This is part 4 of a series of articles, detailing the last several years of my life. This journey will include my experience as a Marine Corps infantryman, my transition to civilian life, becoming a first-time college student, a seeker-sensitive pastor, and a personal conviction to not stop at the Doctrines of Grace and to keep Reforming my faith. I hope this can be a form of encouragement for people going through a similar transition in their lives, and for those unsatisfied with the ambiguousness of the term Reformed.
Before my first day of college, I had made one prior trip to campus for an orientation given for new students. They fed my wife and I dinner in the cafeteria, then showed us around a bit which gave me a sense of where everything was located. We were very encouraged by the campus, finding it to be a wonderful environment for learning. Being out of high school for over 14 years at this point I was amazed at the little things most people would likely take for granted. The library with all of its books, and the computer lab which felt like it had a computer available for just about every student. Although their cafe was a bit on the small side, I could imagine myself in there drinking coffee while working on an assignment. They even had their own Apple Store! Are you kidding me? Although the entire campus was likely considered small when compared to other public colleges in the area, the tremendous size of the campus was something that definitely took me by surprise. I was all set to start school the following week. I had my computer, my backpack, and a good mechanical pencil at the ready!
So after much prayer and about a year of planning, I had finally made it into a college classroom. When I walked in for my Introduction to Philosophy class, I sat in the back of the room to get a better feel for the environment. I knew that I was going to be a bit older than most students at the school, but was still surprised when the class filled up with these young people that looked like they could be my children! Now don’t get me wrong, some of these students would end up being very mature for their age. But at the moment, I felt like I was in the movie Billy Madison, sitting amongst a group of children with whom I had no connection to whatsoever. This feeling became even more of a reality when the professor decided it would be a great idea for us to introduce ourselves before we started class. I started to think of what I was going to say but the professor was one-step ahead of me and had already written it on the board.
What is your name?
Where are you from?
What is your major?
Why did you decide to come to this university?
What is something interesting about yourself?
At first, these questions didn’t seem like a big deal. But as we went around introducing each other I found myself becoming more discouraged by the second. There was Justine, who was 18 years old and had just left home for the first time. David was a baseball player at the university and had come all the way from San Diego, which was the farthest he had ever been away from his father. He was 18 as well. Taylor would speak next, telling us she was happy to now be an adult and on her own. As an incoming Freshman, she had made the cheerleading squad at the university and was looking forward to performing at games. I was next, and my heart was racing! You would think after all these years teaching, and leading others that I would not have a problem with this. But I found myself in the first 5 minutes of the very first day of school, already trying to relate to the people around me.
I told them my name and that I had been out of school for a while. Before I could continue, I was interrupted by the professor who asked me,
“So what have you done since high school?”
I told him that I had served in the military for a long time, which prompted him to then ask an immediate follow-up question,
“Which branch of service did you serve in?”
It was this follow-up question that struck a nerve with me. I had never been ashamed of my service and had always felt honored to serve my country. But at this very moment, this was not one of those times. I found myself irritated by his question. I told them that I served in the Marines, and then explained how I was a father of two children and a husband as well. He then thanked me for my service and stated how happy he was to have another adult in the classroom. Everyone laughed, including me. But to be honest, I wasn’t very happy. Most of my remaining classes played out in a similar fashion the rest of the week. Attending a private university means smaller classes than your average public school offers, which results in an inability to blend in with the rest of the class.
I was never one to lay-low when it came to learning. During my 12-years of service, I had served in many Marine Corps Schools that resulted in over 45 transferable credits upon acceptance to college. Although only 1 of those credits would be added to my Biblical Studies degree plan, the extra credits allowed me to transfer to the school as well as avoid taking the dreaded Physical Education requirement. I guess they figured Marine Corps Basic Training (boot camp) was a good enough substitution for that course. The schools I attended in the Marine Corps were often intense. I will list some of them below to provide some clarity to my closing paragraph below.
Infantry Squad-Leaders Course
Range Coaches Course
Primary Marksmanship Instructor Course
Helicopter Rope-Suspension Technique Masters Course
Staff Non-Commisioned Officers Career Course
Infantry Platoon Sergeant Course
Advanced Mortarman Course
Marine Corps Combat Instructor Course
As you can see, the training I received in the Marine Corps was entirely different than the education I would receive in college. This training was leadership based, meaning basic instruction was never the intention of the courses. The Marine Corps wants leaders, plain and simple. I mention these courses above because it played a role in my struggles to adapt to the college life. In the Marine Corps, I was with my brothers. A Marine would be detached from his current unit while attending school full time until graduation. At that time he/she would return to their unit with the intent of training their own Marines with the knowledge they had just required. I guess you could say that upon returning to the unit, the newly graduated Marine would now be the resident expert on all things concerning that specific skill. What this means is that throughout the training a Marine would be working towards a goal of graduating, all while being eager to return to his unit to share the wealth with his unit. Now that I was in college, I didn’t know what I was preparing for. I was unsure of my calling into ministry and did not have a place I was going to return to upon completion. In the military, I was not attending class with like-minded people with whom I served. In school, I was no longer with my brothers. These people were strangers to me. They were different, I could not relate to them, and they did not seem the least bit interested in relating to me as well.
Up to this point, I have described my personal experiences leaving the military and attending college for the first time. I have not described my prayer life during this period, or where exactly God was throughout this entire process. I have made no mention of the local church, and that was done purposely because those things were almost non-existent. At least, that’s what I thought. This was not a good thing. No accountability, no confirmation of a calling into anything, and nothing to help encourage me on this new journey. I was confused, even lost at times, and was struggling to find my purpose in all of this. This was a different world indeed.
To be continued…