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

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

sunflower-house

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.

my040-my-mother

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.

my040-my-little-sister

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.

my040-my-big-sister

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.

my040-my-daughter

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.

my040-my-wife

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.

my040-my-five-loves

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

my040_reach

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?

my040_better_living_through_chemistry

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