When I brought Josh home from the hospital, the very first trip we made was to our church. I’d never seen him so excited to go anywhere. And it wasn’t easy to go – loading him up in the wheelchair and transferring to my yukon was a HUGE and dangerous task each time. He was in really bad shape then. We went for 3 Sundays before he said to me, “I’m not going anymore.” I remember being confused and even a little angry with him. I wondered if it was the brain damage – perhaps he didn’t understand how IMPORTANT it was for us to go to church. Nearly three years later I feel like such a fool for even thinking that I might know the way to God better than Josh could’ve…. that I might know ANYTHING about what he needed or what the Lord was doing in his life. If I had a penny for every-time I should’ve stayed out of God’s way… well there’d probably be no more pennies left on this Earth.
Recently, my good friend took over a prison ministry. She engaged me, asking if we’d like to adopt an inmate as penpals – to minister to them. She told me how amazing I would be at this based on my close relationship with Jesus. So, Josh, me and Kenna said “yes.” I took on 2 inmates and with great care I whipped out my best writing skills to preach to these prisoners through my writing. I was very confident in myself through this project – reminding myself that I’d spent nearly every hour of everyday becoming an expert in biblical things and if anyone could help these inmates, it was me… right?
I finished my letter and then asked Josh for his. To my surprise, he was done with it. I didn’t even help Josh write his letter (this is pretty amazing to those who know his medical prognosis).. Anyway, It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read and ironically it was the FIRST TIME Josh has testified of what happened to him to anyone. Sure, he tells people what happened to him on the outside. But this letter he wrote to his inmate tied the outside to what happened to him inside. My husband has never read the bible (I do mean NEVER) and as I read his letter to his inmate, I saw in his testimony the Word of God revealed with understanding that most modern theologians lack. Where does such “unlearned” wisdom come from? And ya know what’s amazing? With all my biblical jargon and creative words, my letters didn’t hold a candle next to His. Puzzling right?… but anyway… moving on..
Last week I was pretty upset and wasn’t even really sure why. Well, I do know why, but I hate to talk about it. You see, I want to go to a church on Sundays. I want to belong to a family of believers in my community and I want for me and Josh and the kids to have fellowship with others who follow Christ. But, it’s not worked out that way. Kenna and I have visited probably close to 20 churches over the last few years. The few that we thought may work out for us, we couldn’t get Josh to go with us… One church in particular we finally pressured him into visiting with us. After one sermon he very bluntly said, “Don’t ask me to go back there again because I’m not.” I didn’t put much faith in Josh’s decision making skills and honestly I was upset with him for not wanting to be part of church services with us. Funny how I’m the one that the Lord had to shake up on this subject. Well, not just me but my daughter too. Anyway, there I was feeling sad again because it was Sunday morning and I was sitting at the bar drinking coffee instead of worshiping the Lord with my family – singing songs.. I tried to watch a few online sermons and once again felt the sadness of the “shake up” the Lord had walked me through before. I know I’m not supposed to seek salvation through another’s words. I know that this thing we do is not what Jesus had in mind when he said we need to pick up our cross and follow Him. But, still I feel lonely in my walk sometimes (on the outside). Later that afternoon my good friend called and we were talking about the Lord – talking about what I was feeling – the sadness in the hypocrisy of my own desires and how alienated I feel from this so-called “Christian” thing we do here in the US. She said, “both of your inmates have written you back”. I said, “awesome, read them to me.” If I gave details, it still wouldn’t express the absolute shock of what I experienced as she read me those letters. The very questions I had just asked her – outwardly sharing how I feel and what I don’t understand about what God’s doing in my life… – those questions were answered in these letters from these inmates who had no idea what I was struggling with internally. To sum this up as bluntly as I know how to, I found Jesus in prison last Sunday. He’s there. Just as HE SAID he would be.
Mathew 25: 36-40 — I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’
You see, I thought I could help them. I thought I was doing God a favor in sharing all of the wisdom He’d given me over recent years to minister to these men who’ve made horrible mistakes, ended up in prison and are in desperate need of HOPE. I could help them…. I thought.. Within the few sentences in reading my first inmate return letter it was utterly clear to me that this man who wrote this letter was closer to the Lord than I am on my best day. Better yet, He’s a vessel writing words directly FROM THE LORD.
You know why we’re cheated when we think highly of ourselves? You know why we’re cheated when we write-off “good works” as participating in some sort of organizational program to help the homeless, sick and imprisoned? Because HE’S NOT in that stuff… and I’m not saying we shouldn’t help people, I’m saying these aren’t people when we follow the example He gave. He wants us to visit HIM, (not the vessel of the prisoner or the body laying sick), that’s just a vessel that HE does and will use to bless our hearts (not the other way around). HE’S IN THERE – LITERALLY and most certainly spiritually. We aren’t the gift. HE IS. And why is it I’m so blind that I can’t see the irony in these passages that I would so pridefully exalt myself above someone sick or in prison – thinking I could do ANYTHING for them. When Jesus said HE IS THEM.
We’re only a few letters in and I’ve seen God three times so far….. Once in Josh’s letter and twice in the responses of my inmates. I’ve been looking for God in all the wrong places. Tearfully, humbled on this day.