Most of us have been challenged throughout our lifetimes. Indeed, most of life consists of a series of challenges that are either overcome or by which we are overcome. For those of us who have placed our faith in the Lord Christ Jesus, our challenges throughout life include trials of faith. We have, most of us, come to the end of ourselves at some point or another, and perhaps we have even questioned our faith. What I will detail below is a story of just such a trial for me - though it was many years ago, so the details may be a bit fuzzy. That established, what you will see written actually happened, and the impact of what took place ensured it was permanently burned into my memory - at least until the Lord decides to allow my mind to degrade to the point wherein most of my memories fade into obscurity.
It was the early 1990s, and I was enlisted in the US Coast Guard. Assignment aboard a Coast Guard cutter can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. Each 'Coastie' has a variety of tasks he must perform, based on what we term billets. My primary job at the time was as a cook. That doesn't sound very challenging, but at the time I was a young man and responsibility of any kind was still relatively new to me. Every other morning, I had to wake up before the rest of the crew (excepting the ones on night duty), and make breakfast for over 80 of my fellow Coasties. If I didn't wake up on time or I messed something up, folks didn't eat, and when you're at sea you don't have a choice of going to Burger King.
Well the time came when I was ready for more challenges and was pursuing the next rank. My Chief gave me the job of "Jack of the Dust" which included ensuring the food for the next few days was identified and properly positioned for the duty cooks. That involved more planning and coordination, and my normal job as duty cook did not go away. Add to all of that being on a small ship, pitching about in 15 to 30-foot waves. The job started to build stress within me.
At the end of a pretty tough week (butt-chewings from the Chief for screw-ups and such), I was prepositioning frozen food into the ship's 'thaw-box' when a hard pitch sent frozen meat and other food items tumbling on top of me and out into the corridor. I snapped. I looked blankly at the frozen food sprawled into the corridor, and then I climbed the ladder out of that compartment and headed to the forward berthing area. Finding my rack, I slid down to the deck with my back to the lowest of the three-high racks. My cohort and friend was in his rack behind me. He asked if I was okay. I told him I didn't care. He pressed me for more information, so I told him of what had transpired. He said the Chief would find out and would be mad. I told him I didn't care.
About ten minutes later, the Chief came into our berthing area and saw me sitting with my back to the lowest rack. He told me of the mess he'd found next to the ship's freezer. I braced myself for another butt-chewing. The Chief must have seen something in my face, so he stooped next to me and said, "Let's go clean it up." We got up, and the Chief helped me clean up the mess without another word. I then returned to my rack (which was the highest of the three), climbed up and laid down.
I closed my eyes and prayed silently, saying something like, "God, I know you're there. Your evidence is everywhere. What I don't know is if you care about me. If you could give me a sign ... something ... anything ... well, your will be done."
What happened next may have been a dream, but to this day it still seems entirely too vivid to have been a dream. In the darkness I saw a light in the shape of a person. The light was incredibly bright, with waves of pure but terrifying energy flowing off of it. While I could not make out a face, I knew the presence was looking at me. I became utterly powerless, unable to move a muscle. Even looking away from the presence or closing my eyes could affect nothing. The presence was absolute perfection - not evil, but unspeakably holy and perfect, to the point that I felt filthy being in its presence.
Whether I said the words or just thought them, what I said/thought was, "I've seen enough!"
The presence vanished, and I sat up in my rack in a sweat.
All that was more than fifteen years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. Since then, I've been through far tougher trials, including being a gunner on an armored Humvee, engaging enemy forces and being targeted by deadly bombs - some that injured my cohorts within my vehicle. I've been given impossible deadlines for projects that affected thousands of Soldiers. There have been many other trials and challenges too, but since that fateful night, I've never again questioned my Lord. My faith is absolute and unshakable.