Starting something new, reflecting on the old

Happy grad-school-eve to me! Tomorrow I start classes at Covenant Theological Seminary as I begin a journey (by distance) that will eventually take us to St. Louis and end with Masters in Divinity for me (and probably Price, once he gets a whiff of the awesomeness).

It's the beginning of a new chapter in this little story that God is writing in me and through me every day. I couldn't be more excited to start, and I long to learn and develop a theology that will help me navigate the craziness of this world. My current concentration of choice is Religion & Cultures, though I'm starting to feel a tug toward Educational Ministry. So we'll see.

And I thought it would be appropriate, on the eve of this most exciting and transforming occasion, to share a little bit of how I got here.

Excerpts from my admissions essay, asking me to tell the story of my life until now and how I feel called to the ministry:

It’s funny how I ended up here. I’m 23 (almost 24), married, settled in the same town I grew up in, applying for a Masters of Divinity program at a Presbyterian school. It’s not what I expected, but I know it’s right. The story that God has been writing through my life has been one of rich blessing, unlimited opportunity, and His heartfelt pursuit of a stubborn daughter.

I grew up in Nashville, Tennessee and Hebron, New Hampshire … two towns (well, one a city and one a village) that would occupy my time and heart in the winters and summers respectively. The eldest daughter of two teachers (one college, one elementary), I never knew anything but family summers on the lake. Four months of family vacation each year spoiled me and gave us sweet seasons together that (sadly) most families never know. We would take off to New Hampshire every summer, far away from televisions and close to the mountains, the lakes, and the unblemished night skies full of a million stars. I learned freedom and simplicity in those days, and I long for those sensibilities in my current life.

Me and my daddy sailing on the lake.

I was (am) the quintessential oldest child, with a type-A personality and inquisitive nature that drove my peace-loving parents (both middle children) crazy.

Always inquisitive.

My life truly has been idyllic.  At school, grades propelled me to the front of all my classes; extracurricular activities at church and school made me feel important and worthy … a trend that continues, though I fight against it, today. I used to measure my worth by the checkmarks on my to-do list. I had ambiguous ambition that involved some level of fame, probably as a journalist. To this day, I am a “doer.” I like to get things done. I like to fill my calendar to the brim and add even more. Unfortunately, my resume-boosting accomplishments have stood in sharp contrast to the life my sister has led, and nothing has shaped me more as a person that my journey with her.

I was 15 when she got sick. No, 14 … because 3 days into her ICU stay, I remember crying because my mother forgot to buy me a birthday card. It took me a long time to forgive her for that. . We thought she had the flu, but my mom (and her incredible mother’s intuition) insisted she go to the emergency room one night. She had an acute case of bacterial meningitis, confirmed by a spinal tap that the doctors had performed on her while she was unmedicated, and yet she couldn’t feel it. She was that far “gone,” they said. For three days, we didn’t know if she would live or die. I didn’t understand that the lifeless girl on an IV drip was my sweet little sister, and that the doctors were saying IF she lived, she would never walk or have full brain functions. Those words still don’t make sense to me. Thankfully, they never had to.

My family at Christmas, a few years after Kristin was sick.

Kristin never fully recovered from the meningitis – the doctors said it took every ounce of fight her immune system had to beat that illness, and so since then she has been susceptible to every cough, sneeze, and germ that has come her way. She was sick so much in high school that she dropped out, finishing her degree at home with a teacher the school sent. But she never had the opportunities I did – I was student body president, had a date to senior prom, had full tuition scholarships at 4-year universities. I’ve been to Kosovo, and to Chile, and all over the US.

I think through high school and college, my sister’s situation motivated me more than anything else. It was certainly subconscious – a mix of trying to prove to my mother that even though I was healthy, I was still worthy of her attention, and a realization that I really could do anything I wanted when my sister couldn’t. And why, when given that gift of health and life and talent, would I waste it? So mine has been a story of urgency, of deep desire to accomplish great things very quickly simply because I can.

High school graduation

I went to Belmont, just 30 minutes from home, to study journalism and political science and economics. I shed my Southern Baptist roots almost as quickly as arrived, realizing that the guilt-driven works-based faith that I had always known was not the whole story, and that the Gospel is not a one-time point of conversion, but a daily reminder of how much I need the grace of Jesus Christ. I heard words like “sovereignty” and “covenant” and “grace” for the first time. I sang hymns from the ages that spoke into my soul; I wept at Abide with Me and Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah. I felt at peace with God for the first time ever – realizing that He is a sovereign Lord. Sovereign. I am still utterly in awe of that word and what it means.

I met my husband one day my freshman year after I had joined the debate team. He was to be my partner, and I sat in the team office when he rode up on his bicycle. His bright red hair made me smile, and his goofy charm and corny jokes won me over almost instantly.

At debate tournaments, I rocked heels. He rubbed my feet. Obviously true love.

Our courtship was one of deep hesitation on my side, and unbelievable patience on his. I ran away to summer camp twice, where I fell in love again with the simplicity of Hebron, NH, and the White Mountains and the shining, smiling faces of campers discovering a world outside of Wii and the computer. I learned to mother and to counsel – campers and counselors alike – those summers, and my heart aches to return to the ease of those days. My uncle was the director of the camp, and working so closely with him and building that relationship is one of my most cherished memories. My grandmother – my dad’s mother – lived not far from camp, and I lived with her a good part of those summers, caring for her in her decline (through broken hips and the early stages of lung cancer). She was one of my best friends, my role model, and living with her for so long was the sweetest gift I could have ever received.

My Nanny

I returned from New Hampshire, and then I ran away to Chile where I interned at the US Embassy believing wholeheartedly that I was called to a life of international relations. What I learned, however, was that my heart was wholly left in Nashville, TN, with the redheaded debate partner I had left behind. I came home, realizing that I was not suited for a diplomatic career, and we were engaged a year later.

My vision and call to ministry is simple. I know that there is a call in my life to serve the Lord, and I believe that it is through the church. In college, I was utterly convinced that I would go into policy. I was a political science and economics major with a focus on international development. I knew (and still know) that I wanted to work with people in need … people who need to be empowered, to be taught skills to propel themselves out of poverty. I thought I wanted to do it on a macro-scale, through institutional change. But the further I got, the more I realized I just want to work with people. I want to speak the Gospel into their lives, with words or actions.

I believe that God is slowly bringing into focus all of the mixed up pieces of my story. I love people and food. I love serving others. I love children. I love mothers. I love Latin America. I have a working knowledge of government and policy. I expected to go straight into some kind of non-profit ministry work straight out of college, but God put me into a for-profit business with a Christian mission. Instead of learning that I wanted an MBA and have a professional career (which is what I expected), I learned I want to work on the more practical sides of ministry, not the business side. I love to write, and I love to cook. I love to teach. I am a mixed-up mess of altering ambition and deep passion, and the more I pursue Covenant, the more I feel like it is the next step in my journey. I don’t know yet what I want to “do”. For the first time in my life, I can say that with absolute certainty. But I know what I want my life to be about – living out the Gospel every day, serving the people in my community, with the hope and security of faith in a Sovereign Lord.