Apology

Every Friday and Saturday night the Recreation Department issues a new release movie that can be seen on every television throughout every unit in the prison. The Rec Department does their best to purchase the newest released PG-13 or less movies. (The compound doesn’t allow R rated movies to be shown). Because of this special treat I’ve stayed up to date on most of the new movies that have come out during the past five years.

This past weekend the movie “The Shack” was shown. This move is based on the book by Paul Young that was written in the early 2000’s. I wasn’t much of a reader before coming to prison so when my Mom handed me this book and told me to read it on my flight to Las Vegas one summer, I gave her the smile and nod and said “OK” just to make her happy. I actually had no intention of reading it because I was so excited about the trip. But God had other plans that day, as my flight was delayed for eight hours. During the eight hours I read and read and read. I couldn’t put the book down. I was hooked. It was that good. I finished the entire book just before landing. I’ve since read it about four to five times. It is faith based and has an amazing story and message. If you’ve never read the book or have never seen the movie, I highly recommend it. Both are great stories.

There are a wide variety of faith based topics in the book and movie. But the topic that intrigues me the most is forgiveness. For me, the hardest thing about being in prison is not knowing if I’ve ever been forgiven by the ones I have hurt the most by the terrible choices I made……one family in particular. It’s been over six years since the truth came out about my actions and I still don’t know today if that one particular family I hurt has ever forgiven me. I pray that they have, but if not, I pray that this blog somehow stumbles across their desk or email so that they will know how truly sorry I am.

After watching “The Shack” this past weekend, God put it on my heart to write an apology to the family I hurt over six years ago. No names need to be mentioned as they know who they are. This blog is actually specifically written for you today and I hope you get a chance to read it.

I pray your hearts are open to my heartfelt sincerity. From the bottom of my heart I am sorry. I am sorry for the pain and hurt I caused all of you and could still be causing you today. I am sorry for being such a terrible friend, role model, and a poor example as a Christian. It bothers me tremendously knowing that I have hurt you all.  I know that everything has not been all right these past six years even if you act like it is, and that because of me you hurt to the core. I can only imagine the pain I have caused you. My actions brought devastation to your family. I was wrong. I am so sorry. There are no words that will ever be able to express my true sincerity. But I am truly sorry. I wish I could take back what I did. But, unfortunately, I can’t, and I will have to live with the consequences for the rest of my life. I deserve this punishment. I know that. Do I deserve your forgiveness? Absolutely not! You all have every right to be upset and angry with me forever. I don’t even deserve God’s forgiveness, but thankfully, God has shown me grace and mercy and has forgiven me and has wiped my slate clean. I’ve learned that forgiveness is a process, a daily choice, not just a one-time decision and it’s with you every day of your life. Forgiveness doesn’t take away the wrong done to your family, but I pray you all find it in your heart to forgive me. I am truly sorry, and pray you can accept this apology. I pray for all of you and hope all is well, and that God is using you daily to bring glory to His Kingdom. Will you please forgive me?

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Bucks in the Brush

It was on this day February 28 seven years ago that my Grandpa passed away. I can still remember the day so vividly, receiving a telephone call from my Mom telling me that he no longer was with us. It was a sad day, but also a day of rejoicing, knowing that he was in heaven experiencing no more pain in his new body. How I look foGrandpa (2)rward to that day when I’ll be reunited with him again.

As I look back on our time together memories that stick out in my mind are all the weekends from 6th through 12th grades when he took me deer hunting. Every trip was always different, but so much fun. We would usually hunt on a piece of land that was located near the Lake of the Ozarks, Missouri. Because of the location we would make a weekend out of it, staying at my grandparents’ lake house. My two uncles and cousin usually came with us as well. The night before the first hunting day of the season, we would load ourselves up with unlimited peeled shrimp for dinner. You could say it was a tradition of ours. We wouldn’t do much the night before as we had to get up early in order to be at our deer stands by 5am. So we usually went to bed at a decent hour to get plenty of sleep.

For some reason I usually was too excited for the morning to come and it took me forever to fall asleep. And the only year we didn’t sleep at my grandparents’ lake house but at a hotel instead, I think I might have gotten only one hour of sleep those nights, due to my Grandpa’s incredibly loud snoring. Yes, I shared a room with him that year. I tell you that he could blow the roof off a house with his snoring. I’m not sure how you did it, Grandma, sharing a bed with him for 60+ years! Never again did I share a hotel room with him. And since my grandpa loved to eat, we usually ate breakfast at a 24 hour diner very early in the morning before we headed out to hunt.

Unfortunately, the seven years that he took me hunting, I only got one deer; my cousin and uncle only one as well. I never witnessed my Grandpa killing one at all. Even though he never shot one, he was truly happy being in his element in the woods. And his face was beaming when my cousin and I killed our first deer on a snowy November morning within minutes of each other. He was so proud when he taught us how to field dress our first deer.

I loved the deer stands he built that could seat six comfortably. I guess you could call them tree houses, not tree stands. He would always build it big enough so that he could lay down flat and still have room for movement. Maybe that’s why he never got a deer during those years because he was always sleeping! The stand would have a bench, walls, and a roof. Some years, depending on the temperature, he would bring a battery run space heater to keep himself warm. To say the least he went all out, and loved every minute of it.

Whittling was one of his favorite things to do as well. He would come up with a project each year and finish it to completion during the two weekends of the deer season. His stand looked like a beaver was living there, chewing it to pieces, with wood chips all over the ground. Whittling knives is what he perfected the most. I wonder if there are still those knives sitting around the house today?

And then his favorite saying during the season was “Bucks in the brush!” All of us had our own walkie-talkies to communicate with during the day as our stands were usually a decent distance apart. Once every few hours my Grandpa would get on the walkie-talkie and say, “Bucks in the brush!” just because he wanted to. Even though I never witnessed him in person saying it, I’m sure he had a smile on his face each and every time at the thought of us getting ready for a kill as a deer came toward us. We were on alert as he said those words.

Deer hunting with my Grandpa is something I’ll never forget. There were wonderful memories and great times. I’m honored to be taught by such a knowledgeable man on how to shoot, hunt, and field dress a deer…..someone who also taught me to fear a gun and the safety of using one at all times. I’m also honored to be related to a man who had such a positive character, influence and role model to many, not just me. He was a man of integrity who was faithful to his wife, his family and friends. He impacted his family, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, co-workers, friends, church people and everyone he came to know. He truly made a difference for the better in my life. I can’t wait to see him again someday!

Teaching

I love teaching PE

Upon entering my freshman year at Concordia University in Mequon, WI, I was undecided about my major. I had no clue what I wanted to do with my life. It was a small private college, so the choices of majors were not as extravagant compared to the large state universities had to offer. I chose to attend Concordia because, financially, it was the best fit for my family and me.

My entire freshman year I took the required core classes one must take in order graduate. Towards the end of my freshman year, I started narrowing down my choices as to what I wanted to major in. I wanted to enjoy my career as much as possible. To me, loving a job always comes first over how much money I am going to earn. Because I loved being active and was not going to become a professional athlete, I decided to base my decision on my love for sports, and decided to go into the field of education and become a Physical Education teacher, and not just any PE teacher, but a Lutheran PE teacher. Yes, being a teacher is one of the lowest paying jobs on the totem pole, and being a Lutheran PE teacher is even less, especially with the long hours and the flexibility and sacrifice one must go through. Like I said before, I didn’t choose my major for the money, but for my love as to what I was going to do for the rest of my life. Of course, having summers off and holiday breaks were perks, but my love for sports and helping others drowned out all the negatives.

I never imagined myself as a teacher growing up, especially since I never really liked school. I didn’t like doing homework or taking notes in class and I hardly ever opened a book to read, unless I was forced to. My grades were always OK, and even above average. When I first declared my major and started taking the required classes I was rather uncertain if I was going to enjoy this profession or not. However, when I started my clinical work and doing hands on activities at elementary schools with the students, I started to fall in love with the profession, and knew I was going to enjoy my career.

I specifically majored in Lutheran K-12 education with an emphasis in Physical Education. I also minored in Adapted Physical Education, Health, Coaching and Youth Ministry. I didn’t have much of a back-up plan if teaching fell through, but these minors would be able to get me somewhere, after graduating in five years.

Upon graduation I accepted a job offer to teach at a Lutheran K-8 school in Oahu, Hawaii, where I taught computers, physical education and choir. I also coached basketball, volleyball, and track & field. As you can see, a teacher needs to be flexible in what they teach…….because you might get thrown into something you never taught before or learned how to teach. My second year teaching I accepted a position in a Lutheran school K-8 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I taught PE, music, and choir. I was also the athletic director and a full time coach, coaching every sport known to man….at least at the school! Notice the extracurricular hours a Lutheran worker has to put in. The last few years of my teaching career I taught at a K-8 school in the suburbs of Milwaukee, where I taught religion, math, PE, and drama. I guess you can say I was the jack of all trades, when it came to being that flexible teacher able to fill all sorts of positions.  Did I learn beforehand how to teach certain classes? No! It was more or less on the job training, trial and error in which I became quite successful.

A question that has been asked to me many times while I was teaching and also in prison is “Why did I become a teacher? “  Being around sports was a big draw for me in becoming a teacher. I felt my knowledge of sports while teaching and/or coaching could really benefit the kids. PE classes were not always the favorite for the non-athletes, so I knew that I would have to make it as fun as possible and to become creative in order to get all the students to enjoy class. In other words, a happy class is a happy teacher.

I always enjoyed helping others out. I loved seeing that spark in their eyes when they accomplished a near impossible task. I especially enjoyed helping out the underdogs. The challenge of helping an underprivileged kid learn, grow, and mature was my reward. I especially loved to see change for the better for the student that was a constant troublemaker. During the summers of my college years I had practice sharing God’s word to many of the kids while working at a Christian sports camp. Being a teacher I wanted to lead many to Christ. You would think teaching at a Christian school many would already know about Jesus and His walk on earth. However, quite a few didn’t, especially the parents. There was definitely a mission field.

The main reason I wanted to be a teacher was to make a difference. I wanted to make that difference to the students, parents, and even fellow teachers. I wanted to show them that I was not going to give up on them, but help them succeed at all costs. I wanted them to know that I was not going to let them fail. I wanted them to see that they could make something out of their lives. I wanted to set the good example, and to be that role model all kids need in life. I wanted to help them with their problems and to be that sounding board and person they could talk to.  Most importantly, I wanted to show them that I cared!

With the nine years of teaching and coaching in my past, I do often wonder if I made any difference. Unfortunately, I did not set a good example with the poor choices I made that placed me where I am today. I pray that what I did while teaching and coaching far outweighs the negatives I did that got me here. I might never know if I made a difference in that one person’s life, but I do know that if I made a difference to one person, then being a teacher was well worth it. And if I have made a difference to one inmate in this place, then it was worth it to be here as well. As my life continues when I leave this place, I pray I find another job where I can continue to make a difference to those I come to know. God has a plan for me!

To Fake or Not to Fake?

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As I sit here and write this blog on a Sunday night, I have had something on my mind that has been eating away at me for the last few hours. At the beginning of the day I had a completely  different blog topic that I was going to write about. But after watching the Minnesota Vikings win on a last second touchdown, the topic changed abruptly. No, I didn’t want to write about the football game. What is now on my mind is how some Christians poorly interact with others on their everyday life in prison. This has actually been on my mind for a while and I feel the need to write about the unfortunate circumstances that happen here on a daily basis.

How this all came about was when the Vikings scored a touchdown with no time remaining to win the NFC divisional playoff game. An inmate who calls himself a Christian ran up to the front of the television, turned to face the other inmates and started screaming out a number of profanities to everyone watching the game. This is the same man who wishes injury to players and vocalizes it, as well as makes fun of you when your team loses.  After his rampage settled and he sat back down, another inmate who is not a Christian says to him, “And you call yourself a Christian?” He had no clue how to respond. This is an everyday occurrence, not just for this particular inmate, but for many others who call themselves Christian as well.

I once approached another Christian inmate on his continuous negative behavior. He responded to me by saying, “It’s OK. I ask God for forgiveness.” HALT! STOP! FREEZE! No, it’s not OK. This is exactly how I used to think before getting arrested. I thought I could smooth things over with God by asking for forgiveness after sinning. And then I would continue living my sinful life, repeating the same process all over again. I didn’t feel the need to change because I knew God was going to forgive me. I definitely did not walk the talk.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of people here who are called jail house Christians. Jail house Christians are those who attend church, Bible studies, and prayer groups almost daily. But when they leave these gatherings they go back to their evil ways. They want others to see how good they look by attending Christian activities, but don’t want to change their behavior.

Non-Christians are very leery when inmates call themselves Christians. To them, it is just a title and considers them to be fakes. They don’t see them acting any differently than the rest on a normal basis. When I invite non-Christians to church, that is the number one reason why they reject my offer – they don’t want to see who the hypocrites are. It hurts me because I know there are true Christians here that walk the talk and live a Christ-filled life. How does the saying go? “One bad apple can ruin the whole bushel.” In other words, one’s perception of the hypocrites who call themselves Christians can keep them from following Christ.

A few months before getting arrested I went on a date with a girl I met on-line. She was a Christian and our faith life was a topic of conversation at one point during the evening. I can still remember the conversation as if it was yesterday. She was asking me about my walk with Christ and how my busy schedule and everyday entertainment can get in the way of being a witness to others. I honestly told her, “I still sin and do many things that God disapproves of. But I ask for forgiveness, and He forgives me, so it’s OK what I do and how I act.” WHAT?!?!?! I can’t believe now that I actually said that to her, let alone believed it. I can still see her reaction today. She was dumbfounded. Needless to say, that was the last time I talked to her. Hmmmm…..wonder why? I was definitely on my way down the wrong path, going deeper and deeper on the road to prison. And look where I ended up! My response to my date that night is the typical response I get when I call other Christians out for their continuous purposeful unchanged lives.

By all means I do not consider myself better than anyone else. I am a sinner and still sin and need forgiveness all the time. But the bottom line is….now I am sincere with my confession, and after confessing, I do my best to stop sinning and change my behavior and thoughts to the way God wants me to live. If I’m going to confess, I’m going to change. There are many fake Christians, ones that just want to have a title and look good. There are others who believe that Jesus died and rose and want to commit their life to Him, but just do not feel the need to change. Then there are those who have surrendered their all to Him, believe that He is the Name above all names, and will do anything they can to lead others to Christ – living a Christ-filled life. By their fruits you will recognize them. Matthew 7:16.

God definitely challenges me every day. He tests me with my interactions with other inmates. But He is helping me grow and mature, to help me teach both Christians and non-Christians how to live. I ask you to take time this week to pray for all the inmates and officers on this compound that they will be influenced in a positive way by someone that will lead them to starting their walk with Christ. This place can be changed by Christians living their lives as a witness to Christ and by your prayers as you ask God’s Spirit to come into the hearts of all who need to know Him.

If you confess your sins, God who is faithful and just, will forgive your sins and cleanse you from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

2018

I miss

As the year turns from 2017 to 2018, I start my sixth calendar year being locked up. I never in my wildest imagination ever thought that I would be locked up for this amount of time, let alone being locked up at all. But here I am praying this will be my final year, and that I’ll be released to the free world soon enough. All I know is that God is in control, and that He’s got everything planned out to perfection.

There are so many things in life that I miss, being away from “civilization” for so long. When I lived in the free world, there were many things that I took for granted on a daily basis. Being incarcerated made me realize just how important these things were to me. As 2018 gets underway, I sit back and think of all the things I miss, and can’t wait to experience them all again someday soon.

I miss…….

  • Walking barefoot across carpet and sitting on a couch
  • Taking a nap on a recliner and watching television with a remote control in my hand and choosing whatever channel I want
  • Opening a fridge door just to see what is in there
  • Receiving phone calls and sending emails
  • Taking a shower without shower shoes and being able to control the temperature of the water
  • Having a room to myself
  • Looking at myself in a real mirror and not a reflection in a shiny object
  • The smell of clean clothes and wearing clothes other than the colors of tan, white, or gray.
  • Driving a car with the radio turned on
  • Making a PBJ sandwich whenever I want
  • Teasing my Grandma
  • Turning out the lights at night whenever I want
  • Swimming and sitting around a campfire
  • Going to the bathroom without having to clean the seat and cover it with toilet paper before sitting down
  • Using real silverware instead of plastic stuff
  • Burgers on the grill
  • Eating what I want to eat and all the sweets and pastries I want
  • Worshiping at my church
  • Holding money in my hand and having loose change in my pockets
  • Camping
  • Grocery shopping and going to the gas station
  • Talking sports with my Dad
  • Making a pizza any time of the day
  • Surfing the internet and sending a text to a friend
  • Mom’s gooey butter cake
  • Going to the dentist…..yes, really!
  • Using a microwave, stove, and oven
  • Family gatherings especially around the holidays
  • Cutting the grass, doing yard work and washing a car
  • Riding a bike and playing golf
  • Dressing up to go out on the town for a night
  • Hugs
  • Covering up with comforters and sleeping with a body pillow
  • Watching the Super Bowl with friends
  • Cooking and baking
  • Going out for ice cream
  • Quietness
  • Paying bills and saving money
  • Chatting with my Mom
  • Vacations and traveling
  • Going on dates
  • Wearing a suit and tying ties
  • Having a closet and plenty of space to store things
  • Flannel pajama bottoms to sleep in
  • Messing around with my brothers and sister and their spouses
  • Ceiling fans to lie under
  • The smell of home cooked meals
  • Kitchen tables, bar stools and counter space
  • CD’s, DVD’s and even VHS tapes of my favorite movies
  • The feel of a wallet in my back pocket, along with my keys in my possession
  • Watching Cardinal baseball and Blues hockey games
  • My 7 nieces and nephews……5 of which I have never even met
  • Most of all, I miss my Mom, Dad, family and friends

Even though I miss these things I’ll be much more appreciative of them all when I become free again. My challenge to all of you reading this today is that you remember the small things in life and don’t take them for granted. Give thanks to God for all things He provides in your life, even the smallest of small things that don’t seem important. Because to Him all things are important!

Welcome to Who-Ville!

Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas……” Every year during the Christmas season at the Seagoville, Texas, Federal Prison, the compound is changed into a Christmas spectacular, with an array of decorations among the seven different units. Each unit is entered into a decorating contest to compete for the prize of a special new-release movie and popcorn in the auditorium. Watching a new release movie and receiving “free” popcorn is a very big deal in prison, so most units go all out in trying to win the award.

This year my unit decided to do the theme from the movie “The Grinch.” My unit has 150 two-man rooms, a number of 6-12 man rooms, two levels, two sides, and sleeps 375 inmates. It is the largest unit on the compound. In other words, there is a lot of space that needs to be filled with decorations. But we also have many more inmates that help out with decorating. The rules stipulate that any material found on the compound can be used for decorating, except wood, plastic, and any other dangerous or hazardous material. Basically, the only material we are allowed to use is paper, cardboard, soda cans, and paint (which the unit counselor can buy if asked).

With the artistry and creative minds that are on this compound, just a few supplies and materials are all one needs to make a Christmas spectacular. And let me tell you, it was more than just a Christmas spectacular in my unit – it was a Christmas production as well. Here is a list of some of the decorations and events that happened in my unit:

  • Each room was turned into a Who-ville home, with both a cardboard mailbox and a porch light that could light up, using a handheld commissary reading light
  • Street signs and “Welcome to Who-ville” entryways
  • Multiple Christmas murals painted on the walls
  • A 20-foot tall Christmas tree made out of 2,000 soda cans, with shredded paper and presents underneath it.
  • A cardboard fireplace protruding from the wall
  • A 16-person choir
  • Shredded paper falling from the second floor to make it look like it was snowing
  • Giant 3D snowflakes hung across the balcony
  • A Grinch lair
  • An inmate emulating Cindy Lou’s great grandson, giving a tour while telling a story to the judges
  • Colored paper covering the walls
  • A giant 20-foot tall blow-up snowman made out of paper (I’m still not sure how they were able to blow it up)

After a month of planning, organizing and decorating, my unit was ready for the show-and-tell and to be judged by the “big wigs” of the compound. With snow gently falling from our balcony, Cindy Lou’s great grandson gave the tour and told a story while the choir sang in the background. It was more or less a production that was well rehearsed. It took about 15 minutes from start to finish with a lot of oohing and aahing from the judges the entire time. Needless to say, they were all very impressed and said this was the best overall showing in all the years of the decorating contest. It was quite the scene to see.

Yes, you guessed it……we earned first place honors this year. And yes, this was the highlight of my Christmas this year. No presents or visits from any family and friends, but still a good time with inmates who have become friends and family while here, and together we made this Christmas  a positive experience.

Most important of all, some of us celebrated the birth of baby Jesus in this dark place and know that even here His light can be seen by those of us who claim Him as our Savior. He was born for all people, including those who are incarcerated. Take a few minutes and pray for those who need to know him, inside and outside the prison walls, and may God give you His peace as you begin a new year.

Happy-New-Year-2018-Images-4

Pop Goes the Knee

ski_knee_injury-698x321

The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word December is winter. The first thing that comes to my mind when I hear the word winter is snow. I absolutely love winter time, especially the snow. Although I don’t like being cold, I love the cold weather. I always have enjoyed sitting outside around a fire watching it snow. And I have always loved cold weather outdoor activities and sports. I would much rather be bundled up on the ski slopes than run around on the beach wearing swim trunks.

In Texas it hardly snows, maybe an occasional dusting on the ground each year. For the past several years I’ve been disappointed that another winter has gone by without a significant amount of white stuff on the ground.

Thinking of snow always brings back a memory that happened to me in 2005 on a field trip with some students. I was teaching at an inner city school in Milwaukee at the time and most of the students had never gone snow skiing before. We decided to take them to the local ski hills of Wisconsin. Yes, hills are a good way to put it. While skiing down a mountain in Colorado can take up to 30 minutes, skiing down a hill in Wisconsin will take about 30 seconds. But this place was perfect for these middle schoolers who had never skied before. Lessons came with the lift tickets so the morning was spent learning how to ski and stop on the bunny hills before taking the lift to the top of the slopes. Some of the more athletic kids picked it up instantly and were breezing through the lessons. As soon as they passed the lesson and got the OK, they were ready to take the lift up to the top.

After lunch a few of the boys who were doing fairly well asked if I would take them to the terrain park to do a few jumps…….nothing big or scary, but just to get a few feet off the ground. I agreed and we immediately took the lift up to the area where the park was located. We spent about an hour or so there. There were many falls and wipeouts, along with many laughs. As the confidence of the kids grew they would go faster, hit bigger jumps and catch more air. They were enjoying every part of it. I’ve done my fair share of jumps throughout my skiing days, so I was having a good time as well.

Then it happened…..on our last run through the park, I noticed a jump off to the side that I had not yet hit, so I decided to give it a whirl. I didn’t have a whole lot of speed as I was unfamiliar with the jump. But it was good enough to get a few feet off the ground. I hit the middle of the jump and was on my way to sticking my last landing of the day when all of a sudden I noticed it was a flat landing instead of a sloped landing. Sloped landings create a softer landing, whereas flat landings create a hard impact, causing all of your weight to land in the same spot at the same time. I knew I could land it, but also was ready for a hard impact. Even though I knew what to expect, as soon as I hit the ground, my right ski shot out, while my right knee buckled inward and all of my weight on that side of the body. POP came the sound on my inside right knee. I hit the ground immediately and was in excruciating pain. The kids skied over to me and saw the expression on my face and knew I was hurting. They helped me remove my skis and get me to the bottom of the hill. I had just partially torn my Medial Collateral Ligament (MCL). I was officially on the disabled list.

Thankfully, it was not my ACL that tore nor did I fully tear my MCL. Both of those would require surgery. However, I had to go through ex-rays, MRI’s and attend many physical therapy sessions in order to rebuild my knee. It took months of rehab and was not easy. I had to go through a lot more pain in order for my knee to heal. And worst of all, I was not allowed to do any physical activity until I got the approval of my doctor. He told me that my right MCL will remain partially torn for the rest of my life, unless I fully tear it. Then surgery would be needed to fix it. I have had no problems since then.

Prison would not be the place to tear it since I would be required to live with it. I’m just a little more cautious these days when it comes to playing sports that involve the bending and twisting of the knee. But I still won’t shy away from the jumps while skiing……that excitement can’t be given up!

In a way, living my life is just like getting injured on the ski slopes. I have gone through many tough times and have experienced a lot of pain and suffering. When my body is in pain I go though physical therapy to make it stronger. When my life is a mess and causing me pain, I turn to God and He uses the pain to draw me closer to Him and make my faith and attitude stronger. That kind of healing makes me be as good as new again.