Productive Procrastination, or Seminarian Struggles and Joys

Really, my main objective, besides avoiding writing my Hebrew Bible paper (or one of ten other assignments), is to let my few readers know that I am still here — and better yet, I am feeling at least reasonably well these days (after being ill with multiple viruses for much of Spring semester up through Easter). So, this is primarily a general update on what is going on as I keep on keeping on through my 2nd semester of my 2nd year of seminary.

I also have big news — my husband Shawn (http://leavingmyselfbehind.wordpress.com/) and I can now officially announce where we will be next year. Next year is Shawn’s internship year during his “pastor prep” studies and I will be doing field work as well via a year-long hospital chaplaincy. I was offered (and accepted) a chaplain residency at Mayo School of Health in Rochester, MN (starting September 2013) and we recently found out that Shawn’s internship churches will be in Harmony, MN (about 40 minutes south of Rochester on Hwy 52). We went to visit the Harmony area this past Saturday as we were going to be in Rochester anyway, and we were quite taken with the town and are very much looking forward to the year there in spite of my original reluctance to be in a small town for the year.

As background info our education “schedule” works like this.

  • 2 Academic years (we are both seminarians at Wartburg Theological Seminary in Dubuque, IA)
  • 1 field work year / internship (actually my degree program doesn’t require me to follow this exact schedule for fieldwork, but Shawn’s does so it simply works best for our family if I do some of my field work at the same time … and it gives me great experience!)
  • A final year (3rd academic year; 4th year total) back at Wartburg in Dubuque. Shawn will have a strictly academic year while I finish up classes, including classes focusing on my research project, and complete my congregational field work hours (all previous field work will have been done doing chaplaincy in a hospital and I need congregational hours as well).
  • During that final year at Wartburg, Shawn and I will also be going through the final phase of candidacy with the ELCA — Approval. Then, we will go through the assignment process and be assigned a region of the country and then a synod within that geographic region … and then receive calls to ministry.
  • Our expected graduation is May 2015 and really that final point of the last bullet can happen before or after graduation (we do not accept/start the call position until after graduation of course.
  • Shawn will graduate with an Master of Divinity degree and feels called to congregational ministry as a pastor.
  • I will graduate with a Master of Arts in Diaconal Ministry and feel called to working in pastoral care ministries — ideally bridging both church ministry and other “institutional” ministries (like hospital chaplaincy). At some point, not necessarily as part of my first call to ministry, I am likely to seek certification as a chaplain as well (another lengthy process).

OK, Whew. Hope that was helpful for a few. I have had numerous questions and thought it might be helpful. Please comment with any additional questions and I will answer there or do a Q&A post.

Now a few quick thankful shout-outs to highlight just a few of the many many joys in my life:

  • A husband that really really understands my call to diaconal ministry!
  • A brilliant 8-year-old daughter (8 for a week now!) who tells us that the reason we can’t stand in the kitchen hugging and dancing is because we wouldn’t be able to give her a kiss goodnight that way. 🙂
  • Lots of extended family to love and care for our girls (especially fun with birthdays)
  • A Mom and daughter that want to spend time quilting together (it’s so nice when all three of us can get together and kind of just “be” in that way … just wish I was healthier when we did that over Spring Break)
  • Classmates / colleagues that look forwarding to working with me and appreciate my voice and presence.

For the above — and SO MUCH MORE — each day I give God thanks and praise!

I did mention struggles though too, right? See as my colleague and I were just talking about I want to be authentic as well. It can be really challenging to be authentic without coming across as complaining at times though — especially to those that have not experienced the intensity of such a formative seminary experience. Seminary is challenging and formative even in the best of circumstances. When juggling family responsibilities with two full-time seminarian students as family is the reality, well I don’t think I can describe it while still in the process of living through it. I can’t be objective about this experience. I just can’t, and I think that is why I have had an especially hard time blogging this year. It’s not just the challenge of making time to do it. In some ways I am more relaxed about time this year even though I have less of it than ever before.

At the same time there are only mere seconds that I doubt at all that I am not exactly where I should be. I would not have imagined this journey a decade ago, and yet now I can not imagine any other journey. I often wonder if I am more different now than I am the same person of a decade ago. (In many ways it is not simply a nice reference to say “a decade” because it was indeed about a decade ago that my life changed drastically.)

I believe I have said it before, if not here then elsewhere, but talking about life here reminds me of some of the old military ad campaigns, or the peace corps motto of “the toughest job you’ll ever love.” Nearly ever single day I think about how hard this is in so many ways, and yet I LOVE it at the same time. I love the challenge; I love the way I will struggle and struggle through a paper and when done really feel like I can articulate a theological viewpoint that I could not previously do; I love the way new ideas are part of so many conversations here both in and out of class; I love how we take each other and our questions seriously; Oh, and I love listening to Shawn practice his sermons and being able to be taken seriously as his “first hearer” … and I love collaborating in so many ways with him; and I love that there is much more to this than I could possibly say at the moment.

At the same time most days I think the school’s admissions office is likely keeping any couple who both want to go to school at the same time far away from us because I will tell them — do NOT DO IT — try to do anything else first! (In reality I am much much more encouraging … most days). In reality I do not spend enough time on school work; I do not spend enough time with my daughters; I do not spend enough time with my husband; I do not spend enough time with my family (parents, siblings, in-laws, etc.); I do not spend enough time with my dear friends (here or elsewhere!) and I do not always steward my own personal resources well either (spending sufficient time resting, praying, exercising and so on).

Too much of this semester has been spent in a “triage” mode. I look only to what is the next most urgent thing on my list and that is it. I frequently have dozens of things on my list that simply never get done at all because of this (birthday cards and phone calls are just the tip of the iceberg). I didn’t think this year would be this hard. Then, I thought second semester would be better. I am now realizing I need to be able to find a way through even when this constant urgency continues.

We are told in many ways by many mentors that in some ways seminary is preparing us for ministry. Likely one of those ways is that there will always be way more for me/us to do than we can possibly do, and I will need to be able to triage in a way that does not seem like an Emergency room that admits only extremely urgent items to my attention and keeps me operating on adrenaline (not good for someone with chronic auto-immune illness anyway). To be fair, there are days that I get much closer to that and in many ways I am much more relaxed this year than last year. However, there is much more to do.

I wondered if naming this reality a bit here would encourage me as I need it. I pray that it does.

How do you manage yourself through time?

How do you express your joys and struggles? remain honest and authentic while maintaining an attitude of grace and gratitude?

Until next time, which I hope will be soon, may peace and joy be yours.

Love and belief,

Tami