A child born to two children enters the world with a good many strikes against him – from the moment he struggles to take his first breath. A 16-year-old mother in our culture simply has not developed the necessary parenting skills. And a 17-year-old father who is soon to-be absent adds another blow to the innocent, burdened infant. Toss in the complications that come with long-time parental alcohol and substance addiction, and you may as well give up hope that the child will ever make it.
We visited with that “child” recently. He’s now six feet and one inch tall, and in his 40s. It has taken William Tott a long time to recognize and tackle the huge obstacles in his life’s journey, and he’s still facing a few. But he feels he has never been alone.
“I’ve always known instinctively that God was there,” he says, “and that He was there for me and my good.”
Through dark and evil times, even when William made poor choices of his own, “I never blamed God for my circumstances, and always sensed that He was in the background working my life out.”
At one desperate point, the victim of a severe stabbing, William believes God saved his physical life. We know from Scripture that God promises to father the fatherless. William is in a position to know about that.
Born in St. Paul, William lived with his mother and grandmother throughout his childhood. His youth was marked by an extraordinary number of moves and re-locations: he averaged two to three homes, and two to three schools per year. The adults who moved through his life, including his mother, were typically alcoholics and addicts.
He was a nice kid, comfortable and humorous to hang out with, and these addictive, abusing adults behaved affectionately and kindly toward him. It turned out that William was a bright and gifted student; traits he may possibly have inherited from his extended family which contained many good, stable, educated and well-employed folks: an uncle who worked at Honeywell, another uncle was a college professor. School was academically easy for Tott in his youth, boringly easy; his social skills made “diversity” and “integration” as natural as breathing.
Eventually William had four younger siblings. His mother’s lifestyle did not improve and he developed a misplaced sense of personal responsibility for the safety and livelihood of his brothers and sisters. Resentment and frustration settled in. As he grew strong in stature, with easy access to alcohol and drugs, William slipped into the life of violence so easily predictable from his very beginnings.
But God had marked the young man for Himself. “At times, I knew He was intervening,” William says. “God delivered me time after time.”
He happened to be homeless when, at age 18 and involved in a deadly fight, he was viciously stabbed with a fillet knife. The knife was intended to kill him outright, entering his stomach area and destined to rip upwards. But too much force had been employed and the weapon, narrowly missing vital organs, stuck fast in hard backbone. The handle and shank of the knife broke off, preventing the upward slash that almost certainly would have taken his life. His assailant used what remained of the bloody handle to attack and wound William’s friend before both could be driven to Hennepin County Medical Center’s emergency room.
The incident changed William for life. Violence was curtailed and although he continued his chemical abuse, his journey veered off on a more mature, introspective course. He landed in prison for the first time in his late 30s (relatively late for someone with such a troubled past), not for drug abuse, but because Minnesota is pretty tough on drunk drivers. He was charged with a felony DWI.
When we talked with him, William had been through the prison system, spent 13 months at Minnesota Teen Challenge, and eight months at Damascus Way. He has been sober for three years and will receive a five-year conditional release which involves regular reporting to the parole officer.
Inside Minnesota’s prison system, through his Teen Challenge time, and then at Damascus Way, William ended up with two important benefits:
-Qualifying for work release, he has been able to practice his profession of house building.
-He is no longer separated from the God who moved quietly in and around his life. He took advantage of a prison Bible study, and continues now learning who God is and what He wants to do in William’s life.
“The chip on my shoulder is dissipating,” he says. “And I won’t be drinking,” he adds.
William added a poignant word of gratitude to the many good people who support the ministry of Damascus Way. “If you are part of this place in any way,” he said, “I’m grateful. You don’t have to do this, but I am so glad it’s here.”