Confrontation | My Journey Through Foster Care, Part 10

This confrontation changed my post-trajectory of failure to a trajectory of success.

Paul Knowlton June 06, 2016
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Previously I shared a story about fear being my response to, and motivation for dealing with, a confrontation I had with myself (about dropping out of school). That confrontation resulted in the first of several reactions and decisions that disrupted my post-foster care trajectory of failure. Here I share a story about anger being my response to, and motivation for dealing with, another confrontation. This confrontation resulted in a reaction and decisions that finally and permanently redirected me from a post-foster care trajectory of failure to a trajectory of success.

In my third attempt at college, there was professor named Milton Sweigert. He was an accomplished architect and I was finally enrolled in one of his architectural history courses. Within the first hour of the first class, after reviewing the syllabus, he threw us a pop quiz. I remember the wording perfectly, “Who among you gentlemen are saved? Raise your hands and keep them raised.”

“Really?” I became furious.

I wasn’t annoyed by the sudden shift from course requirements to faith. I was able to track free-flowing dialogue. Neither was I peeved about the unexpected cannonball into religion—although it was an architectural history class, remember. We were, after all, in college and I accepted all subjects were fair game. Now I’ll admit to being at least nervous because I was one of three guys without a hand raised, but that too was okay because by then I had some experience and success with swimming against the current.

What made me furious—head-exploding-raging-furious—was the combination of being tossed a question I didn’t even know how to approach, and falling short in my desire to impress the professor who had impressed me. Throw in the reference to Jesus and that just pushed me over the thin edge on which I lived. Saved? If you knew my life, I mentally shouted to Professor Sweigert, we’d see there’s no reason for me to think I’m saved from anything.

I needed a response to this ambush, preferably in the form of a battle plan, and it needed to be good. I brooded a few minutes while he babbled, with both hands clenched in my lap, before deciding that I would go find myself a Bible. No, I didn’t own one, nor had I ever read one—of course not. But by the end of the course, I was going to prove to him that not only was the Bible smoke and mirrors, but that Jesus was totally irrelevant. My plan played out very differently than I envisioned.

I’m confident that God used Professor Sweigert to confront me into becoming more successful than I ever imagined. I don’t recall thanking Professor Sweigert for taking his particular brand of sledge hammer confrontation to me. But an engineering and law school degree later, both of which have paid off handsomely for me, and a few weeks before starting a Master of Divinity program, I was divinely connected to Professor Sweigert’s widow Helen. From the start of seminary, Helen encouraged me, and she was all smiles at my ordination. Helen is a witness to God’s grace and patience toward even the most furious of critics, like me. I continue to thank God for Professor Sweigert’s confrontation, and I don’t expect to ever stop.

As I scan my memory for the faces of those who cared for me while I was in foster care, I recall those whose passion confronted me as well. Sadly, I’m sorry that I didn’t always respond well to them or make the opportunity to thank them. Every one of them is a Professor Sweigert; they just had different names and ministries. I wish I could share the news of my Christian journey with each of them and thank them for their willingness to be used by God, whether they knew it or not. Like many foster parents, their efforts paid off in the distant future, a future they may never see. I wish could humbly thank each of them for investing in me. And I wish I could have encouraged each of them to never give up, even on the most furious of critics, like me. I continue to thank God for each of them and their ministries, and I don’t expect to ever stop.

No one will be surprised to read that foster and former foster youth have daily opportunities to respond to confrontation. Really, doesn’t everyone? Some might even think it obvious to suggest the proper responses to confrontation are among the primary keys to success. How many of us, however, are willing to consider a (non-violent) confrontation not as a personal attack but as an opportunity to learn something about ourselves? Right, I suggest that’s the primary disconnect between those who are fearful, angry, and struggling hard, and those who were fearful, angry, and struggling less. Whether foster youth or not, but especially foster and former foster youth.

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Paul Knowlton

Writer, speaker, and thought leader Paul E. Knowlton is a former foster youth turned lawyer. In 2004, as the author of The Original Foster Care Survival Guide, he introduced and has since advocated for a better way to prepare foster and former foster youth for successful adulthoods, which includes mentoring, self-assessment, modeling wisdom and spirituality, and teaching critical thinking and leadership. Paul’s formal education includes degrees in engineering, law, and theology. He can be contacted through his website.


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