Love Beyond… July 4, 2016

This morning, I was watching Good Morning America.  They had a lot of 4th of July segments.  The one segment that stuck with me was a commercial/video that was made with John Cena speaking in it. It was a 4th of July video about patriotism, but in the end “love” was the main character of this video.  What he said was short but powerful.

He said something along the lines of “The 4th of July, we celebrate Patriotism, but it is also a day we celebrate Love… love beyond race, age, disabilities, sexuality and religion.”  I might have left some things out, but you get the point.  In the background you saw a Hindu hugging a Muslim, Black hugging White, Christian hugging Muslim, so on and so forth.

I don’t know how many of you remember the old Schoolhouse Rock cartoons.  There was one called the “Melting Pot”.  It talked about the great American melting pot.  This country was founded by immigrants, we are a country of all races, cultures, religions and beliefs.  We have been for centuries.  However, over the past centuries we have fought against each other’s races, religions, and cultures.  We have harbored a lot of hatred. Love is better than hatred.

I just read the book, “Love Beyond Reason” by John Ortberg.  He talks about our raggedness. He talks about how God loves our raggedness.  How he loves his “Rag Dolls”.  See, the author talks about how is sister was fond of and loved her rag doll, “Pandy.”  Pandy was a part of the family.  Eventually Pandy was unrecognizable and his sister didn’t want her anymore.  She traded her for a boyfriend.  Well, the Mom couldn’t throw her away, so she wrapped Pandy up in a box and kept her.  When his sister was married, she had her third child and it was a girl.  She took Pandy out of the box, got her fixed up and gave it to her daughter, who kept her and loved her for another 15 years.

See, we are like “Pandy”.  We are ragged.  We have faults.  We do bad things, we are lonely and the list goes on.  But God still loves us.  Let’s go beyond that…. Jesus came to love the raggedness, the most ragged, unrecognizable, unlovable people on the planet.  He loved them.  We are called to do the same.  I know I have written about it a lot, but “love” is so powerful.  In the world, there is a lot of hate and not enough love.  There are even Christians that are so hateful.  As Christians, we should be able to love beyond race, religion, sexuality, disabilities, age, and whatever else that comes to mind.

We should love beyond others raggedness.  Love Beyond Reasons.  Let’s try to look past their skin color, sexuality, religion, disabilities, diseases, faults and age.  Love others.

Love Beyond Reason…. Love Beyond…. Love

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Piano Update and Other Stuff – June 4

Recently I wrote a blog about piano.  Well, I officially auditioned 2 weeks ago.  The chaplain wants me to learn 15 songs by the beginning of July.  Then I will start playing for church services.  That is very exciting!  I am really enjoying getting back into playing piano.  I really, really enjoy it.  Especially playing praise music.  It really helps me to draw closer to God.  I am also going to be the guest resident speaker at the next Kairos reunion on June 9th.

I will be speaking about Jesus’ healing miracles and his love and compassion.  When I get finished writing the message, I will send it to you all.  I am almost finished with it.

Over the past few months I have taken a great interest in Jesus’ life.  A lot of people focus on his death and resurrection but don’t pay much attention to the details of his whole life! It is amazing!  I will let you all know how it goes!

I love you all!

Kairos Sunday – May 29, 2016

This day was very emotional for a variety of reasons; One, because it was the last day and two, because there were about 100 people from the outside yelling, cheering, clapping and showing authentic Agape love for all of us.  If that doesn’t make you cry, I don’t know what will.  I don’t think that one inmate didn’t cry.  It is amazing how much Agape love helps a person; helps them to have hope again.  Helps them to see that even though they are broken, have sinned, have fallen, that people still care and love them.  It was amazing!

It was sad, because we didn’t even really get to say goodbye to all our Kairos mentors.  That stank really bad.  They are coming back on May 14th, but over the weekend we had grown very close to them.  I have seen some genuine changes in inmates on the block.  It is amazing.  I hope that we don’t get discouraged and keep supporting and encouraging each other.

So the conclusion of the weekend was: Accept God’s grace, love and forgiveness and spread his love to others.  “Christ is counting on you!”

Heavy Dirty Soul – Jan 30, 2016

The other night I was watching the Winter X-Games, live in Aspen, Colorado.  One of my favorite bands did a concert there and they showed one of their songs.  They performed the song called “Heavy Dirty Soul”.  The name of the band is 21 Pilots.  One of my favorite songs by them is “Holding Onto You” and has a very positive message.  They plan it on HIS Radio Z in Greenville, SC.  Well, the main line in “Heavy Dirty Soul” is “Can you save my heavy, dirty soul?”  I thought about this line, this question.  When I had a visit today, I was talking with my Mom, Mark, Sam and Colin (Mom, step-Dad, Sister and Sister’s Boyfriend).  I was telling them about some of the inmates.  A lot of them have done some terrible tings and have lived a life of crime.  For some odd reason, talking about them made me think of this question:

Can you save my Heavy Dirty Soul?”  A lot of people in this world are carrying a very heavy, very dirty soul.  Some have gotten used to carrying this soul and have lost all sight of right, good, peace, joy, and the list goes on.  Some of them have no hope.  They feel like they will always be like that.  Some people would read that question and bluntly say, “Not me, not my soul.  My soul could never be saved.”  I had a guy look at me in the eye and say to me, “God doesn’t love me!”  I said, “Yes, he does.”  And he laughed and said “No he doesn’t.”  With a smile, I said, “God still loves you.”   And he smiled and kept working.  There are people, a lot of people, that think they can never clean their soul and throw away all the nasty dirty junk.  I say to the question, “Can you save the Heavy Dirty Soul”? Yes, Yes, God can.  God wants everyone and he will help you do the dirty job of cleaning your heavy, dirty soul.  He will do it with a smile on his face, and love you when you reveal it all to him.

God loves you.  He loves those who carry that burden.  All you need to do is ask him to help.  No soul is too heavy or too dirty to be cleaned out.  Look at the man among the tombs.  He was gone.  He was the meanest, dirtiest, angriest man in the town.  He had to live in the tombs!  No one could go close to him.  But Jesus came, and the man let him help him.  No one believed it.  Jesus did what he knew how to do best.  He came to this Earth to love God and to show that love to man.  To love man.  God has a purpose for us.  That is also to love God and love man.

Help someone to clean out their Heavy Dirty Soul.

2nd Christmas in Prison – Dec 26, 2015

Last year I was “fresh” on my lengthy sentence of 16 years, and Christmas was only 23 days into my approximate 5,840 days.  I couldn’t call anyone.  All I could do was send letters and cards.  I listened to Christmas music every day for the whole month of December.  I thought about the Christmases of past, smiled and cried.  This year was different.  Let me explain my Christmas this year.

The week before Christmas, the prison system got us a huge bag of lots of goodies and on the same day, a KFC Chicken Finger plate / dinner.  Then, that night an excellent Christmas program by the Exodus Church Choir from Hickory, NC.  Then, Christmas week came at the TV schedule was filled with Christmas movies and we had off three days for Christmas break.  Me and 4 other guys made a huge table full of nachos on Christmas Eve.  Christmas morning, I drank Hot Chocolate and watched the movie, “A Christmas Story.”  Went outside at 1:00 p.m. and played Ultimate Frisbee in the mud.  Got wet and muddy and had loads of fun.  Came inside, played cards, called my family (highlight of Christmas), then smashed some Oreos, chocolate chip cookies and milk on Christmas night.

However, something was different about this Christmas than last.  I believe it was the people watching and realizations and the struggles that I observed around me.  This year, I was around people that I have been around for almost a year now.  This one simple factor changes everything.  See, when you live, work, eat, sleep, go outside with the same people 24/7, you learn things about them.

You see when they are happy, sad, angry, and so on.  Well, Christmas, which is normally a joyful day, is one of the worst days out of the year for most prisoners.  I am not going to go into depth on the theology of Christmas or the secular traditions; let’s just focus on how Christmas brings families together.  Most prisoners don’t like Christmas because they can’t be with their families.  I understand that and can sympathize with them.  It is hard. I am not going to lie.  There were times when I wanted to cry.  But I found myself opening up my “house” for guests; taking on and listening to others’ struggles, sadness, frustrations at this time of the year.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, “The Wounded Healer,” talks about how we need to, as Christian leaders, face our loneliness, sadness, past and let go of them to make space for others.  We are all Christian leaders by the way.  One of the guys that I shared my Oreos and Chocolate Chip Cookies with was having an absolutely terrible Christmas.

Our block got to use the phone on Christmas.  He told his Mom he was going to call Christmas morning.  When his time slot came, he called everyone in his phone book and no one answered.  You can imagine how having his expectations not met was hard for him.  He became very angry then calmed down a bit.

Then the night shift said that if there was enough time at the end, that he could try.  There was enough time, but then the officers backed out on their word and didn’t let him try, making things worse.  So like the chick in the chick flicks, I brought him a tub of ice cream (in this case a whole bunch of cookies) and we ate our (mainly his) sorrows away.  It was the moment of Christmas where I put “me” aside and focused on him.  Opened my house up for a guest.  It was the moment when I didn’t mention the wonderful phone call I had with my family.  Sometimes we need to… actually most of the time we need to, forget about “me” and focus on others.  Also, the best medicine is love and ears to listen.  You don’t have to give them advice, just listen and love.  It makes a huge difference!

I love you all!

Bobby Reece – Feb 9, 2015

I have come to know Mr. Reece pretty well in the last couple of weeks.  He is here on a life sentence with a chance of parole.  He hasn’t made parole yet, but I pray that he does.  The other day I sat down with Bobby Reece and was so intrigued by his stories.  He has been in prison since 1994, 21 years.  He has been at Marion since 1996.  He is older, at the age of 63, but he is so positive.  This man has no family, friends, wife, no nothing.  He doesn’t get letters, phone calls or visits, but he is so positive.

But he gets 10 stamps and hygiene products twice a month.  He is one of the funniest and most positive inmates here.  He eats the food in the dining hall and doesn’t complain.  He sends off to every prison ministry that sends reading material, and even schooling.  He has his Associates in Business .  He just sent a request to start Biblical studies.  He warns me that some of them are not legit.

The other day he received an Accounting text book in the mail.  I asked him if he was going to learn Accounting and he said, “Why not?”  I looked at the book, and it said, Chapters 12-26.  He proceeded to say “It would have been good to have the first half of the book.”  He reads all the time and learns anything he can.  Hoping one day he will be released on parole.

He told the stories of his travels all over the country, hitch-hiking.  He told me about his experiences in homeless shelters.  My favorite one was when he talked about a hotel in Canada.  He said “It’s crazy!  I had to pay to watch TV!”  I said, “Oh Yea?”  He said “Yea I had to put a quarter in this box and turn the dial.”  I said, “How long ago was that?”  He said a long time ago.  I said that I don’t think you have to do that anymore.  I don’t think I had to when I went to Montreal in 2003.  He said, “Well, I have been in here for a while.”  He makes me laugh so much! He is so funny!”

He is this old ALL bald guy with thick black glasses and no teeth.  I asked him why he doesn’t wear his teeth, ever.  He said, “I have to keep something in my room!”  He chews with no teeth, anything.  Apples, peanuts, chips, you name it.  He took a big bite out of an apple just to prove that he could.  Haha!

He inspires me to be as positive as him.

I will share more stories about him again!

Jason Update – Jan 28, 2015

This past Sunday, we had church and before church, we have a short choir practice. Jason and I are choir partners.  Jason came to practice with something on his mind.  I said, “How are you doing?”  He told me he wasn’t doing well.  I ask him what was going on.  He didn’t want to tell me, and honestly, I understand.  It is hard to trust people in prison.  There are a whole bunch of men in here that did stupid things.  A lot of them deny it, lie about it, and a lot aren’t trustworthy people.  They are the worst at spreading your baggage around.  Now I know that I wouldn’t do that to anyone in here or outside.  If someone wants to share something deep, it will stay between the two of us.  However, Jason doesn’t know me well enough to know that I won’t reveal him and his problems.  I didn’t bug him to tell me.

So I did what I know best… try and cheer him up!  A lot of the encouraging parts of my personality, I give credit to my grandfather, or “Pops”, like I call him.  He can cheer anyone up.  And what I did on Sunday in choir reminded me of something Pops would have done.  One time, during choir, Pops and I were singing a hymn and he wasn’t looking at a hymnal.  He forgot the words and started singing “watermelon” over and over again.  I lost it.  After the hymn was over, Pops told me that if I ever forget the words, to just sing “watermelon.”  I took his advice a couple of times over the years.  Never got caught! Ha!

Well, my story about Jason isn’t as funny, but what I did was bold.  We were singing a song called “Trading my Sorrows”.  The lyrics go something like this (but not exactly): “I’m trading my sorrows, I’m trading my shame.  I’m trading my pain for the Joy of the Lord.”  All of a sudden, I went all “Kirk Franklin” in the middle of the song.  Kirk Franklin is a famous gospel artist.  He is a singing preacher!  After each line, I turned to Jason and shouted an echo line.  “I’m trading my sorrows.”  “Come on, Jason, trade your sorrows!”  “Come on trade your shame” “Come on trade your pain” then I repeated “for the Joy of the Lord

I kept doing it through the whole song.  He was laughing and smiling.  It was like no one else heard me, and I am pretty loud.  After the song, he said, “You know how to cheer me up.”  I realized that my gift is to encourage people.  We had a conversation.  I told him that it was a new day, and whatever it was, hand it over to God.  He seemed more positive.  What is your spiritual gift?

Read Romans 12: 1-8