Daily Devotion | August 30, 2021

To All the Pattis

devotion by Pastor Corey Bjertness

"The crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas, and the magistrates ordered them to be stripped and beaten. After they had been severely flogged, they were thrown into prison, and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully...
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was an earthquake, so violent that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were unfastened."

Acts 16:22-23, 25-26


Her name was Patti, and of all the faces from my youth, I will remember her's best. We met while we shared the experience of being minorities at the reservation school we both attended from 1977 to 1980. Our paths would pass two more times before her untimely death in 1991. 

Patti holds the distinction in my mind of being the toughest person I have ever known. She had the kind of toughness you see in people who have been to hell and back, the kind of toughness born out of tragedy and hurt. Her toughness resonated on so many levels it is hard to describe her accurately. Physically, she was as strong as any man I knew. In high school, I watched her performance in a fistfight once. There were three of them and one of her, and they were utterly outnumbered. Patti walked away, not unscathed, but she walked away.  

Patti had the kind of leathery toughness that you sometimes find in people who have had complicated lives. I know there was trouble in her history. I know there was a broken home, and I know a bit about the environment she grew up in, and I can only say she was a product of her environment. Tough, because she had to be! She was hard because it was the way she needed to be to survive. But, Patti was a product of circumstances, and I always suspected there was something more than toughness in Patti.

In 1982 the summer after I graduated, Patti and I found ourselves working together for Butler Buildings putting up steel grain bins. Our days begin at 6 a.m. and ended in darkness, and it was backbreaking physical work. However, Patti not only survived it but thrived every day. She was one tough lady, and she would have kicked my butt if I were ever to call her a lady. 

The same toughness that helped her survive all the childhood hardship helped her break away after graduation and get to college. Bev and I met her again in the fall of 1983. Bev and I and a group of friends started a Campus Crusade for Christ chapter at the college we were attending and invited Patti. She attended, and this created a six-month discussion that culminated with Patti and I praying in my living room one spring afternoon as she asked Christ into her life. The transformation in her was immediate, and the toughness melted away. It was amazing!

After college, we fell out of touch.  I know Patti later got married, and it appeared she had a happy life. But, something happened that must have brought the old prisons back to life. In 1991, she crashed while driving her motorcycle. The rumor was that it was not accidental. The highway patrol estimated that when her motorcycle hit the ditch, its speed exceeded one hundred miles an hour. 

Things I would have liked to have said to Patti

Had I the opportunity, I would have liked to tell Patti about Paul and Silas and prisons.  Had I the chance, I would have said to her that prisons in this life have no permanent power over us but, they are as common as the day is long. For Paul and Silas, their prison was a physical place, a place with bars and guards. However, the prisons we are accustomed to are different and more challenging to understand for most of us. The prisons we find ourselves in are relational, emotional, financial, and spiritual, to name a few.  These prisons are more subtle than the physical constructs of the prison of Paul and Silas. But there are things we can learn from Paul and Silas. Things I would have liked to tell Patti.

First, it is not always your fault. Granted, sometimes we find ourselves in prisons of our design. We sometimes craft custom prisons by ignorance, stupidity, selfishness, and sin. But, sometimes, the dungeons are places the powers of life cast us to silence us. There are forces in this world that would bind us, silence us, and destroy us. According to the scripture, these forces of sin, death, and the devil prowl around seeking whom they may devour. Sometimes these forces come uninvited. Sometimes they come in the dark of night. Sometimes they come not because you have done something wrong but because you have done something right.

For example, Paul and Silas are in prison because they healed a young slave girl. They are in prison, not because they did something stupid, not because they had sinned, not because they were selfish. But because they had done the work of God. So prisons are not always our fault.

Sometimes, things that would imprison us come because this is the way of the world. The world is full of prisons. The fallen nature of the world is a reality that we must live with on this side of eternity. It’s not always our fault when prisons visit us. Sometimes it is simply the fallen world exercising its power in our backyard. To all the Patti’s reading this. Don’t blame yourself for the prison that afflicts you. It may not be your fault, and it is ultimately unfruitful to bathe in self-pity or self-punishment.

The second thing I would like to tell Patti is there is strength in the people of God. No matter how ugly the prison you are visiting, remember there are people in it with you. We are Paul and Silas together at midnight.  The older I get, the more I am convinced that the things afflicting us are familiar to everybody. The prison of selfishness can torment a senior citizen as quickly as it afflicts a toddler. Loneliness can afflict the young or the old with equal ability. The rain and the draught fall upon the righteous and the ungodly alike. We are in this together. Because of this truth, we need to stand in solidarity with the afflicted, not in judgment. We are in this together. 

Imagine Paul and Silas beaten, bloodied amid the prison singing and praying, which is precisely what they do. They are in jail, yet free, afflicted yet at peace. Now, imagine the prison that torments you. Do not live in that place alone! Grab a friend, get to church, and let us sing into the darkness. How about this song. 

Guide me ever great Redeemer, pilgrim through this barren land, I am weak, but you are mighty, hold me with your powerful hand. 

They are words of hope. And the prison walls begin to crumble. The gates of the prison can not stand against the praises of God’s people. We are in this together.

Also, through prayer and song and the reading of God’s Word, we remember we are not apart from God. Jesus said, “where two are more are gathered in my name there, I am in the midst of them.” God, in this life, does not always tear the jail apart. But neither does He ever leave us alone in prison. In times of trouble, we cry out to God, “where are you?” And the truth is God is right there all of the time. He is binding up the brokenhearted. 

I want to say to all the Patti’s of the world. You are not alone! 
Let me pray with you, and let’s come together and teach each other
how to sing in the prisons of each other’s life.

Have a great week.


Pastor Corey



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