In January of 2009, I was transferred from the United States Penitentiary-Hazelton to the Federal Correctional Institution-Morgantown to finish the last sixteen months of my federal prison sentence. FCI-Morgantown is parked right in the middle of a little valley in West Virginia, with a beautiful combination of trees, rivers, and mountains that is pretty tough to beat. In fact, I recommend you visit it, but not under the same circumstances that I did, because having the option to leave when you’re ready is always an added bonus.
The FCI-Morgantown has a handful of dormitories, a cafeteria, a multi-purpose building with a gym and a library, a beautiful church, and a sidewalk that connects all of those things to a softball field that is a magnet for ducks and Canadian geese. Surrounding that field is a track that does a pretty good job of maintaining a minefield of puddles and goose droppings throughout the year. During those final months of my sentence, I picked up the habit of walking on that track for a couple hours each day.
On Sky Rock
I loved those walks, and as similar as the last walk was to the next, I can vividly recall many of those early afternoons. I’d usually finish my work or a class I was taking, rush to my bunk, and then swap my khaki shirt, khaki pants, and black boots for the gray sweats and white tennis shoes for which I’d traded two books of stamps back at the USP-Hazelton. Finally, I’d put on the headphones that only ever worked in one ear and then attempt to tune the plastic radio attached to them, accepting even static reception from one of the three channels in the area.
I used to think about a lot of things on those walks—things like how my friends and family were doing, the people I hurt with my crime, or about a little story I wanted to write. I spent a lot of time wondering why I did the things that landed me in prison … and what in the world I was going to do when I finally got out.
I have no idea how many miles I walked in the FCI-Morgantown, constantly looking at the same faces, puddles, trees, and mountains. But every once in a while, I would stop there in the valley and look up at the top of the highest hill where there was a rock that seemed to balance itself on top of the trees. At the time, I had no idea the area I was looking at was called Dorsey’s Knob and that the rock was called Sky Rock, the highest point in Morgantown. I would pause and watch people that were on Sky Rock. I promised myself that, when I got out, I was going to visit that rock and look down on this place and remember my walks.
It took me a while, but on the first leg of my book tour promoting The Reason, I finally made it.
I remember sitting on top of that rock and the whirlwind of emotions that came with it. Oddly, I found myself thinking about the exact same things I thought about when I used to walk on the track.
I will never forget about the pain I caused my family and the people I hurt as a result of my crime and, frankly, I don’t want to forget. But the question that kept coming to my mind as I looked down upon the FCI-Morgantown was how in the world did I let it all happen? How could I make such a big mistake?
And then I pushed it away, because that’s not what we are supposed to do. We aren’t supposed to EVER let our mistakes consume the present.
Past And Future Disappointments Are Opportunities
New Year’s Day has just passed, and many of us have made new promises to ourselves. Some want to quit smoking, eat healthier, lose a few pounds, or spend more time with their families. The list goes on. What we are really doing when making these promises is admitting to ourselves that we haven’t done our best in these areas—we have made mistakes. And you know what?
It’s okay to make mistakes.
What isn’t okay is when we let what happened yesterday, ruin today.
Divorces, break-ups, that thing you said to your boss, that job opportunity you blew, the time you didn’t spend with your kids … it, too, goes on and on. But regardless of how long you dwell on something, or how quickly you can let something go and move on … the fact remains that we all make mistakes.
God gives us choices. He gives us a choice, and with any choice comes the possibility of choosing unwisely. And with many of those unwise choices often comes a great deal of pain. But you don’t have to live in the past. The only thing you can do about the past is learn from it. You aren’t defined by your past. Today is a new day to make a fresh start.
You’ve heard it all before? Of course you have.
But today, resolve to do something different. Why not consider both past and future mistakes to be opportunities to demonstrate your faith? I think Max Lucado puts it best in his book, It’s Not About Me. Max suggests that, “Your faith in the face of suffering cranks up the volume of God’s song.” I love it.
Whether your suffering is caused by your own hand or someone else’s, allow past and future disappointments to be opportunities to show your faith in Him. Then watch as your faith sets forth an inspiring example that will draw others to God. What single greater thing could you possibly do?
Beyond The Albatross: Write Your List
What are those past events that seem to be eating up so much of your current time? Stop right now and find yourself a pen and paper. Write down every unwise choice that consumes your heart. Then look at your list and then smile at them. Feel the peace that comes with knowing God has forgiven you and that he absolves you of every transgression … then forgive yourself.
God doesn’t bring up our pasts. He wants you to know that those bad days were intended to give you strength. They weren’t meant for you to dwell upon. That’s what the evil one wants. Satan wants those bad days to constantly tax you and rob you of your peace for the rest of your life. He wants you to live in the past and worry about the future.
The truth is that the past is over and the only way to handle your future is to do the right thing now, and the future will take care of itself. The Bible tells us that today has enough problems of its own. So let’s focus on the now … because your future is now.
Take one last look at that piece of paper, acknowledge that once you tear it up, you are going to make the choice to remove that albatross of problems from around your neck, and start living the life He wants you to live. Do this because the greatest part of our responsibility on earth is to show others how our faith allows us to overcome anything. And this doesn’t have to be something you resolve to do every January 1. You can do it every day.