A Picture of Grace
(Listen by clicking the white play button at the top of this post. You can read the transcript of the story below.)
Hi, my name is Delton. And I hate to say this out loud, but I’m a middle-aged man, husband of a dear woman for 28 years, and parent of three children, two adult children and one still in high school. I was raised as a Latin American, my dad is a Cuban immigrant. My mom was born here in the States.
So I have a very interesting worldview. But I was raised as a follower of Christ. And I’m grateful for that. And now I have a long, long standing tradition and our family on both sides of Christ followers and a deep legacy of a Christ-honoring, Christ-following family.
So I spent 47 months in federal prison. I don’t have to tell you that going to prison is not an easy thing to do. But somehow, from the very beginning, we knew that God was at work. We knew that God had a bigger story in mind, and we were on the hunt for it. And so we took things a little more seriously. We were trying to be more attentive to what was going on, because we kept–it was like that sense of anticipation. We know something’s gonna happen, we’re waiting for it to happen. And it’s amazing what you notice when you live like that.
My first day there–that that memory is very vivid for me. I’d just taken a tour with the counselor, kind of introduced me to the place, show me around, show me where my bunk is. And I came in and met a guy named Thad, and he came up to me almost immediately after I got there, walked right up to me, big, larger-than-life kind of a guy–6-4, 6-5, maybe taller. Very fit, very–he’d played safety at Southern Miss. Big guy, big strong guy, but a smile that was just contagious. And he came up with his big eyes and big smile and said, greeted me, “I’m Thad.” He said, “You’re a Christian, aren’t’ you?” But I thought wow, of, of all the people that could have approached me. This guy walked right up to me and I guess could see the Holy Spirit, and was discerning enough to see that. And I said, “Well, yeah.”
“I knew it.” He said. He said, “we need to, you know, we need to talk, you know, we’re going to be friends.” I was like, okay. And he said, “So, meet me tonight, after count, the count at 9:30. Meet me in the last shower stall for prayer time.”
I paused, I said, “That’s not gonna happen. I’m not meeting anybody in the last shower stall for anything.” I laugh at that now, but the day goes on as a kind of a blur. We get the count and lights go off and sure enough, there’s Thad. He said, “Hey, ya coming to pray?” I was now–I’m kind of pressured, I’m like, and he’s with three other guys. So now I’m feeling a little safer. There’s safety in numbers. So we went back and sure enough, there’s maybe a dozen guys and had a prayer time. I have to be honest, I’ve never experienced a prayer time quite as robust, quite as alive, quite as real as that time.
I prayed virtually every night after count for four years with that group of guys. Sometimes it was just me and Thad and because people revolved in that place, it wasn’t always the same people. But we saw miracles where people would begin to send in their prayer requests to inmates to say hey, will you please pray for this. My sister-in-law has breast cancer. My brother lost his job. My best friend is dealing with a marital crisis. The different–and then some things materialistic, some things health related, some things would just be this person needs Jesus. And we would share–a little bit of that time every night was to share the answers to prayer.
And so, a couple days later Thad said, “Hey, I need you to talk to this guy, David. He’s asking me questions I don’t know the answer to and I think you know the answers.” I don’t know why he thought I would know the answers. But I said, “Well, yeah, okay. I’ll talk to him.” And I talked to David and he says, you know, we talked for a few minutes and David turns out, he’s one of the smartest guys I’ve ever met. National Merit scholar, passed the bar in like six states, and was an attorney and you know, did the New York Times, every day, the crossword every day, and on Sunday, he would time himself, I think, to see how fast he could do it. I mean, I can’t get four words in that crossword and he was completing it. So super, super well read, super intelligent, and he said to me, “I’ve been studying this whole Christian thing and I’m starting to understand, and it makes sense. And I kind of understand how it –I mean very intellectual conversation about it. He read Case for Christ, and he’d read some other apologetic type of stuff. “So I get all the intellectual side. What I don’t get is, I don’t understand this whole grace thing. You’re gonna have to explain that to me.” So here I am in a situation where I’m talking to a guy intellectually far surpassing anything I’d ever thought about, and trying to explain a concept that I myself don’t truly understand–of, of grace. And so, I just asked the Holy Spirit to guide me and started telling stories that I’d heard to explain grace. And at the end of our time, David, you know, got to talking and he just got super emotional, eyes filled up. He said, “I see.” He said, “I want that. I want grace.”
Fast forward a few years. And I had a class in seminary and talking about grace. And my professor said something that was very startling to me. He said, “Grace is repulsive.” And I thought, No, it’s not. It’s so inviting, and it’s so relieving. But as he explained it, it made sense that grace is repulsive, because it requires us to be in a position of submission, and in a position of a subordinated position to receive that. And I resonated with that, because and we’ve been all our lives, we’ve been–my parents were very generous people and taught me to be generous. But we entered this season and suddenly our family was in a position of having to receive. We were no longer in a position to give, we’re no longer in a position where we were a resource, but we had to rely on the resources of others. And it was a difficult transition. It was a stark and sudden transition. We went from, almost one day to the next, having plenty and having been a position of help, to suddenly having to receive and so I’ve seen that, again, looking back as God has shaped my life.
Personally, that first day I was telling you about, when Thad came up, he also came up bearing gifts. He had in his hand–a bar soap, and he had a toothbrush and a tube of toothpaste and he said, “Hey, I have some things for you from the Christian brothers. And Ed came up and he said, “Hey, I’m with the Christian brothers. And here’s the thing, they gave me a pair of shorts and they gave me shower shoes and they gave me a jar of peanut butter, and a couple Snickers bars and some things that I would have probably bought for myself on commissary in a week or two whenever I could do get the commissary. But I didn’t want anybody to know that I had done a lot of reading before I got there. So I tried to be as prepared as I can. And one of the things I kept reading was, “Don’t accept anything from anybody. You don’t want to be beholden to anybody.” So here’s all these guys handing me stuff. My natural fleshly reaction was to not receive. Was to “No, I can do this.” And I’d even been counseled through these books and articles and things that I’d read to not take anything from anybody. But yet the first people to approach me were Christian brothers saying, “Here we’re giving to you.” But it was a small taste of what I would see over the next few years of receiving.
And the story I love to tell is about a guy named Lewis in Orlando. Now Lewis is a, I consider him a friend now, was an acquaintance at the time, is really a friend of my brother’s. And my brother reached out to me, said, “Lewis wants to talk to you. Can you add him to your, to your email list or whatever so you can get communication?” I’m limited to how many, how many people I can get communications from. So I was giving up a communication slot for someone I didn’t really know. But I said, “Yeah, I’ll, I can do that.” So we started communicating. And shortly thereafter, Lewis said, “I want to do something for you, Delton, and I want to be, I want to stand in the gap for you. And I want to do for your family, the things you can’t do for yourself.” He said, “So, if you can give me your wife and kids’ names, and their birthdays and their interests, what they like, their favorite color, favorite candy bar, you know, whatever, whatever you can tell me about them. And then when my wife and my kids are shopping, we want to keep you guys in mind. And we want to, like put together care packages and stuff for them.” Which I was dumbfounded by. I was like, “Wait,” you know? The impact of the gesture when my son, my at the time, like eight year old son said, “Daddy, dad, Hey, thank you so much for the Sour Patch Kids. I loved them.” I was like…Well, apparently he’d gotten a little box. The package crammed full of Sour Patch Kids that, I told Lewis that he likes Sour Patch Kids. crammed full with a little note from dad saying, “Just lettin’ you know I’m thinking about you, I hope you enjoy these.”
I can’t express how, how powerful that is, and how, how it ministered to me. And so that happened, my wife got flowers on her birthday, and on our anniversary and my kids got a card and a package of some sort on their birthdays. And sometimes at the end of school or at the beginning of school. It wasn’t just on their birthdays, it was just sort of habitually throughout the year, they would get random packages from dad, and I wrote them letters and I wrote them emails and I, you know, I stayed in touch too, but it was–I had no ability to send them tangible things. And so that’s, that’s one of the many ways that God continued to wink, continue to provide.
You know, when you’re when your little boy looks at you in gratitude for something that you had nothing to do with, other than allowing, allowing someone to be generous and not refusing that, I mean, again that position of, of subordination to say yes, I’ll receive your, I’ll receive your act of generosity.
The paradigm of prison, I don’t want to scare people away, it’s broader than that. That’s just my life experience and where I saw the church working, and I think the more we can amplify the things that God does, and the more that we’re anticipating his involvement, and the more that we’re aware of his involvement, the more we’ll see it. I remember I started–I told the story, I bounced around a little bit. So I kept journals while I was there and when I, when David had this conversion experience, I thought, “I think that’s noteworthy. I’m gonna write that down.” And so I wrote his, you know, at the top of my journal, I forgot how I named it, labeled it but “Encounters with Christ” or something. And I wrote his name down. And I can’t, to this day, I can’t explain why, but I wrote the number 50 next to his name. And two weeks later, three weeks later, a guy named Jeff, I led to Christ. I wrote his name down, and he went home like the week later. And I wrote 49. I started counting down. Well, I told Thad, I said, “Well, as soon as I see 50 men come to Christ, I think God’s gonna release me.” Well, about three weeks before I went home, 47 months later, I led my cellie, my bunkmate, to Christ and I wrote, wrote his name down. Caesar, and I wrote, number one next to his name.
Some people go man, I don’t know how you did it. I don’t know how you went through four years of prison and didn’t just leave so bitter and angry and frustrated and at the injustice of it all. And I think well, I don’t either. But knowing that God was at work and that God truly did work all things together. And not just for them. I said, you know that if you go to the Greek, in Romans and the word for all, what it really means is ALL. Not some, not most, not on occasion, not when He feels like it, but He works all things together. And if we can keep a glimpse of that, and whether that glimpse comes because you’ve heard me tell my story or because you’ve experienced it in your own life, or you’ve seen it in Scripture, knowing that what we view as an evil, what we view as a negative, ultimately puts us in a place to be in better communion and better relationship with the Almighty God of the universe.
Hopefully it does not only just give it merit but gives a sense of worth and as a crucible, purifies gold that makes us a little bit more like Christ.