My husband and I moved into married student seminary housing the week of my twenty-second birthday. We had no jobs, two class schedules, and a U-Haul filled almost entirely with wedding gifts we’d received just over a year earlier. I spent our first few days on campus arranging our belongings inside the 781-square foot apartment and pretending I felt old enough to put on a suit from Ann Taylor Loft and interview for a job.
Over the next few weeks, jobs came and classes began. Jared attended school full time and worked part time while I did the reverse. Some evenings, I’d pull into the parking lot and leave our car running as Jared walked out of the building, his head buried in Gonzalez’ History of Christianity. We’d kiss outside the Camry and then Jared would drive off to a night full of tutoring high school students. I would run up to the apartment to eat some leftovers and brew the vanilla rooibos tea that accompanied me to evening classes. Three hours at a time, I soaked up the poetry of the Psalms and the fervor of the prophets.
On the weekends, Jared and I would walk thirty feet to our best friends’ apartment and watch Lost while we ate guacamole. The guys would spend commercial breaks, and hours long after the show had ended, discussing that day’s lectures. Their immersive experience of seminary rippled throughout every conversation.
Their immersive experience of seminary rippled throughout every conversation.
My experience of evening and online classes was less communal. Many of my classmates were part time, like me, and their days were spent in a cubicle or a church office or a home full of children. We participated in class discussions, and collaborated on the occasional project, but time didn’t allow for the same type of comradery I saw forming between Jared and his friends. I bonded with his friends, and their wives, deeply—bonds that still exist today. They became my theological companions, sparring partners, and refiners in ways that the classmates who sat next to me on a Thursday from 6:45-9:15 p.m. simply couldn’t.
And yet, one summer Saturday by the pool, I told my neighbor-best-friend that I was thinking about withdrawing from seminary. I’d been diagnosed with cancer just before spring break, and while I’d finished the semester—largely in defiance of a teaching assistant who told me I should drop out—and was beginning to heal, I wanted to rest. My friend agreed that withdrawing could be a good idea and then asked if I’d be going to seminary if I weren’t married to Jared.
She had every reason to ask. I’d said things like, “the buildings, the professors, the learning, they’re all right there!” But my response to her question came out faster than the July sun baking our swimsuit-clad bodies.
My friend asked if I’d be going to seminary if I weren’t married to Jared.
“Oh, absolutely. I’d be right here, on this campus, attending full time.”
I withdrew anyway. I hadn’t felt like I was forgoing a dream by attending part time as Jared attended full time, and I didn’t feel that way when I withdrew, either. I felt privileged to be a critical part of building the life we wanted—a life of ministry in which Jared pastored and I had the freedom to minister in creative, evolving ways.
Some of those feelings would shift in the years to come. I would feel bits of envy toward Jared and his friends—their freedom to attend classes first thing in the morning with coffee in hand, their mutual experiences of eccentric professors, their maleness that seemed inextricably bound up in it all. I told myself I’d go back to school someday, but I never knew when the time would come—especially once I had two little boys, a part-time job, and a husband working more than full time as a youth pastor.
Jared remained more committed to my desire and potential for theological formation than I was. One night, as Gabriel slept and Owen played, he looked at me across the bar in our kitchen, and asked: “What if you went back to seminary now?”
I would feel bits of envy toward Jared and his friends—their freedom to attend classes first thing in the morning with coffee in hand, their mutual experiences of eccentric professors, their maleness that seemed inextricably bound up in it all.
I felt like starting up again was selfish. Jared’s ministry, my children’s needs, my job and service in the community—those all seemed like true priorities. I’d seen seminary as a requirement for Jared since he planned to become a pastor. But for me—a person who didn’t intend to pastor, or perhaps even to minister vocationally—seminary felt like an extravagance I should forego. The desire flickered in me, though, and Jared’s words ignited the flame just enough.
I enrolled in online classes like I schedule the rarest of spa appointments—overcome with a sense of indulgence, of needing to justify my luxuriating in a mud bath of hermeneutics and hamartiology. Once the semester began, Jared took our boys to high school volleyball tournaments and junior high basketball games to cheer on youth group students so I could make flash cards labeled “Origen” and “Council of Constantinople.”
Over the course of the next few years, I chipped away at a degree, one or two classes per semester. Some mornings as I read Makoto Fujimura and drank a latte, that sense of luxuriating would bubble up around me like sinking into a jacuzzi. Other times, the pricks of envy—imagine how great it would have been to do this full time; doubt—what are you even going to use this degree for, anyway? and guilt—these are all minutes you could be spending with your children, or cleaning your house, or serving; would threaten to send all my joy swirling down the drain.
For me—a person who didn’t intend to pastor, or perhaps even to minister vocationally—seminary felt like an extravagance I should forego.
Theological curiosity pulsed inside me, but I couldn’t seem to tie that curiosity to a calling like so many of my fellow students, especially the men. I wonder sometimes if I attended part time from the beginning, and then withdrew, and then went back only one class at a time because of internalized sexism. Had I swallowed whole the idea that Jared’s vocation mattered more than mine? Jared had never, and would never, say or believe anything like that. His face falls if I even hint that I’ve wondered about it. Yet I often felt that he was the real grown-up with his strong sense of pastoral calling and the intellect, relational capacity, and motivation to fulfill it. I think that, at times, I was trying to live into a perfect picture of a pastor’s wife—content to put my husband’s calling before my own, if I even had one.
But to stop there would be a failure to tell the whole story. The whole story is that I chose to withdraw because I wanted to withdraw. The whole story is that I went back one class at a time because I loved my job and the hours I got to spend at home with my babies. I loved the flexibility in my schedule and space in my mind to create new ministries in my community, meet needs as they arose, and explore how my theological education could inform my writing. Even in an imperfect setting with my imperfect perspective, a slow trickle of seminary served me in monumental ways.
Even in an imperfect setting with my imperfect perspective, a slow trickle of seminary served me in monumental ways.
Seminary didn’t help me become a picture-perfect pastor’s wife. Seminary helped me become more curious, more thoughtful, more loving. Seminary helped me become a better writer, and a person more firmly rooted at the intersection of justice, mercy, and creativity that I’ve long known God put me here to pursue. Seminary formed me and cultivated me. And far beyond all of that, seminary helped me believe in the importance of my formation and cultivation.
All told, it took me ten years to graduate. I walked across the stage this past May. Our best friends from the nights of Lost and Trinitarian talks stood cheering with Jared and our boys, whose wicker basket full of dress-up clothes soon inherited my cap and tassel. I still felt twinges of longing when I saw students hugging and high-fiving each other before commencement as they celebrated the milestone they’d reached together. The truth is, I would have loved being a full-time student. And the truth is, I have loved spending a decade finding my way to a diploma.