This post exists because I sent a package of candy and cookies and chips to a prisoner in the Georgia state correctional system. Mind you, I did not get to create this package entirely on my own–there are rules (lots of rules) about such things, a strict online ordering process that must be followed, and limits to what you can send and how much it can weigh, and how often you can send things.
The package is going to Adam–someone I care very much about. Someone I shared a good bit of life with during my adolescence. Someone who I know, in his bones, to be brilliant and caring and full of potential. Someone who was born with very few choices and even less support and structure around him to help him make the right choices. And, he ended up making all the wrong decisions and so, here he is, 28 years old and serving a sentence for robbery.
I cannot fix his having broken the law. I cannot fix the series of events that led to him breaking the law. I cannot fix that he was born into acute poverty. And so I write him letters. And I send him peanut M&M’s. And my daughter, who has heard as much of his story as it is appropriate for girl her age to hear, draws him pictures sometimes and we send those, too. And in all of it I wish with all that I am that things were different for him.
I can feel the words I want to write next sounding familiar. Words about how broken we all are and about how not a single one of us is perfect. But they’re important words, and ones that I’ve spent the last several years trying to learn by heart, so that I’ll never again be leveled by my own imperfection.
I don’t believe “everything happens for a reason.” Not even for a minute. I don’t believe in destiny or fate in the sense that either of them determine our life’s path before we’ve even begun it. I also don’t believe in a God who moves people and situations around to that God’s pleasure and favor.
But I do believe that there are lessons to be learned in what life hands us. And that we sometimes grow in the midst of deep and awful pain. And that no matter what hell or happiness we currently find ourselves in, God (whatever name you want to call that God by, and however you understand God or Love or Some Other Being) is with us. And so, there’s hope.
There are no excuses for the things Adam has done. But, the thing is, Adam’s life story could have just as easily been mine. And mine could have been his. I got fiercely lucky. He did not. Even as I, too, have made awful mistakes and hurt people in ways I didn’t even realize. Even as I, too, have let my own doubts and insecurities and flaws get the best of me at times. But the truth is that no matter what pain I’ve known or dark day I’ve had, I’ve never been desperate or hopeless or isolated enough to make the sorts of choices that lead to prison.
What I know for sure to be true in all this is that God (again, whatever name…) loves Adam no less or more than God loves me.
We’re all so broken inside, y’all. Stitched and patched together, if we’re lucky, with love and grace and enough good folks around us to help us be whole in the midst of our brokenness. Leonard Cohen wrote that the light gets in through our broken places, and maybe he was right.
Maybe that brokenness, however it happens, is how we really learn what mercy looks like.
Adam has a terrible sweet tooth, and that’s reason #1 I chose the peanut M&M’s. Reason #2 is that peanut M&M’s are one of my favorite things, and I wanted to send him something that’s part of me, too. I know–it’s just candy. But it’s the best I can do, for now, from where I am and to where he is.
And maybe this is all the rambling of someone who got up too early and was up in the wee hours with a restless child…but I think what I’m getting at, most of all, is that life, it can be hard. Right smack dab in the middle of how lovely it is, it can be hard…and any chance we can take to extend a little grace, shed a little light…well, we ought to take it.
Because we need that grace and light, too.