Eleven years ago, I traveled from Bakersfield, California to Wake Forest, North Carolina to attend seminary. I lived near Dallas at the time, but my parents were moving from Bakersfield to Denver, Colorado so I flew out to help get them get there, and enjoy the stops along the way (The Grand Canyon! Las Vegas!). After we all made it to Denver, Dad and I drove to Dallas to pack up my stuff, and we kept heading east to North Carolina. That July, I drove Dad down to the airport and said good-bye. Then I headed back to my seminary housing apartment to hang out with a roommate I had just met, get ready for a Christian school teaching job I still wasn’t sure about (Why were all the women wearing skirts? Why are they all using the KJV?), and start a full load of seminary classes.
When I had visited the campus a few months before, I called up a college friend who attended SWBTS. “I was expecting this to be more like college,” I told him. “Everybody is old and married with kids running around.” But, it had the women’s studies program I wanted, really wanted, so I went. I wanted to study for a few years and then move back to Texas, where I was sure a church would give me an office and the title “Women’s Ministry Directory” and let me pour into women the deep theology, Greek verb conjugation, and results of the First Council of Nicaea I had learned. And plan teas, of course.
Studies show men outnumber women 5 to 1 at evangelical seminaries like the one I attended. (See The Seminary Gender Gap at Christianity Today.) In some of my classes that only the Master of Divinity students had to take, like Greek and Hebrew, I was outnumbered by more than 20 to 1. In other classes, like Women’s Ministry in the Local Church, thirty or so women would all be together (some of us getting the M. Div in women’s studies, others the Master of Arts option, along with those studying missions or counseling). In the big classes like Church History, most of the women sat together and became friends.
But, unlike in college where you live together and hangout together all the time, the women I became friends with were all in different life stages. We were balancing work and seminary classes. Some were balancing husbands and hermenutics, babies and biblical languages. We just didn’t hang out much outside of class and study groups.
During my first year, I met Lee at work and we started dating. Our first date was in November, we were engaged in February, and were married in July of 2003. He started at the seminary that fall. I got pregnant in 2005 and often had to run out of class to the nearest restroom. I took just one class that fall David was born. Lee had gotten a pastorate at a small church so we were able to juggle baby duty and class work. In 2007 we found out I was pregnant again. We were supposed to graduate that May though so I couldn’t slow down. There were many more races to the restroom with that pregnancy too, but we made it, and I graduated five years after stepping onto that seminary campus, with a completely different life than what I had when I started. Different plans too. Instead of being a women’s ministry coordinator, I was a pastor’s wife. Instead of heading back to Texas, we ended up in Pennsylvania.
And my friends from class? Well, their dreams changed too. Only a few have offices at churches or ministry organizations. Most of us are doing what most women our age are doing–loving our husbands, taking care of our children, and ministering to those God brings into our lives. Some of them are doing it in countries around the world. Some are writing. Some, like me, have their hard-earned diplomas hanging on their walls, others would have to search a few boxes to find them.
I became what I saw on that first campus visit, an old married person with kids running around.
I have thought back to that cross-country drive eleven years ago and whether or not I would make the decision to attend seminary again. I could do exactly what I do each day without the degree. But, oh those years were rich. And when I’m able to talk with Lee about what he’s preaching, or what I’m writing, or what I’m reading and we can both draw on what God (and many professors) taught us during those years, it feels worth it. When I hop on Facebook and see pictures of my friend’s kids playing with kids from their neighborhood somewhere in Asia, and I know they aren’t just playing, their mom is sharing the gospel with other mom, it feels worth it. The Greek flashcards I flipped through while my 8th graders took grammar tests, the 6:30 am class before I went to work all day and back to class that night, the paper in which I confused “complementarian” and “egalitarian” (true story), the races to the bathroom, and even the smell of the commentaries in the library were all worth it.
God doesn’t waste anything. Not an experience or a pain. Not a wrong turn or a promotion. Not a bad paper or an aced exam. Not a degree or a friendship. And for that I am thankful.
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. -Romans 8:28