My wife and I were in our early 50s when someone in our church invited us to attend a new group they were forming. They had humorously named the group the "Nifty Fifties". After dinner we gathered in their living room and the host asked us to reflect on our lives and relate to the group what we felt to be our best decade. Hum. As I considered my life experiences, there were memories in abundance. Some were painful but most were pleasant. Then it hit me. The decade in which I am today is the best of all! I have the memories of the past while I also possess the joyful anticipation of what God has in store for me in the future.
The first decade of my life was lived on Alameda Street near Bay Haven Elementary School. My memories of that period include riding my bike to the bay and watching the sunset; playing soldier in the woods with Spunky Moffett and the other neighborhood boys; teaching myself how to swim in Sarasota Bay (with no adult supervision); my father barbequing oysters we had pulled from the bay; and fishing from any available pier. Oh yea, I also remember lots of visits to the Principals office.
My second decade began with our family moving to Arlington Street near SHS. That was 1955. My days of innocence were ebbing and an age of self-awareness was arriving. In my mind, it was no longer "cool" to ride my bike. I was too "mature" so I walked the mile or so to school. Oh my aching feet! Acne arrived and a sense of inferiority dawned. Through no one's fault but my own, I saw myself as "lesser-than" others. In the 8th grade, I remember getting a crush on Niki Poulos. Uh oh, big trouble. How was someone like me to approach a "goddess" like Niki? I think it was my second year at Manatee JC before I got the courage to ask her out. She was just as special as I thought but, fortunately for both of us, the chemistry just wasn't there. God had something better in mind for both of us.
My third decade of this odyssey began at the end of the second. When I was 20 years old and preparing for graduation from MJC, my thought was to join the Navy and make it my career. "Join the Navy and we'll show you the world", the recruiter said to me. Two months later I was in Pensacola! Never trust a military recruiter. A year later, just before my 21st birthday, I was commissioned an Ensign and assigned to San Diego as my first duty station. My first tour of duty to Vietnam began in 1965. We were the second carrier on line after the Tonkin Gulf incident. The war was just beginning and we had no idea what we were doing. The number of aircraft and pilots we lost was unspeakable.
My ship returned home in the fall of 1965 and I began teaching air navigation and tactics. It was during that one year sabbatical that I met an incredibly beautiful and unbelievably sexy 21 year old college coed by the name of Marilyn Gabler. She was a Nursing major at San Diego State in her senior year. We dated for the year I was at home before I was required to return to Vietnam. Vietnam redux was an immeasurably better experience. The Vietnamese had greatly increased the number of their SAM missiles but, of even greater importance, we had learned how to fly around and through them. Our personnel losses were significantly lower. In all, I completed 118 missions in the air over North Vietnam with not so much as a scratch. Praise God!
In 1967 I left the Navy and restarted my college career, this time at San Diego State. By this time I had also decided I wanted to become a lawyer. Why a lawyer, you ask? Talk about silly. A year or two earlier my sister's husband had died and I returned to Sarasota to help her. Sitting in her lawyer's office, I looked around, took in the richly appointed spaces and the walls and walls of books and said to myself, "I think I'll be a lawyer." That's about as deep as I get.
While I was in my junior year at SDSU, on a lark, I submitted a couple of law school applications. To my surprise, an acceptance arrived in early March 1968. Marilyn and I were engaged to be married in June, but I wanted to move to Sacramento right away, get a job and sock away some money before I started law school. I dropped out of SDSU and, on six days notice, Marilyn's parents pulled together a miracle. We had an incredibly beautiful, pool side wedding with 125 guests in the back yard of her parent's home in L.A. That was my third decade.
The fourth decade really began in 1971. In June of that year I graduated from law school and we moved back to San Diego. The law practice I began in January 1972 was a struggle. With my father-in-law's mentoring, and a copy of a "Legal Secretary's Manual" close at hand, I somehow survived. On June 15, 1972, the Lord changed us from a married couple to a family when our first daughter, Julie, was born. The birth of a child is a true miracle. Two years later we were blessed with our second daughter, Cindy.
From the time that I was a child I remember believing in God and believing in Jesus. The problem was that I didn't know what I believed or why. Marilyn had a lot more church exposure than I did. She was brought up going to church with her family but, in reality, it was more of a "social gospel" that she heard. Marilyn and I continued in her parent's model. We were good, decent people trying our best to raise our children in a church centered environment but we could tell that something was missing. Around 1975 we left our church. We didn't know why we were leaving or where we were going, we simply knew that we were being pulled in another direction. Now we know that it was the Holy Spirit leading us. It took us a year of visiting many churches before we arrived at a place where we knew we belonged. Instead of a social gospel we heard the true gospel of Jesus Christ for the first time. We committed our lives to Christ; Marilyn first and me a month or so later.
It would be wonderful to end this tale by saying, "And we lived happily thereafter". Unfortunately that's not the truth. Marilyn's diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder, the economic uncertainties of a self-employed lawyer, and two growing children played havoc with our family. As new Christians we prayed but we continued to struggle in our marriage. A lot of our money was going to marriage counselors. For me the tipping point happened on March 7, 1986. As I sat in my car at a stop light, I was run over by a taxi doing about 40 mph. My little car was crushed like the proverbial pancake. How I survived is a miracle in itself. I was fortunate to escape with only a broken neck and a crushed lumbar spine.
Whew. This is a lot of information. Maybe I should just stop here. Nah, that's not fair.
It took two surgeries and two months in the hospital to piece humpty dumpty together again. You don't want to know about the pain! Being self-employed I saw my income immediately drop to zero while my bills continued unabated. It took another two months before I could finally return to work. I was in a back brace from my hips to my armpits and I was in "la la land" with the drugs I was taking, but I went back to work out of necessity. Everything of a material nature we had accumulated together was gone. We were flat, busted broke. All we had were our bills, our two teenage children - and our faith in Christ.
As bad as that occurrence was, it was also the best experience of my life. It was as I lay on that hospital gurney, not knowing if I would ever walk again or not, that I truly submitted my heart, soul and will to Christ. God has blessed me beyond measure since I made that commitment to Him in 1986. What He wanted of me was not mere words from my mouth but a true, heart commitment. He brought business back to my law practice in abundance, He restored my health and my marriage, and He gave me purpose for my life. The life purpose He unfolded for me (over a period of several years) was to leave my law career and serve Him full time in Christian missions.
At age 52 I closed my offices and returned to college. I changed my major from history to Spanish. At first I attended college on a part time basis as I wound down my practice. In June 2000, at age 57, I graduated with a B.A. in Spanish. One week later I began working full time in Christian ministry. I hope that the Lord permits me to continue this course and career until He calls me home. For the last 11 years I have been leading short-term mission teams to a variety of Latin American countries. For several years I worked exclusively in Cuba. Then I moved my work and my teams to Argentina. Although most of my work remains in Argentina, I have worked in almost every country in Central and South America.
Another gift from the Lord is my wife's health. She will never be "cured" of her Bipolar Disorder but the Lord graciously led us to a Psychiatric-Pharmacologist who changed her medications. Her emotional health has been absolutely stable for more than 7 years. We are rejoicing in this gift. She is more beautiful and sexy now, 43 years later, than the day we first wed! Truly, God is good!
The other joy of our lives is our grandchildren. Our older daughter, Julie, lives in Annapolis, MD with her husband and two children. Meredith is 6½ and Thomas will be 3 on March 10th. He was the gift given to us by God on our 40th Wedding Anniversary. Cindy and her husband and their one daughter, Calista, live near Boulder, CO. Fortunately Southwest has non-stop flights from San Diego to both cities so that's where most of our discretionary spending goes.
It breaks my heart to have to tell you that I will not be able to join you at the reunion. I have been looking forward to this event for a long time. My conflict is a mission trip to Israel. The dates could not be changed so my choice was the reunion or the ability to serve the Lord among the Arabs of the West Bank in Israel. I chose Israel.
The biographic sketches I have been reading are absorbing. It's amazing the varied paths each of us has walked these past 50 years. I hope to be able to read even more as they come in.
So, what is the favorite decade of my life? It's the next one. I look forward with eagerness to the 70s, 80s and 90s of my life. Unless the Lord returns sooner, I hope to be able to continue on the path I am now following. Difficulties are a part of our lives and they can't be avoided. Amidst the difficulties, however, we also see the goodness, love, and faithfulness of the Lord. As for me and my house, we chose to follow the Lord.
I hope that the 50th Anniversary celebration is a roaring success. I will miss you terribly but I know that you will have a fabulous time. Congratulations to all of you for the wonderful lives of service, commitment and perseverance you have lived. We may not be part of the "Greatest Generation" but we are closely related to them.