‘We are formed by your hands.” Isaiah 64:8c NLT
‘Now join your hands, and with your hands, your heart.’ William Shakespeare
What extraordinary things they are, and what remarkable things they are capable of doing.
Hands create things and hands write things. Hands build, paint, sculpt, and compose things. Hands push things, pull things, wave at things, start things and stop things. Hands cook things and clean things, wash things and dry things, open things and close things.
Hands also hold things.
While it may be true that many of the items our hands hold throughout our lifetime are of a relatively insignificant nature, it is also true that, at different times in life, our hands have occasion to hold things of tremendous importance, immeasurable value, and incalculable worth.
I recall holding each of my two children shortly after they were born. With the clarity of perfect hindsight, it is shamefully obvious to me now that I simply did not comprehend, or fully appreciate at the time, the miraculous nature of what it was I held in my hands. This is truly unfortunate for those were once-in-a-lifetime moments that disappear the instant after they are experienced, and I will never hold either of them in quite the same manner again.
These words that I write, which may appear to be taking a rather melancholic turn, are not intended to depress or sadden anyone within the ‘sound’ of my literary ‘voice’. Quite the contrary, you see, for this, my friends, is a tale of discovery. It is a joyous celebration of what happens when our hands are connected to the eyes of our hearts, enabling what our hands are holding to be seen and appreciated for exactly what it is, and for it to be appraised for exactly what it is worth.
I am presently sitting at the small metal desk in my prison cell. To my right are the bunk beds belonging to my ‘cellie’ and me. The top bunk is mine, and I have placed upon it three distinctly different items. Each of them has had a profound impact on my life during my incarceration and one day recently, as I held each one in turn, I gave considerable thought to defining exactly what it was I was holding, so I could appreciate it better and perhaps share the discovery of that appreciation with each of you. Perhaps when I am finished, you too might understand and recognize that things are not always ‘just’ things. Sometimes, the things that we hold in our hands live, breath, and talk to us in special ways.
The first of the three items that I hold in my hands is a print copy of these “Chronicles” that you are reading. It is odd for me to think that almost anyone in the world can read my words online, and yet I have never seen those words presented in that manner myself. However, thanks to my dear friend Diane, and my brother-in-law Larry, I have been provided with copies of every article that has been posted. I have assembled these copies into 2 rather thick, bound ‘volumes’.
At somewhere in the vicinity of 175 different articles totaling some 700 printed pages compiled over the past 3 1/2 years, the “Chronicles” represents a lot of time, effort, research, and cooperation. While this is all well and good, these questions popped into my mind: “What exactly IS it?” “What does it MEAN to me?” “What does it REPRESENT?”
“The Oakdale Chronicles”, or “TOC” as it is affectionately known by myself and those who help bring it to you, is many, many things. First and foremost among these would be the fact that ‘TOC’ is ‘honesty’. Regardless of the subject matter, I have searched my heart for the truth, and that is what I wrote. Honesty is also what I have asked for, and received, from those who have contributed along the way as well. Those contributors have included Richard Roy and Steve Marshall, and I have appreciated their input in the past, and look forward to it in the future.
“TOC” is also a compilation of pain. It is pain of such an intensity at times as to be almost indescribable. It is my pain, of course, but it is also the pain of others who have written their own stories, as well as the pain of those about whom I have written.
The “Chronicles” represents a desire to help us all see a little more clearly, some of the problems that are faced both by individuals, and society as a whole.
This object in my hands is also a yardstick, of sorts. It is a way to measure my growth as a human being during my incarceration here at Oakdale FCI, and that growth HAS been quite measureable.
It is very personal in a very public way. It has made me laugh; it has made me cry; it has made me angry; and it has made me sad. But it has also helped me to see that there is hope for the future. Perhaps it has done the same things for some who have read it.
“TOC” represents a lot of television that was not watched. It also represents a lot of time that was not merely wasted in an environment where so much time IS wasted. It represents an attempt to reach out to others; to offer help to those who need it; to make people stop and think about the condition of society and their part in that current condition, as well as their roles in changing that condition and working to make this a better place to live and raise a family.
I have never pretended to have all of the answers, nor have I criticized the way something is being done without offering a suggestion or two for ways in which I think those things can be improved.
“TOC” is an acceptance of responsibility on my part for the things I have done, and I have only published the stories of those who have accepted their own. I offer no excuses for my behavior, nor do I accept any from others. I have, however, tried to examine my life and find the reasons certain decisions were made which contributed to the direction my life eventually took.
“TOC” has allowed me to stress the importance of God as a part of ANY person’s ability to make changes within themselves when nothing less than a complete spiritual transformation is called for. The role that God plays in my life is a role that I should have welcomed long, long ago. Fortunately for all of us who seek to change our lives in dramatic ways, when we DO reach out to Him for help, He is right there waiting to step in, take our hand, and light our path, and He assures us that it matters NOT at what point in our lives this realization – this NEED – occurs. All that matters is that it does.
For many inmates who leave places such as this one, there is only a desire to forget the experience. There is simply the need to live as ‘free’ individuals once again. On some level I can understand this, but for myself, “TOC” will always be at hand to provide me with a tangible reminder so I will NEVER forget my four years of incarceration. “TOC” assisted me in breaking free of the bonds that held me and has played an instrumental part in helping me to mature and grow in my relationship with God; to demonstrate to myself – if no one else – that I am human after all. And it is a good feeling. I am grateful to those who have worked to maintain these “Chronicles” and I am VERY grateful to God for His guidance every step of the way.
I place the valuable treasure called “The Oakdale Chronicles” back on my bunk and pick up the next object in line.
This object contains considerably fewer pages than “TOC”, but its value cannot be measured by size alone. It is a complete draft of “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, my soon-to-be released daily devotional book or “Daily Living Guide”, as I call it.
You see, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” is so much more than ‘just’ a book of daily thoughts, meditations, lessons, and devotions. While it IS all of those things, it is, first and foremost, the very essence of the relationship that has grown between myself and God. Its acceptance by, and usefulness to, others remains to be seen, but the importance of the relationship that “TODAY IS…” represents to me is undeniable and irrevocable. In the drug-induced fantasies of the past, where I might have imagined myself writing a best-selling novel of universal acclaim and importance, I can assure you that God was NOT in the picture. Nor was Jesus Christ a main character. Come to think of it, He was not in the “Great American Novel” of my dreams at all.
Which is absolutely fine because this IS no “Great American Novel”. This is SO much better. It is so much more honest; so much more useful; so much more personal and intimate. “TODAY IS….” has taken all of the mistakes, missteps, tragedies, pain, joy, good decisions, and bad decisions of my life and turned them all over to God, who then handed them back to me, one at a time, in the form of daily guidance for other people. Lessons, suggestions and examples to be used by others to deal with similar situations in their lives, or to help avoid them altogether.
In sharing my relationship with God in this manner, “TODAY IS….” puts to good use what some might call a ‘wasted’ life. Indeed, had I died on that shower floor in August of 2009, it could accurately be stated that my life was wasted. Fortunately, God has taught me that no experience – not even the ‘bad’ ones – are wasted if they are put to good use, and He has shown me how to take our relationship and allow it to help me use my life, and the experiences I have had, and try to help others.
How does one use “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”? In exactly the same way that one builds a relationship with God: One day at a time, with thought, and with purpose.
This very important part of me, which will soon be offered to all of you, could never have happened without the hard work, effort, and support of my friend Diane. Beginning with a simple gesture of Christian kindness in the form of a card mailed to me over 3 1/2 years ago at the request of my sister Kathy, my friendship with, and reliance upon, Diane has grown tremendously. I have to think that her husband Don has felt the effects of the many ‘requests’ (demands?) that I have made upon her. She has researched, typed, and posted articles for “TOC”, but she has also typed, corrected, changed, formatted, and nurtured “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”. Without her involvement, “TODAY IS…” would, at best, be something that would not be completed until long after my release. This wonderful friend has played an integral part not only in the production of the book itself, but also in the relationship with God “TODAY IS….” represents. She has helped to teach me about friendship and service to others as well. No one can ever convince me that she is anything less than my own personal Angel sent by God.
The beauty of the relationship with God that made me understand that every single day IS a gift from Him is truly breathtaking. The value of that relationship, in the form of “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” is beyond calculation, and it is with great reluctance that I return this treasure to its spot on my bunk. I do so only to free my hands to pick up the third, and final, item that rests there.
Communicating the significance of this last item in terms which are equal TO that significance is a challenge unto itself, for the last item I pick up and hold in my hands is the Holy Bible.
Once upon a time, in the arrogant ignorance of my youth, I dismissed the Bible as, “Nothing more than a good story. Just a good book.” I felt that anyone who attributed any more importance to it than that was a fool. With that clarity of hindsight I mentioned earlier, I have come to understand just how wrong I was, how immature and uninformed my arbitrary declaration was, and I can see now the cost to myself and the many others who have attempted to share my life through the years and were hurt as a result of that shamefully immature, arrogant ignorance.
Oddly enough, had I recognized, or allowed myself to be shown, the Holy Bible for what it really IS, there would be no story to tell you here. At the very least, it would be a totally different one. But therein lies the indescribable beauty of it all – my life played out exactly as it NEEDED to in order for ME to hold this precious item in my hands and share my discovery with anyone willing to take the time to read my words.
The Holy Bible is a living, breathing thing. Just as surely as you and I live, so does the Bible live. It is intricate in its complexity and yet its true message and meaning is one of surprising simplicity. It is alive, but it is also life itself. It brings diverse peoples together, yet often drives close families apart. It describes for us the beginning of all life on earth, and reveals to us how that life will all end some day in the future. It doesn’t tell us when the end will come, but it helps us live our lives so that we are always prepared FOR that end. It gives us simple guidelines to follow, and then describes the price that a man named Jesus Christ paid to absolve us of our blame and restore us to good graces with God when we fail to follow them. It is the answers for our questions when we don’t even know what the questions are.
Most of us have heard, at one time or another, that the Holy Bible is the Word of God. I am most certainly not here to dispute that. The purpose of MY words is to try and share with you my overwhelming love and affection for this ‘book’ and to attempt to convey my understanding of its enormous value in the hope that you, too, will pick one up and hold it and ask it to speak to YOU in a similar manner, because the Holy Bible DOES speak to us, if we are only willing to listen.
The Holy Bible is a life preserver in a sea of sin and it is something that I cling to fiercely so I do not drown in that sea. The Holy Bible is forgiveness for the things I have done that are contrary to the instructions and teachings it contains. It is important to note it is not ACCEPTANCE of those things. It provides an opportunity to be renewed and restored with God and to refocus on those things that DO meet with God’s approval.
The Bible teaches, encourages, empowers, protects, redeems, and lights our way through the darkness. It is kindness in an unkind world, morality in an immoral society, justice for the oppressed, joy for the sad, decency with which we can replace our indecency, and it is knowledge combined with the wisdom required to put the knowledge to good use.
With the Bible we can find peace when we are at war with ourselves or with one another. It offers us hope when we wake up one morning and feel that there IS none. It gives us strength to go on when all we want to do is lay down and die. The Holy Bible helps us develop our faith in something we cannot see because what we cannot see is far more beautiful than what we CAN see all around us.
It helps us understand our differences in order that we can focus more intently on those things we have in common. The Bible gives us the power to stand up when we are knocked down and it provides us with the ability to offer the hand of friendship to the one who knocked us down in the first place.
When we allow the Bible to help us, it will. When we invite the Bible into our lives, it will enter and enrich them. When we look to the Bible for a reason to be kind, gentle, compassionate, loving, humble, and helpful individuals, we FIND that reason and we discover the reason has a name and His name is Jesus Christ.
And when we are lost, confused, alone, and afraid and we tearfully look to Christ and ask, “What do I DO?!?”, all we need do is LISTEN for the two simple words that He speaks repeatedly that will provide us with all we need: “Follow Me.”
He will lead us to forgiveness for our sins when we confess them to God, to reconciliation WITH God, and to an everlasting life of beauty beyond description as our reward for accepting Him as our savior. He died so that we may live an eternal life of unimaginable joy and peace, and He suffered for the sins WE committed so that we could ask God to forgive us with the confident knowledge that we WILL be forgiven.
The Bible is a very, very large Book containing many stories, many lessons, many words, and it can be very intimidating and complicated IF we allow our human nature to MAKE it complicated and intimidating.
Jesus Christ does not strike me as being complicated at all and He was so humble and compassionate that ‘intimidating’ does not seem to be an appropriate term to describe Him.
“Worship God.” “Love one another.” “Follow me.” Those are the things that He says to us.
How complicated is that?
My Bible gives me my relationship with Jesus Christ and Christ provides me with the ability to transform myself, my life, my heart, and my future.
Quite a change from, “Nothing more than a good story. Just a good book.” Wouldn’t you agree?
I remember calling my sister Kathy after being released from custody after my suicide attempt and while awaiting resolution in the criminal case that brought me to Oakdale. Convinced that it was God who saved me from myself, I asked her to send me a Bible, which she gladly did. I clearly remember the day it arrived in the mail. At THAT time I held it in my hands and its value and the critical part it would play in my life was still a mystery to me. I called her up and I thanked her.
And then I asked her, “Now what do I do with it?”
The answer, it turns out, is pretty simple, really: Listen to it. It is alive, and it WILL talk to us. It speaks to me daily, and I know it will speak to you too if you will only allow it to do so.
I return my Holy Bible to its place next to “The Oakdale Chronicles” and “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”. The enormity of what I am looking at strikes me. The amazing journey I have taken was made possible by these three items, and the confidence, wisdom, strength and desire to meet the rest of my life head on and complete this journey is right there in front of me. I am truly humbled by the ability of God to direct us in such a clear, well-ordered manner if we are only willing to invite Him to do so.
I pray that I have been at least moderately successful in describing the value of these three different, yet extremely important items. As I look at them side by side on my bunk, I cannot seem to remember the emptiness that defined my life before I was able to hold them each in turn.
As always, I thank you for your time.
May God bless you today and every day, and may He help you all to see with perfect clarity what it is that you are holding in YOUR hands.