These past few months have been hellacious, hectic, heartbreaking; they have been redeeming and formative, and have been a confirmation that I’m right where I need to be. And so, it’s been a while since I’ve been able to sit, reflect, and write. This isn’t to say that I haven’t been thinking. Oh, I’ve been doing some thinking (and a lot of feeling) but now is a time where I can actually get some of those thoughts down–hopefully.
Between working and school, I have been pretty drained, yet somehow filled too. I think I have cried more in the past three months than the past three years. Tears from a mixture of physical, spiritual, and emotional exhaustion–funny how all of those interlace. I’ve made some new friends, let other ones go, faced loneliness, found community, and have started trying to be grateful for all the gifts God has given me.
This past semester I got the pleasure of taking Old Testament Theology, Patristic and Medieval History and Doctrine, and Biblical Interpretation. Through these courses, my love for the Old Testament has grown, my respect for the Church Fathers has deepened, and I’ve grown to understand the overarching themes and truths between the Old and New Testament.
I gleaned some great counsel from my classes and professors. Some of the best came from my Old Testament professor, Dr. House. In one class we talked about how Israel was in slavery for 400 years but that God had told Abraham that this would happen in Genesis 15:13-16. They waited 400 years so that the “sin of the Amorites would be complete.” It was so that these men and women could have time to repent and return. And Dr. House said, “sometimes in order for God to be patient with some/one, others must endure.” My goodness, what great timing for me to hear that. And that was one of my prayer requests in his class one day–that the Lord would help me to endure (this was accompanied with tears too). And then the next day I read in Romans 5:3-5
Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.
And that, in a nutshell, has been the past few months. It has been enduring. But that enduring, by God’s grace, has produced character and hope. Character in that I have become more merciful and empathetic. Character in that God has broken me to a point where I cannot rely upon myself, my strength, my abilities but completely on Him. Hope where I know that he will deliver me, that he has delivered me, and that he is the only One in which I can hope.
Another day, Dr. House said as an aside that God is an emotional being. The difference, however, is that his emotions do not change him or prohibit him from making the right decision. Even though he loved Moses and had such great compassion towards him, God could not go back on the punishment Moses had received in not being able to go into the promised land. As an emotional person, this was a great encouragement and challenge to me. Emotions in and of themselves are not evil.
And speaking of emotions, as I mentioned before, I have cried a lot. Some have been small tears that leak out of my eyes–you know, the pretty tears–but let’s be honest, most of it has been ugly crying. Now, at first, I hated all of this. I’m prideful and like for people to think I’m serious, I’m tough, and I’m a strong, independent woman. “And what strong woman cries,” I thought.
Well, this semester I’ve learned that true strength is realizing that we aren’t strong at all–at least not on our own. Strength comes from the Lord, and that starts with realizing that we need him (Isa. 40:29, 31; 2 Cor. 12:9-10). Tears are a sign of that–they are a recognition of our need for something outside of ourselves.
And through the weepiness, the Lord has deepened my empathy and mercy. He has made it so that I am able to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). And in those moments where I cried with and for those experiencing pain and suffering, I realized the beautiful truth that if I, a sinful human, can feel this for another, how much more does our loving Father feel for us when we are crying? And even more, he is able to do something about the weeping because he is all-powerful. Praise him for that!
I’ve also come to terms with remaining a M.A.T.S. student rather than changing to an M.Div. and have explored the idea of pursuing a Masters of Social Work and concentrating in clinical social work. This would mean I could potentially take exams to be licensed as a counselor. These past few months my desire to care for the mentally and spiritually wounded has deepened. As I think about missions, I think about the need many missionaries probably have of pastoral care; while some may believe that missionaries don’t suffer from mental health or those who have ever had mental health problems should not serve in that capacity, I find that naive as well as not a full grasp of the Gospel. I also hold all of these plans lightly and out to my Father to do with them and me as he likes.
The Lord has confirmed in so many ways that I am where I need to be. Several months ago when I felt the Lord calling me to leave the comfort of the ministry where I was serving and to join an Anglican church, I was terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t find a job, that I wouldn’t have a place in which to serve, etc. But he has provided bountifully. He has given me friends and community at St. Peter’s who have encouraged and loved me. He has given me great counsel by way of our deacon, Karen, and has ministered to me through my conversations with her about this hard season, my desires to potentially become a deacon as well, and the frustrations I have had as a woman pursuing ministry. He has given me a job that I surprisingly enjoy (and that has allowed me to eat at some of the best restaurants in Birmingham!).
He has confirmed that Beeson is where I need to be right now–even though it has been painful for personal reasons. In the friendships I’ve developed, in the soul care I’ve received, and in the stretching season, God has shown me his sufficiency. I haven’t just learned a lot in divinity school (although I definitely have gained such incredible knowledge!), I’ve also been formed. Formed into someone who is beginning to slightly grasp the beautiful depth and complexity of scripture, who has seen my need for Christ more and more, and who has come to rejoice in the Sacraments of the church.
So here I am, again, perhaps only for a little while before I’m thrown back into the tempest of divinity school life. But, I hope, for this break that I am able to excavate the thoughts that have been forming, that are being shaped, as I read and as I live.