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Thursday, May 9, 2019

That’s a Wrap (with a bow on top)

At present, I am sitting at Starbucks in my pajamas.  I mean, it’s possible that no one here recognizes this.  It could just be sweatpants and a T-shirt.  But I know I slept in these clothes.  I feel slightly less than human, but that’s probably to be expected.  I just finished my first year of PhD coursework.  No one claimed it would be easy, but it doesn’t matter.  I don’t generally do things the easy way, anyway.

As I was submitting my final papers and exams, I thought back to a conversation I had with a friend, in the fall of 2017, as I was preparing to apply to PhD programs.  Sitting in Boston, I said, “I think I’m going to apply to the University of Boston.”

He looked confused and responded with something like, “L…  I don’t think that’s a thing.”[i]

Just in case you’re wondering, it’s not.  That’s how fully unaware I was about this venture.  The following days, weeks, and months led to multiple applications and acceptances with a final decision to sign on the dotted line at Boston University (I was sort of close), which I discovered is an R1 Doctoral University while sitting at orientation with my cohort full of Ivy League graduates.  I had to Google what “R1” meant.  I swallowed hard and introduced myself and proudly proclaimed my affiliation with Northwest Nazarene University, the small school in Idaho that I love.  I fluffed it up with words about publications and conferences, but I also realized I had either hit the PhD program jackpot or somehow slipped in by mistake.  I proceeded to spend much of the school year vacillating between greeting the day with exuberant energy as I burst through the doors at Back Bay station, shouting, “GOOD MORNING, BOSTON!” and defeating exhaustion as I crawled back onto the subway at night hoping to find a seat where no one would be touching me... or at least to remain upright.  There was really only one day when I collapsed in a puddle of tears in a library study carrel, but there were several when I wondered if I might actually be someone’s case study… “Let’s throw a middle aged, Midwestern mama of five into the big city on the East Coast, at a tier one research institute, and see if she makes it…”

As a fairly serious daydreamer, I want to take just a moment for an aside.  Leading up to this particular leg of the journey, there were some frustrating disappointments.[ii] Maybe you read about all of them.  But there was always this vision… this hope… that one day I would “arrive.”  I would post a selfie and stick it to the world, announcing, “Here I am!  See!  This is where I was going to end up all along!” 

Except it wasn’t!  This is just dumb!  I was never going to end up here.  I didn’t even know “here” was a place, remember?  And maybe that is exactly the point.  I’ve been lamenting Catherine Keller’s “cloud of missed possibilities” for a ridiculously long time.[iii]  I’m not sorry about that.  I do lament well, and since it’s something of a lost practice, I’m OK with bearing it.  But there’s something else, too.  Sometimes we risk missed possibilities not because we have already made choices that exclude them but because we just don’t know what’s possible.  I didn’t know.  Now I do.  And it’s not what I expected.  And it’s good.  But I probably still don’t know everything!  Year one… that’s a wrap.

Now here’s that “bow.”  As I left for the train station on Tuesday (the last day I had to go into Boston for the semester), a quick stop at the mailbox produced a 5 x 7 envelope from Northwest Indiana, which contained my District Minister’s License from the Church of the Nazarene.  If I’m honest, I’m struggling a little bit with how to celebrate this.  I was beyond thrilled to hold this piece of paper (dare I say an outward sign of the inward grace that is vocational calling to ministry) in my hands.  I don’t really want to hear people say things like, “What?  I thought you were already ordained!” or, “Wait!  How are you not already ordained?” or even, “Well, it’s about time,” even though I know the intense support and compassion with which these words would be (have been) uttered.  Y’all, the honest truth is my licensing process just fell through the cracks while I raised a family and ministered alongside my spouse and pursued the necessary education to eventually fulfill this calling on my life. 

What most people don’t know is that I drove over a thousand miles to meet with the good people of NWIN for my district licensing interview… that I slept in my van at a rest stop for several hours with my two oldest kids, because the sleet was so intense… that I spilled a gas station coffee all over the gas station (and myself) right ahead of the interview, because I was shaking so badly… that I got pulled over on the drive afterward… that friends drove several hours to meet me for lunch expecting that they would find me in tears, either way.

Sometimes, it has been extremely difficult to articulately verbalize this itinerant life and the unusual ways in which I have fought to live into the call to preach and to administer the sacraments as fully as possible.  Yet, one of the interviewers looked at me and said (and I paraphrase, because it’s been months), “We know you now.  You don’t have to transfer and explain this to another district.  And, can I just tell you what I appreciate about you?”  I think that might be the point at which I resumed breathing.  Even I could not have imagined how beautifully this would come together, not in my wildest dreams.[iv]   

Alright, that’s a lot.  Here I sit, 20% of the way through my PhD, a district licensed minister in the church I love, and rather spent.  One of those super smart cohort members of mine gave me about the greatest compliment I could receive the other day when she said, “You’re the real thing.”  Well, I’m trying to be less self-deprecating, so alright.  Maybe it’s time to kick imposter syndrome to the curb (although I’m not done writing about it, stay tuned and send publishers).  If this life it anything, it’s real.  Next.


[i] On a second reading, I’m actually sure this is not at all what he said.  This is how I would have said it.  He just admitted that he hadn’t heard of the University of Boston (which does not exist).
[ii] Ok, years of frustrating disappointments.  Years. 
[iii] See Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming.
[iv] I fully recognize that it is hysterical that my wildest dreams are of licensing interviews and ordination and PhD regalia (wait, did I admit that out loud), but I’m rolling with it.