With the passing of the holidays and the onset of early spring, Andrew continues to struggle with two men: the man of his past and the man he knows God wants him to be. Learning from the first and striving to be the second fills much of his time in prison.
I had sent him bits of my first book, LifeDeck, the part that tells of my encounter with a homeless woman in Boston. I was so moved by her faith and positive outlook in spite of her situation that I stood for a moment, “wondering why two souls should be assigned such different lives.”
Andrew never dwells on this paradox, never sees himself as a victim. Recalling our first encounter he says, “It sounds like you lived that story before, like when you bought a walking stick from a homeless guy.” That guy is not the guy he aspires to be, and he resists those who would keep him there.
“The one thing that gets to me is the criminal justice system makes it out as I’m a horrible person and my record is going to make it tough on getting a good job. Yet… I have faith God’s got my back.” That last phrase he uses often, a reminder of how God watches over him. Yet he never uses God as his crutch, and takes full responsibility for his future.
“One thing about me is my knowledge of the work force. Because of the many odd jobs I’ve done to survive, it shouldn’t be too hard to get work.” Before his arrest Andrew’s work ethic was well known. One business owner I spoke with had plans for his advancement but shook his head and said, “If only he could get rid of the anger…”
Andrew has known from the time he was young that there is a spiritual battle raging between God and the devil, but I think prison life has made it real and helped equip him for it. “So many people think that once you’re become a Christian the struggle is over. Well, sometimes that may be so, but when God gains back a fellow soul, the devil loses control of another so a constant battle erupts and who wins that is totally up to us.”
If you’ve ever read the Screwtape Letters, you know this is true. C.S. Lewis imagines a senior devil (Screwtape) advising a student (Wormwood) on the fine arts of destroying faith in God. In one exchange, Screwtape offers this, “Our cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”
That is Andrew. Removed from the universe of free people, dogged by his past, he nevertheless continues to follow hard after God. In his next letter he takes us deep inside his personal struggle.