For four years, I was trained in navigation, ship handling, and leadership. Then I was sent out to be a deck watch officer on a Coast Guard medium endurance cutter. In less than a year, I was done. I was transferred off, having failed to meet the objectives of my training. This past Sunday, my pastor showed the short documentary BOATLIFT, An Untold Tale of 9/11 Resilience. He tied it in to the fact that God’s plan to rescue us required bad things to happen. He said that after we are rescued, “Then you can be a boat driver for someone else.” The words hit me forcefully. My mind went back twenty years, and I saw myself on the bridge of the Coast Guard Cutter Alert practicing man overboard maneuvers, two hundred miles off the coast of Mexico. God could have kept me a ‘boat driver’ in the U.S. Coast Guard, but the more I look back, the more I recognize all of the circumstances He sent to take me off that course.
When the pastor said, “A boat driver for someone else,” he meant helping lead others to ‘rescue’ through saving faith in Jesus Christ. But I heard it another way, also. It isn’t just that you are rescuing others, but that you are doing it for the Lord. I could be a ‘boat driver’ again, but this time for God, not the U.S. Coast Guard. With this thought, I felt the full weight of having spent twenty years looking back at missed opportunities rather than seeing how God had used every situation to equip me for future opportunities. How could it have taken me so long to stop looking back and start looking forward? I was so focused on how I had failed that I couldn’t see what I had learned or how God might use my experiences for me to help others. Seeing things differently brought a new sense of surrender because there was a new strength and a new call. I have said, recently, that I sense God has me on the cusp of something new. I feel Him working on my heart so that I will be ready to say, “Yes!” to whatever He calls me to do.
His brothers also came and fell down before [Joseph] and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”
Right now, I am preparing for a journey back to the place where my adult life began. It is where I received an education and a lot of training for the purpose of being a Coast Guard officer. During my four years at the Coast Guard Academy, I sensed that I might be in over my head. But God kept me there. His interventions were clear and miraculous. He kept me in training to drive ships and be a leader, but then He diverted me onto a different path.
It isn’t uncommon for God to derail our best-laid plans so that He can fulfill His purposes. Joseph’s life is a great example of this. After his brothers sold him into slavery, he had every excuse to give up and stop trying. But wherever God placed him, he worked hard and did a good job. The Sovereign Lord was looking after him and prospering him, but he also had to do his part. He chose to work hard and to be the kind of man that God wanted him to be. When the opportunity came for him to get revenge on his brothers, he recognized God’s role and sovereignty, even in the bad things that happened to him. This proper perspective allowed Joseph to forgive past wrongs. He saw that his life was not his own, but that he was an instrument for God to use. He recognized that God had plans that were much larger than himself.
Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
and your right hand delivers me.
The LORD will fulfill his purpose for me;
your steadfast love, O LORD, endures forever.
Do not forsake the work of you hands.
As I prepare to go back after twenty years, to see the people and places that shaped so much of my life, I have a new perspective on God’s plan and the work He has done in my life. I don’t need to fret over wasted opportunities. God is making new opportunities, and I need to focus on obedience. He is showering me with grace and mercy that is new every morning. I feel so blessed that I can go back to my reunion with this feeling of peace about the past. This summer, I watched as some of my classmates retired from the Coast Guard. Others have recently been selected for promotion to the rank of Captain. Meanwhile, that part of my life hardly seems real to me because I’ve been away from it all for so long.
As I reach back and become reconnected with my past, God is helping me to make sense of the events of my life. His hand is more clear than ever. Is this how Joseph felt, when his brothers came to Egypt to purchase food, and he realized that God had sent him ahead to save the lives of his family? I don’t have that clear a picture of God’s purpose, and I might not ever see it clearly on this side of heaven. But God is working in me with new intensity. It feels like I am just starting to live! The journey in the weeks ahead will be more joyful because I have learned to look ahead, even when I reflect on the past.