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Monday, July 30, 2018

Boston in the Fall…

Short Story: This girl is going to Boston University in the fall!  I will be a PhD student, pursuing a degree in Liturgical Studies, and I will be a teaching fellow. 

Long Story: Hang on, it’s pretty good…

Just over a year ago, I found myself staring down a string of ‘closed doors’ that made absolutely no sense and were impossible to process.  It wasn’t a new story; and the truth is, I was sick of telling it.  Some of you have heard this part already, but after being soundly rejected by the only doctoral program to which I had applied, I had spent several months chasing down multiple possibilities for the elusive co-pastorate in an inner city (any inner city), which would allow me to re-frame my educational plans while living into the passions in my heart that include teaching and practicing social justice through compassionate ministry.  At the end of a very long day, I fell asleep in a puddle of tears when I realized every lead had come to an abrupt end.  I woke up the next morning and accepted a position as the director of family ministries at a UMC (not my tribe), in a small, rural town.  I literally moved my family to a farmhouse in the middle of a pig and chicken farm.  I then proceeded to do stuff that felt mutually exclusive for my life, like participating in a nationwide book tour, speaking about the uncontrolling nature of God’s love and the validity of the free agency of humanity, while wondering whose free agency was screwing over my life.

It has actually been a fabulous year in so many ways, and as I launch into this narrative, I want to be exceedingly clear that even though this was not, in fact, what I would have chosen; I never do anything halfway, so I threw myself wholeheartedly into this community and church, and the response was that of a village built on love.  If your whole life is going to be ‘ruined,’ let me suggest a wonderful place such as this one for the ruining.  It is the jackpot of small towns, and I have been very happy.

This winter, I sent out three applications for PhD programs.  I opted not to re-take the GRE (my score was solid but not stellar), and honesty requires me to confess that I did not really think I would get in.  I was OK with that.  My plan was to eventually give the GRE another shot, if necessary, and to just keep trying in future years.  I got into two of the three programs to which I applied.  As a side note, my kids have taken to calling the other program, “That dumb school that didn’t want Mom.”  I think this is hysterical and endearing.

The energy that went into my decision to choose BU was painfully draining.  Both schools offered me 100% funding for tuition.  Only BU offered a fellowship.  My prospective advisor looked into my face and spoke the following words: “You are loved and you are wanted here.”  That was huge, since I was still trying to decide whether or not they had made a mistake in sending me an acceptance letter!  The other school was close enough to commute, which would allow me to keep my job, and it was also pretty much in the backyard of the college my two oldest children intend to attend next fall.   
Boston presented unique challenges, such as the exorbitant cost of living, but when I looked at the options side-by-side, I knew intrinsically that it was the best choice.  Still, I wrestled with this right down to the deadline.  I almost begged friends familiar with the other option to tell me to go there.   Although they were positive and supportive of either choice, it seemed that no one could bring themselves to steer me away from BU. 

Since Boston was not financially feasible for us, our family began to explore options that would allow them to stay put, while I would move to Boston and book a whole lot of flights.  Our local church was supportive of this possibility, which would include job sharing.  And finally, through some more hot, angry tears, sitting in my driveway with Matthew 19:29-30[i] running though my head in the background, I threw my hands up in the air and said, “Fine God!  I will go do this thing (that I really want to do, anyway), but if I lose my kids over this, I’m done, and we are through.”   Let’s chalk this up as the worst affirmative answer to a calling, ever…

Given a full understanding of what this decision meant, friends and family started coming out of the woodwork, questioning whether or not I had made the right decision.  This was not particularly helpful (where were you when I was begging for a reason to say no and before the deadline had passed), and I was especially distraught that these sentiments came most often from the same people who had seen my previous rejection and distress as an opportunity to “just trust in God’s plan .”  Can God’s plan not include joy, as well? And how is it that God is limited to working only in suffering?   I’ve done a fair share of theological deconstruction and reconstruction over the years, and I’m going to share something that is far less than popular:  In the end, I’m not certain that the God I have come to recognize as very real is entirely the God I hoped God would be.  That’s raw.  It sucks!  And yet, God is good, God is present, and God is love. 

And, as it turns out, God is also still working in and through people, because at the eleventh hour there was a plot twist.  Through an introduction made by my advisor, followed by a very simple appointment process, Phil was offered a pastorate at the UMC in South Walpole, MA (a suburb of Boston).  And it includes a parsonage.  And maybe, just maybe, it turns out that our faith is not misplaced after all and that God can work in ways we did not expect when we know our gut-wrenching decisions have been choices made with integrity.

So here’s to public transportation, lobstah, tea parties at the ocean, and maybe a class or two at Harvard (are you kidding me?) as the Michaels’ take to the east coast. 

Please wait patiently for the Pirates Who Don’t Do Anything Spoof…



[i] And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.