Redeemed to Reality

Written By Richard Drebert

©Good Catch Publishing

“Are you in?”

Gunny spoke with the finesse of an experienced doper tamping a hash pipe with Bangkok’s best. Where I stood, rolling, pitching steel walled me in — beneath me, around me and towering above me, cold and black except for one view naked to the horizon. No secret Pacific Fleet radio dispatch had ever churned up such dread in my soul as I ingested his words, and I groped for a reply as I stared over the waist-high railing at the sickening sea swells. Shattered moonlight danced on the destroyer’s wake and seemed to mock my dilemma.

I was a Navy seaman, a radioman, and former high school linebacker, but only 5’6” tall. My fleshy inquisitor carried much greater heft than me. Even more chilling was that the gunner’s mate reeked of a demented force born of living on borrowed time — Viet Cong had shot to shreds two PBRs (Patrol Boats, River) leaving Gunny wallowing through rice paddies with the leeches and eels not once but twice as a sole survivor — and fate still toyed with dour, deranged Gunny. Misguided commanders had transferred him to safer duty aboard our Navy destroyer.

Our gunner’s mate carried sundry keys entrusted by the ship’s captain for opening storerooms and ammo lockers where explosives were cached; with the help of a bosun’s mate, Gunny had stolen the schematics of our destroyer. Now he fathomed in detail the ship’s vulnerabilities.

I shivered in a taunting breeze that fingered the collar of my thin shirt and I mulled an escape back to the radio shack. A ghastly scene of what would come if I was in with Gunny welded me fast to the deck.

His scheme played in my mind: Wounded officers cried like children, after our charges exploded below the bridge; the ship listed to an ungainly slant and sirens wailed, wailed and then gurgled to silence. Bunks dumped stunned seamen onto the destroyer’s deck; panicked sailors scrabbled against iron doors as oily seawater roiled about their necks. We had locked the hatches from the outside.

Our black powder charges had ruptured the paunch of the destroyer, and a ragged, gaping maw spewed a few mangled sailors while gentle waves lapped against our lifeboat a safe distance away. My dope-numbed comrades and I watched as the ship heeled over. Ocean lips slathered with scalding oil and flames closed over the captain, officers and crewmen — along with all evidence of the plot.

“You been in on this from the get-go, and I got one question: Are you with us or against us?” His lighter clinked and a jaundiced glow lit up a sneer.

If I cracked Gunny hard on the jaw, I might stun him long enough to reach the safety of the radio shack, or I might find myself glancing off the side of the iron railing into the sea and becoming bait for sharks.

“Hey, man, I… I need a little time to think.”

The stench from Gunny’s coffin nail stole my breath, and I winced — he was probing my resolve. “You do that.” His dark eye sockets followed me as I swept past him to the safety of my duty station.

I operated my teletype with shaky fingers and cranked the swivel chair around to watch the door. I needed to smoke — opium sounded great about now — and my mind stumbled to my dope hidey-hole, up an iron ladder to 01 deck above the radio shack among empty five-inch shell casings. Relief was so close. My shift would end soon.

Gunny was serious. I had only toyed with the diabolical plot to rob the ship’s safe and sink our destroyer, and now, I was likely a dead man if I refused to take part in the conspiracy. My mother and father would be so ashamed if they knew the company I kept.

***

“Itsy-bitsy, teeny-weenie, yellow polka-dot bikini…!” Dad’s tanker truck rumbled down the narrow corridor splitting Washington State wheat fields as we crooned, windows open to the pungent aromas of grain and hot blacktop.

“Can I?”

Dad glanced in the rearview mirror at the straight vacant ribbon, then at my beaming 10-year-old face. “Yeah, go ahead.” I grabbed the air horn rope and blared a cadence to our memorized verses, serenading jackrabbits, coyotes and rattlesnakes. Dad had snuck me to work again — riders in company trucks were against the rules, even on this route to a solitary Chevron station to deliver gasoline.

In the kidney-jolting truck cab, we were men together, and though I had little aptitude for mechanics or construction like him, I loved his music. At home, he played guitar and sang the old songs like “Star Dust,” “Sweet Georgia Brown” and a host of other 40s and 50s favorites.

Mom was the glue that held us together — Dad, my brother, sister and me — and when Dad was on the road trucking, levelheaded Mom saw to the details of our lives. When Dad came home, occasionally the Adams family attended a Church of Christ where, along with sacraments, I absorbed the notion that religion was for other people, not for men like Dad and me. My years of BB guns and Boy Scouts ended when we moved from Washington to Eugene, Oregon, which was a horrid experience for a lonely freshman.

I felt lost in the sea of maladjusted students wandering the halls of my new school in Eugene, and a sense of deep rejection spoiled my plans. I had left all that was familiar behind, but I soon found a new friend. My new buddy — mostly goalless on the scoreboard of life — introduced me to a secret stash of perversions, and pornography set its teeth in the edge of my soul, waiting for a better grip.

In high school, my pubescent mind and body suddenly aligned, and I excelled in athletics. Football became my new passion. As an all-star linebacker, I gained respect because I hit hard, forcing opponents to pay with pain when they attempted to cross the scrimmage line. Off-season, I gyrated and vaulted high as a “Yell King” to the roar of crowds, and I sharpened my talent in music as a saxophone player. By the end of my junior year in school, I had college dreams, and I thought I was in love.

I reveled in my “American Graffiti” lifestyle — the high school sports jock with a popular girl on his arm — until the celluloid snapped. I was 17, and so was Sherry.

***

“Dad, I got a problem. I need to talk to you.”

He wore his “what problem can a kid like you possibly have?” smirk. Then I enlightened him, and his face went as gray as an Oregon winter.

“How? Jim, this kind of thing can ruin your life.”

It suddenly dawned on me that Dad had plans for me — to surpass him, to exceed his own talents and to perhaps fend off demons that had trapped him in dependency on alcohol. In his deep blue eyes, I saw it — I had failed him.

“There… there are doctors who can take care of this kind of thing.”

But I knew Sherry wouldn’t consider it. She would have this baby, and we would marry. I would take responsibility; this disaster belonged to me.

In days, we drove north to Washington State where youngsters could marry without a waiting period. I rode with Mom and Dad, Sherry rode with her parents, and we mumbled vows to satisfy everyone. I moved into Sherry’s bedroom at her parents’ home.

Our lives changed at school, more so for Sherry. The school expelled her but provided a home tutor. The stigma wounded her and infuriated me. I would be allowed to finish school and take part in the graduation ceremony but not pregnant Sherry. The school had its standards to uphold.

After graduating, my daughter Jeannie was born. That summer, I worked nights at a plywood mill while we prepared to move to Eastern Oregon to attend college. The football coach there had aroused my desire to play again, but men nearly twice my size drove my face into the college turf — the game suddenly wasn’t fun anymore. I worked as a school janitor to make ends meet and finally changed to a college closer to family to makeSherry happy, but disappointment at the loss of youthful freedom was eating at Sherry’s heart.

I ended my college stint, and soon, Sherry divorced me. Swamped with depression at night, I felt like hulking linemen stood above me, deriding my carefully honed self-respect. My pride had shattered like bone, tore like sinew. I was 20 years old, divorced, a college dropout and alone. I drifted into the Eugene party scene where a friendly bunch of party animals embraced me. Carousing dominated my nights, crowding out my father’s work ethic, and the insatiable need for sexual conquest fastened grinning iron jaws deeper on my soul.

***

 

At least I won’t be dodging bullets from the Viet Cong.

In 1969, the newspapers spread tales of killings in villages where children tossed grenades at the American soldiers; in Vietnam, allies and murderous peasants wore the same clothes. Several of my party buddies had been drafted, and it was only a matter of time before my number was pulled for military service. I figured it was better to enlist and have a choice in my branch of service while I still could, so I joined the Navy. I reasoned that aboard a ship, I would eat well, sleep indoors and wait for my tour of duty to end, and at least I would know who my friends were.

As soon as I expressed interest in electronics, the Navy threw me into radio school to learn how to decode and relay top-secret orders from the CIA or CINCPAC (Commander in Chief, Pacific) to destroyer captains. During my brush with academia in college, I had learned to focus to achieve good grades, and in Navy school, I excelled in communications while other cravings enhanced my off-duty pursuits: drugs, pornography, beer and carousing. At ports of call like Waikiki, Subic Bay and Bangkok, after-hours clubs and drug pits opened wide to sailors and their US dollars, and I swaggered inside.

Shipmates invited me into their unofficial “Navy haters club” where odious qualities gained me instant membership: revulsion to authority and my growing love of debauchery. Nothing staunched a hemorrhaging of my self-worth as I dove headfirst into the domain of demonsLSD, opium, hashish, pot and heroin. Globetrotting men of the sea knew where to find drugs cheap and plentiful, and I joined them in using wartime military shipping lanes to transport it.

An entertaining pastime devolved with my descent to depravity. I found joy in disemboweling the faith of anyone who believed in God. To leave a Bible-thumping novice writhing in a pool of doubt delighted me. I was gifted with a razor-sharp wit and thrived on bloody intellectual duels.

Reality wafted in and out of my life like the biting scent of hash on a drifting breeze. I despised the real world where my officers, my captain and the destroyer existed. Like my dope-addled comrades, expressing my abhorrence for authority with mere words wore thin as a threadbare sea bag, and I searched for a medium to vent my mutinous rage.

It began as an idea while contemplating a trip to Australia for R&R — a synchronic blaze of thought among five of us imbibing on pot and hash fumes on the 01 deck above the radio shack. “We ought to sink the d*** ship.”

Even in my wooly-minded haze, the twisted proposition came alive. I glanced around, meeting other savage, dilated eyes in our circle. “How could we do it?”

Acrid clouds of various controlled substances wafted about ship schematics as five of us cobbled together our plot to rifle the captain’s safe, then kill everyone aboard the USS Mariner. While the ship lay at the bottom of the deep, a friendly ocean current would carry us conspirators to Australia where we would live free and easy. Our intense role-playing game sure beat poker. But in a couple of weeks, most of us lost interest in the mock conspiracy — until the night Gunny accosted me.

After a sleepless night, I uneasily climbed the ladder to the 01 deck and suddenly stood shoulder deep in guffaws.

“You should have seen his face! He thought I was serious, man! I tell you, Adams was ready to throw himself overboard he was so scared.”

Relief and anger combusted in my head — I had been duped?

I took my hat off to Gunny. Among us pathological, drug-using sailors, he was our new master of mind games, but not for long. Now it was my turn.

That night, I targeted one of my co-conspirators and fed him the same bilge, gloating at the dread in his eyes as I sneered with perfect sincerity: “Are you in?

Now I was having fun.

Near Miss

In a hashish-induced stupor, I slouched on a cot, staring at the dank cave walls. Hundreds of underground forts honeycombed Yokosuka, caves dug deep for a last stand when the American invaders landed, but two American A-bombs had stripped the Japanese military of its prowess. Now the bunkers penetrating hills behind our barracks stood as ghostly reminders, and for us accused “conspirators,” some became handy, solitary places to hide from reality.

I inhaled hard on my hash pipe, hoping to dilute an ever-present regret gnawing inside me. At Subic Bay, Navy Intelligence had boarded our destroyer. I had been on duty when given orders to radio secret findings to the CIA and the FBI.

“We have discovered several pounds of pot, opium and hashish aboard USS Mariner and uncovered possible plot to sabotage (SINK) the ship.”
I slumped in the radio room, shaking in a cold sweat.

Our “conspiracy” wasn’t real! All we had killed was boredom! I would never knife fellow sailors on night watch or murder all the officers on the bridge or lock the hatches on drowning seamen. I wouldn’t sink a US Navy destroyer! And how did the authorities find out about our warped “Theater of the Absurd” anyway?

As we sailed to Japan, interrogations and gossip rocked the ship. A dope-smoking kid had broken ranks and confessed to toking while on duty. He told the captain about a Bangkok drug ring using the USS Mariner to transport narcotics, then pointed out drug caches. Suddenly, agents and Navy narcs multiplied on catwalks with drug-sniffing dogs. And along with drugs, they discovered a journal concealed in a footlocker, detailing a mutinous plot to murder the crew, rob the ship’s safe and sink the destroyer.

Who would be stupid enough to document our macabre scheme in a journal? It was a “mock” conspiracy, wasn’t it?

As the weeks labored by, I surmised that there might be intrigue that escaped my notice — perhaps a real plot to sink the USS Mariner. And who would the ringleader be?

One day, an MP rousted me from my bunk in the detention barracks. An officer in dress whites with bushy eyebrows and steel-gray eyes drew a bead on me as I flopped to a chair in his office.

“We don’t have enough evidence against you to take you to trial, Adams, but I sincerely want to.” His lip curled unconsciously. “Instead, we’ll bust you and send you to the most godforsaken place on the planet with the worst duty we can cook up for you, and every sailor you work with will know you conspired to murder the crew of a Navy destroyer.”

In the space of a few seconds, I contemplated watching my back day and night for the next two years and shook my head gravely. “Sir, I’m not Navy material. I’ll cooperate; I want out.”

He tossed a document across the glass tabletop. “Sign this. It states that you used drugs, and you’re gone, you piece of…”

I read it and easily penned my confession: “I admit to experimenting with marijuana, on one occasion, signed James Adams, E-3 Seaman.” I was free. Gunny wasn’t so lucky — he did time in a military prison.

Alternate Realities

After my discharge, I visited a girlfriend in San Diego before my cross-country odyssey with a loaf of bread and peanut butter for roadside picnics between stops at hippie communes. Hatred for all authority incubated in my soul — the same hostility that nearly landed me in prison. My hair grew shaggy, and I sought out friends of like mind, without ambition except to score LSD and pot. Whenever I awakened between acid trips, I despised and avoided reality and its demands.

With biker friends in Hutchinson, Kansas, my appendix ruptured. After a jouncing ride to the emergency room straddling a friend’s chopper, doctors cut open a gangrenous mass when they operated. At the commune, I had been hallucinating about flying saucers and tiny aliens crawling on my head when I asked for a lift to see a doctor. After nearly 12 days in the hospital, I traded my patient’s gown for old coveralls and caught a ride to the airport. Mom and Dad had mailed me a ticket to fly home to Eugene.

Twice in the space of a year, my future had been salvaged from hard time in military prison and now from death. My ironclad conviction (that I existed alone in the universe) extinguished any thanksgiving that might have kindled reflection about a God who loved me. No, what I needed was a joint.

I convalesced at my parents’ home for two months, until my dad insulted me over my lack of zeal in securing a job. I rented a travel trailer behind the house of an elderly couple and foraged for drug sources so that I could finance my habit, and to my mother’s sorrow, I rediscovered my little brother Tom. He was a different person than I remembered as a kid — as men of the world, we tore up the town.

Tom never over analyzed life, he just lived it hard. I sometimes sold drugs to other dopers and schemed to defraud the state of food stamps and unemployment insurance, while Tom managed to hold a job in spite of all the alcohol and pot. Weeks might go by until we happily connected at a Eugene party house to play pinball or carouse together, and serious jail time dogged our steps. We didn’t dare slow down.

***

I “died” in the mud one day at a hippie family’s farm, while Don McLean sang my absurd requiem: “Bye, bye, Miss American Pie, this’ll be the day that I die…” Tripping on acid, I sprawled face down in the shade of the farmhouse, yanking distorted meanings at hyper speed from the song as I moldered into the earth. I became part of terrestrial elements as I embraced death, then arose trance-like to float up the rickety stairs and onto the old screened-in porch, through the creaky-floored kitchen and into the baby’s room. I leaned above the toddler in her crib, mud dripping from my stringy hair onto the pink blankets, straining to grasp the essence of life: innocence, goodness, love. My murky thoughts whirled.

“Jim!” A woman’s scream pierced my distorted musings, and a figure shouldered past my ethereal frame. The baby was quickly snatched away by the worried mother. My friends demanded that I leave the farm immediately.

These days, shamanism captivated me as I experimented with mescaline, LSD and other hallucinogens, and each trip loosened some of the real world from its moorings inside my head. I discovered author Carlos Castaneda, who embraced teachings of Don Juan Matus, a Yaqui Indian sorcerer, and their spiritual quests became my own. I leaped into occult realms — accepting that a universal force caused all life to live and die. I believed that drug “cocktails” opened thresholds to alternative realities to reach true understanding. I swam the universe in a supernatural body and visited with demons, believing that I gained higher plateaus of knowledge on each trip.

But during my sober moments, my mirror told the truth. I saw an empty shell, dulled in mind to the beauty of life and fulfillment. At these times, I yearned to see my little brother — he had his own problems, but his pragmatism anchored me.

“You don’t look so good, Jim.”

The two of us were at the same party house, and I was rolling up some excellent dope.

I changed the subject. “This is quality, Tom.”

“Jim.”His serious tone unnerved me; I coughed and scattered marijuana flakes on the table, cursing under my breath.

“I don’t do that stuff anymore.”

“What are you talkin’ about? This is free weed, man.”

“I’m a Christian now. I can’t do drugs anymore.”

I wasn’t in the mood to hear more — at least until I lit up my doobie. And as he spoke, I held the poison in my lungs a long time, smoothing out the jagged edges of his words as they cut my heart. “Jesus has really saved me, Jim.”

After partying hard a couple nights, I sat on a friend’s couch alone, trying to piece together Tom’s experience.

While hitchhiking, he had stayed with a family who told him about Jesus. At a performance of the pop musical Jesus Christ Superstar, Tom realized he was living a corrupt life and couldn’t change. At someone’s funeral, he heard that Jesus could transform his life, and at his apartment on his knees, Tom decided to follow Christ who took control and changed him. It all sounded like a bad trip to me.

But my little brother wouldn’t leave me alone.

“Hey, I’m starting up a firewood business. I need money for Bible school, Jim. You wanna’ team up with me?”

I played along, hoping his pipe dream would soon go up in smoke, but for weeks at dawn, Tom rousted me from bed and wedged me in his wonky truck between axes and coats. On dewy mornings in the fog, I hankered for the screech of chainsaws so I couldn’t hear him talk — somehow, Tom thought that his Jesus was important to me.

I cringed when his “God-talk” started affecting my drug adventures. On one mescaline trip, truth erupted through the substrata of my mind, and I embraced a light being, whom I believed was Jesus. I made the mistake of telling my drug friends about the experience, and they relentlessly taunted me about being a “Jesus freak.” I was mortified; even inside my alternate realities I could not escape Tom’s Jesus.

That fall, Tom drove off to San Jose Bible College, and I felt relieved, but something weird was happening. Tom’s words about his relationship with God echoed inside my head: “This isn’t religion, Jim, this is reality.”

I fancied myself an eccentric intellectual icon that my own parents would cross the street to avoid. My uncut hair flowed over my shoulders, and a bushy, unkempt beard expressed contempt for society. My glassy, wild eyes stared through wire-rimmed glasses, and I wore tattered hillbilly coveralls. I lived wherever the sex and rent was free, and my associates included dope heads, psychopaths and armchair philosophers.

But my mind was slipping like a faulty transmission; from a rock-hard atheist, I was morphing into the image I detested — a seeker! The whole of my existence — past, present and future — floated formless, without meaning. For the first time, I needed to clarify my purpose for getting up in the morning without the boost of a sorcerer’s concoction, and this fresh need weighted my soul like a stack of dumbbells.

I blamed Tom for losing my friends. They said I just wasn’t fun at parties anymore. I tumbled into depression about my life as I pored over The Late Great Planet Earth, a book that Tom sent money for me to buy. The author, Hal Lindsey, documented supernatural, prophetic fulfillments in the Bible, and for the first time, I heard a credible argument that the scripture was authored by God through men.

“You gotta’ read St. John, Jim. It’s in the New Testament side of the Bible. I’m telling you, man, it’ll change you.”

I was 24 years old when Tom came home in the summer with geeky friends, and I couldn’t grasp what my athletic, fun-loving brother saw in these two. Ed was a nerd, a kid that I would have bullied in high school; Dan was a boring missionary’s kid whose parents lived on a Navajo reservation.

One day at a table in the Chinese Noodle restaurant, Dan and Tom reasoned with me across mounds of fried rice. “Jim, we’re not talking about forcing yourself to believe something that isn’t true — Jesus is truth. This is real. Jesus is real.”

“How do you know anything is real?” I condescended. “How do I know that you are not a figment of my imagination and I made you up for my own entertainment?” Under the influence of spirits, I had traveled dimensions of reality these innocents could never grasp. “Maybe I’m just ‘consciousness’ sitting in a jar in someone’s laboratory, and none of what I see is real.”

Tom joked that he had a “physical” rebuttal in mind — his fist in my face to cause “real” pain.

During the summer, I spent hours with Tom and Dan — seldom showing a crack in my resolve against God — but neither young man shrank from my pugnacious debating. And in my soul, something like a real toothache vexed me: these boys enjoyed life without depending on pot to help them through the day. I was ashamed to meet my brother’s eyes; his were clear and bright, and mine were dilated and dead. It irritated me that my little brother might have stumbled onto the answer to life’s greatest question.

Winnowing Out Whimsies

I looked forward to crashing in a bed with clean sheets for a change. My dope buddy was in the hospital with broken legs and back injuries, and I gathered with other drug abusers at his house to smoke up a stash of quality Bangkok “stick” weed.

“You’re really a downer tonight, man,” someone chided, and I shrugged. It was true; the dope barely clouded my depressing ruminations.

When everyone left, I snooped around the house, wandering like a puppy looking for his food dish. My friend’s bed was tucked military tight in a neat, clean room. He worked for his father, and the house was nestled in an upper class neighborhood. A book with the picture of Jesus and laughing children lay on a nightstand, and I was shocked to think that my chum might be reading this Jesus stuff. Women and weak-kneed pansies believed in Jesus, didn’t they? I fingered the little Bible and unzipped it, remembering that Tom had said to read St. John.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Even on drugs I got it — Jesus was the Creator. Jesus was God.

John the beloved held me in a headlock for a few precious moments of clear-headed lucidity — the depth of his knowledge floored me! I had some familiarity with writers considered wise by my generation, but this man soared above their reach. John told the story of Tom’s historical Jesus, and a voice spoke distinctly through the words in the Bible to my heart. I felt stupid for barricading this comforting voice out of my life.

As the light of spiritual insight flickered out, my stomach felt sick. A familiar cannabis curtain numbed me, and the words in the Bible seemed to scramble off the pages. I wandered into the living room, dejected, but the voice hadn’t deserted me. Jesus suddenly perforated the baggie insulating my senses and spoke again. Look what you’ve done to your mind — look what you have done to yourself. You can’t even understand words anymore.

I mounted no defense. God was right; it was time for a change. “Okay, I’m not doing drugs anymore.”

I glanced out the picture window at the sidewalk where an attractive young woman jogged past. My mind, groomed since boyhood to fantasize, slid into muck until the voice strafed me. Jim, that’s a person. I created that woman. You’ve treated women like trash. You’ve hurt so many.

Accusing faces played across my mind, and my heart shattered like china. Weeping, I told God with all sincerity, “I… I’m not doing that anymore, Lord.”

That day, I took baby steps toward true and complete repentance — a godly sorrow for my selfish life — and I called Tom. My words cold cocked him.

“I just want you to know, Tom. I believe what you’ve been saying about God. It’s all true. Tom?”

He composed himself. “I… I’m glad.” There was a long silence, then, “Wow.”

“So, what church do you choose for your longhaired, barefoot, eccentric brother in coveralls?” Tom knew I needed to get solid Bible teaching, and only one fellowship in town would likely tolerate me, a church that many Christians in Eugene shunned. Faith Center had been branded “Space Center.” Hundreds of gonzo “Jesus freaks” popped out of Space Center like gumballs. Jesus people preached on street corners, accosted mall shoppers with monster grins and tracts and bellied up at seedy biker bars with Bibles. In mainstream churches, religious propriety forbade such associations and behavior. I immediately felt right at home at Space Center.

And their music rocked! All around me, hippie exiles scored healing “highs” as God’s spirit touched them. They lifted their hands to the words “praise the name of Jesus, he’s my rock” and it stunned me that the “suits” in the congregation accepted me, too. Everyone seemed to be touching the person whose voice pierced my soul at my friend’s picture window, and I reached out.

“I… I can’t leave, man.” The service had ended. Dan and Tom gathered up Bibles, but a cosmic palm pressed on my chest. For an hour, my mind had been winnowing through stale concepts, and now all that remained was raw knowing. I accepted that this “Jesus religion” was real, but I needed more than a new diversion in my life. I needed immersion. Jim Adams required a total rebirth of spirit. At my seat between Dan and Tom, the banter in the church foyer melted away, and I was alone with God.

“I have nothing to live for, Jesus, except you. I know I am a miserable, lost man. My whole life is s***.” Hot tears streamed down my cheeks. “Jesus, I’ll follow you.”

This was no conjuring of mystical realties. I took the hand of Jesus, and he made me absolutely new. The great heaviness in my chest vaporized, and I felt like I could lift off my chair and grasp the crown of the high church ceiling. Inner peace eclipsed any experience I had ever known.

Landscape of Love

Weeks after I received Christ as my Savior, three Adams evangelists (Tom, my sister and I) led Mom and Dad to faith in Jesus, too. Tom completed his theological training and now serves as a pastor. I finished Bible college, too, but not without stirring up a ruckus. I insisted that Jesus was the same yesterday, today and forever and refused to adopt the school’s teaching that God’s supernatural signs and wonders had ceased after the last Apostle died. Well-meaning professors tried to debase my uncomplicated faith, but I knew Jesus. He had healed me and verifiably restored my drug-addled mind.

I am a walking, talking miracle — as real as a fist in the face! Since my college days, gut-wrenching experience in ministries has strengthened my trust in Christ, and I am proof that God’s word needs no cultural editing. I see people in my life (good and bad) as living markers in my odyssey — like buoys in an ocean passage — used by God to channel me. I seldom think of Gunny anymore, leaning into my face, murderous and conniving, and rarely do I recall that sneering officer in dress whites, dripping venomous hatred for the “traitor.” Most of my Navy memories are tainted bygone mists, yet even they have added character to God’s portrait of the redeemed Jim Adams.

My father has given me music, my mother a gracious stability and my brother and sister have rewarded me with loyalty. But it was Tom’s friend Dan who unwittingly pointed out vistas I never deserved to experience — a landscape of love that the ultimate artist created.

One day, at a student college assembly, Dan nodded to the row of girls behind us. “Oh, yeah,” he said offhandedly, “the one on the end is my sister.”

And the little hippie girl smiled.

***

I was a missionary mother and father’s worst nightmare. Sensible Lynn fell for an older divorced man who had an estranged child, a man whose reputation ran miles ahead, heralding an uncertain future. Saved? Probably, but only for a matter of months, before pursuing a serious relationship with their daughter. There was only one thing to do — ship Lynn off to another college closer to home in Colorado and away from the danger.

Funny how letters deepen romance between true hearts separated. I “composed” for her every day, and she responded in answer to my growing love. When I heard about her car wreck, I panicked, but her calm voice reassured me.

“No big deal. I have a little cut on my face and chipped front teeth — nothing to worry about.”

But I did worry. Showing up at her bedside would likely trouble her parents, but even if Lynn wasn’t hurt badly, I needed her to know that I was committed. Nurses at the Colorado hospital escorted me to her room, where my Lynn lay as pale as the fluffy bank of pillows beneath her head. Her swollen eyes were bloodshot, bright as the red roses I crushed against my chest, and stitches wove a painful track across the right side of her face. She had no front teeth.

My heart convulsed, and I barely spoke. Not a wisp of my devotion to Lynn weakened. In fact, I so wanted to hold her and take care of her, but I felt ham-handed as I handled our future. Our hopes seemed fragile as rice paper, and I prayed for God’s favor when I spoke to Lynn’s father and mother. We met but barely touched on Lynn and her accident.  They wanted to know about their daughter’s choice — me — a man whom their daughter trusted.

Lynn soon healed. Months later, she transferred back to San Jose Bible College, and we married with her parents’ blessing. Three decades and five children later, we know that God is still creating the exciting landscape we live in. For nearly 15 years, we’ve pastored for Jesus at a little church we call Cornerstone in Nampa, Idaho, an apt name for the spiritual groundwork he is completing in us and in our wonderful people. Each brother and sister we meet or care for becomes a marker pointing us deeper into God’s landscape of love.

Even when we wish that God might smooth the hills a little for an easier climb, we cling to Jesus who guides us. And on this journey, he offers fresh miracles every day, making each stride meaningful and every ache a reminder of the reality of his ultimate triumph.

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