How Did I Get to Be Me?
About the Guest
Question: He's been a Marine, a FBI Agent, a U.S. Congressman, and an Attorney. Who is it? Answer: Ed Bethune. Ed and his wife, Lana, talk about their love of sailing, their lives growing up in Arkansas, and their realization that God's will was more important than their own.
Ed and Lana BethuneEd Bethune grew up in Arkansas. He joined the Marines when he was eighteen years old and rose to the rank of sergeant. He received an honorable discharge in 1957 and then earned two degrees from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, a bachelor of science from the School of Business Administration and a juris doctorate from the School of Law. He served four years as a special agent of the FBI and then became a prosecuting attorney in his hometown of Searcy, Arkansas. As a private attorney,...more
Ed and Lana Bethune talk about their realization that God’s will was more important than their own.
How Did I Get to Be Me?
Bob: Lana Bethune grew up going to church. She assumed if you meet a boy at church and you marry a boy from church, then, you’re equally-yoked; right? Well, not necessarily. Here’s Lana.
Lana: Anytime the doors opened, my mother sent me there. I was very strong, as a youth, in the youth group and that sort of thing. I knew that Ed and his mother had been to Sunday school when he was younger; but I don’t think I knew, at the time, that he had this conflicting thing in his life. I looked at the good part.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, July 5th. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. Today, we will meet a former congressman and his wife and hear their story of how God worked in their lives and in their marriage. Stay tuned.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was just sitting here thinking about who we’ve got in the studio—a marine, an FBI agent, a former U.S. congressman.
Bob: We’ve got a high-profile ethics attorney who has represented some high-profile clients, and it’s all one guy.
Dennis: It is, and the Mafia was scared to death of him. I’m sure a lot of folks in Washington, D.C., were, too. [Laughter]
Ed and Lana Bethune join us on FamilyLife Today. Lana, Ed, welcome to our broadcast.
Ed: Thank you. Thank you, Dennis.
Lana: Thank you, Dennis.
Dennis: Ed was a congressman for three terms. He and Lana have been married for 53 years, have two children, eight grandchildren—all granddaughters—all granddaughters. So, they’ve got a lot going on in their family. He has written a book called Jackhammered. I’m going to take you right to the heart of the story, which is not just the memoirs of your life, but of a sailboat trip that you guys took, where you headed out and you were going to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. What in the world possessed you?
Bob: What were you thinking?
Dennis: What were you thinking about that? [Laughter]
Ed: You know, that is the very question—that when I finished my first story—which was just a short story—it was about our attempt to sail across the Atlantic Ocean. That is all I ever intended to write because people told me that that was an interesting and inspirational story; and so, I should write it up. So, I did. I wrote it up; and I went to Lana one day, after finishing it. I said, “What in the world were we doing out there?” [Laughter] So, we laughed about it.
Then, I got to thinking, “You know, why did I go into the Marine Corp when I was 18 years old? Why did I go into the FBI—get on the front line, there in the fight against crime, and Mafia, and all that? Why did I run for Congress, as a Republican, when there were no Republicans in the entire Second Congressional District—not a single elected official? Why did I do things like this?”
So, that, then, led to the question, “How did I come to be me?” which is a question all of us ask ourselves from time to time, particularly, as you get into your senior years. It is a really important question. In my story, answering that question revealed a lot about my journey, which culminated that day on the high seas when we, after six days at sea—imagine, if you will, the movie The Perfect Storm, the kind of seas that you saw in that movie.
We got caught in the Atlantic Ocean 210 miles from the nearest point of land in a storm with waves 25-/30-feet high; and we were in 31-foot sailboat. We rode it out for 36 hours because that’s what sailors are supposed to do. So, we rode it out, thinking that the storm would subside; then, we could go on with our journey—which our goal was to go to the Mediterranean and sail the routes of the Apostle Paul.
Dennis: As I read your book, I noticed that many times, as you talked about your journey and your life, Ed, you pointed to the lady you’d shared most of your life with. You said that Lana was one who was as much interested in the journey and the adventure as you. She really has been a companion, and you got on this boat with him; didn’t you?
Lana: I did. I certainly did. I thought it was an extraordinary thing to do, but you must remember that we had sailed a lot before. We had gone into the ocean before. We had not attempted to cross an ocean.
Lana: So, this was a first. [Laughter]
Bob: Yes, it is a little different because I’ve sailed a little bit myself; but come on—a 31- foot boat? How old were the two of you when you set off on this journey?
Ed: In our early 50’s.
Bob: Was this just a, “Let’s take up the challenge and go from”—did you leave from the East Coast of the United States—
Bob: —headed across the Atlantic?
Ed: We left from Norfolk, Virginia, on June 6, 1990. Our intention was to make a 30- day crossing to Portugal. Then, we would rest and go into the Med—sail the routes of Paul. I know it sounds kind of strange to people to hear that, but that’s the ultimate challenge for a blue-water sailor—is to sail across the Atlantic. We wanted to do it because sailing saved us, really.
When we got to Congress, the pressures of working in the Congress, day in and day out, handling the constituent requests, trying to sort through all the various pressures of the day, you need something to get away from that. Our something was to sail. Sailing is the antithesis of politics. It’s everything that politics is not.
Dennis: Well, you mentioned, before we came into the studio, that it’s a pretty heady thing, obviously, to be in Congress and having a lot of people tell you how important you are and how influential you are—
Bob: —or what a rascal you are because you hear both of those things as a congressman.
Ed: That’s right.
Dennis: You get out on the ocean; and all of a sudden, you’re reminded of who you really are.
Dennis: That’s what you said about sailing; right?
Lana: Exactly. You know the interesting thing that we found in doing this is that—at that time, there were no cell phones. We really didn’t even have GPS. We had a Larand®, and we had a satellite radio.
But the opportunity to get away, and be just in a small boat, the two of you—with the wind, and the waves, and the silence—you know, it’s amazing how you listen to noises, all the time, when you’re in his position. Of course, many times Ed would be criticized for something he didn’t do. Here I am sitting, thinking, “He didn’t do that. Why is someone saying that he did?” Most cases, they did not do that; but it is very difficult, I think, to be the spouse of a congressman.
Bob: Lana, I have to ask you. I’ve been sailing for an afternoon and had a fine time. Even a couple of days sounds like that could be fun and exciting. Thirty days across the Atlantic—wasn’t there a part of you going, “Can’t we just sign up for an ocean liner to take us? Why do we have to be in charge of the ship?”
Lana: Well, I did think that a little bit, I must say; but we had gone to Maine. We had taken our little 31-foot boat to Maine. We had gone out into the blue water and sailed—contended with freighters, large vessels, and that sort of thing. So, I felt confident that the boat was built for that. There were very few of those boats made, but almost all of them crossed the Atlantic Ocean. So, we had a sea-worthy boat; and I had a great captain.
Dennis: Yes, I have to ask you about that, Ed. As I was reading your memoirs here, I was thinking, “Now, how do you go to sleep at night when you are in a sailboat? There are two of you. You don’t anchor because there are freighters, there’s traffic in the ocean. You could get run over.
Ed: You keep watches. We learned that early on. We nearly got run over a time or two by a freighter—tanker traffic—when we were just sailing coastal waters around New York City. We learned that early on, and that’s what you do. You take turns watching throughout the night. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it is the ultimate challenge for a sailor.
As I said, earlier on, I still don’t know why I was driven to take chances throughout my life; but adventure was my escape, really, from the turmoil in my life. It was the way—by living out my dreams—it was the way that I insulated myself from childhood—from the things that were troubling me. I had a very troubled childhood. So—
Dennis: Yes, one story you told was of sitting on your father’s lap.
Dennis: I think you were about eight years old at the time, and your dad made a pronouncement to you that was very life-altering for you.
Ed: Yes. He told me that he was not going to be living with us anymore, and that was the first I knew of that. I just couldn’t believe it, and I remember that moment as if it were just an hour ago.
We were sitting on this chair, and he tried to distract my attention by pointing to some pigeons on the eaves of a neighbor’s house because he was crying. Of course, he didn’t distract my attention. I saw that, and I knew right away that this was different than anything I had heard before. So, I ran into my mother; and she confirmed that they were separating.
The hard part of that for me, Dennis, was that I—in my book, I say that my mother’s family were who I called the hardheads. My father’s family were the soft-hearts. My mother’s family were good people, but they were hill people in Northeast Arkansas that had to scratch a living out of the earth. There was very little love, very little trust. They thought man’s will was the controlling thing that—very self-centered sort of thinking about life. It got into my bloodstream, deep.
So, that’s my journey from those earliest days of my life, when I had all those issues that eventually caused me to tailspin, bomb out of high school; but my life really—through the Marine Corp and all of that, I was struggling. I was fighting all of these things that had bothered me as a child.
Until I met Lana who, of course, then was the saving grace in my life because she has always been a solid—rock solid—Christian; but she could see, I guess, right away, that she was working with a real hardhead here. It was going to take time.
Dennis: That’s a question I wanted to ask, Lana. When you met him in junior college and started dating, did you realize what was in the package at that point?
Lana: Not really. He was a very tender-hearted person and very loving; but he was also, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” He was tough. He felt like he could accomplish great things, and that was one of things that actually attracted me. Neither one of us had any money; but I felt, because of his determination, that someday he might be somebody and that he would be a good father, eventually. But he was very loving, really. He tries to make himself sound pretty tough, but—
Bob: Were you aware of where he was spiritually at the time? Was that a factor for you—an issue for you?
Lana: Well, I had grown up in church in Little Rock. Anytime the doors opened, my mother sent me there. I was very strong, as a youth, in the youth group and that sort of thing. I knew that Ed and his mother had been to Sunday school when he was younger; but I don’t think I knew, at the time, that he had this conflicting thing in his life. I looked at the good part for sure. I think all of it was good, actually.
Ed: She actually didn’t see my manuscript and read about my young life until I was done with the manuscript.
Bob: Wow. So, there were parts of your childhood she knew nothing about until you were done with the book?
Ed: She was quite surprised to read a lot of the things that I went through as a child. When I finished the manuscript, I took it into Lana; and I said, “Well, I want you to read it. Then, I want you to tell me, ‘Should we publish it or should we burn it?’” She read it and said she was surprised by a lot of what was there—and the revelations that I made about my childhood—but she thought it was good and thought it was a good witness. So, we moved forward.
Dennis: Your dad, after that conversation that you had on his lap as a boy, sporadically showed up in your life. Then, there was a period of time when he pretty much disappeared.
Dennis: You went to Korea as a Marine, came back on leave, and decided you’d go see your dad in Arizona.
Dennis: Tell us that story. You said it was one of the greatest moments of your life.
Ed: [Emotion in Ed’s voice] Well, it was because it was the first time that I was able to go back and figure out what had happened. I was an adult. So, we had an opportunity to talk, as men.
Dennis: You went back. You found out where he lived, and you drove from Southern California all the way to Arizona. You found that here was your dad, living in a trailer on a lot that was just scattered with junk, and he wasn’t there. You waited on him.
I want you to take us to the moment when you’re standing there, as a young man, looking up at the bus that delivered your dad; and you knew it was him because he had a limp in the way he walked.
Ed: Yes, my dad had a rough childhood himself. When he was nine months old, he had polio. He never walked a step in his life without a crutch, or cane, or an artificial leg. To make matters worse, when he was in his 20’s, he was trying to fix an automobile; the fan belt broke and knocked his eye out. So, he had one eye and only one and a half good legs. He had a lot of troubles when he was growing up—and when he was a young man.
All my life, I loved him; and I’ve always had a soft, soft spot in my heart for disabled people. Anyway, that was the first time I’d seen him in a long time. All of a sudden, he got off the bus and was walking across this lot, littered with junk to his little trailer. I saw him coming and ran to him. His hair was white. There I was, now, an adult; and it was quite a moment.
Dennis: You said you hugged him—
Dennis: —much like a little boy would run to his daddy.
Ed: Well, that was what was happening.
Dennis: Yes. Then, you had one of the most important conversations you said of your life because it helped you determine what had happened—who you were—kind of helped you piece some things together.
Ed: It did. I, for the first time, realized that I had been raised to believe that man’s will is the most important thing and that man should be in the center of man’s life. I just didn’t get it, at that time. My father, on the other hand, was such a good man, and such a soft-hearted man, and came from a Christian family. It made me realize that the problem I was having was struggling with whether it was my will that mattered or God’s will that mattered. That came in to me loud and clear.
Let me add, just as quickly, because my head was so steeped in that belief—that it took years of patient teaching and counsel by my wife Lana to get me into the right place. That was a very long and torturous journey for me because I didn’t want to give up my will because, when you do, it’s different. Everything changes, and I just didn’t want to go there. I realized today that, that’s not the way; but I didn’t realize it then.
Then, I spent several years trying to intellectualize the business of faith. It was really just an excuse, on my part, to delay the business of surrender—of letting go of that powerful will. That’s what it was, and it was going to take some intervening force to get me across the goal line.
Dennis: Well, as we’ll hear a little bit later on, it was a powerful force.
Dennis: I mean a showstopper. You don’t know this about me, but you could be describing my life as well—not going to Congress, obviously, and nearly the power or the influence—but as a young man, I battled the issue of my will, as well. It was really the summer that I went to the University of Arkansas as a junior—I transferred from a junior college—that I finally came to the end of myself and said, “If Jesus Christ be who He said He was, then, really nothing else matters.”
I came to a very similar conclusion—that man, being at the center of the picture, really doesn’t make a good picture. It distorts life. It will never work as God designed it. I remember, as a young man, really having a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach going, “If I do this thing, this is going to cost me.” It did, by the way. It did cost me, but what I didn’t realize is—are the benefits so far outweigh the costs that it’s like it didn’t cost me anything.
I mean, really, to think of what Christ did for me, His love for me, and to live my life in rebellion against him—to try to say, “Not Your will God, but my will. I’m what matters, not You.” When I surrendered to Jesus Christ, that’s when I would say my life began.
Bob: Well, it’s a turning point in anybody’s life—is when we look and we say, “You know what? Living life for self—I’ve made a mess of things.” For things to change, I need, not only for my sin to be forgiven, but I also need the power to be transformed.
We’ve got on our website a link that says, “Two Ways to Live”. I just encourage our listeners—go to FamilyLifeToday.com, and click on that link, and ask yourself this question, “Which way am I living, and where is it taking me?” There is no more important question to settle than that question. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com. Click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”—where there’s a book we’d be happy to send you.
It’s a book called Pursuing God: A Seeker’s Guide. If you’d like to understand what it means to have a relationship with God through Jesus Christ, call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Ask for a copy of the book, Pursuing God. We’ll send it out to you, at no cost. We want you to have a copy of this book, and to read through it, and to consider what it means to be a Christian—a follower of Christ. Call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Ask for a copy of the book, Pursuing God; or go to FamilyLifeToday.com and click the link that says, “Two Ways to Live”, and ask the question, “Which way am I living?”
While you’re on our website, there is more information there about Ed Bethune’s book called Jackhammered. It’s the story of a man who was a Marine, an FBI agent, a member of the House of Representatives, and then, a high-profile ethics lawyer, defending House Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Tom Delay against ethics charges. It’s a fascinating book, and we have copies at FamilyLifeToday.com. Go online to order a copy; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY and ask about the book, Jackhammered, by Ed Bethune. The number, again, is 1-800- “F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then, the word, “TODAY”.
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We hope you can join us back tomorrow when Ed and Lana Bethune are going to be here again. We’re going to hear about the storm they were in. It’s a remarkable story about how they thought it was over—that this is where life would end for them. We’ll hear about that tomorrow. Hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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