Originally Published: April 2003
A man crouches next to his children’s bed in the middle of the night. He gently shakes them awake and in the soft glow of the nightlight they can make out their dad’s face and some sort of ball. He picks up his daughter’s hand and places it on top of the ball–as her eyes adjust she sees it’s a globe.
“This is the world,” he whispers. “And it’s yours. Never forget that.”
I’ve been promising my mom that I’d write a column for her for awhile now, I think what’s been keeping me from actually getting around to it is…well, I have no idea what to share with a few thousand homeschooling parents. I have no great wisdom or life experience to impart. I’m just kind of starting this life thing. I finally figured out, though that one thing that I can confidently share with you all is my testimony–what I’m thankful for as a (hopefully!) successfully homeschooled boy.
I have no idea how much my mom talks about me in these things, but if you haven’t heard a thousand times already, I recently graduated with honors from the University of Southern California. I got my B.A. from the film school there (which is supposedly the best in the country and dang near impossible to get into.) And now, not even a year out of school, a script I co-wrote, as well as a dozen scripts I’ve consulted on, are being read by major Hollywood studios and stars. I can tell you about all of this in complete humility since God is the one who opened all the doors, and my parents are the ones who made sure I was fit to walk through them.
Now my mom is one of the most humble people on the planet, so I had no idea she was pioneering a change in the face of education while I was practicing my times tables. What I’m saying is I sure didn’t grow up thinking, “I’m the son of KATHRYN STOUT! I can do ANYTHING!” Frankly, I’m just some homeschooled kid from Delaware (Can anything good come from Delaware?). Even though my mom will laugh when she reads this column because she still has trouble considering herself a world-changer, she taught me that I could do whatever I want. From the time I was a baby she told me that I was born for a reason–that God had mighty plans for me–that I would change the world. Trust me, those words impact a child. They opened up the world for me. Nothing was impossible.
Next they had to put their money where there mouth was (or at least their time…the money would come later, when I went to college!) When I was six, I wanted to make movies (hey, they’re the ones who told me I could do anything) so for the next ten years, weekends became film shoots as my dad taught me how to direct and edit movies first hand. (We ended up with one short and three full length video movies!)
I also wanted to play the violin, so again, for the next ten years I got lessons every week, took theory and composition classes, even toured Europe and Russia with an orchestra. (By this point, I didn’t even realize that wasn’t normal. I mean, I could do anything, right?)
My point in all this is that my parents told me I could do anything and then acted like it was true. I’m not the smartest guy, and I’m not the most talented, but I’ve finally been convinced that I can change the world and that’s a lesson I’m a thousand times more grateful for than any subject I mastered in school. That’s something that puts everything I learn into context, puts my life into focus and gives me a reason to keep learning and keep striving. You can’t buy that in a textbook.
Now, I said I’m not the smartest guy, and having been around movers and shakers for the last few years, I can confidently tell you, it’s not brains and not even talent that shapes a world-changer. It’s God. And he uses parents to shape his children to be crazy enough to reach for a dream and to encourage them enough so they won’t give up at the first sign of hard work.
So I’m thankful that my parents imparted a sense of destiny in me, and that they invested the time necessary to cultivate it, but I’m most thankful that they had the faith to back it all up. If you haven’t noticed, all my hobbies and education are geared towards the arts. I think this is one area that parents are most afraid of…after all, no other profession besides artist is usually found accompanied by the word “starving.” But my parents believed that if God had called me to the arts, He wouldn’t leave me high and dry.
Now, it’s wonderful that they found a general peace about encouraging the artistic side of me, (and believe me, I’m grateful, I would have died inside without this) but eventually their faith was truly put to the test–this mountain came in the form of college. By my senior year of high school, I so firmly believed what they had said that no voice of doubt could stop me. Not even theirs. The time had come to either play it safe or go for the gusto. The college that I wanted to (had to!) go to was 3,000 miles away and came with a $120,000 price tag. You guessed it, USC. Now, there was USC, and there was the “safe” school–The University of Delaware. A fine institution (and about $100,000 cheaper.)
But let me tell you a little more about the faith dilemma my parents faced. There was of course, the small matter of cost, (what’s a tenth of a million for your son!?) but that was far from the complex part. USC was 3,000 miles away from home. 3,000 miles away from the authority and watchful eyes of my parents. 3,000 miles away from my church. 3,000 miles away from my Christian friends.
USC was also 0 miles away from downtown Los Angeles…AKA New Babylon. It was 0 miles away from the drinks on frat row and it was 5 miles away from Hollywood…AKA the harlot of New Babylon–the one that has chewed up and spit out almost every Christian that’s tried to tame her.
The time had now TRULY come for my parents to put their money where there mouth was. Either all things were possible for me, or all things within reason. Either greater was He who was in me than He who is in the world, or greater was He than pretty much everything but the darkness in Hollywood. Either they could trust that God was leading me and would provide a spiritual family for me in LA or the dream was just too risky and I had to settle for something a little more reasonable, a little more “safe.”
Thankfully, all of the faith they had imparted to me throughout the years wouldn’t take “be sensible about this” for an answer. Of course I didn’t disrespect my parents, but I did remind them of everything they had told me since I was a baby. I did remind them that if God trusted me enough to have such great plans for me then they would have to start trusting me sometime, too. And I did remind them, that with God nothing is impossible–if I was to go to USC, He’d let me in, give me scholarship and bring me to the spiritual family He had prepared for me.
My parents prayed. My parents believed. God let me in, gave me a scholarship and brought me to the spiritual family He had prepared for me.
That’s my story, and that’s what my parents gave me that I’m most thankful for. But I suppose there is one other thing I want to say, and this is me talking as a Christian, not Kathryn Stout or Design-A-Study. As I said, I’m just getting started on this whole life thing, and there’s not a whole lot of wisdom I have to impart from experience, but my experiences have encouraged me to confidently assert one thing–trust your kids. If my generation is called to make disciples of the nations, we’re going to have to get our hands dirty. We might have to go to college with tax collectors and sinners. In L.A., I daily watched kids rescued from drugs, alcohol and hopelessness into life and faith. I’m confident that there was no better place to learn how to do that than at the front line of the battle between light and darkness.
The story at the beginning of this column was one I heard about the rapper L.L. Cool Jay. It touched me how he so dramatically shared with his children one of the most important messages he could–”You will inherit the earth.” It’s the same message Christ came down to tell the meek. And it’s the same message that changed my life.