I’m probably the most improbable PhD recipient ever.
This graduation season, I earned my PhD from Dallas Baptist University. My whole family attended to celebrate the end of this five-year ordeal, including my sister, who lives in Houston. My sister, whose memory is far better than mine, reminded me of my early days as a student, days that paint a quite different picture than my latter years. As I’ve reflected on those early experiences during the past several days, I’m once again humbled by an Abba God who brings beauty from ashes.
If you know me only casually, or know me only as a (somewhat) mature 50-year-old man, you may not know that I have dealt with Attention Deficit Disorder my whole life. When I was young, ADD wasn’t the “thing” it is now; you were just an unfocused and inattentive student. I know I annoyed the daylights out of my teachers, God bless them. I know in this day and age we attack teachers for getting frustrated with kids; we put it all on the teachers, and act as though the kids are victims. I think that’s wrong-headed, and does kids a disservice. I think there’s a happy medium between supporting teachers and supporting students–it’s a partnership or collaboration, not a battle. Back then, however, we just didn’t understand it like we do now.
So, I remember very vividly when Mrs. Thomas, my fourth grade teacher, lost it with me. We were supposed to be working on SRAs (reading comprehension) exercises on our own throughout the year. By March, based upon my complete lack of focus, I had completed a grand total of zero SRAs, while my classmates had finished theirs. This, despite Mrs. Thomas reminding me time and time again to complete them. By mid-March, she had enough. She laid into me in front of the whole class, telling me to go down to the office and call my mother, to inform her that, beginning that very afternoon and continuing every day for the rest of the year I would have a 45-minute detention to finish my SRAs. Two months of detention. I made the “walk of shame” down to the office and called my mother. Mom didn’t come up and confront the teacher, or schedule a meeting with the principal, or get on Facebook (which we didn’t have). She just said, “Well, I guess you’d better get to work,” and picked me up 45 minutes later. I think both of them had had enough of me by that time.
I’d love to say that moment was the turning point in my academic career, that those two months in detention were the catalyst for greater learning. But, things didn’t really kick in for me until my junior year in college. Yep, eleven years later. I finally learned that, if I wrote down everything the teacher said in class, and then went to the library, sat still and recopied all my notes again, and did it one more time as I studied for the test, I would actually focus and learn. We didn’t have academic support back then. Some would say I was self-taught, but God taught me how to learn in the way my brain was wired. And, all the pain and humility of years of knowing I was smart enough to do this school stuff, but failing to reach my potential year after year, kicked in all of a sudden. That pain created a powerful drive.
I found out I was actually a good student. I Peter 5 says, “humble yourselves, therefore under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your cares on him, because He cares for you.” All those years of struggling through school taught me to trust in the Lord, to experience humility, to develop empathy and compassion for others, to be resilient, so that Satan can do his best to knock me down every day, but, like Paul when he was stoned, I will get back up, dust myself off, and walk back into Lystra to do God’s work another day. God used those experiences to foster the drive and resolve to carry me through an undergrad degree, a law degree, a Masters in education, and a PhD. And, He carries me through running a school and loving you. Every. Single. Day.
Here’s another happy discovery I made: Turns out ADD is a gift. In my job, with 8,000 things coming at me every day, and 125 people needing me to make decisions about dozens of different things, I can’t afford to dwell on one thing too long. Turns out ADD allows me to focus on their issues, make a decision, and move on to something else. Turns out God knew what He was doing all along, before the foundation of the earth, long before He made me.
You may have a kid like me. You may be exasperated with him or her. You may feel like the world is out to get him or her. He or she may have had a rough year at school. I get it. That’s okay; it’s really all a part of God’s plan for his or her life. Trust in that. There’s a lot more help available to kids these days; we know a lot more now about how to help them study. We can give them tools to learn at a much earlier age than we had. Make sure they get the help they need.
But, don’t coddle them. Don’t attack their teachers; partner with them and support them. Their teachers have bad days, just like you do. Hold your kids accountable, and don’t feel sorry for them. They don’t need your pity, they need your love, and your praise when they do their best, and your patience, and your prayers. School may just be something they have to get through to get on to the great things God has for them in life, or something may click and they may become a great student. Either way, if you will let God do His work and not get in His way, He will mold and shape and make them into amazing men and women who will do great things for God’s Kingdom. Just be patient and trust. God makes the possible spring from the improbable.