Real Letters… Real Lives…

I read the saddest letter yesterday. It was from a man I am writing who lives on Death Row. I’m sharing it because I want my readers to realize that the people who live on Death Row are real. I know getting past their crimes in your mind is a difficult thing to ask. I struggle at times to see them through the eyes of Christ.

I don’t usually look up the ‘rap sheets’ of the people I write. Last Friday, I wanted to update my mailing list. Most times, a person’s criminal history is public information and freely available on the Internet. I couldn’t help but be curious enough to scroll down the page and see what their crimes were.

My stomach was literally churning by the time I was done updating my list. It’s true – I write people who were once murderers, rapists, drug dealers, prostitutes and thieves. It’s also true that these are the labels they must wear until the sound of death rattles in their throats.

The most important truth is that many of these people are now walking in the light of Christ. They are no longer known by their past deeds in the eyes of God, although they must live out the consequences of their actions here on earth. Some of them are having a very hard time at just ‘living’ on a day to day basis.

… which brings us to my friend, William. He was imprisoned when he was 27 – today he is 54. He is not walking with Christ although He has indicated an intense desire to ‘surrender all’. His letter reflects the hopelessness he feels daily. His letter cries out for God… one day, I hope he will truly meet Him.

“I have decided to stop writing, and wait for my date for execution. I can feel it coming.”

Letters like this always catch me by surprise. I always want to write back quickly… but I have learned to wait 24 hours and to pray about my response.

I’ll be writing William tonight. Pray for me… but mostly – pray for William.

Love always,



Weekend of Champions
Huntsville, TX
March 2009

What are the chances?

Dave and I spent two days in prisons. Dave spent his time with forty plus teammates in the Ferguson Unit. I spent my time with about one hundred teammates in the Hobby Unit. Hobby is located in Marlin, Texas, which was a good hour and a half drive from the hotel.

Of course we have many prison stories to re-cant about the weekend. We both had the opportunity to share the good news of salvation through Jesus with hundreds of inmates. The most incredible story of all happened after the event was over.

We were both exhausted as we drove out of Huntsville and started our two and a half hour drive home. It was about five in the evening… Dave fueled up his truck and our intentions were to find a nice restaurant on the way home where we could order a good meal and relax before continuing our journey.

We passed many restaurants as we left Huntsville. None of them looked appealing. We passed several more fast food restaurants, but we didn’t stop. The idea of standing in line to get a meal in a bag seemed to daunting of a task.

Finally, stabs of hunger seemed so strong, we felt we could not wait much longer to stop and eat. As we drove east on the highway, we noticed a Mexican restaurant which seemed to match our expectations of being able to sit, relax and eat a good meal. It was attractive on the outside and it was well lit. There were cars in the parking lot – which is a good sign in Texas. As we crossed the highway and turned back into the parking lot, we noticed there was a line of people waiting to be seated. This was not our restaurant. We were too exhausted to wait.

We drove a couple of hundred feet to the next restaurant. It was a bar and grill and there seemed to be less cars in the parking lot. We almost turned in but decided against it when we saw the word, Karaoke, on the neon-lit sign. Inside the windows we could see people dancing. This was too much for us. We needed a quiet place. We crossed the highway and headed east again.

Heading into yet another small town, we kept our eyes peeled. By this point in our journey home, we were so hungry – we decided we would take any restaurant. Coming up to a stop light, Dave became so focused on a restaurant just past the street light – he didn’t notice the light was changing colors. “Yellow,” I said hoping to not sound so bossy. Dave gets annoyed when I try to direct his driving. “Red,” I calmly said. He was staring at that restaurant like it was the last one on this earth. “It’s a red light!” I piped up as he sailed right through it headed for the drive. He seemed to come to his senses as we pulled in. I was instinctively looking for red and blue flashing lights. We clearly ran a red light. Talking our way out of a ticket would have been impossible.
The restaurant was small and quaint. There were maybe five cars in the parking lot. No loud music. No people dancing. It seemed just right.

Our waitress seated us in a booth. I noticed a small deep blue tattoo on our waitress’s wrist. It was the kind of tattoo a friend would do on the kitchen table. It was the kind of tattoo that signified a life of feeling lost and a never-ending search for happiness. She had a good sense of humor and having her as our waitress made the evening more enjoyable.

Dave and I had a good time during dinner. We told prison stories from our weekend. We laughed and joked. Soon we were ready to hit the road. Our waitress never came back with our check so we walked up to the register knowing she would see us and ring us up. As she gathered the change I asked her to break a twenty. My intentions were to walk back and place the tip on our table, but I was too exhausted to do it. “Here, this is for you.” I said as I handed here a ten-dollar bill. “I’m just too tired to walk back and put it on the table. Thanks so much.” My face was sunburned from being out in the prison yard with the inmates for two days straight.

“What have you been doing today? Working out in the yard?” she asked. Dave and I glanced at each other with a secret smile. She was perfectly right. Dave explained how we volunteer in prison ministry and where we had been. I was waiting apprehensively for her response. Some people react positively to what we do, others seem to darken up like a thundercloud and quip back some offensive remark.

“You guys do good work. Bless you.” she said with a smile.

As the conversation went on, we discovered that our waitress is currently married to a man on death row. Her eyes welled up with tears as she spilled out a small portion of her life story. There were no specific details of her husband’s crime, only general facts. “He’s a believer now,” she said. “My 12 year old daughter led him to Christ. He’s at peace with where he is going.”

We encouraged her as best as we knew how and then walked out. Dave gently cexercise/>losed the truck door behind me and walked around to the driver’s side. He got in and just sat for a few seconds letting the events soak in. Quickly, he jumped back out of the truck and headed back into the restaurant. I waited in the cab of the truck wondering what could be happening in there. When he came out he had her phone number and her husband’s prison contact information written on the back of a blank restaurant ticket. “She has five children.” Dave said with a somber voice. “I gave her some more money.”

Sometimes we don’t understand the details of life. Sometimes we get impatient when our day is not going the way we think it should. I believe if we are true faith-walkers, whatever happens in our day is because God orchestrated it. I believe that sometimes the things that happen in our day have nothing to do with us, but may have something to do with another person’s life.

What were the chances? At any time we could have stopped and ate at another restaurant. We could have waited until the next town. We didn’t.

As I see it, there were no ‘chances’ in this experience. The events happened in God’s sequence and in His timing. He knew the needs of that woman. He knew she needed encouragement from a friendly face. He knew she needed some financial help. Only He could have created a plan such as this.

Only He….

For Him,


PS. I had to work hard to post this story. My computer literally crashed hard three times before I was able to finally publish it. We must continue the fight, dear brothers and sisters… time grows short.