“John Merritt has an extraordinary zest for life and a great gift for storytelling. In Don’t Blink he weaves his personal stories together with God’s scripture in a way that motivates and illustrates what it means to live life to the fullest, and to live it with God at the center of everything.” Larry Osborne, Senior Pastor of North Coast Church, and author of Thriving in Babylon.
For the record, there is no eleventh commandment that says, “Thou shalt not enjoy life.” Nor does God ever say, “My plan for you is to be miserable on earth until you arrive in heaven.” Rather, the earth reflects a joyful Creator who gives us his creation for our pleasure.
Don’t Blink is for procrastinators, dreamers, and would-be adventurers who wish to grab hold of life this day, knowing there are no guarantees about someday. From Alaska to Argentina to the Amazonin situations ranging from dangerous to humorousJohn Merritt takes you on a daring pilgrimage revealing what living in the moment looks like.
John demolishes the notion that once you become a Christian your freedoms are gone and your fun is done. Life is an extraordinary adventure elevated to audacious heights when God is leading the charge. Whether on the other side of the world or in your own backyard, you will be inspired to squeeze more joy out of the life God has given you.
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It's Good to Be Alive
have you ever smelled whale breath? I have and it's the nastiest stench ever! A forty-ton monster snuck up on me and my buddy while fishing, surfacing a mere thirty feet from our boat. Sounding like an explosion, the misty air came blasting out of his blow hole. Being downwind, we were treated to the putrid smell of rotted fish. Worst case of halitosis ever!
Though I have been on hundreds of fishing trips, I've never left the dock thinking I'd be close enough to a whale to smell his breath. And never have I entertained the ridiculous notion of hooking a whale. But I've learned that once you venture out to sea and put your line in the water, unexpected events can and do occur — events that are not possible when at home sitting on a couch.
On one particular voyage, we found the ocean so calm and flat you could have water skied the twenty-five miles from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Farallon Islands. Once we throttled down over our favorite fishing spot, there was an eerie sort of quiet that felt quite strange, even spooky for a wild and unpredictable ocean. Of course, it's always a bit unnerving when you're so far off shore you can no longer see land.
That day the waters around the Farallons were bursting with a spectacular array of life. Diving sea birds and leaping porpoises chased huge schools of bait fish. Best of all, countless whales joined in on the ocean buffet, dining on massive bands of shrimp-like crustaceans called "krill."
Seeing Gray Whales off the California coast is a fairly common occurrence as they migrate between Alaskan and Mexican waters. But today we were surrounded by Humpbacks! As the day rolled on, we realized not a minute went by without seeing or hearing a whale blowing, breaching, spy-hopping, or slapping their flukes.
Toward the end of the day I was trying to catch one more ling cod. While bouncing my jig in ninety feet of water, I looked up and saw two whales surface less than 100 yards away. They blew several times as they swam directly toward the boat. At less than fifty yards away I announced to my friend, "Hey man, we've got a couple of whales coming right at us."
I set my fishing pole down against the side rail and reached for my camera. But before I could snap a photo, the whales flipped their tails and took a dive directly under the boat.
When I picked up my pole, there was something heavy tugging on my line. I pulled back, setting the hook, and my pole doubled over. I thought for a moment I was snagged on the bottom because the pull was so strong. But no! Line began racing out of the reel, and there was no stopping it.
Then, instead of being pulled in a downward direction, the line started moving horizontally. No question about it, whatever I had on the end of the line was coming up.
I looked to the other side where my line was stretched out, as the whale surfaced, blew, and continued to swim away from me, taking my line with it! With the sixty-pound test fishing line screaming off my reel, I yelled, "Hey Steve, look! I caught a whale! Can you believe this?"
I let this massive creature pull out a few more yards of line, and then decided that I would be a good sportsman and practice "catch and release." I tightened the drag, the line broke, and the behemoth was gone. In a dazed state of mind, I collapsed on the deck, trying to verify that I wasn't hallucinating.
As I watched those two humpbacks blasting air and swimming off toward Maui, one with my hook in his mouth, I laughed out loud. While gazing at the western horizon I thought to myself, Nothing can top this! Not a shark, not a tuna, not a marlin — nothing!
It suddenly occurred to me that I had just reached the apex of my fishing career. And now, any time I hear someone bragging about the fish he caught, I have the perfect line: "Ever caught a whale?"
* * *
I've replayed this rare moment at sea countless times. I don't know what you call a miracle, but how does a 165- pound man on one end of a thin line become attached to an 80,000 pound animal on the other end of that line by way of dangling a small hook in an infinite abyss? Whether you see that as a miracle, or just a one in a trillion chance and I got lucky, the fact that it happened has caused me to use one particular word a lot less often. That word is "impossible."
People often stop pursuing their dreams when too much weight is given to pragmatism. Maybe you have heard someone in your life use the word "impossible" so often that it's caused you to stop dreaming. Granted, I did not go out fishing that day in late November thinking I was going to hook a whale. But I also know this about fishing — if your boat stays in the harbor, and you never wet your line, you aren't going to catch anything. On the other hand, if you push off from the docks, get out to where the fish are and make a cast, all kinds of new possibilities come up.
I am still shocked that a whale swam into my dangling hook. But that experience, among many others, causes me to ask you a question you may have never considered before — why settle for a fish when you can hook a whale? Settling for fish is no longer of interest once you realize hooking a whale is possible and you discover how alive it makes you feel.
Certainly there are those days when you venture out with the highest hopes of filling your coolers full of wild krill-fed salmon, and you can already taste the fresh filet grilling on your barbecue. But that day everything that can go wrong does go wrong, like it has on any number of our days at sea. We've had our expensive marine navigation equipment stop working with no land in sight. Boat engines have overheated, run poorly, and stopped suddenly, leaving us dead in the water. Some days we've limped into the harbor completely discouraged and wondering why we do this. Why do we? Because there will be another day — a day when magic can happen.
Too many of us seem to resemble the vast majority of boats that remain shackled to the docks in the safety of the harbor, growing barnacles on the bottom side and moss on the topside. But what a thing of beauty when the engines are humming or the sail is unfurled and the hull graces the water like a dancer waltzing across the floor. As you read, I hope you will hear the beckoning call to cast off your restraints, glide out of the harbor and discover all the open sea called life has to give you. We were created with the God-given freedom to explore, take risks, live life to the full, and chase our dreams with passion. Along the way, I pray that you will discover the greatest adventure of all — God's life becoming more of your life.
* * *
Sometimes we drop crab pots in the water on our way out to the fishing grounds, let them soak for several hours, and pull the pots up on our way back to the dock. In my estimation, there is nothing better in all the world than steamed Dungeness Crab dipped in melted butter and garlic, along with fresh sourdough bread, Caesar salad on the side, all washed down with a crisp sauvignon blanc. I remember saying to my wife as I was stuffing another pile of crab leg sweetness into my mouth, "It doesn't get any better than this."
And then as I sat there feasting and reflecting on an invigorating day at sea, I looked across the table at Debbie and said, "You know honey, it's good to be alive!" And she nodded in agreement and said, "Yes, it certainly is!" Can you remember the last time you said that? When was the last time you either said out loud, or at least thought to yourself, It's good to be alive? What were you doing? What was it about the moment or the experience that lead you to say or think that? I would ask that you to lift you head up from the words on this page right now, and try to identify a specific time that caused you to exclaim, It's good to be alive!
Ponder this: Do you think God is worried? Despairing? Frowning? Full of angst and dread? Of course not! Don't you think God enjoys all of creation every single moment in ways that we cannot even begin to comprehend? Imagine how much pleasure God finds in the beauty and complexity of the universe that continually dances before him. I wonder if we have lost sight of this aspect of who God is, what God enjoys, and how we were made to enjoy what he does. I believe God delights with us when we are pulling up crab pots, or doing whatever it is that causes us to say, It's good to be alive! As David declares in poetic fashion: "You make known to me the path of life, you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand." (Psalm 16:11)
You may not be the adventurous type and are disinterested in a full-fledged venture at sea. May I encourage you to begin by untying your boat from the dock for a gentle cruise around the harbor? If you are going through a difficult season of life, and living life to the full seems too much for you, I propose that you can live a larger life one day at a time. Even if you never plan to ride a motorcycle, strap on diving gear or ski down a mountainside, I hope you will discover what will assist you in making the most of your everyday life. I believe everyone can find a passion that fits who they are, whether paddling through whitewater or enjoying a back yard barbecue with good friends.
That said, when you find yourself laying face-down on the pavement like I have, surviving life takes precedence over enjoying life. But these are times when God can get an urgent message through that needs to reach our ears — maybe a message that says there is no someday, only this day. More about that in the next chapter ...
It's Good to Be Alive ...
Would you describe your life more as a boat at rest in the harbor or as a ship under sail in the open sea?
What dreams or goals have you been putting off because you think they are unrealistic or because someone has told you they are impossible to achieve?
Do your dreams align with your passions? To determine this, ask yourself what activity, hobby, job or pursuit makes you feel most fully alive.
What "whale-sized" challenge in your life will require some courage in order for you to move forward? Consider taking a moment right now to ask God for help in navigating a course through what may be uncharted waters.CHAPTER 2
Only One Life
the minute hand on the soot-covered clock inside the Western Pennsylvania steel mill moved slowly. The July humidity combined with the heat of the mammoth furnaces used to shape and roll steel created sweltering working conditions. But the job would help pay for my college tuition, and provided an unexpected incentive to complete my education.
Finally the three o'clock siren blew and I was out of there. I hopped on my motorcycle, sped home for a quick shower, strapped a duffle bag to the back of my bike and roared down the road with a whoop and a shout! From the dungeon of the mill to the freedom of the open road! My spirit soared.
The destination was paradise. My parents were vacationing on Hilton Head Island, South Carolina in a luxurious beach home. I couldn't wait to get down there to join them. But I had 950 miles to cover before I would feel the sand between my toes and the surf around my ankles. It was time to make tracks.
Things were going well as I crossed the Pennsylvania border into Maryland. The scene in my rearview mirror was as pretty as a postcard with the sun creating an orange glow on the horizon. Life was good. I was all smiles — there were bugs in my teeth! Everything was going as planned, except for a minor irritant that was causing a bit of concern as I put mile after mile behind me.
Two of the little bolts that attached the fender to the front fork were loose and were causing my front fender to vibrate. My haste to keep moving overcame common sense. Instead of stopping, I elected to lean forward with my chest resting on my gas tank. With one hand on the throttle I reached down with my other hand in an attempt to tighten the bolt — while going 70 miles per hour down a four-lane freeway.
Quicker than my eye could see, the bottom edge of my fender caught the rotating front tire of my motorcycle and instantly locked up the front wheel. With the front tire no longer rotating, the motorcycle lost stability and flipped on its side. I was slammed to the pavement so hard and so fast that I didn't even feel the initial impact.
As I flipped onto the asphalt, a vague awareness came over me. I had just wiped out and was lying on a freeway somewhere in Maryland.
Dazed and confused, I stumbled off the right lane of the freeway and staggered onto the shoulder. Somehow I was able to gather my wits enough to walk up to where my beloved Honda 350 lay wrapped around the guardrail.
A car had pulled up behind me. A woman got out shouting. She had been right behind my motorcycle and saw me wipe out. "Are you all right? Do you need help? I can't believe you survived!" "Yeah, I think I'm ok," I mumbled. That was the last I remember of her.
By now I was feeling the bruises starting to throb but not enough to stop me from getting my hands underneath the bike and setting it upright. A superficial assessment revealed a number of minor damages, but most critical was the crumpled front fender wedged between the front forks and the tire.
Only after looking my bike over did I look at myself. As far as I could tell there were no broken bones, no bleeding, no paralysis, and most miraculous of all, not a scratch on my helmet. There were several raw and inflamed wounds on my left side where initial contact with the pavement peeled away at least one layer of skin.
As daylight faded, I got out my small tool kit and struggled to work the fender free from between the front forks. Within a few minutes I accomplished that task. I then straddled what was left of my motorcycle, put my foot on the kick-start, and it started up on the first try. I was headed back down the road. I thought about looking for a hospital, but found a campground with a hot shower instead. I was still shaking from the shock as I cleansed my tender wounds.
I didn't sleep very well that night, but that didn't matter. I remember lying in my sleeping bag and looking up into a black sky flooded with stars. Never before had the night sky seemed so stunning. My mind was a jumble of thoughts as I reflected on the events of the day. How close was that car behind me as I flipflopped on the pavement? Why wasn't I run over? How could I get up and walk away? Why was there no evidence of my helmet hitting the pavement? Was there a guardian angel looking out for me? The answers remain a mystery, although I am inclined to believe the answer to the last question is yes.
* * *
This turned out to be a major life-shaping event that, first of all, filled me with a sense of gratitude. I gazed at the stars and thanked God to be alive. He could have taken me that day, but he didn't. For whatever reason, he allowed my life to continue. I could only conclude that God had a greater purpose for my life — something more than riding motorcycles, making money and chasing girls.
Perhaps you've found yourself gazing into the vast night sky and sensed there is a greater, undiscovered purpose for your life. Maybe you have emerged from a life-threatening experience with a strong belief in something larger, something more significant that God wants to show you. He reminds us that there are no guarantees about how long or how healthy or how complete our lives will be. We are wise to make the most of each day on earth while we can because today is all we have — there really is no someday. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come — now is the time to seek out the life God has planned for us.
But first, there is something God wants us to know when a smooth ride turns into a crash landing. After flipping my motorcycle, I knew God was there, picking me up off the pavement. Along with the certainty of God's presence was the conviction that my life mattered to him. I felt his warm embrace as I gazed into the heavens that sleepless night. Even in my pain, I felt God's compassion.
I'm wondering if you know this about God — that your life matters to him too. There may be reasons why you might think you don't matter much to God. Perhaps you're facing a serious situation and you wonder if God cares because he is not responding to your cries for help. When you find yourself face down on the highway of life, you may conclude that God is either apathetic about your existence or that he is really ticked off. Please know that nothing could be further from the truth. God does not delight in tragedy, nor does he seek to smack us into submission when we're not paying attention. That is not the way God operates.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Don't Blink"
Copyright © 2016 John Merritt.
Excerpted by permission of Morgan James Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of ContentsDedication
2 Crash Landing
3 Spread Eagle
4 Marijuana Smoke
5 Icy Straight
6 Night Dives
7 The Orphan
8 Killer Bees
10 Helicopter Drops
11 Clint Eastwood
12 Deadliest Catch
13 Hawaiian Hookers
14 The Nanny
15 Saddle Up
16 The Mad Egyptian
19 Lava Falls
20 Frozen Underwear
21 Circus Circus
23 Friendly Fire
About The Author