Wednesday, May 2, 2012

49 Days of Grace: "Smith"

In the Spring of 2007 I spent 49 days in jail.  While in most ways a terrible time in my life, they were also days filled with grace and a whole new understanding of the love of God whose name is Jesus.  To read my story and see more of these posts, check out 49 Days of Grace.

One of the most difficult parts of my 7 weeks in the Ware County Jail was the excruciating boredom. If you have watched prison movies, then you probably have images of guys playing basketball and lifting weights in "The Yard." You may think of guys spending time in the library, or watching lots of TV. None of these things were available to me because I was kept in a high security wing for my own protection. As I have mentioned before, I did not go outside for 7 weeks, and counting paces in my cell for exercise could only fill so much time. I napped a lot because time passes quickly when you are asleep. But mostly I counted on my wife, who brought me books, word search magazines, pen and paper and a deck of cards. While in jail I was able to read through the Bible 2 times. That's the entire book, old and new testaments. Twice. I also read all 7 books of the Chronicles of Narnia, several novels (I remember The Lincoln Lawyer and a couple of John Grisham books), a history of the AIDS crisis called And the Band Played On, and Tony Campolo's The Kingdom of God Is a Party. I filled a couple of word search books. I wrote letters. And I played a lot- A LOT- of Smith.

Smith is a solitaire card game that my friend Steve Semmler introduced me to in the summer of 1973. I have no idea what the real name of the game might be, and I really don't remember how it became Smith. But it did. I will not try to explain the game here, but suffice it to say that winning this particular game requires an incredible amount of luck. It is also very addictive, because you very often almost win. Steve and I, along with other members of our group of friends, would play the game for hours on end. As time passed I taught it to many of the students who traveled with me on youth group trips over the years, and they too were quickly addicted. And all of us had one thing in common. We never won. Oh every now and then someone would claim to win, but a quick review of the rules would usually lead to the discovery that they had cheated- inadvertently or not. So given all of this time to kill and a fresh deck of cards, I attacked Smith with a new passion. I mean playing hundreds of times each day I was bound to win, right? I even taught the game to a couple of the guys who passed through my cell, and they too suffered from the frustration. I have now been playing Smith for nearly 40 years and have still never won. I have been one card from winning hundreds of times.But I have never beaten Smith...

In many ways, Smith is a prefect analogy for my time behind bars. The frustration was immense. On two different occasions I was loaded into a van and taken to the courthouse so the judge could sign my bond and I could go home. Both times the judge failed to show due to illness. My attorney kept finding out new details about the crime I was charged with, and none of it was encouraging. Georgia has a law that allows first time offenders to serve their probation, and if they complete the time with no incident their crime can be completely expunged from their record. It turned out that my offense was not eligible for that. He thought they would offer me a plea deal with 5 years probation. It was 10 instead. And worst of all, he and everyone else kept thinking that I would be released most any day. Any day turned into 49. It felt like I was one card away from winning, but just like with Smith, I could not for the life of me draw that card.  

Fortunately, all of the time spent reading the Bible wasn't just a time killer. Reading all of the great stories of doubt and faith, of failure and redemption, reminded me that I was not alone. I became especially fond of Joseph, abandoned in Potiphar's prison before becoming Pharaoh's right-hand man, and David, the giant slayer and king who also sinned in a big way before being known as a "man after God's own heart." I became very aware that my story was still playing out, and that it would play out in God's time, not mine. I was still often frustrated and depressed. But I was reminded that no matter my struggles and failures, Jesus would still love me, and because of his love there was NOTHING that could ever separate me from God! I may never defeat Smith, but my sin has already been beaten by the Cross. That required no luck...just love. Every night I would close my prayer time by remembering that children of God are never alone. I still do that today. Next Wednesday we finish the 49 days with the story my release.  

Because of Jesus,


  1. This series has been great, it really has. Thanks for continuing to share this way

  2. Thank you so much, Kim. It has been important for me to share it, and I hope it is meaningful to others as weel.


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