"An Inside Perspective"

December 2008

My dear family in Christ,

Ever-precious greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ! Well, we thank our great God and King for another year gone by. For me personally, it is another step closer to home in a two-fold sense. It is another year off of my sentence, and thus, closer to my earthly home. Also, it is another year of my life, and thus, I am closer to my final home in Heaven!

The end of the year is always a good time for us to have a heartfelt reflection of our own progress, or perhaps, regress in our walk with the Lord. I say "with" the Lord, as opposed to "in" the Lord to remind us of the relational import of our salvation. Salvation is all about our lives bringing glory to God through our walk "with" the Lord, and our walk "with" men.

This will be my eighteenth Christmas in a prison cell. To quote another much wiser than I, "These are the best of times and the worst of times." It was in a small, dark, dirty prison cell where the blood-stained hand of grace reached out to me in the final dregs of my sin. It was the holy Lamb of God in all His blessed humility that found me wallowing in sin and guilt, who spoke to my heart and said, "Come unto me . . ." A greater invitation hath no man ever heard! Thank you Lord!!

In prison we live off memories. They are warm to us and well suited to lonely outcast hearts. I will always remember my mother's home during the Christmas season. It was a place of love sprinkled with the joy of the season. Mom always loved the Christmas songs and now she loves the Lord of the songs!

In fact, every year, I am warmly reminded of my mother by my son Carlos. He has been in the cell with me for the last eight Christmas'. Every year Carlos will undoubtedly find the first radio station with full-time Christmas songs on it. He will then, with great delight, listen to them non-stop right through the holidays. I jokingly play the scrooge and tell him, "It is not even Thanksgiving yet boy!" In truth, it reminds me of the loving warmth of my mother's home as I grew up.

We are blessed to be allowed to receive a food-package around Christmas time and it's one thing we all look forward to with great anticipation. We're given a list that we can choose from and it always contains way more than we are permitted to order. Carlos and I always make a whole night out of making our selections. We each get on our bunks with our lists in our hands and then, slowly and methodically, we go through every item, one by one, salivating as we go. All the while, trying to remember "what tastes like what," and "which we might like best," but mostly, "can we get that one and this one too?" (smile)

As I speak of food I am reminded of my mother's holiday cooking. All of mom's cooking was "out of this world," but on the holidays, it was extraordinary! I can still see and smell the table in my sanctified memory! (smile) The sweets were especially tasty and there always seemed to be something new that I had to try. Yes, I was most happily mom's special guinea pig! The greatest of all jobs for a kid!

With those memories in my heart and the knowledge that Carlos had come from a very broken family, I have always tried to give him a special sense of family. Not an easy task in prison but I have worked very hard at it. Sister Debbie has lovingly embraced him as her very own son with great joy as only she can do. Also, my family has loved and accepted Carlos completely.

I try to time the arrival of the food-package with Christmas so that we can have a very special meal together. I save up cardboard and glue it together cross-grained, three-ply, until I have a three by four solid rectangle. I then cover it with typing paper, gluing it on very meticulously. Finally, I cover it with clear packing tape. Next, I put the board between two storage containers, covering it with a tablecloth made from a sheet, and wha-la, we have our dinner table! When the food-package comes I will spend a few days cooking everything "just right" in my cook-pots. The smells envelope the cell and the palate is teased with anticipation. Finally, the day comes and all is made ready. The father and the son sit at opposite ends of "our" family table, and we bow our heads. With our hearts filled with gratitude we then thank the Lord that "in Christ" even our cell can be a home, by the grace of God.

On a side-bar note of humor, Carlos used to play the tough guy and always ask, "Why do we have to do this?" And I would always say, "We are going to have a family meal." We would fellowship and eat, and I knew later, he would understand better. Last year, you may remember that he was mistakenly moved to a prison down south for a few months. Well, guess what he said when he wrote to me? He said, "Dad, do you know what I missed most of all?" I thought, "What, my son?" and he said, "I miss our 'family meals'!" Beloved, enjoy your homes, appreciate your fellowship and have a . . .

"Merry Christmas --- I love you all!"

Joyfully in Jesus,