Turn One-Eight

Whooooosh - clang - echo. Nothing else in the world sounds like that. Sure, she’d herd that noise on TV so many times she’d lost count, but it’s different when you’re on the other side as the cell door slams shut. Whitney slumped down in her cot and stared across the 10-foot square cell at her bunk-mate — a large black woman who out-weighed her by at least forty pounds and had a several inch height advantage as well. Hearing all the stories about prison life makes a person wonder — so she nervously tried to cover up the swastika tattoo on her leg, hoping her bunk-mate wouldn’t notice. She didn’t — yet at least. Somebody must be getting a good laugh right now looking at these two; she’d like to get at the person who arranged a racist, nazi-loving person to bunk with a large black woman.

Oh, you sounded so much like the angels, You said “Try this and you surely will not die”, And my eyes were opened, I stood naked there, And I knew you were the father of all lies[1]

She’d come a long way in the last few years; slumping down in the lumpy cold cot she longed for the old days — early Saturday morning as mom makes up a hot batch of blueberry pancakes (with butter dripping down the stack) waiting for the old guy to “assume the position” as he settled in for a tough day of playing couch quarterback during college football season. She thought he was such an idiot (screaming at the TV so loud the fans in the stadium could probably hear), yelling about a funny game where the ball couldn’t even bounce right. Sigh. It seems so long ago now.

How things change.

It was just a few short weeks ago she felt on top of the world (you can feel like that with chemical help), but in any event life was vastly different from those innocent Saturday mornings. A feeling of invincibility comes easy hanging out with gun-toting thieves (with names like psycho, kaos, grumpy and caveman), all the while boasting about the next big deal, or how quick and easy stealing that midnight blue Acura was — complete with leather interior and sunroof. And after a few beers laughing about racing away from the cops down pacific coast highway — and did you see that old lady’s eyes as we drove around her on the sidewalk? Drunken laughs break out, and the sound of beer cans popping fill the room.

But back in the cell she’s got lots of time to think and wonders how she finds herself in this position. It’s been years since she’s seen her family — her grandfather went ballistic upon hearing of her swastika tattoo. How could she do such a thing he thought, as he was in WWII and dealt with the Nazis personally — he’d seen the revolting attitudes of them and wanted to puke. And standing before him was his grand-daughter proudly displaying the symbol he fought to defeat. Yuck. He unceremoniously kicked her out and asked her never to return; dealing with her drugs or crimes was one thing — but associating with the low-lifes of the world was just too much for him.

Nobody ever wakes up and says, “I’m going to end up a drug-using, Nazi-loving, car-stealing criminal in jail”; she was no exception. Looking at her early years you would never have guessed — it was a strange set of circumstances allowing her to end up in this position. When her mother re-married and moved out of state she vowed not to go with them. And she didn’t (at seventeen years of age you don’t realize how much you don’t know). In any event, it didn’t take too long for her friends to tire of her hanging around and she found herself out on the street. Living in the bushes didn’t exactly fit her idea of a lifestyle, so she fell in with the wrong crowd. At least these people gave her food and a place to stay. But as the saying goes crime doesn’t pay; it didn’t take too long for her to run afoul of the law. Lacking the funds to mount a “dream team” defense, she found herself in her current position — abandoned by those so-called “friends” who seemed so loyal before.

Her bunk mate rolls over and begins to snore. Another wonderful day in paradise.

But she’s got lots of time to think, and since she’s got nothing else to lose she decides to call those football-loving, pancake-eating boring and pathetic old people she’d left behind so long ago (It’s amazing how much smarter your parents can get in a few years). Dialing the phone nervously her mind races — will they accept the collect call? Will they care?

The phone rings in a small three bedroom house a thousand miles away. Picking it up, the computer-generated voice declares “you have a collect call from a correctional institution”. Only three people could be making that call and they wonder which it is. They seriously contemplate hanging up and decline the phone call; they’ve heard the drill before. For some unknown reason they don’t, and the voice on the other end begins the conversation.

She starts by laying out her story, explaining in detail how she got in this position. After making her pitch, it seems she’s sold her case well — they seem to buy it.

Back in a small northern state far away from the criminal justice system on the other end of this call, something is different this time. They’re no strangers to calls like this — bailing cars out of impound, calls from jail, visits from the sheriff, etc. Yet it’s different this time. The youth on the other end of the phone actually listens as advice is given — after getting out of jail you’ve got to get into a treatment program, and we know just where to go. The soft voice on the other end agrees. Goodbye. Hanging up the phone they ponder the reality of it all — is it possible this time is for real? Or is it just another cruel joke? Only time will tell…

She heads back to her jail cell, and upon entering almost sits on top of an unseen visitor — the angel who the Lord Jesus Himself personally dispatched to watch over her. She is unaware of the battle raging all around her, as the demons despair and discouragement try to force through a line of heavenly warriors with swords drawn. But in that phone call her entire destiny changed, and although she doesn’t know it, the guys in white hats battle back the guys in black hats, who retreat and await a time when the subject will not be so well defended. But it won’t come. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5:17 NKJV).

Oh, you sounded so much like the angels, You said follow, and you surely will not die, And my eyes were opened, I stood washed and clean, And I knew you chose me even before time[2]

The preceding story is true; I know because as I write this my 2 year old grandson is busy making noise in the other room with his little toy drill — his mother just recently moved to our town to get started on a new life. Personally, I never thought this day would come — it would take far too much time to relate exactly how far down she’d gone. She’d been flushed down the toilet of life, and when she got stuck in the trap she reached up and flushed it again — I’m not exaggerating here. Honest. How many people do you know with swastika tattoos escape the sausage grinder they fall into — with all their fingers and toes intact?

As for me, I’m speechless. People who know me realize that’s no small feat. I’ve inherited the soapbox from my father, whose great claim to fame (as we kids saw it at the time) is having all his speeches numbered; sitting down at the dinner table in our house we could recite them all. “Here comes lecture 40 again, subsection C, paragraph 4.” But all I can say is its thumb-under-the-suspenders time; I concur with John — “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth. (3 John 4 KJV)”.

Unfortunately not all stories end this way. Some people never come to the place where they realize they need help. Perhaps you are a participant in a similar situation. Maybe you’re a prodigal son yourself, wondering what would happen if you called your parents and asked for their forgiveness and help. Naturally, I can’t guarantee any particular response in any given situation, but I do know from personal experience (and the experience of others) that a considerable amount of time is spent wondering if the phone would ring again — and when it does, scared to answer it because of who might be on the other end.

If you’re someone who has had the unfortunate experience of seeing someone you care about slowly slip down into the black tar, I’ve got some news for you. First, you’ve got to realize it’s a battle out there. If you haven’t practiced with the armor God provides you (Ephesians 6), you’d better start training now. Spend some time preparing with the armor you’ve been provided; anything else you pick up in this battle is ineffective and worthless.

There is something else you must be aware of; it’s easy to become discouraged and give up — the question is, how much faith do you have? I’m not saying if your prayers haven’t been answered it’s because you don’t have faith. If that lie was true, Paul was not a man of faith! He prayed three times, and his prayer was never answered (at least the way he wanted it to be). Simply put, God does things His way, in His time. Deal with it.

Yet we can not become discouraged and give up.

Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1 KJV)

In that great “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews eleven is a subtle point. Sure we see Noah, Abraham and others and think they were some special case; God had given them extra faith we don’t posses. After all, our situation is different. Moses only faced the Egyptian army, we’ve got real problems! But in the middle of that chapter is a curious verse.

These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. (Hebrews 11:13 KJV)

Fact is, you may not live to see your son or daughter come to Christ. But you can’t quit. Be diligent. Be persistent. Practice with the weapons you’ve been provided with. Be a warrior. I’ve seen firsthand a person I thought was too far-gone make a U-turn in the road of life; I know it’s possible.

Is not my word like as a fire? saith the LORD; and like a hammer that breaketh the rock in pieces? (Jeremiah 23:29 KJV)

And they that heard it said, Who then can be saved? And he said, The things which are impossible with men are possible with God. (Luke 18:26-27 KJV)

Thus saith the LORD; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the LORD; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the LORD, that thy children shall come again to their own border. (Jeremiah 31:16-17 KJV)

[1,2]Lyrics by Forty Save One, from the CD “Something Fierce” Copyright © 2000. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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