Confessions of a Seminary Student

Some [mostly] light-hearted reflections from the last few months:

Since moving to Mass, I’ve begun to take an inordinate amount of pride in the fact that I’m from Montana.  I roll my eyes like a hearty, unshaven, mountain woman anytime someone complains about the cold, and sometimes I mention the recent avalanche in Missoula for good measure.

I will question a person’s fitness for ministry if he or she doesn’t like dark beer.

After hanging out with a few of the seminary wives, who laugh when their sons get bumps and bruises, and whose apartments are perpetually sticky and draped in partially-folded laundry, and who accidentally drop the F-bomb when their children refuse to get in the stroller, I think to myself, Hey, I can do all of those things, too!  Maybe I have what it takes to be a parent after all.

On a related note, thank God that the future leaders of women’s ministries in this country are façade-free.

It has been roughly one month since I’ve had a good night of sleep.

I feel guilty for not being stressed about school.  Everyone else is; am I missing something?  Am I not taking my studies seriously enough?  I ask myself these things at least twenty times a day.

Along those lines, I have never wished more fervently that I were a type-A, planner personality.

It has recently been brought to my attention that when I’m behind the wheel of my super cool Toyota, I become a bit of a Masshole.  So beware, pedestrians:  I’m not in Missoula anymore, which means I don’t have bow down before you at every crosswalk just because your carbon footprint is smaller than mine.

Seminary: One Hell of a Good Time

(Thanks to my friend Dan Crary for supplying the irreverent title of this post)

But in all seriousness, I cannot believe how fantastic the last three weeks have been, and I’m continually overwhelmed by the unexpected ways that God is blessing me.  To begin with, I met several YWAMers practically upon arrival; there are 15-20 of us, including several faculty, and I feel like I’ve stumbled upon extended family I never knew I had.  The women in my house (which is also pretty amazing; think Downton Abbey on a smaller scale) are smart, kind, fun, and love God wholeheartedly, and getting to know them has been an absolute joy.

And then there are classes.  I’m in class three hours a day, Monday–Thursday, and while I enjoy each of them, the standout favorite is Systematic Theology I.  God is absolutely incredible, and every Thursday I leave that class with my mind and heart full to capacity, feeling like I need to just sit and take an hour to worship.

There are certainly things I miss about home: no sales tax, exceptional food at Monday night dinners and the people that accompany it, my ZooTown family, and Black Coffee (I would graciously consent to accepting care packages containing Black & Tan roast), but all told I’m thrilled to be in Massachusetts.  And New England does have a few things that Montana lacks, namely a thick accent that sometimes needs subtitles for non-natives to decipher, fresh seafood, and snow days. You’d be surprised how quickly graduate students regress to grade school behavior when there are sleds and snowmen involved.

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(View of the snow day shenanigans from my room)

24 Things I’ve Learned By 24, part 3

Part 3 of 3–are you ready for me to pull out the big guns?

This last year has marked tremendous growth in my life.  I haven’t learned much in quantity, but I’ve sifted and weighed nearly everything I believe about God.  And while this process is by no means over, I can declare with true humility that my faith is more deep and honest than ever before.  Certainly not because of myself, but because Jesus is determined that I would know him for who he truly is, no matter the cost.  So read on, if you dare.

On spirituality:

19.  If I cannot be authentic and vulnerable with God, it will be impossible for me to be authentic and vulnerable with people.  God has been saying this to me over and over for the last two months, and I could probably write a whole blog about it, but I’ll save the sermonizing for another time.  Suffice to say, my sometimes chaotic emotions and irrational insecurities don’t intimidate him or change what he thinks of me, and raw authenticity makes God’s love more visible in me and tangible for others.

20.  Gratitude increases faith.  Few things stir my faith like recounting the amazing things God has done in my life, especially out loud and to others when possible.

21.  I need to stop beating my head against the glass ceiling that exists for women in the Church (not my church, specifically, but the Church as a whole) and ask God to teleport me to the other side.  But maybe I’m just being lazy.  You can be sure I’ll expound on this later.

22.  Sometimes God’s most beautiful expressions of love and grace are delivered through our sin.  Pause to think about this for thirty seconds.  It’s an astounding reality.

23.  I will probably never stop being amazed by how patient and faithful and fiercely tenacious Jesus is.  I am far from being his most obedient follower, but that does not stop him from coming after me and remaking me–scars, sins, and all–into the woman he’s made me to be.

24. There is something sacred and powerful about music.  Every single breakthrough I’ve experienced in my relationship with God has happened during worship.  I can only remember a handful of sermons that have impacted me, which is a bit odd for me to confess since I’m more of a thinker than a feeler.  But those incredible moments when the perfect melody awakens my soul to the reality that I am standing face to face with the God who breathed the stars into existence…well, those moments have the power to transform like none other.

Thanks for reading.  Cheers to being 24 and to my mid-twenties!

24 Things I’ve Learned By 24, part 2

Picking up where I left off in part 1, I am about to impart the entirety of what I learned about human relationships in the last year (sorry, no pearls of wisdom about dog training just yet).  Feast your eyes.

On relationships, platonic and otherwise:

11.   Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you’re saying what they did is okay, that you’re over it, or that it doesn’t matter.  You can forgive someone and still be wounded, for years even.  Forgiveness is choosing to love someone who hurt you despite what they did, so far as it is in your power to do so (for me, this usually means a lot of prayer).  Forgiveness is giving your wounds to God and trusting him to heal them in his time and how he sees fit.  Trying to heal yourself will leave you even more broken and bitter than before; this I know well.

12.  On a related note, I have heard it said that if your identity is rooted in God, others will not have the power to hurt you or offend you.  That is simply not true.  As our brilliant friend C.S. Lewis writes in The Four Loves:

To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.

The more my identity is rooted in God, the more I love people with an open and tender heart, which ultimately gives them power to hurt me.  Here is where I want to interject something like “The good news is, God meets you in your hurt,” but I can’t say that that is something I’ve truly learned yet.  Maybe next year.

13.  If you only make friends with people who share your humor, interests, or worldview, your social life will lack depth and you’ll miss out on tons of important things different people can teach you.

14. I don’t want to date Ashton Kutcher, or anyone remotely like him.  Trying to keep up or one-up in conversations with “the funny guy” can be totally draining.  Don’t get me wrong:  being able to laugh with someone is a crucial component to a healthy relationship, but at the end of the day I’d take depth over hilarity.

15.  Along those lines, it’s better to be lonely and single than lonely and in a relationship.  This gem comes from my mom, who spent a lot of years single and is full of wisdom like this.

16.  I can afford to spend a lot more time encouraging people and affirming the image of God in them than I do. Words have power, and I need to be much more conscious of how I use mine.

17.  I should also make a concerted effort to front-load my question-to-statement ratio.  I once heard someone comment that we, as insecure humans, often try harder to be interesting than interested.  I want to change this about myself.  And the best way I can think of to foster my natural curiosity about people is to ask more questions.

18.  I have to stop putting timetables on my friends’ grief and sadness.  Sometimes I find myself getting impatient with people who can’t get over things that I perceive as trivial or too long ago to matter, but ultimately I cannot fully understand the depth of another’s pain or how they handle grief.  Certainly, there are occasions when people need to stop wallowing and move on, but there are some sorrows that are too heavy to bear alone and take years to diminish.  Essentially, I’m learning to have compassion without understanding.

That’s all for now.  Next week will be the final installment of 24 Things.  Thanks for reading!

24 Things I’ve Learned by 24, part 1

I am in the midst of what some might call a quarter-life crisis: I am about to move across the country to pursue a masters degree that has no clear connection with what I want to do with my life.  I, however, refuse to call it such, primarily because my life is likely more than one-fourth over, and secondarily because it actually makes perfect sense if you know the full story.  Needless to say, the last year has brought a lot of interesting changes in my life, and I like to think I’ve learned a thing or two.  But for the sake of a catchy title I’m going to stretch that thing or two into twenty-four things.

On being a responsible adult:

1. Still want a dog, same as last year.  Still shouldn’t have one.

2.  Living by myself has indulged basically every selfish tendency I have.  And as much as I enjoy never cleaning or folding my clothes and binge-watching shows on Netflix, I probably need a roommate.  At least then I will feel compelled to not be a lazy slob for someone else’s sake.

On life in general:

3.  If you’re going to take a step outside your comfort zone, you may as well make it a stomp instead of a step.

4.  Black Coffee Roasting Company‘s Bourbon Roast is without a doubt the most delicious thing I’ve ever tasted.

5.  Counting your blessings is a pretty effective agent of contentment.

6.  So is moving and realizing how much excess stuff you have.

7.  Watching people you love tie the knot is one of the most joy-filled things in life.  Especially when it’s accompanied by champagne, food, and dancing.

8.  Having big dreams and little direction is simultaneously terrifying and exhilarating.

9.  Lasting change is almost exclusively produced by discomfort.  Believe me, I have more anecdotes about this than you could possibly want to hear.

10.  A person’s value is not in his or her functionality.  If I can really, truly wrap my mind around this it will dramatically change the way I view and treat everyone, including myself.

 

For the sake of brevity, that’s all for now.  Stay tuned for part two, containing bits of quasi-wisdom about relationships and spirituality.

Go East, Young Woman!

That’s right, people: in about a month and half I’m moving to the Boston area to attend seminary!  In case you’d like a little more information on how I arrived at this decision, here’s a (relatively) concise version of events.

I have never been satisfied with my depth of knowledge of God, and the more I read the Bible the more I am frustrated with my limited understanding.  Over and over people have told me that there is so much about God that I will never understand, and I just need to be content with daily devotions and prayer.  I get where these people are coming from; an infinite God is certainly beyond my complete comprehension.  But at the same time, God himself has gifted me with a curious and contemplative mind, and it would not honor him to simply plod through the Bible, silencing my myriad of questions about why the authors included some seemingly meaningless details but excluded others, how someone in ancient Israel would have understood certain commandments, the symbolism of special sacrifices, the full meanings of Hebrew words, and so on.  These things are are not part of God’s mysterious, infinite character; they are historical realities that can be studied and understood.

Despite all these frustrations, I had never considered seminary before this summer.  My plan was to apply for internships with non-profits that advocate for human rights like the International Justice Mission or the A21 Campaign, and through that experience get my foot in the door for an actual job with one of those organizations.  But every time I would apply, I felt a check in my spirit, like God was saying ‘Not yet.’

So I waited and waited, twiddling my thumbs at a job that barely paid the bills gave me a mild case of carpel-tunnel.  As I waited, my frustrations with my ignorance intensified, particularly in regards to the relationship between God’s sovereignty, his love, and suffering.  The Bible doesn’t seem to give a consistent description of this relationship, and I can’t help but think that quite a lot is lost in translation, or missed because we don’t understand cultural contexts of the scenarios some Arminians and Cavlinists love to use and abuse as proof texts.

All of this struggling and frustration led me to two conclusions: first, C.S. Lewis’ brilliantly simple logic is not only outside the proverbial box, but defies the existence of the box itself (read The Problem of Pain); second, I cannot spend my life serving people who have suffered more profoundly than anyone I’ve ever known if I cannot honestly believe that God hates the evil done against them and is actively working to end it.

Within a week of coming to this realization, three people suggested I consider applying for seminary completely out of the blue.  At first, I brushed them off; seminary wouldn’t get me any closer to achieving my goals.  Law school was what I really ought to be considering.

But the more I thought about it, the more it made sense on a logical and emotional level.  I applied to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and waited for weeks, certain I was going to be rejected and resigning myself to spending another year in Antarti–I mean, Montana.  And then I got the phone call, and all I could do was stammer excitedly to the admissions rep that I would email him with my questions when I could think coherently.

I am convinced that God is leading me into this, and I’m so grateful that despite all my doubting he has never left me hanging.  He knows what I need long before I do, and I am thrilled beyond words to devote the next two and a half years, full-time, to knowing him.

What Freakonomics And Jane Austen Taught Me About Love

If you’ve known me for very long, you’ve probably caught a glimpse of the mega-nerd I keep locked up inside myself.  She sits in her cell, in a state of quiet desperation, awaiting the chance to be paroled so she can talk about politics, Dickens, philosophy, history, etc. with unsuspecting victims. She’s a little socially awkward and has a lot of unanswerable questions, so as a good warden, I try to protect the public from her presence. You’re welcome.

But as of late, she’s been a little less well-behaved.  A friend recommended she check out Freakonomics Radio podcast, and it has been like crack to her.  Suddenly she’s rattling the bars of her cell and using up entire pads of sticky-notes at work to jot down thoughts and questions about the Cobra Effect and Herd Mentality and the relation between a culture’s language and its views of death.  Yeah, she’s out of control.  But one of the topics she’s been chattering on about is actually pretty interesting and applicable to everyday life.  It came from a podcast she listened to called “Jane Austen, Game Theorist,” which discusses how Game Theory works in social settings, among other things.  At the core of the whole podcast is the idea that manipulation can be used positively on an emotional and behavioral level.

Everyone knows this to be true, but it was how wise old Jane had her characters use strategic manipulation to win love that really grabbed my attention.  And frequently, the characters (typically the women) use manipulation to attract prospective suitors to an illusion of who these fair ladies are, rather than gaining the gentlemen’s respect and admiration through authenticity.

Along with my status as a closeted mega-nerd, another thing that you’ve probably realized about me if you’ve known me for more than a few days is that I can be downright inconsiderate and selfish at times.  This week, those times have been especially frequent.  The morning following one of my many moments of idiocy, I was praying on my way to work that a friend I had offended would feel loved, that she would know that I care for her despite my grade A jerk behavior.  And then God said something that cut deep: “What if you spent less time worrying about whether she feels like you love her, and instead spend more time actually loving her?”

In that moment, I realized that I am just as manipulative as the selfish Emma Woodhouse or even someone as pathetic as Lydia Bennet.  I had been trying to make my friend feel like I love her as a substitute for actually loving her.  In my heart of hearts, I am not especially concerned with the quality of love my friend is receiving, as long as she is under the impression that she is well-loved, and specifically that she is well-loved by me. This is such an incredibly self-serving way to “love” someone, and it’s what I try to pass off for love to so many.  I want people to love me for making them feel loved.  I want the credit, the ego strokes for being “such a loving person,” and to some degree, even my friends’ dependence, because it ensures endless opportunities for me to make them feel loved so that they will love me back.

Real love is not about feeling loved; it cannot be about stroking my ego or anyone else’s.  Instead, I think real love is actively desiring that a person become everything God made them to be, and honoring and accepting them in the process.  Real love does this sacrificially, and without thought of getting credit.  And if I am humble enough to do it, the best way I can really, truly love someone is through prayer.  I receive no credit, I do nothing for which I can get recognition, I can’t manipulate the person’s emotions, and I put whomever I pray for into God’s capable, transformative hands.

So all told, this week has been a difficult chock-full of growing experiences, but it has given me three wonderful gifts.  First, it’s given me a new-found humility that will hopefully teach me how to love people more selflessly.  Second, I have a renewed appreciation for prayer.  And third, I have hours of intellectually stimulating entertainment to look forward to in the form of Freakonomics Radio.