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.