Blind Insights is a soul perspective into the lives of waterfowlers written by published author and speaker, Jason Cruise, founder of Mission Media & Resource Group.
I suppose it was only fitting that my first hunt with Heath Whitmore was smack in the middle of a storm front rolling through Arkansas just days before Christmas of 2013. Clouds, rain, and swinging temperatures framed up what would be the beginning of a hunt, and a new brother made, that will remain forever embedded in my soul. Heath is a stud of a duck hunter, yet two hours into our venture I knew this day’s hunt was about far more than hunting a legendary duck hole with a veteran duck killer.
Heath is a rare American commodity: he’s a young farmer by choice. Young and farmer generally are not couched in the same sentence, for a young farmer is anyone under 50 years of age! It’s fitting for Heath, however, for his family tree is deeply rooted with men who lived from the bounty of the land in the heart of Arkansas County, Arkansas.
The hunt was in a duck hole that is perhaps as historic as any of its rivals in epicenter of Americana when it comes to duck hunting the flatlands surrounding Stuttgart. In the pre-dawn hours I stood in the old Whitmore home place built in 1917, which is now a small, private duck club. I had a strange sense that I had unknowingly walked straight onto a piece of hallowed duck ground completely unaware as to the significance of the dirt on which I stood.
Heath’s daddy, Mr. Whitmore, was an immediately likeable and welcoming soul. As we talked in the hour leading up to shooting light Mr. Whitmore shared with me stories of eras in their family history when as a boy he remembered mallards so thick that farmers would put a grease mixture on top of gathered rice stalks and burn the stalk tops, which would in turn create smoke, so that the layers of haze would keep mallards off their crop fields.
Over the years I’ve noticed a trend in the duck hole: when the flight of ducks slows down, the activity of stories speeds up. It was then, sitting on a levee in this nearly 100 year-old imprinted beacon, when Heath Whitmore began to tell me his story of addiction. The pain in his eyes was evident as he described the chapters filled with reaping the catastrophic harvest of wild oats he’d sown.
Though now clean and sober for over two years now, Heath recounted the pace of life in his years of living in the bondage of drugs and alcohol, “In my mind, I had convinced myself I was untouchable. I loved the edge and I had no concept of moderation. I simply pushed until something broke.”
In what one could describe as a real-life country song in the making, Heath Whitmore’s life on the farm came crashing down in one, single moment. “My wife came out to the farm and got me off a tractor. She was holding a travel bag full of clothes in one hand and a Bible in the other hand. She said, ‘You need to choose.’”
“I felt like I was the biggest fraud on the planet,” Heath said. “Kristi was basically a single parent, except that she was raising Griffin, Wiley, and me, too. I realized that afternoon I was a failure as a husband to Kristi and as a father to Griffin and Wiley. I honestly didn’t think anything could fix what I had done to my beautiful family.”
Kristi’s confrontation worked. Heath Whitmore did change that day, and it took supernatural power to get it done.
There is nothing, and I mean nothing, more powerful than redemption, and only those who have experienced it know its gravity. Redemption is why we love movies, because the human heart is drawn to watching a person, who got it wrong, get it right in the end. Redemption is why we love country songs that speak to the journey of somebody that gets a second chance to re-write their own story. We love redemption because we know we must have it ourselves in order to live fully as we were created to live.
On the levee that day I stood in awe once again at the power of God that can change a man like Heath. He understands the reality found in the verse that states “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Galatians 5:1) I could tell by the look in his eyes that he’s determined never to go back to the type of bondage that brought him within inches of ruin.
Duck hunters know misses. We are slaves to the missed opportunity, for we all miss, and we do so often. In fact, hulls floating in the water testify to our failures and surround our every hunt, reminding us that we are mortals. Heath Whitmore missed, and that makes him human. What makes him valiant, however, what makes him righteously uncommon, is that, like every legendary warrior across the ages, he refused to let the failures of his past define his future.