This post is inspired by the first chapter of Richard Nixon’s “In the Arena.” “In the Arena” is a memoir where the former President recalls his greatest accomplishment and most difficult failure. The book is meant to inspire those who deal with set backs in life. In Nixon’s case the peak of his life is traveling to China, whereas his greatest valley is resigning the Presidency in disgrace. When I read the first chapter it got me thinking…what are the peaks and valleys of my life? In my situation they are within 6 months of each other: my baptism and then my false accusation from a Care Group Leader at Redeemer Arlington which preceded it. Eagle has this one question…what are your peaks and valleys?
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood;
who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly so that his place shall never be with those timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”
“Only if you have been in the deepest valley, can you ever know how magnificent it is to be on the highest mountain.”
Richard Nixon August 9, 1974
“I know all the things you do. I have seen your hard work and your patient endurance. I know you don’t tolerate evil people. You have examined the claims of those who say they are apostles but are not. You have discovered they are liars. 3 You have patiently suffered for me without quitting.”
Revelations 2:2-3 NLT
When I was flying back to Washington, D.C. from California earlier this month I was reading Richard Nixon’s “In the Arena” while I was on the plane. Its fascinating for me as in the book one of the things Nixon writes about is how crucial writing is to healing. After Watergate and being the first President in United States history to resign I can appreciate what he is saying. I was curious and I discovered that Nixon authored 9 books. Meanwhile I was also curious about Jimmy Carter as well. After all Jimmy Carter’s time in the Oval Office was marked by the scars of Watergate, stagflation and economic problems and then the Iranian hostage crisis. Jimmy Carter to date has penned 31 books. When I saw the total I wonder is that due to Carter trying to heal as well?
“In the Arena” is a memoir by Nixon of victory and defeat and personal renewal. It’s a book about failure and climbing out of a pit. I believe that when this book was published in 1990 that the media proclaimed that Nixon had rehabilitated himself. The first chapter drew me in and is the inspiration for today’s post. Titled “Peaks and Valleys” the chapter looks at the highlight and lowest point of his life. Consider when this was written that Patricia Nixon had not passed away. The peak of Nixon’s life is February 21, 1972 when Nixon went to China. He talked about being the first President to visit China and meeting Zhou Enlai, and visiting the Great Wall. Hearing America the Beautiful in the Great Hall of the People left an indelible impression. He recalled Mao telling him that he liked “Six Crises,” with Mao joking that he voted for him in the last election. The discussions with Zhou Enlai brought little progress and they agreed to disagree. So what brought the Chinese and the United States together? Concern over the Soviet Union is what did it. At the close of the visit the Shanghai Communique was issued. At the concluding banquet on February 27, 1972 Nixon raised his glass and said, “We have been here a week. This was the week that changed the world.”
The valley in Nixon’s life came on August 9, 1974. The previous evening on national television Nixon had announced that he was resigning the Presidency and that Gerald Ford would succeed him. He talked about how his daughter Julie left a note on his pillow that asked him to go through the fire a little bit longer. She signed off by saying, “millions support you.” Nixon worked on his final speech which was a farewell to the White House staff. He gave a moving tribute and walked out on the White House lawn gave a final wave and boarded the helicopter to Andrew’s Air Force Base where he boarded a plane for California. As I read this chapter I paused and asked myself…what are the peaks and valleys of my life? Likewise I would ask you..as you reflect on your life, what are the peaks and valleys of your life? Today I am going to use this blog as a journal and write about the peak and earlier valley of my life. My high moment and my darkest moment.
November 24, 2013
November 24 was the day I got baptized at Fairfax Community Church. For me it was the formal end to the faith crisis that had torn apart my life for at least 5 years. Before I get into November 24, there are two events for me which are pivotal. If November 24 was going to be the peak there were a couple of events that took place that helped me break through the clouds.
On June 15, 2013 my faith crisis came to an end in the middle of the night in the chapel of Northwest Community Church. It wasn’t dramatic, there were no fireworks, no grand come to faith moment. It was silent with just an air conditioner blowing in the background. I was working with the homeless the prior evening. Afterwards I knew I wanted to get baptized as a way to have an official ending. I wrote about the night my wrestling match with God ended in this post here. Later, on November 14, 2013 something amazing happened. The previous day Gil who once led my missionary team approached Archie Griffin. Archie was like Andrew White, the relationship was totally destroyed and fried. I didn’t think there would be any chance of resurrecting it. Despite that I felt like I had a responsibility to try, and I took a risk and reached out through a third party. Archie was open to receiving an email. One email…it was one opportunity. For me it was one shot. When I got that email form Gil I went into a restroom at work and almost shouted and cried in joy. The following day when I was in an Italian deli for dinner I got an email from Archie. It was out of the blue, and the first time I had direct communication in well over a year. I walked around the restaurant like I was stoned on drugs. I couldn’t believe this was happening…I wanted it to happen and yet I was nervous at the same time. I wrote about this reconciliation in detail in this post here. (By the way today’s is Archie’s birthday…happy birthday man, I love you bro!)
The reconciliation with Archie had come ten days before my baptism. During this time I was on a straight out mission. To resolve conflict, work things out with people and bring peace. It was all that I wanted was peace. After all the conflict, all I craved is peace. What I did is post the numbers of people I was reconciling with on Facebook. For example 56, 78, 80, 113, etc.. as I worked my way through my life. A week before my baptism I posted the following note on my personal Facebook page. For those of you wondering about the numbers…here is what they mean. From 2008 until earlier this year I went through a prolonged faith crisis. I burned some bridges and walked away from some of the communities I was previously involved. Next Sunday at Fairfax Community Church I’m getting baptized, but before I get baptized I wanted to go back and work things out with a large number of people. I did so and was forgiven by 122 people and am grateful for how things turned out. But I don’t think this story is over yet, as the Lord is at work! The day after I did that a co-worker stopped me in the hallway at work just stunned. He said something to the effect of the following, “That’s amazing that you are doing that. Christians don’t say they are sorry, they often don’t care. Wow that is stunning.” I have no idea what his faith status is but I was speechless. Dee Parsons had sent me a text saying that she and Bill Parsons were going to drive up to Fairfax for my baptism.
The night before on November 23, I met the Parsons at the Hampton Inn at Fairfax. Dee came out of the elevator and she was like, “My third son..” and hugged me. I met Bill for the first time and grew to like him, and saw him as a great guy. We went and had dinner and over dinner Dee and Bill told me about what happened at David Horner’s Providence Baptist church. It was a story of child sex abuse, a cover up, them trying to leave, and the church pursuing them to another church. Over Italian food to hear this story was stunning. Then I took Dee and Bill to Sovereign Grace Fairfax where Dee took a couple of pictures outside. We joked about the situation. Then as Dee, Bill and myself sat in the Parson’s Honda Pilot I played for them the testimony of a false accusation I listened to daily given years ago at Wooded Hills Bible Church in Colgate, Wisconsin. It gave me hope during a time when I so needed it. Dee explained to Bill that and Air Force Officer threatened my job during a time when he was trying to get me involved in Redeemer Arlington. Bill shook his head and said, “You just don’t do that..” The summary of that false accusation testimony that inspired me is written up in this post here.
The following morning I got up and got dressed. I was being hit by text messages from a number of people. James Crestwood, Scott Van Sweringen and so many others wished me well. I had gone into this baptism with a personal goal of reconciling and rebuilding as many relationships as I could. I reflected on this as I sat inside a Dunkin Donuts not far away from Fairfax Community Church. I then drove to Fairfax Community and sat through the last part of the first service. I saw Dee she came over and we spoke. She took a particular interest and studied the church, Rod Stafford, etc.. (Who would have imagined that a couple of years later she would write about it?) I sat next to a former co-worker who traveled to Fairfax from Leesburg to witness it. That morning when it was time I got up and got ready.
There was one thing that tore me up, one thing that was hanging in my mind. The situation with Andrew White was elusive. It bothered me and I personally felt it. I had wanted to get it resolved before my baptism but it wasn’t. So what I decided to do was to use my baptism to pray for Andrew, pray we could be at peace. Pray one day that the conflict could be solved. I got into the water and waited my turn. When I came up to Rod and he asked me a couple of questions, as I went under water I prayed one simple prayer in my mind. “God please resolve the conflict with Andrew White. It’s all I ask…” When I came up out of the water I heard Dee screaming, “Go Eagle.” When I got out of the water Dee Parsons came over and hugged me. She didn’t care that she was getting soaked. Afterward I got dressed and came out of the restroom. Someone came up to me, and the first words she said were the following. “I’m so glad you never got involved in Redeemer Arlington its not a healthy church at all.” This person was from SGM Survivors and was one of the several people who showed up. When Andrew was pressing me to go to Redeemer Arlington, I asked a few questions on SGM Survivors about the church. A couple of people reached out to tell that it wasn’t healthy and to stay away. I met one of them first hand that morning. Afterward Dee introduced me to Happymom and Wallace. Happymom gave me a Charles Spurgeon devotional which I still read and use from time to time. There were people from my Fairfax small group and others who showed up. I’d say overall maybe about 15 to 20 (?) were present. Afterward a small group went to Chilis in Fairfax. While there Dee explained to Happymom what Andrew White did. She was horrified and said that was awful. After lunch people said their goodbyes. I got a text message from Bill of a picture with me and Dee.
But that day, November 24 was the spiritual highlight. So many memories, and so much joy. Probably the best thing is to know that this faith crises was finally over in a formal manner. I felt the day in my bones. From friends at Fairfax to Dee and others it was a pleasure to meet new people. It was hard to believe that it was only six months after the lowest point in my life. And even while I was baptized I still was managing a false accusation. It felt weird to be living in a time of such extremes.
May 8, 2013
May 8th started like any normal work day and late in the morning my boss went and got me. I was about to be railroaded and I had no idea as to what was coming. My boss quipped “I like Andrew and you’re going to learn to respect a military officer…” I was forced into a room. Andrew came in the room reading a statement where he claimed he was nervous around me, and didn’t want me around his wife and daughter. He was angry that I called Sovereign Grace a cult, and read a statement about how he blocked me from sending emails and texts. He said that forgiveness is not meant to be abused. And Andrew said he wanted to devote more time to his family, and with that he rushed out of the room. My boss a retried Army Officer said,
“You got that Eagle? You contact Andrew or so much as drive through his neighborhood you will be reported to law enforcement.”
I was stunned because some of the issues were never issues to begin with. For example why the reference to not driving in his neighborhood? After all I lived in Virginia and not Washington, D.C. so I never drove through Andrew White’s neighborhood at all. When I heard what was alleged I couldn’t believe it came from the same guy who just shortly beforehand asked me to stay in his condo. I couldn’t believe Andrew walked me through his wedding album, and showed me his pictures of his daughter on his Android. I also couldn’t believe the charges especially as Andrew asked me to change the password on his computer. My boss wouldn’t listen but I was so railroaded I was stunned. A co-worker looked at me after the meeting and asked, “Eagle are you okay? You look sick.” I was reeling in being hammered as my boss disciplined me on only hearing one side of the story. I was in a military culture and in such a culture military looks out for other military. Andrew White had exploited that issue. I was sent home from work at about noon.
Overnight my life was turned upside down. A lot changed in a few moments. I left the building in a daze. Much of that day I was in shock. The first person I called was Dee Parsons. The first words out of my mouth were, “Thank God you’re home you won’t believe what happened” The first words Dee said were, “Andrew betrayed you Eagle!” I can’t remember much of that day as it is blocked out of my memory. Its hard to write about it here, and as I edit this I am shedding a tear. Its still that painful. With me out of the way and the relationship fractured Andrew White in the course of time then focused on recruiting another person, Patricia W to Eric Simmons Redeemer Arlington. Patricia W sat a cube over and in time I would be forced to listen to Andrew evangelizing her. Dee Parsons who is familiar with HR law was angry with how this was handled and said, “Oh Eagle the problem is that Andrew couldn’t deal with your questions…he’s insecure, and your questions also threatened him.” Dee pointed out how Andrew engaged in harassment in me being subjected to listening to him proselytize against my will. Dee was also livid that my boss only acted on hearing one side of the story. There was no investigation, no questions asked, and it was inappropriately handled. It was extremely unprofessional. The thing that is hard is that I learned why rape and sexual assault is going to be a serious issue in the military. Rape is a by-product of the military’s culture which is all about authority. As long as that authority exists, rape will always exist. By both abusing their authority my boss and Andrew White taught me why rape is a serious issue in the military.
On May 8, 2013 a part of me died. I felt a physical part of me pass away and even today I do not feel the same. I am no longer whole having endured something so psychologically traumatic. I feel different and I look through the world with a different lens. I lost a lot of respect for the military as I saw something occur I never imagined could be the case. As I took my first steps into this dark valley the effects are difficult to describe, I recall that Saturday morning May 13, 2013 sitting on my couch in my living room and both physically shaking in fear and crying. This was just the beginning of what must have been a million tears that would come down my face. I cried when I was driving, I woke up and cried in the night. Trust was destroyed in many ways. I lost a lot of trust in the U.S. military after walking though this experience. The other thing that also happened is I lost my will to eat. I had a hard time crawling out of bed. That also happened in the days and months to come. Dee Parsons called me that Saturday morning and asked how I was doing. I explained to her that I had no idea what was happening to me. I was shaking, felt disoriented and crying on the couch. Dee explained to me that I was in shock. What had happened was so psychologically traumatic that I was going through shock. That morning I had no idea who I could trust, after all my entire world was turned upside down. Who was a friend and who was a foe? I had no idea. Would Scott Van Swernigen or James Crestwood do the same thing? Would I experience a huge and horrific betrayal from others?
On that Saturday morning of May 11, 2013 I got a text message out of the blue from James Crestwood. He asked if I was doing anything and if I wanted to get together with him. That text was a life line, a raft, and the timing was incredibly divine in that it could not have been at a better time. I got together with James on a playground on Capitol Hill. He heard the story and was stunned. Andrew’s behavior was weird especially for a relationship that was reciprocal. James listened to the voicemails that Andrew left me and it didn’t make sense to him. He did point out my mistakes and the problems I made in the situation which I appreciated. But the entire situation baffled him. Before he left he looked at me in the eye and told me, “I have no idea how I would recover from that in my life.” I walked back to the car thinking of that sentence. Actually I reflected on that sentence often during the ordeal. As I went to bed that Saturday night I had no idea of how I was going to recover. The future was bleak, dark, and it was almost as if a curtain was hung over my life. As I type these words I cannot put into text how painful this all was. Let me try and illustrate it like this…the previous summer I had a blood and bacterial infection that get into my body. It sent me to the Emergency Room and ICU for a time. My blood pressure and vitals were plummeting, and I was also was becoming incoherent as things disintegrated health wise. However, during this time I didn’t know how severe the situation was because I was out of it. The infection in the blood stream had penetrated a good portion of my body. If I had to live over the two events, the false accusation or the close call in the emergency room, I would chose the emergency room. Here’s why I say this…I am not trying to be dramatic but in the ER when the infection was at its worse I was not coherent. I didn’t realize how serious the situation was health wise. It was only much later that I did and trust me it gave me a lot to reflect on in my life. Plus the bacterial infection and sepsis made more sense than the false accusation. In contrast the false accusation I was very alive, and conscious, and I felt it each day. It hung over my life in a way I can’t explain. From time to time you hear a story in the news about how a person is wrongfully convicted and sent to prison on bad evidence. Here is a recent story in the New York Post detailing this very issue. In the interview with the press or the local paper you sometimes hear the person say, “I didn’t commit the crime, I wasn’t guilty and I fought it for years to clear my name. I knew this day would come one day.”
I also know what that feels like in my own way. To be falsely accused of something severe. And to pour all my energy, effort and time in wanting to vindicate that of which I was accused. That is the reason why this blog exists. The only “good” aspect to the false accusation (note I put that in quotes) is that when people contact me or I meet with them in person and hear their horror story of a “church” or “ministry” it has the following effect. Their story is incredible, unreal, and I listen to a person in deep pain I can nod my head and say, “I understand.” But I know what that pain is like in my own unique way. Unless you have experienced some of this, then quite frankly you will not understand.
So having bared my soul what is the peak and valley of your life? That’s it guys as always I love you! 🙂