Studying God's
Highest Creation


By Janet Ragland

vickiesheaferfeature2.jpgEntering her mentor’s home in late summer of 1995 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Vicki Sheafer was full of dread.  Her high school guidance counselor Suzanne Parker, who had been Vicki’s beloved mentor since Vicki had been in junior high, was battling breast cancer.  Vicki had returned, all grown up, having just completed her inaugural year of teaching psychology classes at LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas. Cancer had ravaged her mentor’s body, which was physically weak from surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation, but Vicki could still see that Jesus was alive and well in the sparkle in her eyes. Vicki went to her mentor’s home to encourage her, but left her mentor’s home that day feeling a new sense of encouragement, herself, about how God was already using her in her new profession to teach students. Her mentor died a few days after that last visit.

“I saw how she helped people, cared about people, and how people were drawn to her,” Vicki said.  Her late mentor had served as her junior high and high school guidance counselor, as well as one of her church youth group leaders. “I went to public schools, so it wasn’t like she was spouting off about the Lord left and right, and yet she was,” Vicki said. “It was in how she treated people.  I wanted to be just like her.”

When Vicki left home for college, she studied psychology as an undergraduate, just like her mentor did.

“Outside of my own parents, she was the one I learned the most from in caring for people,” Vicki said. “She was the most compassionate person I had met in my young life.”

Vicki double-majored in psychology and sociology at Union College then completed her master’s degree and her Ph.D. at Miami University in Ohio. She began teaching psychology at LETU in August 1994, just three months after finishing her doctoral degree in May 1994.

“This is the only ‘real job’ I’ve ever had, and hopefully, it will be my last,” she said, adding that she had always known she wanted to teach. “Whenever we played school as children, I was always the teacher, and my younger sister was my reluctant student.” 

Vicki said she was shy as a child, more so than her younger sister and brother, and it took a while for her go get comfortable with being herself, instead of patterning herself after others. 

“As an undergrad,” Vicki said, “I realized God already had a Suzanne Parker.  He needed a Vicki Sheafer. I can’t be her. I needed to be me.  I realized that God can use everyone. We all have different talents. God made us uniquely. Each has a unique job to fulfill.”

Vicki exceled at school and was a perfectionist who began to allow herself to worry excessively.

“Perfectionism is a two-edged sword,” she said. “On one hand, you are a high achiever, but it also can create deep wounds in your psyche that are really self-inflicted. If you don’t live up to your own expectations, you feel you have let others down or that you are letting God down. It took a long time for me to mature enough to understand that God was going to love me regardless.  Nobody expected perfection but me.”

To come to that understanding, Vicki experienced a particularly dark time in her life, shortly after her divorce, when she ended up in the hospital with clinical depression.  

“I finally realized I don’t have to be perfect, I don’t have to apologize for being who I am, I don’t have to do anything but rest in God’s hands and let Him love me,” she said.   

Vicki understands that the deepest spiritual growth is forged in the valleys of our lives.

“I really wish we learned more on the mountaintops,” she said with a laugh.  “But those hardest lessons have become so precious to me. It is because they were so hard to come by, it was like they were the crucible of the fire that really engraved that on my heart. 

“The Lord has helped me to release me from the fear, guilt and shame that was all self-inflicted,” she said. “You don’t realize that the enemy has hold of your mind. It finally dawned on me, I was living in fear all the time. I’m afraid to screw up.  It kept me from doing a lot of things because I didn’t want to fail.

“God doesn’t want us to live in fear,” she said. “He didn’t give us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.  That’s my favorite translation of that verse in 2 Timothy1:7.  That term, ‘a sound mind’ really speaks to my heart.”

Vicki says that dark experience 13 years ago has enabled her to teach and minister to her students more freely, deeply and purely than ever before, she said.  

“I think some of what comes out of the hard times is compassion, understanding, forgiveness, and you understand grace in a whole new way,” she said. “God redeems the darkest days—if you will let Him.”

VickiSheaferSelbyWinner.jpgToday, Vicki is an award-winning researcher and professor, having twice received LETU’s highest teaching honor—the Robert H. Selby Award for Excellence in Teaching.   Her research interests focus on the scholarship of teaching and learning.  She also is conducting creativity research with engineering professor Dr. Ben Caldwell. (See creativity research story page XX.)

As a social psychologist, Vicki studies people in their social context, how they think about, influence, and relate to one another. 

“We are studying God’s highest creation,” she said. “He made us a little lower than the angels.  And as we study human beings, how can that not be infused with how God created us, what he created us for, and what the devil has attempted to destroy in God’s highest creation?

“When you are training the next generation of Christian psychologists, as Christian professionals, people who are going out and ministering to a lost and dying world, you feel that sense that this is really important work,” Vicki said. “And you want to prepare them the absolute best way you can. A large part of that is not just the knowledge base, but helping them to grow spiritually.

“If students leave here four years later and are just smarter, then we haven’t done what we need to do,” she said. “We need to help them grow spiritually, to help them mature. We need to give them an apologetic. We need to impart some of that passion, not only for the profession, but for the people they will be ministering to.”