God's Plan For A Painful Past

March 29, 2006
How the counseling center 'saved the life' of one alumna

Like many Baylor girls before me, I fell in love with a boy in front of Pat Neff Hall on a tree swing. Usually falling in love for the first time brings joy, hope and butterflies in one's stomach; falling in love for the first time brought me a crippling fear. I worried about my boyfriend finding out about my family and my past. This fear of love and loss reached a crescendo at the end of the year when we broke up, but the problem started long before that.
Right before I enrolled in kindergarten, my mom divorced my stay-at-home daddy. I didn't understand why we moved away suddenly and often, why my mommy was afraid and I couldn't see my daddy anymore. It wasn't until I was 8 years old that I understood my mother's fear. She told me my daddy had killed some people and that he and his new wife would be going to jail forever.
My childhood remained erratic for several more years until my mother remarried when I was in middle school. By age 12, I had experienced several lifetimes of abuse, trauma and crisis, but I still wanted to be a normal girl. In a new town with a new last name from my stepdad, I tried to blend in -- and since no one we knew read the San Francisco newspapers or true crime books, no one knew about the "San Francisco Hippie Killers" or their circus of a trial. My father and stepmother, Michael and Suzan Carson, no longer existed because I had erased them from my life. No one needed to know about them or my traumatic past.
In high school, though, I realized that I did not have a tattoo on my head that labeled me as the daughter of a serial killer. I was free to be anonymous. I spent my days running from one advanced placement class to the next; on the weekends, I would attend church and baby-sit to pay for private voice lessons. I was trying to be "normal" and it was working.
From the outside, I appeared to be the perfect daughter and the perfect student. I looked equally perfect on paper, but like most prospective college freshmen, there was more to me than the numbers on my admissions application. Along with sheets and towels, new college students arrive with 18 years of unique experiences, and I was no exception.
My first several semesters of college went great. I enjoyed my classes, my new friends and the freedom of being on my own. I finally felt like I had a life that was free of my past. But my college romance and breakup triggered my unaddressed grief, anger and sorrow. I began missing classes and assignments. I pushed my loved ones away as my behavior became erratic and self-destructive. I felt lost, alone and out of control.
When I wished I was dead, a dear friend at Baylor dragged me kicking and screaming to the counseling center. Then, I started seeing my counselor weekly. For the first time, I spoke about my childhood of abuse and trauma. I didn't feel better overnight but every day I began to feel stronger and healthier. I realized that I didn't need to pretend to be perfect or normal. All I needed to do was realize that God loved imperfect people like me.
A year after graduation, I finally conquered this horrible bout of depression -- and realized that the Baylor Counseling Center literally had saved my life. I began teaching in an inner-city school in Washington, D.C., with Teach for America and earned my graduate degree in counseling from George Washington University. Much like my therapist at Baylor, I have spent my subsequent career providing counseling to "at-risk" students in a school setting. I now frequently speak publicly about my experience and serve as an advocate for kids impacted by crime and parent incarceration.
I believe that God has a plan for every young person that crosses my path just like I believe that God has a plan for every young person who enrolls in Baylor. Some of these students need more support than others, but as a Christian institution, Baylor has made a commitment to be "good Samaritans" and help those in need. Although I am just one person who has been helped by the Baylor Counseling Center, the services I received have empowered me to help myself and then go on to help hundreds of other young people.

Jenn Carson, BA '96, the day she graduated from Baylor (above left) and as a little girl with her father (right). Carson is now a child therapist in Phoenix. She has shared her story with an Arizona news program, the Hallmark Channel and Marie Claire magazine.
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