From the time we are born we are changing or transforming. We don’t often think about transformation in that way, we simply see it as part of a natural process. What made me think about this is the fact that I have had to transform in order to achieve the things that were important to me — e.g., good grades, college education, job, promotion, etc.– or to pursue more personal things like a happy marriage, peace of mind, a spiritual connection with God, passion and purpose.
Each pursuit required a change in my thinking and behavior, which ultimately changed who I was and how I identified me to myself and to others. I’ve come to understand my transformational process as similar to something that happens in nature… For example, when a snake matures (stay with me!), it must shed its outer skin in order to grow. It’s called molting. If it does not shed its skin, it dies — it smothers in its old skin. I believe we humans are often prone to the same thing because we choose not to change our “skin,” meaning our thinking in order to pursue something new and different, especially when we know that our old skin no longer fits us.
I can usually tell when my “skin” is too tight because things that used to be okay for me to think or do suddenly aren’t anymore. I can’t explain how or why it happens, I just know that it does. I’ve tried to reason these times away, but I can’t; something has changed and I have to stop and figure out what.
I remember having some thoughts about returning to school to pursue a Masters Degree. I was working at a university at the time when this thought became more pervasive: I was dreaming about a Masters degree, people I normally didn’t hang around were discussing returning to school to get one, and I started noticing the conversation on television. It was everywhere!!
At that time, I had just really started exercising my faith in God – I had accepted Jesus Christ when I was 12 years old, but I had not fully committed my life to Him until I was in my mid-30′s. As a result, when things were going well, God and I had a good relationship. When they weren’t, I wouldn’t talk to God for months or sometimes years. Fortunately, God used that time to prepare me for a deeper walk with Him.
So, here I was with this desire that seemingly came out of nowhere to pursue a Masters degree. I was afraid and definitely feeling: “I was fortunate to get through undergrad, how will I ever make it through graduate school with a husband, two small children (1 and 4 years of age) and a full-time job?”
I decided after much prodding from God to at least apply for admission. The university required that I do four things: (1) complete the application form, (2) secure two letters of recommendation, (3) submit my undergraduate transcript and (4) respond to a question on the application. I was good with steps #1-3, but stumbled on #4 because I didn’t know how to articulate what I wanted to share with the committee that would decide my fate.
Should I tell them that I was a first-generation student who had to learn how to do college successfully and that my grades in my freshman year, in particular, were a perfect example of that struggle? Should I also mention that I was in an abusive relationship during that time that affected my ability to focus on school? Should I further mention that it was the first time that I realized that I was a “minority” student because in all of the schools that I attended, I was in the majority? Should I also mention that I struggled with insecurity because of what it meant to me to be a “minority” in a predominately white selective university and that the first time I was called a “ni___er was in undergrad? Or how I entered college wanting to become a physician, but found my passion in anthropology; so please don’t look at my pre-med grades because they pertained to a different dream?
I was paralyzed by all of the thoughts of what I should say that would make a difference to the selection committee.
In the midst of my confusion, one of my professors gave me a letter that helped put it all into perspective. He recounted my confusion, but he said that if the committee looked deeper into my transcript and into my life, they would see a woman who had triumphed over many adversities to arrive at a 3.5+ GPA in anthropology, which was the graduate program to which I was applying. My stumbles, he said, were learning opportunities that I took full advantage of. God bless that man for turning my pain and disillusionment into a testament of my determination. I didn’t see it that way, but he did! That letter helped to reshape my thinking, but I was still afraid of how my words in my essay would be viewed.
Fear gripped me for several weeks. So much so, that I couldn’t write. I had completed all of the application except the essay. Then something miraculous happened: a stranger’s words moved me from fear to faith…
Every year during the undergraduate college application process, thousands of students apply and are admitted. Schools then schedule receptions to help the students and their parents take one good look at the college before making their final decision. It was during one of these activities on a Saturday that I met the father of a prospective student. He asked me about my educational background and I responded that I had earned my degree at the university. I then mentioned that I was applying to graduate school in anthropology. We exchanged a few more pleasantries and walked away from each other.
Near the end of the program, he found me and asked me a question that changed my life. He said,” How close are you to completing your application?” I thought it strange that someone that I didn’t know would be that interested or pushy, but I responded that I simply needed to complete the essay. He then responded, “So what I hear you saying is that you’re standing in your way!” What could I say! He was absolutely right and I knew that God sent him to get me unstuck.
I thanked him for his candor and decided to trust God for the result. So, after I repented to God for my lack of faith because I knew that He had put the idea of a Masters Degree in my heart, I completed the essay that evening. I turned it into the graduate office that Monday, and as they say, the rest is history!
The old skin of my undergraduate experiences that I deemed a failure and God reframed as preparation for something new required me to step out of my comfort zone. It was scary, but I couldn’t stay where I was – it was clear that I had to choose to move or stay stuck in my old skin.
Did you know that a snake has to bump and scrape against rough objects in order to shed its skin? Humans must do the same; however we call them trials and setbacks. And they are often the catalyst to our transformation IF we are willing to pay the price!
I truly believe in the tenet that “When the student is ready, the teacher will come.” When I consider the “bumps and scrapes” of the struggle to earn the first degree, the input of the professor that gave me a new perspective that strengthened me mentally for a new struggle, the support of my dear husband, family and friends, and the final push of a complete stranger who God used to remind me that the Masters was His idea and not mine, I realized that I was compelled to move forward.
Every change in my thinking precipitated the change in my life: my decision to leave an abusive relationship came before I actually left. My decision to attend college prepared me to do those things that would enable me to attend college. The decision to agree with God to pursue two advanced degrees preceded my actions to apply to graduate school. In fact, every time I have felt led by God to do anything, it required me to change my thinking in order to do what I believed God was calling me to do.
How many times did I miss an opportunity because I refused to think differently? How many blessings, as a song says, had “my name on them” and I refused to entertain the thought that maybe I should go and get whatever God had or has for me?
How long did I stay in my old skin? In the future, how long will I stay in old skin when I know it is squeezing me and cutting off my circulation…I mean my opportunities?
Hopefully, I will be more aware of my ill-fitting skin, the decision(s) that will be required of me to think and choose differently, and more open to the bumps and scrapes that must occur in order to get to that new part of my life. I wish the same for you!