The sky was clear, not a cloud in the majestic expanse of blue. As we drove down the entrance, the leaves of the ancient pecan trees, which line the road, sparkled like yellowish green emeralds in the spring breeze. When the car pulled in the parking area, I remember seeing a skydiver floating free in this clear spring sky. As I watched, this figure slowly drift downward, the peaceful view of freedom was interrupted by the chain-link fence, guard towers, and razor wire. It was time to visit Dad again.
I did not know as I entered in to that cage of steel and cement, that a piece of me would never leave those cold walls. The thud of the metal doors behind my siblings and I, sent shivers down my young spine. The guards checked us for contraband waving an odd sounding metal detecting wand over our bodies, as if we were the criminals. I felt out of place. I was a fish out of water.
The oddest thing was the correctional officer’s command to us, “Follow me, please take a seat and remember NO PHYSICAL CONTACT!” How could they ask this of me? I just wanted to hug my Dad. This made the already awkward lump in my throat double.
As we sat there, around an unusually short table, just three feet away from my hero; my emotions as a young boy began to overwhelm me. Hot tears flowed down my checks. I was not prepared for the hardness I encounter in this world lost inside a world. Then the words, which have haunted me, “Son, don’t wear your feelings on your sleeve! Toughen up!” I couldn’t believe what I had heard my father say. The words were like liquid nitrogen, burning as they flowed through a young boy’s wounded soul, freezing and hardening everything in their path. This was when the rock began to form.
I do not know if my father knew the impact of his words on me that day. I felt as though crying for a man was a sign of weakness and that I had let him down in some way. I could not let my emotions run free ever again. A real man doesn’t cry! A piece of me, had been stolen from me that day. A piece that in the years following, I longed to have back.
As the years went by people were amazed at how cold and emotionless I could be at times. Yet, none were as surprised as myself. What happened to that little boy I used to be? The rock seemed to get harder as the days passed. Each offense added another layer of callousness. I am not saying I never cried after that day, but for me this was failing to be a real man. I longed for my childhood tenderness, but it was gone. All there was now was bottled pain and hurt.
For years, I wore a mask of not caring, only to be dying on the inside. Those around me never knew the battle that raged inside me. This masquerade was slowly killing me. I began to self medicate with alcohol and marijuana. These only numbed the pain for a season. I longed for a cure for my situation.
It was on a cold night in December, when the rock met its match. I had decided to attend church with my mother. There the preacher wielded a hammer that landed blow after blow on my stony heart. I thought coming to church was the worst thing I could have done. I left immediately after the altar call.
I drove only the distance of a few light poles along the country road. When my mother said, “ I don’t know about you, but I sure am hungry.” I was so hungry, but not for food. I began to sob violently. I remember my mother whispering under her breath , “Thank you Jesus… Thank you… Thank you Jesus!” I turned the car around and headed back to that little country church. I parked behind the church sign, trying to hide my shame. I still did not want anyone to see me cry. Punks cried.
I sat in the car weeping. I was convicted of the cold callous sinner I had become. The hammer pounded the rock. I opened the door of the car and made my way into the little white church. As the hammer pounded, I could feel the pieces of the rock’s weight begin to fall. At the end of the aisle stood the hammer wielding preacher. The rock was no match for the hammer of God’s Word. My sinfulness was no match for God’s amazing grace.
As I knelt, layer after layer of hardness was chiseled away by an unseen master sculptor. The Sculptor’s hands held me, as I lamented over my depravity. He took the stony heart away and gave me a new heart of flesh. I felt like a child again; all things were new. The innocence I had lost; I found again.