. Or how they press on with a positive outlook. Words that could never be said about me. When I get angry, I want to run away from God. But, when I’m out in the world, I’m always shocked by how big the wake of my rebellion grows.

More than once, the overwhelming responsibility to be a “good” Christian has driven me away from my relationship with Christ. I don’t feel like going the extra mile, turning the other cheek, or holding my tongue. Not that I’ve ever been successful at any of those, but the burden of trying weighs heavily on my heart. And in those dark moments, well meaning folks say, “Let go and let God.” But I don’t want to.

Daniel a Pia

Daniel and his daughter Sophia

Fortunately, in the midst of my pity party, I run out of steam. Then I start to remember the blessings I have enjoyed because of Him. I remember how much I matter to my God. And the moment I acknowledge the error of my ways, the realization that He proclaims, “quick, get the royal robe…” amazes me every time.

Having a prodigal of my own has made me aware of the anguish my prodigal journeys cause our heavenly Father. It has made the power of grace very real to me. For it is His grace that makes us all loved equally and unconditionally by God. It’s grace that is the great mystery of our faith. The very thing that never ceases to amaze me. And the thing that calms this prodigal’s heart.

Grace

Friday December 1, 1995 is blazoned on my mind. The day the police drove up our long driveway and took him away. For questioning they said. It was late into the night before we knew why. Armed robbery. Twice.
The following Monday, Tim and I squeezed onto the back pew of the courtroom. We had Daniel’s lawyer’s instructions. Go forward when his name is called. Tell the judge you’ve hired counsel and you’d like a continuance.
So we waited. I prayed there’d be no handcuffs.
Daniel’s case was called last. The side door opened. He stepped into the courtroom, hands and legs free. I hurt, not for what he’d done to us, but for what he’d done to himself. For this pain he’d feel for the rest of his life. The judgment other’s would pour on him for this foolish mistake.
Deep in my soul I heard that whisper, the quiet voice of the Spirit. “That’s how I feel when you sin.”
Without shame, we made it to the front. Two broken parents signing in as present. Standing up for their sinner son. “Yes, yes Judge, he’s ours. I know what you think, but we love him. And yes, we’re prepared to do whatever it takes to help him set this right.”
As we spoke, I saw a flogging, an innocent man, and a cross.
Back at home my mind wandered. Fears erupted. I prayed the mattress would swallow me whole.
I thought we’d done our best. Read all the popular books. Gone to church; sent him to private school.
But what if he get’s raped? What if he’s beaten? What if he’s sentenced to life?
For days I tossed and turned. Fear gripped my every move.
And then I remembered God’s grace. And how it had carried me. And even if my worst fears came true, God’s grace would see Daniel through.
After all, it was never my job to save him. To control his every move. Or force him to follow Jesus. If I could, what would be the point of the cross?

So I surrendered all.

Eighteen years later, he’s a husband and a father. A college graduate on his own journey with Christ. He’s creative and strong. Passionate and caring. And he’s a blessing to me, and a reminder to many, of God’s abundant grace.

My Christmas Crime

At our house Christmas, had always meant baking cookies. So I had to do something. Daniel needed a Christmas cookie so I planned my crime.

One cold December day, I mixed up a small batch of gingerbread dough and rolled it out onto the counter. Choosing the smallest gingerbread man cookie cutter, I cut myself an array of the one-inch gingerbread men.
 
Lined in neat little rows on the baking sheet, I then poked holes in the top before shoving them into the hot oven. Once the cookies cooled, I selected the best one to be my contraband. With a beautiful red ribbon slipped through the hole, it made a wonderful necklace.
 
The next Saturday Tim and I drove to the prison for our weekly visit with Daniel. I especially dressed in Christmas colors to help conceal my little friend as he draped shamelessly around my neck. You could hardly tell it was a cookie.
 
I was a little nervous as we walked up to the main entrance. If the guards suspected I was a smuggler, I would be banned from visiting Daniel for the rest of his sentence.

Inside the guard station, I took off my coat with the cookie still resting safely on my chest. The guard checked my coat pockets while the gingerbread man and I walked through the metal detector. Suspecting nothing, the guard patted me down. I felt confident when we were approved for entry into the visiting area.
Tim and I chose a table in a far off corner so Daniel would be free to eat his cookie. As soon as he entered the room I was on my feet. When we hugged I whispered in his ear, “How do you like my necklace?”
 
Back in our seats, we made casual conversation, but Daniel couldn’t take his eyes off the gingerbread man.
 
Finally, Daniel said, “OK, now.” I broke the cookie free and discreetly slid it across the table. In one slick move, Daniel popped the entire cookie in his mouth. His head went back, his eyes closed, and he slowly chewed. I was so proud to have brought a little tradition into my son’s life.
 
Traditions are a wonderful part of the holiday season. But they are best kept flexible.
 
When you think about it, long 
ago a poor traveling couple found no room in the inn. The woman gave birth in a cold Bethlehem barn. Not the circumstances Mary and Joseph envisioned for the birth of their son. It had to be disappointing that all they had waited for seemed to take place in such a peculiar way. 

And yet, over two thousand years later the story of the birth of Christ continues to bring peace to an otherwise chaotic world.

I believe Christmas is best celebrated in spite of the world around us. And we must do whatever possible to bring the peace of the manger into each other’s lives. Even if it means bending a tradition to make if fit our circumstances.

Belonging

Now that my family is scattered, and Tim is gone, I really treasure all those old family pictures. In the 70’s and 80’s, Tim and I did what most families did; we dressed ourselves up and gathered in front of a pull down backdrop at an Olan Mills Studio. The backdrop selection was so slim, it wasn’t uncommon to go in your neighbor’s house and see a large framed photo of their family, arranged just like yours, in front of the same backdrop.
As our kids got older and moved away, it got harder to get them all together at the same time. And that was especially true during the 5 ½ years Daniel was in prison.
Every prison has an assigned photographer who, for a small fee from the inmates commissary fund, will snap a quick Polaroid. But Kelly and Dan lived out of state. And inmates tend to wear funky clothes. So those pictures weren’t usually the hanging on the wall type.
 
But all during Daniel’s time in prison, Tim and I were determined to do whatever it took to make sure he still felt like a part of the family. So we attached those awkward prison photos to our Christmas card and we moved on.
 
But by the forth year of Daniel’s sentence, I really wanted a family photo where Daniel didn’t stick out. Where we could look as natural as possible, so I came up with a plan.

 

Kelly and Dan were home for Thanksgiving, and after a bit of convincing, I got everyone to agree to my scheme. Dan was the most apprehensive. Especially since my plan involved all of us dressing in “prison blues.” 

So, on a chilly November day, the four of us went through the usual pat down. Stunned, all Daniel could seem to say was, “This is so cool.” When we marched to the photo station we arranged the chairs as if we were in our own living room. Then we smiled from ear to ear. I went back to our seat with my Christmas card worthy picture tightly in 
my hand.

 
 
We all have a need to feel we belong. And families are the greatest place to have that need met. As we head into this holiday season, as parents, we have the opportunity to lead our loved ones in extending the grace necessary to build bridges.

 
Jesus did it for us on the cross, so the least we can do is pass that grace on to those we love.