Everybody wants to be somebody. I was no different. I grew up in the halls of power in our nation's capitol because my father served a senator and three presidents, but still I was the child my parents worried about the most. I was extremely introverted, I struggled in reading and writing, stuttered, and was born, seemingly, with two left feet. I felt as though I could do nothing well. And while my siblings found their talents and interests early in life, I wallowed in uncertainty and doubt.
I grew up in the church and was raised on a diet of morals and character, but my family was busy paving our way to heaven with good works rather than life-changing faith. Fortunately, when I was 16, I began attending a Young Life group where I committed to follow Jesus' plan for my life.
Now devoted to Bible study and prayer, I was growing in ways my parents didn't understand. But I had finally found a sense of peace and an understanding of who I was, and it changed me completely. I experienced confidence and joy I'd never felt before. That was a good thing, because six months later my life fell apart.
God's Amazing Work
So new to my faith and so zealous about it, I didn't notice what began to happen to my family. As an aide to President Richard Nixon, my father worked just about 24/7, so I was used to his absence. But my mother started to be absent as well—not physically, but psychologically. She lost her smile and exuberance, and became distant and unavailable to her family. I didn't understand it at the time (plus in those days, you didn't talk openly about such things), but my mother was drifting into a severe depression.
I'd hear snippets of tense conversation between my father and her. Words like the president and Watergate were whispered. Although I couldn't understand what they were talking about, I knew something was going on. Then one night I overheard a television newscaster announce, "Harry Dent and Chuck Colson ordered the Watergate break-in."
Harry Dent. My father. Whatever they said he'd done, I knew it wasn't true.
Seemingly overnight our lives turned upside down with questions, suspicions, and fears that my dad might ultimately go to prison.
My newfound spiritual growth made me realize that my dad had never initiated a relationship with Jesus. This motivated me to pray with a passion for my father and the rest of my family. I centered on my one hope, that God had a plan for my life and could make good out of an impossible situation. I fought for my family on my knees. I may have only been 16, but I knew God could work through my prayers just as powerfully as anyone else's.
God sent Christian mentors into my life who advised me to live as a witness and keep praying for my family, that my faith walk must be stronger than my faith talk. Good advice—especially since, as a powerless teenager, that's all I had. So I prayed daily and waited for God to work in big ways.
As I continued to pray, I watched God save my father from going to prison. But even though he avoided physical prison, he was still in a spiritual jail. So I kept praying.
Eventually God got a hold of my father. Dad went from being a political strategist to an eternal kingdom strategist. He started a ministry to help build churches and orphanages in Romania, which I was eventually able to assist with.
I watched God rebuild our family from ground zero: he rescued my mother from depression, spared my father from imprisonment, and drew them both into a real relationship with him. God's work in my father's life made me understand that God really did have a purpose for our lives. He answered the prayers of a teenager, and armed with that knowledge, he gave me a true sense of calling. I wanted to save the world, one person at a time.
Helping Children in Schools
I knew my successes and failures could be tools God would use to help others, so I went to the front lines of education. My main calling was as a counselor in the public school system.
I listened to the cries of children who had to endure broken families and the toxicity of our world's moral decline. I taught them coping skills when they faced death, disasters, and abandonment. I supplied them with food when their stomachs growled with hunger. I worked with churches to provide spiritual support when needed. I led a children of divorce group in which I taught children it isn't their fault that their parents broke up. I gave them hope and guidance so they could have successful marriages when they became adults. I protected children by reporting to police and government agencies when they were in danger.
Through it all, I knew that I could provide support and protection for these precious, innocent kids. But even with that knowledge and with all the work I was doing, it still didn't seem enough. So I called my father.
Schooled in Character
One night as I was talking with my dad about the constant battle for the hearts and souls of children in the South Carolina public school system, we came up with an idea. Why not establish a character training program?
The decline of morality and the family breakdown has a huge impact on children. Why not do something intentional to counteract that?
So in 1992 I developed a character education program for my school based on three words: respect, responsibility, and resourcefulness. I received full support from my administration and teachers. My program was comprehensive, involving the parents as the primary teachers of character, but also involving the entire school, community, and local pastors. In this way our character words were first taught in the home, and were reinforced in the school curriculum as well as in church. In 1998, my local Chick Fil-A operator offered to fund a character education curriculum developed by Chick Fil-A called Core Essentials (www.coreessentials.org). After reviewing the clever definitions, teaching tools, and information to involve parents, I was impressed and started to use it.
The character education program provided a foundation for many underprivileged children who had neither a functional home nor church home to instruct them. As I focused on my local school, my father lobbied state politicians to enlarge the influence of the program. With our joint efforts, as of June 2000, South Carolina now has character education required in all of its schools. In 2006 and 2009 my school was one of ten recognized by Chick Fil-A as one of their Nationwide Schools of Character.
The Ripple Effect
After serving as a mission board trustee and sensing the passion my father had for his work in Romania, I felt God calling me to expand my own work during the summers—overseas. So I joined my father's ministry work in Romania, helping people recover from the devastating effects of Communism, planting churches, teaching the Bible to orphans, and teaching about the importance of the family.
When I arrived in Romania, women greeted me with roses.
"Thank you, Sister Ginny, for sharing Christ with your father so he could come and help us," they told me. Their kind words revealed to me the ripple effect we can have. What started as a desperate teenager's prayer for my family has now impacted families all over the world.
It's God's never-ending story as found in Romans 8:28: "We know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them." The shambles of my family life caused me to look up. God gave me a burning desire to view life from his eternal perspective. As a result, my world changed.
When we surrender our lives to God's purpose, he can deliver us from any circumstance, and use our—and our family's—failures for our good and for his ultimate glory. Today, I continue to work with children and families in education, as well as share my message as often as I can, so I may continue to be salt and light in this culture. God gives each of us gifts to be used to reach others. We are all called to be salt and light in a world needing restoration. He can even use the weakest link—someone like me.
I think of all the children's lives I've touched—especially those in shambles who had no one to turn to. I've discovered my real mission in life is to model Christ at home, at work, and to a lost world. Our search for significance must begin with God. It's not our prosperity, but what we do for our posterity and his eternal kingdom that really matters.
Ginny Dent Brant is an educator, writer, counselor, and speaker. She is the author of Finding True Freedom: From the White House to the World. www.ginnybrant.com