The Amazing Race

Recently, one of the inmates here on our prison yard has been in touch with a charity that is important to him. It helps disabled children, and those children are soon going to be running a 7K race to help raise money and awareness for their organization. My fellow inmate decided he wanted to organize a small 7K run here. His goal was to have it occur weeks before the one run by the charity so we could write about our experience and send it to them beforehand so they would know they had supporters, even here in prison. He presented the idea and immediately there were a few of us interested in participating.

Now, I know some people have a stereotype that everyone in prison works out. While there are some that do, most don’t. While I do some exercise, I am NOT a runner. That’s just not what I do, and interestingly, that seemed to be the case for most of those wanting to participate in this run. We had only one official training run before the day of the event.

On our track here, it takes 22 laps to run 7 kilometers. There were fifteen of us at the start and we all had different goals. Some people had goals of how fast they wanted to go and some just wanted to finish. My personal goal was to finish the run without stopping to walk, even if it meant going really slow. That morning, we had a brief word by our organizer about the purpose of our run. It was interesting to me to notice that there were inmates of all ages, ethnicity, religions, and reasons for being in prison. There was a nervous energy because this was out of our comfort zone to run like this, but we wanted to do it for the cause.

There are usually not more than a couple of solitary runners using the track at any one time so it created a little bit of a stir when one of the inmates yelled, “Go!” and fifteen of us started running. It surprised the guards and it took a few seconds for them to realize that we had no ill intentions! Inmates around the yard noticed what we were doing and started asking questions. Soon, it seemed like the whole yard knew that we were all running 22 laps as part of a charity run. Some inmates acted like fans and started asking us how many laps we had left and encouraged us to keep going.

We all ran at different paces. When I was at about the 15 lap mark, I felt like I was going to stop and walk a lap or so. There were others walking, and I knew I would still finish, but I would not accomplish my goal. Just as I was about to walk, one of the other runners passed me and said, “You’re doing great, don’t stop now!” It was just the motivation I needed and I never did stop to walk.

Some of the faster runners had started to finish their run, and when I got toward my last lap, I didn’t know if my legs could keep going. Then, just when my body was about to give out, one of the people who had already completed his run asked me how long I had to go. When I told him I was starting my last lap, he said that even though was finished, he’d join me. He stayed by my side, talking me through the last lap, encouraging me, and helping me to get it done. As I finished the race, I felt so good that I had finished and accomplished my goal. I knew that a big reason for my success was the help of others.

Soon after I finished, one racer who had two laps left decided to quit, saying he just couldn’t do it and he was done. The rest of us encouraged him, and after just a few seconds, he decided to finish. As he got to his last lap, I remembered what had helped me, and I and another participant who had finished jumped back in to run the last lap with our final finisher. It was as if having us by his side gave him new life. He ran with energy and was able to finish the race. Even though he had considered quitting, he was immediately grateful that he finished and that he had help to do it. All fifteen of us had completed the race.

I felt so good afterwards, and I know that part of that is because it was such a different experience than often happens here. This place is often negative and some bad things happen here. So to go through something like this was a huge lift. I thought about the fact that so many people on the outside think of prisoners negatively, and as a scourge on society. Then I realized that even though I am an inmate as well, I often fall into the easy habit of judging people in here, based on something I have heard about them or have seen them do.

This race was a big reminder to me of the divine potential of all of God’s children. No matter what we have done, who we are, or where we are, we all have the potential to change. We all have the potential to help others. It is inside each of us. What I saw during that race was goodness. It is so important to remember that even when I am down on myself for past mistakes, that goodness, that divine potential is there. And when I see others who are making mistakes, I need to remember that the same potential for change is there, and I need to treat them as such.

I guess I could say that this race is a little bit like life. In life, we have to do difficult things. We need to set positive goals and work towards them. We can receive help from the Holy Spirit and from those around us. When we feel like giving up, we must rely on the help available to us. And just as importantly, we can be the one to help others, and step in when they are about to give up. We can be the reason they make it.

Reflections: Ye Came Unto Me

(Reposted from my page)

After being arrested due to some very poor decisions that I had made, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and upset at myself. I had never felt so alone.  I had been an active member of the church, a loving husband and father. And now I was in jail.

I worried that my family and friends would abandon me and that I would never see them again.  I did not feel worthy of their love or support. I relied on prayer and the Holy Spirit with an intensity that I had never experienced before.  I wanted so desperately to feel that I was still important in God’s eyes. I was living in an environment that did not encourage the presence of the Spirit, but I pleaded to feel His comfort. 

I am grateful to say that Heavenly Father heard my prayers and provided ways for me to feel His presence and grow personally and spiritually. He did this through members of my family and church members  who were willing to minister to me while I was incarcerated. Jesus Christ said, “I was hungered, and ye gave me meat . . . I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison and ye came unto me.” (Matthew 25: 35-36)  Prior to these experiences, I had thought of ministering to the sick and the hungry, but had somewhat ignored the last part of Christ’s teachings. Thankfully, others did not ignore His words, and they found ways to minister to me.

Since this life changing event occurred, I have received many letters that arrived at just the right moment with just the right message.  In some of my lowest moments, when I was feeling new levels of despair, I received letters or conference talks from people who had said they felt an impression that they should write me or send me that particular talk. 

There were also members of the church that sent me items such as scriptures, books by LDS authors, and material from the church’s 12-step Addiction Recovery Program.  Every time I finished reading something, it seemed that I would receive something else in the mail that would build on what I had just read. 

Some people chose to minister to me in person and came to visit.  It is difficult to describe how much joy those visits bring me. While in Liberty Jail, the prophet Joseph Smith wrote, “No tongue can tell what inexpressible joy it gives a man, who has been enclosed within the walls of a prison, to see the face of one who has been a friend.” (Joseph Smith, Jr., Letter, Liberty, MO, to Presendia Huntington Buell, Clay Co., MO, 15 Mar. 1839 ;in JS, History, 1838–1856, vol. C-1, between pp. 897—898)

I received visits from members of wards I had not lived in for years, including some of my past Bishops.  These people weren’t “assigned” to me, they simply followed the spiritual impressions they received. Many people later expressed that they had been nervous at first and unsure of what to write or say.  Fortunately they pushed through those uncomfortable feelings and allowed themselves to be led by the Spirit. There really was no “wrong” thing to say to me.

The blessings that have come into my life because of these ministering brothers and sisters cannot be numbered.  I know that God loves me and I am His son. I know that I can repent and make the necessary changes in my life. I have learned that the atonement applies to me, and I can be forgiven for my sins.  The service that those ministers give to me has allowed me to be in a place spiritually where I am now able to minister to others while serving my time in prison. 

It is important to point out that by ministering to me, there were also things they were NOT doing.  By ministering to me, people were not condoning my actions or approving of the illegal behaviors I had done.  They were not turning their backs on any victims of my crimes. They were simply ministering in the way that Christ wanted them to. 

I still have several years left in which I need to pay my debt to society, and I have lost my membership in the church.  Making the horrible choices that I did could have led me to abandon my faith and go even further down a destructive path, but thanks to the love I have felt from Heavenly Father through all those ministering to me, I have had my testimony strengthened and have felt my weaknesses turning into strengths.  I know that I can return to Him someday.

Lie #10 – Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ are Too Busy to be Involved in Most Aspects of My Life

I have felt divine intervention in many major aspects of my life.  I felt guided in decisions regarding family and career choices. I feel I have served in callings, including my mission location, that were truly inspired.  However, when it comes to the smaller details of my life, I felt that those were in my own hands. Not only did this lead to the pride described before which doesn’t acknowledge divine help, but it allowed me to justify events in my life as not mattering.  It also prevented me from seeing the importance of seeking the Lord’s will in many decisions.

Elder Ronald Rasband has taught the truth regarding this topic: “Our lives are like a chessboard, and the Lord moves us from one place to another—if we are responsive to spiritual promptings.  Looking back, we can see His hand in our lives.” Believing this lie made me not notice these spiritual promptings. Elder Rasband continues and teaches us that Christ is in the small details of our lives as well as the major milestones.  Even our trials are guided by Him and are for our good as taught in Doctrine and Covenants 122:7: ” . . . if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.” 

Once I started becoming aware of this truth, I was able to identify the daily, if not hourly, interventions in my life.  Seeing that He cares for me that much and is that aware of my life, gives me new faith in the ability to seek His will and accept it, even if it goes against what I want or feel is best.  Realizing this truth helps me move toward being able to say and honestly feel the expression in Hymn #134 which says, “I believe in Christ, so come what may.” Their divine involvement in my life is just another evidence of the love Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ have for us.

What are some ways you notice divine guidance in even the smaller aspects of day to day life?

Lie #7 – Expressing My Reliance on God is Just Something I Am Supposed to Say

I heard it all the time.  Everyone from the prophet in General Conference to the basketball player who makes the winning shot thanks God and expresses that they owe everything to Him.  So, I said it too. And in some ways, I believed it. I know I owe my life to God. He gave me my family, for which I am extremely grateful. But if I gave credit to God for everything, it meant that my accomplishments were not of my own doing.  And that was difficult for my pride to accept. When people complimented me on a talk I gave or a piano solo I played, it felt good, and I didn’t want to give the credit away. When I got a promotion at work, it was because of my skills and my abilities.  I could acknowledge God’s assistance, but most of the work was my own. Or so I thought. In my current situation, I am completely reliant on others, including God. I can do nothing of myself. Every temporal and spiritual need is provided by others and support from the other side of the veil.  As I was being compelled to humility, I couldn’t deny that in this difficult situation I was totally reliant on the Lord. However, the truth I have learned is that this has always been the case. My successes in life were due to attributes provided to me by God. My opportunities were due to the family I was born into.  Nothing came from me anymore then than it does now. Believing this lie led me to rely on sources other than God. It taught me to rely more on worldly sources for my support rather than spiritual. Coming to see the truth has allowed me to receive even more gifts and spiritual experiences from God. For once we acknowledge and give gratitude for the gifts we have already received, we are much more likely to be given further light.

What experiences have you had to help you realize just how much you need to rely on God? I would really love to hear from you.

Lie #5 – The Atonement is Important, But it is Not Something I Feel in my Life

I have given lessons and talks on the atonement, yet I had never recognized feeling it in my life.  I knew it was a necessary principle that made it so even as a sinner I could live in heaven someday.  And I believe that, and it is true. However, I did not recognize the impact it was having on my life, and I certainly didn’t realize the incredible greater impact it could have on my life if I allowed it to.  One excuse I gave to myself for not repenting was that if I acknowledged a sin, it meant more suffering for Christ, and repenting added to that suffering. However, in forming a more personal relationship with Christ, I have come to know an important truth.  Christ did not suffer because of me, He suffered for me.  

If I don’t acknowledge my sins and repent, I am not honoring His sacrifice, and I am making it so His suffering was in vain.  By opening my soul to those ideas, I have been flooded with the comfort that has been promised. As I have gone through my recent trials, I can’t imagine where I would be without the comfort that comes from His atoning sacrifice.  I have also learned that part of the reason that the atonement is so important is that its purpose is much more than just providing a way to repent of sins. The atonement’s power and reach truly are infinite.

Have you ever struggled to make the atonement more than just an abstract idea in your life? Please comment and share your ideas to make the Atonement of Jesus Christ powerful in your daily life.