A Few Things That Shaped Me

First of all, I believe in miracles because I’ve seen them. I’ve been the recipient of blessings beyond what I would have thought to ask for. That will make a believer out of a person. It did me.

I used to be embarrassed by many of the experiences I have had – especially decisions I made as a young person that I would not make as an older person, but then I became a teacher and learned compassion for myself as I was able to see the young me in the faces of the dear students who have made their way to my office to share broken hearts and regrets.

When healing is the goal, we have to lay aside a bit of pride and be willing to share what we’ve learned from mistakes, sin, and failure. I’ve learned much the hard way. Maybe I can spare others by sharing.

The early years of my life offered difficult challenges that laid the foundation for the work I would do as an adult. I just didn’t know it at the time. I would never have guessed it, but I’m grateful that I can see the merciful Hand of The Lord at work from the beginning when I look back. He was always there.

The early loss of my aunt to suicide and the resulting family grief of which I’ve written already cannot be overstated. Another experience that had profound impact was Daddy’s rheumatoid arthritis that became debilitating for a time forcing him into temporary retirement. I well remember Mama having to help him dress himself when he came off the long-haul trucking so swollen and stiff he could scarcely move. Our family lost our health insurance and the pre-existing condition made it a battle from then on to obtain decent coverage at an affordable price. We just went without it for years. Getting sick or injured took on a whole new stress for all of us, and I was just a young kid. I’ve never forgotten nor have I taken health insurance for granted…

Personality is strongly influenced by genetics. I’ve learned that studying psychology. We all come into this world with a temperament that we do not choose. I was sensitive from the start, and I’m still sensitive 50 years into this experiment. My disposition readied me to absorb the emotions of the family, and I did. I took everything right to the heart. I still do…

I never seemed to have too many relationships with those my age growing up. I was more comfortable either taking care of children younger than me or having conversation and friendship with those much older than me. I was, as some would say, “an old soul.” I loved laughter and play, but there was a serious side to me that was easily distracted from lighthearted interaction and drawn toward the heavy, and I always wanted to be able to lessen the hurt in the world; never seemed to be able to accomplish that as a child.

I never should have, but I did. I started dating at 14, and I married at barely 15. I had not been 15 for a whole month when I took the plunge (over in Alabama because it was illegal in GA even with a parent’s signature). That should have been a clue! Pregnant at 16 and a mother at 17 – life had taken on wheels and I was on a mountain headed south. What a ride…

I had quite a dose of OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder), and becoming such a young mother seemed to rev that up. Though young and ignorant, I was able to recognize the potential for negatively impacting my child as a result of my persistent and intense anxiety so at 18 I sought help from a psychologist. That decision eventually led to me furthering my education. The psychologist strongly encouraged me to get back to school. The first thing I did was get a GED. Then, I decided to take typing classes. I went once and realized all I needed was the book and a typewriter so I borrowed a typewriter, bought the book, and taught myself at home to save the money that taking an actual class was going to cost.

Soon after, I was hired to work at a bank and going to work proved helpful to me not just financially (and there was a serious need for that). I enjoyed working with the public and having a job that kept my mind and hands busy. Marriage was hard. I was woefully unprepared for it, and yet, there I was. I’ll never forget the overwhelming weight I felt from responsibility and life-long commitment both to marriage and to motherhood, and with the heaviness was added guilt over the feelings and no way to make them go away. I never wanted that for my own kids or for anyone else. That is why I offer caution about early dating. A person needs to know who they are and have emotional as well as mental maturity before they can offer themselves in marriage in a healthy way. I had neither, but there I was…

When my daughter started to kindergarten, I started to college. I had dropped out of high school at the end of 9th grade so I was very concerned that I might not do well. The admissions folks at Kennesaw State offered their vote of confidence following entrance exams that they said I did well on. The folks at the GED testing center had also encouraged me to go to college when they gave me the results of my scores. I had to try. I knew I would never get over the embarrassment of being a drop out if I didn’t.

About a year into college, I divorced. We had struggled and were both miserable. I was the one who initiated divorce. That is one long story I’ll not tell as it involves other folks, other perspectives, and lives I wish no harm. I will only share about my emotions and struggles around it. Seemed everyone had an opinion. That is always the case… I stopped going to church, but I learned that the church building does not house my Lord, nor does He leave us when we need Him most. He taught me more through the years out of church than I could ever pen. I’ll never forget the Sundays I spent in quiet – feeling His loving presence and marveling at His grace. I am NOT suggesting people shouldn’t go to church. I am simply acknowledging that The Good Lord continued to draw me to Himself when I felt unwanted by many and misunderstood by all. He is faithful even when we are not, and for that I give Him praise…

Erick and I married and I moved to Rome. I finished my core classes at GA Highlands and then transferred to University of West GA where I completed a BA in Psychology and a minor in Sociology. I was invited into the Honor’s Program which allowed me to study in small groups with dedicated students and with much more professor-student interaction. This, along with taking graduate courses as independent studies while still an undergraduate, laid the foundation for success in graduate level coursework. I had an amazing advisor who recommended I take graduate courses while still an undergraduate. He explained I couldn’t yet get graduate credit for them, but I was ready for the challenge and would learn more. He knew that learning was my goal and His suggestion worked well for me.

After graduation, I received the invitation from Harvard to apply there. I did, and then I went. That experience taught me how to learn in a competitive environment. I learned how to articulate my thoughts in debate and how to listen to those from vastly different backgrounds. There were people from all over the world, and we got along despite differences. In fact, we found we had so much to learn from one another. Many Americans who were in graduate school there had gone to private schools their whole lives. I had never been to private school. I didn’t even go to kindergarten! I didn’t find another high school drop out the whole time I was there, and I didn’t find many southerners either 🙂 Though I suspected I would feel like a real outsider there, I did not. I found people interested in the journey that led me there and in what inspired me to study and learn. I had the same interest in them. We learned as much from one another as we learned from our studies. I also learned I could go to a completely unfamiliar place and be fine. I could make friends, do meaningful work, and enjoy it. In many ways, I grew up while there – away for the first time from what was familiar.

The 5 years following my return home after graduating with my masters also helped shape and solidify my worldview. I had studied the Bible from childhood. Then I studied psychology, sociology, and education. Working at the hospital with mental health and substance abusing patients gave me insight into suffering, coping, faith, and compassion that I could not have obtained any other way. The truth of scripture was revealed from one life story to another to another as I listened to people pour out their hearts when they were on the bottom. Remember, I’m a sensitive soul, and I absorbed much of what they shared – both the positive and the negative. Once in a while, not often, I would go home and weep. I would just let it all come pouring out in tears and would pray for healing and peace everywhere it was needed. It was good for me to listen. It was good for me to be touched deeply, and it was good for me to be able to offer care – even if that is all I could give. Caring matters…

I took four years off from work to be home with Noah when he was little. When he started to PreK, I started teaching at Shorter University. I have found great joy in teaching, but I wouldn’t be nearly as prepared to teach had I not spent 5 years working in the hospital. It amazes me that I can still remember faces and details of many of the patients I saw. That is what happens when you are able to enter fully into the present moment with others in crucial times. Seemed I was able to forget about most everything else when with a patient in crisis. I knew I was being trusted with hearts and that is a trust worth honoring. The result is that they taught me lessons learned in the deepest places of human suffering and it changed me – it grew me.

So, I look back and see a little kid from the country who learned early of life’s sorrows. We had everything we needed, but we had common lives. There was nothing to indicate early on that I would have such vast and unique experiences, and that though I made some terrible choices, The Good Lord was able to use it all for a good purpose. I didn’t even know where Harvard was when they sent me that letter inviting me to apply. How can anyone explain me getting that letter when thousands who seek Harvard out are rejected every year. It wasn’t even on my radar screen, yet that is where I ended up, and I did just fine – even short 3 years of high school. Yep, I believe in miracles. I believe God wills and purposes His plans to come to pass and He blesses beyond measure. I believe it because I’ve lived it. Looking into my Noah’s eyes on our recent visit with him, I said, “Son, I know things you don’t yet know.” Those are some weighty and honest words. I have full confidence in The Lord’s ability to make beauty from ashes, to give life in place of death, and to make all things new. I’m waiting for it…

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2 Responses to A Few Things That Shaped Me

  1. Cindy Early says:

    Andrea, I don’t know you well, but I greatly admire you. I learn life lessons from reading your stories. To see you, you would never know the troubles you have endured and overcome. I truly admire you. I pray for you and your family. I know God will use Noah as he used you. Please continue your stories because I really do gleam life lessons from them.

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