The groundskeeper and his young wife had just moved to Dallas; he was a new student, entering on academic probation that year. The school grounds he tended were manicured to perfection. Bright flowers and freshly cut grass looked like gift-wrapped packages welcoming incoming students. It was a blistering-hot August.
Sweat burned his eyes. While wiping his brow, he couldn’t help but think back to how those long, lonely months serving overseas with the U.S. Marine Corps had forever changed his life.
Just a few years into marriage, the Marine Corps letter arrived calling him to a 16-month tour of duty on the other side of the world. He kissed his bride goodbye and set sail on an iron-clad ship bound for Okinawa . . . not knowing another soul on that transport. As the seas began to roll by, the ship plunged into a massive storm. He pulled a book from his bag and sat on the stone-cold deck fighting seasickness.
As he read Elisabeth Elliot’s Through Gates of Splendor, those words saturated his soul. Smothered in lonely sorrow with nothing but time, he examined his soul, seeking God as he read each page of the book.
Running from Temptation
The Marine spent 16 long months in Okinawa, tempted in every possible way. Women of ill repute lined the streets, and while many of his fellow Marines ran into the darkness of desire with them, he resisted weekend after weekend. While on the island, he connected with a Christian mentor who told him to run—literally run—past them all. And he did! Sixteen months later, the groundskeeper ran back into his wife’s arms—a pure man who never succumbed to the seductive surroundings of the lonely island.
The time alone and away had changed him. He was called to ministry, and without any money, somehow this groundskeeper began his seminary training. This student who was accepted on probation and paid his way working as a groundskeeper graduated with the seminary’s highest honors.
This was more than fifty years ago . . . and he’s been teaching and preaching ever since. It took sixteen months of being all alone to change his life direction—to recognize God’s call.
It was my dad, Chuck Swindoll, who spent sixteen months all alone on Okinawa.
- It was my dad who ran past those women and did not compromise his wedding vows.
- It was my dad who pushed a mower and trimmed hedges in the Dallas heat as a groundskeeper.
- It was my dad who entered Dallas Theological Seminary on probation and graduated with highest honors.
- And it’s my dad who for more than 50 years has taught truth smothered in grace.
Dad told my son one day that life is hardest at home because you can’t fake who you are there. You can wear a thousand masks outside your front door; at home, all masks are off.
I love it that my kids know their grandfather as “Bubba”—the loud-laughing, football-loving, gracious grandfather who treasures their grandmother, drops by with a bag of soup or vitamins when we are sick, spit-shines his shoes every Saturday night, washes dishes, folds laundry “like a good Marine should,” and calls us to a higher standard—always saturated in grace.
Discipline . . . Like My Dad’s
Most of us run from loneliness and silence, and we run to what will distract and often destroy our souls. Most of us think if we are alone, something must be wrong . . . when, actually, being alone may be the very place where God wants to speak to us—without the clatter that so invades our cluttered lives.
I celebrate my dad not for what he has accomplished publicly. It’s the private life he has lived so well that I cling to.
See, his discipline in Okinawa, at seminary, and throughout his ministry didn’t begin on that ship.
- It began years before, when he was a boy during the war and, singing with my aunt Luci and Uncle Orville at the soda shop for ice cream cones . . . without a penny in their pockets.
- His discipline grew as he helped my mom through deep, dark depression with two kids—18 months old and 6 weeks old.
- That discipline grew greater when he taught us to fold laundry and wash clothes, when he drove us to school over an hour each day, when he planted his own garden, when he helped my sister and me through hard divorces, when he took his grandkids to school, and when he lingered in waiting rooms as doctors tried to fix the chronic pain my mother, sister, and I suffer from.
My dad’s self-sacrificing discipline continues to grow because he chooses to surrender his life and say yes to God without compromise.
Let Me Hear from You
Often, character isn’t cultivated in a noisy crowd; it’s developed one decision after another, over time . . . a long, long time.
As a father, mother, brother, sister, family member, child of God, are you sowing God’s truths into your heart? Not just touching the Good Book on Sundays but daily planting its guidelines and truths deep into your soul? Maybe you didn’t have a father like I do—does that matter? It’s often when we are all alone that we make life’s most powerful choices. Our response to circumstances simply reveals what we have chosen to believe.
My dad’s life has been hard. Your life is probably hard too. Mine can be hard. What are you choosing to do during the hard times? Are you running toward temporary seductions which promise earthly relief, or are you running toward a truly authentic relationship with Christ? Someday, you may be all alone on a bunk bed or office chair, and temptation will cross your path. In that moment, your choice could change your life.
What choices are you making today? How do you want to be remembered? I would love to hear about it.
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