The Good Inside

Over the past few weeks I asked about twenty fellow inmates the following question: 

What’s the best thing about being inside and/or this location specifically? 

I asked because I wanted to write a posting saying something like, “It’s Not All Bad Inside.”  I thought that by asking others I’d hear perspective and views differing from my own.  What surprised me was that all the responses fell into one of three categories, each garnering about one third of the total.

The first category is:

“There’s nothing good about being inside or at this location.” 

Even when I pressed them to be more thoughtful they couldn’t come up with any positives about being here, inside.  Perhaps this response isn’t surprising on its own however it came from some of the people I’d thought were most pragmatic about their incarceration.  Don’t misunderstand, I’d rather not be here either, yet I am and I try to make the most of it.  When I fall into this line of thinking it slows time down and makes this experience more burdensome.

The next category is:

“It’s relatively violence free here.” 

I’m at a low security institution and I’d have to agree with this assessment.  It’s not that I haven’t witnessed, or heard of, fights but you generally don’t have to be constantly looking over your shoulder to know who’s behind you.  You do have to be aware of your surroundings but as long as you keep your nose clean you’re relatively safe – it is still a prison and you’re still dealing with people who may have been violent in their past.  One person even described this location as, “A highly dysfunctional community college campus.”  I don’t think I can agree in total but it is highly dysfunctional here. 

These first two categories made me think of all the people in the world, maybe billions, who would gladly trade places with we inmates – the homeless, the hungry, those in war torn countries, and those without sanitation or safe drinking water.  Would they say there’s nothing good here inside?  And wouldn’t they appreciate the lack of violence?

The final category is:

“Time is the best thing wherever you’re imprisoned.” 

Time to reflect and be introspective.  Time to look at your own history and envision a new future.  Time in these ways is the school of thought I think is indeed the best thing about living in exile.

My040 The Good Inside
Photo by Murray Campbell on Unsplash

When I was on the outside I took time to think but I concentrated on worldly things like material belongings, money, success, and feeding my addiction.  It’s not that I didn’t ever think about the truly important things in life like family, faith, and health but it was out of balance.  I thought too much about the former and too little about the latter.

It took being stripped of all the good things in my life to show me where I should have been focusing my thoughts and introspective time.  Now I can say without hesitation that there’s nothing more important than my faith, family, and health.  Think on it a while and I’m sure you’ll find this to be true for you as well.  I know it seems obvious that these are the important things in life but if we’re honest with ourselves we’d admit that we let other less important items cloud our thinking and take our eyes off the truly critical facets of life.

Keep your eyes on the true prizes of life.  ~jdoe

Roots of Faith?

I know in my mind and have faith in my heart that Jesus was born, died, and rose in triumph over sin that I may have eternal salvation.  I also know in my mind and have faith in my heart that God is active in my life every moment of every day.

Yet, my active involvement in my faith has changed.  I can attach this change to my starting medication to address the hallucinations I have and the depression I battle.

This brings into mind a question: 

What, if any, link exists between psychometric drugs and faith?

My040 Roots of Faith.jpg
Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

My first reaction was there is no connection between psychometric drugs and faith, after all my belief in Christ as Lord and Savior remains solidly planted in my heart and mind.  But that’s not what changed.  So I needed to look more closely at what I felt had changed, that is, my active involvement in my faith; those things that bring faith into practice as praise and worship.

I feel I still live as a Christian – loving God with all my heart, soul and mind and loving my neighbor as myself.  (Mark 12:30-31)

I’m still attending church and singing in the choir.  But… other things I used to do like praying the rosary, reading the bible, and privately praying three times daily have turned into occasional activities.  Also, participation in the choir has turned into work and no longer fulfills me. (I must add here that there are also other issues with choir that feed my ambivalence.)

To answer the question of linkage between my medication and active participation in my faith I had to look at the roots of that which drives participation beyond attending church.

I feel I can eliminate the antidepressant as the cause of change.  I was once on antidepressants while on the street (outside this prison) and experienced a positive impact on practicing my faith by becoming more involved, not less.

Yet, what of the anti-hallucinogen?

I’ve learned, through work with psychologists, that hallucinations can spring from the part of the brain associated with creativity.  Once I learned that, it became easier to deal with those hallucinations the medication had not driven away.  But the implication is clear:  If the anti-hallucinogen quiets the creative center of the brain then how I see and feel and participate in my faith is indeed connected to the creative center in my brain.

This brings a new question:

Do I see negative impacts on other creative activates undertaken?

Absolutely YES!

My writing for this blog has become challenging and for my short stories has ceased altogether.  Also, the journaling I did on a regular basis has stopped.  Next, my passion around music has waned to the point that I don’t care to sing anymore.  Finally, and most importantly, I’ve found that I can no longer envision a future for myself once released from prison; from exile.

In summary then, all the creative activities that were alive in me have withered or died just as my active participation in my faith has also all but ended.

So a third question now arises: 

What role does the creative center of the brain play in one’s faith?

I once took the MMPI (Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory) survey and scored 100% for both schizophrenia and delusional disorder.  I recall a fair number of questions around belief in an omnipotent entity (God).

Apparently, I’m not the first person to see a direct link between one’s faith and the workings of the mind – the creative mind.  The implication of that survey is that your faith is something manufactured by your mind as opposed to a belief, a knowing really, in an all-encompassing deity.  And aren’t hallucinations and delusional beliefs manufactured by the mind?

This suggests then that the part of the brain that creates hallucinations and delusional beliefs also creates faith, or at least some portion thereof.

It’s a scary thought really – that my faith is no more real than a short story written for pleasure.

Where does this leave me? 

With more questions than answers.

What to do?  I’ve decided to adopt an attitude of “just do it’ and renew, even if by habit, my participation in praying the rosary, thrice daily prayer times, and reading the bible daily.  My hope is that by doing these things as tasks I will rekindle the part of me that carried these actions as an integral part of my faith practice.

I’m curious.  I’d like to know if any of you that are on psychometric medication have seen a change in how your creative self manifests.  Am I alone in seeing a direct link between the creative center of the mind and faith?

I look forward to hearing from you.  ~jdoe

Sketches, Reflections of Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Sketches Reflections of Father's Day

This is jdoe’s lil-sis.

I have been reflecting and sketching out memories, thoughts.   Sparked by father’s day and receiving the most recent blog written by my brother (to be posted next time).  The blog post talks about the impact jdoe’s illness and medication has had on him recently – and in it he talks about having lost his ability to see his future.

The quote that ended jdoe’s last post, and opens mine asks “Who needs fathers?” … We all need fathers.  Our earthly father that God blessed us with, and our Heavenly Father God.

We lost our father earlier this year, so the months that have followed have found us with twisted heart when we read a card or letter from our Mom, now only signed ‘love Mom.’  Or the fact that we didn’t have to shop and send a father’s day card.  Our father for many years prior to his passing was locked in a prison of his own;  one that left him unable to walk, remember, and eventually talk.  For several years Dad was ever there, but darkening – his sun was setting.  This relationship we had with our father is not unlike the relationship my brother now has with his children.  My brother is locked in exile, physically removed from day to day family life and restricted in communication.  Yet, there is a fundamental difference – he is still fully available, and has life to look forward to – a new dawn over the horizon.

I thought I’d write this week’s post, remind my brother jdoe of the vibrant future that lies in-front of him with a strong family that he helped to build.  Remind him of the person he is.

Do you remember these words, bro?  Below is from an excerpt from an email I sent my brother a couple years back – I’d like to focus on the “Father” in him…

I thought about you a lot today.  And I was thinking, I cannot even start to imagine what it feels like to walk in your shoes.  All the feelings and experiences that lay behind you.  Looking out over what looks like very rocky ground infront of you. 

Then I started thinking about the man standing in those shoes, You, jdoe. 

This is the man I see standing in your shoes…

A devoted son, brother, friend, and father.  You have a deep well of love for family, friends, even strangers. 

A man that has raised four great children that have turned into wonderful, loving, hard working, respectful, fun, adults. You instilled family, just look how your kids like to be around each other. 

Your love for jane is deep and strong, obvious to anyone who sees the two of you together.  What an amazing example the two of you have set for your children and others.

Someone whom I, and others, look to for sound advice. 

Someone whom I, and others, can trust. 

You know what to say, and how to say it. 

Intelligent, hardworking, and dedicated to anything you put your head and heart into.  Through your daily demonstration, your children now also live these characteristics out.

Someone who has learned from his mistakes, and grown better from them.  Who now shares his experiences in hopes to help others.

You have a contagious smile and laugh, spreading joy and light.  Fun and playful, wise and thoughtful.

You are a talented artist, with cars, music, stories, painting rooms (lol), re-upholstering, well just about everything you touch.  You are willing to share your knowledge with those willing to learn.

You are thoughtful, tender and compassionate, strong and firm. 

A gentleman, kind and respectful.

Spiritual, believer.

Love Thou jdoe ~lilsis

Happy Father’s Day

“Who needs fathers?  We all do.  We especially need our Father in heaven, who forgives our parenting inadequacies for Jesus’ sake and who enables us each day with a fresh start.  Just as the loving father in Luke’s gospel welcomed home his lost son, our Father will one day welcome us into heaven together with all others who love and trust in Jesus.” 

~ Dr. Rodney Rathmann

My040 Fathers Day

Happy Father’s Day to all the Dads

Happy Father’s Day to “My Old Man” 

Lyrics and Song by The Zac Brown Band

He was a giant
When I was just a kid
I was always trying
To do everything he did
I can still remember every lesson he taught me
Growing up learning how to be like my old man

He was a lion
We were our father’s pride
But I was defiant
When he made me walk the line
He knew how to lift me up
And when to let me fall
Looking back, he always had a plan
My old man

My old man
Feel the callous on his hands
And dusty overalls
My old man
Now I finally understand
I have a lot to learn
From my old man

Now I’m a giant
Got a son of my own
He’s always trying
To go everywhere I go
Do the best I can to raise him up the right way
Hoping that he someday wants to be
Like his old man

My old man
I know one day we’ll meet again
As he’s looking down
My old man
I hope he’s proud of who I am
I’m trying to fill the boots of my old man

My old man

 

Memorial Day Prayer

My040 Memorial Day Prayer

Every year we lose brave women and men and add hundreds of veterans to our nation’s roll call. These fine people do what they do for love of country and for love of their fellow countrymen. We are indeed blessed to have each and every one of them stand up for freedom and human rights around the globe. Please say an extra prayer this weekend for those lost, those who continue to battle on and those who have come home to rest.

Amazing Grace, My Chains Are Gone

Lyrics Chris Tomlin

Through countless dangers, doubts and fears
I have already come
God’s Grace has brought me safely here
And Grace will lead me home
My chains are gone
I’ve been set free
My God, my Savior has ransomed me
And like a flood His mercy reigns
Unending love, amazing grace

 

Be Selfish In Prayer

My life is sort of like “Groundhog Day,” so when I realized this weekend was Mother’s Day I also realized an opportunity lost in not writing a post for Mother’s Day.   When my sister reminded me what this weekend’s post was about, we realized that it was perfect.  Mothers, just like Jabez, need to be bold and selfish in prayer.   Happy Mothers Day.

My040 Be Selfish In Prayer

I’ve been thinking that my prayers are too selfish.  I’m always asking God for guidance and blessings, protection and strength to resist temptation; especially strength for as an addict it’s easy to let my mind wander where it shouldn’t and become weak.  I feel I do a really good job in my rejection of temptation but I also feel I’m able to do so due to God’s hand upon me.

Recently, I began to wonder about my method of prayer and whether or not there was a better way to ask for God’s blessings and support.  So I asked the Priest here at the prison and he replied, “Pray like Jabez.”  I asked him who Jabez was and he said to find Jabez in my Bible.  I searched by consulting my concordance and I found that Jabez is mentioned only one time, and it’s in 1 Chronicles 4:9-10.

Have you read 1 Chronicles?  If not then you need to know that the first nine chapters trace the genealogy of man from Adam to Israel’s return from captivity; a time span of thousands of years.  1 Chronicles Chapters 1 through 9 is boring to read and many (most?) people skip these chapters, as I did, and miss the single person called out for his cry to God for a strong life.  Jabez, and only Jabez, is the focus of the author’s only record beyond the genealogical record.  One must ask, “Why?”

First we need to understand Jabez’s name.  Names in Biblical times often predicted the life’s achievements of individuals.  For example Soloman means peace, which is appropriate as Soloman was the first King of Israel to reign without war.  So what does Jabez mean?  It means ‘pain,’ or more literally, ‘he causes (or will cause) pain.  Jabez’s mother named him such saying, “I gave birth to him in pain.”  What a way to live life!  Can you imagine living in Biblical times with a name that predicts you’ll cause, or have already caused, pain?  Knowing this, one might wonder how Jabez won the only spotlight in the first name chapters of 1 Chronicles.

The answer is in the way Jabez prayed!

1 Chronicles 4:10 reads

Jabez cried out to the God of Israel, “Oh that you would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that your hand would be with me, and that you would keep me from evil so that I will be free from pain.”  And God granted his request.

Note that last word, “pain.”  To include his name’s meaning in his prayer underlines the importance of one’s name in Biblical times, and the belief that one’s name predicted their life’s outcome.

Jabez asked for four things:

That God bless him

That God enlarge his territory

That God would keep his hand upon him

That he be protected from evil

It all sounds like good things to pray for.  It’s when you look behind these four requests that Jabez’s wisdom becomes more evident.

First, he asks to be blessed ‘indeed.’  In these times, adding indeed to a prayer was like our adding exclamation points at the end of a sentence – a form of almost demanding to be blessed.  It also means that the request is honest and almost pleading; a pseudo command.  Jabez was not afraid of sounding selfish in his prayer for blessings – he was bold in his request!

Second, he asks for his territory to be enlarged.  At first look it sounds like he was asking for more land property – a literal translation in our culture today but not in the times of this writing.  Jabez was asking God to increase the size of his ministry.  Jabez was also asking God to provide all that was needed in order for Jabez to achieve the new, added, work God would ask of him.  In other words, Jabez was asking God to use in him a greater capacity than what He was using Jabez at the moment of this prayer – it could be translated to say, “Give me more to do for you O God.”  Again, not selfish but bold.

Next he asks for God’s hand to be with him through it all.  In this Jabez acknowledging that he could not achieve his new objectives without God’s help.  Jabez was saying, “Work through me to the glory of you, my God.”  Jabez was telling God that he wanted to be God’s instrument of glory.  Jabez did not want to become great, Jabez wanted God to become great through Jabez.  Again, not selfish but bold.

Finally, Jabez asks that God help him to maintain a blessed life by protecting him from evil.  Jabez knew there’s evil in the world and that those working to do God’s work would come under attack by that evil.  Again Jabez was acknowledging he couldn’t do it without God’s glorious help.  As bold as Jabez was in his first three requests he was equally humble in asking for God’s help and protection.  It could be translated, “I’ll do all I can, O God, help me with the rest.”

My learning from this is that maybe God wants us to be “selfish” in our payers by asking Him to use us for His greater glory.  Maybe I’m not being selfish after all.

There are people who believe that by praying this simple prayer daily that they will, and do, see God moving in their lives more obviously every day.

I’m willing to try, are you?  Please join me.  ~jdoe

Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged

Today’s Daily Bible Daily Verse:   “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.  Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:37-38

law book and gavel

And now an entry from the “I’m Only Human” file:

I’m judgmental.  I know I am and I’m working to change but it’s hard!  I’m finding that some parts of me I’m working to change are taking more effort and time than others.

“Who am I to judge,” I ask myself yet when I see multiple people display a frustrating behavior I’d find myself feeling somehow superior because I’d never act that way – until I caught myself doing exactly what I’d just condemned in others actions.

For example:  The rule in here is that you cannot stop and gather to socialize on the walkways of the main compound.  Yet people do it all the time and what’s really annoying is they do it in the middle of the walkway where people are trying to pass.  So a bottleneck occurs which causes people to bump into each other or everything just stops.

I think to myself, “Why can’t these people congregate on the sides of the walkways or better yet, wait until they’re in the rec yard where socializing is encouraged?”

It’s as I think my thought of superiority because I’m not stopping in the middle of traffic to talk that someone stops me to chat and there I am doing the same thing – blocking traffic.

Of course it doesn’t occur to me that I’m guilty of the ‘bad’ behavior until I mediate at the end of the day.  At that time I examine my day fully and stumble through my day of very human actions.  And I swear to curb my judgmental way.

Until the next day.

The worst part of acknowledging my nature is having to admit how like all the other people I encounter I really am.  I want to be better than I am which for a judgmental person equate to thoughts of being better than others – something the Bible warns us not to think and believe.

Sometimes I’ll try to feel  better about myself by saying something like, “I may block traffic but at least I don’t do it daily.” HA!  How self-righteous can I be?!?

So I’m working to become more humble and a whole lot less judgmental.

In Matthew 7:1-2 we’re told, “Do not judge, or you to will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

I pray I’m not judged by my ‘perfect’ expectations of others for I would fail miserably.  Instead I pray I am judged by my desire to be closer to ‘perfect.’

How will you be judged?

~jdoe

Beulah Land

My040 Beulah Land

Beulah Land

Written by Edgar Page Stites

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

I’m kind of homesick for a country
Where I’ve never been before
No sad goodbyes will there be spoken
For time won’t matter anymore

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

I’m looking now across the river
Where my faith is going to end in sight
There’s just a few more days to labor
Then I’ll take my heavenly flight

Beulah Land, I’m longing for you
And some day on thee I’ll stand
There my home shall be eternal
Beulah Land – Sweet Beulah Land

One of my favorite versions is sung by Casting Crowns: https://youtu.be/12OWe8bC30w

~jdoe

Living Consumed

My wife recently sent an email with a quote she found on the internet (she always sends me great quotes and scripture!).  The quote reads:

“What consumes your mind controls your life” – unknown

My040 Living Consumed

I’ve been on a trip of life changes and so I took time to ponder how I measure myself against this quote.

On the surface it is easy to say that the wisdom within this quote is obvious, and perhaps it is.  It was when I was honest with myself that I found I wasn’t consuming my mind with the best things.

I’d allowed myself to let anxieties and fears over the future to replace much of my time in God’s Word.  I haven’t been keeping my promise to God to read his word every day.

I chose other compensatory behaviors:  Reading western novels (Hey don’t judge me Ha! Ha! Ha!) and ‘napping’ for hours.  Both allowed me escape the relatives of my exile.  Instead, I should have been losing myself in scripture to reinforce God’s love and protection.  If you’re going to distract yourself with something, be sure it’s a healthy something, right?

I’m not saying that I shouldn’t lead a balanced a life as possible.  I still read novels (I’ve now branched out into thrillers and mysteries!) and nap (for 20 to 30 minutes) but I find that bringing God’s Word back into my daily life brings a comfort I’d forgotten.

I’ve also begun to consider daily how I measure up against that quote and I’ve been surprised at how easy it is to become consumed with life’s little things.  For me, some of life’s little things here in prison can be daunting.  Things like guys spitting on the sidewalk instead of the grass and not holding doors open for the physically challenged and talking loudly in the library and and and… Things that in reality are annoyances that I can deal with by ignoring.   Those behaviors, after-all, they don’t directly impact me.

The most surprising thing to come of living by that quote is how much more pleasant and easy life is.  Eliminating the negative and replacing it with the positive is empowering.

Be empowered!  Join me in living consumed by the Spirit.

~jdoe

Raise Your Voice

My040 Raise Your Voice

I’m in the Catholic choir.  I love to sing and my praises to God.  I find singing to be the form of praise I best relate to.  I joined the choir about a month after arriving here.  We’re not professionals by any means but we do a pretty good job.

But I struggle with motivation when it comes to practice.  I go but I don’t want to.  It’s not that I’m so good that I don’t need the time to polish up the hymns either.

I feel almost petty when I talk about my reasons for wanting to skip practice.  Yet I feel there’s some validity in what I’m thinking and feeling.  It’s not just one thing either, it’s a list of issues that, when added up, push me to my limits of patience.  Practice becomes something I endure rather than something immersive I float within.

So what are a few of the issues?

We waste a lot of time.  In addition to the singing done every mass (Amen, Alleluia, Our Father, Agnus Dei, etc) there are only four songs to practice yet it takes three and a half hours to get through them.  Anyone who attends Catholic mass will tell you that there’s a limited number of songs to choose from so songs are constantly ‘recycled’.  This means we’re practicing songs we’ve sung dozens of times before.  The director will have us practice songs we’re not going to use – ever.  If I wanted to participate in a sing-a-long I’d join one of the prison bands.

There is a power struggle between the actual choir director and an individual who thinks he’s the choir director.  This leaves the singers caught between the two men when trying to follow directions given during practice.  We then wait while the two guys iron out what we are going to do.

The thing that bothers me most though is the inappropriate language and humor.  Just once I’d like to get through practice without sexual jokes or innuendos.  Just once I’d like to get through practice without the ‘F-bomb’ being dropped a dozen times.  After all, aren’t we a Christian choir?  Shouldn’t we respect God in His house?  Can’t we rise above these things for the time we’re together?

I could go on for another ten issues but I think you get the point.

“So, why don’t you quit?” may be what you’re thinking.

I feel like I’d be throwing away one of God’s gifts to me – an ability to sing.  I’ve thrown away so many of the other gifts He’s given me that I realize I can’t keep doing that – He gives us only so many, right?

I feel I’d also be turning away from the way in which my praise affects me the most – in song.  It’s said that when you sing praise it’s like you’ve prayed twice.  I like that.

Finally, practically speaking, there are only so many things to do in prison.  Finding ways to fill your time is not easy.  One can only read or write so much.

I wonder if I’m the only choir member to feel as I do.  I’ve not approached other members because I don’t want to cause issues.  On the surface, based upon others’ behaviors, I’d guess I am alone.

So I prayed and meditated and I was lead to two bits of scripture.

The first is the parable of “The Widow’s Offering” in Luke 21:1-4.  In this parable we learn of a poor old woman who gives her last two copper coins to the temple treasure as her gift.  She does this without regard for how she will live except in faith that God will provide.  I figure that if she can give everything she had then I can give my time and my voice and put up with the frustrations.  After all, I’m still better off than that poor widow.

The second is Romans 5:3-4 which tells us that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.  I look at this as a lesson I have to learn.  Perseverance, character, and hope are all worth cultivating, right?

Beyond scripture, Lent is upon us.  During Lent we are to fast.  Fasting is sacrifice.  Most people associate fasting with giving up food or some other enjoyable thing or bad habit.  This year Pope Francis gave us other ideas – a list of eleven actually.  Two of these suggestions fit my situation perfectly.

The first is to fast from complaints and instead to contemplate simplicity.  How much simpler would my participation in choir be if I could put aside my complaints?  How much less emotional energy would I expend without concentrating on the negatives?

The second idea from Pope Francis is to fast from bitterness and instead to fill our hearts with joy.  This reminded me of my mantra – to find Joy In The Tribulation.

So I look for joy and I find it in the tears that well up in my eyes when I sing an especially moving hymn.  I also find joy in the choir’s combined voices while in mass.

So for me the message is clear:

Use Your Gifts

Give All You Can

Persevere and Have Hope

&

Fill Your Heart With Joy.

Won’t you join me?

~jdoe