Usually, family histories are told chronologically from the distant past forward to the present. I’ve decided the reading would be more engaging and informative if I reversed the standard format. Thus, I am starting with myself.
Why this “Backwards History” Format?
History, or any tale, should start with what’s familiar before dragging into the unknown. That presentation is the traditional type of storytelling. Strangely, most history books aren’t constructed that way. They just plop you into the world of the ancients without reference to you.
Frodo begins in the Shire as an orphan doing chores for his uncle. The saga introduces Luke as a moisture farmer in the desert of Tatooine. He’s also an orphan. Harry Potter starts off in muggle London as… an orphan. Then, there’s Batman and Superman: both struggling to blend into society as misfits orphans. Most superheroes are orphans. My favorite orphan hero is, of course, Huck Finn.
But my point is… every narrative starts with some scene we relate to very well. In the exposition, we feel for the characters by understanding their situation. No matter how fantastic and wild the story becomes, good stories always begin with a depiction of the simple life.
The idyllic setting is safe, but it’s not an adventure. There’s no quest without conflict.
In the Wizard of Oz, Dorothy begins a normal life in Kansas. I too have a normal life now. At least that’s the way I feel about it, but my life isn’t over yet. Who am I to divine the future? I may be swept away in a magical tornado. I might also be stuck behind a desk forever. The present cannot be the climax of any history. It’s only the beginning of the story.
We should start with the here and now, and then look back to understand the world and how it connects. Life is not about us. Perhaps that truth is the hardest lesson to learn. If we make ourselves the conclusion of world history, it is a sad one indeed.
Often in life, we are so preoccupied with where we are going, we forget how far we’ve come. There is humility in understanding the past. The more we study of the universe, the more we should realize we are quite small. Earth is a but a speck in the hands of the Almighty. The conflicts of the present age aren’t new. The Evil One uses the same old lies over and over. We just forget, or we are too stupid to learn; I haven’t figured out which.
The River of Life
As the cycle of civilization continues, what does it all mean for us? Our stories aren’t worth reading in isolation. That’s just narcissistic.
Someone once said: no man is an island. That’s closer to the truth, but we’re not huge landmasses in the sea. We’re more like pebbles on the bottom of the river being pushed every which way by the current. You see – time is like an ever-flowing stream. It moves forward whether we want it to or not. And, in the end, we have little control.
Someone else, much wiser than the aforementioned person, said, “All the rivers run into the sea; yet the sea is not full; unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again.”
Like Huck Finn, we can dream the adventure is in our little games as we float the river. But, try as we may, fate is unaffected by our travels. In the grand scheme of everything, nothing is new, and all our work is forgotten in time.
The real adventure of is in seeing the work of the Mighty River and humbly submitting to its course. Many are scared to forfeit control. It should be freeing.
We start with ourselves as references and then use it to see the water’s path before us.
I am Jonathan Edward Crow. I was born at Jackson-Memorial Hospital in Miami, Florida on January 12th, 1992. I grew up in Miami Springs, just a few houses from my grandma on my mom’s side. I have four brothers and a sister.
Life in the Springs
The Springs was good, much like that idyllic setting of those fiction narratives. I had a big backyard with orange and lemon trees. My fondest memories are of picking the fruit and making homemade juice. I liked it with the fresh pulp (“hairs” as I called them). Sadly, those trees caught some disease that killed them just before we moved.
My parents tell me I didn’t speak until I was 4 or 5 years old. Perhaps I was a strange boy. What was there to say anyway?
We had a dog named Whicker. I forget the breed. He loved to play catch.
I remember many huge oak trees I would climb and play all kinds of pretend games with my silly imagination.
I spent my kindergarten year at Miami Springs Elementary. I don’t think I learned much of what they wanted to teach. I would struggle to read and write “on grade level” until well into middle school. I think I was just bored of the structure and repetition. Mostly, I would just doodle figures all over my notebooks. Over time, I became more elaborate in the drawings and created written stories to explain them. Somehow this deserved scoldings for “daydreaming”. Recess was the best because I could build castles in the mud and pretend they were battlegrounds for the imaginary heroes. I preferred being alone, and most kids avoided me anyway.
I remember most the mean Spanish teacher we had in kindergarten. Once a week she came as a special, like art or PE. She taught the whole period in Spanish, goodness knows what about. I was probably the only White boy of the 20 some student and didn’t understand a word she spoke. I remained quiet and saw the hour as a free time to continue drawing. Apparently, I had to do worksheets, and she got upset more than once.
Fighting the System
The next year, in 1998, my family moved to Weston, a new developing suburb of Fort Lauderdale.
Mostly, my parents decided to move because of the better schools. The schools might have had better standards, but I still felt out of place. Now, it seemed the writing and reading assessments were more intense than the old school. I liked creative writing and reading comics, but school forced the ugly four-paragraph essays. I hate how unnatural they feel. Why did I need two to three reasons to support some made up thesis? Why did I have to answer the prompt? It seemed very unlike the classic books I had begun to read. Does anyone actually write that way outside of academics?
My family and friends gave me a lot of praise for my little stories I’d write. I quickly learned school essays weren’t something worthy of recognition. The process was just mindless repetition.
I feel 3rd grade was a big defining moment of my life. I was goofing off in class more than usual and my teacher, Ms. P., threatened to take away my flight to Hawaii, an island-themed classroom. I didn’t like that too much and exploded in anger. I threw my desk down and, at some point, stomped on the teacher’s foot. The administration suspended me for five days.
My parents started taking me to counselling and enrolled me in the school’s Exceptional Student Education program. Maybe my social skill could have been improved, but ESE wasn’t about emotional support. Every day for a few hours, I went downstairs to a smaller class of students supposedly with learning disabilities. I was told I also needed “extra help”. Before I knew it, the psychologist said I had ADD. I hated those stupid labels. I didn’t like other students to know me as the “ESE kid”. I didn’t want to be different. I just wanted to fit with others.
Towards the end of 5th grade, I felt I had finally made a break in the system. My parents had several meetings with the school ESE coordinator and the psychologists. They all agreed I didn’t need pullout classes in the future. When I heard the news, they suggested I go and say goodbye to my ESE teacher. They expected me to see it as a somber moment. Instead, I ran downstairs one last time and shouted in triumph! It felt like I had won big by shedding off the stigma of the “retard” class.
The ESE teacher (I regret forgetting her name) calmed me down and asked me, “Do you think you were here because of your grades or your behavior?”
I remember those words very distinctly. They made me feel confused and even angry at the school. They claimed I couldn’t learn at the same pace as the regular students. Really, they were scared of me. Teachers couldn’t control me in their classrooms, so the administration hid me away downstairs in hopes I would “emotionally develop”. I didn’t need my academic standards lowered. I didn’t need to be cut off from my friends. I certainly didn’t need my self-esteem destroyed or my head messed up with Adderall.
I remained in the ESE program until my graduation. Extended time on state testing convinced my mom it could never hurt to stay in the program. That benefit was more an offense to me. I didn’t need a crutch. I felt I always needed motivation. I failed to see the value in dumb worksheets and boring readings, so I didn’t care too much for lessons. But now, I found it. My motivation moving forward was proving everyone wrong. My thinking often was bitter. Like – you don’t think I cannot read this because I am the “ESE kid”? You are damn wrong.
My best teacher taught philosophy in 12th grade. We watched a lot of independent films and had class discussions around so many fascinating topics. One of the principals would argue with him awkwardly in front of the class a few times. As it turns out, he never followed the state standards very well to teach the curriculum. He retired the next year, probably thinking, “what the heck, I’ll do it my way!” Maybe you’re reading this Mr. Barry. Thank you for everything. You help shape my mind into what it is today.
The next semester, I took the second level of the course with Mr. Kanazaro. He was the department chair and taught philosophy strictly from the book. I enjoyed the prose of Socrates’ Dialogues, but the remainder of the lessons weren’t too exciting. Kant, Hume, Voltaire, and the likes were too dense and impractical. Verbose epics reminded me of the dreaded four-paragraph essays of elementary school.
The end of that year, Mr. Barry awarded me the “Academic Excellence in Philosophy” certificate in the ESE category for the Senior Award Ceremony. I had mixed feelings accepting it. Would I want to show universities it? They might ask too many questions. I didn’t want to advertise I needed that “extra help”.
Now, I often look back at the old paper or at least the photo of it. I think it represents the transformation in my education, not my schooling. The print letters didn’t matter. I didn’t earn it for being the best in ESE. I am sure Mr. Barry awarded it to me because of my character. Over time, I learned to ignore what certain people think. If you don’t know me, you cannot my judge my past or my abilities. The now wrinkled certificate means I won. I evolved as a person. I don’t let stupid labels bother me anymore.
Not long after we moved to Weston, my family began fostering children with plans to adopt one eventually. Sometimes the kids stayed for a week, while other times they stayed up for a few months. Honestly, I found most of them annoying. Babies would cry in the middle of the night. The older children came with issues. Quite a few still peed the bed while sharing a room with me.
I didn’t want more siblings. That would mean more competition.
But – by fifth grade, my parents had settled on a boy we named Jacob. Then, around 7th grade, the family adopted Samuel.
The experience of having many different kinds of children pass through my house taught me that everyone is special. Poverty, drugs, and mental illness affect everyone, every race, gender, and people group. No one is immune to suffering. I’ve never understood racism. From an early age, I understood it existed and was irrational. I went to majority White schools with large Hispanic populations. Students still tossed around racial jokes. Bullies exist everywhere. They say anything for attention.
While I lived in Springs, my family attended a large Presbyterian church. I only remember it for the colorful murals.
In moving to Weston, we spent a long time jumping from church to church trying to find the right one for us. I was too young to understand what a “good” church meant exactly. I mostly looked for kids my age to play with and fit into their circles.
I recall one church we visited played a clip of Shriek during the sermon, making the point that we should build 10-foot walls around our lives to block people out. I love the Shriek movie. It was simple and easy to understand at that age. I am not sure the name of the church or the pastor, but that small point will always stick with me. I didn’t relate to the Bible then, but applying the truth to something I could recognize helped.
After about a few months of searching, we began to regularly attend New Testament Baptist Church. It was a small congregation, maybe a 100 or so people. It hasn’t grown much it seems since then. I liked the property had huge open fields and cow pastures just beyond them. I could run forever playing tag with my friends after service.
The children had Sunday school on the far end of the field in the back of the church building. I don’t remember much of what we learned, except for one lesson. The class had a different teacher that day. He didn’t open with any games or icebreakers. Instead, he simply told us all to close our eyes and listen to a story. It went something like this:
The Abundant Life
Imagine… you’re in a world of chaos, war, and disease. The only escape from the madness lies beyond a giant wall. It’s a massive structure that stretches forever in the sky, but it’s transparent. You can see through the clear barrier. You peer inside and see a peaceful realm of green fields, playful animals, happy children. It appeared like a paradise untouched by the ugly world you know.
People from every walk of life march up the wall. They are desperate for a way to the other side. Some want freedom. Others are greedy and see resources they can exploit. They all try different ways to achieve their end. A few strong expert climbers try scaling upward to cross over the top, but, after days of trying, they drop back down exhausted. There’s no end to the wall’s height. A group of miners organizes an effort to dig underneath it. They spend almost a year securing a tunnel with support beams. The men dig deeper and deeper in vain. The impenetrable glass is rooted down deeper than any could imagine. Finally, the savage warlords try busting through the wall with the most sophisticated of weapons and bombs. When the ashes settled, the wall remained unscathed.
You watch everyone try their methods again and again without success. The scene has you worried. You panic as you believe there’s ultimately no way to access the paradise beyond the wall. Maybe it’s an illusion.
Then, as the night approaches and the masses settle down, you hear a desperate wailing of a man in the distance. You scan all around to find him, curious what’s so important. Finally, you spot him. He’s an old man dressed in ragged clothes standing just beside the wall.
One of the generals sees you’re new and says, “Ignore him! He’s always there, shouting about some key in an ancient book that can open the wall. Utter nonsense!”
The seasoned warrior appeared wise, but you had to know for yourself. When everyone else is busy, you sneak off towards the strange old man. He greets you kindly and excitedly reads passages of his ancient book.
You snatch away the dusty tome and flip through the pages quickly, turn it upside down, and tap the binding. No key fell out the book.
As you walk away disappointed, the old man continues reading, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.”
You turn back suddenly and keep listening. You learn the real key to eternal life is faith in the Word. The promise of Christ is enough. There are no shortcuts around God’s standard. His expectations are too high for anyone to pass on their own terms.
The abundant life is a gift. Many are too proud too accept it.
Then the teacher began to tie the story into the gospel and relate the Scripture to a more traditional four-point message:
- We are all sinners as that have broken the Law
- The penalty of any one sin is eternal death
- Because of this we can never enter God’s presence on our own
- God sent his Son to defeat the power of death and offer us free abundant life. Now we can enjoy God’s love for eternity.
It was a simple message made easy to understand by the illustration. The storytelling made the Scripture come alive for me. I saw church service as usually boring old hymns and a man blabbering about topics only pertaining to adults. However, my creative mind lit up to the idea of everything as a story.
I began to read the Bible on my own for the narratives. The tales of the Patriarchs and the Israelite kings taught a lesson of God’s faithfulness. When I got to the Babylonian Captivity, the prophets alluded to deliverance, but they didn’t just mention freeing Israel from the pagan empires. The future salvation was something greater than a political reestablishment.
The AWANA Experience
By 5th grade, my family had moved to First Baptist Church at Weston. It was the start of the school year, so my family immediately signed me up for the AWANA program. It’s a Bible program for kids that focuses on memorization of Scripture. Kind of like the Boy Scouts, you get little gems on your vest for reciting passages.
I enjoyed the game time because I allowed me to run around wild and get my energy out. The classroom time was different. Kids were supposed to practice verses throughout the week and present them to the teachers. I struggled enough in school through the week and never had time to seriously memorize a dozen lines of text each week. Of course, the program didn’t rush anyone as there are no deadlines. I was falling too far behind to compete. I wasn’t fun to lose. So, I gave up trying.
Instead, I began to see the class time as an extension of the games session. As opposed to verses, I’d practice jokes. At least, I’d found acceptance in making people laugh.
My AWANA teacher was none too happy about my behavior. One time, I had organized all the boys in the class to a chair race. We held the seats tight on our bottoms and relayed across the room.
We made it through a few rounds before the teacher dialed the youth pastor. He came into the class and took me outside. I thought for sure he would send me home and tell my parents how terrible I had been that evening. I didn’t even look at the pastor. Soon, I began to cry.
Pastor Brad didn’t scold me. I don’t know that my parents even knew about the incident.
Actually, he asked if I understand who Jesus was or knew why the AWANA program existed. I was mostly silent as he told about the how Christ satisfied God’s wrath by His sacrifice. Because of His resurrection, death was now powerless. The gift of righteousness is free. The foretold deliverance is a spiritual victory for everyone who believes.
That night I decided to make my faith personal.
Interlude to England
As the years went on, I volunteered back in AWANA as a leader. I helped out in other areas of the church throughout high school, like Sunday morning classes, Vacation Bible School, and different events.
The summer after graduating high school, I was blessed to go on a mission trip to the UK.
It was rather expensive at around $1,200. I spent months fundraising and never raised nearly enough funds. Still, the church invited me on faith I would pay it off afterward. God must have wanted me there. My family budget sure wouldn’t let me.
This trip was my first time out of the country. Thankfully, it was an English speaking nation. I am terrible at languages.
I am very grateful for the experience. The group interacted with churches and young people just like us, yet so far away from home. The world is much bigger than my little circle. I needed to know that fact.
We mostly spent our time at the Pilton Community College in Barnstaple, a small town on the west coast of Devon, speaking in religious studies classes. Each of us would give our testimony and answer questions about Christianity. We invited many to join us for soccer afterward at the nearby park. One day, we had a large crowd of students join us for lunch in one classroom. The boys were very interested in America.
When I got home, I added those boys on Facebook and Xbox Live. It felt good to connect with them. I thought then that I could be a teacher and inspire the curiosity of young people. I had Mr. Barry as my model.
Friday of that week, we began to journey back to Heathrow Airport for our return to the states. We stopped at a hotel in Reading. During the day, we spoke at another local school. Then, we spent Saturday touring London in a double-decker bus.
The old buildings each had a unique history. I cannot say Miami is as exciting.
I didn’t like the cold, but I’d love to go back to England one day.
I didn’t have much ambition towards any university, mostly because I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life after graduating. All the top students had big scholarships anywhere they applied. They didn’t have to worry. Me? I wasn’t anything special academically by Cypress Bay standards. The downside of going to the best school in the county is it’s expected you take AP courses, have your future planned out, and involve yourself in at least three clubs.
When I considered universities, I thought a small Christian school might suit me. I had considered there might be something in the ministry for me, but I wanted to try everything by taking different classes.
I got accepted to a few schools, yet they didn’t offer enough in scholarships. I ended up choosing Mercer University in Macon, Georgia. They provided the best of everything: financial aid, small environment, and good history program. My sister was going there at the time and was involved in their education program.
I decided to pursue a BA in history because it was my best subject in high school and the only one reasonably interesting. The coursework was never too challenging. I had an advantage over the freshmen since in my free time over the years I had read most of the material. My peers thought it strange the fables of Herodotus or escapades of Napoleon would make for a normal leisure reading. I thought it weird they were all too dense to understand the information. Such is life. I was happy with my books. Some wised up to me and asked to borrow my notes. I should have charged a fee.
I enjoyed the culture of the area more than anything. Macon isn’t the most sophisticated of cities, but it has nice people. I fell into the ROTC crowd. My roommate was a member as well as most history majors. The airforce base at Warner Robins attracted military enthusiast from all over the state. Knowing history and having a quick wit sure help me fit in with them. I went to more than a few house parties hosted by the ranking members. Once the state fair came to Perry. On its military appreciation day, my ROTC friends just said, “He’s with us.” So, I got in for free.
Academically, I excelled in the humanities department. My research papers always received the high marks. The enigma of Erasmus of Rotterdam fascinated me. The reluctant specific related to own life in many ways. I presented a history paper on the topic at a regional conference in La Grange my junior year. After refining the content, I later presented it again at the National Phi Alpha Theta Convention in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Perhaps I, like Erasmus, fear the unintended consequences of upsetting the balance of society. The majority of people are like Luther, quick to judge and condemn. While Luther may have been theologically correct in his understanding, his rhetoric fueled religious wars in Europe for the next two hundred years. Are we any better? Replace religion with race or immigration and the cycle repeats itself.
I didn’t join any clubs at Mercer, but I was involved in the Baptist Collegiate Ministry on and off. The group had more cliques and drama than I felt necessary.
Somehow I got dragged into working the sports production operating the camera and the computers. On the first month of my freshman year, a classmate of mine invited me to join him on the Mercer sports media team. Basically, I followed the games with a huge bulky camera as it streamed to a live channel online. This “friend” quit not long after I started and left me to inherit more responsibilities. I guess he wanted a replacement more than a partner.
Nevertheless, I quickly learned to love the job. It was tiring lugging the equipment back and forth to the fields, but it was rewarding seeing my work on the channel. And, of course, it came with a scholarship, free food, and quality time with the cheerleaders. Eventually, I became a trusted manager of the team, deciding what freshmen we would recruit. By my senior year, I was also working as a freelance operator for local news channels that filmed Mercer games.
As much as relished reading and writing about history, I needed to choose a career (you know – something that earns you money). I chose education because it seemed simple and the coursework easy. I had it in my mind that I wanted to be like Mr. Barry.
The classes were stupidly easy to pass and the profs very lax. I am not sure anything I learned prepared me for the actual teaching part of the career. We mostly learned about the history of education, child psychology, and how to write a lesson plan.
It was interesting the classes paired me with much older adults. People enrolled in the Tift College from every stage of life.
The real challenge was surviving the student teaching portion. The college coordinated with the county to place us in middle and high schools in the area. I was placed first at a middle school my junior year, then two high schools my senior years. The number of hours the program expected made it seem like an unpaid internship. Driving each day to the schools and putting up with the kids drained me.
Some students I connected with and felt I made an impact, mostly in the middle school. Honestly, I didn’t put much effort into the high schools. My senior year I was focused on preparing my thesis on Erasmus and enjoying my final moments before the end. High schools kids were rowdy, while the middle school ones appreciated me for the most part.
Some of those middle school students still connect with me today. It’s good to see something I do matters.
My schooling paid off by giving my foundational wriitng skills needed to succeed later in life. My education filled me with experiences that developed my character. In the end, life is what you make it.