Contrary to popular belief, I’ve never done prison time myself. But it is part of my brother’s story. I learned a valuable lesson about God from my brother’s time in prison.
I will never forget saying goodbye to my brother the day before he started his 7-year prison sentence. As I walked away from him, my eyes filled with tears. I didn’t see him as a man getting ready to face his punishment, I just saw him as a little boy- the little brother I could no longer protect.
Flash forward to his release day. It was one of the best days in the life of my family. Sadly, my father passed away and couldn’t be there to see it, but my mom, all my siblings, and my brother’s kids witnessed his release.
As he was escorted out by the officers, there were tears, laughter and hugs; lots of hugs. I didn’t see him as a man leaving prison, but once again as a little boy. But this time a little boy on Christmas who had just received the best gift ever!
Sadly, that joy was short lived. We had two great days together before the reality of his post prison life would set in. We had done everything right to set him up for success and to help him start rebuilding his life. Then came the knock.
Officers showed up and told him he had 24 hours to leave my mom’s home and, because of his charge, he could not live there, and if he did not comply he would go back to prison. This one moment undid every plan we had set into place. Now we were in complete scramble mode.
Here is where the God stuff starts to kick in. Everything I tried to do to help the situation failed, and out of frustration, I went on the air to vent like I am prone to do. The outpouring of kindness and compassion from complete strangers was beyond humbling! People wanted to love on my brother, no questions asked. They just wanted to help.
One guy in particular, Eric, offered to give my brother a job and that solved what, at one time, we thought was going to be the biggest problem he’d face. However, his living situation was still up in the air. Another person gave me the name of a guy who ran a post-prison program. And they guy who ran the program led me to another person who had transitional group housing for men in my brother’s situation. So, that’s where he’s living now.
That’s the short back story. Now, here is my epiphany. Don’t worry. It’s short and simple: Look for provision, not perfection. In my head, I had drawn up so many scenarios God could’ve used to solve my brother’s problem, and each time my plan fell through, I became frustrated and bewildered. Why would God NOT choose one of the options, and why on earth would He wait until the last possible moment? If you’re honest, you have probably asked at least one of those questions at some point in your life.
As hard as it was for me to comprehend, God knew the situation better than me, and He was working. God was giving me manna, but I wanted steak. He was providing, but it didn’t look the way I thought it should look, so I overlooked it. To quote Toby Mac’s new song:
“Help is on the Way”, “It may be midnight or midday. It’s never early, never late. He gon’ stand by what He claim. I’ve lived enough life to say. Help is on the way.”
So here are the three things I learned from my brother’s time in prison.
1. Be an active participant, not just a witness. By participating in God’s plan, two things happen. One, we are in better communication with God as we pray about different things to try. And two, our involvement in the process helps us see God defining His plan as some of ours don’t work out. The key is to be flexible and trade in our expectations of perfection for his gift of provision.
2. Expect the unexpected. God’s plan will rarely look like what we decide is best. The unexpected is where God shines. All of the frustrating turns in my brother’s story led to many people’s faith increasing as they followed the call God gave to them to help out a stranger.
The unexpected is where we come to the end of our capabilities and see the goodness of God.
3. Remember this moment…cause there will be a next time. How quickly we forget once the moment is gone. So, write down times you see God’s provision in your life to mark it and use it as a waypoint to return to the next time something in life gets wonky.
I had to remember God got my brother through 7 agonizing years in prison. Why would He do that only to let him go when he got out? Unlike Rose in the movie Titanic, who said she would never let go, but eventually did, God will never let us go. Deuteronomy 31:6 says, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.”
This promise is mentioned all throughout the Bible so it is clear that God knew we would need to be reminded of His faithfulness.
My brother’s story is still in progress and we are still trying to find a better long term living situation for him, but until God makes that happen, I am going to focus on trading in my notions of perfection and give constant thanks for His provision!