Liz Murray was born in a rat-infested apartment in South Bronx, New York, to drug-addicted parents. Her parents didn’t tend to her needs, so to keep from going hungry, she found a job bagging groceries when she was 8 years old. Even though she stayed home from school to avoid being teased by kids who made fun of her appearance, Liz got an education by reading every book she could get her hands on at a local library, including encyclopedias.
When Liz was 15, she left home after her mother died from AIDS. She said it dawned on her at the cemetery that she alone was now responsible for her life. It was then that Liz asked herself this question: “What if I woke up, and every single day I did everything within my ability to change my life?” She vowed that her life would not be wasted as her mother’s had.
Liz kept her vow.
She enrolled in high school and doubled up on her courses, completing one full year of high school per semester. Each day she remained at school after hours and stayed there until the janitor locked the doors. During the night, she slept on the subway and rode it back and forth until morning, then started the whole routine over again.
Liz finished high school in just two years and finished second in her class. She won a full scholarship from the New York Times in 2000, and she was accepted to Harvard, majoring in film and literature. In 2003, she transferred to Columbia University, and in that same year a movie was made about her life, “From Homeless to Harvard.”
Today, Liz accepts speaking engagements in inner-city high schools where she serves as an inspiration to other students who have no one in their lives to encourage them.
Liz is not necessarily more intelligent or talented than the rest of us. What she does have more than most people is a determination to not be ruled by her circumstances, to take what life has given her and build upon it.
Liz probably is more gifted than most people only in the fact that she has a passion to excel, has a commitment to work hard and be extraordinary — and understands that a person cannot wait around for circumstances to change before life gets better.
Sometimes, you have to go after what you want.
It’s a tragedy that most people have been blessed with so much from birth but have so little passion in their lives to excel. But maybe there’s a lesson to be learned there.
It seems some of the most extraordinary people have become extraordinary in the midst of terrible circumstances. There’s something about adversity that causes something to rise up in some people.
Adversity seems to be the refining fire that burns away the impurities of lethargy and laziness in some people. I think the saying is true: Life is like a grindstone; whether it grinds you down or polishes you up depends on what you’re made of.
Therefore, it is a mark of virtue to take whatever circumstances life throws at you and make the best out of it, knowing that even very negative circumstances can propel you to greater heights if you respond properly.
And the way to respond properly is just be excellent in whatever circumstances you find yourself. When you decide to blossom where you are planted and resist the temptation to find greener grass every time things get difficult, life has a way of rewarding you for your faithfulness.
A lot of people who are not yet where they want to be in life are waiting for some golden opportunity to present itself before they start giving their best effort or before they make the decision to stick it out through good times and bad.
But if they would realize that if they would give their very best effort where they are right now and stop hopping from job to job, church to church, and spouse to spouse, those golden opportunities WOULD seem to come out of hiding in due time.
As Rabbi Daniel Lapin puts it, “Long before you can hope to lead others, you must acquire the strength to lead yourself.”
Jesus said it another way in Luke 16. He taught that those who are not trustworthy with the little they have now cannot be trusted with more, but those who are faithful with little will be rewarded with much.
If you want your life to bring glory to God, diligence, faithfulness and perseverance in whatever place and circumstances you now find yourself will position you for reward in his kingdom.
Edinburgh’s Andy Robbins pastors Columbus’ Blessed Life Fellowship, meeting at 10:30 a.m. Sundays at The Commons. He can be reached at AndrewRobbinsMinistries.org or blessedlifefellowship.org.