Hello out there...? So, about my silence for the past, oh, eight months... I really don't have much to say about that. The short version is: It wasn't you, it was me. I've been on a roller coaster of emotion that scrambled my thoughts and made writing just about impossible, so I made a pact with myself to only write if I really had something to say - something I cared about and that really mattered - and, well, here we are eight months later. So there's that.

The good news is that I'm back! And I have a story to tell you...

This one was a long time coming. I talked with this young man last fall, right around the time that life got really weird and I stopped writing. I knew I had to write his story, but I just didn't have the words. I found out this young man was graduating from high school, a goal he was still only hoping for when he talked with me, so I decided it was time. I wrote 1,800 words in one hour. That is purely a testament to his life and his ability to inspire.

There are so many times I hear stories or see things that just make me want to quit and give up on humanity as a whole (I'm a little dramatic.), but there are others like this one, that give me more hope than I can even put into words. I expect and pray for great things for Jose. Here's his story:

On the surface, Jose is not unlike most teenagers in Dallas. He cracks jokes, dotes on his mom, and probably sends too many text messages. But Jose is categorically different than many others in his neighborhood.

I count myself lucky to have sat across from him one Saturday in South Dallas to hear his story. It’s nearly impossible to imagine that this bright, enthusiastic and humble young man spent more than 10 months in county jail for selling drugs on the streets of Dallas. But that’s all just part of his story now.


At 14 years old, Jose says he was “just hanging around the wrong people.” Before long, they convinced him to try drugs and, soon after that, to begin selling them. It’s the fastest way to make money in his neighborhood, and his family needed it.

“For a long time, I was just doing the same thing: pushing drugs, skipping school and making a lot of bad choices,” he says.

Jose’s decisions caught up with him when he was pulled over for speeding. Police officers found drugs in his car. “That’s how I got locked up the first time,” he says. “I went for one month to juvie.”

When he was released, Jose thought it was his chance to start over – but old habits die hard, and old friends are persistent.

“When I got out, I did good for the first week,” he says. “But the second week, I wasn’t reporting to my P.O., I was using drugs again, and I started hanging out with the same people.”

Within a month and a half, Jose was in the Dallas County jail. “Something told me that this time, I was going to be locked up for a long time,” he says.

This realization was a wake-up call for Jose. While in jail, he began to look for hope and started hearing about a God who could give him a fresh start and a new life. Jose had heard that message before, but he was ready to really hear it. After all, doing things his own way hadn't been working. “Every time people came for church, I would go,” he says. “I got a Bible and started reading it, and I was praying day and night: before I went to sleep, when I woke up, and when I was eating.”

Jose was given a one-year sentence, but was released after 10 months because he had shown so much improvement. Walking out of jail this time was different than the first. He was ready to change, and had people around him who were willing to help.

Jose was about halfway through high school after his release, but he needed something different. His probation officer recommended he call a school in South Dallas accepting at-risk students who hadn’t been successful in the public school system.

Anxious to start working toward his new goals, Jose called Dr. Kristi Lichtenberg, principal and program director at
Cornerstone Crossroads Academy. “Dr. Kristi” interviewed Jose and, a week later, called to let him know that school started August 23, and he would have a seat in the classroom.

“Since I came here to CCA, everything is new for me,” Jose said. “Everything changed. I’ve been learning more about the Bible, and I’ve been making good choices.”

Jose learned the power of a healthy support system of people encouraging him toward education and integrity. With his old friends still in the neighborhood and a family still struggling to make enough money, Jose says he learned how relying on God and people who wanted to see him succeed made it possible to make the right decision in extremely difficult situations. 

Each student at CCA is assigned a mentor, and Jose’s taught him about what it means to follow God and plan for the future. For a time, Jose went to a Bible study with one of his mentors, “Mr. Justin,” at 6:30 a.m. before going to school. A teenager, who a year prior had been skipping school altogether to sell drugs and cruise the city, was waking up before the sun to attend a Bible study with his new mentor.

“It feels good just being with God,” he says. “Even if I go through bad times, I don’t feel bad. As long as I have God in my heart I’m good. I feel good.”

Dr. Kristi has seen a new person emerge from Jose in his time at CCA. “Jose is such a unique student,” she says. “He is one of the hardest working, committed high school students I’ve ever met. He’s so teachable and hungry to learn on his own. He’s amazing.”

Jose, standing nearby, looks away whispering, “Thank you.”

“I’m so thankful to be here,” he says. “I don’t know how to thank Dr. Kristi, so I’m just working hard at school and making straight As.”

Jose says his principal has helped him turn his life around. “She’s a good principal,” he says. “Not just a good principal; she’s a good person. She wants to help others. When I go through bad times, I tell her and she helps me and talks to me. She’s good. I can’t explain to you how good she is.”


At that, Jose looks away, and then points to some drawings posted on a wall near us. “This is my life map,” he says. Each student at CCA completes a life map, with drawings of where he or she has been and where they want to go in the future. On Jose’s life map, there are drawings full of hope and pride.

He points to a soldier. “That’s what I want for myself someday – to be a soldier and fight for the nation. I want to make a difference.”

The next picture is of a group of children. “I want to tell people about God who don’t know about Him – people from around the world that don’t have clothes or food. I want to help them and tell them about God, and I want to show love everywhere.”

Another drawing catches my eye: construction workers. “I want to use the talents God gave me,” he says. “I like to build things with my hands. I know a little about construction, and I want to make people happy with what I do with my hands.”

Ultimately, Jose says he wants to stay away from drugs and be healthy, so he can "learn more and be smarter.”

I ask Jose to show me around the one-room school, and he begins moving through the building as if he’s giving me a tour of his home. He even points out a corner of the room where daily “family meetings” are held, clearly an important place for him.

“At the end of the day, we sit in a circle and have a family meeting,” Dr. Kristi says. “We pass around a spoon and share about our day. Jose always says, ‘Well, it was a good day. Just like every day.’”

In other areas of the school, there are pictures posted of the students all over Dallas, learning about culture and building friendships.

Another wall is full of papers with cheerful ‘A’s and ‘A+’s. Jose nonchalantly points to one with his name on it. We high-five and move on.


Jose changed a lot of destructive behaviors in his life with the help of mentors and friends. But his situation and the temptations he faces are the same. Simply walking outside his door means running into men in the street pressuring him to buy and sell drugs, weapons, and girls.

“Good people have been coming to me trying to help, and I try to go with them,” Jose says, “but at the same time, bad people have been coming to me. I’m thankful that God put people in my life to help me stay on the right track. The devil doesn’t want me to be successful. He wants to hold me back.”

Kristi is realistic about the temptation for Jose to go back to his old lifestyle. “He could make a lot of money selling drugs,” she says. “We’ve just been praying that he would stay strong. God has really been showing us how He’s going to provide in the right way for his family.”

Jose’s mom does as much as she can to provide for her family, but there have been times when there just wasn’t enough. “She came by one day and, when I asked how she was doing, she said they cut her hours at work,” Dr. Kristi says. “She got tears in her eyes and said that Jose will sometimes say, ‘You go ahead and eat. I’ll just eat at school tomorrow.’”

Jose is willing to do whatever he needs to do help his family. At times, selling drugs may seem like the most economical way to provide, but Jose has seen that he doesn’t have to.

“We really try to teach the kids that if they put their faith and trust in God and try their best in life, that God is going to provide for them,” Dr. Kristi says. “They are constantly surrounded with ways the world provides – selling drugs and prostitution. Every one of our kids knows these things too well. There’s such a temptation to do this for one night to help their family. We just try to tell them to hold on and wait and that God will provide.”

And He has.

“I just keep thinking, God could not bless us any more,” she says. “But he just keeps piling it on.”

Dr. Kristi has spent a lot of time looking up verses about the fatherless. She says the amount of scripture she has found makes it clear that it’s a special group of people to God. “I just love how He shows us that here.”


After my last question for Jose, he hesitated for a moment and then quickly announced with a smile that he had recently been released from his probation. He’d kept his big news for the end. He was proud of what he’d accomplished. “I’m just staying on the right track, going to school and keeping good grades,” he says. “I’m trying to graduate.”

And he did, on May 26.

Jose is a success story, and they aren’t all so encouraging. But his story is a reminder that just about anything is possible when you have hope and are surrounded by people encouraging you to keep fighting for your own success.

Cornerstone Crossroads Academy from Mary Lou Saxon on Vimeo.


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