The Blessed Life

Merritt Youngdeer

Heritage of Sacrifice

My name is Merritt Youngdeer. I’m a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians in Cherokee, North Carolina. My grandparents, like many tribal members from all across our country, attended Carlisle Indian Boarding School. During those years, my grandfather met and played baseball with Jim Thorpe—the first Native American to win a gold medal in the Olympics. American Indians wouldn’t be recognized as citizens of the United States until 1924. But that didn’t stop my grandfather’s brother from volunteering to fight in World War I and paying the ultimate sacrifice for our country. The “Steve Youngdeer American Legion Post 143” in Cherokee, NC, is named after him.

My father and uncle also volunteered to serve our country—during World War II. A local military recruiter would not enlist American Indians due to prejudice, so they traveled out of state to enlist in the Marine Corps. They were both wounded in the Pacific and ended up recovering in the same room at Silver­stream Hospital in New Zealand. It was on his return to Cherokee country that my father gave his life to Je­sus as his Lord and Savior. He was then stationed at the Naval Ammunition Depot in Savanna, OK—where my parents met and where my sister and I were born. My father spent 20 years serving in the military, and our family had to move often. But for us, “home” was always visiting family in Oklahoma and Cherokee, NC.

In the eleventh grade, I attended Cherokee Indian School. My father had attended there as a boy when it was a boarding school. I remember always feeling like I was missing out on something, but my search for “the good life” wasn’t leading me anywhere good.

After getting off work one night, my cousin (John Boyd Owl) and I decided to cruise around the Rez, drinking beer. Early in the morning, we were in a serious wreck that nearly took our lives. This was a wake-up call for both of us, and I watched my cousin recover from his injuries and turn his life over to God.

But not me. I believed in God, but I wanted His bless­ings on my own terms. I didn’t want to miss out on the good life. I knew that I needed to change, so I decided to try changing my surroundings. For my senior year, I enrolled at the Haskell Institute in Lawrence, Kansas.

Seasons of Searching

I received a good education at Haskell. I developed friendships with tribal members from many different reservations. Most importantly, I met the girl that I would spend the rest of my life with—Lulie. She was a Choctaw from Oklahoma, and she captured my heart. After getting married, we moved to South Dakota, where I began my career with the Indian Health Ser­vice, Rosebud Indian Hospital. I soon felt the weight of assuming the responsibilities of marriage and work. I wanted to live right for my family—to walk the line.

But I never seemed to be able to walk the line. I never measured up to my own idea of a successful life. I wasn’t an alcoholic, but our social life always seemed to involve alcohol. When I transferred to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, our family moved to the Wind River Agency in Wyoming. I remember desperately wanting to be a good husband and a good father, but I was constantly failing. And I was miserable. I continued to rise through the ranks of the BIA, but my life felt empty—like I was still missing out on something.

This feeling I had was not by accident. God had been laying foundations of faith in my heart for years. I remember when my mother would read fascinating Bible stories to me at a young age. My parents had tak­en me to church, but only on special occasions. When I was older, I had tried to be “spiritual,” just like I had tried to be “good.” But God wanted more—He wanted a personal relationship with me. God had allowed me to experience the emptiness of life without Him.

God had also opened my eyes to death—through two events. The first was when my cousin and I were in the wreck. The second event was while I was at Haskell Institute—a popular, young girl died in a car accident on her way home for Christmas. Life felt so short, but I could see how good God had been to me. I began to see God’s plan and purpose in each season of my life. I felt grateful. So I made a commitment to God that I would take my family to church, turn my life over to Him, teach my children about Him, and give back to Him for His many blessings.

What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?

–Psalm 116:12

Gift of Blessing

In 1986, the BIA moved us to Albuquerque, New Mexico. We began to take our family to a nearby church. We felt welcomed and loved. The sermons were always from the Bible, and God’s Holy Spirit began to give me understanding of my need. The pastor welcomed anyone to receive God’s free gift of salvation and to experience a new life in Christ— a blessed life. He explained it this way:

I was a sinner, separated from God.
He that believeth on Him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. –John 3:18

God sent His Son Jesus to pay the penalty of my sin on the cross.
In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. –I John 4:9

I could not work for God’s gift of salvation.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. –Ephesians 2:8-9

The only way I could experience new life was by placing my faith in Jesus.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. –Acts 4:12

I could pray in faith and receive God’s salvation.
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. –Romans 10:9

Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity… –Psalm 32:1-2

A New Beginning

After many seasons of searching for fulfillment, God’s invitation to eternal blessing overwhelmed my heart. I placed my faith in Christ and asked God to forgive me for all the things that had filled me with regret and shame. I had tried to change my life on my own, but I couldn’t. God did a work in my life that I could not do. It was a relief to know that God forgave all my sins (Psalm 103). He cleaned me up and placed His Holy Spirit in me and changed my desires (Ephesians 5:18).

At the age of 42, I began a new life on the foun­dation of God’s redeeming grace. I had searched for the way of blessing through my own efforts. But when I finally turned my life over to God, He satisfied my heart and truly blessed my life. He gave me boldness to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with everyone I knew, even when they ridiculed me (I Peter 3:15).

After spending over thirty years in government service, I was ready to retire from my position as an Area Director and pursue a new calling to ministry. God gave me a desire to share Christ with as many people as possible. Turning your entire life over to Jesus is the only way to live a life that God can bless—the blessed life. My prayer is that you too will experience this new season of God’s blessing!

Merritt Youngdeer photo

Merritt and Lulie have been married almost 60 years. They have four children, five grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

Merritt Youngdeer pastors the Acquoni Baptist Chapel in Cherokee, North Carolina. Merritt & Lulie love sharing their faith in Christ and discipling new believers.

The Blessed Life

Our hope now rests in God.
“O taste and see that the LORD is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in Him.” Psalm 34:8

“Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is. For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit.” Jeremiah 17:7-8

Our sins are forgiven.
“Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the LORD imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile.” Psalm 32:1-2

“My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” I John 2:1-2

Our direction comes from God.
“…Blessed are they that keep my ways. Hear instruction, and be wise, and refuse it not. Blessed is the man that heareth Me….” Proverbs 8:32-34

“I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with Mine eye.” Psalm 32:8

Our lifestyle choices have changed.
“Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” Psalm 1:1

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.” I John 2:15-17

Our thought life is transformed.
“But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.” Psalm 1:2

“Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? by taking heed thereto according to Thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from Thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against Thee.” Psalm 119:9-11

Our attractions and addictions are replaced.
“Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love Him.” James 1:12

“And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit.” Ephesians 5:18

Our blessings reflect spiritual values.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.” Matthew 5:3-9

Our faith, though ridiculed, will be rewarded.
“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.” Matthew 5:10-12

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when His glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy…Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to Him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” I Peter 4:12-13, 18

Our spiritual family strengthens us.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, To the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the beloved.” Ephesians 1:3-6

“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:” Ephesians 4:11-16

Our children can follow our example.
“The just man walketh in his integrity: his children are blessed after him.” Proverbs 20:7

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord: for this is right. Honor thy father and mother; (which is the first commandment with promise.” Ephesians 6:1-2

(Copyright Today’s Native 2023)

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