Does anybody realize the beauty of life while they live it? If we’re going to value people we have to value life. We have to have a life purpose. A foundation on which our lives are built. You know how much I valued myself as a child? I was raised in a home that I thought I had the greatest mom in the world and I still love her and respect her with all my heart. But my mom never received any affection from my father. Both my parents were alcoholics. My mom had a love tank that was completely empty and the way she tried to fill it up was by smothering her children with all of her love. I grew up feeling like I was responsible for my mother’s happiness. And then my mother died in 1977 and a part of me died that I never really grieved for, I never really dealt with. As a kid I felt no self worth. I had a father who came home and sat down and read the paper, he got up, he went to work, he came home, he sat down, he read the paper, he went to bed. I thought that’s how fathers are. I longed for someone to care about me as a kid.
I was a super fat. I was the brunt of jokes at school. I didn’t feel that sense of self worth from my family. I didn’t feel that stability that a family should give. My father would get angry and walk out of the house and slam the door. One time all the glass in the door broke and my mother sat there crying and I tried to comfort her and then I’d go to school and I’d wonder when is Dad coming home again. Is Dad coming home again? I always say this, “Are you the type of parents that you would like your children to be? Can you be the type of parent who can say “I would be very happy if my child followed my example “.
I had no real good example as a child and so what did I do? I was almost ready to drop out in 8th grade. I was almost ready to quit I didn’t value myself. All I was is a great big fat kid that people made fun of and I wasn’t doing well in school. You know what I did? I took a clothes hanger and I went into the only room in our house that had a lock on it, the bathroom, as a 8th grade kid. I, still at this time, took ace bandages and wrapped them around my chest because some of my friends said, “Guy , you got bigger breasts than some women. ” But they didn’t use the word breast. So I’d go into the bathroom and I take a wire clothes hanger and I’d literally hit myself up and down on the leg. Beat myself until I had welts and then I took thumb tacks and I pressed them into the welts. You say, “Why did you punish yourself like that?” I guess because I thought I was to blame for my family and because I felt that maybe if I punished myself, other people wouldn’t have to punish me.
I was ready to quit in 8th grade until somebody valued me. Teachers reached out to me. Love, dignity, respect, saw some potential in me. Mr. Henrich Topka was one of them. He’d been a missionary in New Guinea and worked with pygmies. Then he came to Staples, Minnesota and worked with me. He and his fiance would go to gospel concerts and he’d invite me along. We were a weird threesome, the three of us. I was bigger than both of them put together. But what Mr Topka did was discipled me. He showed me the love of Jesus Christ through his actions not his words. He took me under his arm and showed me that I counted. He helped introduce me to Jesus Christ.
I wish I could say that then all my troubles ended but they didn’t. What I did do was I became Mr. Conscientious. Instead of dropping out, I dropped in. My grades went from the bottom to the top. I started to work, I started to perform, because you know what? If I felt these feeling of rejection which I indeed had, why was I rejected as a kid. It must be because you’re not good enough. So what should you do? You should work harder. So I graduated thirteenth in my high school class and went to college. I graduated first in my class. Never had one B in all of college except in English grammar. That was the teachers fault.
Then I became a teacher and it just seemed that if I had to be first in my class in college I also had to be first in my profession as a teacher. So on April 14th , 1986 I’m invited into the Oval Office to meet the president of the United States, Ronald Reagan. I get the national teacher of the year award and events like this and then Focus on the Family and then books and then movies and you think I’d be happy. But you see, I give you the impression that I’m secure. That all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well as without, that confidence is my name, that coolness is my game. I’m in charge I’m in command. I need no one.
But don’t believe me. My surface may seem smooth, but my surface is my mask. My ever varying, my ever concealing mask and beneath it lies the real me. I’m in confusion. I feel lonely. I hurt. But I don’t tell you this. I’m afraid to. I’m afraid that if I tell you you’ll know who I really am you’ll think less of me and you’ll reject me. And so I go on playing my game my never ending, never varying game and my life becomes a front. I’d really like to be genuine and spontaneous, me, but you got to help me. You got to reach out to me even if that’s the last thing that I seem to want or need. You know a lifetime of worthlessness builds strong walls that I’m told that love is stronger than strong walls. Please beat down my walls with firm hands, but with gentle hands, because the child within is very sensitive.
Who am I? Who am I, you may wonder? I am someone you know very well for I am every man and every woman that you’ll ever meet. Johnny Malali was my best friend. I liked Johnny. I liked playing with him. He was a Catholic and I was a Protestant. We always played church. He pretended that he was a priest. But we were cheated because I didn’t have a confession in the Protestant church. He’d sprinkle me with Holy water and I felt blessed. I liked Johnny Malali. Johnny lived with his grandpa and grandma and I never knew why. One day Johnny said, “My dad’s coming to visit ” “Your dad? You don’t live with your dad and mom? ” Then he told me that his mom had died and his dad didn’t feel he could raise him so he lived with his grandparents. He said my dad lives California and he’s coming to visit me.
Two days later Johnny’s dad pulled into town in a little black Volkswagen slug bug. Remember those? Did any of you as kids play the game slug bug? Did you do that? Remember how you do it. You see one of those slug bugs and hit someone and say slug bug out. You could keep pounding people until they said slug bug out. His dad had come from California in a slug bug. After he’d been there a couple days, Johnny said, “My dad is going to take me and a couple of my friends to the drive in movie tonight. ” I thought, “Wow, great that’ll be fun to go to the movies. ” Johnny didn’t invite me. He invited Rodney and Keith.
I remember getting on my bike and driving home and I was only halfway home and all of a sudden tears started to come. Johnny didn’t invite me to go along in the slug bug. I got home and mom said, “What’s wrong dear?” and I told her. She said I want you to go back down to Johnny’s house and ask him if you can come along too. I can’t do that. She said, “Yes, you can. I’m sure there’s room for you in that slug bug.” I said, “No, I can’t ” She said, “You go right back down there to Johnny’s house and you ask if you can go along too.” And maybe because I wanted to go so badly I believed her.
So I got on my bike and I peddled back down to his house and I stood there on the doorstep and I knocked and Johnny came to the door. I said, “My mom wants me to know if I can go along with you to the drive in?” He said, “Just a minute and I’ll go ask my dad “. Seemed like he was gone for a hour. Finally he came back and he says, “My dad says there’s only room for two other kids beside me in the slug bug”. I got on my bicycle and I couldn’t go home because my mom, I’m sure, would have gotten on the phone and called Johnny’s dad. My mom couldn’t stand for me to feel any pain. So where did I go? About two blocks down the street was the little corner store where I’d fill up on milky ways and coke. I drove down to the store and I was standing on the step of the store having a coca cola when here comes the little black slug bug with Johnny and Rodney and Keith.
When I was here the first time I told the story about something that happened to me in seventh grade and how I put my jock strap on backwards. I told that story a million times and I’ve told it so many times now, I ‘ve actually seen people fall out of their seat when I tell them about how I put my jock –well you know the tag’s always on the back Two years ago I told that story in one of these conventions and the people laughed and they howled and they cracked up. When I was done speaking I was up in the front and people were bringing books up for me to sign and there was this one older lady standing off to the side and she watched the whole time while I signed these books. Everybody told me how great I was and how wonderful I was and I’d say thank you and I’d write these things in these books.
This woman kept standing there and watching all of this. Finally everyone had gone and she was the only left. She looked at me and she said, “You, know, you still see yourself as the kid who puts his jock strap on backwards.” I looked at her. “You make everybody laugh, got a big smile on your face, but inside you’re still hurting. You’re in a lot of pain.” You’re absolutely right, how can you tell? It’s written all over your face. I was going to talk to her more when some lady came up to me and said, “Will you sign my book?” I signed it and turned around and this gal was gone. I’ve wondered afterwards if she were an angel. I’ll still hear her words. “You’re still in a lot of pain.”