“He laughs at wounds who never bore a scar.” - Shakespeare
Scars shape ministry.
Dr. John Trent knows. He’ll never laugh at a wounded person. God blessed Trent with the gift of a broken family background. From that experience, Trent speaks and writes and wants to help other scarred families reverse the curse. He wants to bring blessing into the lives of a million children.
If Trent’s mother did today what she did then, she’d go to jail.
“We didn’t go to church on Sunday mornings,” Trent says, his eyes sparkling. “My mother took us to the Phoenix public library and dropped us off. Then she’d leave to run errands in town.”
She had little choice as a single mother. Trent’s father, an angry drunk, had PTSD scars from World War II that festered throughout his life. He left the family before Trent met him, and not until high school did Trent see him for the first time. The need for a father figure gnawed at Trent, but his lack had one redemptive element: the library.
“Mom never remarried and she never had time to do errands, so she took us to the library,” Trent recalls. “That would be me, my twin brother Jeff, and our older brother. We were probably 5, 6, or 7 years old. We’d read for two or three hours, then Mom would come back and pick us up. She’d make us write book reports on what we checked out. The next week, we’d do it all again.”
The visits to the library filled Trent with a life-long love for words. “I just didn’t know how I could use it,” he says. “When our Young Life leader asked us what we wanted to do when we grew up, I said, ‘I want to go to college and write books.’ Everyone at the meeting laughed except two people: the Young Life leader and my twin brother.” Trent went on to author twenty-six books.
Jesus: 6'3'', 220 lbs
The Young Life leader who didn’t laugh at Trent’s dream was Doug Barram. “For the first time in my life,” says Trent, “I had a Christian male role-model—someone who believed in me and blessed me. I never met my dad until high school. But suddenly here was this huge offensive guard who loved his family and loved Jesus. I thought that Jesus was 6'3'' and 220 lbs.”
Trent remembers watching Barram put his young son to bed while the Young Life kids romped through the house. “Doug would get Andy all excited and say, ‘Shadrach, Meshach, and A-bed-we-go!’ then toss him into bed. Andy loved it, so then all of us high school kids tried to chuck him into bed, too. Mrs. Barram would come upstairs with her hands on her hips and say, ‘You’re hyping him up!’ But then she’d laugh.”
Doug attended Trent’s high school wrestling matches and filled his need for a father figure. “It was by watching how he treated his wife and how he treated Andy that I saw the character of God. His life was a witness for Christ. Doug led my twin brother and me to Christ on the same night, and later he led my mom and my older brother to the Lord.”
Trent’s conversion gave him new peace and purpose in life, but other problems lingered. Both of his brothers seemed “brilliant,” says Trent, and he thought himself just average. Junior college admitted him on academic probation. He then squeaked into Dallas Theological Seminary after a DTS professor who knew a board member performed some plea-bargaining on Trent’s behalf. Texas Christian University also admitted him to their Ph.D. program on academic probation. “I was a loser,” says Trent, “but I can really identify with kids today from broken backgrounds who struggle in school. What goes to school comes to church, so people in ministry need to recognize this and help to bless these kids.”
Trent earned his degree in Christian family and marriage counseling, wrote books, joined three softball leagues, and traveled to churches and conferences to speak. He developed the famous Lion, Otter, Golden Retriever, and Beaver (LOGB) personality test which has helped thousands of people better understand how they relate to life, work, and relationships. “I originally had a duck instead of a golden retriever,” Trent says. “Ducks are so loyal: they mate for life, take good care of their families, and do all kinds of other wonderful things. The problem was, no one wanted to be a ‘duck.’”
His career took off, but his marriage suffered. His wife, Cindy, wanted him to spend more time with her. Trent told her to come to his softball games. About this time, he wrote the Gold Medallion award-winning book, The Language of Love with Gary Smalley, which emphasized the importance of word pictures in communication. His wife read it.
One day Trent came down to the breakfast table and Cindy sat at the table waiting for him. Where his breakfast normally would have rested sat an old, dusty textbook from a previous academic year. Trent looked at the book, then at his wife. “Where’s my breakfast?” he asked.
“Today, this is your breakfast,” Cindy said. She went on to share a word-picture with him which changed their marriage. “I feel like I’m this old textbook,” she said. “You read me to pass a course, and now I’m on the shelf gathering dust.” Trent felt sick. He wanted to argue, but realized that his wife was right. “God helped me just to say, ‘What can I do to take your book off the shelf?’” Trent recalls. He now schedules plenty of family time and considers his family his highest priority. His youngest daughter, Laura, accompanied him to a recent interview.
Books from Life
Trent’s books serve as a ministry platform for the lessons he has learned from the scars he bears. In recent years, Trent has written six children’s books. One of his favorites—The Black and White Rainbow—tells the story of MooseBerry Mouse and Monty Mole. Monty hates bright colors and the other animals suspect he’s stolen them: even the beautiful rainbow turns black and white. Led by MooseBerry, the animals of the forest go on a quest to bring colors back to their land.
The story focuses on the Four Big Secrets of Blessing: saying kind things, serving others, sharing, and forgiving. Trent himself needed to learn the lesson of forgiveness. “You can be blessed in Jesus,” he says, “and still not enjoy a rich life if you hold onto anger and unforgiveness.” In his own life, Trent knew he had to forgive his father.
“My dad was the mole who ripped the color out of my life,” says Trent. “Doug Barram had told me that through Jesus Christ I could get the color back into my life, but it still would take forgiving my dad to get the true color spectrum back in all of its brilliance. So I took my dad out to a fancy restaurant and asked him to forgive me. Bless his heart—he was an old, bitter World War II vet who was scarred from his war experiences. And he said, ‘Oh, okay, if that’s what you feel you need.’ And I said, ‘It is.’ So my dad accepted my apology. He walked away unchanged, but I’ve never been the same.”
The Blessing Challenge
Trent wants to catalyze blessing. He co-authored The Blessing with Gary Smalley in 1981. The book describes the five ways parents can bless their children. Since then, the book has sold a million copies. The reason the book continues to find a hungry audience, Trent believes, is because families today are more fractured than ever. Consequently, children miss out even more on the blessings they need from healthy parents.
“When I was a kid, I was an anomaly,” he says. “I was the only kid in my class whose parents were divorced. Now it’s 50 percent. My organization, Strong Families, is partnering with Focus on the Family to launch ‘The Blessing Challenge,’ which launches in April 2012. Our goal is to ask one thousand churches to preach one sermon on the five principles of biblical blessing. We then want one million people to choose a child to bless who might not otherwise receive a blessing.”
The Bible links blessings and curses, says Trent. “We see in Deuteronomy 30:19 that there is one choice, but two paths: Life or death; blessing or cursing. Death means separation, a stepping away from, if you will. If you ‘step away’ from your spouse or family, that results in death. We’re asking people to step away from death and toward life.” Trent practices what he preaches. He wants his wife and two adult daughters to feel that they have received a blessing from him, which they can in turn pass on to others. The man whose own background once seemed cursed with scars has learned how to forgive. From his life has sprung a rainbow of ministry that continues to bless millions.