It took me awhile to process the first half of 2018. But here it is, including journey highlights, a feature essay on life in the mud, top book picks, wisdom learned, and queries to think about. See it all in the online magazine The Still: Spring 2018
Lest I forget the small moments on this big journey, I distill my experience in seminary and life every semester or season (e.g. Fall 2016, Spring 2017, Summer 2017). Every time I write these text-heavy blog posts, I think it would be so cool to turn them into a magazine. Drumroll, please…I did it!
The Still: Fall/Winter 2017 is an online magazine. This was an experiment with free MadMagz software, so please let me know what you think.
Read my reflections on fall/winter 2017 here.
Today there are no words. I offer instead some of my musical muses from the past 6 months, because sometimes only music can express what we can’t yet say for ourselves.
Oceans by Hillsong United
You Can Do This Hard Thing by Carrie Newcomer
Praying by Kesha
Various songs by Sam Smith
It is Well by Kristene DiMarco and Bethel Music
Millions of Reasons by Lady Gaga
Even If by Mercy Me
Perfect Symphony by Ed Sheeran with Andrew Bocelli
This is Your Fight Song (Rachel Platten Irish Cover/Amazing Grace) by The Piano Guys
Lots of KISS 104.1 FM Atlanta’s R&B Station
Rise Up by Andra Day
This fall I had the privilege of reading Scripture every week with a group of first year seminary students. They shared their firsts, and I watched them grow into confident proclaimers and oral interpreters of scripture. To be part of this birthing process is an honor. I am so proud of these students for making it through their first semester. I found a piece I’d written a year ago when I finished my first semester of seminary. I offer an adaptation here, in honor of first year seminary students everywhere. –AE
December 2016: These days I find myself saying to others, “It’s been a harrowing semester.” It does not escape me that the only other time I described something as “harrowing” was following the unmedicated birth of my first child. Since it is Advent, it seems as good a time as any to reflect on my first semester of seminary in light of Mary’s journey to motherhood .
A brush of angel’s wings accompanied notification of my acceptance to seminary in February. I pinched myself in disbelief. After striving to be in seminary, on-campus, in-person, financials and family accounted for, for so long, I started to think it could never happen. I sat with my news awhile, unsure when to tell the masses. I shared gradually. Talking about it made it more real, even though, save for the acceptance letter, I had nothing yet to show; no parking permit, no ID badge, no Hebrew textbooks to lug around. And yet anticipation bore preparation. I savored last moments in order to pave the way for firsts. Time with children became more poignant. I took stock of my beliefs. I rested. I played. I prayed.
By September, parking permit affixed, ID in hand, weighted down with textbooks, I stopped pinching myself and believed my dream really was coming true. A few weeks into the semester, the pressure built. Contractions of scholarly muscles intensified, no longer in fits, but in ongoing swells of labor. Betrayed, I cried out, pleading for the pain to subside. Forceful waves, already in motion, pulled me under against my will. No matter who held my hand, no matter how similar the cries from classmates, I felt alone. I had to figure out a way through. Finally, I succumbed, letting the leading edge of faith carve my body anew.
I focused my breath for the final pushes. When, just as suddenly as I was awash in the news of my seminary acceptance, the first semester was over.
I stare in disbelief at my dream for the future cradled in my arms. I gaze at it like a babe in swaddling clothes, my call all wrapped up in it, the agony of its birth gradually becoming a distant memory. I wonder who she’ll be. I hope her heart will reflect more God than the world, and pray for her journey ahead. I sit. I rock. I wait, humbled by the mystery of birth and becoming, and the mysterious transformation in between.
Small moments, great reads, and faith on the journey.
Home to Georgia
What I thought would happen:
Travel Plans Revised
What actually happened:
As often as I long for the life I left behind in Iowa, and the way the sunrise warmed the front porch of the house I loved, or how the grassy, humid fragrance rolled from nearby fields along my suburban street, my longing is fleeting. Surprisingly I don’t miss Iowa like I thought I would. What made Iowa home for me was family. Since my family spends the summer in Wisconsin, to Wisconsin we went.
I startled awake one late July morning in Wisconsin with a severe bout of homesickness. Not for Iowa, but for Georgia. Were it not for my kids’ last art and nature classes the following week I would have packed up and headed south then. I wrestled and played with this unexpected feeling. This longing for a place that is still so new confounded me. What was different?
Last summer the unknown of starting seminary loomed and the anxiety of moving into a new home mounted. Last summer was a prelude to new things—a life in my imagination, not reality.
This summer was different. I knew where I was headed. I knew the neighbors that would greet me, which steps would creak as I hauled our luggage inside, which flowers I’d cut first and put in a vase. I knew the rigor that awaited at seminary, but this time also knew the names of people I can count on.
I was ready to return home.
Seminary is a process of reshaping who you were and molding it into who you are called to be. This process produces excess clay. Letting go of even little pieces can be hard. I let go of several things this summer.
Ever since my oldest child was in the NICU and we stayed at Ronald McDonald House, I’ve been saving pop tabs. Diligently washing out cans, spinning the tabs until they break free, adding them to the jar for Ronald McDonald House Charities who gets money for each one. That’s right, almost twelve years later I still drop them into a jar. The same jar. The same one jar. Almost twelve years later. But not anymore.
Same thing goes for Box Tops. No more cutting out stiff cardboard rectangles on the back of cereal boxes. No having to remember to trim them and turn them into my kids’ school only during the exact right two-week window each year.
I’m letting go, knowing I will give back, and okay that it might look different than jars of metal and baggies of cardboard.
Sometimes letting go means big things. Witnessing a dear friend’s ordination at the end of summer, trusting that God holds this person on the new journey ahead. Being aware of the emptiness on campus without the presence of last year’s seniors you didn’t realize you looked up to so much. Feeling reluctant to let the new students’ energy and enthusiasm soothe the void.
Best Reads for the Journey:
How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids (How It Works) by Carol Pasternak
Get this for the kids (and adults) in your life.
Urban Jungle: Living and Styling with Plants
The book itself is a piece of art. But not pretentious. Practical with unusual flavor influenced by its non-American contributors.
Expands my cultural lens and framework.
The Crisis Magazine
Deep, thorough coverage of racial and justice issues that matter, written from a non-white perspective. Should be required reading for whites.
anything by Lianne Moriarty
My new favorite author! Complex plots, fascinating characterizations.
Zen Garden by David Holzer
A beautiful little book. I now have a vision for my backyard.
Any and all interior design mags
Summer is when I get my creative fix.
Best Moment on the Journey—The Eclipse:
Normally it’s the Perseid Meteor Shower on my mind in August. Not this year. Still, I was not prepared for the eclipse. I was not prepared that it would coincide with a soular eclipse. Read about it here.
Normally my souvenirs are words. Quotes that spoke to me. But summer is different. It is blissful and beautiful in its own unique way. So instead I offer a list of gratitude for all the blissful and beautiful people, places, and experiences this summer. I am thankful for:
Most of time I find following call to be a wrestling match, the ultimate push and pull with God in trying to figure out what I’m supposed to do instead of what I think I want to do. But sometimes… sometimes you just know. Sometimes God’s voice speaks clear as day when you least expect it.
I’ve struggled with my call and denominational identity way more than I’d like to admit in seminary. It wasn’t until this spring when I starting living into my identity as a child of God first, that the stress of where I belong dissipated. This release of pressure created an opening for God to speak. It came in the form of a job description for a position I wasn’t looking for. Sunday School Teacher. At a Presbyterian church. The description of what they were looking for had enough whimsy to it that I knew my out-of-box, creative approach might actually be welcomed.
After I’d already committed a year of Sunday mornings to this church and the children, because I just knew it was right, I attended for the first time. And I knew again. This small, quirky church in Atlanta with a gracious heart in the midst of big transitions, is exactly where I am supposed to be.
There is still mystery. Is this God’s declaration of my ultimate denominational identity? Will this be my family’s church home for the duration of my seminary career? I don’t know. But I’m sure that God spoke, I listened, and I’m in exactly the right spot…for now.
Please prepare for landing:
“Everyone had to grow into themselves before they could offer anything.” –Susan Branch in Martha’s Vineyard: Isle of Dreams
I still have a lot of growing to do. But, as summer came to an end, I released my adolescent-like angst that erodes my trust in the God who leads me on a mysterious journey. I trust I’m going in the right direction, even when the landing is bumpy.
(formerly published on one of my retired blogs)
The small moments, great reads, and experiences on the journey….
Semester 1 2016:
January Term 2017:
I drew the line between the before and after, an inky delineation down the middle of my narrative. Still-tender shoots of writer-self on one side, seeds of pastor-self on the other. I laid down my pen.
What I thought would happen:
TRAVEL PLANS REVISED
What actually happened:
Where: Write-In at The Center for Civil and Human Rights in Atlanta, GA, October 2016 (an integrative exercise of writing and activism, the first in Columbia Seminary’s Cultivating Courageous Communicators series)
Take-Aways: The power of the written word to affect change spoke loudly in a silent exhibit of letters and other correspondence written between Dr. King and other peacemakers “behind-the-scenes” during the civil rights movement. Change did not toll from one cacophonous bell of collective protest, but from the persistent chimes of individuals wielding small but mighty mallets of justice. Little things=big things.
BEST READS ON THE JOURNEY:
Forever changed how I look at death, resurrection, and atonement
Now I get why I pray in Jesus’ name
A beautiful call to action and work of hope and possibility:
On women’s writing and subversion of male dominated systems. Gorgeous poetic language. An anecdote for the Trump era. A gift that keeps on giving.
On the hard stuff: Before my depression was diagnosed and managed, parenting sucked. I wrote a piece about it. People who read it in its original form either loved it (they could identify) or hated it (they couldn’t identify). Both reactions were strong. My feelings didn’t scare me, but it scared me that my writing could make people uncomfortable. I polished the raw out of it. A member of my writer’s group recommended I revisit it at some point. The time for that has come.
On optimism: In my PCUSA tradition people pursuing a call to ministry undergo a battery of psychological testing to identify areas of potential strength and weakness well before you move on through the process to ordination. I did this during this past summer. Not surprisingly, I’m an optimist! As with anything, taken to an extreme, optimism can be negative. Since my results came back, several people made some assumptions that don’t ring true with how I feel, process, and share the hard stuff. This experience forced me to examine my optimism critically. Interestingly, others sometimes are rattled by things relatively low on my “hard feelings” meter and skate over others I’d rate as more critical in the “hard things” rink. A Letter to a Pessimist from an Optimist is in the works.
On failure: Never have I earned a B-, let alone been overjoyed about it. Oh, Hebrew. Oh, first semester. Everyone told me how good it is for me to experience failure. I have some things to say about that, about when failure slides the slippery slope from an earned measure of aptitude to an arbitrary construct where an idealized rite of passage reigns supreme. I have some things to say about making failure a goal, and its potential implications for one who will pastor people for whom passing or failing a class is a cake walk compared to the hard stuff they face every day.
Binge-watched the first season of Designated Survivor with my mom and I finished Parenthood. My husband and I finished The Good Wife (what a disappointing series finale!). Movies Stork and Trolls good wholesome fun with kids. Lion the best kind of thinker movie I love.
Destination: 2016 Writer’s Colloquium at Earlham School of Religion, Richmond, IN
Highlight: Writer Marlena Graves spilled water on my manuscript. That inky line down the middle bled all directions, blurring the “before” and “after”, the “was” and “to be”, the “done” and “to do”, the “writer” and the “pastor”. The burgeoning mark of the now, the is, the doing, the preacher in all its vibrant multiplicity stares back, ready for me to pick up my pen and turn the page.
A NEW YEAR’S LAYOVER
Celebration: The “First” of my first year in seminary is over. The “First” chiseled my intentions and attention into pointed focus. The “First” whittled away layers of stagnation and preoccupation. The “First” revealed potential.
Found in my dirty laundry: Excess. Too much eating out, too much diet pop, too little quality interactions with family. Hoping 2nd Semester has a laundromat.
Best thing I DIDN’T do to pass the time: Installing Facebook on my new phone.
Best Luggage Tag Logo: STEWARDSHIP. This is so going to be my word of the year. Stewardship of mind, body, and resources or bust, baby!
Post-modernism philosophy. Absolutely breathtaking and life-giving for tumultuous times. So many allusions to the Christian narrative. It is rocking my world. Hélène Cixous is my travel companion from now on.
Written on my faith statement paper in the class Imagination and Resilience:
“You”ll probably have to make some substantial changes (and, sadly, be less creative) to get through the ordination process.”
A favorite quote from the book What Would Jesus De-Construct? by James K.A. Smith:
“When is faith really faith? Not when it is looking more and more like we are right, but when the situation is beginning to look impossible, in the darkest night of the soul. The more credible things are, the less faith is needed, but the more incredible things seem, the more faith is required, the faith that is said to move mountains.”
OTHERS (WITH COMPASSION) “It’s okay to admit you’re struggling. We’ll support you, that’s what we’re here for.”
AMANDA: Shares struggles.
OTHERS (WITH PANIC): You do know that will happen as a pastor. How do you plan to handle that!
A conversation about my background and maybe returning to camp someday:
LISTENER: So how does one with a heart for Quakers and who considers a Unitarian Universalist camp for her kids end up Presbyterian? Isn’t there something in between?
ME: That is the million dollar question.
From my new travel companion, Hélène:
“I, too, overflow; my desires have invented new desires, my body knows unheard-of songs. Time and again I, too, have felt so full of luminous torrents that I could burst-burst with forms much more beautiful than those which are put up in frames and sold for a fortune. And I, too, said nothing, showed nothing; I didn’t open my mouth, I didn’t repaint my half of the world. I was ashamed. I was afraid, and I swallowed my shame and my fear. I said to myself: You are mad! What’s the meaning of these waves, these floods, these outbursts? Where is the ebullient infinite woman who…hasn’t been ashamed of her strength? Who, surprised and horrified by the fantastic tumult of her drives (for she was made to believe that a well-adjusted normal woman has a …divine composure), hasn’t accused herself of being a monster? Who, feeling a funny desire stirring inside her (to sing, to write, to dare to speak, in short, to bring out something new), hasn’t thought that she was sick? Well, her shameful sickness is that she resists death, that she makes trouble.” Hélène Cixous, The Laugh of the Medusa
A hopeful reminder:
For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. –NRSV 1 Cor 13:12