The fall semester is just around the corner. I’m on campus now preparing to welcome the new incoming class to Columbia next week. Before the new eclipses the old, here’s a recap of last semester.
The Still: Spring 2017 Edition
Small moments, great reads, and faith on the journey…
Christmas vacation in Florida gave me time to regroup from my first semester at Columbia Theological Seminary. I was so numb, dumbfounded, tired, and unsure after first semester, I don’t really remember much from the vacation. I think I just buried my head in the sand at the beach and tried to forget. I came back and did a January term class and loved it. Things were looking up for spring semester.
Spring Semester 2017 at Columbia Theological Seminary:
- Intro to Christian Worship
- Intro to Old Testament II
- Preaching and Proclamation
Spring Semester 2017 at Earlham School of Religion (ESR):
- Writing for God and God’s People
What I thought would happen:
- 2nd Semester would be easier than 1st
- I could manage 4 classes since I wasn’t taking Hebrew
- I wouldn’t think about quitting seminary anymore
- I’d settle on a church home
Travel Plans Revised
What actually happened:
- 2nd Semester was just as hard
- 3 classes is more realistic for this wife and mom of 3
- I wanted to quit and write full-time
- Maybe I’m Episcopal?
Mode of Travel—Car:
I thought when I started seminary that I could just go back to being a student again like when I was in college. I told myself if I could juggle all the responsibilities of part-time work and motherhood at the whims of everyone but myself, certainly I could handle school again, especially with all three of my kids finally in school themselves.
I’ve heard it said that a car is the safest place in a storm. My first year of seminary was a perfect storm of my weaknesses colliding with accountability and expectation the likes of which I hadn’t seen for a long time. In the chaos, my car represented what I craved. My hybrid was a compact and ordered bubble. It muffled distractions and kept me within reach of sunlight’s touch. If necessary, it promised a quick getaway. And when I was ready to face the to-dos outside my teal LL Bean backpack from 1995 on the passenger seat, all I had to do was open the door.
It started as a way to warm up after Monday Scripture Reading Practicums on early, crisp fall mornings. I’d bolt to my car and crank up my heated seat. Not wanting to venture out until I had to, I stayed put and studied Hebrew vocabulary. I looked forward to my quiet bubble of calm. Eventually, I found myself other days using my car as my office. But still I struggled.
I thought it was an issue of discipline, because it was clear first semester that I hadn’t practiced that for awhile. But even in 2nd semester, Hebrew behind me, my newly polished discipline skills back in use, I struggled in ways that went beyond how I saw other first year students struggling.
My car wasn’t safe enough. So I cashed in my trip insurance.
Shifting in my hard plastic chair in a gray-green exam room looking sheepishly at my doctor, cashing in my trip insurance sounded like this:
Me: “You know a few months ago when you asked if I was ever assessed for ADHD and I laughed at you? Well, IF I were to check into this, what would that entail?” (Because come on, I was about to turn 40! Wouldn’t I know this by now?!)
It’s taken almost six months since then to see this process through to get answers and workable interventions, and to figure out how this interacts with my anxiety/depression. I’m still wrapping my mind around those letters, ADHD, and coming to grips with what they mean for my future and me.
Where: Elijay, GA. I hosted a weekend retreat in celebration of my 40th birthday. I invited my dearest friends. Each person became my friend at a different life stage or around a different interest. As a result, my friends are all remarkably unique. Very few knew each other. I thought it would be fun to see what would happen if they all were together. I designed the weekend so they felt a little pampered: we stayed at a finely appointed Airbnb in a rustic setting with beautiful views, good food/drinks, opportunities for relaxation and fun. I was nervous. What if they all just sat and stared uncomfortably at each other?
Take-Aways: Oh my gosh. It was amazing. As uniquely challenging as it is to make close friends as an adult, this is proof that as you age, the easier it gets to connect around the things that may have divided us as eager twenty-somethings. Or, I just have awesome friends. Actually, I think both are true. I also wonder if I have a future in the women’s retreat business.
Best Reads for the Journey
The Journey by Mary Oliver This is the poem that kept me moving forward, and the one that keeps me dancing to the beat of my own drummer. That line, “The only life I can save…” goes straight to my heart every time.
Driven to Distraction: Recognizing and Coping with Attention Deficit Disorder from Childhood Through Adulthood by Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey Read it and understand.
Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams by Susan Branch Branch is a girl after my own heart. Lives in a cabin in the woods, a writer, she was unsure of self at midlife and had to learn not to wrap her identity in her spouse’s. She’s an avid quote collector. Reminded me how much I need writing and deep prayer for my spiritual and creative health. Her accompanying art has a folksy quality that isn’t really my taste, but her writing is fresh and timeless.
Along with Susan Branch, authors Brian Doyle and Barbara Brown Taylor have helped my vision for myself as a writer take shape.
Clubbing (first time ever!) in downtown Atlanta and ubering (first time ever!) with my 20-something-year-old seminary friends.
Best Trip Guide
Google search: “40-year-old mom goes clubbing clothes”
Most Worthwhile Side Trip
Subscribing to spring season of the Atlanta Ballet (student discounts, y’all)!!! This rocked my world and blew apart my preconceived notions about this dance form. Add watching an Atlanta Ballet Co. rehearsal to my bucket list. I love to see how artists hone their craft.
Aside from the nighttime view of the Atlanta cityscape, favorite places in our new home include Piedmont Park (a nature oasis in the city, awesome dog park) and Stone Mountain Park (so many trails—it’s not just about the summit).
Since our move to Decatur in 2015, my family hasn’t settled on a church home. Somewhere along the way I started wondering if I’m really Presbyterian. After all, Catholics, Unitarians, Quakers, Evangelicals, and most recently Episcopals have all been part of my journey. My first year of seminary heightened my constant struggle of
- not wanting to peg myself with a label, but wanting to belong to a community
- not wanting to fit the mold, but wanting the security of tradition
- not wanting to do what my parents did but wanting to trust their wisdom
This struggle pits my steadfast belief that God’s vision dazzles with diversity with my fear that aligning myself in one denomination will make this vision less likely to be realized (as if I have that much control!).
My Intro to Worship class got me thinking about why I worship. I realized I needed to stop getting hung up on denomination. Whatever church or denomination I’m part of, that’s not the ultimate source of my identity. The more relevant question might just be WHOSE I am and what it means to live into the answer.
Not entirely surprising, this change of mindset took a weight off my shoulders. I think God breathed a sigh of relief, too, as I’m now trusting God will lead me where I need to be.
In one of my first semester classes my small group did a project at Threshold Ministry serving people who face issues of poverty and homelessness. I didn’t want to do the project there. I wanted to work with a “flashier” ministry more in my comfort zone. But that’s not how it worked out. And I was really intrigued by what I heard and saw. I kept thinking about it. And the more I learned about my faith in seminary, the less I felt I can serve the “least” of these without ever developing relationships with the people who have this label. Thanks to the enthusiasm and willingness of my friend Rachel by my side, I volunteered. I am changed, and my outlook on ministry fundamentally changed. There are so many thoughts I have about this but they are still in the infant stage. Stay tuned.
New hashtag created by my husband after he thought I’d turned our home into a hostel this summer #lifewithamanda
I say, if you have the room and ability to host several seminary graduates in transition awaiting calls, #WWJD
Said by my 11-year-old daughter when returning to a Presbyterian church to hear my friend preach: “I thought we were Episcopal now.”
Overheard in my worship class by a future pastor:
“I’m not much of church person, actually.”
Me in my journal:
What is it about me that wants to challenge everything?!
Are we there yet?
I had to laugh when I read Clementine’s words in Truly Madly Guilty by Lianne Moriarty this spring: “Everyone had another sort of life up their sleeve that might have made them happy.”
Because all school year I really wanted to quit. And write full-time. Or just be a mom. Or something.
But I had wanted this for so long, hadn’t I?
Yes. And I still do. But now I really know how much. So the time has come to focus on the life I have so I don’t need a second one up my sleeve.
“There’s always pain when a child is born.” —Marlena Graves
This has not been an easy first year of seminary. At its conclusion, I know I’m meant to be here, but I’m much less sure about what exactly I am birthing during these contractions of mind, body, and soul. For now, I breathe, before labor begins again.