In this post I wanted to share about a few of the “appointed” people in my life who were sent by God to help me to be a good, productive and purposeful human being. Equally, hindsight being 20/20, had they not been present in my life, I am sure I would have experienced an early demise, and I don’t make that statement lightly.
In their own unique way they have loved and influenced me through abuse, addiction, divorce, recovery, multiple stints in school, various moves around the country and through positive and painful experiences over the decades of my life. I deeply believe that their mere presence in my life has positively and profoundly impacted and shaped me to this day, and I am forever grateful to God for orchestrating our union.
A few of the people who have impacted my purpose and legacy are, in no certain order:
First is my Mom Algean Tomlinson and sisters Chris and Cathy. I have incredible respect for these 3 women who have taught me to work diligently to overcome significant life challenges, give my best in life and never give up. Two of these pictures were taken at Chris’ graduation from Whittier School of Law in 2005. I always (and still do) look up to Chris. She is one of the smartest people I know, and she has impressed and impacted me in profound ways throughout our lives. I am very thankful for her, my Mom and Cathy.
Art Noyes (with his daughter Laura) was the Youth Minister of Spring Branch Christian Church in Houston and was instrumental in me accepting Christ when I was a Senior in High School (1978). Dr Mark Berrier, Professor at Dallas Christian is the guy you can thank who taught me to love and study the Biblical languages. Both shared love, a tremendous amount of patience and even more guidance to a young man who desperately needed to experience these character traits.
After becoming a Christian I wish I could say my life had a clean, positive and upward trajectory. Sadly it did not. I married young and sabotaged my marriage through the practice of addictive behavior. In spite of my character defects and behaviors I engaged in that I deeply regret to this day, I could see that my God did not give up on me even though I hopped out of His hands more times than I can remember. A very patient and loving God showed me love though many friends, co-workers and processes over the course of my life that helped me to see what was valuable, that I was valuable and that He has wanted me to integrate His values into my life to simply be a fruitful human being and to live to treat other people as valuable. I’m glad I learned this life lesson and the people above and below were part of my development and transformation.
“For you have delivered me from death and my feet from stumbling, that I may walk before God in the light of life” – Psalm 56:13 (TNIV)
After graduating from Pacific Christian in 1983, I worked as a Youth Minister in San Francisco. Working with the “inner-city” kids helped me to see God had a purpose for me, which was to see that His love could transcend powerfully to the nine different ethnic groups that were present in that youth group. I am so glad that God used me to provide love to them by meeting their practical, spiritual, recreational and relational needs. The children gave so much of and responded to love, and has been said of “first jobs or ministries,” the time spent with them was one of the best times in my life. As with all of these experiences, my life is forever changed for the better because of the opportunities I have been given to “hang out” with them on a daily basis.
I first met Dr Monica Roach (with Henry) and Dr Wayne Aoki (my first therapist as well) in 1987, and both were instrumental in me returning to school to pursue my Masters (1992) and eventually my Doctorate (2003) in Clinical Psychology. Wayne supervised Monica, an Alumni of Antioch University during my first stint at Union Rescue Mission (1986 – 1992), as she provided psychotherapeutic treatment to the men in the Crossroads program that I supervised (the 18-25 year-olds).
Monica and Wayne helped me to see the utility of psychotherapy with the homeless, and when I mentioned to Monica I was returning to school to pursue a Masters in Clinical Psych, Monica offered and provided a full scholarship for me to attend Antioch University. Her only request was that I use my degree to assist people who were homeless. I am forever thankful for their counsel, vision, generosity, expertise and commitment that people who were homeless deserved nothing less than my best, and they helped me in so many ways to achieve this goal.
Growing up without the presence and influence of a father created such a hunger inside of me for love and direction, and God met this need and more through the opportunity to work with very Godly men who demonstrated His love to me and to other men who were homeless at Los Angeles Mission (1992 – 1996) and during my second “tour of duty” at Union Rescue Mission (1996 – 2000). Even though I began to stop sabotaging my growth in 1987, I really matured when these “iron sharpening iron” relationships were forged and developed. Looking back, with all of the mistakes I made into young adulthood, I cannot begin to describe how much these relationships influenced and shaped me to be a better man, in spite of myself. Again, God showed up and delivered through them. I can see that He had, and has always had a purpose for me. These guys (and so many, many others) were a part of it.
Jerry Butler, LMFT (middle picture with me) and I worked together at Los Angeles Mission from 1992 – 1996 and when I became Director of Men’s Programs at URM (1996 – 2000) he joined me there as a Chaplain. When I graduated with my Masters in Clinical Psychology (on June 17, 1994 – the day of the slow white Bronco freeway chase in Los Angeles), Jerry became my clinical supervisor. His tutelage encouraged me to develop and use my skills to create For Life Marriages, a counseling program that helped reconcile couples and families separated by homelessness and addiction. Our vision of establishing a mental health clinic in Skid Row was realized in 2001, when Pepperdine University partnered with URM to bring Doctoral students to provide psychotherapeutic services there. The clinic was renamed the Jerry Butler/Pepperdine Mental Health Clinic after his death in 2002. Jerry was an encourager to me and I praise God for him and these other wise guides into my life!
Having been born in Chicago, raised in Houston, attended college in Dallas then Los Angeles, ministered in San Francisco then worked in Skid Row LA for many years, I realized that God intended for me to live in and love those in the city. I was energized by it and felt His anointing and compassion on a daily basis. Although I saw myself as an “urban missionary,” I did not see myself as an actual missionary to other nations until much later in life. Hindsight is 20/20, and I now see he was preparing me for this reality when I went to El Salvador in 1988.
As I saw on Skid Row in LA, my heart was broken during the trip as we learned about injustices directed toward citizens and human rights groups. Our exposure also provided opportunities for me to witness and deliver life-changing love and sacrifice like I had never seen in my life. Three days after returning to the States and to work in Skid Row, I realized how well we have it here when I observed a disheveled, matted hair man who was homeless scrape food into the trash, something that I would have never seen in some of the settings we just visited. Among other things, I would never take for granted the privilege of having food and water after that trip.
This may seem crazy to some, but these three men impacted me as well (the late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and the late Michael Teague). Malcolm and Martin were cut down prematurely prior to completing their purpose in life, and I am saddened as I think about what could have occurred and how the world could be different in a positive manner if they lived.
Michael, who was the President and CEO of Union Rescue Mission during my 2nd stint at URM (1996-2000) died unexpectedly and prematurely at or around the age of 40. I had some free-floating anxiety as I neared my 39th birthday (approximate age of Malcom and Martin when they were assassinated), as I was in the first year of my Doctoral program and knew that I wanted to use my knowledge and skills to make a difference in the world. My fear was that I may not live long enough to use these newly discovered psychotherapeutic tools to make a difference in society, if not the world. It probably seems grandiose to compare my experience and the outcomes I wanted to achieve to the actual accomplishments of these men, which is not my intent. I just saw them as role models who lived their lives purposefully and wanted to achieve positive changes, which is what I connected to. Some of the people who inspired me to live purposefully were alive and in close in proximity to me, while some have transitioned into eternity. Nevertheless, they certainly inspired me to live a better life, and to try to produce changes that matter.
“…he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed” – Proverbs 11:25 (TNIV)
During 1990 -1997 I had the opportunity to work with the Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles, and on a weekly basis I had the awesome privilege of spending time with Royal (above and to the right in glasses, with his younger brother Ronli). Weekends with Royal (age 10 – 17) helped both of us as I was able to be present in his life in light of the absence of his father, and our time helped me to heal my “father wound” as our time showed me what it would have been like to have someone there for me during the same age period. I find myself being redundant as I say that my time with Royal changed my life, but it really and profoundly did. It is amazing how God works in our lives to effect His plan and purposes! Not on my timetable, but on His. I celebrated the many achievements Royal amassed through those years, bursting with pride as he received a four-year scholarship (Leadership) to Occidental College. I am so thankful for being invited to participate in his life in such a special and meaningful way.
And yes, there were other women in my life who made profound impressions as well. Taken at my Doctoral program graduation in 2003, Royal’s mom Cora is in the gold jacket and Wanda, to the far left was Marissa’s God-parent (as was Michael Teague). Wanda and I worked at Union Rescue through the years (1986-1992; 1996-2000), and interestingly, she now works on the Executive team for Big Brothers of Greater Los Angeles. Karen (between Wanda and Cora) worked at URM with us, was in our wedding (1990) and Grace Terry (on the right) is the wife to one of those godly men (Albert) who constantly spoke, led and loved me when we were employees together at URM.
One of the most influential women who embodied the characteristic of joy in my professional life has to be Dr Mary Simms. Mary hired me as a part-time clinician (1994 – 2000) at her clinic, Family Outreach Counseling Services. Mary’s passionate heart for God, in addition to her balance as an excellent clinician and her wisdom as a business owner still speaks to me to this very day. I am glad that Mary took a chance on a young and raw clinician, and I owe a lot of my professional development to her and Jerry Butler as both served as my Master’s level clinical supervisors. God’s purposes have yielded many rich blessings in my life!
I first met Dr Patrick Carnes in 1995. The body of his work on the subject of sex addiction has impacted me personally and professionally, as God continued to work in and through me to bring about health and healing in my life and in my relationships. Pat agreed to be on my dissertation committee in 1999, along with Dr Theresa Tisdale and Dr George Larsen, my Chair. My dissertation was the development of a “clinical application” (a manual) for the treatment of sex addiction in the homeless population. This clinical manual was a precursor for my Cultivating Love book series.
During my Doctoral program, I was very fortunate to work with Dr Bill Fiala, Dr Erica Liu Wollin and many other seasoned clinicians (even Dr Dong Koo in line next to me) at the University Counseling Center at Azusa Pacific University (2001 – 2004). Bill, one of the most patient and gifted men that I know, continued in the long line of God-appointed mentors in my life, shaping me personally and professionally, along with the other staff that seasoned my personal and professional development on a daily basis.
Dr. Mark Stanton, Provost of Azusa Pacific University but then Chair of the Graduate Department of Psychology, taught me (and thousands others) about academic excellence, Family Psychology, the integration of Theology and Psychology, Leadership and I can go on. I learned so much from him and the Faculty he assembled who challenged me and my cohorts daily, and I was deeply honored when I was chosen and inducted into the Azusa Pacific University Academic Hall of Honor (School of Behavioral and Applied Sciences) in 2010.
In 2004, I had the opportunity to leave Southern California after 22 years and move to Hattiesburg, Mississippi to open up Dr. Carnes’ Gentle Path residential treatment program for people challenged with sexual compulsivity. I was the Director of this 7 week program, as well as Director of the Intensive Outpatient Program for the Forrest and Perry County Drug Court (Judge Helfrich and DC Coordinator Lucy Davenport) and the Director of Pine Grove Village, a residential substance abuse program for up to 25 people who were homeless.
Working with the staff, patients, their family members and other Therapists from around the country helped to develop my clinical expertise but also gave me the opportunity to experience and deliver compassion to those who have been challenged and broken by addiction, but who also worked hard to experience recovery as well. I can’t say how much Pat, Stefanie, Thomas, Lauren, Mark, “Dr. O” (Dr. Ovson), Andy, Shannon, Jennifer, Brian, Deborah, Ken, Karli, Steve, Regina and Tony meant to me. Just a few. If there is anything competent regarding my understanding of the treatment of sex addiction, chemical addiction, personality disorders, drug courts and more, I owe it to them and others at Pine Grove Behavioral Health. They are still giving to and through me to this very day.
“A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown” – Proverbs 12:4 (TNIV)
You can guess who has had the most influence in my life: My wife Leslie, daughter Marissa and son Gabriel. Leslie and I met when I was working at URM and married in 1990, and I have never met someone who is more self-less, dedicated and devoted and has been a great and patient educator to me and to our children. The first words out of my mouth that I remember sharing with friends and family at my Doctoral graduation dinner was “there would be no Dr McGill if it were not for Mrs. McGill.” Leslie has loved and sacrificed through the years (still does) in order to help our family continue to thrive. I am so thankful she has been the partner that has patiently loved and put up with me through the years! I continue to learn about God and his attributes on a daily basis as I get to be her husband.
Before I tell you about my children, I want to tell you about a book that I read when I was 17. It is called The Blessing. At that time, I told myself if I ever have children, then I am going to practice these five principles in their lives: (1) To provide meaningful (and safe) physical touches, (2) I would speak positive messages to them, (3) I would attach high value to their life, (4) I would picture a special future for them, and (5) I would actively commit to ensure this blessing was cultivated in their lives. I cannot convey how much Leslie and I have been blessed by our children as we practiced these values from day one in our parenting with them. The fruitfulness they have provided at such a very young age is probably why they have been two of the most influential people in my life.
I think Gabriel is going to supplant my sister Chris as the smartest person that I know, and Leslie and I knew this when he was very young. From time to time in my life, people have called me a “gentle giant,” and that is one of the characteristics that I see in Gabriel: the sweet spiritual fruit of Gentleness. He has so much love and respect for others at such a young age and I am very glad that God has blessed me with the opportunity to be his Dad, to implant, observe and nurture qualities and characteristics that will help him to be a fruitful and productive man in life. Thank you Jackie Kelley (our Family Therapist) for helping us through a devastating period in our lives as well.
Marissa, who at age 13 went home to be with God in 2008, continues to impact and teach me about life. She was an intelligent, vibrant and spiritual girl, who at one point wanted to be a Psychologist, but in her last year of her life here she felt she was being led to become a Missionary, specifically to the continent of Africa. As a way of honoring her life, Leslie, Gabriel, me and many, many others helped establish and now support two ministries that were dear to her heart: one in Ethiopia and one in Uganda, that provide services for orphans (“Marissa’s House“). Through her selfless love that she acquired from God, Leslie and others in her life, she is still teaching me about love and devotion and is inspiring me to help make the world a better place one meal, one visit, one hug, one encounter or one counseling session at a time. Here are some of the angels she ministers to:
Today, I have the awesome privilege to work with other clinicians but most important, many people who come into my life each day and make such a powerful impression by vulnerably opening up to me, and trusting that I have something fruitful to share with them. When I walk in my office I truly feel I am on holy ground with them, and my prayer is that as a result of our encounter, they will be a little better off when they leave than when they entered. I know that I am. Thank you for reading about a few people who have impacted me and have helped me to realize God’s purpose in my life!
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