Laughter and love radiated from the kitchen, permeating the house as my three daughters, their friend, and my wife, Rose, baked cookies. Of course, I was the taste tester. The four giggling girls, aged between two and ten, proudly entered the TV room with each tray of cookies baked to receive daddy’s blessing. In truth, I was the one being blessed.
Tammy, my daughters’ friend, didn’t have a sister to bond with, and her sojourn at our home allowed her to build a special bond with sisters and a mother that wasn’t available at her home. I now sit in prison serving a life sentence, but looking back on those happy years, I thank God for blessing me with those five angels.
As an adult, when Tammy learned I was in prison, she started to write to me, sharing her life and giving me the special title, Uncle Stu. In her letters, Tammy shared how she had married Tim, adopted his four-year-old daughter, given birth to a son, and eight years later, a daughter she described as an “exuberant bundle of love.” I pictured Tammy and her girls laughing as they baked cookies and Tim giving the daddy blessing as I had bestowed it so many years before.
My world was rocked when I read Tammy’s letter from December 11. Tim and Tammy had recently moved, hoping the lower cost of living in their new location would allow them a better life. They were wrong. The trailer was a dump, and the electric bill was almost as much as the rent. Tim had finally found work. He was supposed to start after Thanksgiving, but hardship had struck.
Tim was sick. At first they thought it was just the flu, but then his feet had turned green and black and were very sore. An ambulance rushed him to the hospital. Tim’s heart was enlarged, and his kidneys and liver were shutting down. Blood tests indicated that he was experiencing muscle death in his body.
Doctors sent Tim to a larger nearby hospital. Surgeons immediately cut a window in the heart sack and drained over a liter of liquid. They were baffled as to why these symptoms were occurring. Tim was stabilized and sent home with strict instructions not to work for six months. They also restricted him to light duty for three months.
The dilemma as I perceived it was that Christmas was only days away. Jessica, at age sixteen, understood that Daddy was sick; Brandon, at twelve, wrestled with friends whose presents were piling up under Christmas trees while he had none. Hailey, at four, just could not grasp why Santa would not be coming to their home this Christmas. In closing, Tammy asked, “If you don’t mind, please pray for my husband’s health and that things will get better for our family.”
I consider myself pretty tough and have stoically suffered many hardship , but when I finished Tammy’s letter, her pain was my pain. Tears streamed down my face, blotting the pages. What could I do with such grief and feelings of utter helplessness?
For years, I’ve served Christ as computer director and instructor, peer facilitator, and facilitator trainee trainer in the Tomoka Horizon faith and community programs. I’ve considered the men incarcerated there my family. At the Wednesday night community meeting, I told them about Tammy and read her letter. At the conclusion, witnessing many men wiping tears, I asked that they pray for this family. I passed around a get-well card for Tim that I had made and asked that everyone write something encouraging. I had no idea how God could help in this situation, but I knew He was able.
Immediately, we started praying. I mailed the card so it would arrive before Christmas. Then we, the Horizon community, shared Tammy’s plight with our family and friends across the nation. Hundreds of people began praying for Tammy’s family.
One inmate, Dale, had a visit the next Saturday with his wife and daughter. He shared Tammy’s hardship with them. That Sunday, when Dale’s wife attended church, she stood up and told the whole congregation about Tammy’s hardship. A nun approached her after the service, told her of knowing a sister church near Tammy’s location, and said she would call that night.
When the nun shared Tammy’s hardship with that local pastor, he excitedly exclaimed that his congregation had been collecting money for two weeks and praying for God to reveal a needy family. The pastor announced that God had answered their prayers.
My next letter from Tammy was dated January 10. It was hard to keep my eyes dry as I read it to the Horizon faith-based community at our next Wednesday night meeting.
Tammy reported that Tim had handed her the envelope I had sent, saying, “Uncle Stu wrote you.” When she opened it and discovered the get-well card, she told Tim, “It isn’t for me; it’s for you.”
The card caught Tim off guard. You see, Tim is an artist who also had served three years in prison. He knew how much time it took to draw the card and stitch the elaborate colored-thread patterns. Tim couldn’t believe that so many people he’d never met could be so nice and care so much for him. He wrote to me and asked me to thank each man who’d contributed to the card. I know God used that card to touch Tim’s heart.
The real surprise came when Tammy answered a knock at the door the Friday before Christmas. A pastor handed her a check and said some prisoners in Daytona Beach had been praying for her. Tammy wrote to me and said, “Uncle Stu, as soon as the pastor said prisoners in Daytona Beach where involved, I knew it had all started with you. Tim was so shocked, he was speechless!”
Even more, on Christmas day, another knock came on the door, and there was Santa with a sack full of presents and a whole Christmas dinner. The kids freaked out that Santa had made a special trip just for them. Tammy listed all the presents each child had received. I knew at the conclusion of reading the letter that Christ was at work in all of their lives. And He was refreshing ours.
It’s so amazing to me that Christ knew of Tammy’s needs two weeks before her letter. It started with that local church being led to start collecting money for an unknown family in need. God worked through the sixty-six men of the Horizon faith-based community and their families’ and friends’ prayers. We all witnessed a miracle as the awesome power of God reached from a prison dorm, across hundreds of miles and a state line, to demonstrate that no hardship is impossible with God.
Tim had cancer and passed away that June. Beside his bed was a get-well card from the men he thought of as God-sent angels. The scriptures, words of encouragement, and many prayers prayed were a guide for Tim to experience Christ’s love and accept salvation.
Written by William Stewart Steele
Photo by Piron Guillaume