Honestly, I thank God for prodding me to unleash who I am. It wasn’t until I read some of the other Unleashed stories that it dawned on me how utterly important it is for us to share our stories. It’s entirely possible to forget our story and become oblivious to the power that’s embedded within. In fact, I literally thought to myself, “I don’t have a story to tell!” At other times, I pondered, “Which story do I tell?” Then, there were times I thought, “Who am I kidding, I haven’t arrived! I’m not worthy to speak!” The struggle continues…but, God!
…But, God! That pretty much sums up my life. I like how those words are found in scripture as well.
…But, God! What a great way to bespeak of the magnificent providence of God.
“…But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up with him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…” (Ephesians 2:4-6 RSV)
God has been so good to me. By all rights, I shouldn’t be here. I shouldn’t be a college graduate or a happy, healthy, functioning member of society. No one in my immediate family had graduated from college. It seemed a reality for the “haves” of life, and I was a “have not.” All of my friends from Michigan City, Indiana, were well engrossed with alcohol, sex, and drugs before leaving junior high. A reality I might have gotten lost in, too…but, God!
I recall going back to my home town to visit as a preteen and being flabbergasted by how hopeless both adults and youth alike had become. Drugs and alcohol became the community’s soother of pain. People needed an apparent crutch to face each new day. My parents fled the city in hope of saving their children. Their girls “made it” to college while their boys did not.
We moved to Madison, Wisconsin, and were out of harm’s reach to some degree, but not fully. There were other demons to contend with: sexual abuse, incarcerations, addictions, and disenfranchisement. Before long, I found myself in foster care. This was devastating to the family. I would become a ward of the state until I became of age. This could have been a tragedy…but, God! I wound up having some of the most wonderful families to look out for me. Even when I found myself in group homes and juvenile detention, the Lord had His hands upon me and carried me through it all with a sense of peace that transcended understanding.
In addition to foster care, I was referred to special education, labeled emotionally disturbed by the time I reached junior high, and was placed in a self-contained classroom. This was utterly heart-breaking for me. I recall comparing class lists with my peers on the first day of junior high as we excitedly waited for the bell to ring, but no one had my class. It took me a very long time to find my class down a dark lonely hall. When I opened the door, I saw two or three desks and a student everyone knew was significantly cognitively disabled. I remember standing at the doorway and crying. How had this happened? I was a lover of knowledge. I was a people person. I sorely longed to be with my peers and learn all the things I needed to learn in junior high to prepare me for high school. Why hadn’t I been warned of this? What interventions took place before this fateful reality took place? Sadly enough, I learned very little in junior high. Although I was labeled emotionally disabled, I was treated as though I was cognitively disabled. I went on to high school destined to drop out by the rate of learning I had been doing. Not only that, but my own battles with self-soothing/afflicting measures were beginning to get the best of me as well…but, God!
Somehow, someway, the Lord always had a “ram in the bush” for me. It didn’t matter where I landed — detention, shelter homes, or foster homes — God touched the hearts of those around me to love and care for me in a special way. For instance, while in a shelter home for youth, one worker took me to her dentist to get root canals for my teeth on her dental plan because she felt my teeth and my smile were too beautiful to lose. In juvenile detention, the director took a liking to me and allowed me to visit the main office outside of the secured area as often as I pleased in order to receive pep talks. In foster care, I traveled to Haiti, Louisiana, and countless other adventurous places of exposure. It was in foster care that I learned to better know myself and to practice disciplines that I would carry with me into adulthood.
My foster families modeled love, wisdom, structure, and the privilege and power of an education. I learned to dream, to apply myself, and to embrace the pursuit of health and happiness. I lived with professionals who opened their homes to me without judgment and gifted me with space, patience, and direction at pivotal moments in my life. Sometimes, simply offering a peaceful abode can mean all the difference in a young person’s life. I am so grateful for every family that opened their home to me during my times of need. Deposits were made that indeed bore good fruit. I dared to dream because others believed in me. I wanted to make my believers proud, and I learned to dream a dream for me. I learned to believe in me. I cherish those connections. I am in contact with at least four significant foster families even now. In fact, one former foster mother and I are walking buddies. We get together a couple of times each week to walk and talk.
It’s such a blessing to see the pride in their eyes, knowing they played a part in my success. I wouldn’t have made it without the loving help of the “village.” It truly takes village to raise a child. I wish I had found the same kind of love and support during my elementary years prior to the special education referral. I strongly feel I was too quickly identified as incorrigible. I can only recall two educators in all of elementary who were not automatically intimidated by my size and color, who believed in me and held high expectations for me. It’s amazing what kids will do when you believe in them and care for them. I became a special educator in part to be a source of hope for others. I long to be the kind of educator that inspires greatness in others. One of my favorite quotes says, “ a teacher’s task is to take a lot of live wires and see that they are well grounded.”
Truly, I love loving others. This has become quite natural for me, especially in light of the love I received over the years. Interestingly, learning to love me hasn’t come so easily. After receiving the Lord as an adult, my love for others skyrocketed. I knew what it felt like to be counted out, and I refused to do that to others. However, too often, I’d count myself out. I would always downplay myself and accept less than the best, my best, God’s best. It has been a difficult thing to desire, to accept, and to demand for myself what God desires for me. This has been one of the most difficult tasks I am yet in the midst of honoring. Not fully loving myself for so many years makes it extremely easy or tempting to yield to unfruitful relationships, whereby I jeopardize being unequally yoked. I am constantly tempted to jump in the driver’s seat of my love life and direct for myself whom I will…but, God!
One thing’s for sure: God’s providence is clear. He took the child of a destitute family and allowed her to become a first generation college graduate. He took a special education student and made her a special education teacher. He is the author and finisher of my faith, and He is able to carry me throughout all my days. I trust His direction and surrender my will for His will! I am determined to continually unleash His love to the world in the self-same way He allowed the world to unleash a bounty of love for me in my most significant times of need. With love, I have worked with youth for over twenty years. In the world of special education, I am drawn to those labeled, as I once was as EBD (or “emotionally/behaviorally disabled”). I have a great tolerance and patience for this work, and I am able to build rapport with students and help them to better manage their behaviors. At Zion City International Church Ministries, where I am licensed as a minister, our goal is to inspire and unleash the next generation of Christian leaders. We invest time and energy with our youth because we believe faith without works is dead. We plan trips to youth camps, concerts, colleges, museums, open mic nights, and more. I spread love through our jail ministry, our women’s ministry, and other local grassroots organizations and committees. Moreover, eventually I intend to train for foster parenting. Now these three things remain: faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is love!
Barbara (Bobbi) Simpson, M. Ed.
Special Educator of M.M.S.D. at Gompers Elementary
Evangelist of P.A.W. at Zion City Int’l Church Ministries
Loving mother of 7th grade daughter, Jasmine
Photos by Lisa Wilcox Photography