The holidays can be a complicated time. For some they are straightforward enjoyment, time off, fun, food and family. For others they are a twisted path that weaves through memories, some sad and some happy. I think this is the case for Andrew
The bulletin board at our church displays four cards from him, one to the kids in Sunday school, one to the church family at Easter and one to mothers on Mother’s Day. We have since retired the two that came on Thanksgiving and Christmas of last year, shortly after he had joined our church family. As far as I know he continues to have joy on holidays that are especially family-oriented. I don’t know if that’s because of the memories or the lack of memories and the need to fill an emptiness.
Andrew’s Thanksgiving letter found me early in December of 2017. “Happy Thanksgiving! Please tell the church I say ‘Thank you’ for their prayer, and I’m much wanting to praise God with them all soon.” He was preparing for a long haul, not yet knowing the outcome of his case. He had served his time in the hole and, even though he had earned a reputation for “bucking,” he said the guards liked his attitude and smile. That was something.
He knew the importance of replacing the church with chapel, had written a letter to join and was waiting to hear from the chaplain. He thanked me for Bible verses I had shared about the fruit of the Spirit and works of the flesh (Galatians 5). “It’s tough to be reminded of the ways of the flesh. With that being said, … ‘these things too shall pass,’ and will I be proud to stand before the Father or should I even make it that far?”
A hard life has taught Andrew how to cope, even in prison. He follows sports, especially football (“The Patriots are winning… O how I hate the Pats!”), and values the friends he had made (“Tell Larry and Gene I say Hi”). But most important he holds on to faith. “No matter the circumstances I keep God on my side and give Him the credit. I do believe God is testing my strength, just tough for me right now.”
Inside his walls, he continues to hope. “I look outside every day and thank God I’m able to see the beautiful world. I’m praying (God) will let me go for Christmas.” Two Christmases have passed and Andrew still is still not free.
As I write this, I have just learned that a good friend of his overdosed on heroin and died. I am debating whether to tell him the news, fearing that it might send him to a darker place. Andrew left drug addiction behind him, and this might be an unwelcome visitor from his past. His friend was “free” to walk the streets and dabble in his addiction. The police found him in his apartment after he failed to report for work as a bouncer.
Not all prisons have walls.
As hard as it can be for each of us to take that next step in life, it is even harder for Andrew and yet he keeps his eyes on the prize – freedom, career, marriage and family – these are all in his dreams and keep him moving forward. Take away from his story what is missing from yours or from that of someone you care about, that God is good even when life is not. His next steps would lead him closer to his past but in a way that would heal, not hurt.
Not all walls are prisons.