“I want to become a Navy SEAL.”
Dad didn’t say anything immediately, but his facial expression did.
Are you really serious?
Dad is the studious type. He considers all the options, then makes well-thought-out, informed decisions.
I definitely didn’t inherit that trait from him.
Dad wanted me to spend another year in college and take more time to think about what I wanted to be when I grew up. He pointed out the reasons why he believed I was rushing into my decision:
“You didn’t stick with baseball.”
“You didn’t stick with skateboarding.”
“You didn’t stick with sport fishing.”
“You’re not good with authority—and you want to go into the military?”
I didn’t tell Dad that I had known I wanted to become a SEAL for all of a few days now. Or that I had reached my decision while spinning my truck in 360s across an empty parking lot at my college, where I had started the morning by drinking and smoking marijuana.
That conversation with Dad ended like most conversations with my parents—on my terms. I marched out of his bedroom and down the hallway, dismayed once more that I wasn’t being trusted. I needed to do something big. And nothing sounded bigger than becoming a Navy SEAL.
THE WORKOUTS BEGIN
I anticipated that becoming a SEAL would be the most difficult thing I would attempt in my life, but I had no doubt I would make it. SEAL candidates vow they will die before they quit, and most wind up quitting anyway, but I just knew that wouldn’t happen to me.
Each day for the next few days, my dad brought up the topic. I sensed that mostly he wanted to see if I was still serious about becoming a SEAL, and each time we talked about it I did my best to convince him I was. … One day, however, Dad surprised me. He told me he had made contact with a former SEAL, who had agreed to meet with me.
I was confused. Why was Dad suddenly interested in helping me learn more about becoming a SEAL?
“If you’re really serious about this,” he explained, “I figured you might as well have a good idea of what you’re getting yourself into.”
What I didn’t know, was that Dad had asked this guy to put me through a workout so difficult that it would completely beat the idea of becoming a SEAL out of my mind.
WELCOME TO BUD/S
“Look at the guy to your left. Look at the guy to your right. Look in front of you. Look behind you. Take a mental picture.”
“If you make it through BUD/S,” the instructor resumed, “chances are, all those other guys you just looked at didn’t make it.”
That moment was a reality check for me. Many of those guys looked tough and, as far as I could tell, no different than me. I knew I wouldn’t quit, but those around me seemed like the type who wouldn’t quit either.
Wow, I thought, where are those quitters going to come from?
It turned out that they would come from all over the room. About a year later, at the end of our training, only thirteen of the original 173 would have persevered all the way through to our SEAL class’s graduation.
It was five o’clock in the morning, still dark, with a chilly, damp wind blowing off the Pacific. We stood outside our barracks.
Vroom! Vroom! Vroom!
Many of our instructors rode motorcycles, and we could hear their engines roar ahead of their arrival. One voice piped up from within our group: “The demons have arrived, and we’re about to go through hell.”
“BUD/S Class 254, get over here! On the grinder! Now!” an instructor barked through a bullhorn.
We immediately dashed to the grinder, a large concrete-asphalt area where calisthenics took place. That’s the nice way of putting it. To be more descriptive, the grinder is where we went to get “ground.”
On the grinder, the instructors sprayed us down with water hoses before ordering us to “Hit the surf!”
At the beach, the instructors had all of us line up with our backs to the water and gave us the order, “Link arms!” We linked arms with the guys on either side of us. Then we had to do an about-face and link arms again. The next command was, “Forward march!” Arms linked in one long chain, we marched into the water as waves crashed into us.
We continued marching until the water was chest high and the instructors ordered, “About-face. Take seats!” We brought our legs up into a sitting position. The waves gradually carried us back to shore until our bodies were scraping the sand. The waves continued to slap us in the face, and with our arms still locked, there was nothing we could do to block the slaps.
Sand got into our eyes, up our noses, into our mouths, and inside our ears. When we came out of the ocean, instructors made us roll along the beach until we wore a thick coat of sand from head to boots.
With the cold air and water, the annoying sand, the seemingly endless surf tortures, and the constant yelling, the instructors tried to weed out the weaker trainees within the first hour.
“We just want three quitters,” the instructors told us. “Three quitters, and we’ll take you out of the water.” That was one of the psychological games the instructors played with us, and the games worked. Two or three guys gave up right off the bat.
Those who quit during BUD/S don’t just walk away. They are required to return to the grinder, where a brass bell hangs outside First Phase office. Each recruit must give three solid tugs of a short rope to ringthe bell loud and clear, then place his helmet on the grinder and head off for a lesser Navy assignment. As the days of training accumulated, so did the number of helmets on the grinder.
Forty-six of us graduated from BUD/S Class 254. Almost twenty months after leaving for boot camp I became a Navy SEAL!
Upon graduation, I had been assigned to immediately report to SEAL Team 1. I was glad I had landed on a West Coast team. That meant I’d be able to see my family and Aubrey often. It also meant I could maintain my high-octane partying with both my old friends and my new SEAL buddies. I threw a lot of energy into doing just that.
The next weekend I returned home, ready for more drinking and partying.
“We have to talk,” my dad told me. “We can’t have you stay here anymore if you’re going to keep going out and doing these things,” Dad said.
I became furious.
I knew I could easily find a friend to stay with when I came home, but I did have one problem that needed an immediate solution. I had a keg, hidden under a blanket in the garage, that I planned to use that night. Dad and Mom seemed pretty serious about kicking me out right away, so how could I get to that keg?
“Hey,” I said to them. “You guys are going to some church thing tonight, aren’t you?”
“Yeah,” they responded, obviously wondering where that was headed.
“I’ll go with you.”
Shock covered their faces.
My intentions were completely disingenuous, but I did have a plan. Going to church with my parents would probably buy me one more night at home. And I would be back in plenty of time to get the keg and leave for the party.
I called Aubrey to fill her in on what was up and tell her that I wanted her to go to the service with us. I also gave her a heads-up about what to expect at church.
“When we get there,” I told her, “there’s going to be people playing music up on stage. And then there’s this guy named Greg Laurie. He’ll share a message about God, and then he’ll basically ask everyone in the audience to respond in a certain way if the message has affected them.’
“Do not raise your hand. If you raise your hand, he’s going to ask you to stand up. But it’s a trick. Because once you stand up, he’s going to get you to walk down to the front. Then once you’re up front, they’ll take you into a back room where someone will talk to you. And we don’t have time for all that.”
RINGING THE BELL
There had to be at least a thousand people under the tent when the service began, and the script followed exactly what I had told Aubrey would happen. At one point during the singing, I gave Aubrey a told-you-so look. She gave me her sweet little smile. She was doing exactly as I had advised. My parents were pleased I was there, so everything was going perfectly according to my script too.
But if you have heard Greg Laurie, the widely known senior pastor of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, California, you know what an engaging speaker he is. He has such a down-to-earth personality that it’s difficult to listen to him speak without actually hearing what he’s saying.
Gradually, I started paying more attention to his message. He was talking about this guy named Naaman from the Old Testament. The man was the successful commander of an army—he was a soldier—and he had an interesting story. Naaman was revered by his men and had a lot of power. But Naaman also had a problem: leprosy.
Naaman heard about a prophet named Elisha who could potentially take the leprosy away from him, so Naaman and his men decided to pay Elisha a visit.
I was totally into the story now.
Naaman and his servants went to Elisha’s house, but Elisha wouldn’t even pay him the courtesy of meeting him at the door. Instead, Elisha sent a messenger to talk to the commander. “Go to the river,” the messenger toldNaaman, “and dip yourself in the water seven times.”
It ticked Naaman off that the prophet hadn’t come out and healed him. It ticked me off, too, because I was now imagining what it would be like to be Naaman. I was sitting forward in my seat, wondering what would happen to my new friend, Naaman.
Even though Naaman was upset, his servants convinced him that he had nothing to lose by dipping in the river as Elisha had prescribed through the messenger.
Pastor Laurie described how it must have felt for Naaman—big, strong, powerful military leader Naaman— to have to strip off his armor and, perhaps for the first time, allow the people who revered him to see the sores on his skin. But still, Naaman decided to dip into the river. He dipped once and nothing happened. He did it a second time and still nothing happened.
Was Naaman feeling like a fool? I would be.
Then came a third time, and a fourth, and so on until Naaman finally walked into the river for the seventh time. When he came out of the water that last time, all the leprosy had disappeared.
At about this point, it seemed as though Pastor Laurie stopped telling a story to a thousand people and started relating it one-on-one to me.
Sin, he said, is a lot like the leprosy Naaman suffered from in that it causes decay.
“Maybe you’re a person,” he continued, “who puts on this tough, outer shell, but inside you know things aren’t right.”
A sense of conviction immediately came over every square inch of my body. All of a sudden, a door seemed to open in my soul, and I began to feel so sorry for a list of things running through my mind—things I had done wrong. Along with that came a sense of urgency, a feeling that if I didn’t walk through the door that night, it might never open for me again.
Right there in my seat, for the first time in my life, I was finally getting what the gospel was about. I realized that all the sin in my life was just like Naaman’s leprosy, and the reckless lifestyle I had been living was decaying me.
But I also realized that if I got humble before God, he could instantly and completely forgive me for all the horrible things I had done. God could do for my life what he had done for Naaman’s skin. I believed I could be given a new start through God.
“Those whom Jesus calls, he calls openly and publicly,” Pastor Laurie said. “If you really want to make this commitment real,” he said, “raise your hand.”
It happened just like I’d told Aubrey it would. But I wasn’t trying to see through his words any longer.
I raised my hand.
“If you raised your hand,” Pastor Laurie continued, “stand up…”
I quickly stood and immediately was hit by what felt like a radical transformation taking place within me.
“…and walk on forward,” Pastor Laurie concluded.
I hesitated momentarily. All I could think was, Wow! Wow! Wow!
Before I had even taken a step toward the front, I already knew I was on a countdown clock as a Navy SEAL. What had been my life’s mission—what had consumed me through those two-plus years of training—had been replaced.
I’m going to do what that guy up there on the stage is doing.
That is a thought I would never have created on my own.
Up until that point, I couldn’t even imagine being a regular churchgoer. As for actually getting up in front of others and talking about becoming a Christian? No way. Wouldn’t happen.
And yet I knew that’s what I was supposed to do.
I turned to Aubrey on my right.
“Come with me,” I urged her.
“No!” she told me with a you-must-be-crazy look.
So I walked to the front alone.
I had already felt a complete transformation inside of me, but when I started down the aisle, I experienced yet another new feeling: humility. I felt exposed, like Naaman must have felt. And I felt like a quitter—but the good kind of quitter. I was ringing the bell on my way of doing things and enlisting to live life God’s way.
Such an attitude doesn’t come naturally to a SEAL, who typically possesses an “I can do it all on my own” mind-set.
Aubrey and my parents were waiting for me back in the make-do sanctuary. My parents wore humongous smiles.
Aubrey’s face, however, wore a different expression.
“What’s going on?” she asked me.
“We’re not going out tonight,” I told her, thrilled.
That night was the end of partying for me. The keg wound up sitting in my parents’ garage, under that blanket, for at least two years, until the day when Dad and I were moving things around in the garage and uncovered it.
“What is this?” he asked.
“Oh, man,” I told him. “That was from the night I got saved.”
For Naaman’s story, read 2 Kings 5.
Taken from Seal of God by Chad Williams. Copyright © 2012 by Chad Williams with David Thomas. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. For more information go to www.SEALofGodBook.com