Josh Shipp – Be The Difference

John Shipp brings us to the critical turning point in his life and explains how you can make a difference.


I tried to kill myself with a bottle of pills. I trusted no one. Looking back, I guess how could I. From the time my parents left me to the time another foster kid raped me, to the time I was bullied so bad, I genuinely could not fathom a world where I could trust anybody. Fast forward here I am 14 years old and entering my umpteenth foster home. I was a pro, a veteran, at this whole sort of getting kicked out of one home, you move to the next. You meet these people who were like literally complete and total strangers 10 minutes ago who are now apparently your mom and dad. Kids don’t take candy from strangers, just move in with them.

I’m sitting in the van in the driveway of this next home, and that’s when I see Rodney. He’s standing up there on the front porch. Immediately I notice this is a large fella. He’s six foot five, he’s 350 pounds, and as a 14 year old boy I couldn’t help but notice when he’s turned to the side like that he’s shaped like a lowercase B. It’s amusing now, but in the moment it was tactical. Maybe that’s how I could get kicked out of this home. Maybe I could get under his skin about his weight. So I move in with him. I’m being obnoxious. I’m being ungrateful. I’m being just downright rude and mean. I’m setting things on fire. Three years later I can’t shake this guy.

Rodney won’t kick me out, so I step up my game. I go to the local bank in town. I open up a checking account. I put about $90 in there. Then I proceed to write $10,000 worth of checks. Obviously checks bouncing one after the next, after the next. One check that bounced was for my car insurance. I’m going down the road speeding, Stillwater, Oklahoma, 88 miles an hour, no car insurance, no driver’s license. I get pulled over, handcuffed, thrown in the back of a cop car and sent to jail. I call Rodney. I’m like, “Rodney I’m in Stillwater. I’m in jail. I’ll tell you the whole thing when you get here. Can you please come bail me out tonight?” He said, “I will come bail you out, but not until tomorrow.”

Rodney frustratingly believed sometimes one of the most loving things you could do for a kid was allow them to sit in either the success of their wonderful choice or the stupidity of their foolish choice. The next morning he comes, bails me out, exactly as promised. We had a long very awkward car ride home. No one says anything. We get back to the house he’s like we need to sit down and talk. I knew this moment had finally come. To be honest I don’t blame Rodney for kicking me out. So Rodney and his wife sit me down to give me the talk I’ve had a dozen times. He looks in my eyes and says, “Son, you can keep causing problems. You can keep trying to mess up. You can keep pushing us away. You can keep trying to get us to kick you out of here, but you’ve got to get it through your thick head son we don’t see you as a problem. We see you as an opportunity.”

In that moment, all of my skepticism came to the surface. I thought what a cheesy, stupid thing to say to a 17 year old kid, but then I was overwhelmed with the reality that this guy actually meant it. He didn’t see what I was, what was on the surface, the obnoxious kid, the ungrateful kid, the kid getting suspended. He saw what I could be. It was genuinely my turning point. Statistically, I am supposed to be dead, in jail, or homeless, but because of one caring adult I’m not a statistic. Every kid is one caring adult away from being a success story. Every child who winds up doing well has had at least one stable and committed relationship with a supportive adult.

My friend and mentor Reggie Joiner taught me to think about it this way. In this jar are 936 marbles. Each one of these marbles represents a single week from the birth of a kid until that kid turns 18 years old. So, if you know a nine year old, you’ve only got 468 marbles, or weeks, however you want to look at it, remaining. You know a 16 year old, you’ve got 104 marbles remaining. Right here we are looking at time. In fact, you’re looking at all the time or all of the weeks you have left to influence this kid, this kid, or this kid before they turn 18 and begin making critical life decisions without your presence. What matters isn’t how much time you have left with a particular kid that you care about, what matters is what you do with that time. The difference between a statistic and a success story is you.