This week I’ve enjoyed meeting, by phone, several recently commissioned Navy and Coast Guard ensigns who are currently en route to their first ships and boats.
What joy I felt as I shared how faithful the Lord had been to me 28 years ago when I first arrived aboard the USS Mars (AFS-1), a now-decommissioned ship.
The quizzical looks I received upon arrival shed light on how challenging the next 5 weeks would be. At that time, I was a midshipman first class (MIDN 1/C), a rank that falls between enlisted and officer ranks. Because of the training nature of this temporary duty, I was considered part of the wardroom, albeit with the junior ranking of “not-quite an officer.”
After dumping my seabag by my bunk, I learned that I was the only female among the ship’s company of over 300 sailors and officers. The two other (male) MIDN 1/C and I then went to the Executive Officer’s (XO) stateroom for our in-briefing. The XO said to me, “You are the first woman on this ship, and I’m putting you in Engineering because that’s the worst place I could put a female. You’ll set the tone for all the women who will follow you aboard this ship.”
My first thought was, “Lord, what will I do? You know I barely earned a D in my Intro. to Naval Engineering class!”
As we shoved off from the XO’s stateroom, he let fly one more zinger.
“By the way, I’m a ’79 grad,” he added, certain that I would recognize the significance of his remark. (The classes of 1979 were the last all-male classes at the Military, Naval, and Air Force academies.)
Since I couldn’t expect command support, nor could I rely on my own mental ability, I next headed to the Engineering officers’ space. I was greeted with the smell of a massive cloud of cigarette smoke, the sight of nude photos of women, and the sound of foul language. No sanctuary there.
Next, I looked to my division chief only to have him attempt to press himself upon me against the bulkhead.
As the acting “B” division officer (perhaps like you, I had no idea that the “B” stood for boiler engines), I fled to the belly of the ship where the boilers were located, not realizing that I had fled to what would become my stronghold.
According to the second definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a stronghold is “a protected place where the members of a military group stay and can defend themselves against attacks.”
I asked the sailors of “B Division” to share how the engines worked. Those 28 sailors taught me the basics of naval engineering.
The ship’s engine room was my stronghold – after peep holes were bored into my stateroom, while I sat ignored at every meal, and when I returned to the ship after a lonely time on liberty.
But beyond a physical stronghold, the Lord was my spiritual stronghold.
The Lord is my light and my salvation— whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps. 27:1)
Daily, I spent a few minutes reading a couple of verses and praying fervently.
The captain of the ship told me during my departure briefing that, unbeknownst to me, he’d been watching to see if I would “sink or swim.” He had been standing by to toss me a lifeline, only I hadn’t needed it.
I had clung, with all my limited strength and feeble knowledge, to the ultimate lifeline found in lashing myself to the Savior, Jesus Christ.
In Psalm 139, verses 7-10, God promised me – and you – that we would never out-distance Him.
7 Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
8 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
During any trial in military life, we can run to the stronghold of faith!