Tuesday, June 28, 2011

“the things they carried”

This may sound crazy…but it was easier doing time when I had hundreds of days to go – with so many to do, you just do the days without paying them much mind and magically they dwindle away.  Now that I have well below 30 days, unconsciously I awake each morning automatically knowing exactly how many I have left to pull.

Today I have 14 to go.

Yesterday was 15.

Sunday was 16…

and tomorrow will be 13.

However hard I try to just “do the days,” I cannot.  Like a soldier at war on foreign soil waiting to return home, leaving this place is foremost on my mind.  I am neither overly anxious or scared, merely conscious.  A glimpse of freedom and taste of hope tend to awaken a man.

My current insight and attention of this fact was recently augmented by a book about war I read titled The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.

(A small disclaimer: if your eyes/ears are easily offended by the profane language that war tends to produce – a lot like prison – then I suggest you not pick up this read.)

O’Brien served in the US Army during one of our nation’s most confusing wars – Vietnam.  The Things They Carried is a clever piece of work; although O’Brien claims that it is fiction, he writes from a personal point of view about himself and the cast of soldiers he served with in such a way that it keeps you pinging back and forth in your mind trying to determine where the fiction ends and the real begins.  He purposely intended it to be this way.

O’Brien starts his work by describing what the typical ground-pounding grunt soldier during the Vietnam War would carry on his person.  He carefully details the basic government issued (GI) tools of war and then fashions each uniquely individual character by describing the personal items that the soldier carried amongst his belongings and how they were significant to him.  All of this is a simple setup.  The heart of the book revolves around war and how, if never experienced, one can never fully grasp the intricate details of the total experience.  Sure, you can hear and understand to a certain extent about war, but the bond that is forged from war comes only to those who lived within the belly of the beast.

My greatest take away from the book was how the emotional experience of war has a tendency to make a man more conscious of life, himself and what is really of value to him.  O’Brien does a fascinating job describing the emotions that are attached to battle, while at the same time he makes you astutely aware that in reality unless you’ve been there, you’re really just a bystander formulating meager emotions from someone elses experience.  There is a bond, an emotional bond, that comes from battle - an unspoken understanding amongst survivors that weaves a common thread through their lives, forever meshing them together.  I now understand better why there are organizations like the Veterans of Foreign War (VFW).  They need each other.

So what’s my point?

Maybe you’ve noticed, maybe not, I haven’t blogged much lately.  Take note:  I didn’t say “written much lately.”  I’ve written plenty, just not posted.  I can’t count the times that I’ve picked up the pen to chronicle some event that has happened in here, trying my best to cleverly expound on what goes on behind these bars and fences.  I laid the pen down.  Unlike O’Brien, I’m not that good of a writer.

Many things happen in here that should not.  There is also a great deal of interaction that is petty but made a big deal.  This world is a world within itself – a subculture – a world stripped of outside stimuli, which on the outside shoulders a lot of the blame for our self-centered induced strife.  The fact is the lack of stimuli has nothing to do with the chaotic unrest.  We, the people, the person, are the problem!  Just because this place is stripped of outside stimuli doesn’t immunize it from “self.”  

 Therein lies the conflict – the battle – people and their innate lust to serve self first.

For the lot, doing time is merely paying one’s debt to society.  But my mind and my faith will not allow me to make it that simple – I must take something positive away from this battle.  That’s why I’ve wrestled so much with what to write, and why I haven’t written as of late.  I want to write – I’ve tried to – but for some reason I cannot.

A friend of mine, Dave, who has visited me from time to time since I’ve been on the inside, recently helped me process my dilemma.  Dave helped me to realize that perhaps all that has gone down in here is not to write about now.  Perhaps it’s to be stored away as experience to extract for some other point and time.  That clicked with me – it made sense and took away the undue pressure I’d mounted on myself to write now.  Besides, O’Brien didn’t write about what went on in the jungles of Vietnam in real time; it was years until he set meaning to a lot of the senseless acts of war that he witnessed.  So with that, I’ll leave you with this – 

I am fine.

God is good!

See you on the other side.

Big love –

…from the inside…ray-ray

Friday, May 20, 2011


Long time no hear from…huh?

I have nothing really pressing to write about.  I sit and stare – and think – but it’s like my brain is in idle mode.  Which is fine today.  I feel no dominant emotions – other than an inner peace that it’s okay feeling the way I feel today.  Perhaps it is due to the fact that over the past two weeks I’ve been in hyper-study mode.  I’ve devoured books – or maybe better said, they’ve devoured me – being taken to school by God – learning more and more of who I am in Christ.  

Jesus – it’s not just a forgiveness thing.

Oh how limited my thinking has been.  Like a sponge absorbing water, I think this lull is meant to let things sink in.  Believe you me, it’s not that I don’t have anything to say – it’s more like there’s so much bouncing around my dome that I don’t know where to start, nor stop for that matter.  So, in order to avoid always being the “teacher in the room” I’ll just shush on this subject for now.    It’s probably more suited for a cup of coffee and a sit down anyhow.  Join me?

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock…time is winding down here at Club Moneta.  In less than eight weeks, I’ll walk out of here – never to wear orange or Riddell tennis shoes again (smile).  I have no clue what I’m (we’re) going to do.  Today I am not nervous nor anxious – just curious what God has for Lump and me next.  We are open.  Maybe it’ll be in Lynch-Vegas, maybe not.  We’ll see.  Here is my point and request

please pray for us.

Big Love

…from the inside…ray-ray

Thursday, April 21, 2011

One year

It’s been long but short; trying though still rewarding; boring yet productive; sin-saturated albeit insightful.  There have been days filled with great encouragement, and days that I just wanted to stay in the bed and cover my head.  I’ve met some unusually interesting people, as well as others that I don’t care to ever cross paths with again – especially in a dark alley.  It’s been very educational at times and then grossly dumbing and void of any substance at others.  As of today I’ve been in jail one year – it’s been the “poster child” as far as “roller coaster” experiences are concerned, I must say.

It’s been GOOD!

What? (you may be saying to yourself)



…because of the Truths that the Holy Spirit revealed to us through the Apostle Paul in Romans 8:28.  Yes, in ALL things God “works for the GOOD of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.”

Do not construe the meaning of this verse.  It was not meant as a lemonade out of lemons, positive thinking, self-help proclamation of encouragement to be used by just anybody and everybody who happens to stumble across this promise.  It is a fact that is pertinent only to those who truly love Him – those who have repented of their rebellious status and have laid down their self-seeking, self-reliant, sin filled lives to the love and Lordship of Jesus Christ.

What then is the GOOD that is promised to those that love Him – to those that are His?  What is the GOOD that could come from this seemingly bad situation?  Is it that God is going to make it all okay?  Or that consequences for past wrongs will disappear?  That jail will be easy?  That every day will be a bed of roses?  Of course…you know this…the answer is NO!  The ultimate goal and ultimate end of any and every situation and circumstance that God allows “those who love Him” to go through is for but one purpose…and that purpose is revealed in the very next verse, verse 29.

“For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son”

What is the ultimate goal and ultimate end?  To be conformed to the likeness of His Son –

to make us like Christ. 


God uses this jacked up, chronically and terminally ill, evil world we live in, as well as our self-centered and self-inflicted WRONG to make us RIGHT.  These are merely instruments He uses to mold and shape us to be more like Jesus each and every day.  That’s the GOOD. 

There’s no sugar coating it, these past 19 months (7 after I got caught before I was sentenced, and 12 in jail) have been challenging and trying – BUT – they have been GOOD.  God has taken me to task, revealing hidden false beliefs about Him, myself, and the world.  They had to be corrected – 

they were killing me.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, but in the same way, Lump has been molded and shaped through this situation as well.  Individually, we have been experiencing different molding and shaping but with the same ultimate goal and same ultimate end.  Not only has it drawn us closer to each other but much closer to Him.

So, the question is not WHY am I experiencing this or that, but WHAT, God, are you trying to teach me through this experience that will make me more like Christ?  Help me see the GOOD. 

Big love…

…from the inside…ray-ray

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Learning to read

He was 32 years old, a gang member, finishing out his second stint in “the joint” when I met him.  The first stint was a five year stretch “down the road” (prison) for attempted murder.  This one,  a year for a far less offense.  He was a product of the system – pre “no child left behind” – one missed, passed along in school, left behind…why?  Good question.  That’s the mystery.  Everything changed his eleventh grade year when he got in trouble and was sent to a (last) alternative school and made to ride the short bus.  Eventually he dropped out and hit the streets.  The rest is obvious.

I’d heard stories, even seen documentaries on ESPN about student athletes who were pushed through school with passing grades merely because they could throw a football with accuracy or nail a three point shot.  But Alan (not his real name) didn’t fit this category.  He wasn’t an athlete.  Alan was just a kid from the inner city – as inner city as one can be from Lynch-vegas.  There lies the mystery – the why?  Why and how did he make it all the way to the eleventh grade without being able to read?  Now when I say “without being able to read” I don’t mean he had trouble or that he read at a low primary school level.  

Alan couldn’t read a lick – zip, nada…zero!

I have to admit that fear rushed through my body when I was first approached – the kind of timidity that goes along with “what have I got myself into”!  It was one of those scenarios when your mouth leads before your brain has the opportunity to think.  Sort of like a knee jerk reaction.  I hadn’t been at the correctional facility that I’m currently held very long when one of the guards approached me and asked if I’d ever taught.  He knew that I’d worked at a university, and I guess from that he reasoned that I had been a professor of some sort - which actually couldn’t be further from reality.  Sure, I’ve taught…leadership classes, addiction seminars as well as Christian growth and discipleship courses…but I’m neither a professor nor a teacher by formal training.  Hence, how my mouth got ahead of my brain – in a knee jerk sort of way – and I quickly said yes to his question without listening to the entire proposal.  The guard wanted to know if I’d be willing to teach Alan…how to read.  Now, it took me about 30 seconds to realize what I’d just agreed to – then it hit me – READ!!!  I didn’t have a clue how to teach someone to read!  In fact, back in school, reading definitely wasn’t my strong suit – just ask my fourth grade special reading teacher (which would actually be impossible…she’s gone down the road too, but in a different sense of the word).  But there I was – color me stupid – committed to teach Alan how to read.  

God help me.  

No, it was more like God help Alan!

The bottom line of it all was I didn’t even know where to start.  However, it didn’t take me long to figure it out after our first session.  The beginning, the very beginning was going to be our point of entry. So on our second meeting I wrote the 26 letters of the alphabet on a dry erase board and taught Alan the difference between consonants and vowels, along with their respective sounds.  

Needless to say, it was a slow process.  One filled with both frazzled frustration and extreme exhilaration at every turn.  But as we ground it out, slowly but surely, session after session, twenty-four after twenty-four, Alan began to get it.  The funny thing is…I’m not sure who was learning more – him or me?  Alan, at age 32, building upon the basics was learning to read.  

On the other hand, I, “the teacher”, was relearning the importance of 

relying and applying basic life principles in my own life.

In fact, if you read my previous post entitled “doing time – linking twenty-fours” then you’ve already had a taste of one of the basic principles that God reminded me of while teaching Alan.  As I mentioned earlier, each day in the classroom presented different challenges.  At times Alan would become frustrated because he didn’t feel he was progressing as fast as he thought he should.  So in order to encourage him, I would go back to a lower level reading book and have him read.  After he would breeze through the assignment, I’d point out to him how far he had come and then go on to coach him on the importance of doing the best he could in each twenty-four and how by linking them together he would – twenty-four by twenty-four – ultimately achieve his goal of learning how to read.  It was from my own coaching that God began to remind me of the importance of living and linking twenty-fours in my own life.  If you haven’t had a chance to read my post “doing time – linking twenty-fours”, give it a read.  It goes into greater detail explaining more of what I’m talking about.

Even if I were to try and explain what the environment and atmosphere of jail is like, it would fall ridiculously short of reality.  It’s one of those location things – unless you’ve been there, it’s impossible to imagine.  But in order to make my next point, let me take a stab (no pun intended) at describing it.  It’s a stress-filled hyperbaric environment, doused with a Middle School mentality and behavior that is poisoned with applauded rebellion, inflamed worldliness and unadulterated evil, where the things of God are grossly misunderstood and/or flat out blasphemed.  

You must constantly stand guard against these things or risk being sucked in.

On occasion there were times when, for various reasons, Alan and I were not allowed to go over to the classroom to study for several days in a row.  When we were finally allowed to get back at it, I noticed that it would take Alan longer to get in the groove of things as opposed to when we were able to read and study day after day.  I also noticed that these time lapses were a source, if not the main component of most of his learning frustrations!  It was through Alan’s frustrations that I learned the importance of consistently keeping the reading lessons in front of him on a day-to-day basis.  In turn this reminded me how very important it is to keep the things of God in front of me daily as well.  I realized that most of my own frustration within this hyperbaric petri dish on steroids can be traced back to…a lapse in days - a lapse in days of keeping the things of God in front of me.  In order to stand against the distractions and confusions of life, I must remind myself about the TRUTH of God daily.  Why?  Because the sum of the matter is, the world we live in is manufactured, manipulated and marketed based on a LIE – a lie shrouded with self-centered, self-conscious and self-seeking lures that deceive us into thinking the world revolves around us.

-         Take what you want.
-         Do what you please.
-         Others don’t matter.
-         Promote yourself.
-         You can be your own god (the ultimate of all lies).

Left to our own thinking for very long, anyone of use can fall prey to the deterioration of the LIE.  But know this –

the TRUTH trumps the lie every time!

And the TRUTH is God’s WORD!

When I remind myself daily of who God is – who I’m not – but most importantly who I am in Christ, by His grace, I am able to endure and persevere through the craziness of the lies this world can dish out.
These two lessons that I learned while teaching Alan how to read are merely examples of the plethora of things Alan taught me.  It’s experiences like this that make me smile, shake my head and appreciate the Creator of all creation in a fresh new way.  God is never short on tools that He uses to shape, mold and teach His children.  Role reversal was His tool selection this time – I only thought I was the teacher.

Big love…

…from the inside…ray-ray