Transit-Part 2

Auburn’s front gate, with its dark steel bars, stood formidable. A plaque hung on the entrance talking about its history. That history included Auburn’s first prisoners keeping worms for silk, and assisting in one of the worlds first electrocutions.

The lights from the city beat down on its high walls. Thick snow flakes cast shadows over the compound. The bus entered the front gate with twists and tight turns. Suddenly a garage door opened up and several inmates dressed in full winter gear rushed the bus. They immediately opened the under panels and pulled out dozens of white draft bags. They moved quickly. In minutes, the bus pulled into the confines to the back entrance.

We were escorted off the bus into another building with bullpens. These were the most filthy of all. They were long, dark tunnels-caves. We waited until the officers finished their break. Once again our shackles were removed. We were sent to a nurse who asked the same questions as the men in Wendi. When we finished we were told to go out a back door, outside, and then into the cell block, called “The Depot”. The cells made me feel claustrophobic. We were made to double bunk. Logos of gangs and alias’ were tagged over every wall. The steel sink and toilet were crusted with the remains of its last occupants.

My bunky was a young spanish kid named Mike. He was from the Bronx. He was quiet, yet alert. We fumbled through the cramped space. The dim light at the back of the cell gave everything a gloomy look. There were no roaches though, as Auburn legend claimed.

The noise was non-stop. The moment we hit the block a thousand screaming voices hit us. It seemed everyone was playing a different kind of music. It was a contest to see who could play it the loudest.

The gallery was sixty plus cells long, with three floors above. Two porters passed out bed rolls. I recognized one of the faces. I said hello and asked if he remembered me from Comstock a decade ago. Vic was the camera man in Comstock’s visiting room. He was a giant with a full beard and dark skin. He had lost quite a few pounds and was now slightly balding. A rolled up cigarette hung from his lips. He nodded in acknowledgement as I passed by.

As my bunky and I settled in to our quarters for the night Vic came over and began to tell me about what he’d been through in the last eight years. It involved a couple of trips to the box. I didn’t inquire further. Seeing a familiar face was encouraging. I felt remembered.

Transit strips you of who you are.

More prisoners were escorted to their cells down the company. Three who were on their way to the upstate box remained handcuffed all the way. Once they reached their temporary cells, the cuffs were finally removed. As the officers passed by Mike and I each asked about the evening meal. We would be having more sandwiches. Once everyone was locked in the meal would be delivered by Vic the porter. Once it arrived Mike tore through his, devouring the contents in seconds. He laid on his bunk still hungry. I spread the two packets of mustard on the white bread, looking at his dissatisfied face.

I peeked in to my brown paper bag and saw the two broken up chocolate chip cookies. I offered them to hungry Mike, whose face lit up with joy.

After the light meal I paced back and forth to stay warm. Mike bundled himself under the thin green blanket, white sheet, and his state issued jacket. We made small talk. Mike told me he was on his way home in February and planned on becoming a mechanic. I told him about my transfer and where I was headed.

I shared my testimony with him.

I told him about how the Lord had moved in my life, how He blessed me all along the way. I spoke to him about my wife and children and how God blessed me with them. I shared the message of the cross with him and asked him if he’d like to pray. Surprisingly he said yes.

Before the night was over Vic brought me a tray of food to the cell. It was hot, and filled with rice, beans, chicken, and corn bread. I split the tray with Mike, and had enough to share with a neighbor as well. I was thankful that three of us men were able to eat a hot meal that night. We were alone and cold, but the kindness from a familiar face made that all go away, if only for a few moments. We were able to laugh about our dismal conditions.

The smell of cigarette smoke-filled the gallery. Some had smuggled them in their rear-end. They shared them around the gallery. Once the officers did their final walk Mike and I knelt down and prayed. I asked the Lord to press upon his heart to seek Jesus and accept the free gift of salvation. Unfortunately Mike didn’t make a confession of faith that night, but a seed was planted.

I slept with my head to the gate, though the noise kept me from getting much sleep. In the morning we were told to strip our beds and get ready to rollout. We were served another meal in a brown paper bag. Two cold eggs, four slices of bread and some apple juice. I drank the juice and nibbled on the bread. I gave the eggs to a neighbor.

We made our way back to the loading area, and again were strip searched in small closets with curtains. The cold shackles were placed on us and we were sent back to the cave to wait for the bus. Some were shackled to a new partner. I was alone, being the only one headed to Elmira. I was also able to sit alone on the bus once we boarded.

Before the bus pulled off the same speech was repeated. This time however, we were threatened that if we were caught talking we’d lose a bag of property for a few weeks. No one spoke the entire trip.

We first passed through Seneca Falls, and then headed down Seneca Lake. I saw the vineyards my wife visited so many times. That brought me great peace. I even saw places she worked, and restaurants she loved in Watkins Glen. I must have smiled the whole way to Southport box.

In Southport seven men boarded our bus. All were getting out and headed to new spots. One was Zey, who I had been in Attica and Comstock with. He was headed to Sullivan near New York City. He’d gained weight and now had a long, thin scar on his right cheek. Catching up on our lives, he noticed the ring on my finger and congratulated me on my marriage. It made me smile as he shook my hand a second time.

The bus rolled out shortly later. In just a few minutes we had arrived at Elmira. I was the only one to get off the bus. Everyone else remained eating another bag lunch. I felt bad for them. Some wouldn’t get those cuffs off until late that night. As I got off I said a few goodbyes and thanked the driver for getting us there safely.

I entered a large draft processing room escorted by another officer. As soon as we were inside he removed my cuffs and left me alone. I stood alone as dozens of men in reception passed by. Some were getting haircuts while others were getting their photo id’s. I recognized some of the men from the day before in Wendi, wondering why we had separate rides. I could have skipped “The Depot” but would then have missed the opportunity to share the gospel of peace with my bunky Mike. God is good.

I was directed into a room to see yet another mental health nurse. She asked a dozen questions and sent me on my way. After obtaining my photo ID I was escorted by two officers to the cell block, and placed in a clean, single cell. I was relieved to finally have arrived.

My trip was over, but my work was just beginning. I was excited, mostly because I was now so close to home!

 

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Transit-Part One

“Damn bro, what happened to you?” a voice screamed out as we sat aboard a large white van within the walls of Attica.

“I was in Orleans and I got shot by some homies (blood gang members), cause I’m crip” a young raspy voice replied.

I turned to identify the men conversing but I was restricted by the ankle shackles that linked me to a six-foot-five white guy who boarded with three different carry on prescriptions for his mental health condition. His name was Brian, and he was going back and forth to court in Canandaigua battling a paternity dispute.

“Where you headed bro?” the first voice asked.

“To Bear Hill” the young voice replied.

“Man, when you get there you gonna get tore up. The bloods run that spot. When you get there you should pop off on the first person you see.” the first voice advised. This guy was a self-proclaimed addict. He bragged about being in upstate box several times. This was his fourth trip. He spoke about how he caught a dirty urine for smoking a deuce (k-2 synthetic marijuana)  in the recreation yard. He fell out in the middle of Wyoming’s yard, nearly overdosing. He laughed the entire time he told the story.

We were all in transit to various places throughout New York States penal system. Some on disciplinary transfers, others on preference.

For nearly two years I had been attempting to escape Attica. The two and a half hour, one hundred sixty-four mile trip my wife and sons traveled every week to see me was becoming too much to deal with. In June of 2015 I submitted an area preference transfer with my counselor. I was told by several staff persons who I worked for that I would have no issues reaching Elmira, a place thirty minutes away from home.

Elmira is part of a three prison hub. Five Points, Auburn, and Elmira make up that “area” preference. Though my request was submitted for Elmira, New York state had the ultimate  say in where I landed.

Within two weeks my request was approved. I was eager to confirm my destination. That was difficult to do when two different staff persons told me two different places. One was adamant I was cleared and set to go to Elmira. The other, looking it up on the computer with me in the room, confirmed Auburn. In frustration I revoked my request and settled on remaining in Attica. The burden of what my wife and children endured began to burn my heart. Six months would pass until I was eligible to resubmit the request. That following January I put back in.

I knew I was gambling. I had thrust myself into every program and work assignment while in Attica. I had made myself as comfortable as you can get in prison. Yet, no matter how good I had it, what my family faced was unbearable.

I wish I could say I was brave and bold, with no fear of the unknown. That was so not true. I honestly was afraid. Afraid of starting over. Afraid of meeting new people and establishing new connections and networks. So I prayed. And when I felt the fear rising up, I prayed again. Slowly the Lord brought peace my way.

It took about eleven months to be approved. One morning while on the phone with my wife the officer told me to pack up, I was on the draft.

A feeling of relief overcame me. I was excited about leaving. I had been behind the walls of Attica for just over eight years. I hadn’t seen a car, trees, or even people going about their everyday lives. I longed to see life outside. Most of all I wanted to give something back to my wife and children. The time to do that finally came through for me.

The officer let my wife and I finish our call. We prayed, standing in the gap for one another. After the call it was time to pack up. Nearly eleven years of incarceration had to be stripped down, folded up, and stuffed in to four draft bags. Each bag was a foot and a half wide and three feet tall. I debated with myself on what I wanted to keep and what had to go. One bag was filled with all my legal work. Pictures of my family, my bible, a couple of pairs of shoes, a few articles of personal clothing, and some toiletries all made the trip, along with the state issued greens I was mandated to bring. Everything else was given away to men surrounding my cell.

The block officer logged everything on an “I-64” form. Some how it got lost along the way. All my stuff was packed up on Wednesday, December 14, and I was left in my cell with a blanket, sheets, and a few snacks. I spent that night writing goodbye letters to friends I most likely would never see again. Some of whom pulled together that night and made me a meal they delivered to my spot.

By seven-thirty the next morning I was on the move. I was led to the draft room with six other men. One was on his way home. The rest of us to new facilities. We were corralled in a small bullpen and fed trays of dairy and fiber. The very worst combination you could eat while on the road shackled to another man. After another hour we were taken out one by one to be strip searched, then sent off to another area where we were shackled. We each had cuffs around our wrists, a chain around our waist, and one ankle shackle. The second ankle shackle was connected to another man.

Our first stop was Wendi. We were escorted into a holding cell with other travelers. The whole trip there was depressing. The van windows were too high above the seats to look out of. I could only look out the front windshield, which gave me car sickness. In the holding cells we were fed bologna and cheese sandwiches, apple juice, and two sugar cookies. Quickly the cell was filled up by men awaiting the next leg of their journey.

One elderly man rambled on about different spots he’s been, spanning nearly forty years. Others talked about different times they were lifted on different substances. A few argued about which prison was better and the privileges offered there.

The most bizarre moment was a nineteen year old kid with his face to the bars of the cell, his baby fat spilling out into the gaps as a he screamed a call, “Woo, Woo…Woo, Woo.” It was a call to his brothers in arms. His high-pitched voice sounded like a wounded child weeping.

Men in beige robes and shower shoes began to file through in single file lines. They made their way to the barber’s chair in one corner of the long room. Then they were made to go to the shower stalls on the other end. Once they were bald and clean they were escorted one by one to see a mental health counselor. Before they were allowed to enter the escorting officer told each man to close their legs and remain seated.

The door to that brightly lit room remained open as the counselor asked a host of questions, “Do you feel like you’re going to hurt yourself? Do you feel anyone else is going to harm you?”

The bullpen continued to fill up. One officer noticing this kindly opened the adjacent holding cell. I nearly dragged Brian’s large frame over with me. There was more room and a toilet. Nature was calling. I asked Brian to move with me to the restroom. He turned his back as I went, and I as he. A four-foot concrete wall was the only privacy we were afforded. A small fun house mirror hung above the steel sink. I looked in to it hoping part of me still remained.

More men came from all parts of the state. The cages were full of all different ages and races. The elders were given a seat. Brian and I stood as much as possible, preparing for the long trip ahead.

Finally we were told to move out. Before I was called I asked one of the porters to pass a message on to two old friends that I knew were there among the small population. I had joy in making a connection in an unfamiliar place.

One by one we were unshackled from our partners and given individual ankle shackles. We headed out in the frigid temperatures in the thin state issued jacket to make the second part of our days journey.

On this van we all had a window seat. The officer at the front gave a speech, “You’ll be stopping in Auburn for an overnight stay. It’s a two and a half hour trip if we don’t get into any mess like on the way down here.” The pudgy officer chuckled and continued, “The bathroom is for pissin only, PISSIN ONLY” he elaborated. “And make sure you close the lid. I don’t want to smell that crap! Oh, and this is a quiet bus. No talking!” he added.

After a sergeant boarded the driver pulled off. The snow fall was heavy that late afternoon. I had hoped to be in Elmira that evening. That wasn’t the case. Instead I was going to be staying the night in what is called “The Roach Motel.”

The driver moved slow through the rural roads and highways. The bus slid at times on the slick roads, extending our trip by an hour, but we got there safely.

 

Last Attican Love Letter

The mailbox had become one of my favorite sources of communication back in the latter part of 2014 and into 2015. It still is. I’ve always loved getting mail, not bills of course, but letters and cards. But when I began communicating with Jacob directly, I was eagerly at the mailbox everyday, sending and receiving intimate letters that quickly revealed depths of great love.

When I say intimate I don’t mean in a sexual way. I am talking about letters that opened the bleeding hearts we both had. We revealed secrets, shame, dreams, and joys. I loved exploring this man’s heart and mind, until I realized, I love HIM! All of him.

This man has faithfully written me almost every single day since we began communicating in June, 2014. I have two boot boxes full of his letters. They are in chronological order to boot. (I like my puns intended. 😉 )

Jacob and I have toyed with the idea of posting some bits of our love letters on the blog. If you read the blog, thank you, you are aware that Jacob was put on draft and transferred out of Attica. He wrote his last letter inside of those walls on December 14th, sending it out the following morning as he departed.

I want to share bits of that letter with you, our awesome readers, to set you up for his piece describing his transit out of the facility where we met, fell in love, and married. Sadly, one of the most horrific places in NYS will forever remain sentimental in more ways than one to us.

“Dear Firefly,

I love you so much.

Exactly eight years and thirteen days ago I entered these prison walls. I was twenty-one, and scared to death. But I had faith in a God who promised to protect me from all danger. He did that and so much more. Like Joseph in captivity, God made me to prosper. I met His greatest gift in here, and married her-you, my lovely firefly.

Now, in just under a day I’ll be leaving this place, to a temporary place until the Lord brings me home to you and our sons. I’m excited to go on this journey, to finally show my commitment in full to us and our marriage. I love you Samantha, and I am for you.

You told me to record all my thoughts and feelings on this move for you, so I will try.

I had about two hours to sort through all of my property and see what I wanted to keep and what I wanted to get rid of. Everything that I wanted to keep had to be marked down on a form called an ‘I-64 form’ and then had to be thrown into four white draft bags, which are as wide as a waste bucket and as tall as a normal garbage bag.

It was hard trying to downsize to that degree. Seeing my bag of wrappers from treats you sent me was hard. 😦 It almost made me cry. Then I gave my tv and typewriter away. Then some books, shirts, blankets, and a sheet. I brought the important stuff. Omar helped me get most of the things into my bags. I was thankful for that.

When I was done packing up I cleaned this place up and then got a quick shower. I’ve been in this cell since 2pm.

So, how am I feeling? Really excited. It’s like a new journey. A new adventure! I pray the Lord prepares a place He desires for me there. I pray it is where we hope for. I haven’t left this place in so many years. It will be good to see the open road, cars, trees, animals. I’d love to see some deer. Maybe even a few dogs and cats.

I’m sad at some of the people I’ll be leaving behind. But, many good, close friends have left me from here, so it’s part of the process. I’ve written about ten guys goodbye notes. There’s a lot of memories here. I’ve never been in one place for this long in my life. I’m ready to go. I won’t miss the atmosphere that is Attica.

I am free and forever will be. Never will I become institutionalized.

…This is the last letter I’ll be writing you from Attica. I love you firefly! With all my heart.

May the Lord watch between you and me while we are absent one from another, and may the peace of Christ be with you always my love. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.

All my love,

your loving, faithful, committed Husband.

 

The Draft

I have recognized in myself a coping mechanism that involves me being able to “shut down.” I have learned to suppress emotions well, both good and bad. As I seek healing in this area, I am able to easier, and more quickly, identify when I am in this mode.

Two days ago I was able to admit I had reached that place once again to my helpmate over our morning telephone conversation. He is helping me discover what triggers these emotional suppressions so that we can take victory over this. Honestly I answered, “I miss you. I hate that I have to consider the weather and how it will affect the next 164 miles of road conditions, when I want to see you. I hate that I only see you one day a week, and now with winter here, it may not be that often. I want to be with you, and I can’t.”

The pain can become overbearing, the longing; exhausting.

No sooner had I spewed out the true triggers when my husband replied, “I’m on the draft.” “What did you say” I asked, though I heard perfectly what he’d said. “I’m on the draft, the officer just read the list and called my name.”

“Stop it, Jacob. Don’t mess around like that.”

“I’m serious babe.”

I listened as my husband turned his attention to the officer reading his list of movement for that company, “You called my name? Can I finish this call?”

It was real. This was happening. There was no suppressing the emotion anymore. I began to sob, and protest, “No! No, Jacob, no. I don’t want you to move.”

I was scared for my husband. So scared.

My husband has resided at Attica Correctional Facility for more than seven years. He has developed a rapport with officers and inmates alike. He is well-respected by both, though there are and always will be sour apples on both sides of that fence. He earned his way to honor block where he had more privilege. His cell was slightly larger, though still far too small for any human being to be comfortable in, let alone a six-foot two grown man. He was able to shower daily, not something you get to do in “population.” He had increased accessibility to cooking gadgets where he and his mates made meals together.

The two greater privileges were being away from population, where greater danger hazards existed, and the increased phone availability. Not that there were more phones, but fewer men to use them and longer calls. Five minutes longer. My husbands safety and our communication are top priority.

My husband became very involved in programs at the facility, teaching men about PTSD, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and anger management. He was a part of two youth programs that he viewed as ministry, and loved deeply. Children from nearby high schools and sometimes colleges, are given a guided tour, and then sit down with select “inmates” to ask questions about their experience. Sometimes the questions ran deep and personal. Those were the questions my husband invited most, as he saw it as an opportunity to reach kids who may find themselves on similar paths as he had been on at their age. He hoped with each day of these programs that he could reach just one child and “help save and change their lives.”

We began our Family Reunion Program visits just a few months ago. Our fourth was scheduled to take place in twenty-one more days. We had our meals planned. We bought gifts for the boys and were going to have our family Christmas. This was part of my shut down. I couldn’t wait for it to get here.

All of this would be lost now.

He will start all over again.

My husband sacrificed it all to be closer to his family. To provide for them in the only way he knew how.

His sacrifice is HUGE.

I continued to cry. Trying to understand what would happen now. He would be “keeplocked” for the remainder of the day. No leaving his cell until the officer in charge of transport would take him out the following morning.

For “security purposes” he, nor anyone in his family, would be told where they were moving him or when he would arrive.

We finished our phone call in prayer, lifting one another up, with as many I love you’s as we could possibly fit in. He was strong and brave, reminding me of Gods promise to work all things out for our good. (Romans 8:28) I was praying earnestly for God’s continued favor and protection.

It has been 48 hours since I have heard my husband’s voice. I have no idea where he is. I have no idea when I will speak with him again.

When I call a facility they tell me that the system only indicates he is “on the bus, en route.” “I’m sorry, I can not give you any more information than that. No one will be able to tell you where they are taking him. You will have to wait for him to call you, or try back later this afternoon.”

Yesterday, I sat looking out the snow falling over our yard, smiling at the thought of my husband being outside of those 30 foot concrete walls for the first time in more than seven years. YEARS! I thought about how everyday people travel the roads, robotically, ignoring the surrounding landscapes, taking it all for granted. I pictured my husbands beautiful smile as he took in sights he has not seen in those long, grueling, years, and places he may never have seen. This lightened my heart.

As I continue to walk by faith, not by sight, I am able to see more of the goodness of my God, my Abba, who loves me. I was able to turn my prayer into praise and gratitude.

I praise God for His timing. Jacob was on the phone with me when he was told of his transfer. I heard it from his mouth. I didn’t have to hear it from a fellow inmate, or a fellow inmates wife, as often is the case. I praise God for the compassion and kindness in the officers heart to allow my husband and I to finish our call.

I am most thankful for a husband who loves me so incredibly selflessly. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” John 15:13 Both my husband and I have this verse tattooed on our bodies, and more significantly, in our hearts.

There has been a sacrificial laying down of each of our lives in this marriage. That’s why this love is so powerful and strong. That is what gets us through these incredulous circumstances. God’s grace and our love.

By faith we walk. By faith, I will see my husband more than once per week, only thirty miles away from home. Merry Christmas to us, what a gift! By faith, next year our Christmas gift will be executive clemency, having my love home…for good…where he belongs.

 

Approved

For fifteen months my wife and I have endured a separation most couples never have to. We have not shared a single moment alone. There was no honeymoon. After six months of being legally married we could apply for the privilege. That was in the form of the Family Reunion Program. A program offered by corrections to strengthen family ties. During this time the Lord’s grace kept us.

It happened on a Thursday. The humidity was suffocating. I waited for the 10:30am departure to the electric gate. This is where prisoners go to pick up packages sent from home. You also meet with different staff in the guidance unit. That’s where I was headed.

I had been placed on a new counselors case load, and scheduled to meet her that day. The call to go came at 10:45. In quiet lines, the other inmates and I marched down the sticky corridors that led to A-Block. Our sneakers and boots lifting from the cement floors sounded like someone was peeling off a piece of tape repeatedly. Some men carried green net bags to put their packages in, others toted folders of paperwork to share with their counselors. I had a pen and a half of an envelope I used to scribble down a few notes that I wanted to discuss.

Six of us split as we were waved through the gate by an officer who didn’t seem interested at all in carrying out his duties. He sat at a podium outfitted as a desk. The Buffalo news crossword puzzle in front of him. A plastic soda bottle with a small amount of brown liquid was in his hand. Every few moments he brought it to his mouth and spit more of the liquid out.

The officer grabbed our passes without acknowledging our presence, then directed some to the right and the others to a holding pen on the left. I was sent to the pen to wait on the counselor to escort me back to the office.

Just sitting in that area is draining. Dozens of people converse at one time about some of the most bizarre topics. That day was different. There were only three men waiting, and were all spread out, staring  off into the blank whiteness of the walls.

Two men entered in just after me, speaking quietly to one another. The taller of the two had a red beard down to his chest and a long ponytail. His companion was short, stocky, and years younger.

“I mean I’m in here for that too, but it wasn’t a minor. He’s a pedophile for crying out loud, ” the taller one said, as he looked up and scanned around the room. His associate nodded, but didn’t make direct eye contact with anyone, as if he had a secret to hide. The two continued their conversation in the back, away from the ears of the rest of us.

A few moments passed and the steel doors slid open. Standing on the other side was a woman with blonde hair descending just past her ears. The first year counselor took me back to a wing with a dead-end. There were rooms on each side of the hallway resembling rows of cubicles with higher walls, and doors with plexiglass windows.

Her office seemed meager. A bulletin board was screwed on the wall with posters of exotic vistas; white sand beaches, waterfalls, and thick green forests. There were shelves full of binders, and one filing cabinet on the back wall. All in easy accessibility of her squeaky wheeled chair. There was a hole in the back wall no wider than a sheet of paper. It looked into a brightly lit larger room with more filing cabinets and desks. It reminded me of a drive-up window at a fast food restaurant.

She asked me a series of questions in relation to my safety in the facility. We spoke about my program needs and what I had accomplished over the years. We even set a couple of goals on my case plan. When I saw an opening I asked about the status of my application for FRP. I prepared myself for the usual answer of, “It’s still being processed.”

She typed something into her computer, then mentioned I had been approved since November 2015. I quickly brushed it off and explained that was when my application was sent to Albany for review. She offered to ask the coordinator of the program. Stunned by this generous offer I shook my head yes.

Leaping from her seat she told me to follow her. We made our way to another claustrophobic cubical. “I have a guy here who wants to know the status of his FRP application.”

After hearing my name the coordinators hands went up as if relieved. She picked up a form from her desk and began explaining to me that I had been approved.

Every ounce of me lit up. I sat elated as she told me the next steps my family and I had to do to complete the process. I shook my head in agreement to everything she said, excited to finally make it this far.

I must have floated back to the block. A weight had been lifted and all I could do was thank God. When I arrived back I was able to call my wife and deliver the great news.

We were finally approved.

 

Finally Free

“I’m afraid God. I’m afraid I’ve made a mistake. I’m afraid to trust. I’m afraid to completely break down the walls. I’m afraid God.”

Escaping the comfortable grips of my air mattress I determined to not “waste my wilderness.” I packed up my thrift store-bought nine west with my morning essentials, slinging it over both shoulders as a makeshift backpack. Snatching up my water bottle I made my way to the hiking trail.

Stepping into the shade of the woods was like stepping into a new world. Everything seemed more alive. Including myself. I was desperate to reach the small community of modern-day caves half way down the trail. Tree branches had been intricately woven to create a tent like structure. One of the caves was constructed around two boulders that made up its walls. This one was my favorite.

On top of its walls was where I met with God.

Taking a panoramic, I envisioned fierce zombie wars with my boys. I could see Caleb running toward them, slaying as many as he could with his sword. Deegan, hiding low in his cave, shot the ones Caleb missed. Jacob, head of the tribe, shouted protective exhortations.

It hurt to acknowledge the deep desires within my heart.

Better to practice contentment.

Deeply inhaling the fragrance of pure organic freshness, I began to unpack my bible, journal, and devotion. My fearful heart led me here and was still begging for acknowledgment and resolution.

“He’s not faithful to you. He’s a con man,” so many warned.

Logical enough. So I listened. I reasoned. I contemplated. Pulling my cell out of the middle pocket of my mock backpack, I checked the time. His counselor would be in. One call and peace could be restored.

Fear winning.

I committed ahead of time complete honesty to my husband no matter what answers I received. Staring down at the phone in my hand I heard a gentle whisper, “free indeed.” I immediately remembered the altar call at our healing service at my home church four days prior. The Holy Spirit spoke freedom over me.

I am free indeed! A gentle nudge of truth in the quiet of creation.

It was Him and I.

Yet so much fear.

What does one have to do with the other?

Looking up toward the brightest of all spotlights, I sat on Gods stage and made a choice

“You, God. I want You to speak to my heart what is true.”

“Fear not, O land; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done marvelous things! Do not be afraid…” Joel 2:21-22

Without my permission bursts of water streamed down my smiling cheeks. Spreading my arms like a soaring eagle I rejoiced, “I’m sorry. Thank You, Thank You, Thank You. Yes! I say Yes, I say Yes, I say Yes.”

Freedom.

This marriage, as difficult the path, is MY GIFT. Every part.

Beautiful purpose. Crazy journey. Incredible love.

There is no fear in love. (1 John 4:18) There is no freedom in fear.

I am free indeed.

I never made the call. I confessed all to my battle buddy. His patient, humble heart forgave me and peace was restored.

I didn’t return to my tent the same. There was a change.

A break.

A renewed steadfast Spirit within me.

I sought the Lord, and He heard me, and delivered me from all my fears. Psalm 34:4

Singing through smiles I made my way to the last morning major class of writers conference. Finding it difficult to focus, I gave thanks. The week had been highly insightful, inspirational, and informative. I wasn’t ready to leave, though I was looking forward to start practicing all I’d learned, or at least some of it.

Taking advantage of my lunch break I began tearing down the tent. Video game sounds suddenly filled the air. My husband was calling.

“Hello” I said.

“Hi baby girl, how are you? How was class?”

I gave a quick recap and inquired about his meeting with his new counselor.

“It was good. The usual six month review. But, I had to make a major decision.”

I stopped in my tracks, “What do you mean?”

“I had to choose between three dates.” He said.

The only thing I could muster was, “Shut the front door!”

Laughing with the love of a husband, MY husband, he promised sincerity.

Our much-anticipated honeymoon was approved by the State of New York.

Tears and laughter once again burst out of me. The conclusion of my amazing week in Montrose concluded alongside the painfully dry season of physical intimacy with my husband.

My newlywed.

Freedom.

We have the joy of counting down once again. It is exciting to imagine what our first private moments will be like.

Perfecting our love. Growing deeper.

Worshipping God.

 

Defibrillation

It’s 6:12 am. The sun is still making its rise above the trees. The rooster is delighted in morning, and calling for all to rise. The birds celebrate the new day in glorious harmony.

I sit in my office and attempt to put my thoughts together in an organized manner. I have to get out the brewing conflict between my head and my heart, not sure where to begin.

The last five hours I spent with my newlywed have become lost in the weeks other one hundred and sixty-three. I look for those lost hours, hoping to recall his touch. I attempt to visualize his perfect smile that lights up his big brown eyes. I long to have those eyes looking deep into mine. I yearn to taste his sweet lips on mine. I close my eyes and imagine the comfort of his strong, loving arms wrapped around me. I can faintly recall the way he runs his fingers through my hair, singing softly in my ear, encouraging my rest there with him. My ears beg to hear his laugh.

Sometimes I forget these treasures of mine. Sometimes I wonder if I suppress their memory to attempt to simultaneously suppress the pain of missing them.

I need a refreshing.

My refreshment costs a lot.

Sometimes the bank is empty.

Today it seems overdraft.

The last couple of days have been emotionally charged. Attempts of celebration fell short to depression. America rejoiced in freedom, I pleaded God for it. I know He has already made me free (John 8:36), but I am chained to the man I became one with. I love being chained to him. I want to be chained to him. But, I want to be chained in freedom with him; free to chase one another across the green grass as the smell of the burning grill penetrates the air, free to hike, hand in hand, the trails at the local state park, free to paddle board the Susquehanna, free to enjoy the presence of family gathering…together.

I make every effort to grasp each blessed moment with passion and joy, without my partner, my best friend, my heart. I give the first fruits of my morning to being filled by the Spirit, so these efforts become more fruitful. The love in my heart responds to each blessing with, “I wish Jacob were here,” and the moment dulls.

They seem to only be lived at half existence.

My heart aches a little bit more. With each ache there is a withdrawal from the bank of endurance. I strive for an attitude of gratitude but am at times found hidden in the weeds of covetousness. Watching others experience the joy of life together is excruciating. Temptation to quit on this path predestined for me becomes overwhelming. Ideal.

I have to take that half existence and make it sound full, because the one I love will vicariously live it all through me.

That’s a lot of pressure.

To be a persons escape makes you feel like somewhat of a defibrillator. Even defibrillators get worn and become unusable.

I desperately crave my five hours.

I crave even more the giver of life. I crave the One who can fill me up and help me persevere this difficult terrain of marriage, made more difficult by the boulders of imprisonment. I crave my Healer who is able to give life to these dry and weary bones. I crave He who renews my mind and cleanses my heart.

More of Him. Less of me.

The more there is of Him, the more life there is in me. The more life there is in me, the more life there is in my marriage.

Love is sacrifice.

I give myself away.