The other night I went with a group from our church to a ministry called Shepherd’s Inn. Shepherd’s Inn is a place where people who come a long distance to visit a loved one in prison can stay the night. Many cannot afford to stay in a motel after paying for getting there. Many live too far away to drive to the prison and back home in one day. So, the local Baptist association has a ministry where people can have a place to stay. Once a month our church takes an evening meal to those staying for the weekend. I went for only the second time this past weekend. It is usually a very strange time for me. It floods my mind with thoughts and questions about the past. You see, over 26 years ago I was sentenced to serve time in Texas’ State Penitentiary. My mind begins to recall many of those times again. I also wonder about my parents and loved ones as they made the trek month after month to wherever I was so that they could see me.
Prison. A time in my life that I don’t talk about hardly at all. A time in my life that can really stir up a whole range of emotions inside to me. You know what the hardest part of prison was for me? I just didn’t belong there. Really. I was different. I was totally out of place. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I was guilty as charged of all the crimes that I had been charged with. They were certainly crimes worthy of prison. But I’m talking about me as a person. I had never been a real “tough guy” if you know what I mean. I was never the kind of person who was just looking for a fight. I was never real quick to get into it with someone. I was much more laid back. I really wasn’t what I would call “street wise”. There was a certain naiveté about me. I was just a normal white, middle class, suburban raised child. I had always been a very popular guy. It really never occurred to me that some people didn’t want to get along, they just wanted to hurt you or get out of you what they could. I had never really met anyone who was just pure mean. Now, I was living in the middle of them. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long to learn to act contrary to my natural inclinations. I may not have been a tough guy, but I learned to act like one. I also developed some “street sense” very quickly. My survival depended on it. I had to look and act like I belonged, even though in my heart I knew I didn’t. It was an absolute miserable 2 ½ years. I was trapped in a world in which I didn’t belong.
You know, honestly, I still feel like that sometime. No really I do. It may be when I am around a bunch of men. Or just a bunch of people in general. I realize that I am just different. I don’t think like they do. I have a completely different moral and value system. The things that I think are really important, they scoff at. Many people do not understand why I go where I go, to the people that I go to, for the reasons that I go to them. They don’t get it, even after I explain it to them. They still give me that look like, “okay. Weirdo! If that’s what you think then go ahead.”
I guess that this shouldn’t surprise me. The Bible talks about many of the great heroes of the faith in Hebrews chapter 11. In the last part of the 13th verse it states that they all realized that they were “strangers and pilgrims on the earth.” Peter calls the Christians that he was writing to “sojourners (strangers) and pilgrims.” (1 Peter 2:11) In Philippians 3:20 Paul declares that our citizenship is in heaven! Wow. I really don’t fit in, and I shouldn’t! This is not my home. I’m just passing through I am different. Just like when I go to Vietnam or China. I look different, act different, talk different, eat different, etc. I am different. I am a foreigner in a foreign land.
Over the next few weeks I’m going to share with you lessons I’ve learned from these places where I didn’t and don’t belong. Just consider them letters from a foreigner in foreign land. Have a good one. God bless you all.
It’s okay if you’re different. In fact you should be.