Giving Thanks

As we prepare our hearts for Thanksgiving next week, I give thanks to God for the most incredible blessing of my life: REDEMPTION

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VzGAYNKDyIU

I’ve Been Redeemed by Big Daddy Weave

Seems like all I could see was the struggle
Haunted by ghosts that lived in my past
Bound up in shackles of all my failures
Wondering how long is this gonna last
Then You look at this prisoner and say to me “Son
Stop fighting a fight it’s already been won”

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be
I am redeemed, I’m redeemed

All my life I have been called unworthy
Named by the voice of my shame and regret
But when I hear You whisper, “Child, lift up your head”
I remember, oh God, You’re not done with me yet

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, now I’m not who I used to be

Because I don’t have to be the old man inside of me
‘Cause his day is long dead and gone
Because I’ve got a new name, a new life, I’m not the same
And a hope that will carry me home

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, ’cause I’m not who I used to be

I am redeemed, You set me free
So I’ll shake off these heavy chains
Wipe away every stain, yeah, I’m not who I used to be
Oh, God, I’m not who I used to be
Jesus, I’m not who I used to be
‘Cause I am redeemed
Thank God, redeemed

Ready. Set. Go.

Running-a-RaceThe bell rings through the building. The inmates push closer and closer to the door. The officer exits his office at the end of the hallway. A path is formed in a sea of inmates as the officer makes his way to the door. The inmates immediately close the open path as the officer passes by. The officer unlocks the door, pushes it open, and steps to the side in fear of being trampled upon.

Ready! Set! Go!  Inmates are out the door in a split second, setting the torrid-walking pace to the chow hall 200 yards away. (Running is prohibited). Arms are pumping, legs are moving, each is breathing in through his nose and out through his mouth. Numbers eight, nine, and ten are about two seconds behind the leaders, but keeping up with the pack. The first ten to fifteen men break away from the other inmates. The gap widens. A few late starters try to cross the gap to join the leaders, but none have been successful. In just over one minute, the leaders of the pack will enter the chow hall doors, get their food and sit down before the majority arrives.

Ah yes, the joys of going to the chow hall! This is almost better than watching an Olympic race. The winners are usually the men who have been locked up for 20+ years and have been training since their first year. Some like to call them “institutionalized”. The 80-yr-olds who normally walk around with their walkers and canes toss those aside to compete in this race three times a day. Their bodies somehow must turn into a body like a 20-yr-old athlete. Their eyes are glazed over and each one is in “gotta be first in line” game mode.

In the three months since I’ve been at Seagoville, I have yet to figure out the benefits of being first. Do they get better food? No. More dessert? No. Maybe it’s good –time days off their sentence? Ah yes, that’s got be it. Hmmm….probably not. I don’t think anyone is rewarded for being first to the chow line.  As for me….. until there is an amazing prize at the end, I’m content on being at the back of the pack.

In college, I was given the nickname of “Backpack” during my first few seasons of cross country, as I always brought up the rear of our team. So I guess you can say I’ve got that nickname again. And proud of it!  I take my time. There’s no rush. There will always be food. And my prize is the same prize as the first inmate through the chow line – a free meal!!

This true story of prison life is a great lead in to 1 Corinthians 9. 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 reads: Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.”

Winning a race requires purpose and discipline. Long-distance runners work hard to build endurance and strength. On race day, their clothes are lightweight and their bodies lean. Paul explains that the Christian life takes hard work and grueling preparation. As Christians, we are running toward our heavenly rewards. The discipline of prayer, Bible Study, and worship equip us to run with vigor and stamina. Don’t merely observe from the grandstand. Don’t just turn out to jog a couple of laps each morning. Train diligently – your spiritual life depends on it. To run the race that God has set before us, we should strip off anything that slows us down. Choose friends who are also committed to the race. Make wise choices. Drop certain activities. The Christian life involves hard work. It requires us to give up whatever endangers our relationship with God, to run with endurance, and to fight against sin with the power of the Holy Spirit. We must keep our eyes on Jesus. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight at the finish line.

In prison the prize to the chow hall is the same for the first person as the last. And in life, the prize of heaven is the same for the person who has had a relationship with Christ their entire life, as well as the person who has only known Christ just minutes before dying. The prize is the same, but well-worth the training. Blessings come through the training. Don’t wait until the last minute to begin your training. Begin now! Run your lives in such a way to receive the ultimate prize!!

Mom’s Angle – Looking Back

This article is written by my mom, as she explains her feelings, with my permission.

dark dayWhat’s in a story? A story is the opportunity to touch someone’s life. By telling my story I can let others into my life. We all have good days; we all have bad days. Every day we wake up is not “fine.” We all have bad days at some point in our lives…..the woman whose spouse is having an affair, the young Mom who just received the C word (cancer), a young man in the prime of his life in a car accident now with physical ailments, a family losing their home to foreclosure, a man expecting a promotion and was told he was no longer needed on the job, a couple who just had a miscarriage after years of trying to get pregnant. Who has the worse situation? At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who has the bigger struggles. We all live in an imperfect world and we can expect bad days to be a part of each of our lives. Our bad days make us sad, but by telling our story, we may touch someone else.

We were blessed with a wonderful life. All four of our children had graduated from college and were working at jobs of their choice. Steve and I were semi-retired, were in good health, and looking forward to spending time with our grandchildren. Life was good. But on a cold dreary day in January our life was turned upside down. We received a phone call and was told that our son was charged with sexual misconduct and sitting in a county jail. That phone call changed our lives forever.

This could not be happening to us. Our son is a fine Christian man, a teacher, a coach whose passion is to help kids. We loved him deeply and he was a joy to raise. He dedicated himself to serving God for the past ten years! How could this be! What was God doing? Our first thoughts were, “We need a lawyer. How do we find a lawyer?” We had never been involved in any legal counsel and we were seven hours away from our son and the county where he lived. So we went to the internet and looked up defense lawyers. We placed a telephone call to one whose website indicated he had experience with cases like this. Within 15 minutes he called us back and we gave him the information he needed. He went to the jail and visited with Craig. We made arrangements to travel to see our son who was released on a signature bond, and the nightmare began. From this point on we couldn’t DO anything to help him. Our hands were tied and everything was left to the courts.

The legal process is a long drawn out affair and every time we went to the courtroom it was an ugly feeling. This could not be real; this could not be my son that got caught up in a situation of this kind. The judge allowed Craig to leave the state in order to live with us. Craig immediately was out to make a difference as he awaited the turmoil to end. He found a job, did volunteer work, met with his pastor, a counselor and a men’s accountability group. After living with us for over a  year and doing everything to get his life back together, he was brought before a federal judge who slapped additional charges on him…..she would not allow him to be out on bail. She indicated he was a threat to society and needed to be locked up. What was she talking about?  Our son had never hit anyone in his life; he was a gentle soul and would not hurt anyone intentionally. Where was God? This was not justice!! Finally, after more court dates, astronomical legal fees, and 23 months from the first phone call, Craig was sentenced and assigned to a federal prison.

I absolutely hated what we were experiencing. I blamed myself that if I prayed more for him, if I had stronger faith, if we visited him more, if we called him more this would not have happened….the Enemy was working on us, too. I kept wondering what we could have done differently. We did our best, but apparently it was not good enough.  During this time I just wanted to stay home in my little sanctuary of safeness. When the sun was out I could cope with the situation, but as soon as the sun went down, I started feeling helpless. I didn’t like the dark, didn’t like cloudy days. And yet I did not want Satan to win. He was not going to bring my son down and he was not going to bring us down. Most of my free time was spent in prayer because that was where I placed my hope. Satan wanted us to give up and worry and lose faith and become despondent; he wanted horrible things to continue to happen to us. But we decided we would not allow that. We chose God and hope and trusted that God could bless this mess.

The second thing we did after contacting a lawyer was to let our family and friends know what happened. We did not want them to read the untruths of the media on the internet. So we made phone calls to our other children and close family members and then sent out a mass email to those we knew we could count on for prayer….those we know wouldn’t give in to gossip or think bad about Craig or our family…..those we could count on for spiritual support during the months to come. How grateful we are still to this day for those people and how much we still need them in our lives as we continue the journey. One of the moments that touched my heart the most was when one of Craig’s friends sent me a Mother’s Day card on the first Mother’s Day  that Craig was incarcerated. He wrote, “I know Craig would send you a card if he could, so consider this from him.” And then there were all those who travelled to be with us on the sentencing day. How much we appreciate them!

I thought I had a strong faith, but wondered if my faith would hold up with all that we were going to encounter. Both my husband and I liked to fix things, but we couldn’t fix this. We couldn’t stop the rumors, the gossiping and the things we read and heard. We had to just let it go. We became more humble and our hearts were filled with compassion toward others with their own personal struggles. Now, whenever I hear or see on the news of a man or woman being charged with something, I immediately think about this person’s family, how there is someone who is grieving in this situation. I also ignore most of what the media says because the news is full of half-truths. The media has a flair for drama and our technology has the means to immediately jump on half-truths that can hurt those people involved.

A spiritual battle took place in our son’s life, a battle that Satan was out to win. See, Satan loves to mess with us. He especially wants Christians to fall. He especially wants Christians in ministry to fall. He works hardest on those, and it takes great strength to stay the course and keep focused on God.  That’s why it’s so important to stay healthy – physically, mentally, and spiritually – so we have the strength to fight the battle.

We are all sinners and we all fail at times. But when a leader falls, it seems more shocking. Craig was a leader – a gifted leader of children who was living his dream of coaching and teaching young people. But that life is gone forever. Out of stupidity his life is changed forever. Out of stupidity he has hurt his family and friends. Out of stupidity he has disappointed his co-workers and students. His life has changed. He has asked and received forgiveness from his family and friends. He has lost friends because of his actions. None of his past co-workers or staff have told him they have forgiven him even after an apology letter was sent. We wondered why not one reached out to him….people that knew Craig and worked with him. We recently learned that the staff was told they should never have contact with Craig or they would be dismissed from their position.  Really?? And this is a Christian school that teaches the students to be kind and forgiving to each other and that bullying is unacceptable??  I pray that someday those people will be strong enough to do the right thing and accept Craig once again in their lives. Yes, he made mistakes. But he is a changed man and God is moving in his life to bring joy back to all of us. Won’t you please forgive him?

Our lives turned upside down. It was not only Craig who was punished. His father and I were punished also. We’re a family, and we’re in this together. Now, almost three years later, I feel my relationship with God is stronger than ever. We did not ask for this situation, and we realize that there are consequences for behavior; consequences from God and consequences from society. I have never really gotten angry or bitter towards Craig or anyone involved. But I do get angry with injustice.

And we wonder. We wonder if the judgment was fair. We wonder if this was just another case to our attorney. We wonder if another attorney might have worked a better outcome. We wonder if the others involved are now truly happy. We wonder why God allowed this. This isn’t the life we had prayed for our son. But we believe in a God of miracles and second chances, a God who has heard our prayers and can answer them in His way and in His time. We continue to live out our faith as we await God’s plan for Craig’s life. His plan is far greater than we have been praying for. We can’t see it, but we believe it. So we choose faith and we choose to be grateful for those blessings God has poured on us during this time. We look back and can be thankful for still holding firm to this day. We look back and can see the ways God has been there and has moved. And now we look forward to the future – a future where God is, and where He is already paving a way for our son, where He has promised to bring good out of this situation. That’s His job! That’s my confidence!

Have mercy on Craig. Be close to him. Bless him. Prepare him for new opportunities. Give him purpose where he is. Do not let these years be wasted.