Imagine waking up Christmas morning and receiving an expensive gift under the tree. It’s nicely wrapped, beautifully presented. You tear off the paper, dig through the little Styrofoam peanuts, and find the gift. But it needs assembling. So you continue to dig. You dig and dig until frustration sets in. When you finally get to the bottom of the box, there’s no instruction manual. So now you’re left with lots of pieces spread out all over your floor and you have no directions for putting them together.
This takes all the joy out of the day. Your holiday is unfinished. You have a chaos of parts, with no plan for putting them together. You’re on your own to turn the chaos into the pretty picture on the box. What’re you going to do?
For too many of us, our lives look like the same chaos of parts that we sometimes face on Christmas morning. The parts are scattered everywhere, our future is dark and cloudy, and we have no manual to put things together. So what do we do? Where do we turn? One option is to copy the kid across the street. Or maybe we look for answers with the guy on the corner. Or the thug on TV. Or the preacher in the pulpit. Because we think their gifts came with manuals. But in truth, they had no blueprints either. They put their stuff together by copying others, who had copied still other people before them—just like you are thinking of copying the ones before you. So what should you do? Do you copy the copies of copies, perpetuating the fraud? Do you fake it? Just grab everything, dump it all together and pray something fits? Do you give up and throw the whole mess away? Or maybe you walk away, leaving the pieces spread out everywhere.
You’ve been given a gift. But without the instruction manual, without the proper plans, that gift loses its value. It’s practically worthless. So if you’re going to get anything out of it, you need a blueprint. And as things go with Christmas presents, so they also go with life. The greatest Giver of all has given you a precious gift—your life. And in order for that gift to be truly valuable to you, you need a blueprint.
But before we start the journey, I want to thank you for taking this ride with me. I know there are a lot of other books out there trying to “ooh” and “aah” you with their religious rhetoric and spiritual talk, trying to preach to you about the right way to live. I am 100 percent, unapologetically Christian. Jesus is my hero for real. My outlook and observations are sprinkled with my love for my faith. But I am also aware that, for centuries, we Christians have not always done a good job living what we preach. So for those who think this is going to be a soft, cuddly “pie in the sky” Bible book, don’t get it twisted. It’s one thing to tell someone they can make it, but it’s another (and more important) thing to tell them as best you can how to make it, how to get over the barriers that have been there for years.
Because of my background and everything I’ve been through (which you’ll hear more about later), I am very passionate about being honest, straight up, and transparent about my struggles as a black man, my lack of education, my frustrations with the church that I am so proudly part of, and my failings, first as a man, then as a boyfriend, and then again as a husband and family man. Although I don’t have a master’s or a Ph.D., I’m going to share with you every lesson I’ve learned from a life filled with hard knocks. The street corner was my classroom. The hood was my Harvard. And fourteen years of marriage, four kids, a blended family, and a ministry that has allowed me to travel the world have become my laboratory for life.
What I have to offer isn’t perfection; it’s experience. I’ve lived through what many of you are experiencing—I had no relationship with my father or my mother; I was abandoned, adopted; I have family members battling drug addictions; I had my own baby mama drama; my wife also had a child when she was very young, which means that we came together with families already in place; I’m trying to balance a career and family; and, like you, I pray to God even though sometimes I struggle to believe that He loves me and knows what in the world He’s doing. I battle, like many of you, with faith.
You see, I didn’t have any blueprint when I was coming up, any kind of instruction manual on how to be a man. All you have to do is look at any city corner to know that my education was flawed. And so was my behavior. Many of us had either no blueprint or a bad one—maybe you had to be daddy to a drunk daddy or mama to a mama who was raising you all alone.
There are so many vivid examples from my own flawed upbringing. When I was growing up, I never saw a man who was faithful to his wife. Think about that—not one! I was told by my own mother that she did not want me, that she had wanted to abort me. That messed me up real bad! I was confused and hurt by the insecurities of growing up without my pops. Throughout my early childhood, I struggled with not being accepted for a lot of reasons—my adopted family’s poverty, my small physical size, my role in the local church choir as a singer and musician, which was definitely not what the hood thought being a man was about.
I am here to tell you that whether you grew up with only a mom, with a drunk daddy, or with a crack-addicted sister, there is a blueprint for how to handle everything that life throws at you. And it’s not Kirk Franklin’s blueprint. It’s the blueprint that’s been passed from generation to generation, from Moses on down. It’s been time-tested. And I know that whenever I went against it, I was slapped down and was lovingly forced to come correct.
Scripture says faith without works is dead. And that’s true enough. But I also think faith without truth and honesty is dead. I think faith that takes place only in the church, and then stops at the church doors, is dead. We need a faith that moves out of the pews and becomes the very substance of our lives, one that lives and breathes and becomes part of our body, soul, and spirit. We need to take our faith out of the church and into the realness of everyday life—to the street corners; to the back of the Escalade while Maxwell is playing and we’re in the mood but not thinking about the consequences of the day after; to the home where we drink and curse around our kids and expect them to differentiate when it’s wrong for them but right for us; to this pseudo-love that sticks around only when you satisfy my needs but when the money, the youth, and the fun run out, I run out with it and take the twenty-year-old secretary with me.
Here is the heartbeat of this book: We have to deal with reality if we’re going to come up with a blueprint for our lives. And you are definitely going to get slices of reality in this book, a reality that hopefully will set you and those you love on the right road.
If the Obama presidential campaign taught us anything, it’s that people need hope. Not canned hope that comes hermetically sealed, but rather the kind of hope that comes from real life, from one person’s struggles serving as an example to others. Whatever your political tastes, you have to see that the message of Barack Obama connected with people on a very basic level because his story is full of hope. It’s his story, but it’s our story as well—daddy from Kenya, mama from Kansas, parents divorced while he was a baby, no contact with dad. The specifics may not parallel ours, but the struggles do. I want my story to be one of hope, not because I’ve done everything right, but because of the mistakes I’ve made, the journey I’ve been on, and how I am striving every day, fighting to correct myself so I won’t fall off the path. I am here to put my story—and all my faults and blemishes—on the line. Dirty laundry, even the stuff in the dryer. Because it’s your story, too.
I’m letting you know now, the road is going to get a whole lot uglier before it gets better. But that ugliness is there for a purpose. That purpose is to provide you, your spouse, your family, your kids with a spiritual blueprint, one that will help you pass through the ugliness and into hope. If this lost boy forced to be a man can do it, with God’s grace, there’s hope for everybody. We are all fighting for our lives right now. And I’m right there with you. Together we’re going to destroy the walls of frustration and self-doubt, despair, and fear. With hammers in both hands—we’ll call them hope and faith—we’ll build those walls back up on a solid foundation. The blueprint. God’s blueprint.
I believe with all my heart—because I am a living example of this—that despite the tragedies and painful misfortunes that are bound to happen in our lives, some of which we have no control over, God will work out all things for our good. Paul broke it down like this in Romans 8:28: And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. We will learn together to believe the power of this Scripture. We will learn together to fight the good fight, to run the race set before us without giving up.
I got a great lesson in the power of this Scripture back in the nineties, when I had one of the scariest trials of my life. More than a decade after it happened, I have the advantage of hindsight to see just how much one fateful day changed my path and led me to a blueprint for my life.
It happened in 1996, just eight months after my wedding to Tammy. She was pregnant at the time and I was on the verge of becoming a true family man. But I wasn’t really ready for it. I was still immature in a lot of ways; I still carried some of the residue of my single days—the wandering eyes, the single man swag. I wanted to live right, but I had no idea how to go about it. I had no blueprint, no template for the life I wanted. I didn’t have any married men around me who modeled what a beautiful, healthy, young, sexy, Christian marriage looked like. That was important to me because I was all too aware of what happens to Christians when they settle into their lives in the church—they lose their sauce. Where in the Bible does it say that when you become born-again, you have to leave your swag at the altar? If you liked fried chicken before you became born-again, you can still like fried chicken afterward. If you liked to salsa dance, you can still salsa dance—though His spirit inside of you may be saying that skirt needs to come down a little bit. It’s almost like we get up from the altar, leave the prayer line, and we think God hands us a list of things we now can’t do. As Christians, I think we should be given a list of what we can do.
So I was newly married and primed for some kind of intervention, something to help me figure out how to live this life I wanted but couldn’t find. I was in Memphis for a concert, backstage with my crew. I did something that was very much out of character for me: I told the crew that I believed something was going to happen that night that would change our lives. Understand, I’m not one of those prophet types who walks around telling people that God is about to perform a miracle. But on this day I suppose I felt something different. I went out onstage to open the show, which meant I was getting ready to introduce Yolanda Adams. When I went backstage, I was walking toward the dressing room with a friend from the crew. It was dark back there, and there was a large curtain separating the stage from the orchestra pit on the other side of the arena, where apparently there was a small theater. My friend said he turned around to speak to someone, and when he turned back to me, I was gone. He reached through the curtain and saw that the ground disappeared and he freaked out. They turned the lights on and I was down there lying in a puddle of blood. I just missed hitting a huge pipe organ with my head. But I went into a coma with contusions to the brain. They had to call Tammy to travel to Memphis while she was pregnant. The doctors told them that because I landed on the left side of my head, I probably wouldn’t be able to perform again, write again, or even speak well. I was in a coma for a total of four days. When I came out of it, the doctors were concerned because I was very hyperactive. My people said, “Okay, he was already hyperactive.” Then the doctors warned that when they tried to talk to me, I kind of stuttered. My people said, “Ooookay, he already stuttered.” Then the doctors explained that sometimes I’d move real fast, then suddenly slow down. My people said, “He already did that—so he’s doing good!” I left the hospital after five days; I had to take it easy at home for a while recuperating, but we were able to resume the tour after about two months.
I believe that God put me through that pain to make me realize that even though I had experienced a certain amount of success in the gospel music world and had achieved some fame, I was nowhere near the kind of man He wanted me to be. A few weeks before that fall, my wife and I had gone out to spend some time together. I went into the closet of the hotel room where we were staying to do some meditating and praying. I felt this great presence and knew it was God’s presence there with me. His voice spoke into my heart, telling me how things were going to drastically change for me. It was definitely a prelude to the fall. So when I emerged from that accident I had a sense that it was time for me to grow up, time to put my man hat on. I may not have had the right lessons and models to show me how to be a man, but God was telling me that if I stayed close to Him, He would teach me. The generations of neglect and failure had to stop with me; I couldn’t pass it on to my sons. My daddy gave it to me and his daddy gave it to him, but He was letting me know it would stop with me. So that fall turned out to be an enormous help to me. All things work together for good.
Let me preach just a little bit. Soul sickness being passed down from generation to generation can happen at any time, to anyone. Even to King David, whose years since he was a youngster were committed to Israel and the Lord. But one day, he let his thoughts wander while he was watching Bathsheba. And thinking those thoughts wasn’t enough; this dude went over to her house and slept with a married woman. I know this happens so much now that it doesn’t provoke that “Oooh girl” reaction. But this started a saga that later plagued David’s family, a saga that started with the murder of Bathsheba’s husband, who worked for David. Wow. And then David’s first boy, Ammon, picked up where his daddy left off and slept with his half sister Tabor. When his brother Absalom found out what Ammon had done, he took him out—that’s right, he killed his own brother. Once ignited, this story continued like an episode of Desperate Housewives—incest, murder, war, jealousy, spite—all the way down to Solomon, another one of David’s many sons, who also had a serious woman problem, thus continuing the messed-up-family drama.
But the beautiful thing about your life is that you have a blueprint of what not to do, how not to live your life. All David had was David. And Solomon had to deal with the jacked-up legacy and reputations of his father, David, and his brothers Absalom and Ammon. So begin following the blueprint by forgiving the Davids in your past. Forgive your daddy. Forgive your mama. Forgive your former pastor. You know why? They’ve suffered enough for their sins. And you know what? You are here; and you have the opportunity to move ahead, to pass a fresh outlook to your children, and their children. To give them a new blueprint.
Two of the biggest scourges on the African-American community today are the high divorce rate and the high number of single-parent families (in which the parent is most likely a woman). We all know that many factors contribute to the failure of marriage and the fragility of African-American families today. We could spend hours debating the effects of slavery, economics, and drugs in communities of color. (And I believe each of these has played a significant part in our getting here.) But what about all the stories of black men during the Depression, Jim Crow, and segregation who worked heroically to provide for their families at any cost? The values that were taught in those homes created a level of self-respect and pride that we can still see in our grandparents, the elders of our Tribe. Those values must be part of our blueprint.
Hope I haven’t bored you yet. In this book, I’m going to challenge you to do something difficult on a regular basis. I want you to talk to God. I want you to do it because He is your Father, because He is your friend. But I don’t want you to do it in some churchy, religious way. No, I want you to talk to Him like He’s your brother, your counselor, your boy, your pops. I want you to have a real conversation with Him. I want you to tell Him that you’re mad, that you’re scared, or whatever it is—don’t be afraid to be real. I want you to have an honest conversation with the Lord right now about the anger and hurt that you have, about the fact that you’re tired. Now. Let Him hear you talk, let Him hear you scream; holler if you want. Don’t be afraid to be you; He made you unique. Stop trying to be super-spiritual and just be real.
And I want you to hear God telling you that He is wiping your slate clean. That you are qualified. That you can stop being afraid. I don’t care how many women your daddy had, you can be faithful. I don’t care how many men your mother was with, you can be faithful. It can work. You can keep your job. Your job can work. You can stay off alcohol. You can stay out of the club. You don’t need those drugs. You don’t need to be afraid. Your despair will end. You can close up your legs. You can move into the faith.
And keep saying, “I’m qualified,” until you believe it.
No matter how many conversations it takes with your Father, “I’m qualified. I’m qualified.”
No matter what life presents you with, “I’m qualified. I can move into the faith. I’m a runner. I am qualified.”
Now all you need is the blueprint.
In each of the following chapters, we will undertake the process of constructing your blueprint, adding all the various aspects of your life, taking away the things that are harming you (weeds), so that the final result will be as strong and sturdy a structure as your life could possibly be, a building that any one of us would love to call home.