Don’t Say Just

I believe language is everything. Words seep down into the crevices of the spine, and they grow. If they’re good, then the person will stand taller. They will radiate light. If those words come with judgment or hostility, a person might lose a few inches, stretching to find the light they once had. It’s a hard road when you’ve been knocked down a few inches, but I think eventually, the light finds you again.

When I left seminary, a few weeks ago, I had to meet with a professor to have a conversation about my decision to withdraw. I realized quickly it wasn’t a conversation but a pitch. It didn’t matter I was leaving because of personal reasons and mental health. She offered me in several different forms a reduced time in seminary for a different degree. “How about the M.A.C.M.? Two classes and CPE and you’ll be done? Have you thought about only taking a semester off?” When I explained to her the logistics of my time, CPE is 40 hours a week and I work nearly 40 hours a week, and that isn’t ideal, she let out an “Oh.” It was an oh I wish I caught on camera because as a pastoral worker, we are taught against every reaction she had in that 10 minute meeting. I digress. Before I left, she asked me what I would do since I wasn’t in seminary. Unfortunately, she did not word it like that. “So you’re just not going to finish? You’re just going to be a deputy clerk?” The just is where I am hung up on. Let me explain.

In undergrad, I had this amazingly wonderful professor, Dr. Martin, and he would make sure that in any of our responses–either verbal or written–we never used the word just. When we said it in class, he would interrupt us and say, “Don’t say just.” As annoying as I found his incessant interruptions, his words stuck with me. It wasn’t until I left undergrad, when I didn’t have Dr. Martin to call me out, that I understood why I shouldn’t say just. Just is a limitation imposed upon someone or something. When you say just, you are imposing your expectations upon them while limiting them to be something you find limiting for their potential. With just, they have no room to be anything else. I felt deduced to being only a deputy clerk. Her words were instantly frustrating. I responded back rather harshly and defensively. I started rattling off things I would be doing instead of being in seminary. If her question were worded differently, I wouldn’t have felt the need to defend myself against the limitations of just. I’ve had many people ask me what I was going to do post-seminary, and with some I was honest: “I am going to rest.”

Words matter and hers left a bitter taste in my mouth. Because this is such a fresh loss, when I think back on my time in seminary, I think back at the most recent things. My friend, who also left seminary earlier this year, said, “It’s like attending your own funeral.” And it really is. At the end, I could only see those who supported me, those who judged me, and those who only cared for me within an academic context. It was humbling and deeply saddening. So, today, I’m doing some processing of those feelings. I’m grateful for what the experience was. Despite the bitterness, I believe my time there was intentional both in my life and the lives of other people. I believe it mattered. I wish other people could see that too. Today, I am stretching to find the light I had and to believe in the great purposefulness of my journey.

My Bumblebee Being

My greatest woe was that I would let You down. That I would have rejected the person I was supposed to be so much that I became ordinary. Then, I quit the one thing I thought was sure to make me extraordinary. I left seminary and the hopes of a PhD. None of that makes any sense to me right now, but it feels so good. I don’t know much about anything like why birds sing at dawn, why the world wakes up right before the Sun, or how this world can continue to exist as it is. But, I do think I know one thing. We, if we choose, can be bumblebees.

Bees do not have to think about going from flower to flower, they just do it. They are who they are. In their creation, they know innately how to be and that’s what moves them from flower to flower. I am a bee. In my spirit, I know exactly how to be. It is in that being that everything else flows from. The beauty of being is that I never had to work at being extraordinary. Being who I am, what is innately natural to my spirit, that is what makes me extraordinary. No degree can do that. No church title can do that. No position can do that.

“Would you still love me if I wasn’t a surgeon?”

I’m rewatching Grey’s Anatomy, and that is the question that has surfaced out of two different surgeons. Derek Shepherd asked Meredith after he botched a brain surgery that killed a new mother. Cristina Yang asked Owen after she repaired Derek’s heart when he was shot. Both asked after periods of trauma if it would be okay to be someone other than who they are.

My stint in seminary seems to only get longer. The papers are growing more in length and depth, but I cannot bring any motivation to care. The beginning of this semester has brought discomfort. I want so badly to say trauma, but I won’t. My mom has cancer. Her cancer has been out of remission until this year. I spent the weekend before school began in the hospital with her. She was getting her second surgery of the year. I could kill her doctor because when he came out, he said, “What we removed wasn’t malignant.” We’re just slicing folks up for fun these days, I guess. Weeks later, my mom told me that her cancer is in her voice box. I can’t imagine a world without my mom. I especially cannot imagine a world without her and her laugh.

The beginning of the semester was about mourning. It was about me processing this level of grief and comprehending my mom’s desire for treatment, which is not to have anymore surgery. I can’t do anything but respect that, so I grieve very privately while still finding the willpower to go to work and do homework and practice yoga.

Now, I’m at the end of the semester, and I am asking, “Would you still love me if I didn’t go to school? Would you still love me if I didn’t teach? Would you still love me if I took a break from becoming who I am supposed to be?” I’ve tried having this conversation with my therapist and close friends, but honestly, I’m not desiring their opinion. I’m desiring God’s.

Even in my grief and growth, I feel a drop of disappointment within my spirit. That drop is rippling out into frustration, which has led me to where I am now. Will the paper I’m writing about matter in three weeks? Three months? Three years? Is this academia for academia’s sake? Because if it is, I cannot exist like this any longer. So, I’m asking God, but I’m also asking me: “Would you still love me if I didn’t teach?”

You Can’t Build a New Life on Old Foundation

Last week, my coworker, H and I were talking about going back to school. H made it clear that she did school, was good at it, but now it’s done. When I asked what exactly she wanted to do career wise, she said she didn’t know yet. She majored in Psychology. Although she thought about being an English major, she didn’t think she’d get a job. Oddly enough, I majored in English when I wanted to major in Psychology. I chose English because it was what I was passionate about. H mentioned that while she was great at school, she lacked the passion that everyone else had. I related all too well to her sentiments. When compared to other people in my program, I was the least passionate, or so it seemed from my perspective. 

When we talked more, I could see clearly how I was at her age. At twenty-three, I was left broken from college. I left school discouraged and feeling as if there were so many things torn down that I could not rebuild. I left feeling like I didn’t give my best. I see now just how much things can change in two years. It wasn’t until I was well into my post-grad resting period that I realized how wrong I was about how undergrad ended. 

At twenty-three, I was devoid of passion. I felt as if my greatest passions were supposed to sustain me from one point to the next. When they didn’t, I was left with no momentum. Passion, like happiness, burns bright red and orange. It burns deep and sparks quickly, but just as swiftly as it finds me, it will leave. My life shouldn’t rely on passion but dedication. Dedication pushes me over the hump when passion runs out. Dedication makes me lay a stone even when I don’t know what I’m building.

I thought my time after college was a time for rest, but honestly, it was the busiest two years of my life. In two years I learned what it takes to live alone. I learned about how to sustain successful friendships. I learned how to love Jesus first, my family second, and myself third. I learned that when I plan, I fail. I get too detailed, and I begin veering off on a path that isn’t destined for me. I learned that whatever you feed will grow. If you love someone today, love them tomorrow, and just keep on doing that until it’s not hard anymore. I learned that hurting people hurt people. I learned that sometimes I can be the most petulant person in the room if I get offended. I learned how not to get offended. I learned that any relationship worth having is worth the good and the bad. Each lesson, its own solid stone.

Between my patches of stone building, I entertained talk from people who said I couldn’t go back to school after a long break. “People get lazy! It happens.” I listened to people bring up my mistakes of the past. “I just don’t want you going out on a whim. Remember what happened last time?” I listened to nearly all unsolicited advice that began with someone’s best friend’s child who waited to go back to school, and life took the wheel instead. I took it all in with a smile and wrote angrily about it later. I did not realize, that my God, my glorious, glorious God was up to something. He had me building a wall. 

I didn’t leave school broken but ready for a new, everlasting foundation (Jeremiah 31:4). My discouragement came from shame, and it was good that those feelings and past actions were exposed (1 John 1:9). They were not authorized to mix in with my new foundation. I gave what I could when I had it, and at the time that was what I knew. Now that I know better, I do better, which means I give all of myself every single time (James 4:7). He was and is purifying the stones that He’s building in me and around me. He’s giving me the best, most solid foundation in all existence.

Now, I am nowhere near having myself figured out, but I know that with every stone that is being laid, I am becoming more secure in Christ and more secure in who He made me to be. He urges me every single day to keep building. Every day I am one stone closer to where I’m supposed to be. Every day, through my dedication to Him, my passions become a reality.