Gift of Education Restores Man’s Confidence
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“Growing up, school, education, was very difficult for me,” says Michael. “Middle school, high school years, I just struggled. I struggled all the time. I struggled with dyslexia, I struggled with just comprehending what I read."
Michael Thornton’s difficulty in school was compounded by his new affection for drugs. “When I was 17-18 years old, I started doing drugs and hanging out with the wrong crowd which did not help any part of my brain, my mental capacity to think to learn, to grow.”
Over ten years his drug use escalated and at 27 years old, Michael sought help. “I was at the end of my rope. I was homeless. I was addicted to crack cocaine for over 10 years, and I knew I needed a change.”
His father checked him into a faith-based rehab facility and change came quickly. “I remember feeling Jesus all around me and Him just speaking to me and for the first time in my life I heard his voice say, ‘I love you.’ You know? And that hooked me. It grabbed me. It did something on the inside of me. And that began the process of me changing. I could feel this softness, this tenderness that I never felt and I think that was probably the biggest change because when my heart began to change it just began to give me strength, energy, hope, really that I never had and that just really began to shift everything in my life.”
Though he always had difficulty learning, Michael was accepted to a Bible college.
“I didn’t know how to write," Michael recalls, getting emotional. "I mean, ten years of crack cocaine, I couldn’t even talk at some points in my life. And so, I was overwhelmed. I was overwhelmed because I was so excited and happy that they took me in. And two years into my program there, God began to speak to me and was basically saying, ‘I’m calling you to Regent.’”
Michael and his wife Amber, whom he’d met at Bible college, both transferred to Regent University in Virginia Beach.
“We came from a really small Bible college to a place like Regent where the academic excellence, and just the culture, it’s next level. Over time I began to realize that God had a brilliant plan in me going into education, higher education, several reasons but the primary one for me was healing. And it wasn’t just healing of the heart, it was healing of the mind. It was healing of my brain, healing of the way I process information. And the rigorous study, the continual writing of papers, research, ongoing, all of that really helped heal my brain. It helped heal my mental capacity, it improved my overall mental health.”
During his time at Regent, Michael wrote and published a book, graduated with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree, and a doctorate degree. In 2022, he addressed his fellow graduates.
[Michael Graduation Speech Excerpt]: “Today by standing on this stage, you are witnessing a divine miracle taking place. You are watching what it looks like when our Heavenly Father pays back years of my life that were stolen and robbed from addiction. And I declare this truth over you today as the class of 2022.”
Today Michael is the director of a school, The Garden Greenville, and a senior associate pastor at his church; opportunities that wouldn’t be possible without God’s guidance and the right education.
Michael tearfully says, “It’s really hard to find the words. What I do know is that I shouldn’t be here today. Statistically I should be dead or in prison for a long time. And knowing that He’s a God that gives second, third, fourth, and fifth chances. It’s unbelievable. It’s what shoots me out of bed every morning. Every day I wake up and I realize it’s another day I have.”
“Regent University is a special place for several reasons,” continues Michael. “I think the culture at Regent’s really powerful. I think that’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for not just an academic experience, they’re also looking to feel connected. They’re looking to be a part of something that’s greater than themselves, and I think that’s what we found at Regent.”
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