Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.
When I was a little girl, my career path practically changed with the weather. For a time, I wanted nothing so badly as to be a paleontologist, to spend my days under the sun patiently unearthing the bones of prehistoric monsters. Eventually, books about dinosaurs gave way to tomes of Greek and Roman mythology. Then I yearned to be an archaeologist (Indiana Jones style, of course), pouring over the written remains of ancient civilizations by day and snatching artifacts from mischievous thieves by night. Somewhere in there I also wanted to be an astronaut and a medical doctor, though those dreams didn’t last as long or come with the same reading lists. By middle school, I’d returned to my love for the animal kingdom and announced my intent to become a marine biologist (oddly enough, a choice most influenced by my family’s love for Star Trek 4…the one with the humpback whales). And when I graduated from high school I’d again returned to that obsession with our human story, entering TCU as a history major and religion minor with the hope of becoming a history professor in the academy.
These dreams pointed toward such varied paths. My lifestyle, location, and the contents of my bookshelves would have been so different, depending upon the adventure I chose. And yet, those largely incompatible dreams all shared one moment for which I yearned: the day I would walk across a stage and hear the words “Congratulations, Doctor Blackwood.” As silly as it might seem, those words were the hardest thing to give up when God called me into ministry. Changing majors was a delight. I loved the study of religion even more than I loved studying history (it was the same thing only somehow better), so the switch was more joy than sacrifice. The bargaining took place over the PhD:
“God, I’ll do this thing that you want of me… I’ll get a PhD in church history and teach in a seminary.”
*long pause from God* (translation: “That’s not who I’ve called you to be.”)
“Ok, God. I’ll do this thing you want of me…but I’ll do it like this: I’ll get a PhD in religious ethics and teach future ministers how to parse out the ethical quandaries that come with ministry.”
*similarly long pause from God* (translation: “That’s ALSO not who I’ve called you to be.”)
“God, listen. I’ll do this thing you want of me. Really. How about this? I’ll get a PhD in whatever You choose, and I’ll teach…”
*sound of God banging head on table* (No translation necessary)
Ultimately, I accepted that my call was to congregational ministry, finished a Master of Divinity and was ordained (we’ll just skip over the years where I kicked and screamed and dragged my feet and lived out an embarrassingly long hissy fit, m’kay?). And the truth is, I love this calling. I love that I get to share in the holiest, scariest, most joy-full and sacred moments of life with our congregants. I love teaching and being taught by our teenagers, preaching the Gospel with words and action, immersing baptismal candidates in the freezing waters of God’s grace (the heater’s broken…sorry kids!), introducing new babies to their church family… Though sometimes we don’t see eye to eye, I am in love with this life and these people.
And still, at every college graduation when those PhD candidates receive the words “Congratulations, Doctor ______,” I weep. This is why being a student in the Doctor of Ministry program at Phillips Theological Seminary means so much to me. When I read the program description for the Transformational Leadership for Women in Ministry track, my heart leapt with hopeful possibility…and for the first time since I’d begun bargaining with God about my future, GOD SAID YES!
This is the right program and the right moment for me; it is a way to re-engage my inner academic for the sake of God’s call into ministry, not in spite of it, and a way I can develop and use my particular set of God-given gifts to help our church be transformed for faithful new possibilities in ministry and service. The program of study is for me, but not only for me. It’s for the church, but not only for the church. It’s a hell of a lot of work in addition to everything else, and to some folks around me it seems downright crazy. But it’s right. It is a longing fulfilled, a tree of life that promises to bear good fruit in God’s good time.
This time God said yes.