The first fall after I moved to town, I watched a tree down the street where Kelly and I walk regularly. It had a few leaves that season, but it did drop a few seed pods. Even the seeds didn’t seem to sprout life as I planted a few and nothing happened.
The next spring? Not so much as a leaf bud, nor has there been since. The trunk and branches are bereft of bark or any signs of life. But the tree is not quite ready to give up. It sprouts plentiful sucker growth around the base of the trunk. Apparently there is still some life there.
I was reminded of this tree when I read about the prisoner in, “Man’s Best Hero” by Ace Collins, but we need to set the stage for this story.
Paws in Prison was started by Renie Rule who reacted out of compassion when she learned a prisoner’s request for his last meal before his execution could not be met because the prison kitchen was unable to provide the banana bread he requested. Rule went to the grocery and purchased the ingredients. At home she baked the bread, then drove more than an hour to the prison gate to deliver it.
The night before his execution, this prisoner used his one allotted phone call to talk with Rule for over an hour. Seeing the need for companionship within the prison walls and compounding that with the need for companionship at the local humane shelters, she embarked upon a ministry she called, “Paws for Prison.” Her goal was to team unwanted people with unwanted canines.
The prisoner who grabbed my attention? Now in his fifties, he had spent most of his adult life in prison for three different violent crimes. He would spend the rest of his life in prison. He had given up! he could no longer walk, now used a wheelchair and was totally dependant on staff and other prisoners for even his most basic needs.
Then, “Paws in Prison” was introduced. He was immediately interested. he put in a request to the warden to become involved as a trainer. Of course, he was turned down without much consideration, due to his dependence on the wheelchair.
Over the next month, this now determined man took his first steps in a walker. great progress! But still not enough to get into the program. he kept working. A month later, he could run and earned his way into the program. He was assigned a dog. How he had a reason to live.
He has already trained several dogs – dogs of all sizes, some high energy, some sluggish, some shy, some out-going, some beautiful and some not. But, the one thing these dogs all had in common and in common with him? They were all discards of society! These dogs were rescued from shelters where they had been living on borrowed time. In the program, these dogs gained a purpose in life, just as did their trainer.
That apparently dead tree? It’s probably never going to sprout another leaf other than the sucker growth, but there is still some life there.
You know that dying church down the road from you? There’s still some life there or its doors wouldn’t open every week. Its parishioners wouldn’t gather to worship, sing praises and pray every week. It needs somebody (or maybe some bodies) to grab the reins and run with it.
Are you that somebody? I ask myself that question regularly as I watch our numbers dwindle. A few years ago, God asked me in just those words, “Aren’t you somebody?” Hey! Maybe I am! or maybe you are the somebody God wants to use. Be open minded. listen!