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Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...21 days to go

Good morning! Happy "Caturday" as Ruth Buzzi says. Yes...that Ruth Buzzi. Believe it or not I started following her on Twitter a few months ago. I was just a little boy when Laugh-in was on the air back in the late 60's and early 70's but I remember it well. My mother watched it every week without fail. So when Ruth Buzzi's name popped up on the right side of the Twitter feed that tells you "people you might follow" I naturally did. ...interesting tidbit with no attachment to this mornings thoughts about school.
So here I am...3 weeks from Graduation. It is Saturday and for the first time in months I am not working today. I am still dizzy and I am tired of being dizzy so I am going to take the day off. I will do school work until I go to bed tonight but I am going to be able to relax a bit and hopefully stop this stress and make my head stop spinning so much.
In three weeks my life transforms forever. In three weeks another chapter in my story moves from hope to reality and can never be erased. I will be a real live graduate of Liberty University. That will become part of my story like my DNA and nothing will ever make it not be true.
Three years ago I wrote a book entitled "Nowhere to Lay My Head". It was about the spiritual lessons I was learning as I endured my homelessness. (The beauty of self-publishing is that you don't have to invest a dime. The publisher works for free on the assumption that they will make money on sales of your my case they were wrong) In this book I wrote a chapter called "Wrestling". It was about how I wrestled with God over my situation time and again. How that wrestling match finally broke me. How that was like Jacob and his match with God himself an Peniel.  God came to Jacob as he ran from who he truly was. He was a scoundrel and a scamp. A thief and a liar. A conniver and a con man. His very name meant "Heel grabber" which was a Hebrew colloquialism for a con man. From birth he was destined to deceive. But God had other plans for Jacob. He wrestled with Jacob all night and when the dawn was breaking, God popped Jacobs hip out of joint and gained the upper hand. Jacob broke. He threw himself on God's mercy and grabbed ahold of God's legs like a desperate child begging on a street corner. He begged God to bless him. God responded by changing Jacobs name to Israel, to match the change in his heart. He blessed him with a confirmation of the blessing he had given his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. He blessed him and promised him endless continued favor. My favorite part of the entire story is found in Genesis 32:31 where Jacob has finished his wrestling match, God has blessed him and then vanished from sight, and it says "As the sun rose over Peniel, Jacob walked on...limping on his hip".
That image always moves me. God popped that hip out of socket to take away Jacobs power base (If you've ever wrestled in high school you know your legs are your base) and to gain his attention. Jacob surrendered after that and that's when God changed him. God could have healed the hip before He left Jacob that morning but he left Jacob lame and limping for the rest of his days. I believe it served two purposes. One was to remind Jacob whenever he would foolishly become a little proud and needed a reminder of the brokenness he'd come to before God. The other reason, I believe, was as a witnessing opportunity. People knew Jacob. They knew him as a deceiver and a schemer. But God had changed his heart as he changed his name. God is never one to do big things in someones life and not use those big changes to help others. I think the limp remained so that people would naturally say..."Jacob...long time no see! How have you been? ...why are you limping. what happened?" To which Jacob would naturally reply, "I wrestled with God all night, a while back. God broke my will and popped my hip out of socket. He changed me in my soul. ...and by the way...I'm not Jacob anymore." Jacob was a new man with a new heart and a clear. concise plan for his life that God Himself had shown him. But he still had that limp. That victorious limp. The limp that showed he had wrestled and been touched by God. And that God had changed him. The limp would always be true of Jacob. There is no evidence that he ever got healed. But the story of the limp remained forever too.
The things that shape us and make us who we are are the "Victorious Limps" we all have. Our stories are littered with wrestling matches with God and things that we cannot undo or make "not true" about ourselves. History can't be altered. But if we have permitted it to reshape us and make us better...if our wrestling matches in life have made us stronger, more resilient, more tender, more compassionate, have revealed our character and strengthened our integrity, then that limp is the evidence of something very good indeed.
My limp is obvious and glaring. I was homeless for 3 1/2 years. I lived in my car. I was in a lot of inner pain and I was ashamed and embarrassed and humiliated. I had lost hope that things would ever get better. I worried sometimes that I would die this way. Living in a car, showering at the gym, looking for a way out, losing hope every day. Liberty University was my Peniel. It was where I wrestled with God and where He changed me. It was where I was able to shed the burden of shame and humiliation and slowly...with each semester...gain confidence and a little hope. Each class was a building block upon which my new life was being rebuilt. The degree I will receive in three weeks is the capstone.
I will never not be a formerly homeless man. I will always far as I know...the first homeless graduate of L.U. I will always be a divorcee even after I remarry. I will always be what the world considers "illegitimate" because I can't undo the decision my parents made not to marry. But those things shaped me. They made me who I am and who I will become. They could have ruined me...and for a while they did...but they made me better because I chose to let them make me better.
I spent ten years in the mortgage industry. I had never desired to be in that job. Never taken a single finance class. I worked hard and achieved great success. I was a national award winner. A producer. I was known in my industry as a guy who really knew his job and did it very well. I made very good money.
And every morning I'd wake up and hate what I was doing. I would pray to God that there was something more. I would picture myself doing mortgages for 25 more years and it would make me cringe. God permitted the events of recent years in order to change me and to take me to where I would be happy and fulfilled and my life would have meaning.
I endured 3 1/2 years of hell to accomplish what I had longed for all my life. And to prepare me for what I really want to do. My limp is visible and pronounced. But my story is huge and inspiring.
If you see me somewhere someday, or you read one of my books or hear me speak somewhere, remember the story behind my limp. And the changes God has made.
If you are wrestling right now...go for it!. Grip God tightly. Throw yourself on Him and tell Him you aren't letting go until He changes you and gives you a blessing.
And then let the whole world see your limp...

Until tomorrow...


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