I always believed there was a God, even as a boy. But I never thought I could have a personal relationship with him or that he would guide me in life choices. I lived to serve myself, and the first question I asked in any situation was, "What's in it for me?" While life gave me many opportunities, God was someone I would selfishly approach and pray to him as if he were Santa Claus.
My father was a cadet at West Point but did not finish. It was an incomplete part of his life in which he struggled to find closure. I sought to go there myself in many ways to gain his approval and his esteem. He helped me, but I didn't get in right out of high school. My grades were mediocre, and I had to go to the West Point prep school for a year to improve my SAT scores. In April 1976, I was granted admission to West Point. It was a bonding moment for my father and me. Two weeks before my entry at the academy that summer, my father had a heart attack and died.
Needless to say, this was a severe blow to me. But there was no turning back, and I needed to go on to the academy with this cloud hanging over me. I made it through the Beast Barracks that summer without much problem. However, when the school year started, I was overwhelmed by the combined pressure of classes and the relentless hazing of upperclassmen. I was breaking down emotionally and began to wonder whether I would make it. I needed solitude to think, and solitude is something you rarely find at West Point as a Plebe.
One evening, I went to the language studies room where I could be in a booth with headphones on and silently contemplate what I was doing and where I was going. Everyone thought I was there practicing a foreign language. As I sat in the booth, I made a chart of reasons to go and reasons to stay. But I could not decide on this chart alone. At that moment, I broke down and prayed to the Lord to show me what I should do and where I should go. The Lord answered the prayer immediately. The next day was like walking through a parting sea. The upperclassman got busy with their own affairs and left me alone. I soon realized the Lord was protecting me. It lasted this way for about three days before returning to normal. But it gave me time to collect myself and know that the Lord wanted me to stay there and finish. Well, I did so, and I went on to graduate four years later.
I realized that God was real, but I was not ready to turn my life over to him. I was living for myself with all its selfishness. I was heading in the wrong direction. I mostly cared about boozing and chasing women at this time. My first assignment in the U.S. Army was to Germany. I soon met a German girl and had a relationship with her. We married and had a son, Robert, when we returned to the States. It was not a godly relationship, however. I did not know God well enough to speak to her about anything spiritual, and she had no interest in God in her life anyway. Within a few years, our relationship fell apart, and the marriage ended in divorce.
I felt my life was a failure in so many ways. I was a civilian by then, but my civilian career was going nowhere. The devastation and loss of divorce began the slow process of reevaluating my life's priorities. Then I met Cheryl, a believer, and we developed a relationship. I was just a seeker in spiritual things at this stage. One day, Cheryl had a flat tire and was helped by a man who was a pastor at a start-up church in a strip mall. We started going there, and at first, I struggled to believe it was a true church because it did not have stained glass windows. Silly me. Later we were married by that same pastor.
My company relocated me only days after our wedding. It was not something I wanted to do, but I had to go along with it to stay employed. This change meant I would be away from Robert and would need to maintain a long-distance relationship through letters, phone calls, and twice-yearly trips to where I now lived. Somehow, I managed to keep a dialogue going with him for those years.
Cheryl and I were fortunate to meet godly couples, Mark and Kim, and John and Georgia, who became good friends during this time. Mark and I attended an in-depth Bible study that year that covered the Book of John. Over the next nine months, we studied John from start to finish. It was a fantastic time for me. The words seemed to come off the page and come alive in my heart. As it says in the first chapter, "The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone." I had no idea this was even possible, and here it was happening to me. It was amazing.
Yet, I realized I was still on the wrong path. As it says in Romans, "But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners." I continued rejecting God, while God had always shown great love for me. The question arose in my mind whether I had given myself to the Lord Jesus. The answer to that question was maybe, and it was time to make a decision. So, at the age of 38, I chose to commit my life to Jesus Christ.
Cheryl and I were blessed with two wonderful daughters, Melissa and Christina. My professional life was still unsettled, however. The company I worked for sold off my department to another firm. I was told I could go to this new company or wait and see where my current company would place me within their organization. Much prayer was offered up at this time. Soon I was offered a position that I was thrilled to take, and I could return to the state where I had left Robert three years before and renew my relationship with him. I was sure this was a providential gift of the Lord working in my life.
Since then, I have worked many years in the children's ministry, teaching Bible stories to the glory of God. Although daily troubles remain, I have been delivered from despair and found hope in life. I have become a patriot activist for the causes of God-given rights for all humanity. I am working for Him now, and I know I will be doing so for the rest of my days. I hope my life will be a testament to His kingdom and for the glory of His name.
All this brings me to today. "Be Thou My Vision" is an old Irish hymn that has become a theme song for me at this stage in my life. Van Morrison's rendition of this song is terrific, and my eyes well up every time I hear it. I now try to walk every day in the message these words convey.
- Be Thou my vision, oh Lord of my heart
Nought be all else to me, save that Thy art
Thou my best thought in the day and the night
Waking or sleeping, Thou presence my light
Be Thou my wisdom, be Thou my true word
I ever with Thee and Thou with me Lord
Thou my great father and I Thy true son
Thou in me dwelling and I with Thee one
Be Thou my breastplate, my sword for the fight
Be Thou my armor and be Thou my might
Thou my soul shelter, and Thy my high tower
Raise Thou me heavenwards, oh power of my power
Riches I need not, nor man's empty praise
Thou mine inheritance through all of my days
Thou and Thou only though first in my heart
High king of heaven my treasure Thou art
Oh high king of heaven, when battle is done
Grant heaven's joy to me, bright heaven sun
Christ of my own heart, whatever befall
Still be my vision, though ruler of all
Jeff Lukens can be reached here.© Jeff Lukens
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