Broken Yoke Ministries, Inc
Those Who Hope
By Bob Van Domelen
". . .but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40.31 NIV)
The house was quiet, almost a forced silence. My wife and children didn’t know how they should respond to me, what to say or do, so for the kids, entering a room where I sat staring straight ahead was more than awkward. They turned and left.
The local paper had already announced my arrest and our phone started ringing. Sometimes friends, sometimes not. My wife instructed our children to pick up the phone and ask, “Who’s calling, please?” Friends would identify themselves. The others hung up.
Nothing was the same and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was all black, a blackness that I thought was defining my future.
The van deposited me and three others at the state’s receiving center. I had my property in a bag. Some paper, a pen, a few stamped envelopes, a pocket New Testament and Psalms that was given to me by a member of the Gideons, and a bible my wife purchased and had sent to me.
I was frightened, especially when I realized that my first cell ended up being in the segregation unit. I didn’t know that there wasn’t enough room on the receiving unit. I thought the yelling laced with constant obscenities was just the way it was going to be. This was prison. This was my new home.
There was, however, a narrow window in that room and I found I could open it about an inch. The smell of freshly cut grass came at me on a light breeze and filled my senses. And in that moment, I also felt God speaking to my heart, “and now it begins.”
“We’ve decided to grant you a parole and hope that you won’t make us regret that decision.” I cried.
but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
The hope that I could not find in the days following my arrest was brought to life little by little. It was nurtured by those willing to pray for me and sometimes, just knowing that they were okay with being in the same space I occupied.
The hope was most certainly nurtured by my wife and family in ways not many in prison get to experience. I never took that support for granted and even today they are a foundation of love that allows and encourages me to grow.
I chose the three defining moments above to share with you, times when it was clear to me that change was happening. Like many of you, there have literally been thousands of moments when I knew God was working in my life despite and maybe because of the environment of prison. The complete blackness I felt and saw in the beginning was never again complete. God’s light overcame it.
The word ‘renew’ is important because it is part of a process that became clearer and more real as my relationship with the Lord grew. That growth came in prayer, worship, and spending time in his word, learning and listening. And it came in surrendering my life to God.
When I fall short in that connection, as I often do, something feels different in how I see life. It’s less joyful and certainly less hopeful. After all, what I have done is same old, same old, so what’s the point of fighting the old inner person. In moments like that, I sometimes tell myself I can’t change. The blackness returns . . .but not really. At the end of the day, however, I refuse to believe that it is how my life must be.
Sitting in that chair years ago, I had no strength and no hope. By the time I was transferred from the county jail to a state prison, I felt stronger but uncertain, a little afraid but believing. And when it came, the Parole Board’s decision didn’t change the empty looking canvas I was staring at in my mind, but I felt strong enough to start adding brush strokes that would create a new image, a new future. I knew God had reached into my life and was giving me the strength to believe that a future based on hope was possible.
soar on wings like eagles
The image of eagles' wings was used in the Old Testament to represent the strength and loving-kindness of the Lord in delivering His covenant people. ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.” (Exodus 19:4)
Being renewed and reliant on God, we can soar beyond our imagination as God uses us. We will do things beyond our self-imposed limitations, certainly beyond the old self and that former life of darkness because God is the wind upon which we soar.
run and not grow weary
As much as I wouldn’t mind having actual wings that would allow me to go wherever I wanted, I have feet and they are firmly planted on the ground. I am also at a time in life when I very seldom, if ever, run. But if I push myself too hard, I do grow weary. Yet I am really talking about more than that.
“And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus.” (Hebrews 12:1-2) This is not a 5K or 10K race, or even a standard marathon of slightly more than 26 miles. This is a race that lasts our lifetime. It never stops.
On my own, this all seems beyond impossible, especially if I am not to grow weary. I know that on my own, I will tire and probably want to give up. Remember, however, that this is not a race I run alone. None of us does. For when we fix our eyes on Jesus, we are running on his strength.
To put all this into the reality of what I have done and all the harm I brought on others, this race will be one of living from day to day doing whatever I need to do to stay free of any return to my past choices. I need to say no when I need to say no. When I stumble in any way, I need to remind myself whose child I am and get up to continue the race.
Perhaps to put this into an even more practical way, if you take a moment to think of how you felt before your arrest, at the time of your arrest, and everything that has happened since, you have already been through much more than you’d have imagined. And you are still moving forward, still running the race even when it doesn’t always feel that victorious.
walk and not be faint
I have been out of prison for more than 30 years and some might feel I have run the race or that I have arrived. But the truth is that every day seems to have new challenges and not all of them relate to my past offenses. I decided that the goal is not to demand freedom from all temptation but to seek God to help me make it through temptation.
Most of those who have written me recently have received a prayer I say every day, several times a day. It goes like this: O Jesus, I surrender myself to you, Take care of everything!
If you are in the habit of saying the Lord’s Prayer, you already say part of this prayer in the words, thy will be done. Everything doesn’t mean some things or even just one thing, it means everything! And then, being as reliant upon God as I can be, I trust that my choices will come from the center of his response.
You’ll get through all that you must get through. You will face both temptation and adversity. You will find people who want to support and encourage you, but you will also be confronted by those who will hate you and refuse to make the burden of reentry any less difficult than it is. You are not alone. Trust the God who was present at your birth to be with you to the extent that you will allow his presence. And pray most sincerely for the grace to give him your all. Have hope because that is a gift from God. You are his – you always have been.