Finding the Joy

The playoffs begin for the over-30 basketball league Aug. 4 at the fitness center here. The championship game is scheduled to take place Aug. 10 at the fitness center gym here.Down by two, with one-tenth of a second remaining to go to the championship! (To keep you informed, you need at least three-tenths of a second to even tip the ball into the hoop). With one time-out left, I used it, and wondered what kind of play I could set up to get off an impossible shot. I thought to myself, “This is middle school basketball and we do have one older referee so there is a chance that he thinks a shot could be fired up with one-tenth of a second remaining.” So I set up a play, and decided that these middle school girls playing are more interested in the boys sitting in the stands. There is not chance they will run this play correctly. (I once coached a girls’ team in Hawaii and told a player to kick the ball out to the wing when you’re trapped. The next time she was trapped, she did exactly that – she punted the ball out over the wing’s head!)

So I learned to never take anything for granted when coaching. We had the ball underneath the opponent’s hoop. The girl inbounding the ball yelled back and smacked the ball. The girls immediately forgot the play I just instructed them to do, but, miraculously, one girl didn’t break and she was left wide open underneath the basket. She received the pass and made the shot with no time left on the clock. And the elderly ref counted the basket!

We were headed to overtime and feeling quite happy with the scenario. The entire team and fans were elated!! Overtime was only three minutes long, so any chance we could get the lead first would give us a great chance to win the game and go on to the championship game. We hit a three pointer immediately with two and half minutes to go. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. The opposing team answered with a three shot of their own, got a quick steal and then two more points, took another shot for two more with a foul and making the free throw.

Game. Set. Match. We lost. We ended up losing the third place game as well.

The word happiness brings all sorts of memories to my mind: winning a basketball game, opening presents on Christmas morning and receiving a Nintendo as a young boy, family vacations to Florida, Chicago, and Colorado, eating a pecan pie, being selected as first team all-state in water polo in high school, and staying up all night at sleepovers. Everyone wants to be happy. But does happiness last forever? What happens when the Nintendo becomes old and breaks down, or when the vacation is over, or when staying up all night turns into a crabby affair the next day? Happiness can get replaced with sadness as in a basketball game.

Then there’s joy. Running deeper and stronger, joy is defined as a quiet, confident assurance of God’s love and work in our lives – that He will be there no matter what. Happiness depends on material objects and having things go our way, but joy in Christ can be in our lives no matter what. Happiness is temporary, but joy is lasting because it is based on God’s presence within us. As we discover God’s will for our lives, we find contentment. As we understand the future He has planned for us, we will express joy. Don’t base your life on material things for happiness, but on God for joyfulness. When life is going bad and you feel like complaining and crying out, Christ still reigns and we still know Him and have Him in our lives, so we can rejoice at all times. Psalm 118:24 says, “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it.” God has given you this day to live and to serve Him – be glad and full of joy!

Rejoice in the Lord always; again, I’ll say it, Rejoice! Philippians 4:1

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Cherokee Tribe

dark woodsAs a Cherokee youth moved into manhood, the tribe had a custom of taking the young man into the middle of the woods on a dark night and leaving him there by himself. Needless to say, the young man heard every owl hoot, every branch rustled by the breeze, every falling pine cone, and even scurrying rodents. He had no trouble imagining that every shadow was a black bear looking for a meal. It was usually a terror-filled night for the youth who anxiously awaited the comfort of dawn.

What happened at dawn? As the young Cherokee strained his eyes to see his surroundings more clearly, one of the first things he would see was his father standing watch nearby, with weapons ready to protect him. The boy, of course, had no idea that his father had stood guard all night.

Throughout our lives we will encounter many scary moments. We will feel alone, anxious, abandoned, frightened, etc. But during none of those moments does our Father, our Heavenly Father, leave us. Just like the young Cherokee, every moment of every day, we are protected. God won’t let anything happen to one of His beloved children.

One scary moment that I can remember was my first year of deer hunting when I was 12 years old. The week before opening day my Grandpa and I set up our stands. My stand was about a quarter mile hike from the road in the woods. My Grandpa’s stand was a less strenuous hike, only about 100 feet from the road. Both ways to get to our stands were marked with orange tape, which made it easy to find, or so I thought. On opening day a week later, at about 5am, my Grandpa dropped me off on the side of the road with all my gear, and I started to make my trek into the woods to find my stand all by myself. Obviously at 5am it is still pitch black out, but I had a flashlight. And with the light I was able to find the first two or three orange markers. But then – I can remember this like it was yesterday – the winds picked up, I started hearing noises, and I walked aimlessly around which seemed like miles, but was only feet I’m sure. I could not find any orange trail markers. It was like they all disappeared. The winds were howling, the trees were moving, and I was absolutely certain there were all sorts of animals running around me. I panicked and was terrified! Thankfully, I had a walkie-talkie, so I walked out from under some trees and called my Grandpa. He told me to wait a few minutes, try again, and if I still couldn’t find it to come walk to his stand. Already in a panic, I skipped the trying again part and walked immediately to his stand which I found with ease. My Grandpa’s deer stand was like a small house and plenty of room for two, so he welcomed me into his stand with open and loving arms.

Unlike the young Cherokee I at least had the comfort of knowing my Grandpa was only a call and a short hike away. He didn’t want my first hunting experience to be a bad one, so he comforted me when I lost my way. He was there for me the whole time and never abandoned me. Deuteronomy 31:6 ways “Be strong and courageous; do not fear or be in dread of them. For the Lord your God goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” My Grandpa was there for me just like God will always be there for us. When you’re going through some rough times, call out to Him. He wants to help you and will help you. Even though you can’t see Him, you can put your faith in Him, knowing that He will be your shield, your fortune, your rock. He’s got your back.

A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all.”Psalm 34:19.

Later that morning I went back to my own stand and found it without any trouble. All along, I happened to be just feet from it.

Making a Difference

make a differenceWhile I was doing my morning Bible reading this past week, two guards came to my door and told me to get ready as I was going to see the psychologist. I got ready quickly and because I’m living in “the hole” and am considered one of the most dangerous inmates at Yazoo City, I had to be cuffed and shackled in order to walk 200 feet down the hallway. Imagine that! I know some of you are laughing right now because when you have the words “dangerous” and “Craig” in the same sentence, you know that is the complete opposite. All I can do is roll my eyes and smile and take it for what it is.

So I did my shuffle and slide routine as I left the cell. It’s not a walk when your feet are shackled together and are only separated a foot apart. I wondered if I should do the Bunny Hop. That would either get some laughs or an added escape charge for moving too quickly. I kept to the shuffle and slide down the hallway and thought about why I was meeting with the psychologist. Will this be good or bad? Is this part of my case? Maybe she’s going to tell me I can go home!! Miracles do happen!!!

I eventually shuffled my way to the room, sat down, and she started rattling off a bunch of questions about me as a person and my self-being. I answered them honestly and as best as I could. The best question she asked was at the end of our time together. “What kind of change do you want to make in your life to make a positive influence on others?”

I thought about it for a few seconds and then broke out into a big smile. “I want to share the love of Christ to others by my actions, my words, and with everything I do. I want others to see the joy I have inside of me. I want to encourage and compliment others on a daily basis. I want to show my love so that others will know who I’m living for. “Let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. Matthew 5:16.

That’s what I told her. Shocked, she then asked, “Well, do you have any specific examples on how to do that?” I was able to give her examples and will give you examples also because then and now I’ve got the joy down in my heart….isn’t that a song? I want to walk by random people on the street, smile at them, look them in the eye and greet them pleasantly. I want to help a stranger change his tire on the side of the road or help push a car that has run out of gas. I want to compliment and uplift the clerks in the stores that work the cash register just because they don’t hear it enough. I want to leave that over-size tip at a restaurant to the server because they have waited on me. I want to go to a nursing home or retirement home and start chatting with the people living there because I care. I want to celebrate with family and friends on birthdays because it’s a special day for that person and they need to feel important. I want to be there for friends who are going through joyous times and sad times. I want to leave random notes of encouragement in people’s mailboxes. I want to pay for the person’s meal behind me in the drive through line. I want to buy a homeless person a meal. I want to love, love, love.

With that being said, she had no more questions. I got up and shuffled myself to my cell, wondering what that was all about. I’ll probably never know. But it did feel good telling her what kind of positive influence I was going to make. Maybe now she understands better who I am.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.” 1 John 3;16

What kind of life are you living? Can people see the love of Christ in you by your words and actions? Do you need to make changes? If so, now is the time to start. Doing random acts of kindness is a great way to show our love. I have not always done this in the past….it was all about me. But I’m changing; God is changing me where I’m at. I’m a better person through what has happened to me – I hope you think so, too. Someday you will see for yourself who I am and I pray you will see my love of God and my love of you by the way I live my life for the rest of my life. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongues, but with actions and truth.” 1 John 3:18

More Journal Entries of Prison Life

Portions of Craig’s journal which he began on Day 37 of his incarceration at a county detention center.

Entry #48. 6/14/2013. Day 85

I shall not be scared for God has great plans for me, plans to prosper me and not harm me, plans to give me hope and a future. I broke down today in front of Q with uncontrollable tears. He prayed for me which I needed tremendously. He is a godsend. I almost wonder if he is an angel sent from God. What an amazing guy with a heart on fire for God. He’s teaching me a ton. Thank you, Jesus, for putting him in my life. I felt much better after talking to him. God, I trust you and am thankful for all you’ve done and yet to do in my life.

Entry #50. 6/16/2013. Day 87

Tomorrow’s a big day that could affect the rest of my life. I trust you, God, that it will go according to Your will. Was able to listen to some good Christian music today. Talked to Mom and Dad on Father’s Day. I’m so thankful for Dad. What a guy; I love and miss him so much. I can’t wait to get out to hang with him. Give me the strength to get through this, Lord. I know my life is going according to Your plans. I love you, Lord, on this Father’s Day. Thanks for helping me be the man I am today.

Entry #60. 6/26/2013. Day 97

Had a funeral tonight at Bible Study. I buried my material gods. I no longer want to see or deal with them. They are no longer in my life, only God. Talked to Mom and Dad today. As much as I don’t want to think about it, there is realization that I will have to do prison time. But my God is a big God and He loves doing the unbelievable. He loves challenges. I trust in you, Lord.

Entry #65. 7/1/2013. Day 102

Lord, what do I have to do? Rescue me! I can’t do this. Save me please! My attorney saw me tonight and be brought me bad news….looking at 7-9 years I can’t do that, God. I need a miracle. This is not who I am. What do I have to do? My heart is heavy. I need you, Lord, every hour, minute, and second, I need you. My mind hurts. My body aches. I long for You. I love You!

Entry #66. 7/2/2013. Day 103

I met with the attorney again today. By next Friday the plea will be official. Unfortunately, unless an amazing miracle happens, I’ll have to do at least 5 years in a federal prison, possibly more. As each hour passes, I’m becoming more at peace with it. It will be the hardest time in my life, but with God’s help, it’ll be OK. I know He’ll use me like no other in there. I will continue to trust Him. It’ll be hard on the family, but we’ll get through it.

Entry #68. 7/4/2013. Day 105

Holidays are tough to be away from family. I gotta get used to it, though, and rely on God to get me through it. I trust Him. He will deliver me. That’s what He says.

Entry #71. 7/7/2013. Day 108

An inmate scared me tonight about prison. He said I won’t survive if I go to a maximum security prison. Lord, I pray that I don’t have to go to one. I trust in You that you have my path paved for the good. You will protect me. Spirit of fear, leave me at once. Thank you, Jesus. I trust and have faith in you, God.

My Dad is Stronger Than Your Dad

muscle_main2How many times growing up have you heard or said the phrase “My Dad is stronger than your Dad?” Or maybe you have kids and still hear that phrase today. I just encountered something similar to that a few months back when I was awakened around 1am to all kinds of screaming and yelling. Now this is a common occurrence in county jail, but not to this extent. I usually tone it out and go back to sleep. But for some reason I stayed awake and listened to what was being said. Amidst all the swearing and death threats, the argument was “My gang is better than your gang.” I’ll save you the vulgar details, but it was basically an argument as to whose gang was more powerful and stronger. It was a pointless argument that resulted in a few fights the following day. I really wanted to jump up and say to them “Stop it! My Dad could take on your whole gang and win.” Of course, most wouldn’t get it, so I didn’t say anything, but it led to a great devotion idea.

How strong is our dad? Dad, being our Father in heaven. A great quote from a veggie tales song comes to my mind. “God is bigger than the boogie man, He’s bigger than Godzilla and monsters on TV.” Yes, God IS bigger than all things. There is nothing He cannot handle. There is nothing He cannot do. Just look at all the miracles He has done……miracles we have read about in the Bible and miracles we experience very day, such the sunrise and sunset, waking up every morning, breathing. If God wants something to happen, He can make it happen at the snap of His finger. Matthew 19:26 says, “With God, all things are possible.”

God will always test you. He will put you in situations where you must rely on Him to get you out of or through it. He wants you to make the big bold prayers so He can be challenged. God loves a challenge! He wants to prove to you that He can get you through anything. But you have to put your trust and faith in Him, knowing that He IS bigger than all. Nothing, and I mean NOTHING at all can beat our Father. He’s got our back at all times. So next time you’re in a situation where you’re thinking “this is impossible”, remember – God is bigger and stronger than everything. And next time you hear the phrase “My Dad is stronger than your Dad”, Yes, He is!

Scripture Reading: Psalm 121

My Lifetime Goals – as of today 4.27.14

runningWelcome back! I know you were all anxiously waiting to see what kind of goals I have set for myself, so the much anticipated wait is finally here. Eric, I just know you were losing sleep over it!!

Being in prison, I do a lot of thinking. Being in “the hole” I do even more thinking. I was able to create a pretty decent list of goals (or bucket list) that I’ve wanted to do for some time now, and even new goals I just recently came up with. Some goals I even feel God is calling me towards. I consider myself a risk-taker, so some of my goals might cause you to shake your head and say, “yea, right.” But I’m also a person who has a passion and love for the Lord, so you might say, “I can see you doing that.” Yes, I do know that some of these things are far-fetched and could require some financial stability to achieve. But my God is a huge God. I put my trust and faith in Him more than ever now, and continue to give Him all the glory in all aspects of my life, whether good or bad. “I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13. If it’s God will, He might just help me achieve some or all of these goals. I’m looking forward to checking off each one when they are completed!

Here is what I would like to accomplish in my life for the rest of my life (in no particular order)

• Run a marathon
• Compete in an iron-man triathlon
• Get married
• Raise a family
• Go on a mission trip to a 3rd world country
• Backpack through Europe
• Share my faith/testimony in front of 1,000 people
• Share my faith/testimony in front of 5,000 people
• Run a 6 minute mile at 40 yrs old
• Run a 6 minute mile at 50 yrs old
• Run a 6 minute mile at 60 yrs old
• Give a message at a church service
• Climb Mt. Denali (McKinley) in Alaska
• Run a Christian backpacking outfitter company
• Own a house on a body of water
• Go on a cruise
• Run a 5k at 70 yrs old
• Run a Christian retreat center
• Ride a horse (never have!)
• Bike up Mt. Evans CO (again)
• Go crab fishing in Alaska
• Go to the Olympics (only as a spectator)
• Golf at Pebble Beach
• Go skiing at Lake Tahoe NV
• Memorize over 1,000 verses and 25 chapters in the Bible
• Start a charity
• Bike the entire Katy Trail through MO and back
• Tithe at least 10% every week
• Go spelunking
• Lead worship at a church service
• Lead Christian groups on Adventure trips
• Bring the Word of God to a remote village
• Write a worship song
• Ride in a hot air balloon
• Snorkel the Great Barrier Reef
• Scuba dive
• Stay in a hostel
• Go to a World Series baseball game
• Get a hole-in-one (not putt-putt)
• Meet the President of the United States
• Sleep overnight in a castle
• Start up a volunteer organization
• Kayak down a waterfall (size To Be Determined)
• Go deep sea fishing
• Go to a Super Bowl game
• Go on an African Safari
• Skydive
• Bungee jump
• Go on an ocean sailing trip
• Donate blood once a year
• Ride in a helicopter
• Write a book
• Live the I’m Third Life in everything I do (God first, others second, myself third)

My challenge for you is to create your personal bucket list; things that maybe you have wanted to do for some time and still want to accomplish. No matter what age you are, it’s never too late to achieve some of your goals, no matter how simple or hard they are. And remember to give God all the glory when conquering them. A final thought: “I press on toward THE GOAL to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” Philippians 3:14.

That’s my final goal – Heaven! – and I can’t wait to get there!!!