I wrote about my friend who went into the Army to change his life last week, but how did the first of many turning points in his life come about?
In the 1990’s my Army friend’s mother passed away. This threw his life into a tailspin because he had largely relied on her for his lifestyle. With her went the business, the house, the cars etc. He still tried to live the same lifestyle and it did not work. He ended up with no car working at a hotel where he cashed his paycheck and carried around the cash in his pocket.
One week he was robbed and he couldn’t pay rent to the friend he was living with, and as a result, he was kicked out. He moved from place to place. He knew his chaotic lifestyle was not working to get him ahead, and that it was time to make a drastic change or he would end up on the streets.
He faced his fears and took that first step: walking into the US Army recruiting office. He was then forced to tie up loose ends before going to basic training. It was there that he began to understand what his previous choices had done to his life.
Another friend of mine changed his life around completely in the last few years. He came to this country from the Ukraine with his parents and they settled into the close-knit Russian community in Hollywood. He was soon part of a Russian gang, doing and selling drugs. He was taking up to thirty painkillers a day along with anything else he was given.
He started doing armed robberies for the rush and to hustle up money. In his words, “The devil took over for awhile.” He was picked up on a weapons charge and it cost his parents around a hundred thousand dollars in lawyer’s fees, but he continued on the same path.
The pills and drugs distorted his thought process, until one night at a rave he nearly overdosed on a mixture of strong drugs. He describes that experience as being in hell for many hours. When he finally came home he found his mother reading the Bible and crying because she thought he was dead.
Something clicked inside him that day, and he knew that he would be dead unless he turned his life around. The guy he did armed robberies with had his house shot at one night and disappeared. Many others in the Russian community had died from drug overdoses.
He knew that he needed to go to school, establish a career and help his parents pay off the debt. He realized that all of his problems were the results of his choices, and that all the pain his family was dealing with was because of his life actions. A lot of us never take into account how much our choices affect others, both directly and indirectly.
He took the first step and threw away his pills. He went cold turkey – no rehab, no group, just stopped. It was a difficult six months, but after he got over the withdrawals he knew that he could accomplish anything that life threw at him.
My friend Andre, on the other hand, has made good choices since he was very young, but things haven’t always been easy for him. He grew up with a father that did cocaine and gambled, never paying much attention to him. If Andre had turned out bad, it would have been no shock to anyone.
There were key turning points early in Andre’s life. One was when he wanted a BMX bike so badly and his father laid out a challenge for him that seemed impossible for him to accomplish. When he met the challenge, he decided there wasn’t anything in life he couldn’t accomplish.
He made a decision that he would never do anything his father would do or did, so that he would not end up like him. Andre used his father as a reverse role model. If his father drank, he never would. If he gambled, Andre would not.
He went on to get a bachelor’s degree in Psychology and an master’s degree in Social Ecology, both from the University of California at Irvine. He kept his eye on his end goals, and he uses his story to encourage others and has been a huge encouragement to me personally.
Andre’s Ted Talk, if you would like to see more of his story is here: http://tinyurl.com/TedX-Andre
Regardless of the hand, you’re dealt in life, our current circumstances boil down to our own choices. It is difficult to accept and many never do accept it, because it is just easier to blame others or bad luck.
My life has had many turning points, and one I remember happened at an Italian Restaurant in Culver City, California. I was at what is called a “sit down” in the mafia world. It is where two higher ups decide your fate. At the meeting I was told that I was now out of an operation we had going on.
I was so mad that when I left the meeting I was planning revenge. I felt that I deserved to remain part of the operation and that they were stealing from me by taking it away – nevermind that it was all stolen money, to begin with. As I analyzed the situation and looked back on everything I was invested in and angry about, I began to see my life for what it was – a series of bad choices that had left me an angry criminal. I had wasted my life and I knew that I wanted out of it altogether.
It would be only months later that the FBI offered me a way out. I began to make different choices.
God had another plan for my life, I just didn’t realize it yet.
No matter who you are or what your life has been like in the past, our lives are shaped by the choices we make. Throughout our lives, there will be many turning points where life can become something else.
Big changes in your life can grow out of very small seeds of the choices you make.
Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.