CHAPTER SEVEN: Three Dots
The sonogram was not widely used to determine a baby’s gender until the ‘70s, so I doubt that my parents had the chance to see me in the womb in 1963 the way my wife and I got to see my three daughters. If they had, they wouldn’t have seen the three lines that we saw, because three lines mean a woman. They would have seen three dots, because three dots mean a man, and that is what I am. It is what the creator formed me from mud to be.
As I said in Chapter One, I was not sad to learn that I was having a daughter at my first sonogram, I was just surprised. At that point in my life, I saw myself as a molder of boys, not girls. Now, twenty years later, I know that it doesn’t matter how I see myself, as it is God (not me) that does the molding. My job is simply to love and protect what He has created and placed into my care, as that is what I have been formed from mud to do. It is the primary purpose of all Minivan Centurions.
To effectuate that primary purpose, the creator endows us with three unique characteristics: courage, strength, and commitment. Courage is not fearlessness, but rather the setting aside of fear to turn hardship into grace. Strength is the physical and emotional durability required to resist great force or pressure. Commitment is unwavering loyalty to others and the unflinching determination to place their needs above one’s own.
Together, courage, strength and commitment form the essential package of manhood that is hardwired into every male of the species. Like the sliding doors on a minivan, it is our standard equipment. A child is born as a boy because he has a penis, but it is through the Three Dots of courage, strength, and commitment that he may flourish into a man in full capable of discharging the primary purpose for which God formed him from mud.
During the first five years of F3’s existence, I had a recurring and nagging problem that I couldn’t seem to solve. Because I was one of the founders, people I didn’t know would often thank me for what F3 had done for them, their husband, or some other man in their lives that they loved. While I appreciated their gratitude, I knew it was misdirected because I had very little to do with the actual effect in the life that had been altered by the organization. While I had a hand in starting F3 and moving it forward, I was not directly responsible for the vast majority of what had occurred.
As a result, I didn’t handle appreciation with grace. I would deflect, self-efface, and say things like “a blind hog finds a truffle now and then” or “even a stopped clock is right twice a day”. I told myself I was being humble, but what I was actually doing was depriving these people of their elemental human need to express sincere gratitude for a blessing in their lives. I could see that my self-effacing deflections confused and disappointed people, but I didn’t know what to do about it other than avoid situations where it was likely to happen.
In October of 2015, an event occurred that solved my problem. I was in South Carolina to run an obstacle course race called the Marine Corps Mud Run. I had been there before, but always as part of a four-man team drawn from F3 men in Charlotte. This time, I was there to run the race with an F3 group that had been planted at a drug and alcohol recovery mission in Columbia. I had never met these men before. Nor did I have anything to do with the planting of the F3 group there. Not only was it not my idea, it was also something I didn’t think would work because it seemed to me that these men had bigger and different problems than F3 could help solve. I turned out to be very wrong about that.
During the race, I learned that one of my teammates (“Andrew”) had been in ROTC in college like I had. Unfortunately, drug addiction had diverted the course of his life until the mission helped him get sober. I thought it was a great thing that F3 had then helped him reclaim his physical fitness, because I had a hard time keeping up with Andrew during our six-mile route through the obstacles.
At the end of the race, one of the Columbia men who had started the F3 group at the mission told me that Andrew’s family wanted to meet me.
“Why?” I asked, although I suspected that I knew the answer.
“I think they just want to thank you for what F3 did for Andrew,” he responded—exactly what I feared.
“Did you tell them that I didn’t have anything to do with starting the mission group?”
“I don’t think the details matter to them Dredd. They just want to talk to you.” He said, pointing over his shoulder to a dozen people standing together about forty yards away watching us talk.
Seeing no way around it, I followed him toward the group, wondering if I should compare myself to a blind hog or a stopped clock on this go-round—when a radical notion jumped into my head.
The day before I had read a magazine article about George W. Bush that described how gracefully he had dealt with the large groups of people with whom he had to interact as President. Apparently, when he met a well-wisher who pumped his hand and told him how great it was to meet him, he would simply reply “honored” or “I’m honored”. He did that because he knew it was not him they were excited to meet, but the President. He just happened to be the President, so he was the one to whom the excitement was directed. By saying “honored”, he was responding on behalf of the nation in his role as the President. It was his honor to be in that position, so the response of “honored” made sense.
As I approached Andrew’s family, I decided to give President Bush’s method a try. And it’s a good thing I did, because their gratitude was beyond anything I had ever experienced. Tearfully, they thanked me for returning their husband, father, son, and brother to them from the depths of drug addiction and despair. To each person who spoke to me I simply said “honored” or “it is my honor”. Instead of deflecting, I accepted their gratitude as a founder of F3, not for myself. I was simply the man who happened to be a founder, so it was my honor to be in that position and acknowledge their appreciation on behalf of the organization.
I walked back to my mud-run team buoyed by the sense of a burden having been taken from me. I told Andrew what a pleasure it was to meet his family and realized that I meant it. For the first time, I didn’t feel like a graceless fraud in the face of sincere appreciation expressed by people that had been helped by F3. I felt free and told Andrew that it must have been a great feeling of freedom for him to have been pulled from the grips of his addiction by the mission.
“It is,” Andrew said. “Every morning that I wake up without a hangover is a blessing.”
“Well, I’m really glad that F3 could help with that,” I said.
“Oh, well that’s not really what F3 did,” Andrew said. “The mission got me sober. What F3 did was give me my manhood back.”
“How did we do that?” I asked, surprised by what he said.
“After the first few weeks of us working out together, the F3 guys turned the leadership of the group over to us. They actually handed us the keys to it.” Andrew said.
“Yeah, that’s how we do it everywhere Brother. We plant workouts and hand them over to the local leadership to keep them going.” I said, still not getting how that had returned his manhood.
“Well, that might be how you do it everywhere, but it was a huge deal for us. For most of us, I know for me, that was the first time anybody had trusted us with anything in years. An addict destroys everything in his life because the only thing he truly cares about is getting high. When you get sober, the people who love you hope like hell it’s going to stick, but they would be fools to trust you. They’ve been burned too many times. It takes a long time to build that trust back up, but it has to start somewhere. Without trust, a man is not a man. Trust is manhood. That’s what F3 did for us.”
Driving back to Charlotte, I thought deeply about what Andrew had told me. It had never occurred to me that a man could lose his manhood, that his Three Dots could slowly fade out until he was not a man anymore, only a boy—a mere male version of the species. But of course that could happen. By placing something (in his case drugs) above the primary purpose for which the creator had formed him, Andrew had disabled his Three Dots. In his addiction, he had lost his courage, strength, and commitment, and that had rendered him incapable of loving and protecting his family. As a result, they didn’t trust him. Why would they?
This realization also caused me to take a hard look at myself. Although I had never been addicted to drugs or alcohol, there was a time when something that I had placed above my primary purpose had disabled my Three Dots. While I was blind to the fact that I had lost my manhood, my wife was palpably aware that I had become merely male rather than being a man.
She told me after one selfish incident of mine that what I had done had hurt her, but that wasn’t the worst of it. What was worse is that my actions had left her unprotected and that had scared her. It wasn’t the pain, she said, it was the fear of being unprotected that resulted in her not trusting me anymore. She told me that if I wanted her to trust me, I could never do anything like that again.
And I haven’t. Not through some force of will of my own, but because I too was afraid, afraid of what the creator would have to say to me when my flesh returned to the mud from which it was formed, and my spirit returned to Him. That fear drove me to my knees in true surrender for the first time in my life. Formed from mud for a purpose that I was, I finally admitted to the potter that I was a broken vessel incapable of holding water without His help.
And He gave it to me, through the help of other men who, once broken themselves, had reclaimed their manhood and their Three Dots. It was with their help that I was able to reclaim my own manhood and be an asset to other men like Andrew. They helped me get back in the fight and stay there.
But the process of reclaiming my Three Dots wasn’t easy and didn’t happen in a smooth straight line. There were obstacles and bumps along the path that tempted me to quit and return to my old life of self-oriented mere maleness. One day I confessed to my friend and mentor Bill Grier that I didn’t think I could keep going, overcome as I was by guilt and shame about my past.
“David,” he asked me, “if we made a movie of your worst moments in life, the absolute lowlights, how long do you think it would be?”
“At least two hours long,” I responded despairingly, wondering what Bill could possibly be getting at.
“Great,” Bill said. “Mine too. We all have a movie like that. And I guarantee you that if we were forced to watch yours all we would be is bored.”
That made me laugh, as many of the things Bill told me in those difficult years did. “So, what am I supposed to do with my movie,” I asked him.
“Do the same thing I did with mine. Hand it over to Christ and let him carry it. That’s why he went to the cross, so that you don’t have to carry that crap around anymore and keep watching it over and over in your head. If you don’t do that, you’ll never be of any use to anybody else.”
Bill, as he is in many things, was right about that. What good is the gift of freedom if a man doesn’t pass it on to other men?
The Bible tells us that when Peter realized that Jesus was far more than just some carpenter from Nazareth, Peter told him to go away because he believed that the life he had been leading rendered him unworthy to be in Jesus’ presence. But Jesus refused to leave. Instead, He told Peter not to be afraid, that it was Jesus’ intention to make Peter into a fisher of men.
And ultimately, despite his flaws and failures, it would be to Peter that Jesus would hand the keys to the kingdom of heaven, just as the men of F3 Columbia would someday hand Andrew the keys to the mission workout.
By trusting him with His most precious possession, Jesus helped Peter reclaim his manhood. And he would need those Three Dots in full, because it would take tremendous courage, strength, and commitment for Peter to protect the early church from the murderous predations of the Sanhedrin and the Roman Empire. It was something no mere male could do—it required a man.
And neither can a mere male love nor protect the family that the creator trusts enough to place into his hands. That requires a man in full possession of all Three Dots, a man who knows that it was for that primary purpose that he was formed from mud.
It is the Minivan Centurion’s honor to be that man.