Monday, August 31, 2009

Seminary orientation, check

Whoa. Well, I survived seminary orientation. I even enjoyed most of it!

And I am so grateful for the chance to meet all the new students, both residential and online (I'll be residential). There was a Presbyterian pastor/elder, a community church worship leader, and lots of Baptists and Grace Brethrens. I believe I was the only Nazarene in the bunch. And you should have been there when I told a Southern Baptist guy my denomination puts women in leadership, even ordains them. At least all he did was shake his head. The Presbyterian guy smiled.

I have to tell you something that people from my seminary might read, but I'm OK with them knowing this. Last March, at seminary preview today, I happened to run into the only female professor in the seminary. She is the first female professor in the seminary ever...and she has become a friend. Initially, we only spoke for a few minutes, as she was running to a class.

But as the chain of events in our decision process unfolded, I called her and asked her all the questions I would need to know to decide on a seminary. I know now that if she would not have been on staff I would have gone elsewhere. This is a really warm and caring group of individuals, but I'm already pushing their envelope in a semi-big way regarding my beliefs and convictions of what the Bible has to say about women using their leadership gifts. So I would have gone elsewhere. Probably an online program that would have left me languishing for community and personal face-to-face connection and discussion.

So I'm glad she's there, and I'm glad I'm there, too. And, most of the time, I was encouraged by our interactions this weekend. I was encouraged to see that almost 1/4 of the students are female, even if many of them are online. I was especially proud of the two moms with young kids who were there, signing up to start the online program so they can balance the demands of motherhood and ministry. You go, girls!

But what did I learn? I learned this...seminary cannot be primarily about grades. It has to be about learning--an internal motivation to learn and grow in my walk with Jesus and in ministry or I will burn out. I'm going to write up a short motto to that effect and place it above my laptop.

And as I crash tonight so I can do a 12-hour day tomorrow, I'm smiling as I think about my new student ID; and the collegiate feel of the library; the dining commons; the engaging, challenging students; and the beautiful campus. I'm back in school, friends. And this time, it's for the best reason ever.

As my husband said last night, "You are where you are supposed to be doing what you are meant to do."

Thank you, Abba, for this opportunity. Less than 1% of 1% of Christians get to study the Bible and God's intentions for us in seminary. How amazing that God is allowing me this opportunity. I'm hoping to make full use of it.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Seminary orientation, meeting 1, check!

The husband and I just got back from our first orientation activity--dinner and a Q&A time with current students. Nothing flashy, really.

But get this. I have "folks" now! Community! Thank you, Jesus. I can hardly wait to get to know every blessed one of them.

And the "gathering place" seminary lounge has flashy new red leather furniture. And a cool coffee machine.

That's it for now. See you tomorrow!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Joy, joy, joy

It hasn't been a banner day. There was the *free hair color* I got this morning after getting a nice haircut. That was certainly unexpected! I am now a dark auburn. Thank you, Ulta salon.

However, a disappointment came today that made me second-guess myself and others, too. I was just a little bummed about something that fell through, and it seems to have colored this 24-hour period, this entire day.

The day that the Lord has made. The same one I am supposed to rejoice and be glad in.

And, tonight, I am profoundly grateful for this week's choice reading materials. I picked up a copy of Champagne for the Soul by Mike Mason at 1/2 price books last weekend. (I love and cherish another of his books, The Mystery of Marriage, and would recommend it to anyone.)

The subtitle of the champagne book, though, is Celebrating God's Gift of Joy. Mike Mason, an introspective fellow who sometimes tends toward depression, decided to all-out celebrate the joy of the Lord for 90 days. It wasn't easy--and it wasn't that bad things didn't happen in those 90 days. It's just that Mason learned joy is "a response to the Lord's presence." And he claims just as happiness is a choice, joy is, too.

And something I'm finding quite insightful, since I have experienced my share of depression, too, is that in these pages he talks about how joy often comes when suffering is present. Indeed, Mason found a permanent joy could be experienced even when he was sad, confused, melancholy, or afraid. He points us to Matthew 28:8: "So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy."

We are complex creatures, and though the fall and sin color our emotional landscape, we can choose joy. We can respond to God's presence, and we can choose to change our thinking, to move toward the assurance of our position and relationship with Christ. "Though there be clouds in the sky," Mason notes, "the sun can still shine brilliantly."

Tonight, I choose joy. Tomorrow, by God's grace, I shall do the same.

Friday, August 21, 2009

What's a girl to do

I am completely serious when I say seminary orientation starts a week from tomorrow! Really.

And I have to tell you, there is nary a moment to spare. Between adding more freelance writing projects, chaplaincy work, home stuff, friends who need help, husband stuff, church stuff, hormone stuff, and keeping connected to my Abba-Father, there is no time. Add to that, the husband has started working between 50-58 hours a week.

The margin in our lives, which was such a gift through the first year of our marriage, is dwindling. I am waving it a wistful farewell. I'm working to come to grips with our new existence. I'm asking God to show me what to do, what to delegate, and what to let go of. Truthfully, I think my husband and I are both a little bit wary of what this new season will mean for our marriage.

And there's the question mark about whether God will bless us with a child at some point. Where in the world does that fit in to this picture? Only God knows. And I'm so glad He does.

Anyway, all this hullabaloo means that I have had many a "come-to-Jesus" moment this last week or two. I mean this figuratively as in "get a grip" and literally, as in, "Help me, please, Lord."

I have already canceled two lunch appointments for next week. I mourned the fact that my new hairstylist here quit, and quickly called up another local salon, hoping for the best. I finished a freelance project, talked my dear mother into working for me on some database/coordination issues next week, then called our lead chaplain to ask if another chaplain might cover for me during the month of September.

Then I looked at the husband and asked him what all of this is going to look like. Our latest realization, although it goes against our grain a bit, is that we are in need of finding a kind soul to clean our small home once a week. This is something we've never done before--and frankly, never thought about doing. But we are asking ourselves how to be good stewards of our time and energy. How to preserve a safe haven for ourselves, while doing the work and learning God has called each of us to do.

We are not the type to burn the candle at both ends. That is, I was the type, but then I learned my lesson--years ago. We want to live life intentionally, with grace and joy. With healthy food, quiet time with our Savior, and time to give to each other and those who come across our paths. And so we are, with God's help, creating a new season in which He can use us.

It is like a blank canvas, really. But I'm thankful we're assembling the colors and the brushes. Getting ready to use what is needed to move forward on the journey. Now, after all is said, may my heavenly Father give me the grace to leave the paintbrush in His hand, to surrender the reins.

That's what this girl has decided to do.

Friday, August 14, 2009

One woman to another

Wednesday evening I sat in a small circle of women at church, in a meeting I completely forgot was happening until I walked in the church doors. So there we were, and a really dear woman from our denomination was there, too, and she was all fired up about a great women's conference we are planning to host at our church in 2010. We're Nazarene, so we're allowed to have conferences that are centered around the Holy Spirit. (This coming from a former Baptist pastor's daughter. I know of what I speak.) Not that we get too carried away, mind you, but we allow God to work, trying to follow His movement in our midst. Being open to what He might do.

By the time this woman got done talking, I was getting fired up, too. God is obviously on the move, mending hearts, changing lives, shaking things up and pouring out His love and mercy. We hope our church might be a place of refuge for all these women who will come through our doors.

And then this woman spoke what all of us face at different turns: she spoke of how fear creeps in at times as we are trying to do God's work, when we are trying to do almost anything. And the enemy of our souls does what he can to drive this fear deeper, making us afraid that something will fail. And sometimes we also fear that it will succeed.

She brought a wonderful card for each of us with a verse that helps her remember God's grip on us, his real presence that is with us, no matter what emotion might come or go. And I have this verse perched in my business card holder next to my laptop. Which is likely where it will remain for semester #1:

"I will not in any way fail you, nor give you up nor leave you without support. I will not, I will not, I will not in any degree leave you helpless nor forsake you, let you down, nor relax My hold on you! Assuredly not!"
Hebrews 13:5, Amplified Bible

All I'm saying is, God cannot leave us without support. He won't leave us helpless. And he'll never let go of us, no matter what. I'm thankful the Amplified Bible really wrings the truth out of this verse for us. I'm really thankful for emphatic promises from our Creator that we can sink our toes down into, where we can lean back and be caught, something in which we can ultimately put our trust.

No matter what the fear, he cannot fail us.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sixteen days

Yes, that is when seminary begins. With a lovely orientation weekend. In case you were wondering, this is what the husband and I will be up to:

Saturday, August 29
4-5:30, registration
5:30-6:30, dinner
6:30-8:00, the mysterious "seminary life" gathering

Sunday, August 30
10-11, church service
12-2, hot dog and fried chicken lunch
2-3:30, library orientation (the husband will skip out here until there is more food)
3:30-5:00, doing online research
5-6:30, dinner in the dining room
6:30-8, meet the faculty

Monday, August 31 (the husband will be back to work at Government Motors)
9 am-12 pm, new student orientation

And, the next day, September 1, my first day of class. We are burning the candles at both ends right now, David and I. He is working about 58 hours a week for the auto industry. I am seeking to balance chaplaincy work, a rush of freelance work, writing church curriculum for our women's ministry, and the inevitable details that must be attended to for my first semester.

I need a haircut. I need some fall/winter clothing. There is a rolling laptop bag being shipped our way through ebay. There are people to email and call and encourage. And there is one amazing Creator/Sustainer/Lifegiver to fellowship with. I was reminded today of my first responsibility when my friend Katy posted this quote on facebook:

"...for most of us...the reason we exist is to serve ourselves. Or to serve our families. Or to serve God. Nothing could be further from the truth. We do not exist to work. We do not exist to evangelize. We do not exist to marry & raise children. We do not exist to make the world a better place. The reason we exist is to be in fellowship with God."
~Randy Kilgore

Thanks, Katy. It is really all about relationship with this amazing heavenly Father who loves us. Here's a quote for the wall above your desk, folks. Or the refrigerator...or the mirror...or the car visor. Oh how we need the reminder to rest in His presence.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Be strong and courageous

Our Sunday School reassembled yesterday, with our friends, J. and D., from the previous post, joining us. Their grief is still raw, but the peace of God is very real in their hearts and on their faces.

I imagine that each of them has known Jesus for about 60 or 70 years. And in those years, God's goodness has been known to them. Inevitable struggles have been lightened by the strength of his mercy and grace. They have this wonderful, lifelong faith to draw from. And it will sustain them. It will be their daily bread, and in the end, it will be enough.

The strength of their convictions spoke to me yesterday as I prayed for them. And it occurred to me that this Jesus-thing, the Way, works on a deep and primal level. Blessed be His name when the sun's shining down on me, when the world's all as it should be. Oh, but the intimacy and knowledge of Christ we experience when the unthinkable happens in our lives. And it will. Blessed be your name when I'm found in the desert place. Though I walk through the desert place, Blessed be your name. (Matt Redman)

If the Christian faith is true, it must be true when the bottom falls out. And I can testify, it is.

It follows, then, if we know it is certain, that we must pattern our lives on it and we must share the truth that we know with others. That we will sacrifice our comfort to preach, and teach, and share, and serve. And that is where this song comes in.

I really love what artist Allen Levi is doing, giving away a beautiful song each day on his website. They are poignant and profound; rich and soul-soothing. This one is called "They Will Still Be Wrong," and it is for every believer in Christ who feels called to share the light with others, while sometimes being rejected. While always seeming to go against the flow of the world and its convictions.

Here's the link. Just click it, then click on the musical notes to hear the .mp3. Then close your eyes and let it minister strength and courage to your soul.

Be strong, courageous, and firm; fear not nor be in terror before them, for it is the Lord your God Who goes with you; He will not fail you or forsake you.
-Deuteronomy 31:6

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The Lord takes away

"Human contact and concern, even poorly done, are more redemptive than avoidance."
-author Bruce Parmenter

Things are not right in our corner of the world today. You know things are not right when you have to visit a funeral home to bring comfort to your elderly friends whose one-year-old great grandson drowned in a lake last Saturday. No, things are not right at all.

We reached out, our efforts seeming so feeble, to D. and J. tonight. And it nearly tore me up inside. Truth be told, I've been distracted since we got the news sitting in church Sunday morning. We have prayed several times for their health and well-being, that God would give them grace upon grace to get through this. I've spoken with J. twice on the phone; I say I've spoken, but in truth, I said so little. There were no words. And our prayers seem to stop at the ceiling. We don't know what we are doing; we don't know what to pray, though we have been praying all our lives. This must be what the Scripture means when it says the Spirit prays for us in our weakness when we are beyond being able to express ourselves.

I walked out of the funeral home tonight physically sick. I've been around funeral homes and the deceased practically all of my life, starting as a child with the ministry a pastor's family naturally assumes. These things are not unusual to me. But the site of that little one who looked like he is sleeping lying in a coffin with no earthly dreams for the future just about undid me. Emotionally distraught, I was.

It all seems so senseless. Tonight J., who is 81, told me that this has been the shock of his life. No one was prepared to bury their little blond burst of sunshine. No one could have ever imagined that looking away for a moment would bring such unbearable grief, a loss no young mother should face, such a terrible tragedy.

As we got in the car, I began an internal conversation with my heavenly Father. Lord, this is wrong! What could you possibly be thinking? I know you didn't cause this--it's this broken world. But you and I both know darn well you could have prevented it. And I began to recite to myself the truths that I know, that I keep in my back pocket to pull out when I need them. And, oh, how I needed them.

In the ancient Hebrew tradition, God was a real person, with whom you entered into dialogue and argument. That explains the whole book of Job, in my opinion. If we truly disbelieved, after all, we would not question God. We would not bother with him.

I told myself that God loves little M.--that he created him. I reminded myself that Psalm 139 says he knew all of the days this little one would live before he was even born. I know from the book of Acts that God even knows the places where we live. He knew M.'s address, and his parents and grandparents, all of the ins and outs of the situation that went down last Saturday. I recalled that God is not the author of sin or confusion, and that this event and its subsequent numbing grief was never his intention. That he hates it, in fact. And then I tried to picture Jesus welcoming M. into His presence. It occurred to me that while M. will not live a long, full life on earth, he will live a completely full life in paradise, and then the new heaven and the new earth. That he will never truly die.

And it helped a little.

It helped enough for me to start breathing normally again. And in the grand scheme of things, in the realm of enduring truth, it helps a whole lot, of course. It makes all the difference in the world, our hope of heaven.

My recent reading on grief has given me this little morsel: "In his own time, God responds to suffering. He is not indifferent to our anguish." -Bruce Parmenter

I can't tell you what a relief it is, even as I sit here typing this, to know that God wins in the end. That babies are precious to him, that life--even when it only lasts a year--is a gift, that death means victory, and in pain God's comfort overflows, and hope leads to the eventual end of disappointment. Oh, Abba, thank you for your truth. It is all we have, and it will be enough.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Tax credits for seminary education

Yes, they do exist! But your financial aid office may not tell you about them, so I'll be your bff and give you the scoop:

529 College Savings Plan (credit on your state taxes due) -

Your state has one of these, but they might vary on the details, depending on where you live. My husband called on this and found out we can funnel our seminary tuition through this account, wait 10 days, then pay the seminary. When we do, we will receive a 20% tax credit on our Indiana state tax bill next year, up to $1,000. Oh, and there's no account fee in Indiana. Check out this link.

Lifetime Learning Credit (credit on your federal taxes due) -

I'm quoting from this website:
What is the tax benefit of the lifetime learning credit. For the tax year, you may be able to claim a lifetime learning credit of up to $2,000 ($4,000 for students in Midwestern disaster areas) for qualified education expenses paid for all students enrolled in eligible educational institutions. There is no limit on the number of years the lifetime learning credit can be claimed for each student.

A tax credit reduces the amount of income tax you may have to pay. Unlike a deduction, which reduces the amount of income subject to tax, a credit directly reduces the tax itself. The lifetime learning credit is a nonrefundable credit. This means that it can reduce your tax to zero, but if the credit is more than your tax the excess will not be refunded to you.

The lifetime learning credit you are allowed may be limited by the amount of your income and the amount of your tax.

Learn more by visiting yourself--watch how much you earn, that will effect whether or not this applies to you. $2,000 a year, per year in seminary, though--wow, that's a significant help. I don't know if you can take out loans and still get the federal credit. That's beyond me. But hopefully this will give you a start on your research--it's the IRS, so it's a teensy bit confusing, but worth the hassle.

Here's to cash-credit savings on next year's tax bill, making seminary more affordable for all!

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Seminary orientation

Just got the details on seminary orientation, to be held August 29-31. I'm excited, yes, to get started--but even more than being excited, I'm curious. What does the mysterious "Seminary Life" session, held in the chapel, entail, exactly?

What will it be like to rub shoulders with old and new students and to start to get a feel for the style of each of my first-semester professors? Since they have asked all of our spouses to attend, what exactly do they want my husband to do during the "seminary wives meeting" while I am at library orientation?

The whole thing is a little surreal, honestly. First off, it's hard to believe I'm finally beginning this journey. Couldn't have predicted it when I left my job and my community, married and moved a year and three months ago. Yet it is so obvious to us now that both my husband and I are excited for me to dig in.

God has a way of revealing our calling, often as we put one foot in front of another, as one conversation leads to another, as we discover that our gifts are given to be used and that we long to be good and gracious stewards. And that is how this journey has unfolded.

My husband David and I have become fully convinced that not going to seminary for me would be an act of disobedience. And since we desire to obey, the choice has become obvious. What we haven't understood and has concerned us some is how we will pay for my seminary education. We have prayed about this and discussed numbers and ideas, and we would love to do this without going into any debt. My freelance writing business has been spotty due to the economy, but we knew we had the first semester covered, between scholarship and savings.

In the last few weeks, God's plan for this certainly seems to be unfolding. Freelance opportunities have suddenly popped up that should stretch through this first semester. And when all is said and done, if all goes as planned, it looks like the income received will be just about right to cover second semester. I kid you not.

I'd like to have everything figured out, of course, before starting my first class. But that would not cause me to depend on my heavenly Father as my provider. And so this "provide-as-you-go" approach makes sense to me. It keeps me praying to my Abba for His grace and provision to follow our obedience. It keeps me connected to the Vine. 

John 15:5-8, The Amplified Bible

"I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing. If a person does not dwell in Me, he is thrown out like a [broken-off] branch, and withers; such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and they are burned. If you live in Me [abide vitally united to Me] and My words remain in you and continue to live in your hearts, ask whatever you will, and it shall be done for you. When you bear (produce) much fruit, My Father is honored and glorified, and you show and prove yourselves to be true followers of Mine."