I am sharing to let everyone know that I have published a book of sermons! “Who May Dwell on Your Holy Hill?” is the first in what I hope to be a long, fruitful, life-giving career in writing and publishing. For anyone who has enjoyed my blogs, I think you will enjoy my sermons as well. They can be used for devotionals (they aren’t too long!) or for other preachers looking for sermon illustrations or for anyone who simply enjoys scripture, theological reflection, and stories. And please feel free to share with your friends! You can order my book here:
“Bones” is a TV show that I highly enjoy, and I was frustrated when I couldn’t find a way to watch the final season when it was on television. I had watched it for years and I needed to see the conclusion! Now, a year later, I found the series on Amazon Prime. I love when a good TV show has a satisfying ending, and this one did not disappoint. While watching the series finale today, I had a startling realization that put my life in perspective.
This time 5 years ago, I was preparing for my final Sunday at my first church job. I was leaving the church with immense pain and bitterness. I was planning to give up my aspirations to go to seminary. I was about to start a miserable four months working in a call center.
Working at the call center, I went to a dark place. I felt like I had wasted my college degree. I thought my dream to go into ministry was over. I was still freshly grieving the loss of my grandfather. There were other pains and disappointments that piled up on top of each other as friends decided not to be there for me when I needed them. I was depressed for the first time in my life.
To numb the pain, I would come home and watch hours of Netflix. I desperately needed an escape from my everyday life. (I am not endorsing television as a replacement for therapy. At the time I couldn’t afford it, and that’s a real thing. Everyone deserves a right to healthcare, mental healthcare included!) While there were other shows I watched, I distinctly remember watching hours and hours of Bones. The stories were entertaining, the characters endearing, the relationships heart warming, and most importantly of all, these people made enormous sacrifices in their personal lives to work the careers they were passionate about. This show distracted me from my grief, my defeat, my failure, my miserable job. It gave me hope that I would one day have a career I cared deeply about like they did.
As we know, I got a new job a local nonprofit, came out of depression, applied to seminary, and I’m now on the other side of all of that.
I didn’t go through a “honeymoon” phase with my new church. I have had my rose colored glasses shattered a long time ago. I know the church can be both a beautiful, yet broken place. I had rough week last week, and instead of it being a sobering “reality check” I began questioning things as I have on this entire journey. I have had to fight harder than many of my other colleagues to get where I am today (and I know that due to my status as a white, straight, cis-gendered woman, there are others who’ve had to work harder than me.) I have been through the ringer to get to this place, and my instinct is to question and doubt because this is what these forces have wanted me to do.
But things were settled and I had a couple successes to re-energize me in my ministry. I also had strong words of encouragement from friends. I am called, I am here.
So as I watched the finale of Bones, I have realized that I am where I desperately wanted to be. I watched this show end as someone who accomplished what she set out to do. I watched the show with completely different eyes, as a source of entertainment, not as an escape. With my rose colored glasses being destroyed long before seminary, I know I haven’t “arrived.” My career is not perfect and will never be. But I am where I am supposed to be. Life’s not perfect, but it is so much better now than when I was at my lowest point. I am grateful to have been given this new perspective to reaffirm my place and my calling.
This blog post may end up being fairly disjointed, so apologies in advance. I just have some weird thoughts that I want to write down.
“Liminal space” is a term used commonly in seminary as we learn about pastoral care. In fact, it’s one we use ad nauseam, but when you find yourself in transition you’re grateful to have a term to give the weird place you’re in a name. Liminal space is known as a threshold, a beginning, a transition, a period of waiting for something to start, and all the complicated feelings that come with it.
You would think I would have dealt with my “liminal space” when I had just graduated and was preparing to move. And in some ways that is true. I felt proud, excited, and accomplished to finally have graduated from seminary. I was nervous and filled with some dread about packing and moving. I was sad to be leaving CTS and my community there. And I felt odd, loose, free floating when I no longer belonged to the CTS community, but hadn’t yet established my new community in my new church.
So here is where I find my emotions to be complex and difficult to articulate. I had a lot of my expectations of this new stage undermined. I didn’t expect to have everything go smoothly or to have my ministry all figured out in a month (HAHAHA no.) But I thought I would be out of the weird space by now. I thought I would be in a new weird space of being in a new place, and that I would have moved on from the transitional feeling by now. So let me try to explain:
My identity was stolen right before I moved. A credit card was opened in my name and someone was making expensive purchases. Apparently I caught it quickly, but it was frustrating especially since I was literally putting boxes into cars to be moved from one state to another.
Then mine and Andy’s furniture came early, which sounds like it would have been a good thing. But the driver arrived at 8pm with our furniture,and he couldn’t find any workers to hire who were willing to come in that late at night. So he unloaded the truck ALL BY HIMSELF. We helped unpack and set everything up, which we shouldn’t have had to do since we were paying for full service moving. But it wasn’t this guy’s fault! I felt so bad for him, and we were glad to help this guy, but we were justifiably aggravated at the company.
We were promised to have our internet and cable set up the day after we moved in. We didn’t get them until a week later.
Our cat, Blinky, had been sick for a few months. He kept sticking his tongue out and drooling. He had a mouth infection that apparently came from home cleaning products. We had always been careful not to get anything in his food and water, but breathing in the chemicals was enough to poison him and rot some of his teeth. Andy took him to the vet and he had 7 teeth removed. He is doing so much better now, but it sucks knowing you made your cat sick just by using every day products.
It’s been a bumpy road and we’ve done well handling it, but you just don’t expect all of these curve balls being thrown your way.
Now Andy and I are home in Tennessee, and being home feels weird. Usually I am thrilled and at peace to be here. But I feel troubled, unsettled. Maybe it’s because we’ve left Florida so soon after moving there; we’re clearly still settling in. It feels like we’ve left something important undone. Also, things are changing. We’ve got parents with some health struggles, and a grandparent on the verge of losing her independence. I expected to be happy here in Tennessee, but I feel like I shouldn’t be here.
I currently have either laryngitis or allergies; I have been hoarse for 3 days. I have no idea what’s going on, and I am getting ordained tomorrow. I am genuinely worried. I have waited for this day and worked so hard to get here. I spent hours planning the service. I have literally dreamed about my ordination day. Whenever I had a difficult time in seminary and felt like giving up, I would think about the hymns I would want to sing on my ordination day or picture the laying-on-of-hands. But now I am afraid that I won’t be able to speak tomorrow. I’ve had such great expectations for this day, and on the eve of such an important day I’m filled with anxiety and dread.
I guess I just expected to have gotten some form of “settled” by now and that I would no longer be in the liminal space. But here I am, still kind of floating and trying to piece things together. I’m navigating all of the undermined expectations, and hoping things work out (while taking Sudafed and drinking TheraFlu.)
There’s no neat “wrap up” to this blog, because, well, I’m still making sense of it all. I’ll let you know when I’m feeling grounded again.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favor to the skillful; but time and chance happen to them all. -Ecclesiastes 9:11
So, I am still planning on finishing the Bible in 90 days.
I’m just ridiculously behind.
I got behind during graduation, but caught up.
Only to get behind while traveling to Canada, immediately followed by our apartment hunting trip to Florida.
Then I started to catch up. But we had 2 weeks to pack everything and get out of our apartment.
And now we’ve been living in Florida almost a week.
Where am I in my study?
Where should I be?
But I can and will catch up! I will finish on schedule! I am finally getting into the rhythm of life again (more about life in Florida later. I have too much to figure out and get a handle on before I can write about it all!)
Anyway, the read through is tough. There is a lot of skimming. I am running into troubling passages about genocide, rape, and murder, and I can’t really sit in the pain of those passages. They trouble me but I must keep moving on to meet my goal. I knew going into this project that I would get frustrated by breezing through the Bible, so I was ready for this. It’s a good reminder how important it is to really delve into scripture instead of just reading it at face value.
Despite the challenges, I am glad to be doing this. I am absorbing the stories and the language, even if I’m missing the details. It’s also really helping me as I am writing a (fairly) comprehensive Biblical curriculum for the youth group this coming school year. We’re going through the whole Bible; we might miss a couple books and we can’t hit all the stories, but we’re studying scripture as a whole story. We’re talking about God’s covenantal faithfulness, sin and restoration, justice and community, as one story woven together. Right now I’m working with the title “The Holy Story,” but we’ll see if I stick with that. Biblical literacy is not only important for me in my life, but also for my ministry and the people I teach. I will be using music, movie clips, acting, and other creative activities to engage scripture. I’ll hit some tough topics and important topics so that the youth will see just how relevant scripture is. We’ll talk about mental health, vocation, pain and suffering, consent, abuse, self love and celebrating gifts, etc. I will also be using The Bible Project youtube videos to break down these books and the complex ideas represented in them. We’re learning about the whole Bible in numerous ways through media, activities, creativity, and the reading of scripture. While I am breezing through scripture now, we won’t be this upcoming year.
Between my read through, reading The Essential Bible Companion, creating this curriculum, and watching all of the Bible Project videos, I feel like scripture is truly sinking in and providing the firm foundation I need. I hope to be one of those people who just “know” scripture. I have a long way to go, but I’m on my way.
Seminary is by far the hardest thing I’ve done so far in my life. I remember getting to the end of my first year, looking at other seminaries and even other master’s programs to seek other career options, trying not to freak out over the fact that I still had 3 whole years left. I thought graduation day would never come.
Some people come to seminary for only 1-2 years. Many come for 3 years for the MDiv program. I chose Dual Degree, which combined the 2 year MAPT program with the 3 year MDiv program, for a total of 4 years at CTS. It was daunting to think that I would be here so much longer than many of my peers.
After the halfway mark of finishing two years, I finally made peace with four years. Around that time there was a shift in the social atmosphere at CTS. Exclusivity and power-cliques were being called out, and more people were stepping out of their exclusive groups to promote inclusivity. I started to finally feel at home at CTS. Graduation was still far off, but I didn’t mind so much.
At the end of my third year, I began to see the light at the end of the tunnel. I was sad to see so many of my peers graduate. Many of them had been with me through my entire seminary career up until this point. But I looked around and noticed that there were so many of us who had chosen the two-degree, four-year program. We were sticking it out together. And the majority of my friends were in the class that had entered seminary the year after me. I knew that I was going to be fine.
I overloaded a few semesters so that my final year would be lower stress. After hours of Hebrew and Greek keeping me up late, after an especially tough semester when I wrote about 80 pages in 3 months, after struggling through and passing my ordination exams, I had a lighter load my final year. I interned at two small rural churches, I interned at the Outreach and Advocacy Center in downtown Atlanta working with people experiencing homelessness, and I took numerous electives. I enjoyed my work and I enjoyed my classes. It was a relief to take a breath during this last year and just enjoy the last months of my seminary education. It also freed me up to interview at churches to find a job for after graduation.
I was so excited for graduation day, counting down the days. People would approach me through the year and ask how many days we had left! At long last, I knew graduation was coming. But I also enjoyed my time. I took pleasure in my classes, my friends, the campus community, and all of the “lasts” (last dinners, lunches, meetings.) I wanted to savor the moments, not wish them away, as I looked forward.
I dreamed about graduation day for four years. The actual day was even more exciting and even more joyful than I had imagined. My husband, my mom, my grandmother, and my aunt came to cheer me on. They were all filled with joy, and all told me how proud they were of me. It made my heart so warm to hear these words.
My friends and I all laughed, took pictures, and cheered so loudly for each other when we accepted our diplomas. We were like giddy children. No matter how long we had been in seminary, 1 year or 4 years or somewhere in between, we had worked so hard for this day. Our communities were proud of us. And we were proud of ourselves!
I was surprised by winning two awards on top of my two degrees! I won the “Indiantown Country Church Award” for my work I did in the rural churches last summer. I also won the “William Rivers Waddey Award” for my work with youth ministry and my continued work with youth once I graduate. I was nominated by the faculty to receive these awards, and I had no idea I would be receiving them.
I am filled with joy and gratefulness. I am grateful for the CTS faculty and staff, my mentors, pastors, and supervisors, my friends and family, my church, and my husband. Without this support I wouldn’t have been able to make it. I’m also a little sad. Goodbyes aren’t easy. But it’s ok that I’m sad. I’m glad CTS became a place that I am sad to leave.
God has reminded me that this call isn’t about me. God poured out the Spirit to calm me when I wanted to run. The Spirit whispered, “Just show up” when I was overwhelmed and didn’t know what to do. And I did. I just kept showing up, even if I didn’t know why. I wouldn’t be here without God’s guiding hand. Praise God for goodness, guidance, and peace. I struggled. I didn’t always have peace. I just remained as faithful as I could, and God’s grace did the rest.