We were not a wealthy family. In fact, we were a poor family. In fact, we were po’ folk, but my parents made our lives rich. We were a happy family. I loved sports, and as long as I could play, I was fine. There’s a picture of me in my Little League uniform: skinny, big smile, big Afro with my Little League cap perched on the top of it. And there’s this big rip in my jeans. I didn’t care; my family didn’t care about things like that. It’s like we didn’t know we were poor, so it didn’t matter. My mother worked hard, and we were always close to not making it, but she always gave us Special K (which for po’ folks…name brands were a big deal), which she’d buy in bulk. You’d look in our cabinets and there’d be nothing but Special K.
My parents didn’t have much money to spend, but they had lots of love to spend on us, and we were happy. My father loved to spend time with us. He’d say, “We’re going on a family drive,” and we would all pile into the station wagon. Some of my best memories were when all seven of us were packed into our station wagon for family trips. There’s a video of all seven of us (when I was even younger) getting out of a VW Beetle…parents in front, my three sisters in the back seat and us two boys in the back window. My father loved taking family trips. Once we drove all the way from Los Angeles to Seattle, and I still don’t how five kids survived in that tiny space for such a long time without a Nintendo DS, an iPod or PS3. If it hadn’t been for Mom and Dad’s great sense of humor, I think we kids could have done some serious damage to one another. But my parents always had us laughing.
I remember especially one time we all drove to Big Bear Mountain, which is a recreational park in southern California. We began to talk about what we would like to accomplish. We began to dream; we began to think big in that small space.
Then when we drove up and there were all these people skiing. I had never seen anyone ski before, not in person. Somebody in the car said, People like us don’t ski.” That didn’t seem right to me then and it doesn’t seem right to me now. You can do anything you want, you can be anything you want. Anything is possible.
Dad loved his family and wanted each of his kids to reach our full potential. Then one day a police officer showed up at our front door. As I listened to the officer tell my Mom that Dad had been in an accident and wouldn’t be coming home, I felt that the wonderful life I had enjoyed for eleven years was over. That night I heard my Mom wailing in her bedroom. I had never heard anyone cry that way before, nor have I heard it since.
I was keenly aware that I was living a bad dream. Someone had dished up a meal for me that I didn’t want to swallow, and for months and months it was like as if I had a stomach-ache every minute. But no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t spit it out, couldn’t send it back, couldn’t get rid of the awful taste in my mouth that came from the news of my Dad’s death. I didn’t know what to do. My mother had to work all the time to keep us alive. She worked at Winchell’s, a donut shop, and sometimes she would be working a two shifts a day, and she would come home exhausted.
All the rest of us had to find new ways to live a life that had the biggest hole in the world. I watched my sisters and my brother find their own ways to to live, their own ways to soothe the pain or deaden it. My oldest sister, Bernalee did her best with the rest of us. My other sisters, Paige and Viola focused their attention on school or jobs. My brother, Randy tried to numb himself with alcohol, as he had watched other people do.
Two years after my father died, my sister Viola was in a car accident and fell into a coma. We had all come to her bedside and watched over her, prayed for her,but she never regained consciousness. I was old enough to hurt and young enough to find it difficult to express my grief. I wanted to scream, “Hey, I didn’t order this. I don’t want to listen to my mother cry in her room at night. I can’t stand this pain. I want my father and my sister back.” At an early age, I began trying to make sense of the senselessness around me, and I had a deep desire within me to fix everyone else’s pain…which is partly why I do what I do today. I knew there had to be a better reality than the one I was facing. I envisioned that reality, and it came true.
Many of you have been through tremendous hurts and pain. Some, because of choices you made, others because of things that were handed to you. Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” There is a hope. There is a peace. You do not have to stay in the setback. You can choose to live life to the fullest.