Dreams

wondering

I am a very light sleeper. I wake up at the faintest of noise. Sometimes when sleeping I can feel when someone is staring at me, and then wake up. I have an internal alarm clock in my head, and can wake up within a minute or two when I tell myself I need to get up without an actual alarm. I easily  wake up 15—20 times a night. I can’t even remember the last time I slept for an hour straight. I’ve always been this way and probably always will be. And being in prison, with all sorts of noises throughout the night, I’m probably even a lighter sleeper than I used to be.

Most people say they don’t remember their dreams. With me being such a light sleeper, I remember all of my dreams the next morning. I can’t even keep track how many dreams I have a night. They obviously aren’t very long. And most times, I can continue right where I left off after waking up. I do what I want to in my dreams because I know it’s a dream. Strange, I know.

Being in prison I have all the time in the world to think and to dream. I guess you can say my mind wanders and I daydream quite often. When I first entered prison I spent six months in “the hole,” all I did was daydream. But for the past three plus years, now that I work daily and am able to participate in activities, I don’t think as much, and I daydream less. More often still then the normal person, but significantly less than I used to. Sometimes I just enjoy spending time by myself, looking out a window and daydreaming. I have all sorts of dreams. Some are unrealistic, but most are as reasonable and feasible as they can yet.

God puts dreams in our mind. He is our dream maker. He’s also the one who helps us achieve our dreams. Satan is our dream taker. He tempts us and persuades us to put negative thoughts in our mind to ruin our dreams. Upon coming to prison, Satan thought he was taking away all of my dreams and aspirations. He thought he had won. He thought I would continue down this negative path of depression, sorrow, and sadness. He just knew I was destined for failure the rest of my life. But little did he know, because of this prison experience, I have had more realistic dreams come to my mind than I have ever imagined. I have not wasted my time in here, but instead have put forth effort in attaining my dreams when I leave this place. To me, I consider this place a school of dreams, teaching me how to dream and to make my dreams a reality. This is like a practice field on how to dream of living a more positive life, and then living it in here.

I have dreams of my future and what I want to do with my life. But I also continuously dream of making others happy and inspiring them. I know it might sound kind of strange. Since coming to prison, my perspective on life has changed drastically. My biggest dreams nowadays are to make others laugh and be happy. I dream of putting smiles on their faces when achieving their “ah ha” moments after helping them out. I dream of being that inspiration and role model to many by living a Christ-filled life. When others are happy, I’m at my happiest. So I continue to dream big.

As a felon when I leave this place, I know it will be tough. I’ll be looked down upon. But when others see how I hold myself and see what kind of person I have become, and see that it is not all about me, but about others, I truly believe I’ll be able to make a difference and spread that happiness and joy to others. God does not take away dreams. He makes them. For nothing, and I mean nothing, is impossible with Him.

Advertisements

Where Were You…..

9 11

Where were you when the world stopped turning on that September day? Alan Jackson. 

 Many of you were probably on your way to work, or taking your kids to school. Some of you could have been just rolling out of bed or eating breakfast. And others were getting a cup of coffee at Starbucks, or finishing up your morning workout. The world was going on as usual until the worst terrorist attack in history occurred.

On September 11, 2001 I was a senior at Concordia University in Mequon, Wisconsin, driving from my off-campus apartment to my first hour class when the local radio station was interrupted with breaking news. I was shocked when I heard that an airplane struck the World Trade Center, but didn’t think anything of it. Shortly after, when I heard that a second plane had just struck the other tower of the World Trade Center, I knew immediately that something big was going down. As soon as I arrived at campus and entered the building, there was an eerie silence. No one was in the halls. I passed a lounge and noticed the amount of people gathered around the television. With the volume turned up and the news being shown, no one said a word. Everyone was in a state of shock. I, too, found my way to the television and watched in silence as the horrific event unfolded before our eyes.

Where were you on that day? Were you scared, confused, or angry? Did you want immediate retaliation and revenge? Or were you forgiving? That moment in history changed our country at the time for the better. We left our differences and divisions in religion, race, and politics behind. We put others first and lent a hand when it was needed. More people started reading the Bible again, going to church, and bringing God back into their lives. We became united as one nation, under God again. Yes, it was a country that was grieving and hurting, but brought us together.

Although it was such a horrific event, I long for that day when families, friends, and community can all become close again. God does work His good in everything. Since that day sixteen years ago, our nation has once again become divided. Sin has been running rampant among households and the streets. Violence has overtaken the hearts and minds of many people. I know this from experience with the overcrowding and addition of prisons across the United States. This is not what God wants!

Ephesians 4:32 says it best: “Be kind and compassion to one another, forgiving each other, just as Christ forgave you.” Are you forgiving those who have wronged you? God wants us to bring Him back into our lives and back into our nation again. It shouldn’t take a catastrophic event to make this happen. September 11, 2001 is a day that we’ll never forget. It’s a reminder of how evil this world can be. But it also should be a reminder that we need God in our lives, from this day forward. Don’t wait. Bring Him back into your life today and go make a difference in our nation and in your sphere of influence.

It’s Football Time!

Football

The temperatures are starting to turn cooler. The leaves will start changing colors soon. And jeans and sweatshirts will be pulled out of hibernation to be worn on a daily basis. We’re in the month of September and it’s almost the season of Fall. You know what that means. DOWN! SET! HIKE! It’s Football Time!

In prison, time is not broken down into months or even the seasons of spring, summer, fall and winter. Instead, it is broken down into football, basketball and baseball seasons. Sports are huge in prison, especially football season, both college and NFL. Everyone has their team or teams they cheer for. My college team is the University of Missouri, even though they haven’t been the greatest the last few years. But I’m not giving up on them.

And my NFL team is …um…..does St. Louis even have a football team anymore? HA! I guess that answers that question. So I’ll have to go with the Green Bay Packers these days. No, they haven’t always been my team. The St. Louis Rams were. But since the Rams moved to Los Angeles I guess I jumped on the bandwagon after living in Wisconsin for over years and adopted the Packers. You can say it’s always nice to cheer on a consistently good team year after year.

I do love the hype and build-up of the National Championship and the Super Bowl that occurs throughout the regular season games. There are always the favorite teams that blow out their opponents. There are always the underdogs that squeak by with an unprecedented win. Records are broken and set. Season-ending, even career-ending injuries unfortunately occur. And an unknown team becomes someone’s newly favorite team.

Fans go all out and dress up for their team while attending games; some even like to go shirtless in zero degree temperatures while painting their chests. Let’s not forget about the tailgating junkies who set their tents up and bring their party vans out five hours before the game, grilling steaks, burgers, and brats while drinking their favorite adult beverage. Nothing beats a field with freshly covered snow where yardage markers can barely be seen. The bundling up in coats and coveralls, thermals, and hats are part of watching a football game outside. (And shouldn’t football be played outside?) Yes, it’s the joy of football.

I never played football as a kid. Soccer was the fall sport in our family. But I do enjoy watching football. It’s not as fun watching a game in prison without the closeness of friends and family around and stuffing your face with pizza and chicken wings, shrimp platters and beer. Although the atmosphere is not ideal, the screaming and fist pumping still occur in prison, and a friendly wager of push-ups over the big games is a given. On Super Bowl Sunday the lights are turned off in our unit and all eight televisions are tuned into the game. We make the experience as best as we can.

Someday soon, I’ll be surrounded by my loved ones once again, eating chips and salsa, sipping on a coke, while enjoying a football game on a big screen high definition television. I’m really looking forward to that. It’s all for the love of a football game!

Getting Tattooed

It’s 9pm. The officers just walked their last rounds of count for the second shift. In a few minuhand-tattoo-arm-17-df3da0cf330d4d29afb53628f0b241cf-jpg.jpgtes, the count will be cleared and the inmates will be moving around getting to where they need or want to be. There is a room in my unit where the dyes are being mixed together, the artwork design is being finalized, and the soft hum and vibration of a motor is being turned on. It’s tattooing time!

The word tattoo is defined as an indelible mark or figure fixed upon the body by insertion of pigment under the skin or by production of scars. In prison, well over 75% of the population have at least one tattoo, 50% of the population have multiple tattoos, and about 25% have sleeves of tattoos up and down their arms, legs, torsos and even heard and neck. There is one inmate who has every inch of his body tattooed except the skin on his face. It’s quite a sight to see.

I am one who does not have any ink spots on his body. Could I easily get a tattoo in here? Absolutely! In fact, it’s cheaper to get one here than it is outside of prison. The artists in this place are probably just as good if not better than the ones out there. They use their make-shift tattoo guns that are made from beard trimmers or fan motors, ink pens, hobby craft needles, and a wide variety of dyes that come from pens, markers, paints, and actual food to create their magnificent artwork.

Actually, an inmate could get in trouble for getting a tattoo in prison as well as the person who does the work. Make-shift tattoo guns are not allowed on the compound, thus disallowing all the fresh ink marks. Does it stop people from getting them? No way! They’re criminals; they live life on the edge! So during the evening times after count, when the officers are nowhere to be found, tattoo shops are in business.

Before coming to prison I never even considered getting a tattoo. In my opinion tattoos are ways of expressing oneself. I’ve seen all sorts of tattoos, from explicitly graphic artwork to pictures of their kids or family, and others have a bunch of crazy and unique designs. Nowadays I’m definitely not opposed to tattoos or even getting one. I just would never get one here. If I decide to get one when I leave this place, I would probably get tattoos of Bible verses that have impacted and meant something to me.

When I was competing in the Tough Mudder competition before coming to prison I had Philippians 4:13 written in permanent marker on my back. I competed with a shirt off and during the race a number of participants asked me what that said. In case you don’t know, it says “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” For reasons like that I would consider getting tattoos, as an expression for my love of Christ.

Did you know God has tattoos? Yes! He tells us in Isaiah 49:16 “I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” Now that is pretty cool. I truly believe He tattoos our names as an expression for His love for us. When He looks down at His hands He sees and knows our names. When He was dying on the cross, our names were already on His hands, right next to the nails. And when He looked over at His hands while hanging on the cross, He saw our names and was reminded that He was dying for us. He never has and never will forget us. Just as God expresses His love for us with an engraving of our names on His hands, think about how you can express your love for Christ in a bold and profound way! Don’t be afraid to let your love of Christ show forth in all your ways!

Eyes on the Prize

fly_ball-300x225

It was the bottom half and last of the seven inning game with the score tied at 14. In steps the number four clean-up hitter with the bases empty and one out. Standing at 6’4” and weighing near 250 pounds, he was tops in the league in homeruns this year, with one already in this game. We had miraculously just scored eight runs in the top half of the inning to tie the game.

This was game two in the best of five series for the Seagoville Federal Prison softball championship. We had won all three regular season games against this opponent. But they had taken game 1, 10-9, in dramatic fashion. With another loss of this game, our backs would surely be up against the wall with a do or die game three.

I was playing a deep left field where the power hitter loved to pull the ball, a few steps away from the warning track. He was not known to hit little bloopers over the shortstop or third baseman’s head, so playing him deep was a safe bet.

Pitch one was a ball. Then came pitch two…..a perfect lob pitch in the heart of the plate to the behemoth of a batter. He swung mightily. At first crack, I thought to myself, game over, a walk off homerun. Then I saw the ball being launched high in the air, and knew it was not going to be a homerun, not even close. I needed to start running, and not just running, but sprinting, as I was playing him extremely deep and the ball was going to land in no man’s land right between my shortstop and me. So I took off after the ball. My first thought was that there is no way I’m going to get there. But the ball was hit so high and I kept getting closer and closer to the ball with each stride. My shortstop was sprinting right at me, and I at him. If someone doesn’t call it, I thought to myself, there could be a nasty collision. With me having the right of way, I decided to call him off, not yet knowing if I could even get to the ball.

The ball kept hanging up and all of a sudden I realized I’m going to get there. I took one last glance at my shortstop to see if he had heard me calling him off and to see if he was coming to a stop. With that one glance, I made a key error, and took my eyes off the ball. I needed to trust my shortstop that he would get out of the way. But I didn’t. And with that split hesitation the ball came barreling down on me too fast, hit the top of my glove and bounced to the ground. Error E-7. I was humiliated and embarrassed. I don’t remember the last time I missed a fly ball, especially in a championship game. There was no excuse. I had failed myself and my team.

As the story goes, the batter reached second base on the error. The next batter reached and was forced out at second by the following batter. Two outs. Then another walk to load the bases, following by a game winning single. Game over. We lost 15-14 and down two games to zero.

Unfortunately, we lost a nail biter game three as well, to earn second place honors for the season.

How many of you have ever had an experience like mine or had a child experience that? How many of you have ever seen professional athletes commit errors due to taking their eyes off the ball? If you are a St. Louis Cardinals fan like me, you’ve witness a lot of errors this year, including the missed pop flies. But it happens. No one is perfect. Committing an error does add excitement and drama to the game, especially in the later innings.  Keeping your eyes on the ball is very important to a batter and a fielder, especially a ball that small and with speeds exceeding near 100 miles per hour, depending on the league.

Keeping your eyes on Jesus is also important, actually much more important than a baseball game. He is the author and perfect of our faith. To live effectively we must keep our eyes on Jesus. We will stumble if we look away from Him to stare at ourselves or at the circumstances surrounding us. We should be running for Christ, not ourselves, and we must always keep Him in sight. When we face hardship and discouragement it is easy to lose sight of the big picture. But we’re not alone. There is help. Many have already made it through life, enduring far more difficult circumstances than we have experienced. Suffering is the training ground for Christian maturity. It strongly develops out patience. By keeping our eyes forward on Jesus, it makes our final victory sweet!

Fix+our+Eyes+on+Jesus

 

 

ironman-logo

It’s been three days and I still hobble and limp around when I walk. The soreness doesn’t seem to want to go away. I guess the older you get, the longer it takes for your body to heal after such a grueling event.

On the 4th of July weekend I was challenged to take part in a compound wide competition called the “Ironman” at the rec yard. No, it was not the 2.1 mile swim, the 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run called the Ironman Triathlon. This Ironman challenge was a cross-fit type event that needed both endurance and body strength to complete.

When I was challenged I was very leery because the only training I had done was play softball and volleyball, which I did not consider training for this event. I had also participated in an abdominal class a few days a week and I do pull-ups every other day. I hardly do any running these days, unless you count my homerun trot around the bases while playing softball. HA! So overall, I would not consider myself to be in tip-top shape to participate in this type of challenge compared to the other participants. But I am not one to refuse an athletic competition, so I signed up for it. My goals were to finish the course and not come in last place.

The competition had 22 total entrants, ranging in age from mid-20’s to mid-50’s, all of whom were in great workout shape…..except me! The course consisted of fifteen different obstacles and challenges: running, calf raises, hanging leg raises, army crawls in the sand, walking lunges, jumping rope, sit-ups, jumping jacks, medicine ball throws, and burpees (which are squats, kick-outs, push-ups and jumping jacks all together in one), just to name a few. Each consisted of a large number of reps. I know I had my hands full, but was up for the challenge.

I was assigned to be in Group 3 of 3, with 7-8 participants in each group. My group actually had the overall winner in it, so the pace he set was incredibly fast. If you dared to keep up with him, you were destined to suffer the consequences. So I kept to myself and set a nice consistent pace throughout the race. It was not too fast, but wasn’t too slow either. Yes, the course was very difficult.

I used muscles that I didn’t even know I had. But, I finished the course in one hour and eleven minutes, 5th in my group of 8 and 13th overall. I, along with some of the participants and spectators, were shocked that little skinny me actually beat almost half the participants. To be honest, it was excruciating, but fun also!

I truly believe that God helped me every step of the way to get me through the challenge. When I was tired and exhausted and wanted to stop, something inside of me kept pushing me forward. It was exhausting and the roughest challenge I have ever participated in. Even though God has blessed me with athletic ability, and I am thankful to Him for that, I still rely on Him to help me succeed. I needed His strength to get me through to the end.

I had a basketball poster in my room growing up that said, “Do your best, and God will do the rest.” In prison, each and every day, I strive to do my best, and know God has my back to accomplish the rest. I’m looking forward to the rest of my life to see what He has in store for me!

can do

Fireworks

Fireworks of various colors bursting against a black background

Ooooo…….ahhhhhhh!  That’s what you hear from the mass of spectators in unison as one explosive firework after another brightens up the sky. For thirty minutes the head of the spectators are tilted back with their eyes glued to the sky as the annual 4th of July fireworks display is being shot off. It’s that time of year when millions across the country will go to their local parks or fair grounds to watch the fireworks show.

As a kid growing up my family, friends and I would make the one mile walk to Bluebird Park with our flashlights and blankets to sit on as we participated in the 4th of July festivities and to watch the big show in the sky. Before it got dark there would be bands playing in the amphitheater, food trucks, and a number of carnival games. As a kid, I absolutely loved it. Actually, I was more obsessed with the fireworks than anything. The week leading up to the 4th of July neighbors in our subdivision and others nearby were shooting fireworks off at night. My favorite time was the next morning after hearing these neighborhood fireworks go off.  My brothers and I would hop on our bikes, scour the streets for the exploded fireworks, and collect them. Every once in a while we would find a firework that had not ignited, and we would take it home with us to shoot off at a later time. Why we would collect used fireworks, I still have yet to figure out today. But we did that for several years and actually hid them underneath the steps going into our house so my mom wouldn’t find them because we weren’t allowed to touch fireworks. Of course, she knew they were there the entire time and a week or so after the 4th, they all ended up in the trash.

Maybe I got my enjoyment of fireworks from my Grandpa. Whenever I was at the Lake of the Ozarks over the 4th of July with Grandma and Grandpa, he would buy all sorts of fireworks to shoot off the boat dock. In fact, he always bought so many that the neighbors would all come over to watch our own private display.

When I think back, though, my favorite 4th of July was in 2001 when I was camping in the San Juan Forest near Durango, Colorado on top of a 12,000 foot mountain. From up there I could see fireworks in four different states. As high as we were, it was hard to see them, but the location away from all mankind was all that mattered. We didn’t actually need to see the fireworks because we could look up and see the beauty of the stars from where we were. And that was unbelievable!

During these past four years of being in prison, I have only seen two fireworks displays. One year the compound was kept open until the park across the street was finished shooting their fireworks off, so we were able to stand outside and watch them. Last year, we were locked inside the unit but I was able to watch them from a window. This year, unless the officers let us go outside, I will be unable to watch the fireworks, as the building I’m in now has no windows that face the park. But that’s OK. I’ll be out soon enough, enjoying the beauty of the colorful lights in the sky on a 4th of July in the future.

So why do we do it? We celebrate the 4th of July because it’s the birthday of our nation and our independence day. But why do we shoot off fireworks? Simply because John Adams wanted us to. Before the Declaration of Independence was even signed, he envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter to Abigail Adams on July 3, 1776, he wrote that the occasion should be commemorated “with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

And so we do. The first commemorative Independence Day fireworks were set off on July 4, 1777. The Pennsylvania Evening Post wrote that in Philadelphia, “The evening was closed with the ring of bells, and at night there was a grand exhibition of fireworks (which began and concluded with thirteen rockets) on the Commons, and the city was beautifully illuminated.” The paper noted that “Everything was conducted with the greatest order and decorum, and the face of joy and gladness was universal.” That same year, fireworks also lit up the sky in Boston. By 1783 a large variety of fireworks were available to the public. The tradition continues today as our way of celebrating, not just our independence, but fireworks are used at weddings, birthdays, community events, Cardinal homeruns, New Year’s Eve, and other celebrations in a large or small scale.

I’m wondering if there will be firework celebrations in heaven. I can only imagine that as each Christian passes through the pearly gates of heaven, a huge display of fireworks will be shot off, as Christ and the multitude of angels and others are celebrating the entrance of yet another Christ follower. Maybe even our names will be in the sky with a huge display of lights. What a sight that could be!!! Can’t wait to see if that happens!

Enjoy your 4th of July, your Independence Day, and give thanks to God for all your blessings in life……especially the freedom you have!