Saturday, August 8, 2020

Grad School Gratitude

Hello, friends. It's been four years or so since I've stopped by my blog to do a little writing. That's because I've been working hard to complete a Master of Divinity degree from Abilene Christian University, an endeavor that left little time for my own writing. I had the honor of walking across the stage in Wildcat Stadium on the campus of ACU this evening to receive my degree, and I'm ready to get back to sharing my heart through this blog. And I want to start with a post of gratitude for many of the people who helped me successfully complete my life-changing journey through grad school.

A little over four years ago, I asked my husband to pray with me, to discern whether grad school was a good option for me. When we agreed that it was something I should do, I jumped in with both feet and experienced God's confirmation of our decision time after time. Several months later, I was elbow-deep in study and loving it.

Dr. Mindi Thompson, who has since become a dear friend, gave me my first perfect score on a major assignment, which was then followed by the same from Dr. Curt Niccum. (I blame them for my drive for perfection for the next three and a half years!) They taught me many things that first summer about the literature of the Bible and about how to interpret it well, but they also taught me that I was a capable, that I was intelligent, and that I had the grit and determination to tackle grad school with excellence. Dr. Wes Crawford honed my writing skills and made me believe that I had true ability. Dr. Paavo Tucker encouraged me to relax the expectations I had of myself, to give myself permission to "miss a dot and tittle" every now and then (he was my first Hebrew prof), because expecting constant perfection was no way to be an effective minister. Dr. Tim Sensing encouraged me to be creative with my approach to ministry, knowing that it is a challenging field for a woman to enter. I could go on and on about each of my professors who invested in me, believed in me, encouraged me, challenged me, and made me a better person, Christ-follower and minister. I owe so very much to them.

And then there are the friends I made along the way. Women like Kerri and Nancy who inspire me and make me so glad to have studied alongside them and that I get to call them friends even though we all live in different states. Women who have cried with me, prayed with me, celebrated with me. I will love them always.

But really more than anything, I owe a deep debt of gratitude to some very important people a little closer to home. 

To my husband, Scott, and my children: Thank you. Thank you for the thousand different ways you supported me through this experience. Thank you for cheering me on, listening to me ramble on about whatever subject I was studying (Scott particularly loved it when I talked about St. Ignatius of Loyola... 😂), helping me practice Hebrew and Greek vocabulary, letting me hide away on paper-writing or test-taking days, and sacrificing time and attention that should have been yours but went to my studies instead. You have been my biggest cheerleaders - especially you, Scott - and I couldn't have finished without your support.
And then there's my friend and mentor, Daren, without whom I never would've even thought about grad school. He saw possibility in me long before anyone else did, and he invested so much time and heart into forming me into a person who was worthy of God's calling into ministry. And now I have the privilege of working alongside both him and our friend Kevin as we pour ourselves out on behalf of the Crossroads CC congregation. I couldn't ask for a better team of pastors to work with, and they both have encouraged and supported me in countless ways.  Daren: thank you for seeing my potential, for pushing me to think harder and feel deeper, to love and be loved more than I thought possible, and to see people through the eyes of Jesus. Kevin: thank you for your constant encouragement and for seeing the best in me. Thank you for your leadership and your always-open door.

Today was a bittersweet day, as I took my family on a tour of campus and watched them enjoy the campus of ACU almost as much as I did. My heart ached just a little to know that I probably won't be back to study within those walls, at least not in the foreseeable future. And then the ceremonies that had to happen online instead of in person because Covid-19 happened. I got to see the beautiful faces of so many that I had studied with at some point during the last four years, but there were no hugs, no shoulder-to-shoulder as we celebrated together. I felt the sweetness of hearing that my instructors chose to honor me with a leadership award because they saw strength and promise in who I am and the kind of minister I am becoming, but again... no handshakes, no embracing the women and men who helped me grow into who I am.

But the day ended with that glorious - and sweltering hot - experience of the graduation. Of actually walking across the stage, hearing my name spoken and seeing my picture on the jumbo-tron, and finally being able to say I have a master's degree. There were some loved ones who couldn't make the trip to Abilene, and they were sorely missed, but the ones who could come made it the most special of experiences for me. It was a sticky-hot evening, but it was good, and it was one that will be long remembered with fondness. 
I know that to some, finishing grad school doesn't seem like that big of a deal, but friends let me tell you: these last four years have changed me. They have formed me in countless ways. They were four of the most difficult, exhausting, exciting, and full years I have ever experienced. I can't say that I loved every minute, or even every class, but I wouldn't trade a moment of it. I'm so very grateful that God called me into this journey, that He led me to ACU, and that he sustained me through the process. 

And I am so excited to wake up tomorrow, and the next day, and - God willing - the next, and see what new journey He has mapped out for me now.
All my family and friends that drove to Abilene to celebrate with me!

Monday, December 23, 2019

God so loved the world...that He gave us Christmas

Jesus is the reason for the season. Yes, that statement is absolutely true. In the middle of all the business of the Christmas season, it’s so important to keep reminding ourselves that Jesus is what it’s all about. Family is important. Generosity is important. Loving one another is absolutely important. But even in the middle of all of that really great, important stuff stands The One who is the Most Important of all. 


The Christ.

The Messiah.

I understand why we Christians have our mantras like Keep Christ in Christmas and Jesus is the reason for the season. But I think even these catchphrases fail to really capture the depth of what Christmas is all about. They’re good reminders that Christmas isn’t about the commercialism that the world throws at us, or even the good deeds that we focus so much more intently on during the Christmas season than we do the rest of the year. But they skim along the surface of the truth of Christmas without plunging the depths of what God did in and through the Advent.

Do you realize that of all the things God created, it was only to humankind that he gave his very own breath? Only we were created to be like him. Only we were created to walk with him in the garden in the cool of the morning. Oh, we are so loved and so privileged among all the creatures of the earth! 

And yet, we chose something other than him. We chose – and continue to choose – ourselves. And from that first moment when humanity chose to explore the less-than instead of trusting God’s best, God put in motion his plan to bring us back into perfect relationship with himself. That plan came into fullness when he gave himself to walk among us in flesh. 

God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ, stepped out of the throne room of heaven and into the brokenness of earth. 

No other god has done that. No other god would dare subject himself to that sort of humility. 

But ours did. And he did it in order to repair the brokenness that we caused. 

God did this great thing because he loves those whom he created. He loves us with a kind of love that I’m not convinced we can fully understand in our broken human condition. It is a love so deep that even living and dying as a human fully rejected by the world was not too high a price to pay to bring us back to himself. 

Friends, it is my prayer this Christmas that you will spend some time soaking in the truth of Jesus. I pray you will let yourself be overwhelmed by the love and goodness that God poured out for you in the giving of himself. I pray that the depth of love that God has for you will be an anchor for your life in the year and years ahead. 

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. ~ John 3:16

Savoring Today

December 23, 2019 ~ I found this post unfinished in my blogger this morning, apparently written about four years ago. So much has changed in the four years since I authored these thoughts, yet so much is still the same. The principle rings just as true today as it did then: time is fleeting. My thoughts of four years ago are as much a reminder to myself today as I hope they will be for you. 

As I walked through my living room and dining room at 6:15 this morning, headed through to the kitchen where a hot, life-giving pot of coffee was waiting thanks to my wonderful husband, I cringed at the piles of "stuff" that littered the tables in the rooms.

And I do mean that to be plural - tables - with an "s."

The coffee table, the end table, the dining room table... they were all covered in piles.  Papers dumped from school bags, magazines abandoned mid-perusal, chord charts from last night's worship team rehearsal, hairbrushes and pony-tail holders, a baggie of grapes, folded stacks of laundry, dirty socks, a forgotten toy...

What a disaster.

I read an article last week that described habits of people who always have a clean house.

The author of that article didn't have any children living in her house.  (She said so herself.)   I'm wondering how different her article would have been if she lived with my four.

Because, while I do many of the things she suggested, I have four - five, if you include my hubby - other people in my house who contribute to it's state of chaos.  And this has been one of those weeks.  You know, the kind where you have more on your to-do list than you can possibly accomplish as just one person, and you wish you could either clone yourself or do the I Dream of Genie thing and have everything magically fall into place.

One of those weeks where you have to chose: Clean the bathroom or bake cookies with my daughter so she can take them to school for her birthday?

Scrub the kitchen floors or help my kiddo with his homework project.

Go home on my lunch hour and run laundry, or spend that hour with my friend and mentor, stretching my faith and learning how to more effectively minister in God's Kingdom.

Dust the living room or give my youngest his first piano lesson, that he's been asking about for weeks and weeks.

Make the bed or braid my daughter's hair.

Wash the sink full of pots and pans or sit next to my husband on the couch, listening to him spill all the details of his full-to-the brim day.

Having a tidy home is important, I know.  Everyone feels better when the space around them is picked up.  (See, Mom, I did listen...)  Even I have learned that I'm more at ease when my surroundings are orderly.

But moms (and dads!), cut yourselves some slack.  When life happens - and sometimes it does, in nice long stretches - look around at your chaos and give thanks for the things that make life so full that cleaning up gets pushed to the bottom of the priority list.  Enjoy the moments with your kids that matter; make those memories that you can never re-do.  Savor the richness of today, because tomorrow it will be gone.

Our house was a complete wreck this morning because yesterday was so full that we didn't even have time to pick things up before bed.  I could have grumbled about it this morning, but instead I'm going to choose to be grateful that yesterday I got to have lunch at school with my nine-year-old baby girl on her birthday, watch my oldest son march in his first high school homecoming parade, have dinner with all four of my kids and my husband (a rare thing on Wednesdays!), make two blankets with my daughter at our church outreach program, and worship with a great group of people while we rehearsed for Sunday morning.

Jesus said, "I have come to bring you abundant life." He has certainly given me an abundance of every part of life, and today I will be grateful for every ounce.