Choosing to Lose: An Overachiever Learns to Lean Fully on God
By Eric Baber
Eric Baber and his family attended Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA, with his family for many years; he now lives in Englewood, CO. In this testimony, he shares about how, after years of severe emotional and physical trauma, he finally chose to lean fully on God, rather than on his own hard work and accomplishments. In September 2020, Eric and his family drove to California so that he and three of his four children could be baptized by Jack Hibbs, senior pastor of CC Chino Hills.
As a kid, what did you dream of? I was told I could be anything I wanted to be—“Just set your mind to it and work hard.” Unfortunately, this is not true, or a biblical way to live. At the risk of sounding like I am bragging, let me tell you a little bit about myself, my “successes,” and the struggle and pain they have caused me.
LORD, I know that people’s lives are not their own; it is not for them to direct their steps. Jeremiah 10:23, NIV
On Saturday, September 12, 2020, Eric Baber and three of his children were baptized by Jack Hibbs, senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Chino Hills, CA. They drove from their home in Colorado to be among the 1,000 people baptized that morning. Eric and his family had previously attended CC Chino Hills for many years. From left to right: Travis, 8; Pastor Jack; Eric; Lorelei, 10; and JJ, 12. Eric’s wife Heidi, and their 4-year-old daughter, Cali, are behind the camera.
Early Success and Hard Work
I grew up in Southern California in a Catholic church, always knowing about Jesus. While at a New Year’s Eve lock-in at another church, with my high school sweetheart, Heidi, I accepted Christ. I was a top scholar, fastest swimmer, and a top water polo player at my high school and in Southern California. I got a full scholarship to the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA). I continued to overachieve and struggle, but through hard work, lots of pain, and two surgeries, I lettered all four years in swimming and water polo. I graduated with a pilot training slot and married Heidi. During pilot training, I struggled but worked really hard. I was assigned KC-10s, a highly competitive aircraft to get, as far as “heavy” airplanes go. At my first unit, I worked really, really hard, earning several awards, a master’s degree, and becoming a very young instructor pilot. Heidi and I had our first two children. During my fourth deployment, I started struggling with depression and anxiety, but I continued to work hard.
The Beginning of Darkness
You are not your own. 1 Corinthians 6:19b
But God . . .
After a long combat mission, I fell and tore nearly everything in my ankle. I asked, How and Why? I didn’t understand—I was working hard and performing. Why would God let this happen?
As an injured pilot, I went from award-winner and “go-to” officer to a minor support role. I was bitter, angry, in pain, and massively depressed. After surgery #3 and lots of rehab, I attempted to return to fly. To do so, I had to go to training in the altitude chamber, which is usually a non-event.
However, in the chamber, air ripped through my nasal walls, fracturing bone and severing trigeminal nerves, which are responsible for sensation and motor functions in the face. It was a blinding pain. My sinuses were impacted with blood. Sinus surgery (#4) left my sinuses wide open, with permanent nerve damage. But I knew pain and continued to work hard.
I was assigned as a remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) pilot, and through hard work was selected for special missions. We were blessed with our third child. Three kids, growing PTSD from special missions, shift work, and commanding 30 personnel at work all took its toll. Every time I went from air-conditioning to outside, I had unimaginable, stabbing, blinding pain. But I knew pain and hard work.
In fall 2007, Eric was a 1st LT U.S. Air Force KC-10 pilot. In this photo, he was serving his second of fourth combat deployments. In his testimony, he tells of how, through years of physical and emotional struggle, he learned to surrender his life and dreams to God and not to depend on himself or his accomplishments.
The Darkness Grows
But God . . .
While driving to base, my car on cruise control, I passed out, regaining consciousness just in time to stop before a concrete revetment wall. This was the final straw to my career and core identity. I was permanently broken, labeled non-mission essential, non-deployable, and diagnosed with too many ailments to list. It was just who I was now. I was medically retired from the USAF. Most days I did not want to live. Throughout this whole experience, I still attended church, continued to pray, and performed normal life. It didn’t make sense: I work hard, I pray hard, I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, so why was I praying to go home to Him? The more that I asked Why? the more depressing and darker things got.
My marriage fell apart because I was in pain, depressed, and short and intolerant toward my family. I was laid off from my first job out of the military, my family moved in with Heidi’s parents, and I was deeply depressed. The hot desert air did not help, and my unrelenting, blinding nerve pain returned. Heidi, understandably, asked me to move to a friend’s house. I prayed for death.
On June 2, 2004, at his graduation from the U.S. Air Force Academy, Eric shook the hand of President George W. Bush. Two days later, he and Heidi were married at the USAFA Cadet Chapel.
Emotional Life Support
For my depression and anxiety, I started intensive outpatient therapy and Celebrate Recovery, a Christ-centered 12-step recovery program. A few months later, surgery #5 deadened the base of my damaged nerve. Although extremely painful and traumatizing, it worked. The nerve pain was gone. I started a new job, and things started to improve. We moved into a house as a family, I loved my job, and my depression, anxiety, and PTSD were seemingly under control. We were blessed with our fourth child, “our little joy baby.” I was relying upon God, not upon my own hard work.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. Proverbs 3:5
God opened up a perfect job in Denver, CO, but I relapsed. I did not want to continue therapy. Soon I was just as intense, hardworking, and depressed as before. Heidi and I were having serious problems again. But God intervened. Our entire family enjoyed a weeklong dude ranch mountain-top experience through the amazing ministry of Wind River Ranch’s (WWR) Healing Warriors Weeks in Estes Park, CO. After the healing week there, the WWR family kept in touch, praying, keeping our family from the brink of destruction.
On June 15, 2019, while riding with the Christian Cycling Team, I crashed face-first into a guardrail post. Conscious the entire time, I remember every detail. My neck was broken in two places, my jaw was fractured in three places (resting on my chest), my nose was in my sinus (the same side where I had sinus damage and a surgically deadened nerve), and I lost eight teeth. While leaning forward to keep my own airway open, watching the growing pool of blood in front of me, I realized that I had a choice and control over my life: I could lay on my back and drown. I had great life insurance to care for my family. Although my teammates couldn’t look at me, they had the strength to lay hands on me and pray.
Eric and his family in 2018 at the Wind River Ranch, a Christian dude ranch in Estes Park, CO. They have been encouraged and strengthened by the ministry’s Healing Warriors Weeks, which focus on strengthening and healing the families of wounded veterans and first responders.
A New Desire to Live
But God. . .
Many details prove that this was a complete and utter miracle. Most won’t believe me, but I felt I heard a voice tell me, No. Live. Moments later, I walked into the ambulance. God’s love permeated my life through what could have been a horrible tragedy. It is “impossible” that I survived: If I had not been born with a connective tissue disorder and had my trigeminal nerve not been deadened and had I not been trained by the military; or if I would have hit the post at even 1-mph faster, or if my neck would have twisted; the list goes on in miracle-level detail. I would like to say that I learned from this God-ordained wake-up call, but I didn’t. I still focused on working hard. Things got worse. During another surgery, Heidi sought divorce counseling.
Eric riding his bicycle with the Christian Cycling Team in 2020. In June 2019, while riding with the team, he was seriously injured after crashing into a guardrail post. Now he’s back on two, albeit thicker, wheels, enjoying God’s creation as a rolling billboard for Christ. “I now share my miracle testimony with whoever will stop and listen,” Eric exclaimed.
Finally Choosing to Lose
I finally surrendered. Everything. I read nearly every divorce devotional and cried out to the Lord. My whole life, my whole identity, had come from being the best and from hard work. I must now lose—lose my marriage, freely giving it to Christ as He chose to lose His life for us. The more that I lose, or live sacrificially, the better my marriage, work, and relationships have become.
“No one takes it from me, but I [Jesus] lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” John 10:18, ESV
I have been “losing” since that day, and by the grace of God, my family has never been filled with so much joy. Life is far from perfect, but it doesn’t have to be. I am at peace with each and every scar, thankful for the tragic accidents and the pain. God has worked hard to help me find my identity in Him alone. I now take the time to get my emotions in check so that I am not a harsh, militaristic officer barking orders, or even worse, opinions. Husbands, love your wives and do not be bitter toward them. Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged (Colossians 3:19, 21).
I cast my anxiety, PTSD, pain, and many burdens upon Him so that He can do the hard work that is unsustainable for me and/or my emotions. I can now respond, not react. God has everything; He is a “Great Big God” capable of amazing miracles—and yet detailed enough to perform daily, individual miracles. He, not my hard work, directs my steps.
All verses above are quoted from the New King James Version, unless otherwise noted.
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