70-year-old Don Embrey plucks the Marine’s Hymn on one of his masterpiece banjos as he tells the story of how God saved him from himself.
The instrument is a beauty, designed with a U.S. Marine Corp theme including inlays of the different Marine ranks in ivory to mark the frets.
Looking at him now, it’d be hard to believe some of the things he’ll tell you about his shameful past.
But God makes all things new and Mr. Embrey is no exception.
“For years, I was a chronic alcoholic, part of that due to the things I saw in Vietnam but never dealt with when I got home,” said Embrey.
Embrey did two tours in Vietnam serving our nation in the Marine Corp.
But when he got home, he faced what many of our veterans sadly face and turned to alcohol to deal with his suffering.
He said at times he drank up to a half-gallon of vodka per day and the drinking wrought havoc on his life.
Through several failed marriages, fraying relationships with his daughters, and nearly losing the home he’d built himself, Embrey was his own worst enemy.
He couldn’t stop drinking and it was ruining his life.
Finally, in 2009 Embrey hit rock bottom. He was sitting on the porch and broke down.
“The Lord touched me in an instant,” he said. “I was sitting there crying, knowing that my life was ruined and the Lord saw me in that moment at my lowest. I finally surrendered and got the peace I’d always searched for.”
As a result of the Lord’s touch, Embrey was given a new life, leaving his old ruined one behind.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit, he quit drinking cold turkey and his health immediately improved, even without having to go through detox.
It was like he was being healed of an affliction that had infected him for decades.
Even his eyesight which had deteriorated as a result of the drinking improved almost immediately and his ability to work returned as well.
Shortly thereafter, the Lord reminded him of a memory from his youth.
“I was doing auto mechanic work at the time, the shop foreman played the fiddle and the front end man played the guitar. Every once in a while they’d bring their instruments in and play together back in the lunch room. I just fell in love with the music,” recalls Embrey.
“They looked at me and said we need a banjo. And boy I’d never played banjo in my entire life, but they talked me into buying a banjo … and I was bound and determined to learn how to play that banjo.”
Embrey practiced for months and was finally able to get good enough to play with the other guys in the shop.
But life, changing jobs, moving cities, and Embrey’s alcoholism all took him away from his new-found passion.
You see, Satan “does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” and he succeeded for decades in destroying Embrey’s passion for banjo music.
But our God is a God of restoration! He had rescued Embrey from the Enemy and was restoring his life anew. In his new Freedom, Embrey was able to once again pursue his passion.
He ordered a new banjo, but says the order took forever to arrive. As a result, he decided to build his own.
Isn’t it amazing how God works sometimes? He delayed Embrey’s order for a new banjo just long enough to show him that his passion went beyond just playing the instrument, but building them himself as well.
“It hit me pretty quickly that I would need my own shop to do this work, so I built myself one,” he said. His shop now includes a painting booth, a lathe, and an assortment of saws, power tools, jigs and rigs.
But Embrey had no clue where to even start building a banjo.
He turned to an abundance of sources in the form of YouTube videos and got to work.
Much of his talent he learned by trial and error, and developing his own techniques to get the desired effect he was looking for.
“I’ve been pleased with all of them,” he said. “But they’re a little bit like children. I don’t like the idea of parting with any of them.”
But of course, reflecting how his heart has been transformed by grace, Embrey gives all the glory to God.
“Any talent I have comes from God, and I get tenfold back from him for anything I accomplish,” said Embrey. “And I’m not done yet,” he added.
To learn more about Embrey’s work, please check out his Facebook page.