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By Jamie Warner
“But still, because I had hated God so much and so long for everything that had happened to me in my life up to this point, I thought I could never be forgiven.”
For the first couple years after his medical discharge from the Army, Preston Kaplan kept himself busy as a full-time student. If asked why he was back in school, he was quick to respond with the expected to further my education and prepare me for a career, or something like that. But really, school was just a smoke-screen. A mask. A distraction from the truth that Preston was dealing with “some real problems I was having that I tried to deny to even to myself.” His self-delusion included thinking his continuous drinking and occasional drug use was completely “under control.” Then, due to circumstances outside his control, he had to leave school. The smoke-screen vaporized, and as he puts it, “I quickly fell into a downward spiral of self-destruction fueled by anger, self-pity, and the feeling of being utterly alone.”
Preston describes his self-loathing as so acute that he felt nobody could possibly love him and began to act like that was reality with those who did care for and love him, including his wife. It was also during this time that his wife began to attend church and gave her life to Christ. “She would force me to go with her, no matter how hung over I was.” Preston tried to turn the people at church away from him by being standoffish and not listening to what was being taught, but after about a year he noticed something in the eyes of the congregants, like they knew a secret. He began listening and paying attention to what was being said. “But still, because I had hated God so much and so long for everything that had happened to me in my life up to this point, I thought I could never be forgiven.” He learned different. Forgiveness is available to all of us. He finally gave in and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Savior. It wasn’t two months later that he ran into a couple of MOWP graduates who were eager to share about the program… sort of. “They were actually pretty vague, and all they said was, ‘It changed my life,’ and that I needed to go.” Surprisingly, that was enough.
There were a couple key impactful moments for Preston when he attended Legacy Program. The first was Day 1 when they challenged his concept of manhood and what it means to be a man, especially through the eyes of God. That shook one of his foundational beliefs and got his attention for the remaining lessons. But it was giving his testimony for the first time that really rocked him. “I had never told anybody of how I thought or felt, or what I have done in my past to bring me here. At least not in one sitting. But I remember feeling like a huge weight had been lifted off me. I think it was the first time I actually sorted through and admitted my feelings even to myself.”
When asked why he wanted to come back and become a Team Leader, Preston was very candid. “I feel it’s as though it’s what God is calling me to do. For so long I was lost and worried only about Number One: me. I have made more than my fair share of mistakes and have continually, somehow, escaped by the skin of my teeth. I had a troubled youth filled with bad decisions and lack of guidance. My military career wasn’t much better and was filled with hard times and heavy hearts. With all that baggage, and the loss of my leg, and my hatred for God, I spiraled so low. But I found Christ, and I think a lot of people can relate to at least some parts of my life. If God could use me to show how bright his light is through my dark path and hopefully help those in need, then I am his humble servant.”