Joy In The Tribulation

When I sat down to write out the purpose statement for this blog I thought it would be easy.  I quickly discovered, that thought was more optimism than reality.  I realized I had so many hopes and objectives that untangling them would be impossible to do concisely.

Adding to my challenge was the ‘target audience’ concept; identifying the group or groups of people I hoped would stop by and interact with me and my postings.  I knew I wanted to reach out to a wider audience than only those whose loved one(s), or they themselves are in prison, on their way to prison, or in danger of one day facing prison.

Don’t get me wrong, those people are near and dear to my heart but, when I thought about all of the other types of ‘prisons’ out there: abusive relationships, depression, suicide, fear of impeding or current incarceration, mourning a loss, addiction – especially addiction to pornography of any form, scars of childhood sexual abuse, mental illness … A seemingly endless list presented itself and I’m trying to reach out to all of these captives, into all of those ‘prisons’.  I became frustrated that I couldn’t find an elegant way to say what is in my heart.  So I stopped writing, prayed, and meditated.  In the silence and communion with God I heard the Holy Spirit’s voice say, “It’s about how you see life,” and I knew how to explain this blog’s purpose:

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A little backstory.  When the investigation into my offense began I fell into a deep hole of depression.  I turned to God in my desperation and prayed the authorities would drop my case and life would return to ‘normal.’  Life became everything but normal.  I felt confounded in my faith.  I felt lost and ignored by my God.

One day my wife handed me my rosary and said, “Maybe you’ll find something in this.”  How wise she was (and still is!).  I started walking into my faith ‘from scratch.’  Fourteen months later I was remanded into custody at a county jail, placed in solitary and put on suicide watch for three weeks.

During my second week a very kind and concerned correctional officer handed me a Bible through the food slot of my cell door and said, “This came in a couple days ago.  I’m not supposed to give it to you but I think you need it,” and he walked away.  The Bible was sent in by my sister (another wise woman in my life); shortly I’ll connect that Bible with this blogs purpose.

You may be thinking, “Of Course! Another sympathetic correctional officer miraculously hands a Bible to another felon in solitary and the felon finds God.  How typical.”  Perhaps you’re right.  Perhaps it is a common occurrence.  Perhaps God means it to be.

I let the Bible sit for a day.  I don’t know why.  I can’t explain my action or lack of, I just let it sit.  I looked around my cell and it hit me: I had only one possession – that Bible.  So I picked it up with a new perspective.  I saw it as my only material item in the world and realized in that moment it was the only one I needed.  I began flipping pages and (seemingly) randomly stopped at Psalm 30 and read verses 4 and 5.

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Again, I was confounded because I couldn’t seem to find joy in anything I was experiencing.  It wasn’t until I was moved, six months later, to the institution in which I now reside that the true meaning was revealed to me.

For the first month of my time here I lived with a ‘hater.’  A hater is another inmate that persecutes you for having committed an offense they feel is somehow worse than theirs, and so you are inferior and worthy only of their hate and derision.  The lowest two are sex offender (me) followed by snitch (not me).  I bore this man’s constant verbal abuse and physical threats throughout the day, every day.  I requested to be moved daily for fear of physical harm.  Nothing happened.

One night after lights out I lay in bed, prayed, meditated and asked God why I was being burdened with this inmate.  Once again, in the silence and communion with God, I heard the Holy Spirit’s voice speak, “You need to find the joy.”  “JOY?!” I screamed inside my head.  “What joy?”  Silence was the only reply.

In the morning, after suffering my daily breakfast of hate and threats, I picked up the Bible from my sister and opened it to the book of Romans.  Romans was written by Paul who started life as Saul – the worst persecutor of Christians in Biblical times.  Paul was also a prisoner when he wrote this book.  My hope was Paul would have a unique insight having been a reformed hater who was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs.  Again I (seemingly) randomly stopped flipping through Romans at chapter five and these verses leapt off the page:

“Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the Glory of God.  And not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope.”  Romans 5:1-4 NKJV

And there it was, the answer to my question the night before, “What joy?”  To glory in tribulation!  To do so one must find the joy therein.  From this derives the purpose of this blog:

To show you how finding the joy in the tribulation can help lead you out of the prison – wilderness, captivity, exile – you find yourself in, and into the journey God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit will accompany you upon.

I make no claim to be able to rescue you, only God can do that.  I do claim however to be able to relate very real experiences and actions that are bringing light, purpose and true freedom into my life.  Through this sharing I’m certain you can find some of the same.

Now a few words on what this blog is NOT…

This is not a place to debate faith, dogma, doctrine, religion, tenants, etc.  Personally, I am a Christian who identifies Catholic – I’m content in my soul.  I won’t attempt to convert you but I won’t hide my faith or religion and I won’t ask you to either.  And if one of my experiences is based in my faith and religion I’ll share it because it has value for many in its roots and I invite you to do the same.

This is also not a place to post hate.  There is too much hate in the world irrespective of faith, religion, and/or chosen God.  Martin Luther King, Jr. implored us to judge others, “…by the content of their character,” in his history making speech I Have A Dream.  I concur.  It’s one reason God gave us discernment.  In the end, there is but one Judge – God Himself.  Let us join here not in hate or prejudice, but in common need.