If a poem could sum up Dallas mega pastor Bishop T.D. Jakes’ life, it would be Mother to Son by Langston Hughes, with this one line being a perfect summation: “Life for me ain’t been no crystal stair.”

In other words, things have been hard in the preacher’s life over the years, coming from modest means and slipping below the poverty line.

During a heartfelt Father’s Day message, while encouraging dads to stand in the gap for their families and don’t give up, even when the going gets tough, Jakes, 56, shared his own difficult experiences. 32 years ago, back in 1981, the then-24-year-old married the love of his life, Serita Ann.

“I made a conscious decision. I said, ‘I want to marry this woman I can do this. I got a brand new car. I got a
good job I been on for 5 years. I can take care of her. I can take care of our kids. I’m good. I work for Union
Carbide. I got a dental plan, health plan, retirement, life insurance. I can handle this.’”

Initially, everything went great. “We got married. I handled it. Whatever came up, I handled it. Insurance, I
handled it. Bills, I handled it—the first year.”

But then, an unexpected layoff changed everything. “I didn’t know, when I signed up for the job of being a
husband and a father, that I would end up being laid off from my job, lose my car, her ankle would be crushed.
She wouldn’t walk for 2 years. Our lights would be cut off. We would go down to nothing. And I had to stand
there with no job. I had to stand with no lights. I had to stand with no water.”

It was tremendously difficult time for the Jakes family.

“When they cut the lights off and we got down to where we were gathering apples to feed the kids and we got
paper towels and duct tape to cover for no diapers, I jumped on a lawn mower and started cutting the grass to
get money so we could go to the grocery store.”

Trying to discover any and every way possible to ensure that his family had enough income for survival, Jakes
began working with his brother to make some extra change.

“My brother worked for the gas company and he used to install gas lines on the side, so I dug ditches,” said
Jakes. “We would lay PVC pipe through gas lines, and I’d take that hundred dollars I got and buy groceries.”
The road was a lot rockier than he had bargained for then. “When I said ‘I do,’ I didn’t know I was gone have to
do that. But I kept on going. Cora came. We didn’t own a house. Sarah came. We was on WIC (Women Infants
and Children Food and Nutrition service for low-income families),” and yet, he said, “We didn’t quit. I didn’t know
what WIC was. I went down to apply for it. I didn’t know how people talked to poor people. They might provide
services for you, but they talk to you like you a dog. ‘Get over there. We’ll get to you when we get to you!’” he
reenacted, showing how cold and unfeeling government workers can sometimes be to the least among us.

“Our credit was wack,” Jakes continued. “My life was crazy. I was pastoring a church—had about 30 people in it.
They gave us $10 a Sunday to feed the kids and $300 a month was what we had to live on. But I came home
every night.”

He couldn’t afford to purchase his own home, so “Wherever my brother moved out of, I moved into,” he
explained with a chuckle. “[The] house was in his name. I was making the payments. I didn’t have no credit. But I
was still Daddy.”

But one day, while driving down the road on the West Side of Charleston, he said, he told his sister, “I’m not
gone be broke no more. I told Jackie I wasn’t go be broke. Jackie was bringing me groceries every second
Friday. She would get off work, get her paycheck and go to the grocery store and split her groceries with us so
we’d have something to eat.”

But after barely making it for so long, the husband and father had had all he could take of being impoverished.
“I don’t like the vulnerability of being at the mercy of people. I don’t—I don’t like it,” he added. “And I made a
conscious decision to get up.”

According to Jakes, he asked the Lord to help him “get up” out of poverty before his sons became men, so they
wouldn’t “think that this is all there is to life.”

Jakes told the congregation, “God answered. Little, by little, by little, God answered. And through my
willingness to obey Him and do crazy stuff—one day He said something so crazy to me. I’d worked like a dog to
save up a little bit of money and He said, ‘Take all that money you got saved and put it in this idea.”
Though he had been saving for a house, he obeyed God’s voice and published a book no publisher would
publish without a significant monetary contribution from Jakes’ own coffers.

Next thing he did was radical. “I emptied out our savings account and published the book that no publisher
would publish without my money. I got 5,000 copies. I got out in the street. I was selling copies like popcorn at a
movie,” he described his drive and determination. “I had to get that money back. I didn’t want to go home and
tell Serita that I had blew that money. I sold 5,000 books and got 5,000 more.  I sold 10,000—got a 10,000
order next time—sold 10,000 more. That book sold 5 million copies.”

So what was the moral of the story? “I say all of that to really say, you don’t have to be perfect, or smart, or rich,
or great, or famous. I wasn’t none of that. You just have to stand in the gap,” Jakes said. “If you just stand there
through happy times, and bad times, and sick times, and hurting times, and frustrating times, just don’t quit,”
you’ll make it.
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