My classmates and I before our bike ride at Our Lady of the Pines Retreat Center during our first week of class back in 2006.
A ten-year journey will be coming to a close at the moment I have scheduled this post to publish.
At 10:30 a.m., I will be lined up with my fellow graduates of Winebrenner Theological Seminary, waiting for the first notes of the processional to signal the start of the commencement ceremony. Though it comes six years later than I had anticipated, the timing is perfect. Ten years ago, I was where I needed to be, but not when I needed to be or who I needed to be.
I had been in youth ministry for nearly ten years at the time, and found my sweet spot in discussing life and Scriptures with students who were about to enter college. I had volunteered a few times with Passion conferences, and loved the one-to-one interaction with the students I served. So, when I embarked on my seminary journey, I had visions of a flourishing college ministry that would meet in the old movie theater downtown and draw in students from local colleges and maybe even high school seniors.
Nearly halfway into the seminary experience, my world was shattered when my mother died just a few days before Christmas. My seminary family prayed me through, and I vowed to continue on with my classwork. The reality, though, is that you just can’t concentrate on early Christological heresies and the thoughts of the ante-Nicene fathers when you are trying to move through the fog of loss.
So, I bailed.
For the first time in an academic life characterized by a perfectionist streak and flat-out ambition, I quit. I not only quit, but also the transcript for that semester shows letters I had never seen before on any report card – “WF” – withdrew failing.
And, that was the greatest thing I have ever done in all my years of schooling.
But, that’s when Jesus grabbed on to me like he never had before. I didn’t consciously reach out to him like you read in great redemption stories. I continued doing what I had always done. I prayed. I read the Bible. I continued serving in church. In those little faithful acts, taken one step at a time as I came out of the darkness of grief, Jesus held onto me until I gradually realized I was being held.
And I grabbed him back.
More than once, I toyed with the idea of returning to school, but there were reasons to not return. It was too busy at work. The family needed me. It was busy at church. There was always the burning question of why I had even started seminary in the first place. Was it my ambition or God’s calling?
Finally, in the fall of 2013, I sensed that it was time. As it turns out, it was just in the nick of time. I faced a deadline to finish everything so that the old credits I had earned back in 2006 wouldn’t expire. It wasn’t easy. There were far more tasks to complete each day than there had been, and far less time available to complete them. The challenge, however, made the work all the more precious.
It was only in this last semester that I realized the great work God had done in the seven years that passed between the end of the last class I successfully completed and the start of the first class in my return to seminary. This time, I know that God has called me to write, speak and teach his word to people of any age willing to hear. This time, it isn’t in my own ambition or talent. It is though the grace and guidance of God. Now, I sing with conviction – and will sing at the graduation ceremony – the words to my favorite hymn:
In Christ alone my hope is found
He is my light, my strength, my song
This Cornerstone, this solid ground
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm
What heights of love, what depths of peace
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease
My Comforter, my All in All
Here in the love of Christ I stand