The first couple of times I spoke in prison just doing it was such an achievement that I came away with my confidence high; the more often I did it the more conscious I became of my short-comings and the more nervous I became prior to it.
This weekend I've peaked: really anxious, not being able to sleep and generally stressing about it.
I actually consulted God before deciding what to talk about _ I usually tell him after I've chosen - and then things just seem to come together so my decision to talk about 'loving yourself' seemed to be the right one. But that didn't help conquer my nerves.
I woke at 6 this morning, got up at 7 and began practising ... again. Then, as if that wasn't enough, when I arrived early at the prison (in itself a miracle for someone who is habitually late), finding myself on my own in the entrance foyer, I sat down and got out my notes for a final run-through.
After quite a few minutes I heard a voice saying, 'Can you hear me?'
Like Samuel I ignored it.
Then it came again. 'Can you hear me?'
Again I ignored it.
When it happened the third time I looked up to see the prison officer behind the glass screen peering at me.
'Are you talking to me?' I said.
'Yes, come here,' he said.
I did as bid.
'I've been watching you,' he said.
'Reading your notes, closing your eyes and moving your lips.'
'Oh. I didn't think you could see me through the darkened glass.'
'Oh I can see you very clearly.'
He'd guessed that I was speaking in the service and asked me what I was talking about. I told him and he said, 'Oooh, hard one. Lots of us have skeletons in our cupboards that make loving ourselves difficult.'
I agreed and we went on to have a lovely chat before the others arrived and we had to go across to the chapel. As I went he said, 'You'll be fine.'
When the men came over the chapel was almost full and a number of them were quite giggly and chatty, suggesting that they possibly hadn't been in very long and were still drug-fuelled. It had the potential to be a rowdy meeting.
But they were amazing. They were completely attentive and quiet when I was talking and even though a few still had silly grins on their faces they didn't disrupt or disturb the service at all.
And afterwards a number of them thanked me and simply genuinely appreciative. A visitor, a friend of one of the chaplains, was most enthusiastic and encouraging - and I'd never met him before so it wasn't as if he was just saying it to be nice - and the chaplain himself said what a good message it was as the guys are so often put down by others and have been through their lives.
On my drive to the prison I'd asked God to use my weakness, to be strong in my inability, and to speak to the men even if it wasn't through my words. And He turned up and did just that.
God rocks ... and so do I! (I say that now while I'm on a high; I'll be back to normal next time I do something stupid.) (So probably tomorrow.)