This year I’ve read three books I’m hoping will change my life.
They are all by African-American men who have overcome enormous adversities and succeeded in their professional and personal lives.
I did not choose these books because the authors are black. In fact, this might sound silly, but I did not realize they all had this in common until about an hour ago!
All three authors are Christians, and I don’t mean the the kind of “Christian” that curses his way through a song about abusing women and then stands up to thank God at an award ceremony.
I mean Real Christians who have had to make tough choices to stand alone, been persecuted, and have gone through hard times and found Jesus Christ faithful.
Without further ado, the books are:
The Blessing of Adversity: Finding your God-given purpose in life’s troubles by Barry C. Black, currently serving as the chaplain for the U.S. Senate;
I Beat The Odds: From Homelessness, to The Blind Side, and Beyond by Michael Oher, the football player made famous by the movie The Blind Side, as well as Don Yaeger; and
Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story by Ben Carson, the now-retired American neurosurgeon who pioneered several amazing surgical innovations, including separating conjoined twins joined at the head, as well as Cecil Murphy.
I’ve personally been encouraged by the testimony of these three men because they have all done “impossible” things. They’ve all worked hard. Extremely hard. And they’ve all realized that when hard work ends, it’s time for God to do His work. And God blesses those who seek Him.
In many ways I don’t have much in common with them. I’m white. My parents were married. As a child, I never worried if I was going to be able to eat. For a lot of my childhood, my parents even owned a nice home in a safe neighborhood. I also excelled academically, and without much effort. I loved gymnastics and I was good at it. I just didn’t have to try that hard.
And I think all that led me a pretty false conclusion about life, but also something I would never have admitted I believed.
Life should be easy. If it’s not, or if I am too uncomfortable, something must be wrong.
I know this sounds shallow, and it probably is. But I think there are lots of others out there who have bought into this lie as well.
That’s why these books are great.
Think about it. What could be more uncomfortable than leaving a dysfunctional family and neighborhood, which you thought was functional, and going to almost all-white affluent Christian school when you are black, 6’4″ feet tall and 315 pounds (1,93 meters and 143 kilograms)? That’s what Michael Oher had to do. Was it hard? Sure. Did it leave him in this chasm where he felt like he didn’t quite fit in anywhere for awhile? Yes. Was it God opening up the doors for his future? Absolutely.
Now, in addition to playing for the Ravens (after graduating from the University of Mississippi with a degree in Criminal Justice), he is seeking to reach out to kids in the foster system who are trying to break out of the generational cycles of addiction, anger and dysfunction.
Or what about Ben Carson, whose mother limited him to 3 hours of TV a week and made him read two books a week and give her a report? I’ll bet no other kids in the neighborhood had to do that. He had to decide that excellence academically and doing the right thing was more important than fitting in and coasting through high school. That he needed God’s help to deliver him from anger after he nearly killed his friend in a moment of rage.
And then there’s Ben Carson’s Mom, who had to work two to three jobs to survive, pushing her kids to excel academically when she could barely read and all the neighborhood saw her as a scandalous woman who had been divorced and was in need of psychiatric treatment. The book doesn’t even go into how hard her upbringing must have been, except to say that she married a 28 year old man when she was 13 just to get away from it.
She didn’t give up, and now her sons (one a retired neurosurgeon and one an engineer) don’t either. And I had to laugh at how this highly-intelligent man’s biography read like one long series of scientifically-inexplicable miracles.
And speaking of moms, Barry Black’s Mom had a faith that just wouldn’t quit, even after she was evicted time and again with her boys.
Life can be tough for single moms, but she kept on training her boys in God’s ways. Now, as Black pulls from more than 30 years of counseling as a military chaplain, you can tell the author practically breathes Scripture. He says he memorized most of it before he was 7 years old, thanks to his mom. And later, when he was rebelling against that upbringing and his mom was praying, it was one of those Scripture verses that brought him back.
There is something about a living, breathing, modern-day testimony to the power of God’s people walking in faith that gives me hope. Tremendous hope.
I’ve started asking myself today, “what are the impossible situations in my life I’ve just totally given up on?” And, “what is everyone saying is impossible that I’ve started to believe is actually impossible?” More importantly, “what does God say about it?”
So, with God’s help, I want to join that “cloud of witnesses” talked about in Hebrews 11. The people who did the impossible, believed the impossible and overcame through the power of God. The people of whom this world is not worthy.
And thank you, Barry Black, Michael Oher and Ben Carson, for faithfully testifying to what God has done and is doing in your lives.
It’s time to get back to work.