Soul Patrol

Written By Richard Drebert

©Good Catch Publishing

The wailing fire engine sirens had infuriated the taxman, and by the time we parked our squad cars a block away, Mr. Gibson had barricaded himself inside his house. Foul language rolled out vents and eaves along with curls of black smoke.

A 911 operator had recorded frantic calls about the franchise board agent staggering around his front yard in his underwear, stomping out flames in sofa cushions and blankets. We stood on the lawn littered with smoldering furniture conferring with the fire chief.

“He won’t let us come inside to make sure the damn fire’s out!” The chief shook his head, frowning at the close proximity of other homes. “Neighbors say he’s drunk …”

What else is new?

It seemed like everyone I tried to rescue or arrest on my Carmichael beat was either high or inebriated. Our taxman sounded like a mean drunk, but we were sworn to protect him — even against his will. Four of us deputies moved quickly to the garage, opened the side door and entered the residence.

“Mr. Gibson! We’re with the sheriff’s department!”

Slurred epithets drifted from an opening door, and we grabbed at our holsters — the barrel of a shotgun wandered uncertainly in our direction. We had no time to search for cover. Our semi-automatic pistols trained on the disheveled figure aiming the scatter gun, and we opened up.

When in a shootout, senses hover on a razor’s edge. Gunfire sounds like pops, and hearing becomes acute, unaffected by gunshots.

Mr. Gibson fell and moved behind the wall, but he foolishly tried to maneuver the barrel of his weapon around it — toward us …

Our bullets peppered the wall, and the troubled taxman lay still.

 

***

My patrol beat was Carmichael and surrounding areas in Sacramento County. I “kept the peace” among dozens of prostitution rings, chop shops, gang hangouts and crack houses — all nestled among poor, middle-class and upscale families.

When I first applied for a position in law enforcement, I had hoped for a job as a park ranger or a cop in some quiet one-horse town. I had taken Department of Justice classes and worked as a skip tracer (bounty hunter) while applying for different counties.

After 10 years, my letter finally came: Out of 5,000 applicants, 50 of us were chosen. With my skinny, unattractive resume, I believed it was a miracle that the county examiners picked me to train as a deputy. But I wasn’t thrilled about becoming a patrolman on the treacherous streets in crime-ridden Sacramento County.

***

I’ve always hated answering emergency calls involving home fires. Before I ever got to know my mother, she died in one. My father, my brother and my sister were at the grocery store when a cigarette fire started in Mother’s bedroom. Before passing out from smoke inhalation, she flung my bassinet upside down over me. I was 2 months old.

When we were older, my brother described the choking, thick smoke hanging in the air around our house. Ignoring the flames, Dad ran inside and snatched me up. I lay crying in someone’s arms outside, while he rushed back into the house to save my mother.

But it was too late.

Firemen tried to resuscitate Mother while my family helplessly watched. The horrific event altered the course of our lives, and knowing my father’s personality, he grieved quietly, showing little outward emotion. Dad set out to build a life for the four of us, though relatives had offered to take us kids off his hands.

Dad wasn’t a religious man, but he seemed to have a connection to the Man Upstairs, which steered his values. Much of his struggle to express feelings, as well as his view of religion, became my own in years to come.

His moral foundations were set on Ozarks bedrock in the 1840s. My great-grandfather served in the Third Arkansas Cavalry, a Union regiment sworn to hunt down renegade bushwhackers who preyed on local families. My great-grandmother was known in the region as a sermonizing church woman, and my grandparents had been good Christian folk, regular churchgoers.

But it was an Ozarks preacher who cast a shadow on my father’s opinion about organized religion.

My grandfather was a sharecropper, so poor that he couldn’t provide shoes for his children. My dad and his brothers and sisters walked to church barefoot on Sundays — while the preacher and his family drove a car. The preacher’s kids were scrubbed like copper pots and wore clean duds. They proudly swung their glossy dress shoes under the old wooden church pews.

Dad always figured he knew where all the poor folks’ church money went.

All my growing-up years my father seldom darkened the doorway of a church, except for funerals or weddings — and I followed in his footsteps. I aspired to his sense of duty and (to a much lesser degree when I was young) his values. I mean, the man served in the Marine Corps, and I seldom heard him even utter a “Damn it all!”

After his service to his country, he put himself through electrical school, learning to repair generators for power plants. He married a Polish girl, whose family immigrated to the States, and they started a family in Los Angeles. They had three beautiful children and a great future — until the fire tragedy struck.

It must have been a challenge for my father to find a woman who would accept two strong-willed sons and a daughter. And when Dad married Pat, he must have believed that his search for a loving mother was over.

For his children, Dad’s choice was the beginning of a nightmare.

Although my older brother and sister bore the brunt of my stepmother’s verbal abuse, when I was 4 years old, I distinctly recall feeling Pat’s resentment toward me because I was not her own. Over the years, I absorbed my father’s quiet contempt for my stepmother’s waspish disposition — and I developed a scorn for all women in general.

When I was in fifth grade, Dad found work at Industrial Electric in Redding, California, and he moved us to a rural home just outside of town. In the backwoods, the Huck Finn inside me ran amok, and my love of exploring trackless coyote trails grew out of my need to dodge Pat’s iron clutches. “Exploring” claimed my heart as I tramped up and down Churn Creek, fishing from rafts for crawdads and suckers, or grappling with the arms of giant oaks. My tree house creation overlooked our house and my own Shasta Meadows Elementary School.

I stole my first smokes in that old tree house, gagging on my dad’s Parliament cigarettes. Dad and I grew closer in the next few years, sometimes fishing at Keswick or Shasta Lake. In the boat with my father, I became a “man” in my own estimation — I popped the top of my first Coors with his blessing.

“Just one, son. And no more for a long time!” he said, and his approval settled deep in my soul. I was 13 and needed nothing else to fulfill me, for a little while.

Dad moved us farther from town to a community called Bella Vista, and he tried to keep me busy working with livestock in 4-H and tending our big garden. But inside me, a latent rebellion was beginning to rear up and kick like a young bull in a pen. As often as I could escape chores, I set out to explore every tree and trail around our home — and stumbled upon a treasure that has lasted a lifetime. A true friend.

Randy and I had common “enemies” — our stepmothers. While I could tell a tale of how mine forced hot peppers up my brother’s nose as discipline, Randy’s Jehovah’s Witness stepmother forced him to wear polyester leisure suits to school!

One day on a dirt road near his house, Randy and I were throwing a football back and forth, and his nemesis intercepted it. I watched in astonishment as the gentle “religious” soul whipped out a butcher knife and expertly drove it through the football’s middle.

Randy had forgotten to clean the dog kennel.

Randy and I palled around Bella Vista, going to the same high school, until my stepmom convinced my father that I needed a more disciplined environment for my education. I had been cutting classes to roam the woods, and once, I even spent a day puking in the vice-principal’s office — I had downed half a bottle of whiskey with another troublemaker.

Pat personally enrolled me in a Roman Catholic parochial school in Red Bluff, 30 miles away, and I lasted for about a year. At Mercy High School, I refused to genuflect to their authority and especially Pat’s. It was an open campus, and I exercised my new freedom by smoking marijuana for the first time. On a fieldtrip to Yosemite National Park, I was caught drinking, and the nuns finally tagged me as hopeless when I helped instigate a student sit-in (a strike) in the student lounge.

We had strength in numbers for a day, until my stepmom hauled my indignant chassis before the principal, who excommunicated me from Mercy forever.

I was a cocky senior and ready to challenge the world when I hooked up with my pal Randy again. Together we became study-buddies on new subjects: girls and partying. I biked 10 miles a day, each way, from home to my first job at Daddy Donuts (I never saw my manager when he wasn’t high), and at Shasta High School, I aced my last classes in order to put school behind me forever. After graduation, I worked at restaurants like Sizzler and Happy Steak and had enough dough to buy beer — and date girls. That’s when the Redding Police Department cramped our styles.

Police Officer Gilstrom stopped Randy and me regularly, his mantra always the same.

“How old are you girls?”

“Sixteen, sir.” Giggle, giggle.

After berating us boys, Gilstrom would deliver the girls home to their families. If Randy and I didn’t have girls, we at least had several beers with us. Sometimes, Gilstrom seemed bored with our lack of imagination.

“Okay. Dump it all out, boys.” He’d wander to the side of the road and kick a rock or stare across California Street, waiting.

One evening his lights flashed blue and red behind us, and I said, “Let’s chug the beer instead of dumping it this time! And see what he does …” Randy grinned.

After Officer Gilstrom’s obligatory scolding, he drifted off, and we saw how many beers we could down before he noticed.

He blustered and cussed us and watched us dump the rest. I cannot ever recall getting a ticket from Officer Gilstrom while we were in our teens.

When my stepmother died of liver disease, I brushed away any sorrow that trespassed my heart. This was around the same year that Randy and I rented a roach-ridden apartment together.

My life was chock full of new experiences at the time. I was 17 years old, driving around in a borrowed Ford van with darkened bubble windows, a fridge and a bed — how could I have guessed I was just a year away from being a married man with a daughter? Who knew?

***

In my late teens, before selling my soul to law enforcement, the musical group Black Sabbath sang angry anthems while I drank hard with my best friend, Randy. Life had grown meaningless and boring when I wasn’t partying. No purpose for me seemed to exist — except to manage kitchens or cook in local eateries, helping to line the pockets of the owners. Partying afterward deadened the hopelessness I felt, but only a little.

I decided to move to Yreka, 80 miles away, nearer to the Mount Shasta wilderness that I loved, and I hoped to reclaim my exclusive Huck Finn lifestyle. Randy threw me a going-away party, and that’s where I met Carla.

A week later, my brand-new 16-year-old girlfriend packed her bags, too. Carla left her well-heeled parents behind, and we hit the I-5 free-lovin’ freeway. I was 17.

“You better not do that.” Dad tried to warn me. “You’ll get her pregnant, son …”

But my father just didn’t understand.

Carla and I were escaping together. She would be my sidekick as we explored Yreka and Shasta trails.

Sadly, in every relationship I had ever contemplated with a girl, the specter of my stepmother floated in the back of my mind. I had zero respect for any woman, including Carla. I lived by Dad’s moral code — “Never hit a girl” — but I had also adopted his self-preserving emotional detachment, too.

In less than a year, Carla and I moved back to Redding, Dad’s prophesy ringing in my head. Carla and I moved into an apartment owned by her father.

When I told Dad that Carla was pregnant, he wasn’t surprised. “And I’m getting married, Dad.”

“Better not, Larry. You’ll end up divorced.”

“I have to do the right thing. You taught me that!”

Carla’s father bought her a ring, loaded us up in his big Buick and we roared off to Reno.

In a few months, our daughter Monic was born.

One day, while Carla was doing laundry with the baby, I just … moved out. I wanted my old party life back — with no guilt, no restraints.

During my search for a life-guiding philosophy, I bought a book by Anton LaVey called The Satanic Bible. LaVey, founder of the Church of Satan, had discovered the same “truth” about religion that I had. As a musician, LaVey had recognized men at local “bawdy houses” who also attended Christian tent meetings each Sunday. “Christian” hypocrisy had soured him, too. The Satanic Bible became my nightly diversion for a time.

I became obsessed with escaping the “anthill” that most people, like my father, hated but seemed chained to — a meaningless maze of freeways paved with unhappiness.

I lived a paradox in my soul: My father’s moral code of honesty and duty had taken up residence in my heart, but Anton LaVey’s view of being my own god attracted me, too. I tried to merge the two credos into a guilt-free, uninhibited lifestyle, and my anthill was growing thicker and more confusing.

But a funny thing had happened while Carla and I were on our Yreka quest. My loyal and trusted friend, Randy, got religion and got it bad …

Randy and I shared an apartment together, and he walked around with a big grin on his face, gushing words like “born again” and “saved.” He even called some of the things we experienced at our parties SIN.

Randy was off the deep end. He and our friend Mel even burnt my Satanic Bible, but bought me a new one when I threatened to put a spell on them. It was a pretty empty threat, since I didn’t really even believe that Satan or demons existed. Or God, either, for that matter.

I made it my mission in life to sabotage my friend’s Christianity. I brought the parties home with me, and Randy struggled.

What really torqued me was that Randy believed God loved him even if he sinned. Even if he slipped into drinking too much and having sex, God didn’t boot him out of the Christian club. Randy would just ask Jesus to forgive him, and immediately, he walked around without any guilt!

I studied Randy as he interacted with this person whom he said “saved” him — and it troubled me. Something or someone had really got into him. He believed that he had escaped the anthill.

I was 19 years old, and my heart felt a little like Randy’s impaled football — deflated. In the quiet moments wedged between parties and work, I asked myself, Why am I even alive? Do I have a purpose?

One evening, while I was alone in our roach motel, I stole into Randy’s room and picked up his Bible. It fell open to Matthew, chapter 5.

I started whispering aloud, “Blessed are the poor in spirit …” and I awoke from a weird, confusing dream, 19 years long.

I couldn’t put the Bible down. I suddenly had the ability to focus on what I really needed — and it was God after all. No matter how fouled up religion was, I believed in this Jesus who was speaking to my soul as I read his words in his Sermon on the Mount.

“Randy, what do I do now?” I asked my friend over the telephone, tears streaming uncontrollably. He told me what to say to God, and I hung up.

“Jesus, forgive me for my whole lousy life …” For the first time, I knew how destructive sin really was. I absolutely felt God forgive me, and the weight of the world lifted from my shoulders. Why had I waited so long?

One of the greatest miracles in my life was forgiving my stepmother for her abuse over the years. Only the Creator of the universe could have pulled that barb loose from my heart. It would take another 25 years for Jesus to teach me the art of building a lasting, Godly relationship with a woman.

When I told Carla about how Jesus “saved” me, she thought that some alien life form had taken over my mind. I moved into her apartment and tried to be a husband and a father to Monic for the first time.

It lasted for a month, but I was too late. While I was partying, someone else had stolen Carla’s heart. We soon divorced, and our daughter stayed with her mother until Carla lost custody of Monic 10 years later (I suddenly became her full-time dad).

In my early 20s, I moved to Sacramento with my father, where I believed God was nudging me closer to a career in law enforcement.

         

***

While I trained to be a deputy sheriff in Sacramento, another woman (who would turn my life upside down) was fighting for her life. Had our paths crossed, we would have been standing on opposite sides of the law.

Betsy had given her life to Jesus when she was 7 years old. Her father owned a business in Southern California, and she had been raised in church. When Betsy was in her teens, she joined a youth group where some of the church kids experimented with pot after meetings. As with so many I have arrested, smoking marijuana served as a gateway to Betsy’s drug dependency. Her loyal and persevering mother stood before God’s throne, pleading for her daughter’s healing, while Betsy descended into addiction to crystal methamphetamine (crank).

Just two hours away from where she lived, I was fighting with my own addiction — one that was acceptable to society, but just as destructive to my family, my health and my relationship with God. Like Betsy, I was a believer in Jesus Christ, too, but my ambition to excel as a deputy sheriff turned out to be every bit as destructive as Betsy’s addiction.

At 19 years old, my tears had fallen on the pages of Randy’s Bible when God’s love flooded my heart, but patrolling the Sacramento streets soon hardened me. My compassion for human suffering all but evaporated — one 911 call at a time.

***

One day, on my way to a sandwich shop not far from the sheriff’s office, a man, dressed in filthy thrift-store attire, staggered toward me with outstretched arms.

“Help me please. Officer …”

In a split second, my “us-and-them” partition sprang up between the man and me. The smell of vomit, the fear of AIDs-infected needles, a thousand curses of abused ones and their abusers stood between us like a razor-wire fence.

“Get away from me.”

My lunch hour passed, and as I headed back to the station, two paramedics in green rubber gloves stood over the homeless man lying on the pavement. His dirty shirt was ripped open, exposing his thin chest. He barely clung to life due to a heart attack, and the episode slapped me hard.

Had the law-enforcement culture so corrupted me that I could ignore a plea from a dying soul? Was I blinded to human desperation by my ambition? Booze, graft, divorce, adultery, perversions — every deputy rising through the ranks had yielded to or constantly wrestled against these, to use an archaic word, sins. I was no exception.

I had not been attending church, but I read the Bible at home. I had received custody of my daughter when she was 11 years old, and I tried to be home in the evenings, but I was torn in two. To attain rank and finally retire with a solid pension, the department required me to immerse myself in its culture every moment. This meant answering to its demanding, ragged night-or-day schedule.

In the end, Monic suffered for my decisions. She left me to live with her grandparents, who welcomed her with open arms. I was simply clueless about basic family priorities. I squandered opportunities to help shape my darling Monic and ignored her formative years when, as a father, I might have shared her dreams.

***

Society wants to believe that evil and crime can’t touch its families, because the law stands between it and the streets. If people knew how paper thin our blue line actually was, they would worry a good deal more.

After a decade of patrolling the ghettos and neighborhoods in Sacramento, I wrestled with the attitudes many of our law-enforcement officers share: No one understands the streets like us cops; no one deals with the pressures that we do; we deputies are a breed apart and need to stick together, no matter the cost. On patrol, in the courtroom, in every arrest — it’s us or them.

Before I trained as a deputy, I carried a .45 working as a fugitive recovery agent (bounty hunter), and my highest priority was maintaining complete control in every takedown. My partner and I planned carefully, often moving into a fugitive’s house (while they were absent) hours before a confrontation. A skip tracer may enter a home without a warrant and detain a fugitive without reading them rights. Maintaining the element of surprise saved us from hairy physical melees and kept the fugitive alive. The sooner we had the scofflaw in the dirt, with wrists cuffed, the better.

Shortly after my stint as a bounty hunter, I became a sheriff’s department trainee, where the instructors required us to control our emotions in traffic stops, arrests or dealing with escalating violence. In time, I retreated into a dispassionate deputy’s persona that invaded every corner of my life, and I believed that God had given me control of my earthly destiny.

But Jesus decided to deploy spike strips on my self-centered, destructive road. He stopped me dead so that I would have to think.

Paralysis of limbs will do that to a man.

I lived in a brand-new two-story home, and I had my ladder of success firmly jammed into the enforcement lifestyle, gaining higher rank and better pay, rung by rung. I had never suffered a permanent injury jumping fences to tackle tweaks (meth heads) or wrestling king-sized wife abusers. I kept in top condition for physical challenges — so when I tripped off the top of my carpeted staircase at home and tumbled to the bottom, glancing off the wall like an eight ball, I lay stunned for a few seconds in disbelief!

I felt searing pain in my lower back, and the worst of it was I couldn’t feel my legs at all. In a few hours, I needed to patrol my Carmichael beat, so I dragged myself upstairs to sleep it off until morning. In bed, I curled in a ball to relieve the pain, and I awoke, still unable to feel my legs unless my knees were drawn up to my chest!

On my ride to the hospital in an ambulance, paramedics Velcroed my body straight on a backboard, and I tried to keep the terrifying thoughts of permanent paralysis at bay.

Was my career as a deputy sheriff dead?

At the hospital, nurses shot me up with Demerol, which barely touched the pain. After hours of waiting and a quick exam, a brusque doctor wheeled me out into the hallway and said, “You’re fine. It’s time to get up and go home, deputy.”

“I can’t even stand up, doc …”

“Well, according to the X-rays, there’s nothing wrong with you, so let me …” He helped me swing my feet over the side of the gurney and pulled me off — where I collapsed to the tiles in agony. Somehow, I got back onto the gurney, and he stood by me, shaking his head. “You’ll be fine. When you feel like it, go ahead and leave.”

I wasn’t going anywhere. I don’t know how long I lay there hyperventilating, trying to regain control

An elderly man with a stethoscope was ambling past, when someone in the hall stopped him. “Doc, that guy really needs some help.”

The old doctor looked me up and down. From the quiet shade of bushy brows, the man’s eyes were the kindest I had ever seen. He gently wheeled me into an exam room, and after an invasive, painful few moments, he scheduled me for an MRI. Nurses tried to straighten my legs enough to convey me into the MRI tube, but spasms of pain sent me into fits of temper. Finally, the old doctor came in.

“Sonny,” he fixed me with a stern look, “if you don’t get in there, chances are you will never walk again.”

No more debate. I got into the tube. In those eternal moments staring at the top of the cylinder, I prayed, “Jesus, Jesus. Please, give me back feeling in my legs. Oh, God, I don’t want to wear Depends …”

When I was a 19 year old, I had awakened to my need for Jesus and given him control of my life. Now, lying flat on my back, I realized that God was still in charge.

“Okay, Lord. You know what I want — but whatever your will is …”

God stretched my faith muscles a little more. “Sonny, you need surgery — and I mean right now.” After a few questions, I nodded to the old doctor, proving my faith in God by trusting my future to this 70-year-old neurosurgeon.

He had just “happened” to be passing by my gurney in the hospital hall where I lay fighting back tears of pain.

God’s timing. God’s grace.

The last thing I remembered that evening was counting backward from 10 while wordlessly praying away my terror. I awoke the next morning.

After surgery, my doctor told me that my stair tumble had shoved a disc into my spinal cord, and he had expertly removed pieces that had folded down along my spine.

My dear father passed away about this time, further softening my heart to hear God’s voice. I saw tears in Dad’s eyes when I spoke to him about my faith in Jesus and his need to give up his prejudice against Christianity. He yielded to God, and I’m certain I’ll see him in heaven.

Even after my back injury, I might have continued to cling to my adrenaline-pumping street patrols, except that God reminded me every day that he was in charge of my future — I felt a sharp twinge in my back whenever I buckled my heavy gun to my hip. Gradually, I understood that he wanted me to investigate opportunities where I had never patrolled before.

When I transferred to the medical floor of the Sacramento County Jail, I felt like I had left a war zone. Now doctors and nurses surrounded me. Here, no one swung nightsticks or squirted mace at offenders; his or her calling was to help inmates kick addictions and heal from physical and psychological wounds.

From my years of fraternizing with depravity, I realized that evil had scarred my mind like acid. Often times, egocentric drug dealers videoed themselves weighing out crystals of meth or counting their thousands of dollars. To get solid evidence for court convictions, sometimes I had to wade through screens of sickening acts of bestiality and pornography.

What I needed was distance from all the street violence and perversion I had experienced — and Jesus was giving me an interlude among healers where I could mend. On the county jail’s medical floor, proof of God’s mercy showed up every day. In a short time, I decompressed enough to reach out to inmates with the same message of God’s forgiveness that had saved me.

Joel was a diabetic heroin addict and alcoholic, whose arrests delivered him to County on a regular basis. The first time I saw Joel, his muscles hung like strands of rope on a frame ravaged by malnutrition. After serving his months of jail time, including drug and medical treatments, the county set him loose on the streets again.

While he was an inmate, he was a frequent visitor to the medical floor, and we had a great time discussing aspects of Christianity whenever I escorted him for his blood work. Joel seldom missed a Bible study with other inmates. He loved Jesus.

But Joel never kicked his drug habit. After serving his jail time, he went home to the projects and shot up heroin again as soon as he could afford it. Only in the county jail could Joel be the Christian man his dear soul yearned to be.

And so it was with many incarcerated men and women I have known. Prison or jail was the only place they had the strength to shine for Jesus.

Why didn’t Joel just move to Montana and start over, away from temptation?

For most people born into the street culture, they might sooner move to Mars than Montana. The city is their home, and they truly believe they cannot escape from their culture of violence and drugs.

When someone does complete a drug-treatment program, including months of detox, education and rehabilitation — and stays clean — God is truly performing a miracle.

***

I met Betsy for the first time when I signed up to contribute to an online group called Concord Bridge Forum.

As a sheriff’s deputy, my schedule (and some childhood prejudices) spoiled my attempts to attend a church regularly, but this virtual Christian community showed up in my living room whenever I needed it. Concord Bridge Forum became a landmark of change in my attitude toward fellowshipping with God’s people.

The groups discussed subjects ranging from current events to end-times prophecy and everything in between. I had plenty of opinions, and Betsy, the moderator, had a gift for stimulating or tempering the conversations when needed. I enjoyed the give and take among sincere believers.

At first, Betsy and I chatted sporadically on the threads, and gradually we began conversing privately, then by telephone — for months.

Total honesty.

Our mutual candor set the relationship on solid footing from the start, which was different from others we had experienced.

Betsy had been in drug rehab about the same time I was suffering my own “withdrawals” from years of dealing with street violence and depravity. She had moved from Southern California to a small town called Murphy, Idaho, and was active in a church called Cornerstone, where her mother also attended. It was the perfect environment for Betsy to grow stronger with excellent Bible teaching and friendships.

In God’s time, she had been asked to moderate the Concord Bridge Forum. She accepted it as her service to Jesus, helping energize and guide people on the blossoming Christian Web site.

After months of conversations, I was satisfied that Betsy was genuine, and she had thoroughly investigated me, too. She and I opened our hearts to one another and discussed a permanent relationship.

By the time I hopped a plane and flew to Idaho, I already settled in my mind that, God willing, I would marry this engaging, Godly woman. We both had experienced the worst that the world had to offer. Together we believed that we could be a force for God’s kingdom.

After our small wedding, we moved to my home in Sacramento.

But was this where God wanted us to set down roots?

***

Handing in my badge and pistol at the sheriff’s office seemed like responding to a warehouse break-in without a flashlight. I stood in the dark, praying that my vision would “adjust” to God’s will.

For more than 17 years, I had been the deputy with a plan. Now I had a new wife, full of boundless energy and faith, who strongly felt that we should move to the potato capital of the United States.

“Let’s put the house up for sale, Larry, and see what God does!”

We agreed that if God sold the house, we would move to Idaho, lock, stock and barrel. The housing market was pitifully anemic in Sacramento, and I figured that our asking price wouldn’t attract a buyer too quickly.

But God was in control, not me.

***

No anthill in Murphy.

At the base of 190,000 acres of BLM land in the Owyhee Mountains, Betsy and I planted our home. Only 80 people live in town, and we walk our dogs, Marley, Buford and Faith, among the beautiful surroundings God provides.

Betsy and I have found the secret of abandoning the anthill forever. It isn’t by hiding in a bomb shelter stocked with food for the end of days. It isn’t by escaping to a virtual gaming world or staying high or deadened to reality.

The anthill lives inside every person. It’s a frenetic superhighway of rebellion, selfishness, pride, prejudice, hypocrisy, anger, lust — the Bible calls the anthill sin.

How did Jesus remove the anthills from Betsy and me? He gave us the freedom to fail again and again, until we finally chose to give God complete control of our lives. The instant we asked Jesus to forgive us, the anthill disappeared.

Jesus never gives up on us, no matter how deeply he must reach into the sewer to save us.

I have been married to a fellow explorer for three wonderful years. Our lives are surrounded by God’s natural beauty here in Murphy, a place I never expected to be. I am fully invested in a like-minded, loving church called Cornerstone Worship Center, and Betsy’s mother has become the mom I lost so long ago.

As for Betsy and me, our marriage experience is taking us further spiritually than either of us has ever been. We’re in uncharted territory, and it’s breathtaking. In our late 40s now, we set out each day, learning to live and love — God’s way.

In my dreams, I still patrol Carmichael sometimes. On the streets, a badge used to set me apart from junkies and murderers, drunks and thieves. But these days, us and them is simply “us.” Without our Savior, Jesus, we’re all the same — desperate souls.

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