Wednesday, June 29, 2011

hitting the books

From the comfort of my new study carrel in Wheaton's library, I'm diving back into German studies.  Why German, you ask?  In order to interact with the greater scholarly community, I have to be able to read works written in other languages.  For biblical studies, the traditional required languages are German and French.  Spanish is increasingly a language of publication, too.  German scholars have been hard at work studying the Bible for centuries, publishing commentaries and articles, and shaping the way biblical scholarship is done.  No dissertation in this field would be complete without a survey of what the Germans have said on the subject.  German is *not* an easy language, and I'm told even native speakers have trouble locating the main subject and verb of their enormously long sentences!  I'm a language junkie, though, so even German can be fun for me.  I've studied enough different languages to know that they all start out impossible, but with perseverance they all make sense after a while.  Let's hope it will be true for me this time around!

Here are a few nuggets from April Wilson's German Quickly: A Grammar for Reading German:

Anfang is kein Meisterst├╝ck. (A beginning is no masterpiece.)
Geduld is der Seele ein Schild. (Patience is a shield for the soul.)
Arbeit ├╝berwindet alle Schwierigkeiten. (Work overcomes all difficulties.)

In other words, it is ok not to be an expert at this point.  We all have to start somewhere.  As much as I'd like to be fluent, there is no shortcut to learning a language.  So patience and hard work are the only ways to proceed.  To learn German I need to make a million mistakes, so I'd better keep plugging away!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

live from Seminary Avenue

We made it safely to Wheaton on Monday and were met right away by three wonderful surprises:

  • my parents, who spontaneously decided we'd need their help this week and suprised us by showing up less than an hour before we did!  We're super thankful to have them here to help us settle in.
  • classmates to help us unload the truck (Charlie is wrapping up his dissertation under Dr. Block, and Austin is starting with me in the fall.  He and his wife, Heather, were here looking for housing and gave up their afternoon to help!).  Dr. Block stopped by, too, to officially welcome us to Wheaton and invite us all to dinner at his house that evening.
  • a darling house that we're delighted to call home for the next 3 years
The landlords spared no expense in renovating the house for our family.  Their mother lived here for 65 years.  They put in new flooring and paint througout the main floor, thoroughly cleaned the upstairs, and cleared out the unfinished basement so that we could use it for storage.  They added air conditioning on both floors, a dehumidifier in the basement, and a number of supplies that they knew we'd need right away (like a shower curtain and toilet paper).  They even left us kitchen curtains and a privacy curtain on the front door.  There were gifts for the kids and a card for us.  I just love the way the Lord works.  We spent all day Friday and Saturday moving out of our house in Charlotte and attempting to leave it as clean as possible.  We decided to leave our shower curtain (which was like new), privacy curtains by the front door, kitchen curtains, and toilet paper for the new owners.  We left a few girly things that we thought the family might like for their daughters and a card for the new owners.  And now we have tangible proof that you simply can't outgive God!

Last night we took a break from unpacking to see Lake Michigan.  Chicago. Is. Huge.  So is Eliana.  As you can see, she's now taller than the Sears Tower!

It felt surreal to leave Charlotte and the rich web of relationships we had there.  Our hearts are slowly catching up to our new surroundings, and soon this, too, will be home.

I had wondered whether I'd need to change my blog and use something other than "seminarymom."  After all, I'm not in seminary anymore.  Wheaton is a Graduate School.  But God is a God of details, and He provided a house for us on Seminary Avenue so that I could keep my blog as is.  I'm still a seminary mom ... my hands are still full ... and so is my heart.  I'm delighted to have you join me on this next stage of our journey!  Our zip code has changed, but goal is the same: to know God and His Word and to bring Him glory wherever He takes us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Pytchley Lane

We feel totally blessed to have been able to live in the world's friendliest cul-de-sac for 4 wonderful years.  Our neighbors have been a delight to know.  Whether working or playing, they are great to be around.  We'll never forget the first day we arrived and began unloading our moving truck.  Martin came straight over and started to carry furniture without even being asked.  When we turned right around and left for several weeks to see family, we came home to a mowed lawn.  Martin, again.  We think he has a lawn-mowing addiction, though he won't admit it.  He must still be in denial.  Sometimes he mows the whole cul-de-sac, "just to see how far a tank of gas will go."  On those days, Kevin will grab an edger and Danny a blower and follow along behind him until the job is done.

Shortly after we arrived 4 years ago Denise planned the first annual Pytchley Parade, complete with tractor rides by Mr. Emerson.  That's not the only holiday we celebrate together.  Most years, Memorial Day includes a picnic, Halloween finds everyone at Carly's house, and over Christmas break we're all at the Emerson's for a cookie exchange and holiday party.  Any tool you can imagine needing for a home improvement project can be found in somebody's garage on our street.  And everyone is happy to share.  For a few years (thanks to Jamie's organizational skills) the ladies of the neighborhood got together almost monthly just to hang out, eat, and talk.  Once they had a surprise baby shower for me, and after Easton was born we didn't have to cook for at least 3 weeks.  (I was thinking I ought to have babies more often!)  The Emerson's built a playground in their back yard for the neighbor kids and extended an open invitation to all.  (Their own kids and grandkids are too old to play on swings, but they like little people and keep a stock of popsicles in the freezer.)  Then there's Kris, who willingly brought Eliana to school for us in the morning for 3 years straight because it was on her way to work and devoted more hours than a part-time job to the PTA.  Speaking of PTA, we've never been to a school event where at least half of those left stacking chairs at the end didn't live on Pytchley Lane.  Servanthood must run in the water pipes here!  I didn't count the number of people who came to a potluck on Saturday (planned by Mrs. Emerson) to say goodbye, but we had a crowd (33?).  When it poured we all huddled together under the edges of Kevin's canopy and a few front porches trying to stay dry.  I am seriously going to miss these people!

P – Playing kickball
Y – Yardwork as a team
T – Talking and Tool-sharing
C – Clean-up after school events
H – Helping each other
L – Ladies’ Nights
E – Emerson Park and Emerson Parties
Y – Yummy Potlucks

L – Laughter
A – Awesome friends
N – Neighbors who care
E – Extra eyes to look out for each other

Friday, June 10, 2011

a red letter day

We closed on the sale of our home this morning.  The buyers are just wonderful to be with, and we were so busy getting to know one another that the house sale seemed almost peripheral. :)  This was one more glorious reminder of how God has orchestrated this journey.  The timing was perfect, and they are just the kind of people we wanted for our neighbors.

In other news, we're so, so proud of our girls.  Today was the last day of school for them.  They both brought home glowing report cards and special awards.

Emma is officially a first grader now!  She came off the bus crying this afternoon because she already missed her teacher.  Miss Taylor gave out candy bar awards to all her students, with a unique candy to represent each one.  Emma received the "Dove" award for being a peacemaker and problem solver. As Emma was quick to remind me, her name means "healer ... and that's almost the same thing!"  She was also the top reader out of all the Kindergartners (there were over 100) and set a new school record for her grade.  Congratulations, Emma!

Eliana is now a rising 5th grader!  While she didn't shed any tears today, she will really miss her teacher as well, and she hopes to stay in touch.  Eliana received an award for being the most mature 4th grader Mrs. Brown has ever taught (in 6 years)!  She has a "balanced perspective and an open mind."   She also met her reading goals for the year, earning a very impressive number of points.  Yesterday she was named the June Star Musician by her music teacher.  She has really enjoyed learning to play the recorder and being part of the school choir.  Way to go, Eliana!

I've emphasized before that intelligence is not a virtue, and I still firmly believe that.  What thrills us most is the spiritual fruit that we see in our kids' lives.  Both of the girls have been peacemakers among their peers, and both of them have cared for others who were struggling.  They have persevered through subjects that were difficult for them and come out victorious on the other side.  As we face this major transition, these are the qualities that we pray they will take along to their new school.  The same good God who provided such wonderful teachers for them in Charlotte has gone ahead of them to prepare the way in Wheaton.

"For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD gives grace and glory;
No good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly."
Psalm 84:11

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

just one little green crayon

This morning I pulled a load of laundry out of the dryer.  It was supposed to be white.  Instead it was white with green spots all over.  Ugh.

It's remarkable, really, how just one little green crayon can ruin everything.  A white shirt with green spots here and there is not a "pretty good" white shirt.  It's worthless -- ready for the rag pile, or (at best) the drawer of "play clothes."  Khaki pants don't look any more "khaki" with green smudges.

Easton (almost 3): "I'm sorry I ruined Daddy's pants with the green crayon, Mom."
Me: "I forgive you, Easton."
Easton: "I forgive you, too, Mom."

And I needed forgiveness.  Not for losing my temper over the ruined laundry.  By the grace of God this one didn't throw me.  I was thinking, though, about how I've been grumpy and stressed and anxious over the past week.  Like a green crayon in a hot dryer, my attitude has rubbed off on the rest of the family.  I've tried not to be stressed, but that hasn't been effective.  What I needed most was time alone (with God!) to think, read, pray and process what we're going through.  It has made all the difference. 

"Yes, my soul, find rest in God; (literally: Surely, before God, be silent, O my soul)
my hope comes from him. (because from him [is] my hope)
Truly he is my rock and my salvation;
he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend on God;
he is my mighty rock, my refuge.
Trust in him at all times, you people;
pour out your hearts to him,
for God is our refuge."
Psalm 62:5-8 (NIV 2011)

When all around us is chaos, we can choose to find rest in God.  Then we will not be shaken.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

retrospect and prospect

All five of us are finding ourselves pulled in two directions these days.

There is life to be lived in Charlotte.  The girls have another week of school left, and they are in the throes of field days and field trips and tests and parties, not to mention the urgency of playing with friends they will soon leave behind.  Danny has a full-time job to do; financial transactions do not stand still just because he has other things on his mind.  Our house was for sale by owner, and the buyer also came with no realtor, so he is busy getting things in order for closing next week.  For me there is laundry, cleaning, packing, and a garage sale. There are meals to make, homework to manage, and grading to wrap up for the spring semester.  Preschool is over, so Easton and I have many important tasks to do together, like engineering bridges, working on his baseball swing, and learning to jump in the swimming pool.  We're doing our dead-level best to finish well here, to grieve, and to say goodbye.

But our life in Wheaton has already begun.  Eliana is busy designing her new attic bedroom to look like a jungle.  I'm nearly drowning in medical forms for me and the kids.  Schools in Illinois require medical, dental, and vision forms signed and dated by the appropriate professionals.  There are school enrollment forms, a lease to sign on the house we're renting, moving arrangments to make, and travel plans to work out.  I have a good deal of studying to do over the summer so that I'm ready to pass my German exam, ready to present a paper at ETS, and ready for classes this fall.  My first meeting with Dr. Block is scheduled for the day we arrive.  Despite the urgency of other tasks, I feel a sense of compulsion to do random, non-urgent things now, like shop for winter clothes while they are on sale and figure out a fall schedule that will allow both of us to work full-time with only 5 hrs/week of preschool for Easton. 

Honestly, I don't feel like I'm handling it all that well.  I've gone from 2-5 hrs/day of quiet, reflective study time to almost none, now that preschool is over.  The goodbyes are starting to close in on me, feeling much like the 98-degree heat and choking humidity outside.  It's obvious that God has opened this door, and we want nothing more than to walk through it, but it's exhausting nonetheless.  I'm running on fumes and putting out fires and longing for a few precious hours to sit and reflect and sort it all out.

The kids are handling it like champions. 
Easton is full of stories these days:  "When I was a little boy, I got bit by a bug." 
Me: "Really?  What kind of bug?"
Easton: "A red bug."
Me: "How big was he?"
Easton (reaching way up high): "He was this big!"
Me: "Oh, wow! That's a big bug!  Where did he bite you?" 
Easton: "On my hand, right here." 
Me: "And where were you when the big red bug bit you?" 
Easton: "At the beach!"
Me: "Really?  I didn't see a big red bug at the beach." 
Easton: "But I did!"
And he's planning ahead, too.  "When I get big and become a grown up, I'm not gonna suck my fumb anymore!"  In anticipation of his 3rd birthday this month, we're talking a lot about big boy underwear and potty chairs, too.  He was utterly delighted to learn that we'll be staying at a hotel on our way to Wheaton, and that we'll be taking all of our clothes and toys and even toothbrushes along!  His favorite question this week is, "Can I bring this to the hotel, too, when we go to Wheaton?"

All of us made a "bridge" poster to help us think about what we're leaving behind in Charlotte (the teardrops on the left) and what we're looking forward to in Wheaton (the balloons on the right).  Emma's first teardrop said "moving to Wheaton."  She said she didn't want to go and leave her friends behind.  But moments later she drew a balloon that said "making new friends."  We know there are lots of special friends just waiting to be met!  Today, though, we are somewhere in the middle, feeling pulled in both directions and praying for strength to finish well.

God is full of surprises

I was surprised and honored to be asked to give "student remarks" at my graduation ceremony.  That meant I had the privilege of sitting on stage with the president of Gordon-Conwell, Dr. Dennis Hollinger, our campus dean and my advisor, Dr. Tim Laniak, the keynote speaker (president of the Bible Society of Egypt), Ramez Atallah, and others.  Best of all, I had a great view of the audience and the graduating class.  A professional photographer captured some great shots of the event.  The text of my 3-minute speech is below.

God is full of surprises, isn’t he?

When we moved to Charlotte in 2006 we were entering a new season of life.  My husband, Danny, and I had been missionaries with SIM in the Philippines, where we were involved in Muslim outreach.  But Danny’s skills were more critically needed here at SIM’s International Office.  So we came … away from a ministry I loved and a master’s program I had just begun.  We put my dream of becoming a college professor on hold.  Someday, we told ourselves.  By the time we arrived in Charlotte we had two small children and my hands were full at home.
But God is full of surprises.  After just 6 months of living in Charlotte we discovered that Gordon-Conwell offered a scholarship to SIM missionaries.  Danny suggested that I take a class or two, just to keep my brain alive. I needed a little more than Goodnight, Moon. It seemed the fiscally responsible thing to do.  I vividly remember my first meeting with Octavia in admissions.  I told her I had no intention of graduating from Gordon-Conwell -- I simply wanted to take a few classes so I could transfer the credits elsewhere someday. 

But God is full of surprises.  Before I set foot in my first class, I had fallen in love with Gordon-Conwell.  The course schedule has been ideal for a stay-at-home mom.  Only once or twice in 5 years can I remember hiring a babysitter so that I could be in class.  My husband deserves a medal for the way he has selflessly arranged our schedule so that I could squeeze two years of full-time study into five years of full-time life.  I entered the program with 2 kids, and I’m leaving with 3.  The idea was that someday, when our kids were grown, I would pursue a PhD.
But God is full of surprises.  Just after I crossed the half-way point we had the growing sense that now was the time for me to pursue a PhD – crazy as it sounds .  My sense of calling to Bible teaching ministry grew stronger with each class I took.  Our children are now 10, 5, and 3 … a long way from being grown, but next month we’re headed to Wheaton College Graduate School in Illinois to embark on the next phase of God’s adventure for us – a PhD in Biblical Theology.

People say that seminary can be a dry time spiritually.  But God is full of surprises.  These 5 years have been some of the most exceptionally rich years of our lives.  Classroom learning has energized Sunday worship.  Ministry has fueled my quest for deeper understanding.  And the rhythmic alternation between seminary and family life has brought great joy.  It has not always been easy.  The steady pressure to use every minute productively has sometimes been more than we thought we could bear.  But the Lord has carried us through those valleys and brought us to green pastures time after time.
I should not be standing here.  And neither should you, fellow graduates.  Life is busy, and seminary takes time – a lot of time.  We’re in the midst of a recession and seminary costs money – a lot of money.  But God is full of surprises, and one of the most precious is the strength he gives us to do the impossible and to do it joyfully.