A New Place…Harvard of all places

Many years ago, as I’ve shared in previous blogs, I dropped out of High School. I was only 14 at the time and was in 9th grade. I went to school for several months during that school year and became so emotionally distraught I could no longer function in that social environment. A homebound teacher came and finished up the year’s work with me at home and I never went back following completion.

I wasn’t rebellious or wild or unruly. I was simply devastated emotionally as a result of many years of suffering for reasons too many to detail here. Let it suffice to say, a stressful life had taken what seemed to me at the time an insurmountable toll on my mind and heart.

I married that Summer after just turning 15 to a young man I had met in church who was from a kind and loving family all of whom treated me with great love and care. He was 19 and in my little 15 year old heart and mind he was the answer to all of my hurting.

As you might imagine already, I soon found that I had brought along all of my burdens with me into that new and fragile marriage and I was far from ready or able to be a wife, however, that is exactly what I was; a 15 year old married girl who couldn’t even manage the stress of High School, much less marriage and the demands of adult life.

I surely did try. At least I can say that with a perfectly clear conscience, but also with a deep and lingering sadness for the added suffering that resulted from making such a major decision when ill prepared to do so. Divorce followed several years later after having a precious daughter when I was 17. All I really remember about the divorce is listening to the reading of the divorce agreement and hearing them name my Heather as the child born during the marriage. I sobbed as if there had been a death and rightly so. Divorce is as grievous as death in so many ways and I have great and lasting regret that divorce is a significant piece of the story of my life.

All the years between the time I dropped out of High School and my return to school I carried great shame over my many failures. In those early years of school which I attended in an old fashioned system where children attend the same school from grades 1-8 I had been the source of much ridicule. Many children made fun of me because I was different, and indeed I was. I was very solemn and sad and I was sick most mornings during those 8 years. I vomited frequently, many times it happened in front of other children and so I was labeled and the labels were not only from peers, also from some of my teachers. They simply didn’t know what to do with me. We had no counselors back then. I was smart but troubled. I was hard to deal with but not disobedient. There was no category wherein to place me and no easy solutions.

In fifth grade I had a male teacher who decided early on he would not be bothered with my tears in his classroom. He placed my desk in the hallway outside his classroom door the second week of school and told me I would remain there until I learned to control my tears. In my own defense I must add, I was not loud or dramatic. I had long since learned to cry in silence, but I was never able to master the ability of holding in those tears that spilled from a heart full of grief, and so my desk remained in the hallway for the entire year. This is a snapshot of my childhood years in school.

My dear sister loved me and treated me as if I were perfectly normal and for that I will be forever grateful. She was the source of much laughter and fun throughout the years and my lifeline to some sense of normalcy without which I do not believe I would have survived. She had her own struggles but they were not the same as my own. She was 4 years older than me and she managed to fit in socially and have a support system that I never was able to latch onto. My parents focused on her accomplishments as all parents do when proud of a successful child, but it cast a shadow over me in a way that made me believe I was not capable of success in social settings, including school, even though grades contradicted that belief.

So, my sister encouraged me again and again after I was an adult telling me she knew I would do well in college. I finally made the call and started the process of applying for admission to Kennesaw State University when I was 22. I started there as a Developmental Studies Student and within a short time I was in the Honors’ Program.

I well remember all those early mornings in the Fall when I would walk across campus with my book bag on my back and an excitement in my heart that I could scarcely hold inside. I was finally in school, doing well, and loving it. No one seemed to know I was older than the majority of students there so for the first time in my life, I fit in in school. It was fabulous!

I transferred to Floyd College when Erick and I got married and completed my core classes and then transferred on to West Georgia where I graduated Summa Cum Laude from the Honors’ Program with a major in Psychology and a minor in Sociology.

I knew I wanted to get a Master’s degree so I applied to West Georgia considering it to be my only real option due to proximity and family responsibilities. I had to take the GRE in order to be accepted and so I did at a testing center where I was able to take it and have my scores accessed directly by the school.

As I sat in the testing center, readying myself for the long exam, there were options that came on the screen asking multiple questions about my background, interests and such. It then asked if I was willing to make my academic records and GRE scores available for colleges and universities throughout the country. I very simply clicked yes. Did I ever even consider what that simple click would mean for my future? Not a chance!

A few weeks later I started receiving information packets from schools all over the US. I would look at them over, then toss them in the trash. Then one day I received a “Dear Prospective Student” letter from Harvard. I paused and then called my sister. In disbelief I asked “is there more than one Harvard?” She said “no why?” And I asked “well, where is Harvard?” And she said “Massachusettes, why, what’s going on?” So I shared with her the letter I was holding in my hand. She went bonkers saying “Oh Good Grief, You’re Going to Go to Harvard!!!” I attempted to calm her by saying “of course I couldn’t and wouldn’t, that I wouldn’t really get in if I applied and I had a family anyway” and on and on I went with how it could never be.

I then shared with Heather and Erick and both insisted I do as the letter invited me to and apply. Harvard offered a 1 year master’s program and offered classes unlike anything I could take here. I could obtain an individualized master’s degree of education with a focus on risk and resilience, trauma and developmental perspectives across the life span. In other words, everything I was interested in studying was available…at Harvard! The master’s program I was going to attend at West Georgia was only offered nights and would take 3 years to complete with no variation for specializing in the way I wanted.

Very, very long story short, I applied, and I got in. Harvard…from High School drop-out, teen mom, grade school outcast to Harvard Graduate Student. How? And why? These are the two questions I have asked over and over again and the answer that is truest in my heart is this. I believed for many, many years of my life that I was worthless, and hopeless. Yet, there was a precious Lord who had heard my prayers time and time again, My Father, who indeed cared about not only my eternal soul, but also my life on earth. He loved me beyond measure and had this special blessing in store just for me.

He knew every detail of my broken heart. He had held in His loving hands every tear that had fallen from my young and questioning eyes. My Abba had a plan for my life….for all of my life! He designed me, not for failure or hopelessness or sorrow, but for a beautiful purpose that accords with His Will. He showed me ever so personally that when He has a plan and we surrender to it, that in His time He will do something so loving, so wonderful, and so amazing. He is trustworthy. He can take all brokenness and heal it perfectly.

He gave me an understanding of suffering that could be used to bring comfort, encouragement and healing to others’ lives. He knew I would give Him all honor and glory for it. Far be it from me to take credit for my education! Who drew the plans for my life? He did. Who gave me the courage to go, knowing I was a dropout and an outcast? He did! Who designed me for this life that I am living in great love? My Abba did! He is wonderful beyond description!

I was raised and taught not to pray about “the natural.” Prayer was to be about salvation and the eternal, limited to the spiritual realm. Life has taught me that the Lord loves His children and cares for our every need. He knows we live in a natural world and there is a work for us to do here. He created this world that we live in and He designed the lives that each of us live. My prayers all those years ago for healing and for His help, guidance and direction were heard, and He answered in ways that only He can; in great and precious abundance, and for that I am forever indebted to His Flawless and Unfathomable Grace!

I’ll share more about Harvard later on. This is my story, though, of how it all began and the experiences I had while there are precious to me and are fondly recalled each year as a new school term begins! We seek education with anticipation and hope for the future and that is always a beautiful thing to be a part of! May God bless every person who reads this with a renewed sense of hope and a deeper trusting of His Perfect Plans!

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