In this seven-year work of grace and redemption in my life, God has used Easter as a powerful touchstone along the way. I spent the most significant Easter of my life running a personal half-marathon and in fasting the day before my release from prison rehab. Everything I thought God was doing my life was wrong. I could never have predicted the arc of suffering and spiritual work that lay ahead, and that too was grace. Had I known, I may have just surrendered and quit the journey, u-turning back into a bottle of ego and self. But that’s a story for another Easter. This Easter, I celebrate the one before that one. A dark day brightened by a visitation from a humble man of God who I’m blessed to call my friend. In that visitation, God visited me as well, and I re-opened my heart to what God may want from me in this life. This is an excerpt from a book I will soon be releasing on EffinArtist.com. I wish you a blessed Easter and ears tuned to what the Spirit of God is doing in your blessed life.
*An Easter meditation
My close friend Mike is a conservative. I’m a liberal. Yet we don’t clash over our faith. We celebrate it. It’s why he’s like a brother to me, or, at least, one of a gajillian reasons and why I am like a brother to him.
We were both athletic in our heyday. We’re both driven. We both work with a passion to succeed. I trash talk. I can’t bait him to return the fodder, even though it’s far more his culture as a black man than it is mine. Every time I jab at him he says, “Oh man,” Eyes rolling as a huge smile lights across his face. “Oh man. We’ll see about that. Yes, we will.”
He just won’t take the bait.
A couple of times in the years I’ve known him, I heard him gently suggest I should take a look at my pride. It can trip you up, he’d say.
I’d shirk it off. Pride to me was thinking you’re better than you are. That’s not exactly my thorn of the flesh. I felt confident in my skills and comfortable when others had skills different or better than mine. Ambition shouldn’t be confused with pride, I thought. And it shouldn’t. But he was talking about pride, not ambition, not confidence, not esteem. I should have listened.
Because the next time we talked about it was when Mike came to see me through a visitation window behind bars.
For eight months I had been smashing my head against those walls that hemmed me in. Every ounce of the make-up that is me fired furiously against my powerlessness. A born problem-solver couldn’t solve anything. Anything. And in that conflicted state I grew weary. In the weariness, I opened my ears to the spiritual truths I’d long ignored. In my ears, I heard Mike’s voice. “Be careful brother. Be careful.”
As he came to see me we sat across from each other, a glass wall dividing us. He smiled that huge smile. We picked up our phones.
“How did you know it was my pride?” I asked before we even said hello.
He was speechless. Then he laughed. Then he said, “God is good.”
“Yes,” I said “He is he’s pretty tough too. Believe that.”
Mike just shook his head and then looked in my eyes.
“You’re doing good. I can see it.”
“I am. Barely”
Before he left, he vowed to do anything I needed to get on my feet when I get out.
“What is your goal?” he asked. “What do you want to do? I’ll help you.”
“I don’t know,” I said. “Let me think about it.”
And I did. Back locked in my cell, I meditated on the question. I breathed it in and out during yoga over and over. I sifted my thoughts. I’ve always just wanted to write books. I wanted to be a daily person of calm for my children. I wanted to be with my wife every single night when my head hit the pillow. This was still what I wanted.
Then I tried to listen. “What is my goal?” I asked.
I recalled a memory verse I learned at 16 years old. It had a tune to it that I recalled. I couldn’t, at first, recall the verse. I took a guess and flipped to Micah. It was right there, where I had left it so many years ago. I picked it up and breathed it in and out the rest of the week.
Mike came back to see me the very next day. Easter Sunday.
“What are you doing here?” I asked. “Why aren’t you in church with your family?”
He spread his hands wide.
“This is church,” he said into the receiver, looking at me through glass. “You are my family.”
I felt my throat grow tight. He noticed and tried to make easy conversation. I cut him off.
“I know my goal,” I said.
He nodded, go on.
“Micah 6:8, ‘He has shown thee, oh man, what is good and what the Lord requires of thee. But to love Mercy, and to do justly, and to walk humbly with thy God.’”
I could hear that faint crackley, echoey sound that makes visits like these difficult and distant. But this silence transcended the thick glass and the circumstance. This silence allowed God to join our visit, to celebrate Easter Sunday with us.
We didn’t know it, but a lot was born that Easter Sunday. I began my rise from the dead. That alignment of priorities opened the way for God to begin a new, terrible, necessary, painful refinement in my life. Exactly one Easter later I fasted for 24 hours, preparing to leave prison. I thought a new day was about to be born, and I guess it was. But it wasn’t what I had in mind. I was banned from seeing my wife on my release. I was put in a difficult trans-leave program with the odds of success stacked against me. Little did I know it, but I’d return to prison, I’d do the entire sentence all over again without having committed any new crimes, still paying a long, difficult, extreme price for my pride.
But it took all that to learn something of humility that Mike suggested I learn years ago. It took all that to learn fully you have to confront your pride. It took all that for me to align my life with God’s plan, to learn to walk humbly. It took all that for me to accept this new phase, to break through my unwillingness to serve, to let the vision of Criminal U, of service, of reconciliation and reform, to emerge. It took all that for me to find this path.
Finally, Mike broke the silence.
“Yes,” he said “Yes. That’s a good goal.”
It was, one I once believed in. If only I hadn’t left it behind so many years ago. Thank God for a brother like Mike that helped me find it.
Dream big. Live well. Be a success. But always, always, check yourself. Confront your pride. It truly does go before a fall.