Z's Testimony

John 9:25:  He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know, I was blind but now I see!”

When I first wrote this testimony, I thought it was all about me and my story, but God has recently opened my eyes in more ways then I ever expected.  My story is not very dramatic, and I have re-edited it to make it a much easier read, because, as I was reminded by a fellow soldier of the faith, this is not all about “SGT Zimmerman.”  In fact, lately, I feel like it might not be about me at all, but about God using me to reach the world.  The very first example of how blind I was is in the simple telling of my story.  I could not see that my story was really my sister’s story, because without her, my conviction would not be the same.  So readers, as you continue, please know that I have shortened my story quite a bit because I have opened my eyes to the fact that my story really does not matter.  The life I have lived is anything from extraordinary, but I do go into detail where it is important, especially where it is important to demonstrate the inner workings of God.  As you read my testimony, you will see how God still works miracles in our lives.  But you have to let Him.  Draw close to Him and your eyes will be opened as well.  Do not be like me, do not be blind to the miracles happening in your life.  And do not keep you blinders on where you think your story is all about you.  Your story is much bigger than that.  God is using you to write a masterpiece of living and rebirth like the world has never seen before.  Be part of that story, and give God the credit and glory He deserves.

                My mother has horrible anxiety.  Anxiety that continues to curse her to this day.  As a young newlywed, my mother’s anxiety led to two miscarriages.  After losing their second child to stress, my parents decided to adopt.  During the adoption process, my mother became pregnant again, but the stress was gone.  My parents were adopting, so they would have a beautiful daughter to raise even if their third pregnancy ended with the same result as the last two.  Lifting that stress was enough to ensure that I made it into this world as a healthy baby boy.

                That last paragraph was how I initially felt about my “miraculous” birth into this world.  But God has spoken to me and presented something much deeper and more in line with how HE works.  This isn’t about me at all.  It’s about my sister.

                You see, it’s my sister that inspired me to write this book and urge the world to return to Common Sense.  It’s my sister that inspires me every day, because of her kindness to others and her love for those that society does not love that pushed me to write a book that argues how we are to love everyone.  It is my sister, who refuses to step into a church because of the way they treat one specific sect of our society, that allowed me to see the truth in the Gospels and the entire Bible.  And I would be a fool to think that God had not purposely led my parents to specifically choose to adopt my sister.  That’s how God works, through our hearts.  The Holy Spirit is that small whisper that pushes you to follow a lifechanging choice.  So how much different is my story when I finally saw it through God’s eyes.

                God used my mother’s anxiety to lead my parent’s to adopt my sister.  After two miscarriages (both lost to high stress), my parents chose to adopt.  The found and fell in love with a cute little curly hair blonde that my parents were told a lot of couples had passed on because she had a birth defect on her lip.  Now my mom could not fathom how anyone could just pass by a child in need of a home.  So they brought her to their home.  After giving my sister a loving and safe place to grow, my mother was pregnant again but stress-free.  She must have just figured this last pregnancy would be lost anyway, but I made my way into the world.  I like to think now that God brought my sister and I together for this purpose alone, to change America, and eventually change the world.  I want to build a church that is accepting to everyone, and passes no judgement, no matter who they love, as long as they love God and Jesus above everything else.  But here is my testimony, edited and retold keeping in mind how important my sister is to this story.

                My sister and I’s father worked at the Public Utilities plant for the county we lived in.  He had worked his way to Water Manager while my sister and I were young.  He worked long hours.  He would be gone for work by the time we woke up and would usually come home after dinner was made, ate, and cleaned up.  It did not bother my sister and myself, because when he was home, he was always involved with us.  He played with us, built us elaborate forts, made home action movies with his old bulky VHS recorder.  Talking to him later in life, as I developed the same blind devotion to my profession, he didn’t work long hours to be away from us, he did it because he was worried about losing his job, so he did everything he could to stand out in his role.  As kids we were just impressed to read his name in the local paper when stories came out about water conservation, flooding from storms, and the importance of fluoride in your drinking water.  My sister and I were fairly good as kids.  When we did something bad we got spanked.  My parents never gave us physical punishments that were not justified.  And we went to Elementary school in the age when Principals were still allowed to spank bad kids in school.  To think of that now is somewhat disturbing, but I remember it worked, for me at least.  I still remember the only time I was in the principal’s office in elementary school and hearing a kid getting popped in the back and crying.  Those influences helped ingrain a strong sense of right and wrong and consequences for my actions.

                My parents raised us as what I have deemed “casual Christians.”  They read us classic Bible stories, taught us to say our prayers at night.  When my sister and I were younger, we went to a rather large Baptist Church.  My sister and I were baptized at 8 and 9, but we had no idea what it meant to be “baptized” and just thought it was part of being a Baptist.  Plus, at that age, the sins we washed away were minimal.  We were too young to realize the depth of sin.  Sometime after we were baptized, my parents decided that this Baptist Church was too judgmental and filled with little cliques my parents were not a part of.  We were from the eastside of town, and most of the families at this church were from the wealthier westside, so my parents stopped attending the church.  My sister and I did not understand any of this once, we just realized that we now had our Sunday mornings free.

                Both my parents were moved around a lot by their parents when they were young, so when they built our family house, it was a house that was their forever home.  They are still there today, forty something years later.  While this was once uncommon, it has become very rare in this decade that people stay in their first home.  Not that it’s a bad thing to move and perhaps upgrade to a bigger home, or use multiple homes as forms of investment, but my family stayed in the same house throughout our formal education years.  What that meant for my sister and I was that the good friends we made, were our core group of friends, which made for great, lifelong friendships, but it also never challenged us to be more social and have to make completely new friends.

                I had four best friends as a kid and once we were granted the freedom to ride our bikes from one neighborhood to another, we were off on our own adventures and getting into typical kid trouble.  I still understood the importance of right and wrong and enjoyed being rewarded for good behavior much more than getting in trouble for bad behavior.  That didn’t mean that I was a saint, I just didn’t get caught.  We egged houses around the neighborhood, booby trapped the woods around all the forts we built, TPed trees in random front yards, got in rock fights, and fights after school. 

                Both my sister and I did well in school.  Looking back at it, there was an unspoken competition between us, for me at least.  I was always competing to have the best report card.  I’m not sure if that is what motivated my sister to get good grades, but we both chased straight A’s every quarter.  My parents rewarded grades monetarily, as well, so with each report card, the more A’s we got the more money we would earn.  Straight A’s was $20, and that was a fortune back in the late 80’s and early 90’s.  So straight A’s was always my goal and the more I accomplished that, the more I was put in advanced classes and had to focus more and more of my free time to reading, writing, and studying, so that also helped keep me out of trouble.

                My parents own 2.5 acres in a deedless neighborhood that would prove to be a highly unique setup as Suburbia took over our hometown and cookie cutter neighborhoods have since sprouted up in every open space.  Our home was one of a kind, just like every house in our neighborhood.  I had a tree in my parents yard that soon became my favorite.  It was a tall maple that stretched some forty feet in the air and it was the first tree I could make my way to the very top without any help.  It was my favorite tree to scramble up when my friends and I would play “manhunt” at night.  It would become the first place I would go many afternoons after walking home from school.  Especially on windy days.  I loved climbing that tree on windy days.  That tree became my place were I would talk to God.  I could feel Him in those windy days.  I did not need someone to tell me how to connect with God, it just happened.  I climbed that tree day after day, and spoke to my creator.  I thanked Him often.  When the wind would blow hard and whip the younger branches and the murmur of the wind rustling the leaves would be the only sound I could hear, I would often close my eyes and just say thank you.  That tree became my connection with God and Jesus.  Perhaps it was the Holy Spirit the whole time I was in that tree.  Regardless, I felt that stirring in my soul.  That warmth in my heart and goosebumps up my neck as the wind roared around me.  There have been many times I felt that same peace that passes understanding.  I felt it in Basic Training at Fort Benning on a cool day riding around the back of a LMTV.  I felt it most recently during a field problem in my current unit in the National Guard just before I volunteered for my first deployment.  God is real.  Jesus is our savior.  And the Holy Spirit is just waiting to comfort you with love if you just open up your heart.

                So far I have not told you how I was blind.  I just wanted to build a base for this story.  I wanted you, the reader, to see that I did not have any sort of special upbringing.  I was and still am, just an ordinary guy.  But I have seen the inner workings of God, and have experienced the miracles of Jesus in my life in such ways that I had to tell my testimony.  And my story is far from over, but I see more and more people turning away from our Creator instead of running toward Him with arms wide open.  I was one of those people.

                I don’t remember when exactly I found my initial, personal connection to a church.  It was either in 7th or 8th grade.  I do remember my first Wednesday night there.  The church that brought my family and I back to Jesus was a small Methodist church that sat on one of the busiest corners of two of my best friend’s neighborhood.  There were five of us that rode the neighborhoods around our old elementary school.  It was my best friend that first led me to the church.  They had dinners there on Wednesday nights.  It became our Wednesday night ritual.  Of course, our parents didn’t care.  What parent would tell their kid not to get involved in a church?  The Wednesday night dinners would quickly lead to us joining the youth group.  That youth group would be part of my life throughout high school.  My sister was attending church with us as well at this point, but she was extremely busy, playing in violin in the high school orchestra, racing and showing horses and other animals for 4-H, and starting to work as soon as she was 16.  The Pastor of at this church had three daughters that were all close in age and all involved in our high school.  The youngest was in the same grade as myself and in many of the same honors and advance placement classes as me.  We formed a black light entertainment group where we put together about a 45 minute performance that we would eventually begin to visit other Methodist Churches and perform for.  It was an absolutely magical time in my life, and I took it all for granted.  Looking back, I see now that the Holy Spirit had a hold of me throughout my high school years.  Bike wrecks, falling out of trees, being thrown from a zip-line, I was the one to always get hurt out of my friends, but I was never injured seriously.  Never a broken bone, a lot of cuts and bruises, but I always seemed to be protected by some divine power.  I totaled my car at 16 and walked away without a scratch.  But through all this, at the time, I did not give any credit to God.  I slowly stopped praying.  In church services I would doodle and draw pictures.  I was focused on grades, girls, and sports.  As much as I was involved in youth group I found a new passion in running.  I joined the Cross Country team and Track.  My fall and winters were busy like every kid involved in sports.  Practice everyday after school.  Homework as soon as I got home.  Wednesday night youth group and Sunday church.  At fifteen I started working at the local Winn Dixie.  The summer after I turned 16 I worked at a golf course and the supermarket.  Then in my junior year I changed jobs and started at Publix Super Markets.  It was at this job where I would find my first “love” and that sin slowly began to wedge it’s way into my life.

                By the time I hit my senior year in high school it was amazing I still had time for church, but I kept going.  Wednesday night youth groups were still a regular.  Sunday church service was replaced with working at Publix.  With sports and trying to finish high school with as many AP classes as I could muster, the weekends were my only time to work as many hours as I could.  Half way through my senior year I went through my first break up and the innocence of love was replaced with a search for lust.  I should also be honest to tell you that at this time in American history, the internet was becoming a silent infiltrator into every home.  And something that was designed for the good of mankind was instantly a means for evil and sin to spread.  For a seventeen year-old boy with raging hormones, the internet presented a new way to view the sins of the flesh.  Pornography was just as easily accessible to a kid my age as it is to kids this day, just without the high speed video cards.  Instead it was a ten-fifteen minute download of a five minute video.  No matter how long it took to download different videos, it became a dangerous consumption of time and distractions that would hold me for quite some time.  Pornography is a touchy subject in America.  For most of the population it is widely accepted.  There is, of course, no mention of it in the Bible.  No condemning such acts specifically.  But I knew it was wrong.  It has never not felt like a sin for me.  Even masturbation feels like a sin.  And I sinned a lot.  Pretty much every opportunity I had.  The pull of sin was strong.

                I fell into other traps my senior year.  House parties were filled with drinking.  I had my first casual sexual relationship.  I was enjoying all the world had to offer.  And upon graduating, I was about to open the flood gates of all the sins America had.  God did not fight me.  Just like the Prodigal Son, God let me walk away from Him.  I remember the exact moment it happened.  The Methodist church had a graduation ceremony for all us seniors the Sunday service after our graduation.  We were all brought on stage.  The stage was filled with amazing young men and women.  To my right and left were two of my best friends.  They performed our graduation song and I stood with my arms on the shoulders of my closest friends and I felt an overwhelming sense of loss.  In the moment I thought that I was just coming to the stark realization that the innocence of our youth was over.  We were all about to go our separate ways, most of us committing to different universities.  The close friendships that were formed would be tested and would never be the same.  But perhaps there was more to that ceremony.  Perhaps that sense of loss I was feeling was the Holy Spirit leaving me and staying in that church, on that stage.  Either way, that was the last time I was in church on a regular basis for almost 14 years.  As my mother hugged me when we came down from the stage and told me how proud of me she was, I lost it.  I sobbed for a good minute.  My life was about to change forever.

                That maple tree, my ladder to God and my connection to Jesus, sat untouched for many years.  The seasons came and went, the leaves falling away in the winter and blooming again in the spring.  Meanwhile I was a ghost around my house and church.  My parents took the helm at the church I led them to.  With their baby graduated, they had a new sense of freedom.  They formed a children’s ministry and created a puppet show for younger kids that they staffed with the generations that replaced me.  I was promoted to full-time at Publix almost as soon as I graduated.  My friends and I took our first vacation together, a week long adventure in the mountains, our first taste of adulthood.  We smuggled a keg thanks to older friends who foolishly supported our under age drinking.  We drank a lot.  I drank a lot.  I drank and drove a lot.  God watched over me throughout the next six years as I stumbled through college.  I had some moments when I inched back toward Him.  I took an interest in religious studies to fill my elective blocks.  I wrote a short story that was steeped in the importance of repentance and how fragile our mortal lives are.  I tied for first place with that story in a creative writing contest in community college.  As I transferred to the University of South Florida, I had been promoted to management at Publix, I had fallen in love for the first time.  The world seemed perfect.  Then September 11 happened.

                Like all of America, I will never forget that day.  I will not fill this book with the minute details I still distinctly remember.  In retrospect, I am not very pleased with the man I was after that day.  I never thought that an elaborate terrorist attack would launch America into the longest war she had ever fought in.  We weren’t fighting another country, we were fighting extremists.  I figured by the time I got to the fight, it would be over.  I had entertained joining the military right after high school but my parents persuaded me not to.  I already had college paid for by a Florida’s Bright Future scholarship.  So my parents argued that I should just go to college, get my degree and if I still wanted to serve after, then I should go.  And when I graduated in 1999, America was not involved in any major conflict.  So I was halfway through my bachelor’s when 9/11 happened, and despite my anger and desire to join the fight, I sat on the sidelines.  And continued to be a dumb, selfish college kid.

                While hundreds of thousands of young men and women began the most brutal war in this century, I continued to hit the bars and clubs every week.  My parents tried to coax me to a new church they had discovered after the Methodist Church moved their favorite Pastor and his replacement did not have the same charisma or message our old leader had.  My parents were one of the original members of a new community church that was meeting at my old elementary school’s cafeteria. 

                My sister and I had grown apart during this time.  She had moved out of my parent’s house as soon as she turned 18.  My parent’s said as long as I was still going to school I was welcome to stay.  I understand the desire now that I have kids of my own.  I hope my children never move out, but that’s just me being a selfish, loving father.  I would only see my sister in the rare occasions she stopped in the house.  We have always been two very different people and during our early 20’s those differences were polarizing.  She found acceptance and welcoming among what society would label the outcasts:  gothic clubs, drag shows, homosexuals, pretty much everyone the “Christian” church shunned.  So getting my sister to return to a church was never going to happen. 

                When I turned 21 and the night was now limitless, so I would be in clubs and bars many times each week.  I bounced back and forth from one major to another until I finally decided on Business Communication.  That major just provided more beautiful women to meet and more fun to be had.  More parties to attend and club dance floors to mingle on.  USF’s football program exploded while I was there.  I was lucky enough to be part of their first Big East upsets and rushing onto the field with one of my best friend.  I found my identity completely as a “college student.”  Partying, football, and passing my classes was my life, in that order.  And despite not living a life worthy of praise or glory to God, God was still protecting me.  I was driving home “under the influence” many nights from Tampa’s historic “Ybor City” while mothers and fathers were losing their sons and daughters in a world away.

                I don’t know where I would be this day if God had not preceded in my life the semester I finally finished my bachelor’s degree.  During my final spring semester, as I finished my last three classes, I took another promotion at Publix and at 24 years of age, found myself making a fairly good income.  I put a down payment on my first home.  And at my first store as a Produce Manager for Publix, I broke one of my workplace creeds.  I had tried my best to stop dating women who worked at Publix.  But it was hard to meet anyone who would understand why as a manager you had to work most of the weekend, or work late nights, for a grocery store.  No one understood the passion associates often experience for the company if they never had been part of the Publix culture.  Very few of the young women I dated could understand, as I would find myself doing as the leader of a department, someone working 50-60 hours a week, again for “just a grocery store.”  I was single and ready to mingle when I first set my sights on my wife.  Little did I know that God had a plan for me, and God turned my world upside down with a fiery little red head with stunning green eyes.

                The woman I would eventually marry was unlike any woman I had ever dated.  She has an old soul.  She is a woman of class and full of love and passion for others.  She rarely cares for anything from this world.  She is not materialistic, cares nothing of the latest fashions or the hottest trends.  When I met her she was just a good old country girl.  She showed me an entire world I had never really been part of.  I did the same for her.  For some reason she loved me with all her heart from the beginning.  It took me a little while to realize what a good thing I had.

                When we first met, my wife and I were somewhat polar opposites.  I loved to dance.  I spent my early 20s in dance clubs almost every Thursday and Saturday night.  When my wife and I started dating she was not a fan of clubs.  I coerced her out many nights because she would do anything for me.  I even managed to get her on the dance floor every chance I had.  But if you are a person that just does not like to dance, not much can change that.  She wasn’t a dancer.  I thought this would be a deal breaker for me, but she had so many other, better qualities than any of the women I had ever dated.  We connected on the matters that were the most important.  We shared the same level of faith.  We had the same political views, we both wanted political leadership that supported a better America for all people.  We both cared for people and believed in the good of mankind.  She had more hope than I for people, which led her into a profession of nursing.  She is unbelievably calm and level headed.  In the beginning of our relationship we hardly fought and when we did, she sat back and made me be the one who would have to be the escalator of the conflict, which in turn, just made me feel like a jerk, apologize and end the argument as soon as possible.

                Although I did not see it right away, God had given me the perfect soul mate to compliment what I needed in life.  Now she is my best friend, my rock, my number one fan.  She has supported me in all my crazy life goals and ambitions, no matter how foolish they have been and how risky they have been for our family.  But in hind sight, all the risks had to happen for this story to be told, because it wasn’t until I started taking risks that I realized God was still in my corner.

                The risks I am talking about are not the risks engulfed in sin.  I was making many risky decisions every week with my actions going to bars and clubs and drinking and driving.  I had a formula I tried to follow every night out.  We are taught the safest formula:  one drink per hour and you should be good.  I would usually double that, two drinks an hour.  Some nights were even heavier than that.  But I always knew my cut-off (so I told myself).  Once I had a strong buzz, I would switch from liquor to beer and always would go at least an hour without an alcoholic drink before I would attempt to drive.  During this time my parents and one of my fellow managers were each trying to get me to attend their respective Community Churches.  Both had the same formula:  a modern band with amazing vocal talent, and young pastors with inspiring messages.  But my heart was still hardened and I was too busy to attend a church.  I worked every weekend and enjoyed my two days off during the week where my wife and I could enjoy beaches and parks without the normal weekend crowds.

                I haven’t mentioned my sister much in this work so far.  That is because when I first wrote this, I was just focused on telling my story.  Now I see how important she is to this entire story.  Without her, I would have never been so convicted that Jesus loves EVERYBODY, because my sister loves and accepts EVERYBODY as well.  I won’t tell too much of my sister’s story, but I will tell you who she was to me.

                My sister had a hard time with church and God because of the bigotry toward homosexuals.  She left church as soon as she graduated high school and has since been back only when we have dragged her on special occasions and major holidays.  She became friends with a lot of gay men and women, loves drag shows, and felt a kindness and acceptance that she never got from the Christian church.  My sister was picked on a lot as a kid because of numerous issues.  Her teeth got her called “bucky,” then when she got into 4-H and riding horses she was called “horse girl,” and not in a complimentary way.  Yet my sister always had and still has a huge heart.  But she was hurt time and time again by people her own age, and always by so-called “Christians.”  Though she was never hurt by anyone in the church she went to, the hurt she experienced from other “Christians” outside our church pushed her as far from God as possible.  She found acceptance in the gothic community and even work as she started working at Hot Topic clothing stores and would soon be managing her own store.  From being a Goth-girl, she got into reggae and started being a DJ at a popular club on Reggae nights.  She was musically gifted, played the violin in orchestra throughout high school but, unfortunately, did not pursue a scholarship to play for the local community college.  She met a young man who seemed a perfect match together, both with similar tastes in lifestyles and music.  He was a tattoo artist, my sister was adding a tattoo or three a year.  They had an unplanned pregnancy, and with my sister’s personal conviction of adoption and loving a child, they, of course, planned to have the baby.  They got engaged with plans to marry soon after the child was born.

                Meanwhile, I had still not begun to turn back to God.  I started volunteering with every opportunity Publix presented.  Our store helped build a Habitat-for-Humanity home for a deserving family.  But that was about the extent to me living a Christian life, and that was only dependent on the volunteer opportunities my store and company presented.  I was still using my personal time for my own interests.  My wife and I continued to go out every chance we had.  There were nights when I would go straight from bars to open the doors to the store I was working at to let the first shift workers in at 3:30 in the morning.  Working long hours with late nights was a bad combination.  I had no sense of appreciation for the job I had at Publix.  It had almost come too easy.  I also had a chip on my shoulder.  I was young, had a degree, was paying off my house and car with each quarterly bonus, and starting to go on vacations across the nation.  I had the income, credit and time to start doing everything I wanted.  But I was not happy.  I had no sense of purpose and had lost sight of what really mattered in life.

                My dream job since being a kid was to be a writer.  I wrote my first book when I was just ten.  It was horrible, but it was a hundred page story that had strong characters and an action packed plot.  I did well throughout grade school and college with writing assignments.  While the communication major I had was essentially useless, I did have some opportunities to polish my writing while completing my needed credits.  I wrote a short skit for one of my final assignments in Performance Communication (yes we did skits for our finals).  My professors and entire class loved what we did.  We got a perfect score on the project.  I remember telling the fellow manager who kept inviting me to his community church about the project and he stopped me in mid conversation and said I needed to find a way to make a living doing stuff like that.  He said it was the first time he had seen me so passionate about something.  He would leave Publix a few months later.  Retail is often an unfulfilling profession, but it is very easy, and some companies, like Publix, offer anyone who works hard and can lead others a stable and well-paying career.  But for me, at 26, I was just going through the motions of being a produce manager.  It was too easy of a job.  The most challenging days were the one’s when someone called out sick, or somehow the giant supply-chain machine had an unexpected kink in the system.  Everyday, as I lined up 275 limes in perfect order, spinning each piece of fruit to hide stickers and form perfect, straight rows, my mind would wander off and start playing the movie of the first book I wanted to write.

                My sister gave birth to her first child and I saw the miracle of God in a very personal way for the first time.  Neither my sister or her baby-daddy were religious, or even believed God was real.  It was around this time that I had at least started praying again because I remember praying a lot for my sister and her son, and her fiancé.  I am sure my parents did the same.  My parents and myself all said we would help out as much as we could to watch their son so they would not need to pay for day care once my sister went back to work.  She was still manager of a Hot Topic at this point in her life.  When my nephew was 8-months old he was found one fateful morning by his father in his crib, entangled in his blanket, suffocated, and deceased.  His father did everything he knew to do to try to revive him, the paramedics did not make it until it was too late.  His passing devastated our family, as it would anyone’s.  It pushed my sister and her fiancé permanently away from God.  My mother questioned why God would do such a thing.  Only my father and myself seemed to be able to keep our sanity and did not blame God for any of it.  We knew this was not the working of God.  This was just the brutality and fragileness of life.  For me, this watershed moment made me fully understand the importance of God and Jesus.  I knew where my nephew’s soul was.  And I knew I wanted to spend eternity with him there one day.

                I will never forget the day my nephew passed or his viewing and funeral.  I will never forget how perfect and doll-like he looked in his casket.  Nor how I stood above him and prayed for Jesus to perform a Lazarus type miracle in that funeral home as I wept over his little body.  But no one in that funeral home was living a life that deserved a miracle on that level.  And Jesus no longer has to raise the dead, He did that in his lifetime and those stories are carefully documented for the world to read.  There was no miracle for our family that day, but there was peace and the understanding for those of us that believed that this sweet boy was now with Jesus in Heaven.  I knew I had to change my ways so I could find a way to Heaven to see my nephew again.  That yearning to change my life would only last about as long as my leave from Publix lasted.

                As soon as I was back to work that became an easy distraction.  I was saying long, long prayers every night for my family and friends and my own soul.  My upper leadership changed at Publix and I had a newly promoted District Manager(DM).  We started off on great terms, then I went without an assistant manager for a month and a half and my DM came down on me for working too many hours.  Him and I started butting heads.  I saw a surprisingly unprofessional side of a leader I had looked up to and respected.  And just like that I started to see God’s hand in my life, though at the time I just chalked it up to things happening because it “was meant to be.”  This first example is a long story, but it comes down to my DM just happening to run into the right person at the right time where I was caught working off the clock and lying to this DM about when I left my store on a specific time.  While working off the clock was grounds for termination at Publix, I was only punished because I lied to the DM and told him I left my store earlier than I did.  I was punished by being moved to another store.  But at that point I had been exploring the military and had already been in to talk to the local Navy recruiter.  So when I was dealt my counseling by my DM and human resources representative, I put in my two month notice.  I still thought it was all about me, and a little disciplinary action due to my own prideful ego was something I could not let go without me having the last say.  Despite God providing me a rewarding and substantial career, I let my pride get in the way, and finally found the excuse to actually go talk to military recruiters.  But even then, it was still all about me.

                I had gone to the Navy recruiters still with a chip on my shoulder.  I wanted to prove myself.  I wanted the hardest job in the military.  I wanted a job that when I got through the training showed everyone I was one of the best in the world.  The Navy recruiter asked what job I wanted, and I boldly said I wanted to be a Navy SEAL.  The recruiter laughed at me.

                This was 2007 and both Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom were in full swing.  Iraq was a bloody battlefield.  More and more young men and women were losing their lives in those wars far away from the comforts of America.  I had finally decided I needed to do my part to fight for my country.  My recruiter started the screening process for a SEAL contract.  I took the ASVAB for the first time since high school and scored a 97 out of 99.  My recruiters instantly started pushing me to the Navy’s nuclear sub programs.  But I wanted nothing to do with being stuck in a submarine thousands of feet under water.  I was set on trying out for the SEAL program.  Next was medical.  I had no outstanding issues to worry about so the trip to MEPS (Military Entrance Processing Station) Tampa looked like an easy one day turn around.  The MEPS doctor took one look at my feet and the horrible bunions I have on them and stamped my packet with unfit for active duty.  Hallux valgus is an automatic disqualifier for military service.  I left MEPS that day crushed.  I remember going back to Publix thinking I was stuck in that career and I had better find a way to dig myself out of the hole I had put myself in.  All the while, I was still far from God.

                Three days later my recruiter had worked what I would later realize was nothing short of a miracle and he got me a waiver to see a civilian podiatrist.  That doctor took one look at my feet, said they didn’t look too bad and asked me the question I now knew the “correct” answer to.  When he asked if they bothered me, I quickly said “no!”  So I had my waiver, I was through medical without any other issues.  At the time I had perfect credit and the only trouble I had ever had with law enforcement was speeding tickets (but I had enough that I had to write a statement for each one explaining why I broke the traffic law for each infraction).  The day I was told I was eligible to try out for the SEAL program, they dropped a contract in front of me with a $32,000 signing bonus.  My name was inked on those papers as fast as I could.  I picked a ship date three months down the road so I could get in better shape before shipping out to basic.  My recruiter drove me back home and set me up to come back the following Tuesday to begin training with all the Navy’s SpecOps hopefuls in the Tampa Bay area.  I was about to start on an adventure unlike anything I had ever experienced.  I allowed fear and anxiety to keep me from ever fully beginning that career.  And I blamed that choice on God.

                I was now praying with purpose.  Every night I started asking for protection and for God to use me as a weapon.  And I prayed that I was making the right decision.  That last part ended up being more of me trying to convince myself that I had made the right decision.  The next three months came and went in a blur.  I realized that years of running and working out in a regular gym had done nothing to get me in the type of shape needed to be an elite warrior in the United States Military.  Being much older than the other Navy Special Operation hopefuls, I drove the other three candidates from the Bradenton branch to the Clearwater Coast Guard station where we would train in their pool.  Most of the candidates there were right out of high school or graduating soon.  I thought I was in much better shape than all of them.  Until we started training.  Everything was calisthenics, so all my bulkiness was just more weight for me to jump, push, and climb with.  My years of running were the only thing that I was competitive in.  Everything else I did, I performed just over the minimums, especially in the water.  But I still passed every PRT test and by the end of the three months of training, I was falling closer to the excelling category instead of the just-barely-squeaking-by category.  I was getting in the best shape of my life and inching closer and closer to my ship date.

                I was praying every night, mostly because I was having a lot of anxiety about the choice I had made.  Years later, I realized this is normal when making a major life decision like the one I had made.  But for me, the anxiety made me feel unsure of my choice.  I thought that if this path I had chosen was the one I was meant to walk down, I would be running down the path, not standing there unsure of the direction it led.  Then it came to the weekend before my ship date.

                My friends and I had planned a weekend getaway in Orlando, FL.  I was going to ship out the following Friday.  We were going to spend two nights at one of Universal’s resorts.  I had “retired” from Publix and would soon have that check in my bank account, close to a year’s salary in one check, and I had all the Navy signing bonus incentives only weeks away from hitting that same bank account.  So the weekend in Orlando was as extravagant as my tastes could afford.  With us were my closest friends:  four guys, my future wife, and two long time female friends (one of which was the future wife of my best friend).  Before leaving for the weekend I got a call from my recruiter and was told that my ship date had been moved up to Monday, and I had to report to the recruiting station on Sunday.  That little change made the world of a difference.

                It’s hard to second guess the choices we make.  When all the dust settled after that week, and days passed, months stretched into years, I often thought back about that one little change.  The way I had envisioned it was I would spend the weekend with my friends, then I would have five days to spend with just my family and my love.  Now, the change to the ship date meant I lost those five days to spend with my family.  My friends and I still went to Orlando, still had an amazing weekend.  When it came to saying what should have been a temporary good-bye it felt like I was about to leave another part of my life permanently behind.  In a way I would have, but even at 26, it still felt impossible to do.  My parents wanted to drive me to the hotel where I would stay the night to be bused to MEPS and sent to Great Lakes, Michigan. I said a heart felt good-bye to my parents, and tried to assure my wife, who was still just a girlfriend at the time that we would stand the test of basic training separation.  They finally left together.  Because I arrived so late I was put in a room with just one other person, a former Green Beret who was going back in to rejoin the fight.  Most rooms were filled with four guys, two per bedroom.  He and I were each assigned separate rooms.  I was exhausted from the weekend but I was still filled with doubts.  So I got down and said the longest prayer I had ever asked of God.  And I begged for a clear sign that I was making the right choice.  I laid down to go to sleep sometime around 10 with a wake up at 4 am.  I had done enough partying over the weekend that the six hours of sleep would be much needed.

                Just before midnight I was jarred from sleep by banging and yelling.  I stumbled out of bed.  My room was closest to the front door.  As I made my way out of the bedroom I could see the door slightly ajar.  The Green Beret had engaged the security latch for our protection.  It also kept a kid who had arrived at the very last minute out of his assigned room.  He had gone and gotten the security guard who was currently banging on the door and shouting to get one of us awake.  I was the one who opened the door for the kid.  He was assigned to the other room.  I went back to my room alone.  I laid down to go back to sleep and all I could hear was the pounding of my heart.  I had asked for a sign.  Did God just give it to me?

                The next two hours I was up, pacing back and forth.  For years I would regret the choice I would make next, but in that moment, with the amount of doubt I had, and the belief that God did still answer prayers, I had asked for a sign, and the circumstances around that kid arriving and waking me up were too much of too many coincidences for it not to be put in play by a higher power.  So I picked up the phone and called my girlfriend.  I asked her if she remembered how to get to the hotel.  She said she did.  I hung up and instantly a flood of relief came over me.  I escaped into the night with my bags, scaled the gate to keep us in and abandoned my contract and my country.  I would soon be in my girlfriend’s car on the way back to home.  At first I felt like I had made the right choice.  But by morning, I felt anything but that.

                I could go on and on about how low I got after not getting on that bus.  But I do not want to bring any pity and sympathy to my story.  I had made a decision that I felt was directed by God, so I stuck by it.  I took weeks of grief from my recruiters.  I would not budge after making this decision.  I took some time to refocus, prayed more and more for guidance.  I knew what God was asking me to do, but I refused to follow that instruction.  I knew back then, everything I have instructed in this book.  If God had given me a sign not to be a warrior for America, then I needed to be a warrior for the kingdom of Heaven.  I needed to sell all my possessions and travel the world preaching the peace of Jesus.  I needed to become a missionary and demonstrate my full faith in Jesus.  I did not do any of these.  Instead, I wrote my first book.

                I was also scared.  That anxiety, the fear of the unknown pushed me to say a prayer for guidance.  I had made a lot of rash decisions leading up to that point.  I had picked the wrong job for the military.  I was not Special Operations material.  As much as I wanted to be that, I was not.  That’s not who I am, not who God designed me to be.  But I was out to prove something to all those that knew me and all I proved was that I was a quitter and a coward.  Yet, somehow, through all of this, my friends and family still supported me and still loved me.  And God was still in my corner.

                The first book I wrote was a disaster.  I felt that I had to write a story to promote the everyday heroes in the world, foolishly choosing a fictional plot about an alien insurrection.  I wove in a biblical prophecy and passages from the Bible, with the goal of bringing God back into the mainstream.  This was the book I would envision while I was working long hours stacking fruits and vegetables as a produce manager.  Now I had nothing but time on my hands to finally sit down and pound out a manuscript.  I was sure that I would quickly get picked up by a literary agent.

                Well, I wasn’t that good of a writer.  No one was interested in my book.  And when I chose to self-publish, the only people kind enough to buy a copy of my work were best friends and family.  They all said it was a great book.  However, when they never passed the book on or raved about it to their friends and extended family, I knew how they really felt about the book.  If they truly thought Superheroes was as good as they told me to my face, they would have told someone else about it, which was unfair to expect of them, but a good indicator either way of how they really felt about the work.  Deep down, I slowly began to realize they really thought it was just okay.  In actuality, it was a horrible book.  Once I brushed yet another chip off my shoulder and reread my work for the 8th time and accepted that it was even hard for me to read through, I realized I could not expect a total stranger to read my work and actually love it.  So I checked the box on that lifelong goal and crawled back to the military.

                This time, I really wanted to find a job that worked for me.  Instead of just going back and doing whatever I could to serve my country best, I was still looking for the perfect job that would serve ME best.  No matter how I tried to spin it, I was still being extremely selfish.  It was still just about ME.  I wanted to find the job in the military that best suited my needs.  I did much deeper research this time, and then decided that the job that fulfilled all my wants and desires was the job of a Pararescueman (PJ) for the Air Force Reserve.  At the time, the AF Reserve ran a full-time PJ unit out of Patrick Air Force Base in Cocoa Beach, FL that served as the Quick Reaction Force for NASA with any shuttle launch or landing (so I was told my the Reserve Recruiter).  The AF Reserve recruiter asked if the Navy had an issue getting the medical waiver approved for my feet and I, confidently said, “not at all, they waived it in three days.”  The recruiter shrugged it off and said they should be able to do the same.

                A week passed.  Then two weeks.  I called, the recruiter said waivers take time.  I set up a website to promote my first novel.  A month passed.  I called the recruiter several times to finally get a call back.  He said now that some waivers can take up to six months to get approved.  So I waited.  Six months came and went.  The recruiter stopped returning my phone calls.  I left two letters under his door since no one was ever in their office.  I never got a return phone call.  So I approached the active duty AF recruiters with the same request, but now I was more willing to go wherever the Air Force wanted to send me.  The waiver was brought up again with the active duty recruiter.  It would be the same story.  Months passed with no progress.  I began working with a good friend that owned a vinyl graphic studio for extra income, a job I could easily leave as soon as I got my second chance at entering the military.  Before that came, I would end up back at Publix because I needed insurance and more room to proceed upward.  My old store manager hired me back.  But I told her that I was in the process of getting back in the military, and once things went through I would be gone for good this time.  She must have realized I was full of it, because she hired me anyway.

                Well, I tried my best to get back in the military that next year.  I brought a fellow stock clerk to the Navy once I gave up on the Air Force and my old recruiter was still there. He had been promoted to the head of the Bradenton office.  He said he could get me back in.  Two weeks into the process he retired after 20 years and his replacement did not have the same passion to help me as he had.  My coworker went forward and began a rewarding career with the Navy.  I stayed at Publix.  Next, one of my old produce clerks that I had seen get two promotions under my leadership was back after moving away for college.  He was thinking of joining the Army.  So we both went to the recruiter together.  The active duty Army recruiters were kind enough to show me where in the regulations it says that Hallux Valgus was an automatic disqualifier and said it would be extremely hard to get a waiver.  By now it was 2009 and the needs of the military were cooling down.  My old produce clerk went forward and served six years proudly in the US Army.  So I tried one last avenue, with the Florida National Guard.  That recruiter at least attempted to get a wavier approved.  But I met the same fate.

                In my mind, I was getting exactly what I deserved.  If I had gone in with the Navy the first time, I would have had three, almost four years under my belt already.  Even if I did not make it through the SEAL program, I would have still been serving and not stuck where I was.  I had brought this fate upon myself.  I was beginning to question if I had misinterpreted that sign I had asked for.  Was it all just coincidence?  But I still was not following the call of Christ.

                Instead, I had fallen into the same pattern of life I had always followed, minus a few exceptions.  I prayed every night.  I  prayed for our men and women serving and their divine protection.  I prayed for my family and friends.  And I prayed for God to continue to guide me to my greater purpose.  I had new purpose at Publix and realized it was a great opportunity for me to make a good living.  I rose back through the world of produce and made it to assistant produce manager.  I was there to stay.  Then something unexpected happened.

                After dating for five years and taking countless risks while living together in what some would call “sin,” one risky foray turned into a beautiful miracle.  When my wife told me she was pregnant, I was still a self-centered, self-righteous jerk.  I did not want any children.  At that point in my life, I thought the world was populated enough and I would just help raise my sister’s daughter (my sister and her fiancé had married and decided to try for another child.  This time, God blessed them with a beautiful baby girl, which I thought was just what they needed, so they did not have to worry about replacing their lost son.  Now he had a sister.)  Between my niece and my wife’s extended family that continued to grow and grow, we did not need a child of our own.  But God knew better.  I was pretty angry about the situation and had a hardened heart until the day we found out what we were having.  When I first saw the ultrasound of Sierra Grace, my stubbornness began to wane.  That was the first connection I had with my first child.  I kept a picture of her ultrasound in my pocket every single day.

                Some time in between the ultrasound, or even later, I do not remember the exact day, but I remember partaking in one of my daily evening beers.  At this point I was drinking Magic Hat quite often and I popped the top of a bottle and underneath, with their quirky little sayings was the instructions:  “You need to write more.”  I said, “why yes, Magic Hat bottle.  I do.”  I kept that bottle cap as a reminder not to give up on my original dream.  It would disappear in the wonderful chaos of preparing for a baby.

                My wife was unbelievably patient with me and my absence through most of her first pregnancy.  I did a horrible job asking for days off for any appointments.  For the first time in our relationship, all the roommates in our home moved out as our newest roommate got closer and closer to making her debut in the world.  We readied her room and our home.  My wife was super excited.  I was still just there.  Then the appointment came on a Monday after the original due date.  The doctor’s didn’t like the level of amniotic fluid, so we were rushed to the hospital.  I had been on a lunch break for the appointment.  I called my store to let them know I would not be back and would most likely be beginning my two weeks of paternal leave if all went well.  They would induce my wife and she would endure 25 hours of labor, with four straight hours of pushing, and our stubborn little girl, not wanting to come out of the comfort of her first home, had to be forcefully evicted by Cesarean Section.  And at 19:25 on 7/26 I held my daughter for the first time.

                From the moment I held her, this precious, pink squirming miracle of God, my life forever changed.  I knew she was a gift from God.  She was perfect in every way, even though when I first met her, her face was extremely swollen from being stuck in the birth canal.  That first night, as I held her every chance I could, I never stopped staring at the perfection God had created out of two people.  And slowly I began to understand more and more what the love of God meant for us.

                I would not return to Publix.  I “retired” for the second time.  I did not want to be anywhere but near my daughter to keep her safe.  My wife was just beginning to work in her field of nursing so she agreed to go back to work after her six week maternity leave.  I cashed out 13 years of 401k from Publix to give us extra income.  And I started working a few days a week with another friend that owned a mobile auto detailing business.  But mostly, I just wanted to be by my daughter’s side.  My love for her grew and grew everyday.

                I would read to her as much as possible due to the research that says babies need to hear you speaking to them to learn and understand language better.  So I decided I would read the entire Bible to her.  That would be the first book she’d ever hear in its entirety, and perhaps that simple act would help bless her in her life to come.  While that last part may be a bit of a stretch, it did bless my life and enrich my understanding of God’s love and Jesus’s grace.  My clear understanding of the Bible came at the same time that I learned what unconditional and unending love felt and looked like with my daughter.  The depth of my love for my daughter was deeper than any ocean.  I realized in those first months that my time with her on this Earth, even if I were to live to 100 years old, would never be enough time with her.  All I want is to spend eternity with her.  And if Jesus provides the way to eternal life, that is the path I will follow.  And really, that’s all God wants from every child He creates.  We are all children of God, and He wants to spend eternity with all of us.  And He sent His only son to show and provide for us the only way to Him and eternal life.

                Reading the entire Bible in a short time frame really puts into prospective what are the key messages of the Bible.  I saw that the world was focusing on the few laws and rules that are listed in one little part of the Old Testament, and completely ignoring that throughout the Old Testament, God’s chosen people commit one ultimate sin time and time again, and that is they turned from God and worshiped either other gods or false idols.  The Old Testament stands to serve as a reminder how quickly, and easily people turn from God.  In Exodus, the Jewish people turn from God as soon as they get caught in the wilderness for forty years, despite all the signs they witnessed in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.  Moses could not even go up the mountain without coming down and the majority of the population was worshipping a gold calf.  Throughout the Old Testament, in almost every book, the Jewish people turned away from God.  Now, our American culture is following the same pattern of turning away from our Maker.  Our endless pursuit of enforcing rules has pushed more and more away from believing and worshipping God.  Reading the New Testament I realized that again, it was all about love and forgiveness.  Jesus did not drill everyone with following this rule and that rule.  For the laws he did put emphasis on, America and the world seemed to be actively ignoring Jesus’s instructions.

                And then there was my love for my daughter.  I would do anything for that child.  But I would not let her grow up to be a child who expected everything.  My understanding of death had completely changed.  I believed in Jesus and His promise of eternal life.  And after spending a few years with my daughter and the joy she brought to me, all I wanted was eternity.  The time here on this earth would never be long enough with my baby.  So I started, slowly, to live a better, less distracted, life.  But I was still not following God with my whole heart.  I still did not do the important things to make the world a better place.

                Instead, I followed the advice on the Magic Hat bottle cap and wrote my second book.  This one was dedicated to my daughter and was a story aimed at late elementary school to middle school aged readers.  Book number 2 was called Vernan, the Vegan Vulture.  I thought this one was extremely clever about a young vulture that refuses to follow the norms and expectations of what the world pushes on him in being a dark, brooding eater of dead things.  He refuses to eat dead meat and is pushed to be an outcast among outcasts.  I had hoped this would become a series where all young birds go to a central school to learn how to fly.  Flight School would take all the species of birds native to Colorado (where I set the book) and group all the different birds into stereotypical classes American high schools had.  The birds of prey would be the popular jocks.  The owls were the nerds.  The song birds were the musically talented kids.  And the vultures were the gothic outcasts.  I thought it was sure to be a hit and resonate with younger kids.  No agent felt the same way.  So I went the self-publishing route again.  I was met with the same response as my first novel, with a little more praise from friends and family.  I had a small fan base of about 20.

                My wife and I began to work on improving our souls.  We were attending church regularly.  The Community Church that my parents had helped build was now a sprawling campus out to the east of our town.  The fastest growing church in Manatee County, the church that I had a hard time connecting with due to their desire to build a multi-million dollar facility now had established exactly what they had set out to do, and we were huge fans.  What this community church did was create an exciting and relevant church that tapped into the county and went after the next generation.  I still love to visit that church, and always leave feeling the Holy Spirit gripping at my soul.  When we returned to Bradenton after moving away for three years, the church had grown even larger and we loved the hold it had on our daughter’s heart.  We would soon be called away from Florida, but before we left, we dedicated Sierra at church to raise her in a God-loving, Jesus-teaching home.

                We visited my wife’s family as we always did for Thanksgiving, with our now four-month-old daughter on her first road trip.  It was the first Thanksgiving since we met that I was not working in retail and only had Thanksgiving Day off of work.  We stayed the entire weekend  and we were loved on by everyone.  At the end of the trip, my wife asked me if I ever would want to move to GA.  One city called to me, and I told her if we could move to this enchanted city by the sea, I would surely move to Georgia.

                My first taste of Savannah, GA came years earlier during one of the first Thanksgiving trips as my wife and I first started dating.  My wife’s grandmother is a central maternal saint of her family.  She has loved and cared for granddaughters, family friends, and adopted a great niece’s daughters and son to give them a stable home and better upbringing.  She has parented those three kids with the support of an inspiring family around her in a small town of south central Georgia where cotton is still king and the sounds of four-wheelers running through the red clay roads is the most frequent noise that breaks the silence of the country.  On this specific Thanksgiving, the ladies of the family had reserved a buffet lunch at the legendary Lady and Sons restaurant in Savannah.  At that point, I had never heard of Paula Deen and she had so far avoided any controversy.  I was told we were going to a celebrity chef’s flagship restaurant and one of the Aunts gave me Mrs. Deen’s personal biography to look over as we made the two hour trip to Savannah.  Mrs. Deen has an inspirational story about personal grit and gain as she rose from a humble upbringing making sandwiches and delivering them to businesses around Savannah to opening her first restaurant to becoming one of the Food Channel’s most beloved Southern Celebrity Chef’s.  This would be my first visit to a celebrity’s personal restaurant.  But more importantly, it would be my first time stepping foot in that majestic city of Savannah.

                I had envisioned the buffet of a celebrity chef’s personal restaurant to have hundreds of choices of their most signature dishes.  I was disappointed when I saw a small buffet table with only about 10 items on it.  But I tell you, it has some of the best southern eats I have ever sunk my teeth into.  I was the only one to go for seconds that visit and I left the restaurant so full I hurt.  But most importantly, I left the city of Savannah, after only being there a few hours, longing for more of the tastes from that day.

                Some say that Savannah is one of the most haunted cities in America, and the spirits that still reside in the city will grab hold of you and pull you back once you visit.  For me, for that first quick visit, it was the beauty of the architecture of the buildings and the natural green charisma of the squares that kept calling me back.  I was hooked.  When my wife presented us with moving to Georgia and I agreed only on the terms of moving to Savannah, she wasted no time and found a job and we moved away from everything we had ever known into a city we would soon call our own.

                 It was in Savannah that we saw the intricate details of God’s handy work and how much He blessed our lives.  It was in the littlest details, like our hunt for the right home.  At this time my wife and I were running up to Savannah on the weekends to get ready for the move.  We had one weekend set aside to find the perfect house to rent.  We lined up 10 homes that spanned through downtown Savannah, and out to the town of Pooler, the fastest growing city to the west of Savannah.  After seeing all ten houses, none of the rentals really felt right.  We were about to return to Florida without a place to move to, but then we decided to look at apartments Sunday morning.  We called a handful and set up appointments.  It was the very last place we looked that was the perfect fit.  It felt right.  A beautiful apartment community that was only a few years old and filled with young, friendly military families.  We filled out the application and were approved the next week.  Then we were moving three weeks later.

                My wife had a state job as an RN for Savannah’s health clinic.  It was an easy 8-5 job.  I went on the search for a job as I had been a stay-at-home dad for 8 months and I was ready to get back to work.  While I applied to hundreds of jobs, I continued to enjoy every moment I had with my daughter.  We explored all of Pooler’s parks.  We would often make trips into Savannah so she could play at those beautiful green squares and have lunch with my wife.  Our little family would start a Friday night tradition of going to downtown and exploring the great eats and drinks the city had to offer.  The charm of Savannah had a strong grip on us.  Every major tourist destination blew us away, from the stunning views of the river at sunset, to the gentle whisper of the moss that adorns Bonaventure Cemetery, every description that you have ever heard regarding the magical exquisiteness of Savannah proved to be absolutely true.

                While I had some interviews and final interviews, I failed to lock down a job for the first few months.  But we managed to get by on my wife’s salary alone.  Savannah is a city where you can easily go spend an entire day outside, playing in parks, fountains, and reading the history markers throughout the historic city and spend little-to-no money.  We were there at just the right time in our little family’s existence.  I soaked up every day I had with my daughter.  I chased her around parks every day.  But while I relished spending time with her, I did my best to avoid conversation with other adults, because I allowed shame to consume my heart and I was not proud of the fact that I was not working and having a startling hard time finding a job.  My retail management experience of the past was of no interest to any of the management positions open at the hundreds of hotels in downtown Savannah.  I seemed to be tanking every interview because it never presented itself with a job offer.

                Despite my bad luck and our limited budget, we grew stronger as a family.  We spent every moment we could together.  I was Mr. Mom, keeping the apartment clean, cooking dinner, doing laundry, teaching our daughter to walk and attempting to get her to talk.  All she would ever want to do with me was play.  Being a stay-at-home dad was super easy.  I was getting closer and closer to finally nailing down a job, but before that I had to chase two dreams one last time.

                The first dream could not be avoided.  The majesty of Savannah had stirred up my creativity like no place ever had before, so I decided to write my third book.  I treated it like a full-time job. I would wake up at 5:30 every morning, start the coffee and write from 6 to whenever my daughter woke up for the day.  Some days, when I was in the thick of a great scene, I would go back to writing if I got my daughter to take a nap.  I threw all my talent and skill at my third book, The Savannah Syndrome (TSS).  This one was sure to get picked up by a publisher.  I thought it would be the next Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil and would send a new generation towards Savannah to visit this beautiful city by the sea.

                That dream ended just like the other two.  I self-published, and with my experience of doing this for the third time, and using Amazon’s publishing engine, I created the best looking book yet.  I saw my biggest success with TSS.  Friends and family were reading it and suggesting it to their friends, and for the first time ever, those strangers were suggesting it to their friends and family that loved to read.  I had broke into third generation sales.  But that was the furthest it went.  I had created a website to advertise all my works.  That became my new obsession, trying to drive traffic to that website.

                My desire to be a writer was a key learning point in life.  Many people in America have the desire to make it in some form of the entertainment business:  from writing books, to acting in film, to being an established illustrator, or to make it as a singer in the music world.  I had pursued my American dream for the last time.  At least in the form of writing fiction.  Shelving my latest project on my bookshelf, I went after another dream, and a final chance at redemption.

                Pooler, Georgia is a booming city that grew largely in part from the global war on terrorism.  Fort Stewart, home of the 3rd Infantry Division, the most deployed conventional army infantry division during the last two decades, provided a steady supply of young military families that wanted to live in the newness of Pooler and have an escape from the military base.  Our apartment complex was filled with military personnel from Ft. Stewart or the even closer Hunter Army Airfield.  Seeing men and women in uniform every day, hearing the concussions of artillery in the distance and having F-22 Raptors scream overhead during the Air National Guard’s drill weekends out of Savannah International Airport, were, to me, the loudest call to serve.  I decided to try one last time to get another chance at serving in the military.  It was now 2012 and the military was in a draw down, but the National Guard seemed to be recruiting heavily still.  So I went with that option.

                I would soon learn that the issue with getting a waiver for my feet really came down to one deciding factor:  having a recruiter who was brave enough to put in extra work.  That was how I was able to get the waiver so quickly the first time, and, eventually, I would have it thanks to an amazing recruiter who kept asking the questions of his leadership to get my paperwork pushed through.  This time it took that six months, actually almost a year, but eventually, I finally had another contract and a date to ship to basic training.  And here I saw God working for me again.  My ship date for the National Guard would be almost six-years to the day when I was supposed to ship out to the Navy for what would have been a six-year contract.  God had opened a door for me.  I had spent the last six years regretting the decision I had made, second guessing if I had read into a set of circumstances as being more than what they were.  But as I was given this second chance, I began to see that God had given me those signs.  It had not been my time to join the military.  I had to struggle more through life before I entered the service.

                I went to basic training with an invigorated sense of belonging.  I loved every moment of it.  I appreciated every opportunity it presented.  I marveled at the process of breaking down young boys and attempting to mold them into young soldiers.  Many made the adjustment, a lot fought the system and continued to try to do their own thing throughout basic.  They were eventually broken.  I was the oldest recruit in my Infantry class.  There was one other older gentleman in our company that was the same age as me.  We were both 32 going through basic.  In the world of the military that was ancient.  For most of our recruiting class, if they stuck it out, by the time they would reach 32 years of age, they would just be a few years away from retirement.  While I will not get into the details of my experiences in basic training, I did feel like God was with me throughout the process.  Throughout the 14 weeks of OSUT, I felt more alive than I had in a long time.  Distinctly, I remember feeling the gentle calm of the Holy Spirit covering me one Sunday when I was pulled by my Drill Sergeant to go fill up our water buffalo and wash off one of the LMTV’s.  Standing in the back of the LMTV as we rolled around Sand Hill, the air was cool and crisp in the late October season.  The sky was exceptionally clear and blue.  It would be like that on the day of the grenade range where I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit giving me an air of comfort when we were participating in the first, and only, dangerous day of training.  I am pretty sure God got behind my arm when I threw the live grenade because it flew further than I had even come close to throwing the practice grenade in the weeks leading up to this one exercise.  I felt the awe and majesty of God and the universe when we got off the bus at Red Diamond training area in the late hours of the night.  We were there to conduct night into day land navigation.  I had taken a nap on the bus ride, which was standard to help get as much sleep as possible, so I was jolted awake when we had arrived.  I stumbled off the bus and looked up to see the most vibrant, bright, and in-my-face night sky.  I had only seen a display of stars like that in pictures and at planetariums.  It was an absolutely breathtaking moment.  And just another moment when I felt like I was right were God wanted me to be, and He was rewarding me for my faith and devotion.  I attended the Protestant service every Sunday we had the opportunity to.  It was full of energy and young men shouting out to the Lord.  God could definitely be felt in that house.  And of course, through the final stages of becoming an Infantryman, the 12-mile ruck into the ceremony at Honor Hill.  Our “Turning Blue” ceremony where our training CO made the joke, “Do you know how we know God loves the Infantry?  Because the sky is blue.”  Blue is the color of the Infantry and the day I officially became an Infantryman the sky was a crisp, deep blue.    

                I had found my calling.  To me the military seemed easy, everything was laid out for you.  Just do as you are told, move with a purpose, and stay in great shape and you easily succeeded.  The hardest part of the job was getting others to have the same purpose and passion for what they were doing, big or small, in the Army.  I was having so much fun that I asked every aspect of leadership through the training process if there was any way I could be switched from the National Guard to Active Duty.  There currently wasn’t an option for that.  There had once been, but the Guard had a bigger struggle to fill their numbers and were not very willing to just let someone out of their contractual obligations, especially someone who just started.

                But I kept trying.  I told my leadership as soon as I joined my first unit in the Georgia National Guard.  My assistant team leader and team leader were not very happy that their newest soldier was asking to be released for active duty during our very first drill together.  But most of them understood, because most of them were after the same thing, having a full time military career, not just the once a month part-time gig.  I never did get released for active duty, but instead I have done my best to serve proudly in the Georgia National Guard.  The first unit I was part of ended up being everything I could ever hope for.  I was part of the legacy of Long Range Surveillance units and I became one of the last members of the last units to be deactivated once the Pentagon decided that long range surveillance elements for brigade level military intelligence was no longer needed in the new age of UAS drones, satellites, and an unending campaign against unconventional forces.  But my time with LRS presented me with more opportunities to see the wonder of God’s work in my life.  I ended up at Airborne School the exact same time my friend who had gone into the Navy five years before.  Again, an almost unbelievable set of circumstances that could only be arranged by a much higher power.  Here was the young man I had tried to enlist in the Navy with.  He had gone forward and had done great things in the Navy as an IT technician.  He was working for SEAL Team  8 at the time and they rewarded him with Airborne school and he was one week ahead of me when I ended up there with my unit.

                Airborne school was a once in a lifetime experience.  Fort Benning has been the home of the Airborne since it’s inception in the 1940s and the same towers and area has been used to turn brave “legs” into deadly paratroopers from the sky.  Every day there felt magical, purposeful.  It was here that God started going after my heart in more direct fashion.  As long as each class has decent discipline, most Airborne students are granted freedom during the weekends.  Airborne school is three weeks long.  I happened to be there for the Fourth of July, so we had an extra four day break for the holiday.  With just three weekends to explore Fort Benning, I took the opportunity to attend the Chapel service.  In my platoon I had a young lady I only remember as her roster number, Charlie-50,  (C50).  I have a huge respect for women in the military.  This whole agenda that women can not serve and do the same thing as men is ridiculous.  When they were opening the possibilities for women to serve in more combat roles and special operations arenas, I had a friend, who was quite against the thought of it, ask me if I would want my daughter to serve in a combat role.  I said absolutely, if that’s what she wanted to do.  And I would be extremely proud of her if she accomplished those feats.  So going through Airborne school, which was the first step for every special operations, special forces job in the military and seeing a group of young motivated women achieve the same standards as their male counterparts was inspiring and refreshing to me.

                Charlie-50 was one of the small group of Airborne students who attended all three Sunday church services.  With the final week, “Jump Week,” arriving, I was glad I attended those three services.  I felt like I needed as much divine protection as possible jumping out of an airplane.

                Most of my life I struggled with what could be diagnosed as somewhat heightened anxiety.  Or maybe it was just everyday jitters.  But for most experiences, the first time I had to deal with something new I would get extremely nervous.  My heartrate would increase, hands start shaking, voice quaking.  I grew to learn to expect it and do my best to control it.  After my daughter was born, and I worked at strengthening my relationship with God and Jesus, I found a much easier way to control my anxiety.  I learned to say a quick little prayer and give all my worries to God.  In a way I stopped worrying about controlling my situation and gave the outcome to God.  I trusted God completely, and trusted His divine protection.  So despite the high level of anxiety I had before shuffling to the paratrooper door and kicking my legs out into the rotor wash of a C-130, I closed my eyes, said a prayer and felt the nervousness and fear lift off my shoulders.  Giving that fear of the unknown to God made it easy, and I exited the rear left door of a C-130 just fine.  I counted to four-thousand as my T-10 parachute opened and I felt the pull on my harness as the canopy quickly gained control of my descent.  I made my 360-degree check of my canopy and my surroundings.  My fellow first-jump chumps were a comfortable distance so I took a deep breath and enjoyed the one-to-two minute controlled fall back to the ground.  I had a decent first PLF (parachute landing fall).  I jumped up and signaled I was okay and went to work at securing my parachute and moving off the drop zone.  My first jump was done.  The next four would be easier and easier and with each jump, my anxiety faded and my confidence grew stronger.

                On one of the trips back from the drop zone, C-50 sat next to me on the bus  We had light conversation.  She was attending college at West Point.  I talked to her about my wife and daughter.  We talked about the church services.  Then she asked me a question that has stayed with me to this day.  She asked me how long I had been a believer.  The question caught me off guard.  A believer?  A believer in myself?  In my ability to do things like become an Airborne Paratrooper?  A believer in America?  A believer in the US Army?

                No.  She was asking how long I had been a believer in Christ.

                And that question made me begin to observe where we were going wrong in America.  I had always believed in God and Jesus.  My parents taught it to my sister and I when we were young and I never questioned it.  And as I have explained in my youth, I began to draw closer and closer to God throughout different phases in my life.  I had never not believed.  And that’s how I answered her.  I had always believed.  I believe when I proposed the question to her, she had really started believing in the later part of her life.  I saw on that day the problem we had as Americans.  We are still dealing with the issue of making believers out of a population that was formed as a Christian nation.  We should be much further pass that in our faith at this point.  It should not be a question of when we start believing in Christ, we should all be believing in Him and His love and teachings.  And we should be working at bringing the rest of the world to know and believe in Him.  But here we are, still trying to figure out when to start believing in Christ.

                God would continue to work on my families hearts and faith.  We were blessed beyond measure while living in Pooler, GA.  We met amazing people, made great friends, found an awesome church and started volunteering in their youth ministry.  I volunteered Wednesday nights, my wife volunteered on Sunday mornings, and we attended service on Saturday nights as a family.  Sierra went to church three times a week.  She loved it.  I decided to volunteer in the two-year old class and I loved reading the weekly scripture to those sweet, crazy kids.  I felt a strong stirring in my soul.  My wife found a new calling in her nursing career as she began working at a PPEC center, a center that cared for medically fragile children during the week so the parents could hold jobs.  The only thing we were missing was for me to find a career.  I would end up back at Publix for what I said was the last time.  The third attempt would be the charm.  I was there to stay.  This journey with Publix would be the most hard fought in my life.  Every promotion required me to work harder than I had ever worked before.  And even in Publix hiring me back I saw the hand of God at work.

                I had applied to the closest Publix but got a call from a store on the southside of Savannah.  Pooler had not seemed interested in a former manager of Publix, perhaps because I had already left twice before.  Desperate for some type of solid work, I took the interview at the southside store on Abercorn and on the day of my interview, I walked in and there on the pictures of the managers running the store was a gentleman I had attended high school with.  He was a year older than me and in my sister’s graduating class.  He recognized my name and saw that I was from Bradenton and the same high school so brought me in for an interview out of sheer disbelief we were meeting under such circumstances.  Now some may say in a circumstance like this that “it’s a small world.”  But I have stopped using that phrase.  Instead my wife and I have just adopted the saying and knowing that “It’s God.”  And with every twist of fate and unbelievable blessing we have seen, we say the same thing, and we know.  It’s God.

                And that’s why I had to tell my testimony.  As soon as we started leaning more on God, the more we saw instant gratification and prayers answered.  Some may not think our lives are examples of God’s miraculous work, but my wife and I disagree.  We were never blessed with fortunes.  We have struggled many times, just gotten by often, but God has always provided ENOUGH for us to get by and we have never lived without.  We’ve come close.  I almost lost my original condo I financed twice, but that was due to my own mismanagement of our finances, not something God caused, and He still found a way to keep us in that home longer than we should have.  You do not need millions of dollars to be happy in this life.  You do not need fancy clothes, the biggest truck, the shiniest sports car.  When you start chasing those dreams, God probably will not be there for you.  But if you stay humble, and find joy in the simplest aspects of living, you will always see God in everything you do.

                We saw Him when He called us back to Florida.  The company my wife worked for was opening it’s first branch in central Florida, in Brandon.  It was to be staffed the month after our current lease in our apartment was ending.  My condo, which we had abandoned, attempting to short sale, then eventually to just allow the bank foreclose on, was still waiting for us, despite no one living in it for three years.  We moved back in and applied for a modification on the mortgage, and while that did not work out in the end as we hoped, we had a place to live the next three years while in Florida.  My old store manager transferred me back to her store, again, and put me back in Produce.  The District Manager who promoted me the first time in my Publix career was my District Manager again, and in his final year, with 44 years with Publix, he promoted me to assistant produce manager for the second time to the exact same store he promoted me to the first time.  Maybe it was just chance, maybe it was his choice in an attempt of ironic humor, but my wife and I just chalked it up to one thing:  it’s God.

                We were back in Florida and at our best financial point in our lives.  Both my wife and I working at full-time, decent paying jobs, working at getting control of our finances.  We were attending church on a regular basis.  But we felt like there was more we needed to do.  I would present that question to God, and I got a strong answer.

                It was during our first year back in Florida, when Sierra was in pre-school and I had two days off of work during the week.  I had dropped Sierra off and would have to pick her up in three hours because we only paid for the extended care three days a week.  This was one of the days she just went for the three hour pre-school block.  I was wanting to run somewhere and had worn out all the close spots.  Florida is a beautiful state, at times.  Mostly on the beach.  For the rest of the area we lived, it’s flat, and a lot of runs are quite boring.  A small whisper beckoned me to make the twenty minute drive to Myakka State Park to run the trails there.  I followed that voice and made the trip.  MSP is the biggest state park in my immediate area and a popular destination for families and out of towners.  From the canopy walk above the tree tops to the ferry tour around the heavily gator infested Myakka River, I had been to MSP several times throughout my life.  I had camped there as a teenager, canoed there as an adult.  This was my first time going there solo and just to run.  I did a map reconnaissance and noticed that on one of the designated main trails, at one of the deepest turns of the trail, I could make a sharp turn to the east and follow it 90 degrees through wilderness and end up on a set of trails deep in the park that I had never been to before.  I made measurements and drew on my land navigation skills from the Army.  It was an easy shot.  There was no way I could get lost.  Follow due east and I would hit a horse trail, or dirt road.  From there I could easily follow that road north to the far end of the park and run the main road back to my car.  It would be about a seven mile trip.  Easy run.

                I stepped off the trail and disappeared into the palmetto bushes of natural Florida.  I was not even five minutes into my trek when I realized I had made a wonderful choice.  I saw a group of wild hogs.  Next I would run up on a group of three deer.  I was in the wilderness.  It was an enjoyable trip.  I felt the grip of the Holy Spirit around me.  I felt like I often did as a teenager sitting atop my maple tree, talking to God.  About thirty minutes in, I had broken out of the thicker vegetation and the shade of oaks and palm trees and found myself making my final crossing through thick palmetto prairie.  I paused at an open grassy knoll that looked like it had been used by deer as a resting place.  The sun was bright and hot.  I fell to my knees and prayed.  I said a prayer of thanks for the blessings in my life.  I thanked God for my wife and my daughter.  I thanked God for keeping us healthy and safe.  And then I asked God what my purpose was.  I asked God what He wanted from me.

                For Moses it was a burning bush.  But for most of the characters in the Bible, it was a voice from above, or inside.  But the Bible demonstrates that the wilderness is where God connects to people the strongest.  And it only makes perfect sense.  The wilderness is God and God is the wilderness.  Nature reveals the miracles of God in every aspect.  From a blade of grass to a towering tree to the falcon flying high overhead.  All are created by the Creator.  All are made by God to be part of our natural world.  Nothing in nature is created by the hands of man.  Man is only responsible for destroying nature.  We should be the one’s doing all we can to preserve what God had created for us.  But we choose to disrespect nature and everything God had gifted us with.  We take for granted the beauty in the world around us.

                So I pleaded with God to give me a clear direction for my purpose.  I received my answer from a voice that came from inside.  Writing this sounds crazy, but I can not deny that God answered my question that day.  It would be the same voice I would hear booming in my head a few years later when I struggled with the story of the Prodigal Son and absolute forgiveness and grace.  But I will get to that soon.  This story ties in everything in my life and the writing of this book, because that is what God instructed me to do that day.  Write a book that would change the world.  The instructions I heard that day were simple:  “Write the book.”

                I had no idea what the book was and I knew this time I would have to do it through my own discipline and personal time.  There was no retiring from Publix for a third time to write this book.  So slowly I began to start thinking of the book I could write to ignite the spark of change through America.

                I’m sure it will be argued if this book was exactly what God hoped for, but it was the idea that stuck with me and never let go.  I had meant to have it written before the 2016 elections to bring to America’s attention the errors in our actions and forward thinking.  How voting for either candidate was against our Common Sense values, but most importantly, voting for some one like Donald Trump was against all Christian principles and thoughts.  But my self-discipline was not strong enough, and this book took much longer to finish.  It actually took an act of God to put me in a situation where I had the most free time I had ever in my life.  And surprisingly, I found that time in a world far away from America and in the midst of combat and the enemy.  But that was still a few years away.

                I left MSP that day with a new found purpose.  Instantly, God gave me some vindication I had followed the right course.  Before I got off the back roads I crossed paths with two older ladies looking for some mysterious oasis deep in the park.  We studied the map together and I was able to send them on the right direction, they thanked me kindly and instantly I felt the reward of kindness for a stranger.  I finished my run and began to think of the book I needed to write.

                God continued to work miracles in my life to strengthen my personal testimony.  My Guard unit provided me with the amazing opportunity to travel to the Republic of Georgia for a big military training exercise.  Our company commander scheduled a trip to the Jvari Monastery in Mtskheta, Georgia.  Georgia, being one of the original birthplaces of Christianity radiates with beauty and the two separate years I was there for Nobel Partner 16 and 17, I could easily feel the power of the Holy Spirit.

                With my career progressing through Publix again, I allowed that career to often get in the way of beginning and finishing this project.  But there were several moments where that path provided more vindication of God’s hand in everything.  My produce manager was a kind man who, despite his belief in God, had a hard time finding a church and forgiving religion for their constant misinterpretation of the Bible.  Him and I had many meaningful conversations on faith, love and forgiveness.  He would be the one I would share one of the most unbelievable moments in my life.  And as I tell it to you now, reader, it will seem far fetched, almost unbelievable.  I have no way to explain it, but as with any miracle from God, I don’t have to explain it.  I just have to tell you about it.

                Being back in management was hindering me starting this project and months had gone by since that moment in the wilderness.  I was coming down the stairs to go to work one afternoon.  My daughter was in kindergarten at this time, my wife was at work.  I was alone in the house.  I came down the stairs and noticed in the middle of the floor was what looked like a beer bottle cap.  It was odd that one had made it’s way into the middle of the living room, since any tops I had to pop open I would do in the kitchen or by my beer fridge.  And I usually never would just let one fall to the floor and not instantly pick it up.  And at that moment, I could not even remember drinking a beer the night before.  Regardless, I bent down to pick up the bottle cap and froze.

                The moments that passed next still resonate in my mind as I write this part of my testimony.  Because this was the moment that God slapped me across the face.  I had a complete out of body experience.  I was watching myself stare at this bottle cap from the ceiling.  I could feel everything in that house that day.  The comfortable temperature, the quietness of the house.  If this were a Hollywood movie, this was the moment that ominous, foreboding music shook the theater.  Remember that Magic Hat beer cap that instructed me years before “You need to write more.”  I had not seen that bottle cap in months, not since we had moved back to Florida.  For all I knew it was in a little keepsake box I had in my sock drawer.  But somehow, someway, it was sitting top down in the middle of my carpet, with the words “You need to write more,” staring at me.  Screaming at me.  I starred at it for possibly just a minute but it felt like an hour passed.  My mind raced. My heart thumped.  I pulled my hand away and took a picture of it, knowing no one would believe a story like this, that a bottle cap simply appeared on my floor.  I sent the picture to my wife.  Surely she had placed it there to motivate me to write more.  She always believed my ultimate purpose was to be a writer.  She swore it was not her.  Maybe Sierra got it out of my sock drawer.  I asked her if she had seen Sierra leave it there.  But we both knew it wasn’t her.  It was God.

                I took the bottle cap to work with me and told my produce manager the story once I found the right time and moment.  I felt a little crazy telling it to him, but he gave me complete vindication, and concluded himself that it was God and I had to write this book.  I didn’t need to tell anyone else about this mystery.  I had heard all I could.  I needed to write Common Sense Reborn.  God had personally instructed me to.  Even with all this passion and clear instruction, it would still take me two more years.  Why did it still take me so long to finish this work?  Because I kept getting distracted.  Distracted by all the elements I presented to you earlier in this book.

                I know reader, the climax to this story seems a little disappointing.  Just a bottle cap that “magically” appeared on my living room floor.  But to me, that’s the little miracles we need to look for.  Those are the miracles God is still making.  And do not think that for a moment I do not recognize the significance in that miracle.  But there has been more since.  None as clear and decisive as that moment.  But God has continued to work miracles through my family and blessed us even while I have drug my feet on finishing this work day after day.  I will give you some of the highlights of my testimony.

                There was the young lady who transferred from customer service to produce for a better schedule and the day when we had two call outs that forced us back in the production area cutting fruit after working a five pallet produce truck.  She was rooted in a Christian upbringing, and we got on a discussion of Jesus, faith, and the Gospel.  She made the comment that for every job she had ever had, she always found one person that was strong in the Christian faith.  I was that person for her at this store.  I stopped our conversation there and proposed the question that perhaps that was the problem in America.  For every location and job this young lady had, she was only able to find ONE person that shared the same level of faith as her.  Just one.  It should be the other way around.  We should live in a nation where there is only one person that does not believe in God.  But more and more, America is quickly losing faith. 

                Next came the arrival of our son.  I did not think that having a second child was the best idea, or the wisest choice for our family.  We were in the best point of our life financially and were not yet financially free, but making steps in that direction.  But my wife wanted another child, and she wanted the experience I got with my daughter, being able to stay home with the next child at least a year.  We knew we could do it on my current salary, it would be tight, but possible.  And then my daughter got on board and desperately wanted to be a big sister.  So we told her to start praying to God for a little brother or sister, and hearing her say those sweet prayers was all it took for me to give in to the thought of having another child.  But I thought it would be a challenge to love another child as much as I did Sierra, because that girl had my whole heart.

                Secretly, our daughter was hoping for a sister, but God knew exactly what we needed.  He blessed our family with the funniest little guy we had ever met.  And the day Sawyer was born, God blessed my wife and I with the chance to relive the birth of Sierra one more time.

                Time is the ultimate tragedy in this life we live.  My time with my daughter, even though I had more time than most fathers to spend with my baby girl, it came and went in the literal blink of an eye.  The most precious moments became distant memories.  But the day when Sawyer was born, he was a spitting image of Sierra when she was born.  They could have been twins.  Five years apart and the resemblance was stunning.  Grandparents, cousins, second cousins, friends near and far were amazed at the similarities of the two.  We posted pictures of the two, side-by-side, each just a day old and they looked so much alike.

                For me though, for that first night, when I was holding Sawyer for the first time, I could not help but feel like I was holding Sierra again for the first time.  I was overwhelmed with deja-vu and nostalgia and I wept like a baby because I realized that this moment was another gift from God, one I did not deserve to get, but one given to me any way.  Since that first day, as Sawyer has grown from baby to toddler, there have been many times where he and his sister looked one and the same.  My son is all the proof I need of God’s existence.  As anyone’s children should be.  He and my daughter are pure miracles.  They are the living testimony of my faith and my belief in God and Jesus.  They are also my greatest responsibility, because God has entrusted my wife and I to raise these two miracles to know, I mean to really KNOW God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  And we are doing that.  We are running with our children to the open arms of Jesus Christ.  And maybe, just maybe, that alone is why God continues to bless us.

                I love my children.  I look at them every day and see two miracles God has gifted us with.  And of course, the magical miracle of my wife and I’s relationship that led us to supply the ingredients for God to make us two beautiful, perfect children.  But they are God’s children first, and ours second.  Everyday we get to spend with them on Earth is a blessing, but we are all looking forward to eternity.  I know I want nothing short of eternity to spend with my family.  Just like I have said with my daughter, no time on this Earth will ever be enough time with my family.

                It breaks my heart that there are fathers who do not know their children.  To me it seems unconceivable.  Even if the child is created from a random fling, or a one-night stand, that child is still a beautiful creation of God’s glory.  This goes back to the whole accountability aspect mentioned earlier.  I could never not love a child of my seed with anything less than my entire heart.  If all men did the same, a lot of the disciplinary issues that run rampant through America might be remedied.  And if all children knew what real fatherly love felt like, than maybe, just maybe, they would finally understand how much our Heavenly Father loves all of His creations and all of His children.

                This brings me to the final part of my story.  The completion of this book.  I could not do it alone.  Two months after Sawyer was born I was promoted to department manager, and the forty thousand dollar a year pay cut our family was taking so my wife could stay at home turned into just a twenty thousand dollar cut.  Still a lot of money to be missing, but much more income than we had planned when we decided to have our second, and last, child.  Taking the promotion sent me to a store where I had several encounters pushed my way by God.  From the stranger who came in and prayed for me and taught me how to pray over others, to the woman strung out on drugs who when she attempted to steal a purse full of food who I was able to do the right thing for:  pay for the food she needed and send her on her way with a prayer, a bag of food and contacts for free drug rehabilitation.  I would see her again in a few months, not tweeking and dancing in the lobby as I had the first time, but still not clean.  But I did the right thing.  We tried to do the right thing many times at that store.  But that store demanded many hours of my time as I tried everything I had to in order to better position myself for promotion to the next level.  It would not come soon enough so God provided another way.  Or, perhaps, this was always the way and I was just travelling the road to get there.

                But before I get to that, I need to tell you the story I referenced earlier, when I spoke of the two times I have heard a whispering voice.  This one turned into a roar.  I was heading home from work listening to the popular contemporary Christian radio station and the DJs were discussing a story similar to the Prodigal Son.  Someone had spent a significant time in sin, committing serious crimes, and spending time in jail.  This man’s own testimony spoke of how he found Jesus while in jail and was amazed that the same grace was available to him after all the years he spent ignoring Jesus and doing his own selfish thing.  I had always had a hard time with this.  To believe that the same opportunities were available to say a person who does horrible sins, even ones as bad as murder, could be given the same grace as a man who spends his whole life walking with Jesus.  Just like the brother of the Prodigal Son who can’t believe that his father gave his sinful brother such a warm welcome when he returned to the family.  So I heard this testimony on the radio and my heart was filled with anger.  I could not accept that this criminal could just be forgiven and offered a second chance when he made these decisions as an adult.  I was in the same mindset when I parked my car at my h

ome and walked inside my house, saying in my heart that this man did not deserve the grace of God.  He had chosen to break laws, chosen to walk in evil, chosen to hurt others.  And that’s when God abruptly interrupted me.  The words “It Doesn’t Matter” echoed in my mind.  It was the same voice I had heard at Myakka State Park.  The same voice that told me to write this book, said it didn’t matter.  That thought rocked me, and for the first time I fully understood the story of the Prodigal Son.  For too long I focused on the sins of the other brother, and thinking it was not fair for the brother who lived a “obedient” life.  It did not matter for two reasons.  First, we will all face judgement at the end of our life.  Sure, the one who lives a “good” life walks before Jesus with little fear of reprisal.  But the sinner who overcomes the grip of Satan and the world and still comes before Jesus full of faith is a much greater victory for God and Heaven.  Second, my judgement of the sinner does not matter, only Jesus’s.  And when a sinner comes to know Jesus, to truly, truly know Jesus, that person will know the depth of their sin and the power of grace more than I may ever know.  And they will live a life steeped in passion and sharing grace to others to show the same love that Jesus has shown them.  Perhaps their testimony will be even greater than mine.  No matter, every testimony is worth sharing.  Now I will finish mine.

                The last major miracle we have seen in our story came from the wilderness again, well the closest form of wilderness in Palmetto, Florida.  I say “major” because God is still performing miracles as I rush to finish this work and get it out for hopefully the world to see.  The abundance of good that God is pouring out to us in this season is endless.  All because we have put all our focus on Him.  But back to this “major” miracle.

                My wife was helping chaperone a field trip to a beautiful park on the north side of the mouth of the Manatee River where it flows into the south end of  Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.  I had attended the field trip the year before when my daughter was in the first grade, now in second grade, her school was taking another group of kids to Emerson Point.  It was a fun field trip.  I was glad my wife and daughter would be able to spend the day together.  But since it was at a public park, I saw no reason why my son and I couldn’t explore the area while my wife chaperoned.  And this year, they had asked the parents to provide their own transportation if possible since the buses would be full.  So I drove my family to Emerson and my wife went to meet my daughter’s class.  Sawyer and I went for a run.

                We would end up ditching the stroller on the water’s edge and walking along the beach as far as we could until we found a magical end to one of the main trails that ran into a wall of mangroves. It was beautiful.  The sun reflected in a dazzling brilliance off the water that inched through the mangroves with the high tide.  I took a picture of the scene.  I prayed to God in that moment.  I thanked Him for my life, my son who was in my arms, my daughter and wife.  And I asked for guidance and help finishing this book.  He gave me a way within the hour.

                My son had fallen asleep and I ran to the top of the observation tower alone at the center of the park.  While up there I got a text from one of my old teammates from the Long Range Surveillance unit.  When our unit was deactivated, we were all sent around the state of Georgia.  Mostly everyone went to the main Infantry Battalion in the state.  I was promoted to a unit based out of Fort Stewart.  Even that alone seemed to be the work of God.  Drilling with that unit put me within a thirty minute drive of Savannah.  During the longer ATs when we had evenings off I would often make a run to Savannah and I felt the calling of that city on my soul.

                On top of that tower, my old teammate sent me a text out of nowhere asking how I was doing, where I was at.  This was November 1 of last year.  He had just been pulled from the process of applying for Special Forces to be put on the upcoming Afghanistan deployment for the Georgia Guard.  The deployment was something that was already weighing heavily on my heart.  All my LRS brothers seemed to be going on the deployment, and I was the only one not in a unit assigned to go.  After texting that day and finding out that we would both be at Fort Stewart at the same time a week later in November, we agreed to meet for dinner.  It was at that dinner that I talked more in depth with that young man, and when we went our separate ways I knew what I had to do.  There was no way I could let my brothers go to war and not be there with them.  So I talked to my wife about it.  She knew I desperately wanted a deployment under my belt.  And we both felt like it was God again.  Also, this provided us a way to return to Savannah, a calling my wife and I could ignore no longer.

                While we did not accomplish everything we had hoped to in moving back to Florida, which had been to bring my sister and her family to know God, to help get my mom out of the house and back to a somewhat normal life, and for my wife to be a positive influence on her family, we no longer could stay in a town we did not love like we did Savannah.  Once again, God provided us with a place to rent, and again it was the very last stop on our quest.  I was granted the ability to join the deployment at the very last moment.  We moved in one week into an absolutely beautiful community we are now hoping to one day own property in.  The condo is finally about to be sold.  I wrote most of this from Afghanistan and God placed me in a platoon with a relatively simple mission set, protect the Special Forces here on our camp and provide support on any missions as Attached Infantry “Uplift.”  It is here, thousands of miles away from home that I was finally able to finish this project.  And be pulled even closer to God.  My Platoon Leader here started a Bible Study.  By the third week he was allowing me to lead discussions.  I loved every Sunday and every Sunday our Bible Study grew bigger and bigger.  We have had eye opening discussions about the Bible and I have had my mind opened to different ways of reading and understanding stories I thought I knew the deeper meaning to, only to have a new perspective shine light from a different angle to illuminate the truth like never before.  Now I feel a calling to take my faith, testimony, and love for God and Jesus to a whole other level.  Perhaps leading a Bible study when I get back to the states is in my future.  Perhaps starting my own church.  But before any of that, we’ve got to save the world in 2020.

                We also faced an unforeseen tragedy while on deployment.  Afghanistan was my first assignment as a fire team leader in an infantry platoon.  God put me in the path of a young man who I was unable to save.  But he was a young man I had no idea was in need of saving.  Until it was too late.

                This 22 year-old young man had come from a troubled past.  He was part of the Georgia Youth Academy during high school due to disciplinary issues.  He was a member of the Atlanta CRIPS.  He had suffered a period of deep depression when one of his close buddies had committed suicide.  He moved to Dallas and began to sell drugs for a living.  But after doing that for a year, he had decided to turn his life around.  I became his team leader three months into the deployment.  I realized he was going to be a challenge to lead, but when I showed him respect and treated him like a man, he quickly became my most dependable soldier.  He was becoming a Buddhist and this intrigued me because I knew very little about the Buddhist faith.  We spent a lot of time talking about Buddhism, the different realms, the belief of rebirth, karma, nirvana, and the greater purpose of living to Buddhists.  He struggled with a lot of the more passive and peaceful ways of living, which he openly admitted, but spoke that he was doing his best to become a greater Buddhist.  We also had deep conversations about Christianity and how the Christians in America offered no true representation of what being a Christian was all about and how America turns more people away from Christianity than they attract.  Because of the conversations I had with this young man, I was determined to write this book.  And I thought, before the deployment was over, I’d work at converting him to Christianity, once he saw what a true Christian looked like.  I never got that chance.  He walked up to his tower shift one beautiful Monday morning, talked to me briefly as I checked him in while I was the Sergeant of the Guard (SOG); he talked to the guard on the tower that he was relieving; and even talked to his best friend who came up two hours into his four hour shift to clean the tower.  None of us had any inkling that this young man was plagued by some hidden demons.

                At 11 AM on May 6, my team member failed to respond to the hourly radio check.  I was in my room when I heard the SOG radio check him, then ask the next tower to try to reach him.  I heard the SOG leave our TOC.  Next I heard shouting for the medic and the highest ranking official to tower 7.  That was my soldier.  I grabbed my weapon and ran after the medic.  We were all too late.  He had put his M4 in his mouth and pulled the trigger.  I lost my first soldier, and the first person I had ever known closely, to suicide.  Once we had moved his body from the tower I stayed on to guard the tower into the afternoon as we waited for CID (Criminal Investigation Division).  Our Platoon Leader took it as hard as I did because we both felt the sting of losing one of our soldiers.  He came and sat with me and I spoke what was on my mind.

                I told my PL, “the devil won today.”

                He immediately responded with, “No, the devil never wins.”

                I was not in the mood to argue that on such a solemn day.  But, in my mind, the devil did win.  I do not know how God and Jesus receive those who take their lives for those who are Jewish or Christian.  But Jesus specifically teaches that the only way to the Father is through Him and our belief in Jesus as the Son of God.  I know that this man did not believe in Jesus as the Son of God and followed Buddhism, so because of that, the devil indeed won.  The devil will not win in the end, but I see more and more that the devil keeps winning small battles and we are letting that happen as a society.  For all the reasons I have mentioned in this work, the devil keeps winning.  And in the end, if we do not change the face and course of America, the devil will win more and more souls before the return of Jesus.  We can tip the scale back in our favor, but when most Americans DO NOT EVEN BELIEVE IN GOD, that is exactly what the devil wants.  So, yes, the devil wins.  It’s up to us to stand up to the devil and allow Jesus to win over our heart, mind, and soul.

                Defeating the devil is simple:  all you have to do is love God and love others.  God wants us to live an abundant and wonderful life.  We can thrive and enjoy the world we have built, but we have to put in some work to help bring the balance of suffering and

                That’s my testimony.  I am sure I left out a lot of moments of glory and grace.  But I included the many moments in my life where I saw that “it’s God.”  My testimony may not be worthy of Hollywood lights, but it is an every day man’s life and example of the everyday miracles God still makes.  And my story is not the last.  It will serve as the first.  And from this project we will publish every testimony sent our way.  From blogs and the website of this project, we will highlight every testimony, every personal story, big and small.