December 3, 2013
This would be a different Thanksgiving Day. I carefully selected the clothes I would wear that would meet all regulations for a prison visit—nothing with Spandex in it, no sleeveless blouses, no fabrics that were thin enough to reveal the shirt worn underneath. The forecast was for cold weather, so I placed my coat in a place where it could easily be accessed on the way out the door. The wait outside before getting through security could be up to two hours. I set the clock for 5:30 a.m. before falling into bed. My plan was to get to the prison early enough that my son would be surprised by getting into the visitation room earlier than he expected.
Thanksgiving Day has traditionally been my favorite holiday of the year. My family has always made a grand occasion out of this special day. I’m the oldest of six children and all of us are married with children of our own. Every Thanksgiving Day as many of us as possible gather in Michigan from all over the U.S. to spend time together around a table filled with turkey, mashed potatoes, strawberry delight, sweet potato casserole, freshly baked rolls, and all of the trimmings. After we celebrate at the table and enjoy the feast, we take a break to clean up the table. Then we gather in the family room with dessert and coffee and spend the next several hours taking turns sharing what we’re thankful for. These testimonials begin with the youngest cousin who is able to talk and move on up to aunts, uncles, and finally to the oldest, which is my 91-year-old Mama. Some years these testimonies have included highlights of the past year; at other times there have been confessions of failure and requests for prayer. It is always a deeply meaningful time that bonds our family together in a unique way. We end with prayer and with singing “To God Be the Glory.”
But this year Gene and I were home, forty miles from the prison. The plan was for me to spend the morning with Jason. Gene would come in at 1:00 p.m., and I would then go home to cook our Thanksgiving dinner for our step-granddaughters and for Gene’s 84-year-old mother.
My son was thrilled to see me so early and the time flew by as we caught up on his activities on the “inside” and on our fall ministry in various places around the country. But on this day, clouding Jason’s usual optimistic attitude I sensed a sadness in his demeanor. Administrations change at prisons very regularly—and a new warden has made major changes on the compound. Instead of getting to exercise in the yard three times a day, the inmates are only getting exercise time about twice a week. They are “locked down” in their cellblocks for much longer periods and many educational and Christian programs have been cancelled or interrupted as newer, harsher restrictions are being put in place in the name of making the prison more “safe.” These changes have been disheartening.
Gene arrived and we enjoyed some time together as a family and then I left through the heavy double doors and started for home. Tears welled up in my eyes as I realized the hopelessness of my son’s sentence—life without the possibility of parole. Then I remembered what my precious Mama always asks me when I am feeling the weight of despair:”Have you thanked Him yet?” Then she points me to 1 Thessalonians 5:16-23. “Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live…May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” That scripture was a good reminder of how much I have to be thankful for.
What do you need to thank God for at this time in your life?