* Dr. Joan Koonce

Professor and Financial Planning Specialist

Dept. of Financial Planning, Housing, and Consumer Economics

View Official UGA Bio

Dr. Koonce’s Spiritual Journey – Up until I was in my mid 30s, I was very sad in life. Life had very little meaning for me. I had a lot of feelings going on inside of me: feelings of inferiority, anger, shame, sadness and grief. I had no peace; I had no joy.

I was born in a small rural area in North Carolina. My father and mother were tenant farmers, so as you would expect, we were very poor. We lived in a small three room shack that the landlord provided with no indoor plumbing. The landlord also provided us with a $50 monthly stipend. We had several huge gardens and raised hogs and chickens, so the $50 was used to buy things we could not grow.

I had six sisters and three brothers, so we had to sleep two and three in a bed. We only had a couple of outfits to wear to school. Because my family was poor and could not afford to buy us many clothes, the children at school ridiculed me. My eyes were crossed when I was a little girl, so they also called me “Cross Eyes.” When my parents got me glasses from the health department, they called me “Four Eyes” and said I had to wear welfare glasses. I felt that something was wrong with me; I felt so inferior to the other children. On Sundays I would get very depressed thinking about going to school the next day. Having to deal with the emotional abuse from the children was almost intolerable. In addition to the ridicule from children at school, I can also remember being called derogatory names from prejudiced whites in our community. After schools integrated, this situation got worse. My self esteem was exceptionally low, and I felt ashamed of who I was and didn’t like myself very much. The only time that I felt a little bit of happiness was at home with my mother, father, sisters and brothers. Even though I knew my family loved me, that situation was not the very best.

I grew up in a very dysfunctional home; my father was an alcoholic, and my mother was under a great deal of stress. My mother was so busy trying to take care of our physical needs that she had no time or energy to worry about our emotional needs. So, as you would expect, there was nothing at home to boost my self esteem. I began to experiment with alcohol at a very early age (about 10 or 11-years-old). At the age of 15 (11th grade), I got pregnant out-of-wedlock. I wanted so desperately to feel that someone loved me.

After graduating from high school, I worked many different jobs. I planted pine trees in the winter for a paper company and worked at several sewing factories. I was drinking more and more at this time. After five years of dead end jobs, I decided to go to college for some reason. I did well in school and I worked hard, but neither took away my feelings of inferiority and binge drinking. I was always working, studying and drinking or just drinking. Because I did well in undergraduate school, I was recruited by The Ohio State University to attend graduate school. I was almost scared to death to go because my self esteem was still very low. After encouragement from my mother and teachers at my undergraduate school I decided to go to graduate school. I always felt inferior to my peers. I met a man while I was in graduate school who physically and mentally abuse me. I dealt with this abuse for so long because I did not feel worthy of a good, kind person.

After I graduated with my Ph.D., I got a job at the University of Georgia. My self esteem was still low, and I was discontent and unhappy. I did not like to think, so I kept busy or drank alcohol to keep from thinking. I met my husband who was a minister in February 1990. He was such a nice person that I thought I wanted to be like him. I stopped drinking alcohol. I wanted to live differently than I had in the past, so I went to a psychiatrist and support groups for help. The psychiatrist and support groups helped me to understand my inner pain and its origin, but neither one could ease the pain that I had felt for the past 30 years.

I was not a Christian at the time, so I privately prayed for God to come into my life and forgive me of my sins. I realized that God loves and forgives those who humans feel are unlovable and unforgivable. I asked Him to take away the pain from my past experiences. God takes the broken and makes them whole. My life proved it. As I got closer and closer to the Lord, the pain gradually disappeared. For the first time in my life, I had a peace that was beyond human understanding. I had finally found what I had been searching for all my life through alcohol and men, and even work and school. Nothing in this world could give me this inner peace, but God. I knew then that it wasn’t really my husband that I wanted to emulate; I wanted to be like Jesus who I saw in him. In March 1994, my husband and I joined Living Faith Fellowship and I started living a Christian life. However, I did not make a public confession of Christ until January 1995. I wanted to make sure that my name was written in the lamb’s book of life and God would remember me on the day of his return, so when the pastor asked the congregation if everyone had made a public confession of Christ, I stood up and prayed the prayer of salvation again out loud.

Since becoming a Christian, I have and still encounter difficult situations: the death of my husband and the addiction and incarceration of my only son. I continue to go through difficult times in life, but I make it through those times by always leaning on God and looking to Him for answers. God does not promise us a life without trials and tribulations. He promises that He will not put more on us than we can bear, and He will be there with us every step of the way. I thank and praise Him each day for what He has and continues to do in my life.