Be Vigilant

One of the unfortunate realities of living in prison is the ever present possibility of violence. Danger can occur in any situation at anytime. However, even with that reality, there is a lot that someone in here can do to try and stay safe. Doing so takes effort and vigilance, not to mention a lot of prayer and following the Spirit! There have been times when I have prayed and then felt like the spirit placed a cocoon around me, protecting me from what was going on all around.

Currently, I feel blessed to be in a place where the violence is much less frequent than in other places I have been. While this is no doubt a good thing, I recently realized that it has allowed me to feel complacent about my safety at times. I got to a point where I was too comfortable. I was going about my days and getting into a routine that did not involve staying constantly aware of my surroundings and environment. I feel fortunate that even with that relaxed attitude, I stayed safe.

Sadly, something recently happened here where others were not so fortunate. Violence hit hard and people were hurt that did nothing to deserve it and had done nothing to put themselves in that situation. This incident quickly put everything back in perspective for me. I was reminded that as much as I might try to forget it, I am in prison, and therefore, I need to constantly be doing that things that keep me safe. The phrase that kept coming to my mind over and over again was, “Be vigilant”.

Vigilance to me, means to be aware of my surroundings. Vigilance means that I need to be looking for potential danger and doing whatever I can do to avoid it. As I spent time looking at my own routines and what I could do to improve my constant vigilance, I was reminded of a scripture I had read in the past. I had to look it up in the Topical Guide, but I found it in 1 Peter 5:8

“. . . be vigilant because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour”.

Reading this had a powerful impact on me because it’s clear that in the scripture, they are not talking as much about being vigilant for physical safety, as much as they are about spiritual safety. If I consider it important to be vigilant in relation to physical safety, should I not consider it even more important to be vigilant for my spiritual safety. However, this doesn’t just apply to being in prison.

No matter where I am, what I’m doing, or how old I am, I need to be vigilant. And if I look back at my life, I can see the same pattern in my spiritual life. There were many times that I felt spiritually “safe”. In those times, I got comfortable and complacent. I got into a daily routine that did not involve staying constantly aware of temptations and spiritual opportunities around me. I left myself vulnerable to making mistakes because I wasn’t paying attention to potential dangers around me. This led to serious problems that should have been a call to vigilance. And at times they were, but those periods of vigilance were all too brief. It never took very long for me to slip back into complacency.

As I examine my life, now that I have unfortunately made many serious mistakes, I realize that Satan will NEVER stop trying to get me. He will NEVER stop tempting me, or tricking me, or lying to me. He will NEVER leave me alone on my path to returning to live with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. That teaches me a valuable lesson. If I am ever feeling spiritually comfortable to the point that I don’t think I’m currently facing any temptations, or that I’m not having any spiritual challenges at the time, that is a big warning sign that I’m not being vigilant enough. Since Satan will always be “walking about, seeking whom he may devour”, if I’m not seeing it, that may just mean I’m not noticing how Satan is working on me in the moment, or maybe I’m not recognizing the lie that he is currently telling me. If I’m not vigilant enough to always be watching for the opposition, I will likely not be prepared to defend myself against it.

Vigilance for me comes through reading the scriptures and the words of the prophets who can warn us specifically what to look for. Vigilance for me means repeatedly reading certain scriptures — such as Alma 5 — so I can constantly test whether or not I am on my spiritual path. Vigilance for me comes from frequently talking to Heavenly Father about how my life is going and asking Him to guide me to areas I need to improve.

As I continue to try to find ways to stay vigilant when it comes to my physical safety, I pray that I can pay even more attention to my spiritual vigilance and come closer to where Heavenly Father wants me to be.

The Day Everything Changed

I woke up that day just like any Saturday morning, feeling pretty good about life. I had a good job, a nice house, a calling I liked in church, and most of all, an amazing wife and kids. I started the day with my customary bowl of cereal and then headed out toward the church where I was to meet other people who were going to help set up for a ward picnic that would be held later that day.

I had no idea that my life was about to change forever, or that I would soon begin the worst experience of my life. I could not have imagined that in a few minutes I was going to feel more alone than I ever knew was possible.

After a few blocks of driving, I noticed a minivan that was following close behind me. As I made a turn onto a main road, the van started to flash blue and red lights. It did not look like a typical police car, so it surprised me, but I pulled over. The officer in regular clothes came to my window and asked me my name. After I told him, he asked me to step out and he immediately handcuffed me. I was in shock. This was so unlike anything I had ever experienced. It soon became clear to me that my past mistakes were catching up with me and I was about to be held accountable in a big way.

As I started to process all that was happening in those first couple of hours, I came to a decision that the only option I had was to take my own life. I quickly planned how I would bail myself out, take the necessary steps to give messages to my family, and then how I would end it all. As soon as I was transferred to the jail and had a chance to make a phone call, I called a bail office to start my plan. Fortunately, to bail out I would need somebody to co-sign for me and I wasn’t willing to call anybody to let them know about what was going on.

I sat in that holding cell and felt so empty. I tried to figure out another way to make my plan work. I didn’t pray because at that point of my life, I felt that I was plenty capable of handling my own problems without troubling Heavenly Father. Thankfully, He came to me anyway. I sat on the bench and was suddenly filled with a warm feeling of peace. I can still even remember the spot on the wall I was staring at when this feeling hit me. It made no sense. I was in this horrible situation and I knew my life was never going to be the same, yet I had the thought come to mind that everything was going to be ok. I didn’t know what that meant. I didn’t know what was going to happen. But there was no denying that peaceful feeling that all would be well.

I am glad that at that moment I did not know the anguish I would go through the next year or so. I could not imagine the pain that was going to be felt by me and those I had hurt directly and indirectly. If I had known what I was going to go through, I don’t know if that peaceful feeling would have provided enough comfort. Heavenly Father knew what I needed at that time and sent the Spirit to save me. Since that moment, even in my greatest moments of despair, I have never again considered ending it all. Looking back, I have come to see that from the very moment this apparent nightmare started, Heavenly Father was helping me, guiding me, and carrying me.

From that feeling of peace, came a determination to take the next step. So I grabbed the phone book and started looking in the Yellow Pages for a lawyer. I don’t know if you have ever looked, but I imagine that in whatever city you are in, there are a ton of attorneys with ads in the Yellow Pages. I had no idea how I was going to choose a lawyer, so for the first time that day, I said a prayer. I prayed that I would be led to the lawyer that would be best for me. I tried a couple of the first ads I saw and because it was a Saturday, I wasn’t able to get in touch with anyone.

I continued to scroll through the ads and after skipping over several of them, my eyes landed on one in particular. There was nothing flashy or special about this ad, but without hesitation, I picked up the phone and dialed. The lawyer answered and, although the conversation was brief, I felt instantly at ease. It was only a couple hours later when he showed up to visit me for the first time. He did not say anything overly comforting, and he didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. But as he left, I felt that calm assurance again and knew that he was the one to be my lawyer.

As the next year went on, this decision was confirmed to me over and over again. While he was a good lawyer and helped represent me legally, the reason he was to be my lawyer was much more than that. In some of my darkest moments, he showed up to visit me. He not only worked as my lawyer, but ended up filling roles as my therapist, advisor, and friend. He worked with my family and gave them continued support as well. He even came to visit me on holiday weekends because he knew I would be having a tough time. He did not do this because of money. He did it because he cared. I know for sure that he was the best lawyer for me.

Out of all the lawyer ads I could have responded to, I know that I received that guidance from Heavenly Father because I had reached out to Him in prayer. That was the first of many, many experiences that helped me gain a testimony of the principle that Heavenly Father is aware of every detail of my life, and will help me and guide me if I am willing to ask, and willing to listen.

My life and the lives of many others were forever changed that day, but that day was just the turning point. The problems started years before, as I made the decisions that I did. In the moment, I never would have thought that day would be the moment things changed for the positive, but it was. If not for that day, I would still be a believer of Satan’s lies, and I would be heading toward a very dark place eternally. Since then, there have been a lot of difficult moments, and the challenges are far from over. However, I am grateful that everything changed that day. That is the day my heart started to change, my spirit started to heal, and my soul began the process of being saved.

Reflections: Waking Up

When I was in County Jail, all of us inmates lived in single cells by ourselves. We only got out of our cells for one hour each day. The isolation for 23 hours a day required that we do what one friend called, “mental gymnastics”, in order to survive. Needless to say, that one hour out of the cell became very important in so many ways. That was my only time to shower, shave, use the phone, and exercise, not to mention just getting some fresh air in an attempt to stay sane.

We were let out in groups of ten, always with the same people, and always at the same time each day. My group would be the first to get out at 8:00 in the morning. They brought us our breakfast in our cells at about 6 am. Then most people would go back to sleep and wait until our 8 o’clock time to go out. The problem was that the guards didn’t do anything to wake people up when it was our time to go out. At 8 am, they would announce over a very quiet speaker, “Group One, your doors are unlocked.” Then, I could press a button on the inside of my cell which would open my door and I could go out.

People often slept through this announcement and so those of us who were awake would often go by and try to wake up those who were still asleep. However, I was always nervous about doing this because all of the inmates in the other cells, who belonged to later groups, were still sleeping. I didn’t want to make them upset by waking them. So I would approach the cell doors of those in my group and lightly knock on the door, and quietly call their name through the crack between the door and the wall. I would never get much louder than that because I didn’t want to cause a disturbance.

The result was that sometimes people in my group just didn’t hear me, and didn’t wake up. This meant that they missed their one chance to get out for the day. I could have pounded on the door or yelled loudly, but I chose not to. Once they woke up, they would realize they missed their time and would be stuck in a cell for the rest of the day without a shower, interaction, or any other privileges. They would often be upset that nobody woke them up, and I would tell them that I wasn’t willing to create a scene just to wake them up. After all, I reasoned, it was actually their responsibility to wake themselves up and I was just doing them a favor to even try.

You might be wondering what any of this has to do with my spiritual journey. Well, I noticed as I became aware of all the lies Satan had led me to believe, that I had been in dire need of a spiritual awakening. Believing in Satan’s lies allowed me to fall into a deep spiritual slumber. Being asleep was allowing me to stray far from the light. I can look back on my life and identify different times when Heavenly Father tried to wake me up through quiet taps on the door, or softly calling my name. He used the Holy Spirit and people around me to try and get my attention.

Unfortunately, I had let myself get to a point where I was sleeping so heavily that I just didn’t hear these attempts to wake me up. If Heavenly Father had stopped there — if He had decided it was my responsibility to wake myself up — I can’t imagine where my spiritual life would be now or what my future would hold. I am so grateful that He was willing to do more to wake me up. He was willing to pound on the door and yell loudly. It is what He had to do in order to get my attention. I wish I had not been so hard to wake up. I wish I did not require such a drastic method of being woken up. It has caused a disturbance and has created a scene. It has caused a lot of hurt for a lot of people. Most, if not all of this, could have been prevented if I had just heard the earlier wake up calls.

I understand now that the drastic measures that my Heavenly Father was willing to take to awaken me are an indication to how much He loves me and knows me personally and intimately. I’m humbled to know he loves me enough to chasten me.

My hope is that others can learn from my mistakes and heed the earlier, softer warning calls. I pray that others will be able to wake up before such disruptive and hurtful events need to happen. There is nothing I can do to change the past, but I continue to be extremely grateful that Heavenly Father was persistent with me in His attempts to wake me up. If He had not done so, I would have lost my opportunity to repent and would have been “stuck in my cell” for a very long time.

Are there any people in your life who are currently trying to wake you up? Is the Holy Spirit softly tapping at your heart and urging you to change? Don’t ignore them. Don’t go back to sleep. It’s time to get and start the new day you have been given before you discover you have missed your chance.