It was a blustery day when I finally received approval to see the physician. Due to a post-operation medical need, I require regular blood draws and monitoring. It had been about four weeks since my last evaluation. I was not surprised my appointment was late – long timers informed me that everything in prison, even time itself, seems to move in slow motion.
But today was my day. I was out the door of my cell block by 8 AM, walking with four others about 1000 yards to a midpoint guard station. When I arrived, I was told there had been a mistake in scheduling and that I would not be going to medical, but to dental instead.
I was disappointed not to have my needed medical appointment, and as I imagine most would be, really disappointed to have that replaced by an appointment with a prison dentist.
So I walked the 500 yards back to my cell block, only to be told to walk 1000 yards to a different mid-point check-in station. My heightened sense of anxiety worsened when the guard handed me a bright yellow vest and told me to wear it – to avoid being shot by officers stationed in the towers. I arrived at the mid-point guard station, where two other inmates joined me. We were all told to continue to the next check-in center.
The second check-in center is located near the dental complex. Staff ran us through a metal detector, took our coats (for security reasons), and put us in an outdoor “holding center,” which resembles a dog kennel. There are steel bars, reinforced chain link on the sides and top, and razor wire everywhere.
As the cold wind whipped through the cage on my coatless arms – some of the men muttered curses. Then it started to rain. Perfect. My morning was not turning out as I had hoped.
A few moments later, I heard the unmistakable sound of geese – winging and honking their way southward across the sky. I looked up. They were directly overhead. Given how the morning was unfolding, I feared our feathered friends might drop a present, but thankfully, there was none.
I smiled at the small blessing. And as I stood in the cage, in the cold wind and rain, looking up the chain link and razor wire, I saw the sun begin to break through the dark clouds.
I was reminded that we must learn to see the sun through the clouds. In times of disappointment, it is important to see God’s “tender mercies” (Psa. 119:77) and “give thanks in everything” (though not for everything (1 Thess. 5:18). The practice of looking past the clouds and seeing the sunshine encourages the hearts and provides fuel for the journey.
And the weary must remember that God often introduces one last test before the blessing. He loves endings with surprise twists. After the ten plagues, Moses leads his people out of Egypt. Then, just as it appears all is well, they look back to see Pharaoh and his army bearing down on them.
The Israelites are caught between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. We know the rest of that story – God parts the waters, Israel escapes through the sea, and Egypt’s army drowns. But imagine that moment just before that happened—as Israel stood there—a deep sea before them and the entire Egyptian army behind them. It was the test before the blessing.
My Bible reading today was the story of Ruth. It is a beautiful story. We root for Ruth and fully expect her to be ‘redeemed’ and married to Boaz at the end of the story, but there are many tests along the way.
In the last chapter, Boaz calls together the elders of the city. One man, in particular, was the focus of the discussion. He was an unnamed relative of Naomi’s. Boaz wants to marry Ruth, but by tradition and law, another man had the first right to her hand and was required to formally surrender that right before Boaz and Ruth could marry. Boaz announces his intentions to marry Ruth, then waits. The situation looked bleak.
It must have been a tense few moments for Boaz and Ruth. First, there was silence. The other man had good reason to marry Ruth. He would inherit everything she owned and knew she would be a good wife. As expected, after a few anxious moments, he announced he would marry Ruth. If you’re reading the story, your heart sinks at this point – this is not the ending you expected, or wanted. It was a test.
Boaz then reminds the relative that if he marries Ruth, he must, according to custom, also provide for Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law. Again there is silence.
Suddenly, the man changes his mind and rescinds his declaration to marry. To the reader’s delight, Boaz marries happy Ruth and they have a happy life. Their son, Obed, has a son named Jesse. He has a son named David…most know him as King David.
Follow David’s family tree for fourteen generations, and you come to a man named “Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus who is the Christ” (Matthew 1:16). Test. Trust. Blessing.
Ruth is a beautiful book, with an interesting but not uncommon twist and surprise at the end of the story.
So there I stood – in a cage, in the wind and rain, on my way to the prison dentist. I could choose to focus my eyes and mind on the weathered chain link fence and razor wire above me or look past that to the sun, which was just beginning to burst through the clouds.
I took a deep breath, smiled, fought back the tears, and focused on the sun and the beauty of creation. The dark, foreboding clouds were no match for the powerful sun. Majestic rays of light and warmth burst through, as it always does, and for me, just in time – right before I was called to my appointment (which was not as bad as I had imagined). Right after the test, a surprise ending to the story emerged.
As I walked back to my cell block, I was mindful that Jesus, the Son, will soon come bursting through the clouds (1 Thess. 4:13-18), and one day, God “will wipe away our tears” (Rev. 21:4). But for now, we must “look up” (Luke 21:28). Let us join Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in saying, “Our God is able to deliver us from the…fiery furnace…but if not…[we will still praise Him]” (Dan. 3:16-18). Let us trust in the Lord our God.
We choose our focus. We could look up, and fear presents from flying feathered friends, but we can also look to the Father for blessings and surprise endings to the trials we face (James 1:17). Our Lord is the God of wonders – in Him, “all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
Be strong. Have hope. Live well. Finish well (Heb. 12:1-2).