A Soldier’s Story of Family and Faith
“I can still almost feel the insulation irritate my skin, hear the creak of two-by-fours beneath my feet, and feel the roofing nails in my back.”
Cody hid from his father often, ever since the first abuse he can remember, when he was four years old.
“I was hiding in the darkest part of the attic of our old two-story house, praying my dad wouldn’t find me. He did; he always did.”
The worst was over by the time Cody was eight, although physical abuse continued through his teen years. To this day, scars on Cody’s body remind him of when his dad, in a drunken rage, pushed him down the stairs.
Cody understood this wasn’t the way a father should be, but this was the only earthly father he knew.
His early impressions of a Heavenly Father were not much better.
Teachers delivered painful punishment in the parochial elementary school (which has since closed) where he and his two siblings attended.
They rapped his knuckles with yardsticks, locked him up alone in a storage closet, and pulled the hair on the back of his head—just enough to get his attention without drawing other students’ attention.
This lack of kindness led Cody to conclude that God was not kind-hearted, and it made him turn away.
Looking back on his childhood, Cody says, “The God I grew up with is not the God I know now.”
HIDING AND SURVIVING
The first time he tried cocaine, Cody was in the third grade. He got it from his friend, Joseph, who also supplied marijuana and other drugs.
By his freshman year in high school, Cody was trafficking substances from Wichita to Salina. Three buddies from those years have since died as a result of the lifestyle they chose—an end Cody knows he could have also faced.
There were times Cody wanted to die. Many nights he begged God to take his life. One night he had his plan ready: if God wouldn’t do it, Cody would make it happen himself.
Just in time, Cody’s best friend Jordan connected with him. And Cody lived. But Jordan was troubled too, and later tragically died from a drug-related motorcycle accident.
Eventually, at age 16, Cody left home. He slept in a park for three nights before he was arrested and spent a night in juvenile hall.
At that point Cody wasn’t going home. He knew how to hide, and for ten days he hid, until he reported to the early enlistment program of the Army. By then his dad didn’t care where he was or what he was doing and his mom naively believed anything he told her.
Cody finished his high school education at an alternative school, and by 17, he had a bed in a barracks room. By 18, he was fighting in Operation Iraqi Freedom.
“The Army saved my life,” Cody says emphatically. “I always looked up to soldiers. They were real people who could teach you how to protect others, how to make good decisions—like a father or a mother should.”
While in basic training, Cody discovered for the first time that he was an athlete; he could run! He hadn’t even tried sports in school because he was either ineligible or didn’t care.
Although drugs followed him into the Army, Cody learned that he could focus on other things, like serving well in four successive operations in the Middle East.
“So many opportunities opened the day that I swore in.”
But alcohol was the drug that wouldn’t let go.
“I hated, beat, cut, and burned myself trying to not be like my father. But still there were nights when I found myself drunk, passed out on my barracks room floor.”
NEW FAMILY AND FAITH
Back from Iraq and reporting for duty at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, Cody was 23 when he met Ashlynn.
“She introduced me to a different God than the one I knew.”
Before long, Cody and Ashlynn were married and getting involved in local ministry outreach programs. Chaplain John Ginder introduced them to the Shiloh Ridge Hospitality House where they met Cadence missionaries, Lanny and Stacey Groves. Cody describes the Groves family as “always there” for the people of that community.
In the fellowship of the hospitality house, they saw families coming together and helping each other. Cody had a close up look at what he wanted his life and family to be like.
When he was upset and needed someone to talk to, Cody would take a walk in the woods with Lanny and help chop down trees that blew over. And on those walks, Cody would tell Lanny his story.
A defining day in Cody’s story came on December 15, 2015. He was 27.
Cody went to Chaplain Danny Melin’s office to talk about that day’s activities, and the chaplain challenged him, “Why are you still on the fence?”
Cody hesitated, took a deep breath, and decided he was done fighting it—done making excuses. He answered, “I’m not on the fence anymore.”
He remembers his whole body got warm, his hands got tingly, and he felt overwhelmed with happiness. Cody called Ashlynn on the phone. She wept with joy when he told her he was choosing Jesus.
“You get new eyesight when you become a Christian,” Cody says.
“You know what you want, then you can just go for it. There’s nothing holding you back any more. With God at your side you don’t have to worry.”
Now Cody didn’t just listen to the Bible in sermons, he started studying the Bible for himself. He began sharing his faith with soldiers in his Special Forces unit. He wanted to be baptized, to publicly share his testimony.
On September 4, 2016, at his baptism, Cody looked out on the group gathered at the hospitality house. Several of his mentors were there, including Lanny Groves, Chaplain Melin, and Chaplain Monty Johnson.
And he saw them for who he had found them to be.
“They are my fathers” Cody says. “If they don’t want that position, too bad. They’ve got it anyway. My dad wasn’t there for me to learn from. I look to them as actual fathers.”
Cody also sees his Heavenly Father with new eyes. He sees a loving Father who is redeeming and restoring the life Cody once thought wasn’t worth living.
“I love that I can ask Him questions with a child-like heart . . . I love the fact that God made us in His image and He’s someone that I can look up to, that everyone should look up to.”
Cody speaks after a serious pause, imagining the night of the Last Supper. He can relate to the prayer of Jesus, pleading with God to remove the cup of suffering. Cody remembers the many times he looked into a cup, wanting to give up, to end it all.
But God saved him.
“Without His forgiveness and mercy, we would have no idea.”
A LEADER AND A FATHER
Recently selected to become a Warrant Officer, Cody is now a leader who others look up to. He has opportunities to pray with soldiers and read the Bible with them.
He can name six soldiers who chose to continue fighting and living after he told them about his story, the love of Jesus, and the assurance that the day would come when they would wake up and see the positive impact they will have on others.
And Cody is a new father. He has godly “fathers” to mentor and guide him as he and Ashlyn raise their new daughter. He has a Heavenly Father who will never abuse or abandon him.
He’s living a life he never thought could be his, and he’s grateful to God.
“It’s all because of Him. I have nothing but praise.”