Dust Is In The Air.

April was filled with final projects, papers, and exams. I breathed deeply through that last quarter of my first year of seminary – finally giving up the fight for perfection and allowing “done” to be enough. I completed those last four classes (Old Testament, Church History, Introduction to Practical Theology, and Music, Icons, and the Contemplative Life) in triumph. Not because of the satisfactory marks I received, but the sheer realization that a full year of graduate theological studies was complete!

As the school year ended I thought I would write another blog post after commencement, “when the dust settled.” But just as my academic work began to wrap up, health issues that Richard started experiencing in February became more serious. My focus shifted to doctors appointments and then Richard’s recovery from surgery to remove a mass in his right parotid gland (details available on his Caring Bridge). As we waited for the final pathology on the mass, I thought I would write another post after his full recovery, “when the dust settled.” But then Richard was diagnosed with low grade lymphoma.

On the one hand, you cannot know what learning a loved one has cancer will be like until it happens. But on the other, it’s pretty much exactly what you would imagine. Shock. Fear. A boatload of shameless prayer. And a scramble for more information, immediate appointments, and any possible comfort. I thought to myself, “if I can just figure out how to do ‘cancer spouse’ right – this will all work out. Everything will be ok.” Then I thought, “this is going to require a lot more coffee.”

We anxiously set up oncology appointments, contacted family and friends, put all future plans on hold, read about lymphoma, and waited. Cancer requires a lot of waiting. Waiting for appointments. Waiting for test results. Rooms upon rooms dedicated to just filling out paperwork and waiting.

Despite many cups of coffee, a lot of internet research, and numerous conversations with wise friends/family – I did not figure out “how to do cancer right.” Of course, it does not exist. It is simply the fantasy of an anxious overfunctioner. And so is the idea that one day “the dust will settle,” and our lives will suddenly be neatly organized and easily manageable. There is dust in the air. That is life. When it rains hard enough to clear the dust, then you are dealing with a flood. All plans, all of life is contingent. Our reality can change as quickly as the word cancer slips from the mouth of a doctor on the other end of the phone. What we have is the present moment.

So I am writing from the dust cloud. Richard’s PET Scan showed that he is cancer free. The mass that was already removed left behind such a small amount of cancer it is undetectable on a scan. This is great news! And now we are WAITING to meet with a radiologist to see if he will need precautionary radiation or not.

In the present moment we are drinking cardamon vanilla lattes at Rare Bird Coffee Roasters. Mine is hot, his is iced. We will probably get groceries later, sit on the porch with our amazing neighbors, and walk the dog. But who knows – dust is in the air. And sipping coffee across the table from this incredible man is certainly enough for this moment in life.

A Beautiful, Imperfect Collective Striving

I am sitting in Starbucks this evening. My first paper for New Testament is due Wednesday and I have a Greek test tomorrow, but my mind is wandering. I cannot stop thinking about the raw emotion reflected in the faces and voices of my classmates as we sat in an “Additional Student Housing Listening Session” this afternoon.

When we accepted the offer of admissions from VTS we expected to be moving into brand new apartments on August 1st with four days to unpack before orientation. But married students have been living in motel-size rooms or sharing houses with other families for the past seven weeks a midst transitioning back to school and mourning friends, family, churches, and jobs left behind.

We budgeted based on the Financial Aid letter we received. But many folks, myself not included, have had their aid cut because of some errors in calculation on the part of VTS.

We thought our needs as individuals with learning differences would be met. But upon arrival we realized that VTS currently has no formal system for assisting those with learning disabilities forcing the burden of acquiring accommodations on the student.

When the second and third year seminarians (called middlers and seniors) arrived on campus in September our class was a bit of a mess. Our anxieties about housing, money, and classes manifested in a variety of ways. Many of us began to divide into friend groups based on who seemed to have a similar theology or liturgical tradition. And it was easier to criticize those different from ourselves than to listen to their stories.

The many challenging layers of this current situation have overwhelmed me at times. Twice I’ve left a room when my chest has gotten tight, my shoulders tense, my breathing rapid and my thoughts have circle down a rabbit hole of “what ifs” until I could not focus on the present at all.

To my astonishment, God’s grace is breaking through everywhere I am open to see it. It is vibrant not in spite of the current situation, but precisely because it comes in stark contrast. Without the struggle, I would not be as grateful for the moments of connection, laughter, empathy, presence, kindness, and love. For the support of friends and family near and far. For the two classmates who recorded readings for me that I could not find on audio. For the professor who helped me find the right person to talk to about getting accommodations for my dyslexia. For the amazing things I have already learned. For my new counselor. For the simple pleasure of seeing dear in the woods across from our house almost every day. For the community blessing of two families expecting babies this fall. And for the upperclassmen who organized the “Additional Student Housing Listening Session” this afternoon so that frustrations could be heard and questions asked.

There have been days when I felt like coming to VTS was a huge mistake. Days when the institution seemed to be failing at one thing after another. Days when the community did not seem Christian at all. But from a slightly different angle I am beginning to see VTS as an institution beautifully, imperfectly collectively striving towards the kingdom of God. And perhaps that is all any of us can really do.


First Quarter Classes for Junior Year:

The Art of Learning with The Rev. Stacy Williams-Duncan Books:How We Learn by Benedict CareyReading Theologically by Eric D. Barreto (Editor)Thinking Theologically by Eric D. Barreto (Editor)Writing Theologically by Eric D. Barreto (Editor)

Basic Musicianship with The Rev. William Roberts Books: The Hymnal 1982 by Church Publishing Staff

Beginning Biblical Greek with The Rev. Katherine Grieb Books: A Primer of Biblical Greek by N. Clayton Croy

Foundations for Theology with The Rev. Katherine Sonderegger Books: Philosophy for Understanding Theology by Diogenes Allen; Eric O. SpringstedPrimary Readings in Philosophy for Understanding Theology by Diogenes Allen (Editor); Eric O. Springsted (Editor)Summa Theolgica by St. Thomas AquinasMens Creatrix by Macmillan and Co. Limited Staff (Created by); William Temple

Oral Interoperation of Scripture with The Rev. Ruthanna Hooke and The Rev. James Farwell

New Testament Interpretation I with The Rev. John Yieh Books: An Introduction to the New Testament by Raymond E. BrownThe Meaning of Jesus by Marcus J. Borg; N. T. WrightThe Shadow of the Galilean by Gerd TheissenMaking sense of the Sermon on the Mount by John Yieh

Photo Credit: KC Robertson