February 21, 2008
How are you doing? How is the Cigarette Butt Retrieval Business these days? It's a comfort to know that they teach skills in prison that are transferable to "outside'' life!
I am sorry that I've been so long in writing. The past couple of weeks have been tough ones financiallly, which - I am sorry to say - infected my attitude a bit.
But I got paid today and all is right with the world! Enclosed you will find your dividend check in the amount of $20. Use it wisely.
In all seriousness, though, my recent struggle had more to do with faith than finances. As you know, I've been unable to land a job in the newspaper industry, despite 25 years of experience and some pretty good credentials. To be honest, there has probably never been a more difficult time in the newspaper industry. I read where 25 percent of all newspaper jobs have been eliminated in the past eight years. Just this month, there have been major layoffs at the Chicago Tribune, New York Times and Indianapolis Star-Tribune. So if the more profitible papers are reducing staff, you can imagine how most other newspapers are faring. So my inglorious exit from the Tribune could not have come at a more difficult time.
As I was brooding over this, and wondering how to make $20 last until pay-day, my spirits began to sag. Then I heard, via internet, a series of sermons by Chuck Swindoll on Matthew 11: 28-30 -- "Come to me, all ye who are weary and heavy-laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.''
As Swindoll dissected this passage, I began to realize that if I truly trust God, then I need not worry about circumstances, that He will provide all my needs. In taking up the yoke of Christ (a farm term; basically oxen are yoked together so that they pull together rather than against each other), I am following the lead of Christ himself. And to be honest, it is Christ who carries most of the load.
So, basically, what Chuck Swindoll was saying is this:
JESUS IS A BIG OX!
I'll bet Brian has never used THAT analogy!
In all seriousness, I had to ask myself a really important question in the face of this struggle: Do I love Jesus for the things he can provide? Or do I love HIm for who He is? I have decided that I want Jesus. I am convinced that He alone is all that I need and, really, all that I wanted. I just did not realize it until now.
So I feel better. I know I can live above my circumstances, not under them. Naturally, I have desires. But those desires are not the focal point of my life. If it pleases Him, he will provide me with a better job, a brighter future in this world, friends, a companion. If it DOES NOT please Him, I don't want them anyway. It would be pretty dumb to want things that God does not want me to have. So "Father'' does know best.
I guess our pal Brian is already beginning to pack his bags, huh? I know how excited I was as the time drew close for me to get out of prison. And I only did four months, so his excitement is probably exponentially greater than mine.
You should be encouraged, too, the months are peeling away. Since you have eclipsed the half-way mark, every day is a downhill journey for you, after all.
I want you to know that I'm doing what I can, limited though it may be, to prepare for your exit. I'm looking for living options for you and exploring church possibilities. We'll find a church that is "on fire'' for the Lord, a church that will welcome a couple of ex-cons with charm, talent, personality and, of course, humility. Heck, we may even try Brian's church, although I am highly suspicious of any church that would accept him as a member. Laughing.
Funny that I never asked, but what is your situation when you get out? Will you be on parole or probation? If it's probation, will it be intensive? Will you have a driver's license? (As you may know, I won't have a DL until April, 2010, which is almost like having another prison sentence, since it severely restricts my mobility).
My daughter, Abby, is coming here for spring break, but given my driving situation, she'll spend most of that time hanging with her old friends, which is understandable, given her age (15). Still, she'll spend a couple of days with me. I'm going to borrow another bike, so we can ride to the bus stop and then go where-ever we want. I hope to have a little money to do a few special thing with her. My budget does not normally allow for many extravagances, but I am doing a free-lance gig for the Seattle Times this week, so I'll have $150 from that, money I have ear-marked for Abby's visit. It will be wonderful to see her again!
Well, I'm going to close for now. Be sure to share this letter with Brian and tell him I'll be sending him his VERY OWN letter real soon.
Mark, be encouraged. If God be with us, who can be against us?
P.S. You asked me if I ever see women? Yes, there are many beautiful women who come into the coffee shop. Of course, I have ZERO chance in the romance department until I get on my feet again. It's pretty hard to date by bicycle, after all. So until then, women are like expensive art: appreciated, but not possessed.