One of my favorite songs of all time, and at the moment, is Garth Brook’s “Unanswered Prayers.”
How true is it that sometimes are greatest blessings in life are those phone calls that God lets go to voicemail; it is not because he is ignoring us, but because he knows something that we just simply can’t yet understand. Other times, God does answer our prayers. We just fail to see it. But God sees the bigger picture.
To say I have been blessed would be an extreme understatement. Every single moment of every single day is a living testament to God’s unending grace at work in my life. Less than ten minutes ago I was sitting around a table full of wonderful humans that I adore, playing Taboo, laughing hysterically, eating delicious snacks, and making memories that will long outlast the time we’re here on this ship together. Just before that I was down in my office; it was full of sailors and Marines using the library computers, watching SiteTV movies, and just hanging out to not feel alone. One of my Marines brought his dog, the MEU’s bomb sniffing dog, Spidy down to say hi. He laid his large, furry German shepherd body down in my lap and gave me kisses while I patted his tummy.
When I am walking up and down the P-ways of this ship and I get the opportunity to interact with hundreds of sailors and Marines every day, I am honored. When I get to stop and have a conversation with an FSA or ship store worker, I am humbled. When I am walking on the flight deck, overlooking thousands of miles of glistening seas under the sweltering Middle Eastern sun, I am taken aback and reminded of a God that is so much greater than anything I could be facing. If he can call the oceans to still and the waves to cease, he can surely calm any storm in my life.
Every minute of every day, there are billions of creatures lurking in and around the waters that we traverse as we sail these eastern seas. Families of dolphins, schools of fish, flocks of birds, shoot even a falcon made its way into a stateroom of this vessel (that’s another story, for another day). All of these animals go about their lives seamlessly, effortlessly, whimsically. All the while, we are hustling and bustling, working and moving and planning about. The birds fly as they were made to, the fish swim as they were made to, and we live – we attempt to live in such a way that we were made to. Sometimes life flows and everything seems to go according to plan. But more often than not, it feels as though we are fighting against the grain; doing anything we can to stay afloat.
Sometimes I get frustrated. I get upset with God and ask him “why.” I think most of us do that. We question much of what he does. We harass him and forget that he feels our pain, he knows our hurts, and he cares for each of us. Each wound to us, is a wound to him. When we feel sorrow and loss, he feels it too. When our hearts are broken, his breaks for us. Sometimes I pray selfish prayers. I set conditions to my requests. Rather than trust the craftsman, I question his craftsmanship. Rather than worship the creator, often times I find myself pining after his creation. Despite my shortcomings, despite my vain, my pride, my arrogance, God still stands by my side. Though the world hears my wants, God hears my heart.
Can I ask you something? When was the last time you hit your knees in complete surrender and submission? When was the last time you poured your heart and soul out to the Lord? When was the last time that rather than turning to a distraction, to an addiction, to a substitution, you turned to God?
We live in a society that has allowed prayer to become a last resort rather than a first priority. It is not our last option when things are tough, it is our greatest weapon at all times.
I lay in bed at night and think about the way he has orchestrated my life. All of the unanswered prayers that led to this path. To this place in time. So many disappointments, so many heartbreaks, so many tears, so much pain, so much confusion. Somehow it all led to something better than I could have had planned on my own. Every piece so strategically placed. Every season so intentionally endured. Every experience, every phase, every opportunity shaping and sculpting me and this path. Each step has been perfectly set. Over the last five years God has taken me on a wild ride. Something I never would have envisioned in my craziest, most out there dreams. Seriously. I have gotten to experience more in 23 years than most people will in a lifetime and for that I am both humbled and grateful. I have laced up my spikes on a NCAA Division 1 track; I have flown in Chinooks before an air assault then spent hours pulling security in the pouring rain. I have lifted and competed with some of the biggest names in the fitness industry, won national and world championships, and gotten paid to travel the globe doing what I love. I have had thousands of followers on social media and done segments on local news networks. I have won Spartan races in the 110 degree deserts of Dubai and weeks later in the frigid, sleek mountains of the Scottish highlands. I have traveled solo to the Middle East and across Europe with nothing but a backpack and my weightlifting shoes. I have stood atop the Cliffs of Moher on the breathtaking coast of Ireland and cried tears of overwhelming compassion at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem. I have rode camels through Jordan, walked the footsteps of Jesus in Israel, and been to one of the Seven Wonders of the World. I have flown countless hours across the open skies and spent the entirety of this year sailing the vast seas. I have found and lost the love of a good man, and been swept away by the sweet talk and allure of others. I have learned that the more you live and think you know, the more you learn that you know less than you think. The more you listen to those who have been where you have been, the wiser you become. We are made to be lifelong learners and the journey is actually the destination. I never knew I had been seeking out all the things that I have done, but each one has been an answered prayer in one way or another. Each serving its purpose at that time to get me to where I am here and now.
Recently, I had been questioning my purpose here quite a bit. What was I doing? What was my role? Why was I here? And tonight, that became crystal clear. God put me here, for everything that has occurred up to this point. Every life I have interacted with, every person I have come to know. And every ounce of love that I have to give. All a part of his perfect plan. Tonight we were given news that no one really foresaw. That no one wanted to hear. News that even broke my heart. And as I felt my heart sink for what I knew I was losing, God replaced it with something much greater. A sense of purpose. This deployment had gone terribly wrong in a plethora of ways. We went from supposed to be having port calls every three weeks to none at all. We went from hopeful to hopeless. It has been a rollercoaster of emotion and a steady stream of blue seas. But at least we were on the countdown back home. The entire crew, drained from reoccurring disappointment just wants to get home. Then we were told that less than two months after we get home, we will be deploying again.
My heart dropped because I knew when I heard that announcement that many hopes and plans in my heart were over before they started. I knew that road trips and concerts and Spartan races and plans for the remainder of the summer and fall were cancelled. I knew that my mom’s heart would be breaking as she once again watched her little girl vanish to a foreign land. I knew that men who missed their newborn baby’s birth would now have to kiss them goodbye again. I knew that the pier that should be full of joy for our return home in August would really be full of apprehension for our looming departure in September.
And I know that this is why I am here. With Chaps leaving and so much change and disappointment on this ship, I am supposed to be here. God spoke a sense of assurance over me that my purpose on this boat was for a time like this. A time like not getting any port calls and being disappointed over and over again these past few weeks. A time like going home then being pulled away again. What if my role here has less to do with being the “Fun” Boss and is more about being able have the position and ability to love on these sailors and Marines? What if it is not about Bingo and Fitness Challenges and Iwo Idol nights but about being a source of joy and light? What if my job has nothing to do with the paycheck but is all about the impact? None of this is an accident.
As Garth puts it, “Some of God’s greatest gifts, are unanswered prayers.” I never prayed I would be here. I definitely never imagined my life consisting of living on a ship 8000 miles from my California home. I never foresaw this life. I prayed for so many other outcomes. So many other dreams and destinies. I prayed for God to save my hurdling career, to save my relationship with John, to make my life look a certain way that I thought to be the surest way to happiness. But in hindsight, I am comforted with the reassurance that as much as my plans changed, God’s plans never wavered. He always stood firm and confident in the path he laid out for me. In the fall of 2016, I was getting ready to graduate college. I was, once again, at a crossroad in my young life. I had plans, I had aspirations and God interjected. Two weeks before graduation he put before me the opportunity to serve as an intern for the United States Navy MWR. I was supposed to go to Germany. But he sent me to Bahrain. I was supposed to be the Teenage Recreation and Fitness Coordinator. But he made me be a preschool teacher. I was offered many prestigious jobs, but he told me to wait. I thought I found love, but he told me it wasn’t right. I was supposed to go to the Ford, but he sent me to the Iwo. So many plans changed, diverted, rearranged.
I prayed one simple thing that fall before graduation: Lord, please let me be a vessel of love for your Kingdom. He may have left many prayers unanswered, but that is surely not one of them. I can’t tell you the exact course that God has set, but I know that for every shift in the winds and every maneuver, I am learning to trust him more and more. He has never failed me yet. I may veer myself off course every now and again, but the God that loves me always makes sure to pull me back in. I don’t know where the good Lord is taking me, but I am happy to follow.