How Lighting Barbie’s Hair on Fire Changed My Life

t03When I was 4 years old, I lived on Vermont Street in northern Kentucky, just south of Cincinnati. My parents had discussed moving back to Keavy, in the London-Corbin area of Kentucky where they grew up.  One day I helped them make that decision.

I took one of my older sister’s Barbie dolls and a lighter and I walked into my mom and dad’s bedroom. I took the lighter and set the Barbie doll’s hair on fire. Then I laid Barbie on my mom and dad’s bed.  I walked into the family room, sat down, and began watching television. (Don’t worry, no one was in the bed at the time.)

There were several people over our house that evening. All the adults were in the kitchen and many of them were smoking. I suspect that because they were smoking it took them a little longer to notice the house filling with smoke from my mom and dad’s bedroom. (See how dangerous smoking cigarettes can be?)

The whole bedroom was in flames before anybody noticed. Then, the panic took place. I remember very little of what happened next.

The house became unlivable for a while and my parents made the decision to go ahead and move back to Keavy. Oh, a side note – while we lived in northern Kentucky, we seldom went to church. That changed when we moved back to Keavy.

locust-grove.jpegMy mom took me and my sister to the church where she had gone to church before moving away. My grandparents were still going there at the time. It was there at this small church called Locust Grove Christian Church in Keavy, Kentucky that I began to learn about a man named Jesus. I may not have ever received consistent teaching about Jesus if I had not lit Barbie’s hair on fire. Hmm…

As I grew up in this church, I began to learn more and more about Jesus and other parts of the Bible. When I was 14 years old, I made a decision to follow Jesus. I was on fire and ready to change the world.

However, something very bad happened to me six months after I decided to follow Jesus…Jr. High School! At the time, my Jr. High was 8th and 9th grade. Spiritually this was a devastating time for me.

Even though I continued to go to church, be active in my church youth group, and even preach my first sermon at 15 years of age, my devotion to Jesus was not very strong. At times it was probably non-existent. I was not walking my talk.


During my sophomore year of high school, I could no longer live the lie. I had to make a decision to either follow Jesus or give up on this Christian stuff altogether. I could no longer live with the tension of trying to do both, so I chose.

I chose to follow Jesus! At this point, I became committed to growing in my relationship with Jesus. By the time I was a senior in high school I had made the decision to go to Johnson Bible College (now Johnson University) to prepare for ministry.


After squeezing four years of college into six, I became a minister in a church that had been split right down the middle for about 20 years before I got there. I was green and ready to change the world!!! And after a year, I left.

I then became an associate/youth minister at a new church plant for about a year. I left there to work at Toyota Motor Manufacting in order to save enough money to go back to school to get a Master’s in Urban Ministry. While I was working at Toyota, the school I was planning on attending closed their Urban Ministry program. So, I used the money I saved to buy an engagement ring, get married, and start a ministry called Upside Down Ministries. Yes, I left a good paying job at Toyota to start a ministry where I would be paid entirely through donations. I just love the way God does things!

My wife and I ran Upside Down Ministries for eight years. I was in my element. I thought, “I want to do this for the rest of my life!” But God had different plans.

After eight years, God called me away from Upside Down Ministries. To be honest, he probably called me away after about six and a half years, but I was too stubborn to listen and I did not want to let it go. That was one of the toughest decisions of my life.

t14After a year and a half of searching, I finally went back into local church ministry. By this time, my wife and I had two kids and I was able to stay home and invest more time with my kids than I could have with Upside Down Ministries. I thought, “I could do this for the rest of my life!” But God had different plans.

t17After seven years of local church ministry, God called me into what I am doing now – helping individuals, churches and other organizations climb to their God-given potential through coaching, leading, instructing and motivating them to believe that with God’s help they can make the climb. I did eventually get my Master’s. Although, at this point, it was not in Urban Ministry. It was in Life Coaching.

Here again, I get to travel but stay home a little more than I did with Upside Down Ministries. I get to connect with you who read my blog, invite me to come and speak, and take advantage of my one-on-one coaching. With every step I take on this God journey, he is helping me to help others in the way that he has best prepared me through my gifts, passions, and abilities.

I love what I do and the more I do it, the more I love it! Sometimes I have trouble going to sleep at night because I am enjoying what I do so much. I enjoy getting up early because of what God has in store for me each day. I did not know that when I decided to follow Jesus it would include all of this! Wow! What a trip!!!

And just think, it all started with lighting Barbie’s hair on fire.

What’s your fire?

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_MG_6842cropTommy Lanham is a dynamic, award-winning speaker who has been training individuals and organizations to reach their God-given potential for 25 years. With a unique blend of Ziglar motivation and ragamuffin faith, Tommy delivers powerful, life changing messages filled with humor, hope, and enthusiasm.

Tommy will empower, entertain and energize audiences to achieve extraordinary results and live a life beyond what they ever dreamed possible.

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