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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!
You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Today's Wild Card author is:
and the book:
Passio (September 4, 2012)
***Special thanks to Althea Thompson of Charisma House for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Visit the author's website.
SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 240 pages
Publisher: Passio (September 4, 2012)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
I Have never been sentenced to prison or jail, but I have been locked up many times. My cell has been lonely, dark, isolating, and cold. I have met a lot of prisoners
just like me. It gives me some comfort knowing I am not the only one. It is always easier to justify failure when you have a companion.
Some of my former cellmates could easily be detected as offenders, but many others are not so easy to iden- tify. Some reveal their chains through sarcastic and bitter words; others do not have to speak. The lines and expres- sions on their faces tell what words dare not say, their countenance revealing the deepest and most private suffering.
People in prison respond to incarceration in different ways. Some accept their sentences, while others spend every waking moment trying to find a way of escape. I have visited numerous prisons and jails where I have been amazed to meet people who say they never want to
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leave. Prison has become the only way of life they know and the only place they have respect and friends. They say they have nothing on the outside to go back to and have become comfortable locked up.
I guess if you stay in any place long enough, even when it is the wrong one, it can begin to feel like home. Maybe this is why the number of people who leave prison only to return is sky high. Men have tendencies: the things we should not do come naturally, while the things we should do are so hard to get done. Just because you take the man out of the big house doesn’t mean you’ve taken the big house out of the man.
On the other hand, the prisoner consumed with escaping does so because he is dying—not a literal death, but the death of his will and hope for a better life. It is the death that comes when your heart gives up any chance for change or to live a life of purpose. Everyone dies, but only a few truly live. These captives want more than the air they breathe; they want a life that truly has meaning.
There are many types of prisons. Some have literal bars and fences, while others use emotions, habits, and thoughts to hold its captives. So which prison held me? It is the prison of rejection. It can be found in the hearts of broken sons, discarded wives, lost teens, abused women, and neglected children as well as the successful, prom- inent, educated, and religious. People find themselves locked in the prison of rejection because they committed one of two crimes: either they were unwilling to accept others, or they were not accepted themselves. In my case
it was . . . wait, let me first explain.
I was born and raised in north Texas and live there now. Although there are many places in the state that are beau- tiful, they are not here in the far northern part (no matter what the locals say). I have spent the lion’s share of my life on the road. I have visited every state in the United States except four, and I have seen quite a bit of the Lone Star State. Yet I have never witnessed as many unusual sights as I have here.
One particular sight that has intrigued me for some time is a tiny jail in a town of less than one thousand people. It is said to be one of the oldest jails in Texas and is located on the highway between Wichita Falls and Lubbock, Texas. If you have ever seen the movie Lonesome Dove (considered a masterpiece here in Texas), then you can imagine this being the jail where Blue Duck was held before he jumped out the second-story window to his death. The jail is over one hundred years old and easily looks twice that.
Out front stands an old tree. After its leaves fall, the crusty, crooked branches resemble the hands of an evil witch reaching toward the walls. The jail has sleeping quarters that will house four men upstairs and the same number of women downstairs. It was even built with a trap door for “hanging” offenders. There is a famous story of three inmates who murdered the on-duty sheriff in an attempt to escape. The three were quickly reapprehended then swiftly tried and convicted.
I passed by this old jail every few months in my travels, and something about it always jerked at my curious mind. Although I felt a pull to stop and check it out, I was always too busy to break down and do so until one moonlit
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morning at about twelve thirty. Two friends were riding with me on our way back home from an event when we drove past the jail. We still had a couple hours more to drive, but when I looked out the window and saw the outline of the jail, I could not resist.
I made an illegal U-turn, parked out front, and walked through a door that was faintly ajar. A slightly startled woman sitting at an old wooden desk looked up quickly and asked if she could help. I began to explain my long- standing fascination with the old jail. I told her my friends and I were passing through, and I could no longer resist the urge to stop. This jailer was a welcoming woman who surprised me when she recognized my name.
“I thought you looked familiar. I know who you are. This weekend I heard a radio advertisement about the Outdoor Extravaganza you were speaking at and thought it would be something my youngest would enjoy doing. He loves hunting and fishing, and we spent yesterday at your event in Lubbock.”
I thought it was highly unlikely that this was a coin- cidence, and I felt a chill sprint up my spine. It seemed too perfect after passing by all these times that I would just happen to stop the day after this woman heard my name on the radio. She cordially invited my friends and me to glance around the jail as she explained its history. Because there were no women locked up, she let us see the female quarters located on the bottom floor.
After about ten minutes of small talk and gander we were about to leave. When I asked how many men were upstairs, a strange expression washed over the jailer’s face. Then she asked, “Would you like to go up and speak to the inmates? They have very few visitors, and even
though it is late, I think they would be glad to see a new face and hear what you have to say.”
I told her I would be glad to talk with them so long as I did not interrupt their sleep. As soon as I got the words out of my mouth, she grabbed her antique-looking keys and motioned for all three of us to follow her.
Upon climbing the old staircase, we were immedi- ately met by a curious group of four wide-awake men. I introduced myself and my comrades, shook their hands, and began to explain how we ended up visiting the jail. All four of the men crowded near the bars and listened intently to every word I spoke.
First impressions last forever. Two of the men stood out to me instantly. One was a gregarious Hispanic guy with a big personality, and the other was a young, quiet guy who looked like he still belonged in high school. I tried to offer encouragement by telling them we all make mis- takes we can learn from. I discussed how the crime that landed them in trouble could be the catalyst that trans- forms their lives for the better if they are willing to own it and learn from it. Reactions to events can sometimes be more important than actions in events.
I talked about letting go of the past because it can’t be changed and seizing whatever opportunities were before them. I did not offer some hokey religious platitude about letting go and letting God. I just tried to be transparent and show the concern I genuinely felt. I also listened to them. If you tune in to someone’s words for very long, those words will reveal what is hidden in that person’s heart.
The youngest inmate vented about how he was twenty-one and in two days was being transferred to a prison
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in Huntsville, Texas, where he would begin a twenty-five- year sentence without the possibility of parole. He said his father would not visit him, and all his mother could do was cry the two times she came to see him. I didn’t know what crime he committed, but my heart went out to him. When it was time to go, I asked the men if I could pray for them. It was the best thing I had to offer. They were all in favor. Nothing makes people more open to prayer than getting in a bind they cannot get out of on their own.
Afterward I began shaking their hands through the steel bars and wishing the guys my best. I also offered my address in case they wanted to write. The last one in line was the young, baby-faced guy who on his way to the pen. I obviously did not know him, but I felt a deep sense of compassion toward him. The whole time I was with the inmates, I was troubled that someone so young was losing so much of his life.
Before I left, I expressed exactly what I felt boiling inside me. “Hey, man. I do not know what you have done to get twenty-five years, and I do not care. It is never too late to change and to start anew. Your life is not over. Prison can be a time of getting your education, working through your issues, and learning how you can help others. Do not give up, bro. I do not judge you, but I love you man.” I meant ever y word . . . or so I thought.
Walking downstairs, I felt sickened to see such a young life being crushed. My mind kept tripping over what this boy could have done wrong. After explaining my grati- tude to the jailer, I told my companions to wait for me in the car. I then broke a cardinal rule that I established
when visiting correctional facilities. I never, ever ask what
crime someone has committed because I do not want my opinion to be skewed by the revelation of someone’s past. But with this guy I just could not resist.
“Ma’am, I have never asked this question about any inmate before, but I have to know, what crime has the boy committed?” I explained that I felt some kind of con- nection to him and wanted to help.
She replied, “Are you sure you want to know?”
When I said, “Yes, I am sure,” I knew the answer was destined to haunt me. I had no idea how much.
The jailer’s words left me feeling nauseated. I acted like I was unfazed, but I could feel my heart racing. After telling the jailer good-bye, I walked out to my car, wanting to hit something to unleash the anger I felt. Drunk with fury, I turned into a Jekyll and Hyde. If you have ever seen one of those “when animals go bad” videos, then you can imagine my transformation. For the next two hours of driving I tried to overcome the rage I felt. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t seem to shake it. After getting home, I lay in bed until 5:30 a.m. completely unable to sleep.
Two days later I was not only struggling with the fact that this man had committed such a horrible crime but also with how I could so easily turn on someone I genu- inely thought I cared for. As far as I knew, I did not hate anyone and could not remember anyone in my past I had not forgiven or was holding a grudge against. Why did I feel such hatred toward this man?
The old saying is true: hating and refusing to forgive someone is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. I knew I had to do something. I decided
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to call my best friend for advice on how to shake the problem because nothing seemed to help. In the days I spent wrestling with my anger toward the man, I began to revisit the circumstances surrounding the only other person I could remember hating: my oldest sister.
My sister is quite beautiful and intelligent. She was also quite rebellious and stubborn in her high school days. It was not uncommon for her and our parents to be at odds. Sometimes the conflict erupted in a volcano of anger and hurt that spewed everywhere. My sister and I were fairly close when we were young, but in time the distance grew beyond measure. The wall between us seemed to sprout up suddenly, like a new building that just appears before you even knew it was being built.
In my own self-centered world of girls, cars, and par- ties, I was oblivious to the struggles she was facing. One weekend during my senior year of high school, her friend called when our parents were out of town to give me some unexpected news. “Jay, I think you need to know your sister, Kay, is gay.” I immediately jumped in the car and drove to Kay’s apartment to confront her. I had to make sure it was a lie.
When no one came to the door, I left a message on her voice mail and waited in her parking lot until 3:00 a.m., but she never came home. The next day I continued my stakeout and knew something was wrong when she kept avoiding me. Late one afternoon I saw her car on the road and raced up beside her, rolled down the window, and yelled, “Pull over; we’ve got to talk.”
She knew why I was chasing her, because the girl who called me also phoned her to give her fair warning. Kay
yelled back from her car, “We have nothing to talk about,”
and tried to speed away. She pulled over only when I threatened to run her off the road.
I confronted her with what I had been told, and she admitted that it all was true. I incorrectly reacted in anger and disbelief, unleashing on her every disgusting ounce of my judgment and rejection. After many jagged words were spoken, the conversation ended with her telling me it was her life and I should want her to be happy and me responding, “I hate you.” I was convinced I had every right to reject her. That misplaced confidence only grew after an incident a few months later really sent me over the edge.
It happened at lunch late in my senior year. Because my school was close to the house, I often drove home for my thirty-minute lunch break just to see the family. At the time everything was going along great, and my sister and I had turned a new corner. A few weeks earlier, Kay had moved back home and told my parents she wanted out of her lifestyle. We had a tearful reunion and were putting the pieces back together.
But upon arriving home for lunch, I found my mom and dad sitting at the kitchen table, and Dad was doing some- thing I couldn’t remember seeing him do before. Dad was crying. He had tears running down his face, and Mom’s eyes were also swollen, as if she had been punched. As far as I remembered, Dad did not even cry when his father died. Seeing him upset was a stab in the heart I could not take.
“What is going on?” I thundered. My parents replied that my sister was moving back in with her girlfriend. I rushed into my sister’s room and started cursing, telling
her that she was tearing the family apart by leaving. Kay
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just continued packing, as if unfazed by how much Mom and Dad were hurting. That took my anger to a boiling point. Kay yelled that her life was none of my business and I needed to stay out of it. I begged her to stay, for Mom and Dad’s sake, but she said nothing could stop her from leaving. That’s when I exploded.
I’d never pushed around a girl before and haven’t since, but that day I pinned my sister against the wall and spewed my venom. The confrontation ended with me telling her I never wanted to see her again. I knew as I walked past Mom and Dad and out the door that my actions had hurt them as well, but I didn’t care. I thought I had every right to shove my sister—out of my way and out of my mind.
As the months rolled by, I did not ask my parents about Kay and tried to ignore the situation all together. I believed the ridiculous notion that if I avoided some- thing long enough, the issue would either work itself out or disappear. I was still too young to understand accep- tance, forgiveness, and love are not meant to be earned but to be given freely. I also could not wrap my mind around the fact that forgiveness is denied to those who are unwilling to dispense it. Therefore I just moved on, or so I thought.
For the next three years I viewed Kay as an embarrass- ment to our family and me. There were times when she would come home for a few weeks, which my parents and I always took to mean she was abandoning her life- style. But then she’d move out again, and each time it felt like she was turning her back on the family all over again. The emotional roller coaster we were all on kept the ten-
sion in the family thick. Mom and Dad became reluctantly
accustomed to her chair being empty at Thanksgiving and
Christmas, but it was fine with me.
When Kay hurt Mom and Dad, I took it as a personal assault. No doubt many of my own actions had hurt them as deeply as my sister’s, but that was easy for me to dis- miss. Although my anger wasn’t justified, I thought it was. I had a legalistic, self-righteous view that I learned in part from some of the religious folks at church. Tragically, false religion taught me how to push away people who were different rather than to love and seek to understand them.
My anger was also due to pride. Rather than being con- cerned about my relationship with Kay, I became focused on what my narrow circle of friends might think of our family and me. Their opinions should never have been my priority, but I thought rejecting my sister would build walls protecting me from their condemnation. In actu- ality I was closing myself off from one of the people who should have meant the most to me, and I was becoming hard, skeptical, and angry. The criticism and isolation I was dishing out was doing nothing to alter Kay, but it was definitely changing me.
I had no idea at the time that I was bound in a prison of my own making. I had no idea that I was not living the fulfilling life I longed for because I refused to deal with the anger and unforgiveness that was destroying me.
When I hit twenty-one, I experienced a watershed event that began to change my perspective. I began to see how far I was from becoming the man I’d hoped to be. It did not happen all at once, but the scales began to fall, and I found myself wanting to repair the dam in
my relationship with Kay. So I called her in Dallas and
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asked if we could meet. I knew she was a hundred and twenty miles away, but I had no idea how far that two- hour drive would actually take me.
Upon arriving at Kay’s house, I admitted my faults and asked for forgiveness. I didn’t expect anything in return. I was just worried that she would not believe my words because I hadn’t done anything to prove my sincerity. I had hurt her tremendously both in word and deed, wrongly thinking I had a right to reject her because of the life she was living. It was an amazing moment for me when, after two hours of talking about all the mistakes we both had made, Kay and I hugged. I told her I loved her and that I was glad she was my sister. She replied, “I love you too, brother, and I forgive you. I really do.” The road to a real relationship was not completely paved that night, but it was under good construction.
It has been years now, and I can honestly say my sister and I are closer than ever. She does not have to do any- thing to earn my love. I drove home from Dallas realizing that while I thought I was letting her out of a cage, I was actually the one who needed to be set free.
That night at the old jail when I asked the jailer what crime the young man had committed, she had motioned for me to sit in a chair before she answered.
“Jay, he is going to Huntsville because he raped two pre- teen girls.”
I swallowed hard, partly because the girls he assaulted were the age of my only daughter. She offered a few more details before I walked out the door.
As I walked to the car, I thought about a male nurse
who once sat next to me at an event where I was sched- uled to speak. He asked if I had heard the news about the two-year-old girl who was expected to die after being raped by her drug-crazed stepdad. He was the nurse on duty when she was brought in, and he was still pretty shaken up. I was supposed to be talking to a crowd of church people in a matter of moments and found myself silently calling the offender the worst names possible. I felt like such a hypocrite, but the emotions were hard to lasso.
I have seen the effects of sexual abuse in my most cov- eted relationship, which is with my wife. A family member sexually assaulted her for years, and it wreaked havoc not only on her personally but also on our marriage. If there was anything that got under my skin, it was sexual crimes. The inmate had struck a tender nerve. I believed he had not only tried to crucify and steal the innocent girls’ present but their future as well. I was livid, because
I know the cuts of sexual abuse are the hardest to heal. The scabs keep tearing off, leaving victims with a sense of guilt and unworthiness due to something that was no fault of their own.
Three sleepless nights after leaving the jail, I got a rev- elation about accepting others. I had vengeful thoughts about the boy I’d met. I am not proud to own them, but
I secretly hoped he would burn in hell. I told my best friend that justice would seek and find him behind the walls of the Huntsville prison. I concluded that if anyone was beyond forgiveness and restoration, he was. I sur- mised that I might be responsible to forgive and accept
some people but not everyone. I was convinced I was
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judge and jury when it came to who deserved my pardon and who did not. I was so wrong.
What about my own guilt? I have never been unfaithful to my wife, but I have entertained lustful thoughts. I have not been involved in a murder, but what about that hatred I have harbored? I have not been involved in a same-sex relationship, but what about my promiscuity before I was
married? My failures are no less sinful than anyone else’s.
Judging others only produces self-judgment. I was taught early on to love the sinner and hate the sin, but often that is just religious jargon, a masquerade to hide our judg- mental attitudes. Who am I to despise anyone else’s faults when I should be busy enough hating my own? Instead of shifting blame away from my own shortcomings, I should be reaching out to those who may not know that God is not the one condemning them. Tragically, many people are isolating the very people who need them the most.
Jesus never favored the religious; His darlings were always the hurting and the sinful, not the self-righteous. He never tired of showing His love for renegades. It is ironic that we tend to be drawn the least to the people He was drawn to the most. Jesus was regularly seen eating and spending time with outcasts and those we wickedly condemn. Unlike us He had an uncanny ability to make the losers of the world feel like the winners. He not only made them feel like somebody, but He also helped them to become somebody. We see people for who they were and are, but God sees people for who they have the potential to become.
Sadly, many morally superior people fall into the trap of loving only those who think, dress, act, and believe as they do. It is easy to beat your chest and say you are
standing for truth without considering whose truth you are standing for. It’s time for us to stop hating and start liberating. It’s time to bury our legalistic and narcissistic actions. I do not claim to know everything about God, but I do know He loves and unconditionally accepts anyone
who is willing to turn to Him. This includes thieves, rob- bers, murderers, drunks, adulterers, Muslims, homosex- uals, gossipers, cheaters, fornicators, liars, hypocrites like me, and even those whom I have the hardest time loving: child abusers.
I asked God why He allowed me to stop at the old jail that night. Many people believe in coincidences, but I do not. I am sure every step I take has a purpose, a lesson, even beneficial pain if I am willing to embrace it. As I prayed for understanding, a question popped in my mind. Does God love the rapist in the Huntsville prison, and could even someone like him be forgiven?
As much as I wanted to deny it, I knew there was only one answer: yes. I believe God allowed me to meet that man so I could understand that He does not see others as I do. My love has boundaries, but His has no end. Although God does not accept all the things I do, He is willing to accept all of me. This is the love I still do not completely understand. Yet it is exactly the kind of love I want to give.