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 (, 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!

Man Imprisoned, Man Freed.

We are steadily approaching what will hopefully be my dad’s release from Oakdale, and many days I consider the journey. I admit, I smile.

Many years ago there was a man who did what he could. He had a house, some work, a son and a growing relationship with a long-lost daughter. He had dreams of creating. He had many things that, when stacked against the idea of imprisonment, were considered highly favorable. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

Several years ago there was the same man. Still with a son, and a rocky but existent relationship with his daughter. He barely had a home, and he had recently lost his parents. He fixed and cleaned filthy objects and was once attacked by someone while working, but he had a job. He lived in a sunny environment, albeit amidst financial poverty. He had dreams of improvement and then of creating. And still, when stacked against the idea of longterm imprisonment, he had some favorable conditions. But because of delusions, these conditions were contaminated.

A few years ago there was the same man. But imprisoned. Cut in many ways from the world outside an institution built for punishment; a place that, when stacked against the outer world, had terrible conditions. But because of a release from delusions, these conditions were purified.

For those of you wonderful readers who have followed this story over the weeks, months, years, you see it too. For those of you new ones, you will see it soon. You will feel, “Which of the men were imprisoned, and which of the men were freed?”

When I consider my father, I am not disturbed by his situation as others may think I am — have thought I am. Ordinary appearance reveals a human being who had freedom and was then locked away; ordinary appearance reveals ugliness and sadness. And yet there is neither ugliness nor sadness.

There remains only beauty and joy and hope and inspiration. And internal freedom for a very worthy individual.

“MY SON IS MY SUN” by Tony Casson

“And you yourself must be an example to them by doing good works of every kind. Let everything you do reflect the integrity and seriousness of your teaching.”  Titus 2:7 NLT

“Old people like to give good advice, as solace for no longer being able to provide bad examples.”  Francois, Duc de la Rochefoucauld
“Reflections, maxim 93”

“The difference between the ALMOST right word and the RIGHT word is really a large matter – It’s the difference between the lightening bug and the lightening.”  Mark Twain “Letter To George Bainton”

Today is my Son’s birthday.

Mark Twain was right. Finding the right word – or words – IS a big deal. On my Daughter’s birthday, on July 13, I stumbled through the logjam of thoughts and emotions that clogged my mind, and my heart, and I searched for words that might help another father understand a little better exactly what is at risk when we fail to live up to the tremendous responsibility that becomes ours the first moment we hold our Daughters and gaze upon their innocence.

The responsibility of fatherhood is just as great when a Son is born, even though it is different. I have arrived at this way of looking at those responsibilities: We should, first and foremost, be fierce protectors of our children. But for a daughter, we should live as clear examples of the kind of man we would want our Daughter to marry; for a son, we should live as clear examples of the kind of man we want our Son to BE.

On the surface, this is a simple goal, but it is much more difficult to accomplish than most of us would care to admit. I have learned these last 3+ years that it is ONLY with God’s guidance that we can accomplish either objective, no matter what anyone may say to the contrary.

That is a lesson I have learned from God. And it is a lesson that I pray ALL men learn.

Lessons come hard for me, it seems. But from the pain of that thing which I allowed to keep me separate from my Daughter for so many years, I learned that holding, hugging, kissing, and saying “I love you” DAILY to a child to whom one has given life is the GREATEST responsibility of fatherhood. It is an undeniable fact that I have failed my Son in many ways, just as I have failed my daughter, but I did not fail in that. He is as precious to me today as he was that very first time I held him. So is my Daughter, but the difference is that Anthony KNOWS this in his heart.

Nonetheless, even though I failed them in many – and different – ways, I am NOT a failure. Had I died on that shower floor four years ago, I WOULD have failed. Miserably. But God intervened and now I can live the rest of my life as an example of the kind of man I should be to BOTH my children.

That said, let me point out that we can learn FROM our children as well, and I have learned from both of mine.

I would like to share with you a poem written for Anthony’s day:


My Son is my sun,
His love shines every day.
I would like to be like him
In every way.

I know what you’re thinking,
“It’s backward!” you shout;
It’s ME I should want HIM
To be all about.

But you have to know US
To know that it’s true;
Our Sons can teach fathers
A lesson or two.

And if he is teaching
A good thing to ME,
Then he’s grown into the man
That I want HIM to be.

As most of us are aware – some of us painfully so – life can offer up unpleasant moments. It is important that we not take our eyes off of God during these times of unpleasantness. As long as we are focused on Him, we needn’t worry about being anything BUT an example for our children to follow, and for them to be proud of.

May God bless you all, and Anthony, my sun – Have a Happy Birthday!