It was a frigid Christmas Eve. A young man sat huddled in a corner with a blanket wrapped around his shivering body. He was starving. Not starving by most American’s standards of going without food for a couple meals, literally starving. He shivered uncontrollably, his thin jacket wrapped tightly around his form in an attempt to shield him from the icy wind.

The runaway had been living on the streets, scavenging for food, relying on the generosity of others to keep him alive, for about a year now, with no end to the suffering in sight. It was amazing how truly alone he felt. Nobody cares, was the thought that seemed to replay in his mind. If I died, it would make no difference. I’m a nobody. I’ll never see true happiness. Of course, he wasn’t alone physically, though that may have been better. He was surrounded by immoral temptations and people who fell into addictions, inviting him to join in on their ‘joy’. He was terrified, he felt broken, he was lost.

But that’s not to say it was always bad, for tonight, this Christmas Eve, his life would change forever.

He sat there, shaking as quiet tears rolled down his cheeks. He barely listened to the soft footsteps padding over to him until two feet stopped in front of him. He looked up slowly to see half of a Del Taco in front of his nose. The runaway cautiously took the taco, gazing up at the man who’d handed it to him.

Said homeless man smiled softly. “Merry Christmas.”

This was an influential moment in my Leadership teacher, Greg Denning’s, life. That homeless man set of a chain reaction of inspiring moments for the ‘runaway’. Over the next few years Greg changed his life around; he studied everything available, read hundreds of books, got jobs, found his dreams and aspirations, worked towards them, and became the man he wanted to be.

He who was once a runaway from a broken home is now traveling and exploring the world (he just climbed Everest!), inspiring and meeting thousands of people from all walks of life, still reading and improving his life, and no longer has a broken family (instead, a loving wife and seven kids). He changed who he was and is now able to influence lives all around the world.

I’m sure there were moments he felt like giving up or losing hope. That Christmas Eve he would have if not for a Christmas miracle, a hero, and a display of love. He often talks about making and keeping goals, which I’m sure is why he is still going strong. He makes a goal, creates plans to achieve it, and then acts. He tells us (my classmates and I) of how life is like a steep hill. You are either climbing up and moving forward, or sliding backwards and wasting all previous effort.

He wrote his own story. He overcame fear, he overcame his past. He edited what his life was and wrote his future; using what was already written to fuel him forward and inspire him to make changes.

Mr. Denning ends every class by saying, “reach upward!” I invite you to do the same. Dream big and fight hard for what you believe in. Make goals and plans and achieve them. You can live your dreams, but you have to work for them. You can change your life, but you have to change your heart first. You can find love, hope, and joy, but you have to seek it. I promise that as you do these things, everything else will fall into place. But never stop striving for greatness. Never give up. Never allow the darkness to block your vision. Forget what others say or think about you, because it doesn’t matter, what matters is that you keep writing your own story. You were destined to have a happily ever after.

So, my dear reader, I invite you to follow Mr. Denning’s example and… Reach Upward!

“To every man there comes in his lifetime that special moment where he is figuratively tapped on the shoulder and offered a chance to do a very special thing, unique to him and fitted to his talents. What a tragedy if that moment finds him unprepared or unqualified for the work which would be his finest hour.” –Winston Churchill

A link to his youtube channel:

A link to his website:

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