I never met my father. My mom got pregnant from her boyfriend, they married just before I was born and divorced right after I showed up. The first person I knew as “dad” was an abusive man who taught me phrases like “children are meant to be seen and not heard,” “if I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you,” and “you’ll never amount to anything.”
Between my mom moving around every 6 months to avoid paying rent and me being passed from one relative to another, I went to 17 different schools before I dropped out of high school. For my 18th birthday, my mom and my second stepdad took me to the local welfare office to sign up for benefits. That was the day I left home.
I spent 3 years in the Army Infantry, getting a GED and high school diploma, before I got out to go to bible college. Now, I grew up in Los Angeles. I needed to get as far away from there as I could – so I went to Michigan for bible college. But, here’s the thing, it only took me a year and a half to figure out bible college wasn’t for me. I quit. Seemed like I did that a lot – quitting. Maybe I was my parent’s child – even 2,000 miles away.
Though I accepted Christ as my Savior when I was 14, I still did stupid stuff. I quit high school, when I didn’t re-enlist in the army they made me feel like I was quitting, and I just quit college. I needed to accomplish something significant.
I decided my “something significant” would be a degree from the local university. I had no idea what I would study. Didn’t even know why a college degree was the battle field for my soul – it just was. I knew this was the thing that would PROVE I wasn’t a nobody.
I can still picture when I decided I was going to get a degree. I was sitting in my car, it was around midnight with a light snow on the ground. I had just gotten home from my second shift factory job. For the longest time, I just sat there crying, my fists clinched, and the hot tears streaming down my face as I called out to God and asked Him what I was to do.
This was NOT going to be my life! I was NOT going to follow in the footsteps of my parents. I didn’t want to let my daughters down. They were NOT going to have the life I led.
The next day, I went to the local university to sign up for classes. The lady at the registration desk asked me what I wanted to major in. I picked up a catalog and thumbed through it. Physics sounded hard, I had no idea what it was, but it sounded hard – and, for whatever reason, I needed to do the hardest thing I could find to once-and-for-all prove to myself I wasn’t worthless. I told the lady, “I want to get a degree in Physics.”
You know, to take your first Physics class, you need to be enrolled in Calculus. At the time, I didn’t even know that Calculus was a math class – and, by the way, it’s a very HARD math class.
After the math placement exam, I had to start so far down in the math courses that it would, theoretically, take two years just to get enough math to start in my chosen major.
And, on top of all that, I was working full time at a factory on second shift.
And, if that wasn’t enough, I found out none of the courses I took at the bible college would transfer – the bible college was not accredited.
But, I was determined I could do it.
I figured, in order for me to do this, I was going to need an extra strong will. I knew that wasn’t a possibility from my mom’s side of the family. I tracked down my father. I talked to him on the phone. I know it had been over 20 years since he and my mom were married, but he didn’t even remember me. No moral support or fortitude from that side of my gene pool.
Whatever grit, whatever mental and emotional power to succeed, had to come from God and inside me with no help from anywhere else.
My plan was actually simple. I wrote out all the courses I needed to get my degree in physics. I looked at when the different classes were offered throughout the year. The university had a large summer school program – I would use this to my advantage.
I figured out when to take classes so they didn’t interfere with my job at the factory – I still had a family to feed.
Things went well – for a while. I finished my first year with no issues. I finished my second year with, again, no issues. I had the hang of this. Despite all the setbacks at the beginning, I was doing just fine.
I had forgotten all about my horrible childhood and the quitter mentality I grew up with. I was a new person with dreams and a goal.
Then, one Saturday, there was a knock at my door. My mom and stepdad and my 6 brothers and sisters were standing in the entryway of my apartment. They had driven 2,000 miles to move in with me. They were moving in to my 2-bedroom apartment. All of my fears and insecurities came flooding back. I was the little boy, the new kid in school, that always got beat up. As I let them in the door, my whole body began to shake and I broke out in sweat all over.
Within a month they got us kicked out of my apartment. They found a house and I had to move my family in with them. I felt my independence, my dreams, my goal, slipping away. That semester, for the first time, my grades began to falter.
Because of summer school, I was ready to graduate in three years instead of four. I had one more semester to go. But, with my whole family back in the picture and my grades going south, I had to make a choice.
I could give up on my silly dreams of ever being something besides a welfare kid, quit again, and accept my destiny.
Or, I could move out of my parent’s home on what little savings I had and get a small apartment, quit the job at the factory, and push to the end of school to get my degree in physics.
The first time I went to the university to put my past behind me it was pretty easy since no one from my past was around. After all, I was raised in California and now I lived in Michigan. But, this time, it was real – it was right there. I spent a night of prayer then I did what I had to do.
I did get my degree in physics. But, I did it in three years. I graduated with honors. AND, I graduated at the top of my class!
But, it turned out, getting the degree wasn’t about learning physics, really. It was about teaching me a much more important lesson in life. It taught me who I really was. It taught me that, with a dream, with a vision, I could do ANYTHING if I put my mind to it.
It really is possible to change your story, change your life, and change your destiny.