God in Music
His smiling face greeted me as I pulled up at the transition house where he was staying. A few smokers were huddled next to the door and cast suspicious glances my way. “He’s okay”, Nick told them. “He’s the chaplain.” And it was at that very moment I saw the continued grace of God shining on a man who many had given up on. I handed Nick a guitar that had been promised to him by another pastor, a gift never fulfilled, to a man whose life had been shattered by broken promises.
I had first met Nick at a Holy Week service in the prison three years before. He was one of a trio who made up the inmate guitar program. Before the service, he confessed to me he had only picked up the guitar seven days before. Well, he strummed through The Old Wooden Cross, and didn’t look out of place. Still, that wasn’t a hint of the amazing story I’d learn from Nick over the coming months.
We struck up a friendship that day and he became a weekly visitor to Pastoral Care. His sharing didn’t come easy, but I learned his childhood had the atrocities of hell. He had suffered abuse of all sorts, spent weeks chained to a bathtub, locked in a basement, forced to do things my fingers refuse to type. And now, he was incarcerated for kidnapping, forcible confinement, sexual assault, and a lengthy list of other charges.
He had pleaded not guilty, and the remand time stretched on and on, in an overburdened court system. More than one guard shared with me that they figured he had become institutionalized, and might never again see, let alone, survive on the outside.
Complicating all of this mess was the fact that Nick could not read or write, and now was trying to learn guitar.
For months, I served as his sounding board, confessor and more. He’d bring that guitar through the metal detector and up a flight of stairs, to play me his latest conquest. He was so proud, and would smile, as he touted he was ‘playing like a champ’. I learned he would have another inmate read the words for him, and he’d play by ear….and memorize the lyrics.
All this time that he was coming to see me, before and after the guitar playing, we’d talk about his life, his crime, his future, and God. It wasn’t long before Nick was wearing a cross around his neck and sharing in prayer with me. I saw his tears and his fears. I saw God’s grace grant a miracle before my very eyes….the eyes of this audience of one.
Nick ultimately took responsibility for what had happened on the outside. By now, most of his sentence had already been served.
This man, who could not read, write, or play guitar, spent his final months of prison singing and providing music at my weekly service. And now, he was almost free. He’d serve the rest of his “time” at a halfway house.
I was no longer the audience, but this guitar I delivered today would be his companion to complete his journey. As I drove away, I checked my rearview mirror, and there was Nick, sitting on the sidewalk, surrounded by friends, strumming and picking away and belting out a tune.
Nick is still playing and praying….and oh yes, today, he is free!