If I had to use any one word to describe my childhood growing up, the word would be, “Lonely.”
I grew up in a home where my father maintained an abusively oppressive environment for my mother and us kids. I desperately sought affection, attention, and affirmation from my dad, but despite my great attempts, I was unable to hear the words I so longed to hear: “Son, I love you and I’m proud of you.” I vividly remember nights tasting salt on my pillow from tears shed as I wondered, “If I ended my own life, would anyone even notice?”
School was an escape, I suppose, but mainly because I became convincingly great at hiding my loneliness from those around me. I wore my mask well, as I think most would’ve described me as a pretty happy kid… A knucklehead, for sure, but a seemingly joyful one at least. Haha. They’d be surprised to find out that in actuality, I wrestled with depression, hid behind my constant smile, and regularly contemplated suicide. I wanted to be known… TRULY known. But was convinced that no one would accept the REAL Adrian, if I let anyone meet him.
All of this was happening in the late 90’s to early 2000’s, when Azusa had the highest concentration of racially motivated hate crimes in the San Gabriel Valley. As a black kid, I avoided streets where I knew I’d run the risk of encountering legitimate physical danger. I’d sometimes make it home safely, only to find “NIGGER” spray painted in all-caps across my garage door. I had friends who were jumped, shot, and killed as a result of the racial tensions that existed between Blacks and the local mostly-Brown gang. Like many, I vowed to get out of Azusa as soon as possible.
I was a prisoner at home, a phony at school, and a target when out and about in my community. There was no third place for me to call my own and contend with these realities, and no one to walk through them with me. I wanted to believe life could be more than this. I wanted to believe there was a God, even. But my father unexpectedly abandoning my family when I was 17 destroyed any hope I’d had of a happy ending to my story.
On May 5th, 2005, less than two years later, I woke up in a hospital bed, and nothing would ever be the same. Earlier that day, I stood on my back porch and cursed out loud whatever “god” was listening. I implored him to prove to me his existence by ending my life as I was obviously too afraid to do it myself. Just hours later, I was recklessly driving in the rain, spun out of control on the freeway, had my side of the car smashed into by an 18-wheeler, and was cut out using the Jaws-of-Life with broken bones and damaged organs. I woke up in the hospital that night distinctly different. “God,” I fearfully thought to myself, “If you’re listening… I take it back.” Haha.
At the age of 18, this was the turning point in my life. I soon found myself surrounded by those who represented Jesus’ arms, holding and guiding me into a deep understanding of where and, more importantly, in Whom my identity was rooted. Through this new lens, I looked back at my childhood and instead of asking the usual, “Why me?”, I asked “What purpose can be brought forth from my experiences growing up?” The feelings of loneliness and hopelessness were branded into my being, while I simultaneously came to understand true belonging and know real hope for the first time.
It was then I sensed the deep burden I still carry to love on young people growing up where I grew up and going through what I went through. In a way, my desire was, and still is, to be for these young people what I wanted, what I needed, but never had. I explored this call over the next eight years through work within the school district, in after-school programs, and as a Youth Pastor before taking on my current assignment.
On August 16, 2013, I founded MYTHIRDPLACE. I felt God’s voice saying, “Create what you wish existed” and deep within my bones sensed that there was nothing I could do other than respond. That first day, there was no name for the organization. It didn’t have a location. I didn’t have staff or any volunteers. All I had was a Dream, and the faith to believe that it would come to fruition.
I dreamt of a place outside of home and school where teens could find acceptance, joy, community, love, and more. I envisioned a place specifically designed to provide them with mentors to walk alongside them as they navigate the rough roads of teenage life. A place where their pain would be shared and successes celebrated. I wanted to create a place where young people could be their authentic selves and explore some of life’s deepest wonderings, such as purpose and identity. I dreamt of a place where they could develop holistically and be challenged to walk in the fullness of who they were created to be. But I couldn’t have even imagined I’d be writing this post in January 2016, able to say that such a place does now exist, and is stronger than ever.
The mission of MYTHIRDPLACE is to cultivate environments for teens to grow in faith, develop character, and mature relationally, through mentorship and discipleship. It has been crazy, fulfilling, frustrating, rewarding, challenging, and beautiful watching this mission come to life over these past 3 years. I read our blog posts, watch our videos, and thumb through our social media channels and am often times amazed and almost in disbelief that the agony I once experienced could be used to bring about breakthrough, hope, and belonging to so many teens, mentors, and more.
To the hundreds of teens, parents, staff, volunteers, partners, and donors that make up the M3P Fam, I wanna’ thank you for joining me on this journey. We’ve got more than a few things cooking up here at MYTHIRDPLACE in 2016 and I’m excited to share it all with you in the weeks and months to come. If you’re watching from the outside, especially if you’re feeling that inner nudging, I invite you to get in on helping to create what we all wish existed.
Stay tuned… This is just the beginning..
BECOME A SUPPORTER
We’re confident in our call to walk through life with, and empower young people to live whole and abundant lives. Our ability to carry out our mission is directly affected by several factors, one of which is monetary resources. This is one of many areas in which we depend on YOU, our community, to come alongside and support us. Would you get in on what’s happening through MYTHIRDPLACE by making a financial investment?