“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil” (Ephesians 5:16, ESV).
I opened my Bible to a familiar passage in Isaiah. This passage reminds me of my oldest son, Eddie. It has become kind of a life verse for him. I prayed for him as I read, wondering how he is doing. Then I had an idea. This would be a wonderful passage for an art project. Except I wasn’t sure I could draw an eagle, and this passage required an eagle. Why not ask Eddie to draw me an eagle? He has always been much better at drawing.
I made my request to Eddie later that evening over the telephone, which has been my primary means of contact with him in the last several months. We were both surprised when Eddie said he had been thinking of the same passage that very morning. In fact, he was in the process of tattooing that particular verse on his forearm….himself. Does that sound like a strange thing for a twenty-year-old young man to be doing on a weekday morning? Well, it is. But Eddie’s not living a typical lifestyle. His days run together in mind-numbing monotony. His only real highlight is a 15 minute call home, where we are interrupted every couple of those precious few minutes by an automated recording, reminding us our time is short. And the call will cut off, whether or not we’ve finished our goodbyes.
Eddie is serving time in a state prison, several hours from home. He was sentenced to nine years this past March. Yes, nine years. Even as I type that, my heart is sick with grief. I was there when the judge read his sentence. It’s not a day easily forgotten; the kind etched deeply on a mother’s heart. The sight of your child in a county jail jumpsuit and flip-flops, shuffling across the floor, chained at the wrists and ankles, escorted by a personal sheriff entourage. It’s shocking to realize the same child you once taught to tie his shoes warrants such restraint, now is the subject of a grand jury trial. His lawyer had warned me, “No contact with the prisoners. It is a policy strictly enforced.” I prayed silently for the mercy of a hug, and God answered. Apparently, God is bigger than bureaucracy. One of the sheriff motioned me over and allowed us to say our goodbyes. I was so grateful to just be there for him, and have a moment to comfort him before he was escorted beyond my reach.
I have not talked about his arrest this time. For blog followers who’ve been with me while, you know this is not Eddie’s first time in prison. The last stent was a year in juvenile jail. There is a long,heart-breaking history behind us. This time, I haven’t been able to speak much about it, except to closest friends (for whom I am forever grateful…I love you, you know who you are). This time, I had to shelve my feelings for a time. Call it a season to process pain, to grieve, to survive. All of the above. I appreciate your sensitivity and prayers as our family continues in this long, difficult season together.
Then, this idea comes for an art project on Isaiah 40:31, “Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles”. What better way to affirm Eddie in his talents and gifts than to ask him to participate in a mother-son art project? To show him he is capable of creating something meaningful when he is tempted to believe otherwise. When it would be easier to resign himself to serving time in a meaningless existence. Eddie lives where he is known by number, not name. Where every unique thing that makes him special is stamped out in the intentionally depersonalized structure known as “population control”. Where God seems far off and Eddie is sorely tempted to fall even further into deepest darkness. It’s a precarious time. I praise God for His creativity and restorative plans! I am convinced this project idea came from the Father’s own heart. As Eddie and I work together to create beauty from ashes, and redeem the time, I pray and believe in God’s greater restorative work. He is healing our hearts, one painting at a time.
It didn’t take long for Eddie to respond to my request. The request itself encouraged him in the best way. He sent me three different eagles. They came sketched in only pencil on thin paper, folded from the mail. Writing supplies are prized in prison. Eddie has written me letters on envelopes, the back of forms, any scrap he is able to get his hands on. Here is the eagle I chose for the painting:
It’s a little wrinkled, but nothing gel medium can’t handle.
My original idea was to trace his eagle onto a painted background, and then paint over it. After seeing his sketch, I decided to cut out and glue his actual eagle right into my painting. His detail is so much better than mine would be. Here’s a collage of the progress I made of these steps:
I painted the eagle last night and worked on the lettering today. I am still playing around with the colors of the letters, trying to get them to pop out better against my busy background (more on that in a minute). But I couldn’t wait to share this special project with you. I very proudly present the first of what I hope will become a series of mother-son art projects, taking heART to a whole new level!
I sent Eddie a photo of the finished painting too. I can’t wait to hear his response! I am keeping the original for him, but may make prints or cards from this.
I noticed my busy background unintentionally ended up looking kind of military-camouflaged. Even that detail has God’s fingerprints all over it. Think of it, using an eagle – a symbol of freedom – to encourage a prisoner and wage war against the powers of darkness. This is a war, and we are fighting for his very life… with a pencil and a paintbrush. How fitting our first piece should come complete with war paint!
This project brought me joy in sadness, light in the dark; and I believe it did the same for Eddie. I praise God for calling us to it. I believe wholeheartedly “the weapons we fight with are not the weapons of this world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds” (2 Corinthians 10:4). I claim the HOPE we have in HIM who is faithful, and I pray for my son with every brush stroke. I ask My God and Father to paint the truth of this passage upon Eddie’s heart; deeper than that tattoo on his arm! To renew his strength to carry out his sentence, and grant him freedom on the inside, the kind that cannot be taken, even in a prison cell.
I realize some may read this and have a hard time feeling compassion for someone in prison. After all, he did commit crimes and that should bring punishment. Commit the crime, do the time. I get that, and I agree. That’s the hard part. This creates an inner conflict for those who love a prisoner; beats up a mother’s heart. My husband said something wise about this the other day. He said, “I didn’t know when Eddie went to prison, the whole family went with him”. This is what most people don’t realize, unless you have a loved one serving time too. The whole family is impacted in multiple ways. If you struggle with mercy for the prisoner, I hope it helps you to consider their families. Millions of families live this painful reality every day. Prisoners are still people, with families who love them. But my role in Eddie’s life has changed. I’ve reached a place of surrender, entrusting him to God. I am God’s servant, making the most of every opportunity He provides.
If you look at it this way, we are all the same. God’s ambassadors sent into the world with a message of hope and reconciliation. A people appointed by God to serve in the places He ordains, to love those He has given us. This is participating, on the ground level, in God’s redemptive war. Fighting to restore lives, one prisoner (literal or figurative) at a time.