once-upon-a-timeI’ve been drawn to writing for a long time; practically my entire life, in fact. I remember being given writing assignments in high school English where we would have until the end of class to finish a short piece. I would pour myself into some adventure story or fantastic tale and agonize over making the writing ‘just so’, and run out of class time long before I had even remotely finished. Invariably, I would beg the teacher to let me continue working on it at home and let me bring it in the next day (the only homework I would ever ask for), and just as invariably I would be told ‘no’. It actually made me upset that I wasn’t being asked to complete it, and I just couldn’t help being a little resentful over it.

How I missed the obvious, my deep-seated desire to write, I’ll never know, but I missed it clean. I probably would’ve been better served to have enrolled in a nice little college somewhere and ensconced myself in academics (after begging to be allowed onto the very grounds should my high school grades have became known, of course), but I avoided all of that potential hullabaloo by enlisting in the Navy, instead.

a_Spirit_1976Ah, the Navy! Being ten years old during the American Bicentennial, I was infused with a sense of American patriotism that probably could only have been satisfied by military service; and truth be told, I was excited to be in the Navy and eager to get started when I entered boot camp in the winter of 1985.

Now, I could tell you that I missed my friends and family back home, and I suppose I did, but in reality I hardly had time to think about it. Even in the reputedly ‘laid-back’ atmosphere of the Navy, there’s not much downtime amidst 11-hour workdays, almost daily general quarters drills, plus two 4-hour watches every day when you’re at sea. The military is very much a young man’s endeavor, no matter which branch one chooses.

USS Iowa, BB-61, my home during my Navy years

And young I was, with all the immaturity that goes with it. I was in a great spot and had no idea. I was surrounded by learning opportunities and all I could focus on was that my recruiter had lied to me about the job I’d be doing. I was so caught up in whining over not getting what I was promised that I missed one opportunity after another to learn something cool. I had chances to learn ocean navigation, radio communications, and even an opportunity to work in the intelligence community. I missed the obvious, and as a result I missed out on all of it because I couldn’t get over feeling angry and bitter. What a waste.

As it turned out, the Navy could tolerate my immaturity for only two-and-a-half years before they processed me out. But I did have amazing experiences that I wouldn’t trade the world for. Being in the Navy made me a better man, not because of what I learned in the Navy, but because of what I learned about myself from trying to handle military responsibilities and ultimately failing. I was forced to evaluate everything about myself, particularly my ability to succeed in a world that I now understood was much more serious than I had previously been willing to accept.

Rev. Vep Ellis (1917-1988) A wonderful man, and among the best of shepherds

I’d like to tell you that I was a Believer during all of this, but sadly, that just isn’t true. I had realized at the age of eight that I was a sinner. I repented, and asked the Messiah to forgive my sins and invited Him into my heart. At that time in my life I was attending a wonderful church, was under anointed pastoral care, was carefully nurtured by an amazing mother who instilled within me the best of morals and values, never faltering in showing her love for me; in short, I could not possibly have been raised better – and still I fell under the Adversary’s corrupt influence when it became tough to stand.

One could say that “the Church” failed me, and there were times that I did; but even though the Church could fairly be criticized for legitimate errors and shortcomings, true responsibility for the failure of my faith is entirely mine. I made the choices that left me vulnerable to the Adversary. No one did that to me. The Adversary took full advantage of every crack in my spiritual armor simply because that’s what he does. And once under his influence, I found that I liked it. I found being caught up in the world and all its spiritual darkness to be a veritable cornucopia of exhilarating experiences. The trap was sprung and I was so lost that, neck-deep in the quagmire, I was swimming for the bottom.

It’s not that I was some sort of ‘bad guy’. I was raised to always be courteous, to be kind and generous, to always be respectful of others, and I worked hard to be all those things even when it wasn’t easy. I genuinely cared for others, oftentimes at my own expense. Even though I no longer attended church and had backslidden terribly, my behavior was consistently considered above reproach by most, and I was proud of that. But the Adversary is, after all, the “most subtle of all creatures”, and the trap he fashioned for me was fashioned exclusively for me and for no one else, just as all of his traps are. The way I was raised, I’d never react positively to the temptation to be mean or unkind, so that wasn’t a hook he’d ever use on me. I’m not that guy. No, I’m the guy that “misses the obvious.”

The ancient city of Babylon

How worldly did I become? About as worldly as one can get, I imagine. I’ve embraced just about every legal sort of iniquity one can participate in; I was a ‘nice guy’ in the midst of Babylon with no inclination to leave and more than happy to provide you with a cheerful tour of the place.

But God is faithful. We’re not, but He is. In a shorter amount of time than you might imagine, God brought me back to Himself. By His grace He redeemed me again. By His power, He rescued me from that insidious trap of the enemy. By His Spirit He leads my life in ways I never could’ve imagined before. Have I achieved success? No. Are my life circumstances better than ever? Not even close. In fact, times are the most difficult they’ve ever been in my entire life. As of March, 2016, I’m a professional failure, deep in debt and financially broke, one charitable act away from being homeless, with hardly an asset to my name. And I’ve never seen God move more visibly or more powerfully in my life. I have Him to thank for each desperate moment in which He was there at every eleventh hour, for sending me comfort by His Spirit for the strength to endure what an unsuccessful 21st century American would consider hardship, and most especially for my beautiful, amazing wife Lisa who has endured every moment with me and never wavered in her faith or her support.

To make a long story short, I have never in my life been more completely blessed. Glory to God in the Highest.

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