It’s hard to believe you’re not a stupid failure when someone’s yelling that idea into your face every single day.

For two months, drill instructors hurled insults at our son Peter while he was in boot camp for the U.S. Navy. He did graduate, but whoa - the words to knock you down and out are harsh.

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While in boot camp, recruits don’t have their phones or rights, so as parents we had to wait to hear the extent of his experiences. Prayer works.

Debbie Griffith, Everyday Matters
Debbie Griffith, Everyday Matters
After three weeks, Peter called and told us it was the hardest thing he has ever done. Most of us have heard that boot camp is no carnival cake walk, but it’s different when it’s personal to one of your children. You have to suppress the desire to return some pain to the drill instructor who delighted in trashing your son with such gems as, “Why are you so stupid?” or “What’s it like riding the short bus?” and “How are you even able to be here, you *bleaping* dumbass?”

Some days the drill instructor would order other recruits to clap at my son for being such a “dumbass.” They’d clap.

Peter did struggle in school, academically. He had special assistance up until seventh grade because of a learning disability. If you were to tell him, “Go straight and take a left,” he could follow, but if you extended the direction with, “Go straight, take a left, turn the corner and on the left-hand side you’ll find the store,” well, he’d probably get lost.

What Peter does possess, though, is grit. He does not quit. He told me he sang the song, “Wait and See” by Brandon Heath every day to keep his spirits up. The lyrics are: “I never really was that good in school / I talked too much, I broke the rules / Teachers thought I was a hopeless fool, alright / There is hope for me yet / Because God won't forget / All the plans He's made for me / I'll have to wait and see / He's not finished with me yet.”

Right out of the womb, Peter was strong willed. I never really remember a baby cry from him because it was more like a screech. At age three, we were having one of our mother/son battle of wills when my friend, Diane, called to tell me that while she was sitting in her rocking chair sewing, God very specifically told her to share with me that Peter’s strong will was God-given and God created him that way for a purpose.

You can’t imagine how this helped me. Some days I thought we’d never make it, musing that either he or I would inevitably be placed in special care.

Peter told me he’d get so discouraged sometimes and pray, “God, why did you make me this way? Why aren’t I smart?” God did not make a mistake. He just made him different.

Peter excelled in physical fitness. The challenge for him in boot camp was all the scholastic tests. Every night he would stay up and study with another recruit, the smartest recruit in the bunch. He told me it was the hardest he’d ever studied in his life. He returned the favor by helping other recruits with their fitness challenges, in form and timing.

He also became known as the guy who prayed. Everyone heard, all day too, how he was yelled at for being stupid. His prayers and those of others must be working. He was still there.

“Hey, Griffith, you’re religious, aren’t you? Will you pray for me?”

“Sure, I’ll pray for you, but I’m not religious. I have a relationship with God. He’s real and that makes all the difference.”

There are a lot of tests to take before you can graduate. One friend of Pete’s was on his last chance to pass a written test. As he was saying his goodbyes, Peter said, “I’m gonna be praying for you.” After the test, Peter told him, “I was praying for you all day. How did you do?” His friend grinned wide and said, “I knew something different was happening while I took the test.”

Yep, God is real.

Up to the very last week of boot camp, Peter didn’t think he was going to make it. One afternoon he was ordered to eat breakfast early and grab his backpack. He thought he was being “ASMOed,” or sent back. Peter told me it was tough holding back tears thinking he had failed. The thought of calling us to share this news was devastating to him. When he reported to the chief, his superior growled: “Griffith, you know why you’re here?”

“Because I’m being ASMO’ed and sent back?”

“No Griffith. You are graduating in the top 3 percent.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. How is that possible?”

“Believe me Griffith. I’m surprised too, but I’ve checked twice. Now get ready because you’re meeting with three other chiefs to determine what happens next.”

Peter walked into the next room completely stunned.

On graduation day, he was dressed in his sailor whites, pinned with a special ribbon indicating he was a top 3 percent grad who had also moved up in rank. He, along with the other 3 percent honor grads (out of about 1,000 sailors), were standing at attention before all the other divisions came for the ceremony.

Who knew? God knew.

And so, I will continue to remind our boys, and all of God’s kids, that until we are finally “home,” God’s not finished with us yet. He began a good work in you and He’ll carry it to completion until the day He returns. (Philippians 1:6)

Remember, too, that fear is a liar and it takes courage to go forward when your feelings, circumstances and other people are telling you you’re not good enough. The deal is, we don’t have to be good enough, because God always is. He’s never surprised by what happens to us, and He’s always on the move to work all things for the good. He’s real. Prayer works real well, too.

Let the words of Brandon Heath’s song continue in your heart and mind always: “Still wondering why I'm here / Still wrestling with my fear / But oh, He's up to something / And the farther on I go / I've seen enough to know / that I'm not here for nothing / He's up to something / He's not finished with me yet.”


Debbie Griffith’s “Everyday Matters” column is a monthly feature for the Detroit Lakes Tribune’s Faith page.