So, the New Year begins much as the old one ended, with me using my time to practice what I preach about God’s goodness, giving me peace even in this place. Several people from home visited me around the holidays, relatives and friends. Even my hoop playing crowd visited me again, prompting more kidding about starting a traveling basketball team. Only one more round of Christmas/New Year’s Holidays to go.
My wife came but seemed a bit distant and sad in some ways which I can fully understand. This whole ordeal has taken it’s toll on my family in many ways. I was also blessed to have my son and daughter visit with her, so it was like a family again in a way which brightened everyone’s spirits. It’s never enough time, and parting is still very difficult. Fortunately I am able to wave to them when they depart from the parking lot on my way back to my dorm. I am not sure if there were any dry eyes between us which seems the norm for many during this time of year.
By now I have the trading for holiday meals down pretty good, giving up my turkey roll and similar deli food, the can of soda, and hamburgers and hot dogs of our New Year’s meal for something of value later on – the ¼ chicken, boiled eggs, bran cereal, fruit and even the coveted coffee cake. Oh yes, and Bryne chocolate ice ream dixie cups. Yum. There is a routine of viewing the weekly menu when it gets posted Sunday evening that starts the bartering here in the honor dorm as I know happens in other dorms.
I feel the Holy Spirit has been nudging me to inspect myself and my life even more. Maybe it’s the helpful civilians who come in for weekly Bible Studies that I attend who have acknowledged growth but push for more. It may be some of my reading on sex offenders or other addictive people that is working on me. Or maybe it is simply the Scriptures coming alive in my life which I take more seriously than I ever have before that cause me to pause and think. Whatever it is, I feel all this inward growth bursting out of me.
So I felt a nudging that I needed an outward expression of this inward change. I think it started when I spoke to my mom last week. I was able to talk with her when my brother “gets her on the extension”. You see, we are not allowed to call cell phones, yet that is all my mother has. My brother has a land line and is able to make a three way call so we all can converse. Because the powers that be do not like this type of call, I have to be careful how I do it. Also, calls are monitored and even recorded in some instances. I was told of a guy making a drug deal on the phone when authorities came and arrested him right on the spot. Big brother IS listening. So anyway my brother came up with the idea of saying he would go get my 87 year old mother “on the extension” so she could talk with me. Whether they knew about it and turned a blind eye or I was not of concern I will never know, but I am able to finally talk with my ailing mom.
She has always called me Jim or James as does one of my sisters. After all, it is my given name, James Van Wagner. Van became the nickname given me when there were too many Jims on the college basketball team. Heck, even one of the assistant coaches was Jim. I didn’t like Wags or Jimmy so that fitting one word moniker stuck. For years, I was Van to everyone. Many never knew my real name, even calling me Van Van Wagner. Since he was the guy who committed the instant offense as well as other undesirable behaviors, I got the idea it was worth it to change to my given name, showing a change not only in name but personalities as well.
My friend William understood but said I would always be Van to him, not because he didn’t appreciate the changes he is witnessing but because he was unable to see me as a James. Maybe a Jim, which I did not want, but not a James. Others were okay with the idea but were slow, understandably so, to make the change. Most would stumble when addressing me or leave off a name entirely. My family understood as did my friends, although that did not mitigate the fumbling over what to call me when greeting me.
I made the announcement in church one Sunday morning, telling the inmates gathered there my reasoning and desire to show a true change had taken place. The pastor had been having me give announcements every Sunday and gave me a fair amount of leeway doing it. In fact he said he liked how I tied songs or Bible passages together in giving the weekly notes and times of Bible studies guys could attend and the how to’s of doing it. Truth be told I would pray for the Holy Spirit to lead me that morning, having no idea of what I was going to say or how it all fit together. Several times I tried to pre-plan some elaborate idea or story all to have it change at the last minute when I felt a nudging to go a different way. It always worked out much better when I listened to those proddings rather than do it on my own. That in itself was a lesson.
So I felt it was time to announce the inside corrections in me that necessitated a change in names. I don’t remember how I tied it into all that I was supposed to say about Bible studies and other announcements I was supposed to remind guys of, but the Pastor later thought it was brilliant. I said give the glory to God who has been orchestrating these much needed changes.
And He surely had been good at doing it. Here I was telling even my mother I was okay with things despite being restricted, in prison and away from everyone. Such a lesson I do not think I would have learned any other way, much like what happened to Joseph and his family. Had he not gone through what he went through as I re-read his account in Genesis, the twelve tribes of Israel would not have made it through. Similarly, had I not been lost then found God, I would not be in the state I am in now. My goal is to carry it outside corrections which will be the difficult part.
Another year down, 22 months to go until that trial would begin.