My life should be a statistic. However, by the grace of God, it has become an anomaly. And yours can too.
I am the product of a one-night stand. My parents were nineteen, both running away from oppressive family backgrounds and completely unprepared for parenthood. Their marriage didn’t last long. My mother got custody, and we moved to California.
Men were in and out of our lives as my mother tried, without success, to fill the void within herself. It was a downward spiral of affairs, abuse, and addiction. When I was five, she downed a bottle of pills in a suicide attempt. I was sent to Illinois to live with my father, who had remarried.
Two weeks later, his wife announced she would not raise another woman’s son, and they took me to a doorstep and left me there. I have never forgotten the fear of standing at that door, alone, afraid to knock, not knowing what or who was on the other side.
Two foster homes later, I was reunited with my mother, who had completed her rehab, but she was not the same. Anger and bitterness now controlled her, and she blamed me for the circumstances of her life.
Living in poverty with a mother who had little capacity for anything more than survival was challenging. She provided me with one pair of shoes per year and hand-me-down clothing. She cut my hair herself in our moldy home.
In addition to the poverty, there was the constant presence of her vindictive anger. I loved my mom, but I was afraid of her spiteful and irrational words and the blows of her angry hands. But most of all, I was afraid she would take her own life.
She remarried for the third time when I was eight, and we moved to Texas. My stepfather worked at a lumber mill, and for a short while, life seemed normal. However, old cycles soon returned.
When I was 14, my mother attempted to take her life again and was placed in psychiatric care. She and my stepfather divorced, and I moved back to California with him. Sadly, he wasn’t much better than she was.
During my junior year in high school, I moved out on my own. I put on a good face, and my friends envied what they thought was freedom. But their parents saw me for what I was—a poor kid without a family who had somehow evaded the system.
I was filled with anger, self-doubt, and frustration. Everyone else had so much more than I had and were so far ahead of me. Why was my life so hard? What was wrong with me?
I’d worked twice as hard for everything I had, and that wasn’t much. And no matter how hard I worked, I never got ahead. I craved what others had, and the injustice of it all made me bitter. Opportunities and second chances were few and far between, and I knew I had no room for error.
If only someone would see how hard I worked and give me a chance—a shot at becoming something.
Everything changed one night when a jar of jelly slipped through my hands and shattered on the floor. It was all I had left to eat. I sank to the floor, broken to pieces myself, and realized I couldn’t continue living that way.
In desperation, I packed my truck, left California, and moved to Washington, where I didn’t know a soul. I had one goal—to get into college. I didn’t care which one, and I was prepared to do whatever it would take to be accepted.
A Christian college in Spokane, Washington, gave me a chance, but I was more of a fish out of water than ever. I was not a Christian, I didn’t come from a middle- or upper-class family, and I wasn’t on a scholarship. Unlike everyone else there, I worked full time. I also partied, and I didn’t go to church. Classmates looked down on me because I was so different. Frankly, I looked down on them too, because I considered them arrogant and spoiled.
In the middle of my freshman year, I got so drunk that I couldn’t drive. The following morning, I was sitting in my truck sobering up when it occurred to me that the fact I was so angry with God proved that I must believe in Him. I had insisted I didn’t, but how could I be mad at someone if I didn’t believe in them?
With that realization came another—if I was going to admit that God existed, then I’d better somehow live as if He did. Belief carried demand. I came back from Christmas break that year and declared a religion major, so I could learn about God.
By the middle of my sophomore year, however, I began waking up in a terrible rage, wanting to destroy everything in sight. It was so uncontrollable that I often stayed in bed until I could wake up in a better mood.
I started seeing a counselor. And to be honest, that sucked. The counselor made me wade through every bad childhood memory I had worked so hard to forget. But in the process, I learned many things that put my life on a different trajectory.
First, I learned that everyone’s pain is just as real and painful to them as mine is to me. My human nature wanted to put suffering on a spectrum. But since I’d never experienced another person’s pain, I couldn’t say that mine was worse. Pain is pain. And it hurts no matter who we are.
Second, I learned that I carried my parents’ DNA and genetic makeup, whether I liked it or not. Because of that, I would be like my parents in some ways. Up until counseling, I had desperately tried not to resemble them in any fashion. I resented my parents, yet I kept seeing their traits in me, and that both scared me and made me angry.
My counselor helped me shift my focus from being afraid of being like my parents to choosing to become the best form of them. My goal was to be my parents redeemed; to be the person that, for whatever reason, they had never become.
Next, I learned the impact of fatherlessness on my life. I’d always told myself it didn’t matter that I didn’t have a dad, but it did. The truth was, I had never gotten over being left on that doorstep when I was five. From that moment on, I had felt unwanted and worthless, constantly wondering what made me so unlovable.
I mean, my friends’ fathers didn’t abandon them, but me? Not only had my father left me, he’d gotten married again and has kids that he kept. It’s a wound I may never completely understand or get over.
Because of fatherlessness, I’ve lived in constant self-doubt and fear, feeling judged by everyone. I believed I was destined to fail. And I knew that, when I failed, there would be no one there to pick me up.
My counselor helped me reflect on my pain and process my hurt. Doing so gave me a measure of control over my future. Before counseling, my emotions controlled me. My hurt and anger drove me, and I blamed everyone else for the circumstances of my life.
I have learned, however, that I alone have control over where my life will go. My parents and the worlds they lived in may have determined my past, but I control my future—or I can, if I choose to.
I do not have to follow in my parents’ footsteps, nor do I have to give in to depression or anger. I don’t have to live in bitterness. No, I can forge my own future, and in doing so, I can change the pathway for my children. It’s up to me to break the endless cycles of abuse, addiction, abandonment, and poverty. I just have to have the courage to do so.
Finally, I learned the value of community. In my last two years of college, I gained a group of friends who took the time to get to know, embrace, challenge, and love me. And they held me accountable. They prayed over me, invited me to dinner, and showed me how healthy families function. They walked beside me as I strove to change my future.
I don’t know if I’d have succeeded without them. These friends gave me hope when it was waning, courage when I lacked it, and companionship when I felt utterly alone. They were the hands and feet of Christ and provided light when I was otherwise surrounded by darkness.
I am a unique creation of God. Genesis 1:26 says I bear the image and stamp of God. He took the time to handcraft me uniquely! That means that, whether my family recognizes it or not, whether those around me recognize it or not, and whether I fully believe it or not—I have worth. I have value. And I have a purpose for my future.
Once I knew that, I strove to keep that sense of worth at the forefront of my mind. I set out to live into that godly future—one decision, one step at a time. I was determined to learn from my past mistakes so I wouldn’t repeat them. I learned how to recognize negative life cycles so I could break them. I decided it was time to end the excuses and quit blaming others for how my life had turned out. It was time to take positive control and own my own actions.
And with God’s help and patience, all that happened. My life headed into the future God had intended all along.
Today, I am 47 years old. My life has taken more twists and turns than I can count. I was the first in my family to go to college, and I have since gone on to graduate school—twice. I served in the military, became an ordained minister, and am currently running a successful business with my wife.
She and I have been happily married for 13 years. Together, we have four beautiful children whose lives are completely different than mine was at their age. They have no clue of my past hardships or how painful the world can be. We have provided them shelter and safety. I find great joy in knowing I have created a better future for them than the one I was given. My children will not be held captive by the circumstances of my upbringing.
It hasn’t been easy. The ghosts of my past—fear, doubt, insecurity, anger, worthlessness, and unworthiness—still show up at times, but I no longer give in to them.
With God’s help, I push them aside and challenge myself to take another step forward, to make that next right decision.
I do it for me. I do it for God. And I do it for my kids, because I want their world to be better than mine was. I want them to be innocent. I want them to feel valued and loved and treasured.
I want them to know they can do anything they set their hearts to.
And I do it because cycles don’t break unless people like you and me take it upon our shoulders to do the hard work to break them. Change starts with us!
GREGG GREEN is an ordained minister with a passion for ministry, service, fellowship, and great food. He and his wife own and operate a family bakery.