Contacting Craig

To contact Craig for speaking or interview opportunities, email at
Visit his website (Big Fat Grace) at

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

I don't Remember Blinking...

Last night my daughter graduated from the 8th grade.
It seems like just a week ago I was sitting with her in Miss proctor's Kindergarten class on her first day of real school. She had her little tan uniform on and a stuffed dog named "Perkins". I gave her a disposable camera and told her to take pictures of her first day. Somewhere in a box in my storage shed those pictures reside.
It was just a few days ago she made her first (and only) piano recital. Just yesterday I was walking beside her while she rode her pony "Willy".
Not many Christmases ago she wanted an electric Barbie Jeep to ride around our front yard. Now we're talking about what car she'll be getting in two years. Only a few days ago she was in a car seat, drinking from a tippy cup, eating cheese puffs from a zip-lock Baggie as we drove home to the beach. Now she sits next to me with her iPod firmly entrenched while I listen to talk radio or Zig Ziglar.
I can still hear the echo and reverberation of "The Wheels on the Bus..." and "I Wish I had A Little Bitty Box, to Put my Daddy in..." But nowadays they're drowned out by her amazing voice singing The Beatles, or The Gorillaz. She used to ride on my shoulders, now she's taller than them.
We've been through a lot together and much of the time she was more "Little buddy" than daughter. She's been my sole focus these past 12 1/2 years that I've been single and I'm glad. I wouldn't have missed any of these first 14 years. Not for love nor money. Morgan is the single best thing I've ever been a part of. Every day is a treasure. The only problem is these first 14 years have come and gone in the blink of an eye.
...But I don't remember blinking

Monday, May 21, 2012

My Response to Bill Maher's attack on Liberty University

Mr. Maher...
I'm going to try to show respect to you as a human being. Respect is, of course, something you struggle with showing to anyone at all, especially those you disagree with...which is pretty much everyone. I'm sorry that you are so angry with life and I wish you could be happy. I recognize the signs. The lashing out at everyone in your sight, the feeling you are simultaneously misunderstood and the smartest man who ever lived. The way you spit bile and ridiculous, grandiose, overzealous, venomous lies at people who hold to any idea or notion or belief that disagrees with your enlightened and superior position. It has got to be a hardship being you! Only you could stand up to the pressure of being you and I salute you for that. It's hard being so full-to-overflow with hatred and anger and yet be able to not go crazy and kill everyone who resides in this terrible delusion that is "The world where people disagree with Bill Maher". It's gotta hurt!  I wonder...are you mad at everyone else being so stupid? Or are you mad that more people recognize you from your thespian abilities in "DC Cab" than from your show on subscription cable? (For the made the Barbarian Twins funnier in that movie...they owe you brah!)
I know you went to did your pal Keith Olbermann. He too, is saddled with the burden of being intellectually superior to every human being who was ever born. He too hates every single person alive on earth. Which begs the question...when you two are together in one room, do you hate each other? Or is there some sort of rotational agreement whereby you are superior to Keith on odd days and he is superior to you on the even? What do you do with the religious holidays since neither of you practice? Is there any sort of cerebral envy? Have you guys ever gotten MRI's and compared Cerebral Cortices with a side-bet of rare cognac? On the same note, is there something in the water near Cornell that makes attendees so angry with everyone and so intellectually superior? Because I'm wondering how two angry, superior guys like you and K.O. came from the same school and nobody has deduced this connection yet...or maybe it's inductive I'm thinking of. I can't delineate between the two sometimes because I went to that non-school, Liberty University. In fact I just graduated last know...when Mitt Romney was speaking.
Here's the deal Bill, I was a mortgage banker and when the industry went under I lost my home, then I lost my career, and then I couldn't even rent anymore and I was homeless. I had been a resident student at LU many years ago and I didn't finish back then. So while I was homeless and broken and sleeping in my car at night...I decided the only way to pull myself up and fix my broken life and provide for my daughter and be a productive citizen was to finish my degree. So I did...while sleeping in my car. And working humiliating odd jobs. And remaining in my daughter's life because I was always her dad. It took me six semesters to finish and for five of them I lived like this. I studied in the Library and in restaurants with wifi and after-hours at FedEx Office. I studied by flashlight in my car when the weather was freezing. I kept my books in a milk crate in my trunk and in a storage shed.
And two Saturdays ago I put on a cap and gown and walked with 7000 other graduates who were all proud of our non-school and that non-education we didn't really receive. I'm glad you went to Cornell. You guys had one of the greatest goalies ever to play hockey in Ken Dryden. So you had that going for you...which is nice. I'm glad I didn't resort to selling drugs to graduate from LU, like you claim you did at Cornell. It was hard enough being 6' 4" and sleeping in a Volvo at night...I didn't need a guilty conscience keeping me awake.
So listen, Bill...I'll promise to keep on not watching your show, like almost everyone else in America with a TV, if you'll promise not to find me and blast me with your superior-mind ray, or make me drink tap water from the Cornell water system. Maybe you should resume your collegiate drug usage. (assuming you were nice in college when you were using / selling) But then maybe you shouldn't. You've sharpened that hatred and anger to such a razor edge that you can cut everyone in the whole world (except Keith Olbermann of course) and not get any blood on yourself. That's a lost art and probably worth whatever you paid for that Cornell academia that surges through your veins.
I'd love to engage you further but I have work to do, and I'm taking some more classes for my own personal enrichment before I start my non-Masters next January from my non-school.
Best to you,
Craig Daliessio,
(Formerly homeless, Daddy, author, graduate of a non-school, non-watcher of your show)

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

The Homeless Graduate...a few closing thoughts...

Well it's Wednesday night. I have been an LU grad for 5 days now. I have to tell you it feels wonderful. What feels even better is reading the emails...already over a dozen...from people who have read my story and who have been inspired somehow, to try something of their own. Some dream, some vision or goal. Many are seriously considering returning to school themselves and most of that number are thinking about LU Online. One lady wrote me who actually works for Liberty and she is thinking of enrolling to finish her degree. Imagine being that close...working with students every single day and deep in your heart wishing you were one of them! I hope she goes for it and gets that degree.
I have read and reread this blog and the story Liberty did on me and I have wept over again.
I feel sometimes like a soldier who has just lived through a harsh firefight and now that the bullets are done flying, he realizes all he has been through and what he has lost.
I love being a graduate. I love inspiring others and encouraging them and giving hope through my story. But I have lost so much and it hurts. I miss my dogs. I was thinking about our sweet Bonnie this morning. She would be 11 years old now and at the sunset of her life. Old Springers are slow and lazy but loving and gentle. I miss her daily. I hope her new family has loved her these last four years as much as we did...and do. I miss my garden. It's spring and I want to be planting something. I've missed four years of tucking my daughter in and hearing her bedtime prayers.
God is using my story and my resilience to reach others and I am honored to be part of His plan.
...but sometimes I cry over what I've endured and all I've lost. Sometimes in the darkest hours I lay in bed thinking about the last four years and it breaks my heart in two.
But I comfort myself with the promise that God will "Repay the years the locust have eaten" and he will make everything new.
Do me a brings me GREAT joy when someone is inspired by hearing my story, and to be honest, it makes the last four years seem a little less painful when I think about that time helping someone else. So please...tell my story. Spread the word. If you have a group or know of a group or a church who brings in speakers, consider giving me a shot. Give me more opportunities to encourage and inspire people with this crazy journey of mine.
Because that is the only thing that makes these tears turn into a smile.

Thanks and God Bless...and please...NEVER give up on your dreams!

With Highest Hopes...


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Dr. Falwell, Five Years After

May 15, 2007 I was sitting in my office in Franklin TN. I was still in the mortgage business at that point. The industry meltdown had already begun but it wouldn't hit full stride for a few more months. I had no idea what was to befall me in just a couple of months.
I was doing some paperwork at my desk and the news came over the Internet that Dr. Jerry Falwell had died.
I had to read the ticker a few times to be sure it was correct. My Dr. Falwell? It can't be.
He'd had a health scare a couple of years before and we thought we might lose him then but he'd bounced back. Now he was gone. Suddenly in his office.
I was brokenhearted at the news. I sat there in disbelief and tried imagining a world without Doc. It was a hard thing and I grieved terribly. Then I did something I had never done before or since. I called a talk show.
Sean Hannity had always treated Doc with utmost respect and admiration whenever he'd interviewed him on what was then "Hannity and Colmes" or on his radio show. Sean had spoken at LU a few times and his wife was working on a Masters through LU Online. He was a good friend to Doc and vice versa. So I called Sean.
I was the first caller that day and Sean was gracious and vocal in his praise for Dr. Falwell. I told Sean I appreciated the respect he'd always treated him with, which flew in the face of the disdain that most media held him in. I told a personal story about Doc and thanked Sean again for the chance to champion my hero one last time and said goodbye.
Hanging up, I suppose I felt a little better because talking about a hurt usually helps. But the hole I felt was growing and I had more than a few tears. I knew where Doc was, without question, and I knew he was happy. But I saw this world--and in particular my country--in a different way now. Doc was the voice of good and right and decency and now he was gone. That was inevitable I suppose, but in that moment I couldn't think of anyone who would replace him. Nobody who took his mantle on their shoulders and advanced his vision and his cause. No clarion call for righteousness in this land.
The next year Barack Obama would become president and this country would slide into a hellish morass that deepens and worsens every day. It's not just's the school of thought that chose him as a candidate, and the dark spiritual attitudes that elected him. We had no clear voice to delineate between us and them. Doc's mantle lay there on the ground and Evangelicals sidestepped it like it was radioactive.
We have plenty of voices with loud enough tone to have become what Doc was. But nobody wants the job. Instead, Evangelical Christianity has offered us a hipster preacher who writes books about sex and preaches sermons about sex and drops crude words from the pulpit and when he does touch on sin he preaches with the typical reformists attitude that "God hates you AND your sin".
Or we have a gem of a fella who takes to the roof of his church in his bed, with his wife to make a point that the ills of the world are somehow solved through a better sex life.
Or we have a smiling lawn gnome in a huge church who doles out life coaching advice and calls it a sermon and nobody ever leaves his church feeling like they need to "get right with God" because the God he preaches about wants to get right with us instead. Or we have a "bishop" in Atlanta being paraded around on the shoulders of his men and wrapped in a fraudulent Torah and declared a king. This after a hush-money scandal involving sex with boys.
We have an entire cable network devoted to prosperity gospel charlatans who keep telling us how "it's a new season" and God's blessing and prosperity always involves financial gain.
Nobody wants to talk about sin and everybody wants to be popular. Nobody wants to take a not only point to the line in the sand but to dig in and BECOME that line.
In some ways I am thankful that God called Dr. Falwell home before he could see the turn this country was about to take. Because if his heart hadn't quit in 2007, it would have broken by now for sure.
I miss that man terribly. I miss his influence on a world that needs him. I dread the America my daughter will grow up in.
But beside the rhetoric and rancor...I miss him personally. I miss his impeccable speaking voice and cantankerous smile and his amazing ability to perfectly hate sin and the effects of sin on this land and this world, and yet perfectly love the people involved in that sin. That's a hard art to practice. You can't pull that off without a pure heart.
So five years later, and there remains a hole in where Doc had touched my soul and I've never forgotten. I wish I had a "Jesus First" lapel pin to wear in his honor today.
We miss you Dr. Falwell. This country sure misses you, the church misses you, and this "Jerry's Kid" missed you a lot this past week.

Monday, May 14, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...over and out...

Hey gang.
I'm back home after my amazing, wonderful, priceless, dream-sequence weekend in Lynchburg Va, walking with my graduating class at Liberty University.
I have a heart full of things to write so this might be lengthy.
First off...I am so thankful that I didn't go it alone at my graduation. My Delaware family, Momma Jewell Iorizzo and her daughter (my defacto sister) Wanda, made the six hour journey from New Castle, despite Jewell's back hurting like mad. If anyone believed in me all the way through my darkest hours it was this family. We all missed Poppa John but I felt him the entire day.
My friends in Lynchburg made sure I was celebrated and back-slapped. Cindy Capps and Don Redden were my cheerleaders. Saturday night...after everything had wound down we sat outside at a restaurant and laughed ourselves silly. I have great friends.
Don and his wife Pam also saved my bacon by letting us stay in their apartment for the weekend. Rooms in Lynchburg are astronomical the week of graduation and I was caught flat-footed. If not for Don, I would have had to dust off my car-sleeping skills.
Hershel Kreiss, Phil Shouse (sorry I missed your party Phil and I appreciate the Saturday night I was wiped out.) and the folks who stopped me all weekend telling me how inspired they were by what I achieved.
Patrick are an amazing man and your story is more inspiring than mine. Tell it loudly and often Patrick. You walked through an incredibly dark and difficult valley and you left wells all along the path for others to gain strength from. You are a hero, buddy! Read Patrick's story here...
Patrick Andrews' story 
God provided another very special guest for me. My lifelong friend Richard Henry, whom I've known since the second grade, was in attendance with his wife Dorothy. The reason sort of makes me feel old but it also makes me smile at God's goodness and His impeccable timing. Richard's daughter Erin graduated Saturday as well, and Rich was there to see her walk. God surely knew the timing and having a good friend whom I graduated High School with really was special and made it feel like a door that was broken open was finally shutting. Thanks for being there Rich.
Liberty is a unique place. If you are my vintage you know the story first hand of how hard Dr. Falwell fought just to keep the doors open and what a monument to faith that entire campus is. It is a privilege to graduate from that place. Doc loved us all deeply and when we joked that we were "Jerry's Kids" we weren't really joking. Doc was a father figure to every single student that ever walked through those doors. The mountain has changed over the years, as all things do and must. But the underlying spirit is still intact. This place is about training people to serve Jesus in every thing they do. It's more of a college now and less of a "bible school". It's a healthy, functioning business and not nearly the ministry running on Faith, Prayers, and bailing wire that it was while Doc built it from scratch. But underneath it all there is Doc's glowing spirit. The beauty of the campus, the vision of the people...everything echoes the deep, comforting voice of the man with a heart and a faith big enough to have built a place like this.
Thursday when I arrived in town and pulled off 460 onto Candlers Mountain Road, I turned to Lauren and said "I'll never arrive on this campus again with a feeling of regret..." I was blinking back tears as I said this and Lauren didn't bother trying to fight hers. I would come back every year for Homecoming and for hockey games and often in the summer just as a stopover on the way home for vacation. Every year it would gnaw at me "You never finished're an alumnus but not a graduate..." It was just another thing that knocked me down. Well I'll never feel that feeling again. I'm an alumni...from the Latin for "Foster Son". I have a home and it's on that mountain. I'm not a homeless graduate anymore.
Friday night was an incredible wonderful Baccalaureate Service. Dr. Luis Palau is the most Spirit filled man I have personally ever heard preach in my lifetime. His message was simple but each word was white hot and when he was done I felt like running to a missionary field and preaching the Gospel. He taught us to Dream Big, Pray Big and Have Big Faith. On the surface, pretty typical stuff for a graduating class, but when delivered by a man who has preached to over one BILLION people worldwide it's a very different sermon. Liberty wrote a wonderful article on me for the LU "splash page" telling the story of what I over came and what my path was like. The link is here: Story about Craig Daliessio at  Since Friday morning I have gotten over a dozen emails and comments about the story and how my journey has inspired others to try again at something they gave up on. Some of them were more poignant than my own story and I am honored and thankful that God has given me the chance to bless others by just encouraging them.
Mitt Romney was a wonderful speaker and his speech was, while vanilla, (as expected) very Presidential and calming. Calming in that it sounded like a man who had America 's best interests in his soul. That's a welcome change from the current administration. I felt, as I listened to Mitt, that this man could get us hopeful again...that would be a change. (see what I did there?)
There is a lot more. A whole lot more but I don't want to make this a book. Sunday morning I attended Thomas Road Baptist Church. The church Dr. Falwell started over 50 years ago and the church that started L.U. as a ministry. Jonathan Falwell is the pastor now. Doc passed away 5 years ago tomorrow. Jonathan has done a remarkable job in his dad's stead. He has made his mark without removing the mark his father made. That's quite a feat. It happens that on this particular Sunday, they ran a short video of highlights of Doc's life. A retrospective of the man whom so many call "hero". I was moved to tears. Doc taught me, by example, that quitting achieves nothing, but getting back on your feet time and again is where real victory is won.
I left the mountain on Sunday a winner.
Thanks everyone, for taking this journey with me these last 30 days. Your words of encouragement were priceless. I hope I've inspired someone to try again at a dream they gave up on long ago.

"Never Quit"

Friday, May 11, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...the night before...

We're here! This is a story the Liberty Champion wrote about my journey...I'm deeply honored...
Story about Craig

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...My GCW...

This won,t be too lengthy.
Tonight I want to write a little about my "GCW". My Great Cloud of Witnesses. Paul wrote in Hebrews 12:1 "Since we are encompassed by a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off the weights that holds us back and the sin that entangles us and run the race for the high calling of God in Christ Jesus".  Paul was referring to the fact that those loved ones who went on to heaven are not sitting on a cloud playing a harp and wholly unaware of our plight and circumstances. Instead, they are watching, cheering us on, loving us even more perfectly than they did here on earth and, I believe, praying for us as they did in this life. They are those dear people who loved us the most and who went on to eternity in Christ. For me the list is wonderful, and I am convinced those on it are actively watching and will be cheering loudly on Saturday morning. My list includes...
My grandmother, Dorothea Wray Shanko. The first truly godly woman I knew. My grandmother was my protector and my champion when I was a child and she never stopped believing in me or in the call God had on my life. Her beautiful voice is reverberant in my daughter's and her prayers are still being felt in my life. I know she will be watching intently, and if there are tears of joy and smiles of pride in heaven...she will have both in ample supply.
Poppa John Iorizzo...The father figure that God brought into my life when all I had was a dad-shaped vacuum. Pop went to heaven about a year and a half ago and not a day goes by that I don't miss his cantankerous smile, his distinctive voice and his laughter. ...and his incredible wisdom. Pop will be very very proud that I finished the task at hand.
Dr. Falwell...a hero of mine and a role model and a man who loved every single kid who ever walked onto the campus of LU. Doc loved us like we were his own and I know he would especially like my story. His life was marked by overcoming faith and amazing conquests in the name of the Gospel. He'll be there with his train horn if he has it.
Terry and Mary Chapman...Two of the godliest most Christlike people I ever knew. Both of them loved me and my daughter in my darkest hour and I feel their impression on my soul daily. Being a man like Terry is a huge task and not many are up to it...but I'll try.
Harry Kalas...I never met Harry on earth but I am sure he knows by now what He meant to me and he is proud to have played a part in my survival and ultimately my victory.
Those in my GCW but who are still quite present here on earth...
Dave and Cindy Lewis, my former youth pastor and his wife many years ago and still my friends. Dave is my mentor, my sounding board and someone who always laughs at my fond remembrances. I love you guys and I appreciate how you've stood by me.
Momma Jewell "Mom" who loves me as her own and believed in me all along. She is making the trip from Delaware to see me walk and it wouldn't be right without her.
Cathy and other "parents". You guys first saw this in me 18 years ago. I'm glad I could make good on that faith finally. I love you both.
My sister Nicole and brother in law Barry...Two heroic, faithful, wonderful, sweet, inspiring people. I am so proud to be your brother and Taylor's uncle.
Jim Freeman and Greg St. Clair...the two best friends I made when I was a resident student at LU. hard to believe all these years have passed and here I am at last.
Cory, Fritzer, Craig Handwerker and the rest of the guys from LU Hockey.
Crieg Soeder. My friend in Nashville who never gave up on me and who values effort and education enough to love what I've done. You're a great friend Crieg. Thank you!
Meredith High School creative writing teacher who still reads my stuff and still believes in my abilities.  I love you!
Most of all my daughter Morgan. Morgan can't make it this weekend but she will be watching live online and she'll be proud of her dad. This is for her as much as it is for me.

For my father...I hope at last, that you are proud of me.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...The Hope of Things unseen,5 days...

Five days...less than a week.
It took forever, and it got here so quickly. I was thinking of some of the various places I've worked on my degree. Some of the images. What it would have looked like to someone from the outside.
I worked on a lot of it at the nearby Panera restaurant. So much so, that I am known by name to the staff there. If I'm missing for a long time, (as I have been since January when I got a place to live), they'll ask me where I have been. I used to sit in the same booth if it was available. Because it had electricity and because it was fairly private. I liked Panera because they had free wifi and because if you buy a large iced tea for $2.17 (tax included, of course) you can refill it ad infinitum. They don't care. The cups are heavy plastic so they last forever. Tea makes them get pretty cloudy so I had a tiny bottle of "Dawn" in my car and I'd drop a few drops in the cup in the morning when I went in to study, then I'd hit the bathroom and wash the cup thoroughly. Then I was good as new.
Another trick of mine was to sneak a "Cup-o-noodles" in my backpack and use their hot water for tea to make my lunch. I felt terrible bringing my own food into a restaurant but hey...I was in survival mode and it had to be done. I tried to keep the cup under the table and out of sight.
I studied in the Library but honestly...the silence of a Library is distracting to me somehow. All those people in one room being quiet. It's somehow hard for me to concentrate. I've never liked studying in a library, although I love researching there. But LUO has an extensive online library and since I was a Religion major, the county library didn't have much I could use.
I studied at FedEx Office because their wifi is the best around and they have a business-like atmosphere. I felt like working when I was there. I could write or take tests. I was at Fedex when I ran my Degree Audit last August 17 and learned the value of real, genuine hope.
I've studied in my car a lot. That's where I would read the most. Especially cold, rainy, dreary days. I would sit at Pinkerton Park in Franklin and read for hours. Or under one of the picnic pavilions. I studied at Battery Park back home a lot. The river is a good background for reading or writing...especially for thinking.
None of these scenes are that odd or particularly different from most college students except that for most college students they would study in places like this as a change of pace. Most of their studying took place at home or in their dorm room. For me, these random place were all I had as I wandered the earth. My GPA isn't stellar. Let's say "The C gets the degree" applies in my case. I know I could have done far better. I graduated high school with a 3.96. My on-campus semesters years ago were in the 3's. But living as I did was not conducive to study as we know it.
Regardless of that...I made it. I have two exams and a paper to finish this week. I'll likely be done by tomorrow night so I can leave on Thursday morning and enjoy a few days in Lynchburg without thinking about school. This summer I am taking only one class. A math class I am required to take. My attitude has changed about algebra. I will likely never use it, but I have enjoyed beating this giant and I love learning ANYTHING new. It's genetic I think. I hope that in the future I can maybe volunteer to teach algebra to kids. Or adults with kids with algebra homework.
So what comes next? What does the future hold for me?
Well...all this hope has opened doors I never thought I would open. Or even knock on.
I am certified as a Life Coach through the American Association of Christian Counselors. I am going to continue my education and certification process in this field and perhaps even pursue another Bachelors in Psych with a minor in Life Coaching. I love this career choice and I know I'll be great at it. Coaching is something I do well. Helping others is a great thing.
My Christmas book "A Ragamuffin Christmas" will be released in Sept. through Liberty University Press. My first real publisher. I love how God works and that my alma mater is publishing my book. I am especially proud of that.
In June I am starting work on a book with my friend Tony Luke Jr. about his weight loss and life changes. He is an inspiring guy because he loves everyone and it shows.
I am revising my first book..."Sometimes Daddies Cry" to include the changes in my life as a divorced dad since I wrote it in 2007. I am resuming the radio show I host called "DadMatters" and next year sometime I am starting a new book project.
In January I am starting my Masters pursuit. I am undecided between Theological Studies and Executive Leadership. From a motivational speaker / personal development coach perspective I am leaning toward the Executive Leadership course. From the perspective of a faith-based writer and speaker I am leaning toward the Theological Studies degree. I will doubtless pursue both at some point but which one comes first is my present concern.
I have started a motivational speaking / personal development service called "The Little Old Ant Group" and the official launch will come later this summer. My mission is to help people find hope in their lives. With hope comes the strength to keep trying until they reach their dreams.
I'm big on dreams...
Zig Ziglar says often, "If there's hope for the future, there is power in the present" and Zig is right.
My journey back to Liberty Mountain has not been easy. It has not been as I planned when I was a high school junior in 1980, and selected LU as my future destination. It wasn't what I thought it would be in 1984 when I finally made it there as a freshman. Or again in 1994. Along the path I became a carpenter, a hockey coach who won two High School championships, I discovered an unsettling truth about my lineage and birth, I became a husband and a father and then a divorcee all in the space of 4 years. I moved to Nashville and became a mortgage banker. I had huge success at a job I had no intentions of ever doing. I was nationally recognized as a success in that industry. I was twice a homeowner. I had a garden and I bred Springer Spaniels once. I became an amazing father whose love for his daughter was and is the axis upon which his world revolves.
I lost everything I owned when the economy collapsed and in order to keep from losing the thing I held most dear, I lived as a homeless man.
I've gotten back on my feet so many times I feel like a child learning to walk for the first time. Each wobble-legged time I refused to quit. Sometimes I would lay there for a while. Sometimes in silence and sometimes in rage at being knocked down again and often times in tears from the hurt that being knocked down can cause. But each time I came to the same conclusion...laying here in defeat is NOT how they will last remember me...especially not my daughter. So each time I struggled back to my feet. I didn't know what I was going to do or how I would do it or how I would ever fix what was broken or regain what I lost. I just knew that when I breathed my last, it would find me still on my feet, still with an axe in my hand with rubber tree chips all around me.
And now here I am. Poised at the threshold of succeeding at something large and vital and measurable for the first time in 5 years and to be honest...the first success that has truly mattered to me since my daughter was born. For the first time in my whole life I can tell you EXACTLY what my life plan looks like, what my personal mission statement says, and where I see myself in five or ten years. And for the first time ever, I am so excited about the plan that I can't keep still.
I have overcome my BHAG. Dr. Falwell used to challenge us to always have a "BHAG" a Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Something that keeps us working harder, something just a little beyond our reach and a little more than we can do on our own. Something that is guaranteed to stretch us and something that will force us to believe God more and trust Him more after it's done.
This degree was my first real BHAG.  And now it's done. My next ones are already revealing themselves. The difference is that since I have one under my belt now, I don't find them as threatening. I have hope now. Hope that comes from success. Hope forged in a furnace of despair and sadness and shame and humiliation and endurance and hardship and work and faith. ...just a tiny bit of faith.
Saturday will be the closing statement of one chapter...and the opening sentence of a dozen others all at once.
Sunday afternoon I'll leave Dr. Falwell's mountain and start the journey toward a mountain of my own.
Thank you Doc.  Thank you Liberty.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

A brief interlude to say Happy my daughter.

Tomorrow is my daughter's 14th birthday.
It's hard to believe 14 years have come and gone since that night in May 1998 when she arrived. She was so tiny. She weighed 6lbs 13 oz. I was 34 years old and as unsure of my ability to take care of her as I could possibly be. But what confidence I lacked in my earnings potential, I made up for in my fatherhood skills. Somehow I knew I was going to be a great daddy. I always wanted to be a dad from as long as I could remember. And at exactly 10 O'Clock PM on the first Thursday of May 1998...I became one.
She had thick black hair and her mothers blue eyes. The hair turned blonde but the eyes remained as blue as the sea.
For the first three hours I did little else except tell her I loved her over and over...the words reverberating in my own soul. I had never heard my father speak those words to me and somehow hearing my own voice speaking them to my child was soothing in a way I had not expected.
Being her father has been the greatest blessing and privilege of my life. These past five years have been hard but she has been a trooper and she has been my inspiration. It was always for love of her that I endured the humiliation of homelessness and kept trying over and over to rebuild my life. It was for her that I pushed myself toward the goal of graduating from college at 48. because I want her to see her daddy as an overcomer, not as someone whom the world overcame. She has seen me get knocked down time and again...but she has always seen me get back up. Someday when college is a grind and she feels like quitting, she'll remember my trials as I completed my degree and she'll get back in the fight.
This is the year I am going to pronounce my fatherly blessing on her, as Ed Tandy McGlasson speaks of in his conferences and his book. It is time. She has become a wonderful, godly young woman. She is not a little girl anymore and it is my job as her dad to pronounce my blessing on who and what she has become, and to promise her that I will do everything I possibly can to see her dreams come true.
I will give up my own dreams, if necessary, to see hers fulfilled.
She is my quiver is full. Each day I pray a protective blessing over her and I ask God for the wisdom to know her target, prepare her for it...and to one day be ready to set her to flight.
I'm not ready for that yet. I have a few more years and I am determined to fill them with all the memories, love, and encouragement I possibly can. Before I can blink, the target will be revealed and it will be time for me to draw my bow and set my arrow to flight in this world.
Morgan...I could not--were the world my scroll and the ocean my inkwell--ever fully express how much I love you, and how happy just being your dad makes me. But I will live my days trying to explain it. Your dreams are my dreams. I will do all I can to see you become who you were put on this planet to become. You have my promise on this.
Happy Birthday Morgan Wray. Each year I wish this to you but each year it is you who are the gift to me.
Live each day knowing that your daddy loves you more than anything in this world.


Saturday, May 5, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of week! A very special classmate...

Hey gang. Thanks to those of you who have been following along in my journal about this experience. I definitely had a tough road but I just read a story about a classmate at LU who will be walking next Saturday. This guy is a real INSPIRATION and I think his story should be told. Please click the link and read about Patrick. I can't wait to meet him next week! to Patricks' story

Thursday, May 3, 2012

The Homeless Graduate...My Journey to Liberty Universoty class of 2012...9 days

This time next week I'll be waking up in Lynchburg. Morgan and I are traveling on Wednesday and spending two days enjoying the area together. I'm going to complete my final assignment in the library. It's silly but symbolic I guess. I wanted to be on campus for one final assignment.
Then we're just going to hang out. I might take my hockey gear and see if there is a pick up game at the La Haye. Morgan wants to try Snowflex. I hope to have enough money to come home with a boatload of LU swag.
Then...Friday night Baccalaureate will be something to remember. Luis Palau is an amazing man. I can't wait to hear him. Saturday...I tear-up every time I think about Saturday...about hearing my name called...about being a graduate.
This summer I will be starting a new job and a new book and a business. But I think what I want to do, and what I plan on doing, is working my way through the gospels and the book of Acts. Doing an exegesis of my own...not for a class with a deadline. It's been a long time since I've been able to study the Bible for the joy of studying the bible. In my pursuit of a degree in Religion, I got so crowded that my intimacy with the Source of my faith has suffered.
Saturday afternoon I'm going to let out a big breath. Monday morning the future begins. Hope changes everything. This degree has brought me hope.
I might not post much more before next week. It's becoming redundant. But please remember Hope. Hope is what makes today bearable. Hope gives you the power to go after your dreams.
Everything is possible with High Hopes!



Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...10 days

I am so tired I can hardly sit here. Yesterday I worked 12 hours and then did my school work. I'm weary. My daughter will not have to do it this way. I'll make the sacrifices I have to, to see that she goes to college when she is supposed to and doesn't have to work this hard to survive while she finishes her education.
That's not going to beat me. I'm as good as done now. I am going to work hard through the weekend and finish early so I can go to Lynchburg next week and enjoy myself for a few days.
I'm excited. I'm thrilled. I feel like I've done something that defies odds. And I feel like something that was eating at me for most of my life has been quieted. The hole in my bucket has been filled.
So what's next?
In June I'm going back home to Philly and my friend Tony Luke Jr. and I are writing a book about his amazing weight loss over the past year and the way he used it to inspire thousands of others to get ahold of their life and make changes. I start a new job this month here in Nashville. I have a few speaking engagements booked in October. My Christmas book "A Ragamuffin Christmas" comes out in September through Liberty University Press. I've launched a Life Coaching and Personal Development service called "The Little Old Ant Group". Next year I have two books to write, one is a re-telling of the Prodigal Son in a modern setting. It's got some very clever twists and it's a moving story. I plan on updating and revising "Harry Kalas Saved My Life" and re-releasing it next Spring or sometime thereafter. And in January 2013 I'm starting my Masters. I haven't decided between A Masters in Human Services / Executive Leadership or a Master in Theological Studies. I'll definitely do both, I just don't know which one to do first.
For the first time in a long time...maybe ever...I have a clear vision for my life and I am excited about the direction it is going. There is a huge difference between living life without a plan and without a goal or a dream, and living life on purpose. Finishing school showed me that I have goals and a purpose and it showed me I have what it takes to achieve no matter what the difficulties.
It has been so hard. Sometimes I look back at all I home, my pets, time with my daughter, a career that paid me handsomely...and I cry. This has hurt. It has HURT and I can't get back the things I lost. But what I have gained has been priceless and it has made me see the vision for life I was supposed to see.
And now it's onward to better things and better times.

Until tomorrow,


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Homeless Graduate: My Journey to Liberty University Class of 2012...A little insight on being homeless

Good Morning gang...
It's going to be hot today. It's May 1st and already we're going to be around 90 degrees. I have to work today and then get some school work done tonight.
I've occasionally had people ask me "Were you really homeless?" The answer is yes. From May of 2008 until January of this year I pretty much lived on the street. I slept in my car and showered at the Rec center. I worked when I could find work and I put out 207 resumes and got one call back. It was for a part-time stock clerk in a grocery store. Before I started back to school...from August 2008-until today...I would spend the remainder of the day walking. Just walking aimlessly. I think I kept moving to stop myself from thinking about what was going on in my world. Or at least to distract myself from those thoughts. Because in reality the thoughts kept coming. I walked about 10 miles a day. Sometimes in the public park near where I lived. (Before losing my house) Sometimes on the walking trails at the rec center. I walked for hours. In the evenings I would walk at Pinkerton Park in Franklin. There's a one mile walking course that meanders through the park and it's very pretty. I would go there in the afternoons when it was still warm. I would bring a blanket and a pillow and lay out in the grass and sleep. I felt safe sleeping there. It's not unusual for people to nap in a park on a sunny day. When you are sleeping in your car and hiding it from view you are an unwelcome guest. I was run off by the Police the first night I slept in my car. I learned the value of a good hiding spot after that. But I also found it impossible to sleep soundly all night. Every twig breaking, every barking dog or honking horn or...especially...every siren in the distance woke me in fear. I cat napped more than I ever slept. So warm afternoons in the park were an occasional treat.
I got to where I couldn't stand to see my own reflection anymore. I had been a successful man. Recognized for achievement in his career. I owned a home and I was a dad. I had fought against the sadness of divorce and near-orphanage and disappointment and made something of myself.
And now it was all gone and I was sleeping in a car. I kept a laundry basket in the trunk with clean clothes in it and a milk crate for dirty ones. I had a storage shed where I kept what few belongings I held after the devastation of losing it all.
I wandered. I was isolated and left alone by almost everyone here in TN.  It hurt worse than anything I'd ever lived through. Every day I fought for some hope. I worked odd jobs for gas money (gas had hit $4.50 at this point) I was receiving $235 a week in unemployment and half of that went to gas. Gas so I could apply for jobs and so I could go somewhere to walk. I walked so I didn't have to sit still and think about my life.
As a dad, this was a time in my life where I questioned my own value more than any time before or since. I love my daughter more than I can say with words. For her to know I was living this way was too much for me so I lied to her about it for a while. Eventually she figured it out. I felt like the biggest failure I could imagine. I didn't sink the economy and destroy the mortgage industry but it felt like it. It felt like I had failed everyone I ever knew.
In August 2009 I decided to go online just to see what financial aid I could get. I thought maybe finishing my degree would open doors for me for a job. I applied and got the maximum aid. Then I went to LU Online and called to arrange some classes. It was early August when I'd started the process. On August 17th of that year, I spent about 30 minutes on the phone with an LUO adviser. I was sitting in the parking lot of Panera, where I would spend a lot of time using the free wifi and endless refills of iced tea. I scheduled my first five classes for the fall semester. I wrote them down on an old envelope and when I hung up with the adviser I broke down in tears. There were a few reasons for the tears...not the least of which was that I had long forgotten how much it bothered me that I never finished at LU. I buried that for years but I never let it go. Finishing my degree was a hole in me that simply had to be filled someday. God chose this moment in my life...when I was broken and desperate and give me a glimmer of hope by restoring one of my oldest dreams.
Over the next 2 1/2 years I lived in a friends basement for about 2 months, I traveled home to Philly a lot. I wrote two books. And I plodded through my school work. I would love to tell you I am graduating with honors but I am not. I should be. I have that sort of potential. But college and homelessness are difficult roommates. Here is what a typical day was like for me then...
I woke up at 4:45 AM, because even though by this time I had a place where I was permitted to park (a friend with 10 acres offered to let me park there) I was still very embarrassed to be seen sleeping in my car. It is humiliating in ways I can't even explain. I felt like I needed to apologize for every breath I took. So I would get up before sunrise and get to the gym. The gym opened at 5 AM so I worked out, took a shower and went to Dunkin Donuts for coffee.
I was careful to roll my sleeping bags and pillow and store them all in my trunk, because the one time I forgot I got strange looks at the drive-thru. I was already embarrassed enough, I didn't need exclamation points added to it.
I would go to my storage shed and change clothes and go looking for a job. When you don't have an address other than a PO Box, you pretty much admit you are homeless. If you are homeless they won't hire you. It's a vicious cycle. I learned to lie about that too. I hate admitting it but that's what I did. After a few hours searching for work, I'd go back to the storage shed and change clothes. I would do odd jobs if they were available and then I'd take my milk crate full of text books and go to Panera or the Library. I would study there until they closed. The library closes at 7:30, Panera at 9PM. After this I would go back to Pinkerton Park and study by flashlight for another hour and then maybe if the weather was nice I'd walk for an hour to clear my head. If it was cold, I'd put a sleeping bag around be because gas was too expensive for me to keep the car running. I'd study by flashlight until 11PM when the park closes and then I'd drive to the place I parked for the night. If I had work that was due and a deadline was looming and I needed late night wifi I'd go to Fedex office and work there. They are open 24 hours. The night shift got to know me by name.
It was hard to give my best living like this. I dropped a lot of classes because I was struggling to do well in these circumstances. It took an extra year for me to finish. If I had a "normal" life I could have finished a year ago. But that wasn't God's plan.
I missed my daughter so terribly during this time. It hurt me physically. Some nights the temps dropped to the teens. I remember waking up several times with frost on the windows inside the car because my breath would condense on the glass and then freeze. I had a cough that lasted all through the winter because no matter how warm you keep your body, when you sleep in your car and it's 19 degrees outside, you are still breathing 19 degree air. There were a lot of nights that I fell asleep seeing Morgan's face in my head and the tears would turn ice cold on my cheeks. It was too cold to pull my hands out of the sleeping bag to dry them.  In the summers, I sprayed myself head to toe with "OFF" and slept with the windows open. I tried putting makeshift screens in my doors but they weren't designed for that. I questioned my own worth and existence more times than I can count. If not for my love for my daughter I might have ended my own life. Morgan and school literally kept me going.
I lived like this for  3 years and then on August 17th 2011 I had my epiphany moment. Maybe for the first time in my whole life. It was about 11PM and I had just uploaded the final homework for my summer classes. I decided to run a degree audit and when I did it came back with "You need 120 hours to graduate. You have achieved 103 Credit Hours"
I did the quick math and realized that with the courses I was registered for in fall semester and with Spring semester yet to come I was going to graduate. It was done. great thing...I tried had not failed. As hard as it was I had seen this thing through.
From that day until now I have had hope. Big, huge, wonderful, life-giving hope. Graduating from college wasn't just about a paper-chase for me. It literally kept my hope alive. And I believe it kept ME alive in the process. It was the only thing that kept moving forward and the only thing I could measure and see success.  I was homeless for 5 more months after that but it hardly mattered. I could deal with the homelessness if I knew there was something good coming. Graduation was my Holy Grail. And now I was within sight of it.
You keep plodding along...trudging through night after night of endless, hopeless, grinding disappointment. You come to a curve in the road and maybe at first you think "This is it...the finish line is right around the bend". And as you round the turn you find out it's just another curve. This happens over and over and over and every fiber in your being says "Just give up!" Sometimes you do...for a while. But something makes you stand up and keep walking again and finally...usually when you've reached the point where you've stopped believing and you don't view the curves hopefully round one more curve. It looks like all the other disappointing curves you've been negotiating for the past few years. You walk through it mechanically this time without even thinking about it possibly being different. Only this time it is.
Off in the distance is the finish line. It's still a long ways off but there it is nonetheless. And something in that vision gives you life again. Your steps pick up,  your shoulders square, and your bent, broken stance becomes a proud, conquering stride. You still step on stones and potholes. The walk is still tough. But the end is in sight and the hope that brings is something you wish everyone could feel.
That is what it feels like for me today. A Homeless Graduate in less that two weeks. For me, the finish line is right back where the starting line was 28 years ago.
On a mountain in Virginia...

Until Tomorrow,