An answered prayer for Stephen

Playl's Ponderings


It has been said that God always answers our prayers. Sometimes He says, “Yes.” Sometimes He says, “No.” Sometimes He says, “Wait.”

When I was a little boy, I wanted to be a cowboy when I grew up...or a police officer, firefighter, circus clown, train-hopping hobo, or an entertainer.

Sammie, my wife, wanted to be a lawyer or teacher, until she met me. After we married she put her dreams on hold for several years until she had the opportunity to teach in college. She is a darn good teacher, too.

On the other hand, our son, Stephen Jr., only had one career in mind. From the time he was 4 or 5 years old, he dreamed of being a soldier. Every Halloween, he dressed in uniform to trick or treat. In fact, almost every day he donned his camo and pretended to defend his country against the enemy. He had lots of military clothing and gear, and his cousin, Floyd, serving in the 82nd Airborne in Desert Storm, was his hero.

As a freshman football player at Tennessee High School, Stephen learned he had only one kidney - a congenital condition. It never bothered him, but he gave up football and concentrated on basketball. He never even considered that having only one kidney would affect his dream of a career in the military. 

After high school, he enrolled at Carson-Newman College and signed up for ROTC. He was honest about his kidney issue, not knowing it would shatter his dream of serving in the Army. He served in the honor guard, carrying the American flag and competing in drills around the southeast. Throughout his freshman year, Stephen’s commanding officer tried every way to obtain a waiver from the Army for the kidney condition so he would qualify for an ROTC scholarship. Finally, a letter came from the Surgeon General himself. In essence it said, “Don’t bother me any more. There’s no way the Army will accept him. This is my final word.”

When Stephen heard the news, he was devastated. He became angry at his parents, the Army, God, and everyone else. He tried to get in every other branch of the military, but they wouldn’t make exceptions either.  He transferred from Carson-Newman to King College. 

One day he asked his mom, “If God doesn’t want me in the military, what does He want me to do?”

Finally, he got past the bitterness, married Whitney Taylor and had two precious (stinking cute) boys. He earned a degree in business administration and moved to Knoxville for a job in property management. He and Whit were doing well. Then he called his mom again.

“Mom! I don’t believe the Lord wants me working in real estate for the rest of my life. I believe I need to be doing something to influence young lives. I’m going back to school to get my master’s in education and teach.”

After teaching a short time in Knoxville, he went to work for the Tennessee Department of Education, then came home to Bristol as Director of Career and Technical Education in the Bristol, Tennessee, School System. Then it was back to the TDOE, in Nashville, as Senior Director of Career and Technical Education. Next was more responsibility with the Department of Labor and Workforce Development where he is currently Assistant Commissioner over Workforce Services. Part of his job involves helping veterans get back into the workforce. So he is now fulfilling his passion for military and his patriotic drive, right?

..but that’s not the end of the story. A few months ago, at the Tennessee Government Executive Institute, he spent some time with Maj. Gen. Jimmie Cole, Deputy Adjutant General for the Tennessee Army National Guard. Over dinner, Stephen told General Cole about his dreams and disappointments and learned that things have changed and the Army can now make an exception for the kidney issue. Of course by now Stephen is also too old to get in the Army.

But Gen. Cole said, “Let me see what I can do!”    

After waivers for both major issues, Stephen has been sworn in and is a bonafide member of the military service. Last weekend, he attended his first drill with the Guard, and this summer he will go through six weeks of basic training at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri, with guys 20 years younger than he is. Before you know it. Spc. Playl will be an “old” man and an officer in the Tennessee Army National Guard.

Indeed...God does work in mysterious ways! Sometimes the answer is, “Wait!” For Stephen it was,  “Wait a couple of decades.”        


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