KW: The following is an email I received from a buddy of mine, Garrett Nabors. Garrett is currently serving with the US forces in Iraq. Please read this story of an encounter that Garrett had while waiting in line at a military coffee shop called “Green Beans.” It’s long by blog standards, but it’s worth the read.
The other day I was standing in line at Green Beans when, from behind, an enlisted soldier started talking to me. He asked, “Are you Infantry”?
I replied with a terse “No”, thinking that this would cause him to instantly lose interest in talking to me. I couldn’t allow myself to get too distracted while waiting in line for coffee. Conversation was not nearly as high a priority for me as the double sized, spiced chai latte, that had beckoned me to walk almost a mile through the Iraqi desert. Plus, being aggravated by silly questions, while anticipating a treat like fu-fu coffee, really ruins the whole experience.
“What branch are you, sir”? He continued to ask.
“MI”, I replied sticking with my theme of two letter answers. He persisted to ask me a series of questions, all of little consequence. I met his every attempt to enter into conversation with a resounding Monty Pythonesque, “None shall pass”. However, despite my obvious attempts to lop of his inquisitive limbs, he attempted to advance past my hostility, as if he were saying, “Oh, it’s only a flesh wound”. To say the least I was being unsociable and he was being uncooperative. Some people just don’t know how to react to rudeness I suppose.
Then he hit me with a question that no one would want to get asked when acting as one ought not in public. “You’re a Christian aren’t you”? Now, if I had known he held a nuclear option, I certainly would have been more polite –I promise. So, I had been mean and he read that as, “oh yes, certainly a follower of the humble Lord Jesus”.
This guy was either a little off or my life, I thought, was being called to account right when I was just two people away from getting my chai.
I wanted to jump the counter and hide behind the biscotti. As I’m writing this, it probably spoils any anticipation as to whether or not this was the rapture. I hope. You are reading this aren’t you?
Anyway, after a second of wondering whether it would be a better witness to answer no (ouch that was convicting), I let out a modest, “yes”.
“I knew it”, he said. “I knew it because you’re a captain”. Now, completely baffled, I ran down a quick list of captains I knew. Any Christians?
“No, no, nope, not him either”. This guy was really lucky he ran into me. If he’d run into the captains I know, his whole theory about captains being Christians would be faring worse than Marxist economics. Or, if you’re if you abide by that, you can insert some other theory; take flat earth, a second shooter on the grassy knoll, gravity.
“You really seem to be blessed and seem like you have it together”, he continued. Despite my confusion, I was beginning to wonder why I’d been so curt with this guy. Yes, flattery is certainly welcome in any conversation with me. “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”, Simon & Garfunkel resounded in my head. This I wanted to hear. However, from there things didn’t go quite where I had hoped, but there was no stopping a conversation now. The flattery was over. We were moving away from my favorite topic; me to him. He wanted to testify. Go on brother, go on.
God had also blessed him too. His perspective of blessings was different from what I would normally be thankful for though. As he started to tell me about how, in the recent past, he had gone from failure to failure, I began to wonder if he was in greater need of a chai than I.
He had evidently been in college and attempted to do ROTC. He jumped into it late and ended up failing some key evaluations. His instructor has let him know that he was quite inept. He had been broken to the point where he didn’t believe he could do anything right. Eventually, he was kicked out of ROTC after an abysmal showing at Advance Camp, following his junior year. Since he had been on scholarship, he was given two options; either pay the scholarship back or enlist in the Army as a specialist.
I made a stab at logic, “so, you enlisted then”?
“No, I was too proud”, he said. Adding to his troubles, he wasn’t able find a job in order to pay off his debts after opting out of his one debt free choice. Eventually he had to turn to his mom for help. She paid off the debt. He turned to Christ during this time. That’s when things turned around for him. He no longer felt like a failure but as a man who had been driven to a point where he had to depend on God.
His perspective of being blessed was based on the Old Testament kings of Israel, he explained. He equated his inabilities and subsequent failure to that of those kings of whom it was said that, “they did not know God”, and therefore had their reign cut short or met with some disastrous end. By contrast he, at present, was following Christ and giving thanks for every victory in his life. This was his new view, despite the fact that he is where he probably would have been, if he had just enlisted to start. To him, his life is now a success.
He humbled himself and sought the Lord. It led him to go back to where he had been humiliated, but now he was depending on Christ for strength when weak. Although I started to dismiss his rationale as prosperity gospel, I was struck by the fact that this specialist, by material measures of success, was no better off than if Christ had not found him. Yet to him, he was blessed in following Christ and only able to do anything through him. At the exact point where he had failed, he now had a hope for a future. Not that I knew him as a failure, but he seemed extremely confident now in his dependence on Christ.
His testimony spoke to me in two ways. It spoke to my pride and my view of success. I’m not sure if I could come back to where I had failed and say, “Okay God I’ll try it again if you’re with me”. I’d probably think, “Okay God I’m glad you’re with me finally. Now let’s try something slightly different”. It’s this attitude that makes me much better at foosball than, lets’ say, landscaping (really, you should see my yard).
The lessons he took from the kings were probably lost on me after I grew up and saw that sinners succeed too. This realization probably has probably caused me to focus too intently on Psalms 73 and think, “Okay, so life isn’t exactly fair but it all works out in the end” (not necessarily the intent of that Psalm). His outlook was about a personal walk with Christ and the assurance that comes from just belonging to him, not anything more cause and effect oriented than a simple relationship. It was, for me, a new perspective on the childhood devotionals we used to hold around the breakfast table.
Before I revealed, to the specialist, how glad I was to have heard his testimony, I was asked for my order. “Chai latte and a blueberry muffin please”, I said. I got it to go and walked outside with certainly more than I expected from a place called Green Beans. The chai was delicious and certainly no worse for the interruption.
Peace in the middle-east,
KW: Here’s a picture I found on the web by doing a Google-Images search on Garrett. This is Garrett and our own George Faithful at a reunion concert of the Wake Forest Christian Accapella group, Chi Rho.