“TIME TO MOVE ON” by Richard Roy

“My father taught me, ‘Take my words to heart. Follow my commands, and you will live.'” Proverbs 4:4

Purpose – n. Idea or aim kept before the mind as the end of effort; an end desired; a useful function; a definite intention.

Quite often we hear people say they are looking for their purpose in life. Perhaps you have sought purpose or meaning in your life. Native cultures around the world are rife with examples of rites of passage, walkabouts or “finding oneself.”

Much of our lives are consumed with self-absorbed behavior as we seek this mysterious purpose. The dead ends, frustrations and hamster wheel meaninglessness leading to unrealized potential, procrastination, psychosis, addictions or, in best case scenarios, self-righteousness and pride. In seeking our purpose we attempt to build ourselves up only to experience despair at the utter lack of meaning and then we die.

Tony Casson observed one day, during one of our innumerable laps around the asymmetrical rec yard track, “God created us because he wants to hang out with us.” Profound in its simplicity, Tony completely described our purpose: we were created to glorify God. It is in trying to assign our own meaning to existence that we go astray.

Isaiah 49:5 says, “We were formed in our mother’s womb to be submitted to God.” II Thessalonians 3:11-12 “…that the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you….”

For me it took the humbling experience of prison to come to the realization of the difference between purpose and use: God will use us where we are once we fulfill our purpose.

This long-winded introduction is an expression of gratitude to God. I thank him for being present in the bloody shower stall of a cheap Florida motel. There he forgave the sins of a man who finally discovered his purpose. It was not ever God’s intent for Tony to end his life. But in that act of final desperation, He got Tony’s attention, pulled him back from the grave, and is using him in mighty ways. Most of which we may never know.

Soon I leave FCI Oakdale, this is my last submission to The Oakdale Chronicles (TOC) as a prisoner and I take this opportunity to thank God for the gift of Tony Casson. Through his friendship I step out of these prison walls confident that God uses, and will continue to use, me too.

Christian singer Kerrie Roberts, in the song “In Your Sight,” sings, “I wish I could have the wisdom of a broken heart without all the pain.” These lyrics sum up a familiar sentiment for me. Through my own painful experience God has crushed my prideful spirit and made me a man. I will forever carry the stigma of the sinner I was. Like Paul’s thorn and Jacob’s limp, it will serve as a reminder of how far God has brought me. I am wiser now, painfully so, and eternally grateful for the opportunity to return to a supportive family. To these wonderful people I am a better husband, father, brother and son. To my friends, I thank you for the phone calls, cards and letters. You have taught me powerful lessons in forgiveness.

To the readers of TOC, thank you for your support of possibly the closest friend (outside of my wife!) I’ve ever had. I encourage you to visit TOC often, make comments to what you read (Tony beams when people leave comments to articles), and offer contributions of your own. Tony welcomes those with stories to share. No whiners allowed.

To Tony, God Bless You. You’ve tolerated my sarcasm, contrary viewpoints, ups and downs. We’ve celebrated and cried together and once I made you so mad that … well, it’s behind us now. You are a fantastic man deserving of many blessings. I pray for your success with C.A.N. and the Significant Seven (I leave the explanations to Tony). Godspeed my friend. Thank you for allowing yourself to be used of God.

This Woman…A Gift From God

by Tony E. Casson

“Many will say they are loyal friends.
But who can find one who is truly reliable?” Proverbs 20:6 NLT

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive,
and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” Anais Nin, The Diary Of Anais Nin

God rarely announces His gifts with a lot of fanfare, as evidenced by the gift of His Son, whom He sacrificed in order to offer Hope to the world.

Shortly after arriving here at Oakdale FCI, a friend of my sister – a person I had never heard of, let alone met – sent me a note of encouragement written on a card which had a verse taken from the Bible printed on the front. That card arrived quietly and without fanfare, and while it was appreciated, it certainly was not viewed at the time as being anything beyond a nice gesture which required me to remember my manners and send a note of thanks by return mail.

The name of the woman who sent that card is Diane Woodall, and while I did not view this unknown person as any sort of gift from God at the time, the relationship that was begun when Diane first put pen to paper and reached out to another human being has blossomed into the most beautiful friendship imaginable, and her placement into my life could ONLY have come as a gift from God as evidence of His grace and His indescribable ability to attend to even the minutest details of our lives if we only afford Him the opportunity.

“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord.’ They are plans for good, and not for evil, for a future and a hope.'” This quote from the Holy Bible, Jeremiah 29:11, was the message on the front of that card. It has occupied space above the mirror in my cell since it was first received. It is my personal assurance from God that the insanity which precipitated this period of incarceration is over, and the future is at hand. They are words that have kept me focused on God and the task before me of building a relationship with Him that is enabling me to become the human being He intended me to be when He first gave me life.

The card itself was an introduction to the woman who would grow to become the best friend I have ever had. Quietly, unobtrusively, and totally devoid of fanfare, God gave me the gift of a stranger’s Christian love which has guided me, kept me company, and helped me to take confident steps toward His promise of a future and a hope.

I have written – and wadded up for the wastebasket – several attempts to continue beyond this point. There is so much to say about this person who has given so much of herself, her time, and her money to type, print, mail, copy, research, edit, redo, reprint, recopy, remail, advise, consult, console, and correct. Hundreds of hours and hundreds of dollars spent lending support to a very, very broken man as God walked him through the process of healing, restoration, and renewal. And for what? Because God dumped me in her lap, and said, “You need to help this person.”

There is so much of what I have been able to accomplish that would have been extremely difficult, if not outright impossible, without her invaluable assistance and devotion. She took over the management of these “Chronicles” some time ago and she was utterly irreplaceable in completing “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” (my book of daily devotionals on Kindle, for those of you who haven’t been paying attention). I literally shudder to think how much less I would have achieved here without her friendship. I am leaving here eager, confident, and prepared to face the future, and a very large part of my ability to be that way is directly attributable to her.

When I expressed reservations about going back to the state of Florida, Diane quietly investigated a possibility which has recently become reality. In May, upon my release from this place, I will be heading to Washington, DC rather than the sunshine state of Florida. Some may view this as a step in the wrong direction, but I can only say the reasons why this is the greatest blessing I have ever received are numerous, and I am completely overjoyed! I humbly offer thanks to God and all of those who helped make it happen! I will be taking up residence in the Central Union Mission in downtown Washington (www.missiondc.org), and I will be participating in programs to help me continue to grow in my relationship with God, and I will be immersed in an environment of service to others. An environment I believe is one God Himself chose for me. Don Woodall (Diane’s husband), is very involved with the Mission and provided the link to Reverend David Howard, who is the director of the Spiritual Transformation program at the Mission. My sister Kathy spoke with the person who will be my new Probation Officer upon my release and was able to gain approval for the transfer, which will also serve to place me close to family members. Did I say I was blessed?

In making this move, I will be able to learn how to follow Christ OUTSIDE of this prison, and I will be able to focus on a life of service to other people. I have learned many valuable lessons while in prison. Some directly from God, through the Holy Bible; some from reading what others have written as daily inspiration in devotionals such as “Streams In The Desert”, “Our Daily Bread”, and “The Upper Room”; and I have learned many valuable lessons from the friendship of Diane, and the willingness of her husband and Reverend Howard to lend a hand to a stranger. I have prayed, meditated, walked and talked with God, and through it all, I have thanked Him for His gift to me of this person who is as important in my life as any person has ever been. Rising above all that I have learned is this: We can do the most to help ourselves, when we reach out to help another. You see, folks, this is what God intended all along. It’s not complicated or difficult.

Diane Woodall helped me to learn this, and other, valuable lessons and I am forever grateful. No one person has ever exhibited such kindness to me. It is an amazing thing to think about, and I do think about it often.

For those of you who think it is impossible for a severely broken human being to undergo a complete, and total, spiritual transformation, you simply do NOT know God! And for those of you who don’t believe that friendship, kindness, Christian love, generosity, and selflessness can contribute mightily to that transformation, you simply do NOT know Diane Woodall.

Diane, my dear, dear friend, may God bless each and every one of your days and show you the love, kindness, and compassion that you have shown me, increased 10, 20, 30…..a HUNDRED times!

“IMPOSSIBLE THINGS” by Tony Casson

“For nothing is impossible with God.” Luke 1:37 NLT

“Like stars across the sky, we were born to shine.” Andrea Bocelli – “Because We Believe”

“‘There’s no use trying,’ she said: ‘One CAN’T believe impossible things.'” Alice in “Through The Looking Glass” by Lewis Carroll

It was a little over 4 years ago I stood in front of that mirror in the bathroom of a run-down motel in south Florida staring with hatred at the person looking back at me. A few minutes later, I was lying on the floor of the shower stall, awaiting death. At that moment in time, it would have been impossible for me to imagine sitting here writing these words. The REASON for writing them would have appeared BEYOND impossible to me. I certainly would have shared Alice’s perspective.

I have mentioned repeatedly the pending publication of a book of daily devotionals I have written titled “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”. On the morning of December 27, I awoke to a message from my friend Diane Woodall informing me that she had completed the task she so selflessly took on for me almost 2 years ago. After typing, correcting, advising, and encouraging me for all that time, and after going through the process required to transform our combined work into an e-book, in the middle of an email she stated, simply, “You are now officially published.”

After the moment that was required for those words to sink in, I typed her an ecstatic reply, returned to my cell, closed my door, placed a pillow on the floor and fell to my knees (my knees are older than their years) where I broke down in tears of joy and thanks to God for His gift of this new life that enabled me to do something that a few short years ago would have seemed impossible to even contemplate, let alone attempt. I cried tears of thanks that God could transform me into someone who could care enough for others that I would want to write such a thing. I cried tears of joy for the forgiveness He has given me for a life not lived well, knowing that I will never live the same way again. I cried tears for my children. They were tears of thanks for what God has shown me I will be able to be for them in the future, but they were also tears that acknowledged the immense sadness for all that I was NOT for them in the past. I did not dwell on those failures of the past, I simply reminded myself of them as a part of the joyous celebration of THIS day, and the days that I look forward to remaining in my life.

Finally I cried tears of thanks to God for the woman who has devoted so much of her time to a man she has never even met because this is what God had led HER to do. God created the need in me, and led Diane to me to fill that need, and together we have made a formidable team for HIM. Don, her husband, is probably on HIS knees thanking God that it is over.

To say that I am humbled by Diane’s willingness to give so much of herself to projects that are important to me would be a gross understatement. To further state that I am humbled by the fact God would deem ME worthy of His love, forgiveness, mercy, and grace and help me see this vision come to pass would be an even greater one.

Each day truly is a Gift from God for each one of us. This book, “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, represents a giant step forward from where I once stood. Granted, it is just one step, but it most certainly is a HUGE one. There are many more steps to be taken in my life, and I look forward to taking them, one by one, led by God, and accompanied by individuals such as Diane.

The greatest gift we can ever give to ourselves is to live every waking moment of every day of our lives in a manner that is pleasing to God and reflects His character, His will, and His purpose. The greatest gift that we can give to another human being is the selfless gift of ourselves, which is what Diane Woodall has given me. She has helped me to learn a valuable lesson, and it is one I shall endeavor to always remember.

I now offer “TODAY IS….A Gift From God” to each and every person reading these words. It is not offered as the best compilation of devotions, thoughts, and meditations ever written. It is not offered as any sort of literary masterpiece. It is not offered as a solution to EVERY problem or situation that may be faced in life. No, my friends, it is not offered as any of these things. Instead, it is humbly offered as evidence of the Hope that lies with God for each and every living human being. It is offered as PROOF of the ability of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to wash away that which is evil in our lives and replace it with something that is renewed and restored when we accept Christ as our savior. It is offered, with love, as the living, breathing relationship with God that it represents by a man who realized late in life that the answers to all of the questions he could never find answers to were always within the sound of his voice. All it took to begin to find those answers, establish that relationship and produce this book as testimony TO that relationship were the simple words, “God, please forgive me.”

Impossible?

Not at all. It’s really quite simple, because NOTHING is impossible with God. NOTHING.

To preview “TODAY IS….A Gift From God”, click here http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00HKKL1RE

TODAY’S GIFT by Tony Casson

Time for another excerpt from the upcoming book, “Today Is….A Gift From God.” Today’s devotional is from December 25.

TODAY IS…

an awesome day to thank God for the greatest gift of all.

“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2:11 NIV

As the title of this book reminds us, each day is A Gift From God. The days of our lives are precious, each and every one. They hold out promise and hope. The days of our lives are among the most valuable of all gifts that God gives us, and there are many, as the devotionals in this book have attempted to demonstrate.

But the most precious gift ever given by the One who gave us this world in which to live, and our very lives with which to enjoy it, was the gift of His Son Jesus Christ, the One whose birth would change the world forever.

Zechariah used these beautiful words to describe the gift that the world would soon be given: “Because of God’s tender mercy, the morning light from heaven is about to break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, and to guide us to the path of peace.” (Luke 1:79 NLT). The morning has broken, and it is surely a beautiful day!

Jesus came to occupy our hearts, but it is not a forced occupation. We must want Him there, and we must seek the light that He will shine upon those dark areas of our souls that we would like to say good-bye to. We must desire the life that will come when we learn the savior’s lessons that will teach us to die to ourselves. We must volunteer to serve and be willing to sacrifice all that we are and all that we have in order to receive all that He came to give.

Hopefully we are all aware that we must thank God each and every day for all of His grace, all of His love, and all of His mercy. But on this day that has been set aside to mark the arrival of the most valuable gift ever given, we must all be sure to give special thanks to God.

With this gift in our possession, we can feed those who are hungry, clothe those who are naked, house those who are homeless, and heal those who are sick. With this gift we can refuse to fall prey to the temptations of Satan and those he has corrupted on this earth. With this gift we can live in a significant manner and we can understand the concept of humble service to our brothers and sisters.

By accepting this remarkable, priceless gift of love, we can be better spouses, better parents, better friends, and better neighbors.

Let us all humbly, gratefully, joyfully, and tearfully accept this gift and say “Thank You” to Almighty God.

*******

“THE MIRACLE OF HANDS” by Tony Casson

‘We are formed by your hands.”  Isaiah 64:8c NLT

‘Now join your hands, and with your hands, your heart.’  William Shakespeare

Hands.

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.

“12 PAGES” by Tony Casson

“Do not judge others, and you will not be judged.” Matthew 7:1 NLT

“That soul that can
Be honest is the only perfect man”
John Fletcher

Excited about the ever-approaching date of my release, and eager to join with others to share, build upon, and exercise my faith in God, I asked my ever-faithful friend, editor, and research assistant, Diane, to locate a church in Hollywood, Florida that I could reach out to.

“The Church” – as I shall refer to it – that she found online seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. Their website was proud of the fact that they were a Bible-based church, and listed were several “Statements Of Faith”, not the least of which was “The power of Christ to save men eternally from the penalty of sin….” (Romans 6:23)

“The Church’s” website included instructions on how to “Become A Christian”. The very first sentence stated that “The central theme of the Bible is God’s love for YOU AND FOR ALL PEOPLE.” (emphasis mine)

There was also a claim made that “We Are Sinful” and the Holy Bible was quoted to substantiate that claim: “For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God.” (Romans 3:23 NIV)

The website went on to list the many groups, activities and missions supported by “The Church”, and I noticed among them that they worked with another group that assisted inmates in Florida with Bible study courses. ” Wow! A prison ministry! I could be helpful there!” I thought.

“The Church listed contact information and a mailing address so I sat down and wrote a 12 page letter to one of the individuals listed.

It was not just any old letter. It was 12 painful pages of acknowledgement of my life of sin and full disclosure of the charges that put me in prison. It was 12 pages of truth about what I had done and how far I had allowed myself to sink into the clutches of sin. It was 12 long, painful pages that retraced the road to Hell that I was on and I recounted, once more, the horror of attempting to atone for that sinful life by attempting to end it.

Those 12 pages were difficult to write, but I felt the need to be totally upfront with the people of “The Church”. I felt confident that in acknowledging past mistakes, I would find acceptance among them. I felt that I would be welcomed.

Those 12 pages also held out my hope for understanding and compassion and I tried to include in those pages the things that I have been doing while in prison to fix what was broken and to work towards becoming the man God intended me to be from the beginning.

I shared my excitement at the discoveries I had made not only in the Bible, but within my own heart as well. I discussed things I had written in these Chronicles and I shared examples of how God had inspired me and guided me in the writing of “TODAY IS….A GIFT FROM GOD”.

In those 12 pages I tried to take responsibility for what I had done and demonstrate how I had changed. I quoted from one of my devotionals titled “TODAY IS….the perfect day to realize that anyone can change.” In that devotional I wrote, “But what if everyone were to embrace all of mankind with the same love that the Lord does? What if we all viewed the worst that society has to offer as having the potential to be the best that the world has ever seen?”

It was with a confident hope for a positive response that I placed those 12 pages into a large manila envelope along with 6 pages of my daily devotionals. I dropped it into the mailbox with the sure knowledge that I was taking a positive step towards building a life upon my release; a life totally different from the one that led to this prison.

As the weeks went by with no response at all, I began to become a little unsettled. “Perhaps he is sharing the whole package with the entire congregation. Maybe I will get 100 letters welcoming me into my new spiritual home!” The time kept passing and the letters never came. I began to see “The Church” in a different light.

After 2 months, my friend Diane emailed “The Church” on my behalf and received no response at all. My sister Kathy then called repeatedly and finally was able to speak to the man I had sent the 12 pages to. After all that time, he said he had just started to read it and would finish it “next week”. He said he would call her back.

That was several weeks ago and it has now been 3 months and one week since I optimistically mailed those 12 pages. There will be no further attempts on the part of myself or anyone else to contact “The Church”. Silence sometimes is extremely painful to one’s ears and heart, and I think this would qualify as one of those times. But I have prayed over this whole thing and I believe that I have come to understand the problem here. Most likely I could have saved myself a little time and trouble had I inquired in the beginning if “The Church” accepted IMPERFECT sinners or if they only accepted PERFECT ones.

You see, as one who is required to register as a sex offender, I suspect I fall into a category that makes me undesirable with some churches. I have been told that this is not uncommon; that there are many churches that have ‘standards’. As ridiculous as this sounds, and as absolutely contrary to every word in the Holy Bible that it IS, many churches only accept PERFECT sinners. This must be an oversight on the part of whoever put together the website for “The Church”. Perhaps that should be stated clearly…”PERFECT SINNERS ONLY”. That way those of us who are IMPERFECT sinners would not waste valuable time that they could be using ministering only to those who have sinned according to their standards.

Perhaps I need to run an ad in Craigslist. How about this:

“FREE TO GOOD SPIRITUAL HOME”

One VERY imperfect sinner. I am old, but I can learn new tricks.
I am housebroken, and can be useful in many ways. I can help minister
to the poor, feed the hungry, assist the elderly, and I can even cook.

I prefer to NOT do windows.

What do you think?

In the meantime, I will do this: I will pray to God for His forgiveness for “The Church”. I will ask Him to help them to grow in their understanding of what He expects from those who claim to work in His name.

And I will thank Him for loving me, IMPERFECT sinner that I am, and for giving me His promise of a future and a hope. I will also thank Him for the life He gave me that I tried to end so senselessly, and for the ability to write the 12 pages that I wrote knowing that I have HIS approval, His forgiveness, His mercy, and HIS love.

God bless you all.