Sunday, August 29, 2010

Reflections on being 63 on the outside and 19 on the inside

I just turned 63 which sounds awfully ancient to my ears, but my body is telling me it's true. I have no idea how I got to be so old because if it wasn't for all these aches and pains, I could believe it was just yesterday when I was 19 and could jump a 10-rail fence.

Well, maybe a one-rail fence. I never could jump very high or run very fast or do anything physical very well. But I was young once and really do still feel like I'm 19 on the inside. I've never really thought about why I've chosen 19 as my forever-young-inside age, until now.

That was the year I partied myself into flunking out of N.C. State University in Raleigh as a freshman. The Vietnam War was raging and the draft was under way, so in the spring of '67 when the grades came in, a flock of F's, one D and one I (for Idiot!) , I literally saw the writing on the wall. I walked from campus to downtown Raleigh to the Navy recruiter's office and signed my life away for four years.

I was gonna be a war photographer, like one of my heroes, Cornell Capa, except in uniform. But after boot camp I got sent to electronics school and learned how to be a gunnery fire control technician, whatever that was. I put it down as my first choice in boot camp because some idiot told me you never got your first choice. Photographer went down as second and that's how I became an FTG rating in the Navy.

And I discovered that what drew me to that Navy recruiter's office, instead of the Army, Marines or Air Force, was the call of the sea that was within me. I truly loved my four years in the Navy, serving on four small ships almost constantly at sea, three destroyers and a communications ship. Shore duty sucketh in the Navy, as the KJV says, but sea duty is great. I even enjoyed my 1969 tour off the coast of Vietnam during the summer of Woodstock on the USS Mullinnix, DD-944, lobbing 70 lb. shells at the enemy with my literal finger on the trigger.

Peace hell, war was what I was all about then. But I also discovered drugs in the Navy: marijuana, hashish, acid, LSD, uppers, downers, sideways, every which way but loose, I never met a drug I didn't like. So when I got out in 1971, I let my hair grow long and joined the hippie generation. But at least that attitude adjustment I got in Uncle Sam's service made me grow up more than four year's worth.

I got married in the fall of 1971 after I got out of the Navy and soon had two kids, a son and a daughter. Then in 1977, when I was 29, came the event that changed everything. I met Jesus. He found me. He wasn't lost but I was. The Lord saved me on Feb. 28, 1977, when one day I read about His plan of salvation and said to him out loud in my bedroom, "Well Lord, I've tried everything else. Why don't I try you?" The Lord heard me and took me at my word. I knew something happened that day but it took a while to realize exactly just what.

Now 33 years later, I'm still learning "just what" the Lord wants to teach me. And I've learned far more from my failures than I ever have from the few successes along the way. And I wouldn't change a thing, even if I could, which I can't. It's been a wonderful life, as Jimmy Stewart said, and I'm looking forward to about 30 more years or so of seeing what Jesus has in store for me here, until He comes again.

And then I'll spend eternity with him in that land where we'll never grow old. The older I get, the more I'm looking forward to that fair land.

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