This May I did a thing!
I donned a silly looking hat and robe, made my family come to Portland, walked across a stage, knelt down, and received another weird looking wardrobe item they called a “hood.” And with that, I had graduated! I have a Master of Divinity degree!
(Side note: the man backstage with the big camera where I was directed and ordered to tilt my head just a little more to the right, asked me about my degree. How does one describe a degree in which you have been told that you are now a Master of the Divine, but feel so much further from mastery of God than when you began? I told him it was a theology degree so I could become a pastor, an answer which satisfied him for a moment. Until he asked the follow up, “Did you know that’s what you were going to study when you started?”)
Anyway, I had graduated. But not really.
I still had one more class to take. So after gallivanting around Portland with my family all weekend, I sent them home and headed to a retreat center for the first four days of what would be my summer intensive in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship.
I admit it, I was annoyed. Everyone else was done with school and here I was having to take one more class to finish my degree. I didn’t want to take a summer class. I didn’t want to keep telling people that I was walking in graduation in May, but wouldn’t officially be done until July. I was suffering a serious case of senioritis and worried I would not get anything out of the class.
I had done some wrestling with God over this very issue earlier that spring. My spirit had felt in such turmoil over my upcoming graduation. I described it to my friends as “feeling all the feels.” I didn’t know what to do with all those feelings, so I took myself on a solo retreat. I was lucky enough to get to stay at my Aunt and Uncle’s bonus house on the coast where I ate good food, enjoyed incredible rest, and talked to God about all those feelings I was feeling.
Honestly, I was worried about the fact that the graduation ceremony wouldn’t actually be the ritual to mark the ending of this incredible experience. I was worried that when July rolled around and I turned in my final assignment, it would feel so anticlimactic. I wondered about how to make it special, about how to mark the actual completion.
I spent a lot of time on that solo retreat contemplating how the seminary experience had changed me. I read through my notes from orientation and journaled all kinds of thoughts. I tried to put words to the person I had become, the values I now held, the deepest lessons I had learned. I wrote pages and pages of gratitudes, and one page of frustrations/regrets. I walked away from that retreat much, much lighter.
But still annoyed that I had to take that summer class.
Turns out, I wish everyone could take a class in Spiritual Formation and Discipleship to end their seminary experience. To begin with, I spent four days on retreat in an amazing setting, with incredible classmates, and a wise and gifted teacher. We studied scripture together, we prayed together, we reminded one another of our belovedness, and we learned hard and good truths of life and spirituality together. I left that place profoundly grateful and ready to tackle the final semester.
Reality hit me hard, however, when I got home. After having a family dinner and tucking the kids into bed, Darin called me over to the couch and told me that he had been let go from his job that day. I will never forget the image of his angst-ridden face as he gave me the news. The next day I, too, was let go. Someday I’ll be able to write about this whole experience, but for now, I’ll just say that our lives were completely turned upside down. We made plans to finish the kids’ school year, then move into our camping trailer for the summer (our housing was a benefit with Darin’s job at camp), putting the majority of our belongings into storage.
It was a hard few weeks of sorting, packing, and job hunting. And I still had classwork to do. There was so much grace from my teacher and my classmates, but I’ll be honest, some days sitting down to read a book or write a forum post was the last thing I wanted to do. And some days it was the thing that kept me alive.
And then we said goodbye to our home and set out on our adventure. I had my computer and books with me, and set about, bit by bit, to finish the major project of the class. I had set my mind to writing a curriculum for women’s spiritual formation. It became a sort of culmination of my learning and my passions developed during the four years of seminary. It took hours of research and writing to complete, and it took one generously given extension to turn in finished.
The morning I turned it in I was all alone in the guest room at my mother-in-law’s house. Darin was finishing a bathroom remodel project he had taken on for some friends, and I was going to be taking Daisy to summer camp that afternoon. When my alarm went off I sat up to read through the project one final time, fixing a few errors and typos. And then I uploaded it and hit submit. I sent an email to my professor letting her know that it had been turned in, and that was it.
I was done with seminary.
I took a selfie to commemorate the occasion.
In the end that was all I needed. It was rather anticlimactic. There were no hugs, no cake, no ceremony. I didn’t throw a big party. Instead, I simply hit submit and went out to hug my girls good morning.
I am so grateful for the work Holy Spirit did in me that this moment was enough. It was just me and God. It was quiet. It was a whispered, “well done.” It was the knowledge that I had completed what I had set out to do, and in the process had become a different person. Four years ago I had agreed to let God transform me through the experience of seminary, and transformed I had been.
Sometimes quiet and simple and done is all the celebration one needs.