Not Alone –
He sat alone in the classroom today, save the examiner, and took his High School Equivalency exam. I sat alone watching him think, strain to recall what he had been taught over the past months. My class for incarcerated fathers was scheduled to begin but this lone test taker was holding us up. That was okay. What he was doing was as important as what we do in our class. We strive to make men good and into good fathers. He was taking a test that would better him and his family. He sat there with no one around him but I knew he wasn’t alone. Good thoughts, prayers, and best wishes were being sent his way by those who had tutored, encouraged and convinced him he could be more, do more and his life wasn’t a throwaway. I knew he was nervous by the way he checked and rechecked his answers, glancing up at the clock which ticked away his test time.
Finally, he finished and hesitantly handed in his exam. A few words to the examiner and he exited the classroom. “How’d it go?” I asked. “I hope good,” was his answer. We chatted a few moments and then he went back to his cell. As he exited the door I knew the hopes and dreams of not just him were wrapped up in that test. I also knew he wasn’t alone and sometimes that’s enough to give us the courage to do what we wouldn’t ever do otherwise.
Today I attended a luncheon that was a kick starter to a faith-based community council. There were only a few but a lot of passion for the needy that exist mostly in the shadows of the church buildings and our communities. Folks with mental health issues, addictions, homeless, poverty-stricken, those living in the cycle of unfortunate circumstances and poor choices. These are the one we are hoping to help.
At the meeting, one of the attendees brought a service dog. The dog had been trained to be petted for anxiety reduction and assist a special needs person. It was a beautiful black Labrador Retriever. I couldn’t get enough of petting this pooch. It definitely made me feel better to scratch its head, rub his chin, stroke his back.
The power of touch is amazing. It can calm or incite, show acceptance or intimidate, display love or push away. There are people all around us who need their lives touched. Not just physically but emotionally, mentally and spiritually. These are the ones who most avert their eyes or cross the street to avoid. These shadow dwellers, who have a way of making most feel uncomfortable, need the touch of love, hope, and change.
Most of us can’t give them everything they need to get back on their feet and walking the path of life again, but together we can do more, touch more, give grace more, than one person alone.
Lay Me Down to Rest…
Wednesday night, before my lecture to an Incarcerated Father class, I was speaking with one of the men and learned that a few days prior someone had died in the jail. He was an unknown older black gentleman who had been brought in late Sunday. The story was that he had laid down, complained a little about his chest hurting, rolled over and in the next hour breathed his last. For those who witnessed the event, it was both haunting and a fantastic tale to relay to others. Though morbid, being incarcerated can be terribly boring, it was an unexpected dramatic experience in the malaise that is life behind bars.
As the excited chatter ceased regarding the spectacle, I looked at the man telling me the story and said; “What a sad thing, to die in jail. Alone with no one knowing you or loving you.” I am not sure why I made such a blunt statement except it was a lesson I couldn’t pass up. Many of the men I work with have been in jail several times and if they do not change their ways could very well die behind bars, surrounded by those who are not their family and friends.
I tell the men every class; “Choice is destiny. WHAT you do today determines WHO you’ll be tomorrow.” and we all have a limited number of tomorrows.
The Way Out –
Yesterday evening Beth stopped by my office to see me (and give me some sugar!). After a while, she hopped back into her car and I got in my truck. She began to drive out the main entrance. I tried to warn her with hand signals not to go that way but she didn’t notice me. I, on the other hand, went another way to avoid all the traffic that bottles up at the main entrance, this time, every work day. After almost two years I knew to avoid it and how. As I made two quick turns I passed Beth who was still sitting in line and waved. I called her and she asked; “How did you get in front of me?” “Took a different, better way to get out as quick as possible,” I said. She laughed and I told her I would see her following a class I was teaching in the evening.
As I drove past her I thought of one of my favorite wisdom proverbs;
A man was walking down the street and fell into a big hole. Try as he might, he couldn’t get out. He heard someone passing above, it was a professor. “Hey, Sir! Can you get me out of here? I’m stuck.” he yelled! The professor threw down a book on philosophy and existentialism and kept on walking. Our man heard another person approaching, it was a priest. “Hey, Padre! Can you help me out? I’m stuck!” The priest wrote out a prayer and dropped it into the hole. The next guy was a good friend and the man yelled out; “Hey Joe! Please, I’m desperate. Please help me out of this hole.” The friend looked down and then proceeded to jump down in the hole. The man was flabbergasted! “What’d you do that for? Now we’re both stuck.” Joe smiled and said; “Relax. I’ve been in this hole before and I know the way out.”
The road of life is filled with u-turns, yields, long boring stretches, deep holes and exciting hairpin turns. Traveling with those who know the way is always better than traveling alone.
This morning, I went into a store and was met with a booming voice coming over the store’s speakers. “Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers? Would the Grandmother of Jason please come to the registers?” My first thought was a woman who had become enamored with her shopping list and had let her grandchild wander off. An elderly person passed me, approached the registers and the grandson hurriedly went up to her and declared; “I didn’t know where you were! I was looking for you!” When the child began to speak I could tell he had a learning disability and the grandmother, instead of being embarrassed or frustrated, told him calmly; “I was over there. I knew where you were.” She continued talking to him and they began walking through the store together. I smiled at the gentleness of the grandmother. She obviously was familiar with these situations and knew what to do to help the young man feel safe, to know she was near, he hadn’t been forgotten.
Reflecting on this sweet moment I wondered if this is how God sees, understands us. There are events we consider traumatic and chaotic. We panic and question; “God where are you? Have you forgotten us? Have you left us in the middle of this mess with no way to find you?”
God, on the other hand, is right there, with us. We may not see him but we’ve never been out of his sight. In his way, in his timing, he steps into view and we run, relieved and cling to him telling him how worried and alone we felt. He smiles, puts his arm around us, his voice and presence soothing our soul and we walk together along life’s path.
Yesterday afternoon I was breaking down some wooden pallets I’ve picked up over the last few weeks and using the boards to complete a wall on an outside project. I enjoy the cooler weather of fall but not the sun setting earlier each day. By the time I had enough boards the light was dimming and I hurried to nail the boards in place before darkness settled in.
Nailing is not my specialty. If I take my time, be sure to put the nail at the right angle, hold the board securely I do a decent job. However, if I’m in a hurry it can be; “hit or miss.” I was able to get half of the boards in place but ran out of nails. I went back to my workshop, grabbed a few and headed back to finish but the sunlight was gone and I was having a real problem finding the nail with the hammer. Finally, I walked into the house, asked Beth to come outside and hold a flashlight for me. The light made all the difference and I was able to get the project completed.
Reflecting on the evening I am reminded how crucial light is to finding and fulfilling our purpose. I was also reminded the importance of letting others bring light into our lives, helping us see and not being alone in the dark.