Editor’s note: This column is part three of a three-part series exploring the author’s quest to understand and ultimately live for God.

“The mind is its own place, and in itself

Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n.

Here we may reign secure, and in my choice

To reign is worth ambition though in Hell;

Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”

— John Milton

Deep roots really do not let go easily. Innocence presses toward light.

Tangible to me is the resinous aroma and lichen-painted image of those longleaf pines from my youth growing toward purpose. So familiar to me are their gifts when I use a bit of fat-lighter to kindle a fire, spread pine needles in the yard, use a pint of turpentine to clean brushes and walk on a seasoned heart pine floor, I sense home. Ably in my most difficult instants can I close my eyes and immediately stand in their quiet presence and at once hold close their reassuring non-judgment.

Those pines, like my friends and my innocence, were trying to teach me something. Walt Whitman framed my dilemma writing about the difference between being and seeming. Brief was my path to seeming, long my transformation to being. All those small, benign choices to reign in Hell made me a stranger to God, God a stranger to me. But God clings closely to his chosen.

I remember saying the words, “Hey, Joe, did you hear Martin Luther King died?”

To this day, I can’t believe I uttered them and let them fall on a grieving man’s soul. I feel the regret and embarrassment as though I just said it. Oh, the milestones I have crossed since that first mimicked inch toward Hell. How easily one falls into a discordant life. My despair took me to Hell’s edge. I peered into its lifeless and lightless abyss. Mimicry will take a person to strange places.

Jordan B. Peterson writes, “What saves is the willingness to learn from what you don’t know.” Having tried life and life, having tried me, I awoke to my innocence. Palpable to me was a hand not my own leading me toward “a new heaven and a new earth.” My existential answer came. I only had to look within to find God and remain true to His presence there.

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy – meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV). Grasping Paul’s words, all malice and confusion fell away.

Innocence does not let go easily. I still don’t fully understand, but I know what to do. Chosen, as all God’s children are, my gifts search purpose. They live to God.

I’m prone to wander no more.

“You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain, that whatever you ask the Father in My name He may give you” (John 15:16, NKJV).

Deck Cheatham has been a golf professional for more than 40 years. He lives with his family in Dalton. Contact him at pgadeacon@gmail.com.