Dad (Warning, He Cusses)

We apologize for our silence ~jdoe and sis

My-040 Dad

“My father died on March 7th.  His passing was peaceful having gone in his sleep.  My mother, his caregiver, was with him when he passed.

It is always hard losing a loved one, and doubly so when you’re locked away, living in exile as I am now.  There’s nowhere you can go to mourn in silence and solitude.

But this isn’t about me:

It’s about my father.

When I sat down to write this post I had every intention of writing a eulogy that would paint a picture of my father so all could see how much he meant to me.  I also wanted to write something that would make readers of this post wish they’d known him.

But how to summarize the life of a man whom I’ve love for over 50 years?

How do you do justice to the life of someone who was more than a father?  He was a guide and mentor, a parent and friend, a confidant and sounding board, a coach and cheerleader.  My Dad was a man like any other man with his strengths and faults, his positive and negative, his rights and wrongs, his good and bad, his ups and downs.

What made him unique in my eyes was his desire to teach me how to be a man holistically and later how to be a father.  He did these things at a time when society was weak in these things.  His sense of family and his dedication to being a father was in contrast to so many of my friend’s lives.  While my Dad was teaching, my friend’s fathers were busy with sports on TV; not that my Dad didn’t take his time to watch sports but while he was watching TV we were also talking life.

Talking life was something my Dad did often with me, usually late at night when I’d come home from a friend’s house or a date.  I can tell you that at the time all I wanted was to go to bed – now – I cherish those talks and will miss the opportunity to hold them with him ever again.

In some ways I don’t know how to feel.  Should I feel anger that dementia won?  Should I feel relief that he’s stepped away from suffering?  Should I feel joy that he’s crossed over to eternal salvation?  Should I feel sorrow, regret and remorse knowing my father died while I’m here in prison?  I wonder what his thoughts around me were.  I wonder how disappointed he was.  My father and I never had a chance to talk about my transgressions and the outcome there of.  And now the door is closed to that opportunity.

I was asked by the Priest here what  my favorite memory is and if I could say only one more thing to my father what would it be?

I actually have three favorite memories.

One is our time working together on my first car.  He was a huge help and he even worked on it when I went away to college – such was his commitment to me.

My second favorite memory is when we as a family went on a two week vacation.  I was five years old and he spent a lot of time with me that trip as we visited all the sights that tourists visit.  The whole time I felt like his buddy; I felt older than I was and I felt totally accepted.

Maybe my favorite memory, certainly the greatest piece of “advice” he ever gave me, came one of those late nights when I was talking to him about maybe dating someone other than Jane.  He said to me, “It’s always interesting to see your offspring fuck up.”  It’s not that I married Jane because of Dad, but it was his way of presenting a perspective that was really more objective than mine at the moment.  I cannot imagine a life without her really, and I thank Dad for keeping me honest within my own heart.

As for what I would say to him beyond, “I love you”? 

I’d say,

“Thank you.” 

I wish I’d said it before he passed.

Obviously, I won’t be attending his funeral.  My Mom won’t have me there to lean on.  By God’s grace she’ll have my wife and my sister, both of whom I feel are stronger than me anyway.

Genesis 3:19 says we are but dust and to dust we shall return.  There’s a comfort knowing that we will all one day be returned to the earth from which we were made.  I do feel relief in knowing this and Dad, you’re in God’s hands now – better off than any of us.

Dad – I love you – and – Thank You.

~jdoe

Every Other

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Welcome back readers. Starting this week I’ll be going to a biweekly posting. Trying to coordinate everything through the postal service makes it difficult to stay on time with weekly postings. I do hope I won’t lose any of you with this change. Next week I’ll have another posting up waiting for you.

Thank you!!

jdoe

“Live Like You’re Loved”

Because you are.

In a recent article Behind The Song: Hawk Nelson Shares The Heart Behind Their New Single “Live Like You’re Loved” written by FreeCCMAbby for FreeCCM we read these wise words from Hawk Nelson’s lead singer Jon Steingard:

“God’s love for us is not based on how good we are, it’s based on how good He is and what He has already done for us. This song is an encouragement to wake up everyday and take a hold of the truth of what Jesus means in your life. And live like you know that you’re loved, because you are.”

Lyrics to

“Live Like You’re Loved”

By Hawk Nelson

You’re not the only one that feels like this / Feeling like you lose more than you win
Like life is just an endless hill you climb / You try and try but never arrive

I’m telling / You something / This racin’ / This running
Ohhhh You’re workin’ way too hard
And this perfection you’re chasin’ / Is just energy wasted
‘Cuz He loves you like ya are

So go ahead and live like you’re loved / It’s ok to act like you’ve been set free
His love has made you more than enough / So go ahead and be who he made you to be
And live like you’re loved

Live like you know you’re valuable / Like you know the one who holds your soul
Cuz mercy has called you by your name / Don’t be afraid to live in that grace

Oh I’m telling you somethin’ / This God we believe in / Yeah He changed everything
No more guilt / No more shame
He took all that away / Gave us a reason to sing

So go ahead and live like you’re loved / It’s ok to act like you’ve been set free
His love has made you more than enough / So go ahead and be who he made you to be
And live like you’re loved

Live like you’re loved / Walk like you’re free
Stand like you know / Who you’re made to be
Live like you’re loved / Like you believe
His love is all / That you’ll ever need

My Five Loves

Another Valentine’s Day has come and gone.  I didn’t want it to slip away completely without saying something about the five Valentines in my life:  my mother, my two sisters, my daughter, and of course my wife.

When I think of these five women I am humbled by their strength, loyalty, and acts of love where I am, and others are concerned.

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My Mother is the sole care giver for my Father who is, sadly, an invalid suffering with dementia.  Being sole care giver means she does everything from arranging in home health care to bathing and cleaning my Father daily.  If you know a care giver, hug them and tell them what a wonderful heart they have.

My Mom writes me faithfully.  I receive a letter each and every week.  Her letters are really a love story about her and my Father.  Her letters are structured such that she writes a paragraph each day, so they’re really little diary entries about their daily life.  I read each week about her daily care activities for my Dad and his occasional periods of lucidity when he lets her know he appreciates her.  She closes each letter with love from them both and an inspirational bible scripture reference.

My Mom also puts money on my commissary account regularly.  This allows me to buy necessities like hygiene products and treats like Pop Tarts.  I also use this money to pay for phone calls home and email service.

Beyond my Father and me my Mother reaches out to cancer patients by crocheting hats to cover their hair loss and making blankets to keep them warm – all of these things are donated to the local hospital for chemo patients receiving treatment there.

Thank you Mom for everything you do.  Thank you from all those you touch.

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My younger sister is a bit of a dynamo, though she’d say something to the contrary.  Like most parents with school age children she’s constantly on the run with sporting events, concerts, other kid functions, and a part time job.  Unlike most parents, however, she also homeschools her kids.  My sister invests a great deal of time being a parent and teacher.

Where I’m concerned she also writes regularly.  Her letters are often what she calls “illustrated.”  They are typed and have photos inserted into the body of the text giving me glimpses into her family’s daily life.  I feel a little more connected to her, my niece and nephew, and my brother-in-law.

As you already know she also facilitates this blog.  In fact, the idea that I’d write for a blog came from my sister and wife.  They saw something in my letters home that might possibly be worth posting for others to read.  It was their faith in me that started me on this journey.

Thank you sis for having faith in me.  Thank you from all those you touch.

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In memoriam, I want to say a little about my older sister who died just shy of her forty second birthday due to breast cancer.

She and I were very close and I often felt like her twin though she was almost three years older.

When I think of her, I remember most her contagious laughter and kindness to all she met.  She was the lady who adopted all the stray cats.  Her house was always open to those who were hurting and her profession as a nurse was well suited to her personality.

I can make no tribute to her as great as that given at her funeral when several hundred people came to pay their respect.  There were so many there that a good portion stood outside the church waiting to say goodbye.  To say she touched an entire community would be an understatement.

I miss her.

Thank you my sister for your laughter and kindness and togetherness as children.  Thank you from all those you touched.

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My daughter has grown into one of the most amazing women I’ve known.  Everything she does she does with focus and to high standards.  It’s humbling to watch her take control of her life with such alacrity.

My daughter is going to be married this year to a fine man.  I’m thrilled to know she’s found the love of a lifetime.  I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t sad to no longer be the “man in her life.”  Like most fathers and daughters we share a special bond, and it’s comforting to know that bond won’t be broken regardless of our situations.

My daughter and I share a love of literature.  When she was small she’d bring me a book titled The Fussy Little Princess to read to her.  I must have read that book to her a thousand times, and I loved every opportunity.  When she was in high school we began reading books together and then talking about our views on what we’d read.  We’d split the book into chunks and then have our discussions.  This actually was set aside when she went to college and I missed it.  When I was taken into custody she asked me if I’d like to start doing it again.  And for the last 17 months we’ve enjoyed this time together again through letters and email.

Thank you my daughter for letting me be Pops and keeping the special bond intact through all things good and bad.

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My wife and I have been together 36 years this coming March.  How she’s put up with me all those years is a mystery to me.

I could write about my wife every day for a year and still not convey the true and total meaning of her presence in my life.

Together we raised four of the most amazing people I’ve ever known.  And to be truthful, our children are the people they are due mostly to my wife’s love, support, and guidance.  Yes, I know I helped, yet, when I look at what they’ve accomplished and how they went about achieving what they have – I see my wife’s fingerprints in each goal they’ve gained.

My wife also gave me one of my most cherished blessings – my faith – and she’s done it twice.

When we first started dating I was a “Holiday Catholic” meaning I went to church only on holidays like Easter and Christmas.  She however went every Sunday and lived her faith daily.  She asked me then if I’d go every Sunday with her and I said yes.  I was moved by my experiences and stayed with the church for the next 30 years when I turned away due to my internal disagreements with a new priest in the church we were attending at the time.  She gave me my faith a second time after the investigation started into the activities that brought me here.  One day while I was breaking due to the stresses of that dark time she handed me my rosary and said, “maybe you’ll find some peace in this.”  I took the rosary and have been back into my faith deeper than ever before.  What greater gift can one be given than their faith?  I can think of none.

The good Lord knows I’ve put her through many trials; more than any one person should have to endure.  My addiction was always present and understandably hurt her and left her feeling inadequate.  Yet she stayed with me because she saw in me what I, until recently, couldn’t see in myself: a good man.  Her faith, love, support, loyalty, and commitment to our marriage is a thing of beauty and a life lesson I am only now learning how to live.

When I think of my wife I see her smile and expressive eyes.  I hear her laughter and feel her touch.  I know what total commitment and unconditional love are.  She is my rock and the light of my life.

If someone were to write a book about our life together it would be as tragic and uplifting as Romeo and Juliette and would endure all because of the woman my wife is.

When I search for words to express my admiration and love I can find none capable of communicating what is inside of me.  “I love you,” and “Thank you,” are so inadequate for the scope of my emotions are so much deeper.

As I said, I could write forever about my wife and not even begin to tell of her worth.

Thank you my wife for your belief in me and know that my love for you is genuine.

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To all five I want to say thank you for all you do.  Thank you from all those you touch.  Every one you meet is the better for knowing you.

And finally, I love you all every day but most especially on Valentine ’s Day.

Tell someone special in your life how you feel about them and do it today.

~jdoe

Reach

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I’m blessed with people who reach out to me.

My wife helps in many ways like researching the medications I’m on.  She also drives 400 miles one way every month to spend two days visitation with me.  Three of my adult children have been in to visit  me.  Two of them are in the medical profession and help me with medication questions as well.  My sister has come a bit farther to visit twice and does the work for this blog.  My mother has also been in to visit and writes me weekly.  I also have family that send letters, email, and books and put money on my commissary account.

Beyond family, I have friends who send in letters and email.  One couple sends in unique yard sale book finds.  These same friends even banded together to get me two magazine subscriptions.  I also have a psychologist outside who is working with me by letter and charges me nothing.

As I said, I am blessed.  They all reach out to me while I reside in this physical prison.  They do so regardless of the situation they themselves live within.  And they also have one thing in common: They live Proverbs 3:27-28

“Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act.  Do not say to your neighbor, “come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” – when you now have it with you.”  (NIV)

I do my best to have a continuing presence in their lives as well by reciprocating with letters, email, and the occasional phone call.  I send what advice and wisdom I can to my children.  I share in what decision I can where my wife’s responsibilities allow.

Yet I wanted to do more.  I wanted to be a true liver of Proverbs 3:27-28.  But how to reach out in prison – in exile?  And to whom?

I have to admit I had fears around reaching out: would I be rejected or taken advantage of?  Yet I kept thinking of those who were actively reaching out to me.  If they were brave enough to do it why shouldn’t I be?

I began to look around for ways to become more than a friend to a few fellow inmates.

I found out that there are classes that are inmate lead on a wide variety of topics; everything from the stock market to paranormal activities.  I thought, “I can teach a class,” and then asked myself, “What will I teach?”  My education and background are in engineering so I’m good in math and science but putting together a course in my field didn’t feel ‘right’.  So I turned to the friends I’ve made here for ideas and two suggested I teach public speaking.  My initial reaction was to brush off the idea but the longer I thought about it the more I liked the idea.  So with help from my sister in the form of a college level public speaking textbook I put together a class and am now teaching it.  And it’s going well.

Several other inmates suggested I tutor those pursuing their GED in math.  I liked the idea so I passed my name around to people enrolled in the GED program.  Within days I had two people to tutor.  And it’s going well.

Then I thought about the poor that Jesus asked us to help.  I looked around and saw how many indigent inmates there are and I knew I couldn’t help them all but I also knew I could help a few.  So each month I take the $17 I make at my ‘job’ here and buy hygiene products from commissary for two or three indigent inmates.  Seeing their appreciation in receiving soap, shampoo, and deodorant is so satisfying that it makes me wish I could do more.

Not surprisingly, I find that living Proverbs 3:27-28 is rewarding and reaffirming that I have something to give back.  It also helps me to see that I can atone for the sins that sent me here into exile.  It’s given me a new Joy In The Tribulation.

You too can find a Joy In The Tribulation regardless of your situation

All you have to do is reach out.

~jdoe

Better Living Through Chemistry

Words.

They’re only words.

Groupings of letters in a particular order that provide a visual representation of what we want to communicate.  So why can’t I find the words to put down on paper.  In the past, I would write 15 to 50 pages a day!  Now – I struggle to complete a paragraph.

I feel bottle up.  I feel stymied.  I have writer’s block.  Why?

I believe it’s the medication.  And yet the medication is doing good things too.

Have the medications helped or hindered?

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On the plus side, I’m without hallucinations for the first time in over 48 years.  Also for the first time in over 38 years I don’t see suicide as a solution for my problems.  Yea medication!

Life without hallucinations is new for me really.  I used them to cope with the injuries of my past.  They were my unconscious’s representation of hurts I couldn’t, or wouldn’t, consciously deal with.  Without them I am forced to now deal with those hurts and develop healthy coping skills – and I am.

Life without suicidal thoughts is amazing.  I’m finding hope for the future and visualizing a future that goes beyond the end of the day.  My future goes on for years now.  It’s a strange, but good, feeling to want to see old age and all the adventures between today and the day I pass due to natural causes.

On the minus side, I feel like my creativity is stifled.  I’m having cognitive challenges that hinder my ability to write.  I find that the leveling of my emotions, that is the minimization of mood swings from high to low, has suffocated my motivation for not only writing but also such passions as reading and learning new things.

The emotion leveling has also impacted how I react in situations in which I should feel great joy or great sorrow.  I find I feel sorry to a greater degree than joy.  Maybe the antidepressant isn’t the right one for me or the wrong dosage.  Finding the right medications is a process and can be a lengthy effort.  But I feel it’s worth it.

Perhaps the down side issues will right themselves over time.  I’ve been on these medications now for about two months.  Maybe it will take a few more months to normalize my body’s chemistry and return to the writing whiz I was.  I miss my writing.  It’s a good, healthy, outlet for my mental stresses.  I find writing to also be a good place to work out emotional strains.  Consequently, I find myself easily upset over minor issues.  That’s not something I want in the ‘new’ me.

You might ask if I’d seek medications if I knew I’d find myself in this dry, arid, land of writing before taking the medications.  My answer is a definite yes.  I like being hallucination free.  I like not dwelling on suicide.  I like life for the first time in over four decades!  At times I feel young, clean, fresh and worthy of other people’s love and support.  What a wonderful set of emotions!

Would I recommend medication for others like me?  I’m no doctor but I would tell others to explore the possibilities with qualified professionals.  Life can be better for those living in their own personal prison of mental illness.  It was for me.

jdoe

At Calvary

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Years I spent in vanity and pride,
Caring not my Lord was crucified,
Knowing not it was for me He died
On Calvary.

By God’s Word at last my sin I learned;
Then I trembled at the law I’d spurned,
Till my guilty soul imploring turned
To Calvary.

There Your mercy and Your grace was free;
There Your Pardon multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

Now I’ve giv’n to Jesus everything,
Now I gladly own Him as my King,
Now my raptured soul can only sing
Of Calvary!

There Your mercy and Your grace was free;
There Your Pardon multiplied to me;
There my burdened soul found liberty
At Calvary.

Oh, the love that drew salvation’s plan!
Oh, the grace that brought it down to man!
Oh, the mighty gulf that God did span
At Calvary!

William R. Newell, published 1895

Living In Exile – part 4

Gosh, that’s a lot so to summarize:

Settle down and be happy because it’s okay to do so; build houses of faith; plant seeds of faith and live life “faithful in all (God’s) my house.”  In these, and from these, the exiles – and we inmates – will find freedom within and after captivity and peace and happiness within captivity.

Some may ask, “Does this mean I have to become a zealot proclaiming God’s word on the compound?”

Absolutely not.

Faith comes in many forms: a smile, a bit of food for the indigent inmate, a sincere ‘please’ and ‘thank you,’ an ear for the broken, returning love for hate, holding a door open – infinite ways but unless we sow these seeds we cannot eat the crop.  Imagine when that ‘hater’ says, “Excuse me,” when he bumps into you all because you’ve said it to him even when you weren’t at fault for the contact.  And the reward?  Eternal freedom in God’s house and if we continue to live in our house of faith after incarceration, physical freedom too and all the while planting seeds to keep God’s word eternal.

Suddenly being an exile – inmate – in captivity becomes bearable and in an odd way, a worthy effort for God and ourselves universally.

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~jdoe

Living In Exile – part 3

Time to look at the meaning behind Jeremiah 29:5, “Build Houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit;” for prisoners.

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There are many references to houses in the Bible.  It’s evident that both the structure and concept are of vital importance to God.  Let’s look at a few verses that best illustrate the idea of a house with Jeremiah 29:5.

In Numbers 12:7-8 we’re told God speaks face-to-face with Moses because Moses is “Faithful in all My house.”  That must mean beyond the Tent of meeting, right?  So what then is “all My house”?  It means in all ways and all things. [But recall, Moses didn’t start out that way – he made a choice – he opened his eyes and came out of darkness.]  Here we understand that when “Faithful in all” God’s “house,” He will meet us face-to-face.  God’s “house” therefore is more than a structure.

In Joshua 24:15, Joshua says we must make a choice and in Joshua’s household they will serve the Lord.  Again – a choice and a concept of a house that reaches beyond the physical structure.  Joshua is saying that wherever he or his family may be, they will serve the Lord.  Joshua’s house reaches as far as his family, not the walls inside of which he resides.

Solomon says in Psalm 127:1 that, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.”  This seems to contradict Jeremiah 29:5, however it does not.  It says that we have a choice: To build with God or without.  Jeremiah 29:5 clearly says to build with God!  And as we learned previously, God, through Solomon, is again telling us His house surpasses any physical structure.

There are more by my point is made – for we inmates, God is asking us to build houses beyond physical structures.  Our houses may be things like continuing to be a husband, father, son, brother, or friend.  Joining in a church sincerely or perhaps loving the unlovable.  Suddenly, we’re building houses of faith within God’s house and for God’s command to be, “Faithful in all My house.”  Imagine the power of every inmate – as well as every person walking the street – building a house of faith instead of brick.  No wonder Jesus’ church was built upon a single rock – no physical building could ever encompass God’s earthly house.

Now we’re left with understanding that it means to plant crops and eat the reap.  Crops begin with seeds, right?  Let’s look at scripture around “seeds.”

In Matthew 13:2-8 Jesus tells the parable of seeds scattered by a farmer.  We know he was not being literal; it’s a parable after all.  So what then?  Obviously it’s seeds of faith.  So in telling the exiles, and by extension we inmates to plant seeds, He’s telling everyone we can.  Also, as in Matthew 13:8 we will be, and by extension He will be, blessed with a crop, “A hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown.”  How wonderful to be a farmer of faith.  This is then confirmed in Matthew 13:23, “He who hears the word and understands it (sic) is the one who produces a crop…”  Looking further, Matthew 13:43 explains who we become if we successfully plant the seeds: the righteous!  We can also look at Matthew 13:31-32 and see God ask that we plant a seed as tiny as a mustard seed and gain a tree for birds – other inmates – to perch in.  So it’s vitally important for inmates, as it was with the exiles, to understand what God meant in Jeremiah 29:5.

Finally, the strongest scripture, 1 Peter 1:23-25; Here we are told that we are born of “imperishable seed… through the living and enduring word of God.  For all the people are like grass and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord endures forever.”  Sounds dismal in a way.  The exiles, and by extension we inmates, wither and die but through them- and we inmates – God’s word lives – by the seeds we sow and the ongoing crop produced.

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jdoe

Living In Exile – part 2

Continuing on with a look at Jeremiah 29:5 from last week, Living In Exile – part 1

“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”  What?  I can’t do that literally.  So what do these commands mean?  To understand these I had to think back on scripture I had read in relation to prisoners – inmates – exiles.  Because the answer to this question is paramount to understanding Jeremiah 29:5 and 29:7’s link to inmates.

Why are prisoners special to God?

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In Psalm 107 we see God’s blessing of rescue for those who were rebellious but turned back to Him; focus here on verses 10 through 16 and again a choice is given: turn to Him and be rescued or live in darkness.  In Psalm 68:6b,c we see that God gives prisoners a choice: be lead out with singing or live in a sun-scorched land.  In Psalm 146:7 we see God upholds the cause of the oppressed and sets prisoners free but only if they chose (choice again) to be bowed down.  In Psalm 79:11 God is asked to heal the moans of prisoners.  Finally, in Isaiah 42:5a and Isaiah 42:7 we have, “This is what God the Lord says…open eyes that are blind, to free captives from prison and release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness,” – again a choice: open your eyes and be freed or remain blind in captivity.

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So why are prisoners special to God?

Two reasons: 1) They suffer and 2) They, like no other, have a choice.  Only those whose physical, mental, and emotional freedom is controlled by others can find the meaning of true and total freedom in God and His word!  Who among those walking freely in the world can feel or know what freedom is until first suffering in exile?  Who besides the prisoner can truly know the power of faith and God?  These are the reasons God’s greatest were pulled from among the worst of people – because in some form they were prisoners and suffering even if not evident to themselves.  They all were given a choice:  Remain blind or open their eyes and walk out of darkness to be set free both spiritually and physically – what better army can there be to spread God’s word?  Wasn’t the greatest contributor to the New Testament, Paul, a prisoner?  Yes!

And isn’t it now obvious why God also calls out widows and orphans and the poor and the disabled?  All are suffering in their own prisons and we have the ability and responsibility to open their eyes, bring them into the light and free them!

So when we combine our understanding of God’s love of prisoners with His command to live life while in exile, and it’s okay to find happiness there, we can see He is waiting for us to prosper (find peace) in captivity.

But how?  Next week I delve more specifically into Jeremiah 29:5, “Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit.”

Blessings, jdoe