by Judi Seegert - June 25, 2020
There it sat on the floor of our small bedroom at Lake Goodwin, right where I had left it after moving it from our home of nearly 30 years on Camano Island. I hadn’t looked inside that old brown and white tweed suitcase for several years. I always loved that piece of luggage. Dad had used it when he went to college on the GI Bill in 1947, the year after I was born. The purple Kansas State stickers were still quite visible.
Knowing I had some time that day, I decided to look inside. The old leather handle groaned as I lifted it up onto the bed. I remembered that inside was the wooden Illinois Girls State scrapbook overflowing with mementoes. I wondered what other memories awaited. I unclasped the center fastener. The two side latches were left open, as I feared they would permanently lock if I pressed them closed, for the key was long since gone. How I loved the sound they made when I slid the latch buttons that released their grip. That gentle “click” would have to remain a memory.
I raised the top of the suitcase very gingerly, as I knew there were items contained in the brown satin pouches on the lid that might topple out. I was right; my high school diploma hung precariously from the right hand pouch that was no longer taut. I pulled the black leather folder from its white paper sleeve and ran my hand over the gold embossed script, "Forrest ~ Strawn ~ Wing High School Class of 1964 Judith Ann Smith"
As I laid the diploma on the bed beside the suitcase, there was the Illini Girls State scrapbook with its letters raised above the wood grain, overstuffed just as I remembered…a hinge broken. Opening it, I realized that time had robbed the stickiness from the pieces of tape I had used to hold everything in place. Newspaper clippings, photos, pennants, and other items were falling from their assigned positions.
As I sat it aside, I opened a second scrapbook. My eyes fell onto two white computer generated slips of paper with the heading “STUDENT GRADE REPORT Illinois State University.” I slowly picked them up.
My eyes went immediately to the grade column of the first...C, C, B, C, F, D, B. Then, I went to the second…D, B, B, C, C, C, F. I sat on the edge of the bed staring at the 2 F’s that seem to take on a neon glow. Then tears came to my eyes. “How could I have been so dumb as to flunk the Introduction to Political Science, not just once, but two times?” A long forgotten feeling of shame began to fill my heart. All of a sudden I was that 18-year old college freshman again.
School was always difficult for me, but somehow I had managed to make acceptable grades in high school. I knew I would have to apply myself a little more in college, but I was confident that I could handle the work.
However, as I sat there on the edge of the bed, I thought how embarrassing these two report cards would be if my grandkids saw them. “They would be very disappointed in me,” I thought. I felt so ashamed, as I placed one sheet on top of the other and with a firm grip, started to tear them in two pieces. But all of a sudden, I stopped.
In my mind’s eye I could see myself as that young freshman going to the college bookstore and picking up the books required for each class. I could see that huge Poly-Sci book. The texts for Language Composition, Biology Science, and General Psychology were not much smaller, I recalled.
Reading had always been hard for me. It seemed like it took me forever to read anything and then to recall what I read was nearly impossible. I never read for fun because reading wasn’t fun…it was torture.
I enrolled at ISU with a major in P.E. and a minor in Dance, but I became very much aware that all my college texts, including the sports rulebooks, required lots of reading and good recall.
“So why were my high school grades somewhat respectable?” I asked myself. “Maybe my teachers responded favorably to my enthusiasm and outgoing personality rather than my reading, spelling, and grammar skills," I thought.
Looking at those sheets of paper again, I said out loud, “What an embarrassment I must have been to my parents.” That old feeling of shame I had left in the tweed suitcase was consuming me, once again, after almost 45 years.
Frozen on the edge of our bed holding those two “Student Grade Reports” in my hands, God brought to mind that familiar verse from Jeremiah,
“‘For I know the plans I have for you’, declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’”
All of a sudden I realized that God’s plan for my life included that year of failure, as well as the years that followed. “How I wish I had known that verse in 1965,” I thought. No, I hadn’t fulfilled my goal of become the P.E. teacher or dance instructor. God had a different plan. In my teen-age years I didn’t even know God had plans for the lives of people. It wasn’t until I was 23 and pregnant with our first child that my grandmother’s words began to settle into my heart…words like, “Jesus loves you” and “God wants to be part of your life.”
During that pregnancy, I started attending a Bible study and began reading the Bible and remembering what I read. It wasn’t long before I was teaching Bible classes and later speaking at Christian women’s events, conferences, and retreats.
Once our children were enrolled in school, I began volunteering for the school district. Invariably, I was given students who struggled with reading, spelling, and math. Tutoring was a natural for me.
Within a few years, I was hired to tutor the “at risk” middle school students in math and later I was transferred to the high school to help freshmen and sophomores who had a slim possibility of graduating.
As I sat there looking back over my life I questioned, “How could all that be possible, when at 18 I couldn’t read or write well enough to pass Intro to Political Science?” I hadn’t gone back to school or taken any classes to prepare myself for teaching or tutoring. Where did all that come from?
Then, it dawned on me. God used my failures and my deficiencies to help me identify with students who struggled. He gave me a passion for His Word and instilled in me a love of reading, teaching, and learning. I smiled through tears.
Then, Paul's words in I Corinthians 1:26-29 came to my mind, “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God (Oh, how I love those two words, “But God”) chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.” “Amazing”, I said, out loud, “Amazing!”
In those few short minutes, on the edge of our bed next to Dad’s old suitcase, I went from “Ashamed to Amazed”. I grabbed my Bible to read what followed those verses in I Corinthians 1, “It is because of Him that you are in Christ Jesus, Who has become for us Wisdom from God…Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” In that room all alone I responded with a loud, "Yes, thank you, Lord!"
Why do I share this story? To give hope to those who think they are not smart enough or who think they are failures or who think their past robs them of the opportunity to be used by God. If God can use me, dear people, He can use you.
Are you ashamed of something from your past? If so, take it to God, offer it to Him, ask for healing, and then watch Him work to change your "Ashamed to Amazed."