Finding My Way

LecraeBy Lecrae9 Minutes

“Ayo!” The neighborhood OG’s voice cut through street-corner clowning and stopped us in our tracks. “These Crips keep comin’ ’round here … Y’all gotta get some getback. Y’all got a gun?” One of my friends swallowed hard and nodded to a tree where he hid our lone weapon of defense from rival gangs. “Cool. The next time they come around here, you shoot first.”

I spent summers with my uncle, getting tough, running the streets, and searching for significance. I enjoyed my time there, even though it was filled with chaos. I now know that’s all they knew. I saw shootings, drug arrests, and other things a kid shouldn’t be exposed to at that age. But I’ll never forget when that guy told us to “shoot first.”

I looked around like I was in a dream. My friends’ eyes were glued to him, drinking in his instructions and processing how they would act on them. What is wrong with y’all? I thought to myself as I half-listened to advice that I just knew would get one of us killed.

This was my moment of clarity. Forget this tough guy act. I don’t have to live like this. At that moment, before my conversion to Christ, before I had the privilege of a healthy community, I knew I had options. Earlier that year, my auntie had sent me a postcard from Japan. I stared at the scenery for the longest time. It helped me to see that the world is bigger than this neighborhood pettiness. I didn’t want to be a street dude, and I wasn’t built for it.

When I found hip-hop, I felt like it was all I needed to fill in any of my life gaps. I didn’t want to excavate the problems of my past to get healed. I didn’t want to enter the chaos because I was convinced it would consume me.

When I stepped onto the stage for a talent show at the Boys and Girls Club at age eleven, I never expected any of my hood friends to love what I did. But watching their frenzied reaction made me say, “Oh, I love this.” I enjoyed hiphop music as a consumer, but to be appreciated for performing was a different level. It felt right.

After I ran from a knife-wielding kid in the sixth grade, I had my moment of redemption. I beat a notorious tough kid in a rap battle. That was the first moment that I felt special. He was perceived as a young gangster, a tough guy just like the men in my life. I wasn’t quite sure how people perceived me, but I knew it wasn’t positive. They thought I was scared, cowardly, or unathletic. In any case, I felt like I didn’t belong. I would lash out, but not in the same way as other kids. I already felt ashamed because I had had a knife pulled on me.

When I beat that kid in that rap battle, something shifted in my heart. “Ohhhhh,” the crowd erupted. I was engulfed by the same people who made fun of me. I hadn’t even hit puberty yet. My voice hadn’t changed. But my consumption of hip-hop culture paid off in the admiration of my friends. Maybe I couldn’t beat anyone up, but I could beat them with my words. I won, and it kept going. I was the reigning rap champion. No one could touch me. Rap became part of the identity of my reputation. “Y’all know Lecrae can rap.” That was the identity marker I needed to ignore all this manhood chaos that I couldn’t escape.

Even after my conversion, I still clung to this part of my identity. It looked a little different at that point because people weren’t just praising my skill. They praised how my skill showcased my devotion to Jesus. The crowds surrounded me just enough to hide the chaos. I was addicted to alcohol and popping pills to numb myself from the pain of addressing my past. I came perilously close to sabotaging the beautiful family God gave me.

The pressure to prove my manhood shifted into a pressure to prove that my devotion to God was legitimate. The bloggers, the theologians, and the fans were watching like hawks to see if I would slip up. And the culture considered me a standard-bearer for this different wave of music. They were tempting me with what they passed at parties and private events.

In the middle of navigating this broken reality, I was forced to ask myself, Where is the script to show me what it is to be a man? Who will show me what it means to be a father? If my own father failed, how can I succeed? If my own dad was a screwup, I guess I’m destined to be that as well, right? Where’s my pathway to fulfilling this role?

I remember reading the work of a professor who specializes in the divinity of Jesus. He remarked that in the Torah there are detailed scripts of what the temple priests were supposed to do. With painful attention to detail, each of the priests had to follow the temple rules or receive strict, even fatal, consequences.

But ironically, there are no specific rules in Scripture for being a king. Sure, there are prayers that they could cling to and general principles that would be wise for kings. But there was no script for how to rule, no script for how to lead, no script for royalty. This gave me hope because as a man, I don’t necessarily have a script for how to exist in my world. I couldn’t follow the script that came from the men around me or my father.

But over time, I have become convinced that God had a script for me to follow. His script is simply to love Him completely, love my neighbors faithfully, and navigate life in light of these two commands. My responsibility is to love my wife and kids well and remain faithful to them. That’s what it means to be a father even when I don’t have a father. For years I was convinced there was a “man script” for every contour of my behavior, and God had to show me there are all types of men in His kingdom, living different but faithful lives. There is no complicated script. My liberty is in simplicity. Love God and love others well. That’s it.

Excerpt from I Am Restored by Lecrae. Published by Zondervan Books, © 2020. Used with permission.