Beyond James’ Peach

I woke up in a cold sweat, screaming, “I need Jesus.” It was that cold night in the winter of 2002 that I began following Jesus. My experience was random, and something akin to the Apostle Paul’s Damascus experience.[1] The next morning, life was different! It’s difficult to explain, but everything I had put my trust in and strived to achieve, my beliefs dismissing God, and reckless lifestyle seemed to fade. A new person[2] with entirely reoriented motivations for self, others, and God emerged. For the first time, I felt comfortable within myself and confident of my existence.

Terry Kirkindoll’s rendition of skateboarding Mark

The first notable shift between selves occurred at school, in my newfound love for education. In my early years, I had a couple of significant experiences that marred my confidence and love for education. In the fifth grade, a teacher told me, in front of the whole class, that I had the “brain of a worm.”  Then again, in the ninth grade, a teacher told me that she would pass me if I only promised never to take her class again…I wasn’t “worth her time.” My educational experience consistently reminded me of my ineptitude. Entering junior high, I gave up on school. I remember an assignment where we chose future dream jobs, and watching classmates as they picked, “doctor,” “nurse,” “lawyer,” etc. On the right side of the page assignment, it listed the qualifications and education needed for each job. I chose “sheet metal worker,” because it was the only job that had nothing listed under education…and it paid $32/hr. Not surprisingly, I was the only one to pick a job of this nature. My career and motivation had been solidified. I gave up in terms of education and wanted to get, minimally, a diploma, and start my career as sheet metal worker (that is, if my skateboard career didn’t work out—haha!). However, as my new self emerged, a love for everything education exploded within me.

At the end of my junior year of high school, the only book I had read was James and the james-and-the-giant-peach1Giant Peach. Suddenly, I was knee-deep in reading and books. I was especially drawn to theological and philosophical writings. For the first year, I would sit with a dictionary in-hand because I had no clue what half the words being used meant. This love for education transferred into my performance my senior year of high school. Teachers were chatting about how I had made a “complete 180º ” and were trying to figure out the cause of the change…this was a fun experience to share with teachers (a true miracle in their minds!). I finished my senior year with stellar grades, and incredible encouragement from numerous teachers to carry on to college.

At the time of Bakersfield College’s (BC) placement testing, I was still below standards, having ignored education for years, and basically starting from scratch. It took me close to seven years, and a number of bad grades early on (as I caught up), to complete BC! After finding my niche in religion and philosophy at BC, I was encouraged by the staff to continue in the area…I agreed. I began Cal State University Bakersfield (CSUB) in the fall of 2010. At CSUB, I not only received a superb education, but also gained a few educational mentors who took extra (I mean a bunch!!!) time with me to improve my thinking and writing skills. Leah was, by far, my most invested mentor in helping me through my educational process. She sat through hours of my complaining and years of encouraging me during bouts of self-regret. I would not be educationally where I am had she not believed in me. I am forever indebted to her. Furthermore, Dr. Tim Vivian, in particular, took a vested interest in me and taught me every writing skill I know to date. He also taught me New Testament Greek and invaluable life and ministry lessons. My time at CSUB was wonderful, and I thought my educational goals would stop there. However, after a class meeting, CP (a teacher at CSUB) pulled me off to the side and wanted to talk to me about my future. He told me that I was a “unique” student, and that few people thought “out of the box” as I did. He threatened that if I didn’t go on to my masters that he’d, “Kick my ass.” He encouraged me to kill my master’s grades and be prepared for a PhD. CP received his PhD from Harvard, and I respected his intelligence and advice. It was at this point that I decided to continue my educational journey.

I applied to Fuller Theological Seminary and got in, surprisingly! My CSUB cumulative GPA had been affected by my BC grades…I finished with a 2.9 for my Bachelor’s degree, far below the requirement for graduate work. During my years at Fuller, I received a comprehensive education, ranging from investments in language, philosophy, and theology. At Fuller, I had three teachers—whom I look up to immensely—encourage me to begin preparing for PhD work. So, I began (In another post, I plan to write on the application process).

The magnitude of being accepted into a PhD program is not something I take lightly. That I didn’t, technically, have the “cut-off grades” (3.5 or better in undergrad) needed for a masters or a PhD, but still got in, reveals to me God’s hand and ultimate mission on my life. God has taken me on quite a journey; from being a young kid who believed he had the “brains of a worm” to studying for a PhD at one of the world’s top ranked universities. Like the Apostle Paul, God had other plans for my life that I could have never imagined.


[1] Acts 9:1-19.

[2] 2 Cor 5:17.