It took a “family.”

Hello everyone.  I have big news.  I graduated from Seminary!  Four years later, I have a “Master Specialization,” which means I have completed 27 hours (9 classes) of Masters-level seminary training.  I learned quite a lot along the way, and most of it can’t be found in textbooks.

1.  Working full-time, plus adding a part-time job, and going to school….not a good idea.

Yeah, that was me.  Working a full time job, plus 10 hours or so at the seminary library, and then adding graduate coursework on top of that.  In my head I needed the extra money to pay for school (taking one class at a time meant I did not qualify for aid).  Some people may be able to manage, even thrive, in that kind of schedule.  I am not one of those people.  I learned I need to pace myself.  I will take that knowledge into my future adventures.

2.  Light bulb is not required headgear.

I went in to seminary with a vague sense of calling.  I came out with a vague sense of calling.  The difference is, now I’m OK with that.  I gained knowledge and skills and maturity that I use everyday.  So, maybe, for me, the only calling that really matters is the calling to be a disciple of Jesus.  One day that means dropping everything to visit a friend who is in the hospital again.  On another I have a conversation about who wrote the Pentateuch.  I recently spent an entire week volunteering with my church’s outreach blitz.  I made baby blankets for the crisis pregnancy center and then set up and served dinner to my fellow volunteers.  I realized I enjoy being ready, willing, and available to say “Yes” whenever and wherever God calls me to do something.

3.  It’s not about me.

When I started out, it was about my journey, my career, my calling.  Kind of self absorbed.  I thought I would just breeze through, taking a class here or there, and voila! Done.  During student orientation, we were warned that Seminary would turn a lot of things upside-down, but I did not take those words to heart.  Then my life did get turned upside down, and I learned something about what it means to be the body.  I have this little nucleus of friends who I’ve been “doing life” with for a while.  Then God plunked me into this eclectic, scrappy, 100+ year-old church where I made new friends.  I was embraced, and I embraced them.  I was able to wrestle with some of the stuff that came up during school and get input from them.  Sometimes I wonder if I started to sound like a broken record at any point during those four years.  But no one ever said, “Moses and the Pentateuch again?” followed by an eye roll.  We all just kind of learned and grew together.  Kind of like, you know, a family.  And I grew up a bit.

Having said all that, I would like to share the text of my “biographical statement” from the graduation program:

When I began my studies at Northern Seminary, I thought I would be receiving training to be a writer and teacher of Bible studies for women. I saw myself as a locally-focused, nerdy, introverted Beth Moore with less hair and a Chicago “accent.” Then I joined a Presbyterian church on the near east side of Aurora, Illinois in the heart of a lower income, non-caucasian community. Like me, the church is passionate about growing and impacting where God has planted them. They are learning how to be “missional.” Early in my studies, I also developed some physical challenges that affected how I view disability. As a result of the overlapping themes in my experiences at church, Northern, and my personal life, I am asking questions I didn’t ask before. How do we make the church accessible and welcoming to those on the fringes, both believers and not, without watering down the truth? What are the barriers that keep people on the fringes? I believe my training at Northern helped me know what questions to ask and a direction to go for the answers. I would like to thank everyone at Northern Seminary, including professors, staff, and fellow students, for all the encouragement and guidance and challenges they offered me during my time there. I would also like to thank my church family and friends for participating in the conversation and supporting me as I wrestled. My prayer is that God will be pleased with the fruit that results from the seeds that were sown while I was a student at Northern.

So, thank you, all of you, who supported me the last four years, and thank you for your continuing support going forward.

Diana

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Sabbath Tea

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Hello friends!  I have been back from my epic vacation for a month already.  It was fantastic.  Everything a vacation should be.  A perfect balance of time with family, sightseeing, and relaxing.  I can definitely see myself becoming a “snowbird.”

The last thing we did was stay at this lush place in Pheonix, the Arizona Biltmore Resort.  Not cheap, but worth the expense.  Designed be Frank Lloyd Wright, this place feels like it is out of The Great Gatsby.  Beautiful gardens, fountains, croquet, golf.  Everything just seemed to slow down.  I think for the rest of my life, whenever I hear the advice, “Take time to stop and smell the roses,” I will think of this place.

One of the things they do is a proper afternoon tea.  We had ours on Sunday, the last day of our vacation.  We put on our Easter dresses, and went down to join the other guests in the sunny atrium that overlooked the beautiful gardens.  Some of the ladies were wearing hats and gloves like you would see in England.  Along with our unlimited choices of tea (we had three kinds!) we nibbled on delicate finger sandwiches and pastries.  Our server gave us a delightful lesson on the custom of afternoon tea and explained the different types of tea.  After we were done we sat and just soaked in the view.  The entire thing lasted close to two hours.

After a stroll through the gardens we went to the spa where I enjoyed a pedicure and my friend a massage.  Then we lay on the lounge chairs in our fluffy spa robes and soaked in the calm and quiet.  As I was laying there in utter bliss I had a thought.  During the tea I ate the equivalent of 1 sandwich and 1 pastry and drank 2 cups of tea.  At home I would probably eat a comparable meal in a span of 15 minutes, a half hour tops.  This experience took two hours.  It felt like slow motion.  But it was so……nice.  Even the way we conversed changed.  We lowered our voices and spoke at a calm, relaxed pace.  We talked about what was in front of us–the tasty food, the beautiful building, the kind staff, the breathtaking gardens.  We soaked in the blessing of friendship and spiritual sisterhood.  We were fully present.

Before I left for vacation, I was a big ball of tension.  It’s not that I was terribly busy.  But my head was busy.  In my quiet times at home my thoughts were filled with to-do lists, appointments, work responsibilities, ministry decisions.  Even when I was physically still, I was not resting.  Vacation was like a reboot.  I soooo needed a reboot.

Then I got to thinking about what the Bible says about Sabbath, resting, and setting aside time to worship God.  “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)  I wonder if how I practice Sabbath reflects God’s intention when he made the Sabbath and us.  So like the good nerd and seminary graduate I am, I am embarking on a journey.  I am going to do some studying and practicing this summer.  I have had this book on my shelf, The Rest of God, by Mark Buchanan.  I am going to take a stroll through that book, and through the Bible’s passages on rest and Sabbath, and see what God reveals to me.  And try to apply it.  I’ll let you know what I find out.

 

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Mercy Tree

Hey everybody.  My church is doing a series for Lent on trees in the Bible.  Each week we have a sermon on a tree, and then discuss the sermon and the tree in our small groups.  Our theme song is called “Mercy Tree,” by Lacey Sturm.  If you haven’t heard of it, go look it up online and read the lyrics, and listen to the recording.  In my opinion it is a great song for reflection on Lent, Jesus, sin, forgiveness, and hope.

The first two weeks of our series have focused on the trees in the Garden of Eden.  I have read that passage many times over the years and each time I notice something different.  For example, I had not considered that both the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil were in the midst of the garden.  I always pictured the “bad” tree as a gnarly, foreboding looking tree on the opposite end of the garden, in some dark creepy corner with a big fence around it and a sign with a skull and crossbones, “KEEP OUT.  BEWARE OF SNAKE.”  But reading the story closely, it seems it was a pretty nice looking tree, with yummy fruit, and it was in the middle with the “good” tree and all the other vegetation.  At least that is how Adam and Eve perceived it.

Things are not always what they seem.

I have often wondered, if that tree were forbidden, why did God put it in the garden in the first place?  And why did it seem so attractive?  Seems kind of mean,  like God was deliberately baiting Adam and Eve and setting them up to fail.  But that’s not the God I know.  The sermon suggested another perspective.  Everything in the garden was about God’s benevolent, thoughtful, abundant provision for mankind.  Perhaps that forbidden tree was an opportunity for Adam and Eve to worship God through trust and obedience.  By choosing not to eat of that tree, they accepted God’s loving authority over their lives, even if they didn’t understand it.  So a tree that appeared attractive was hands-off, but it’s forbidden-ness made it a source of blessing?

Things are not always what they seem.

There are some choices in life that may seem obvious.  “Thou shalt not….”  Murdering comes to mind.   But our perceptions can be a little off and the bad stuff can get mixed in.  A little rationalization and something we know we aren’t supposed to do suddenly seems OK.   Is it possible to murder a relationship without anyone actually dying?  I’ve done it.  Somebody says or does something that hurts me, so I just distance myself and let the relationship drift and shrivel from neglect.  I justify it by thinking to myself, that person betrayed me and therefore can’t be trusted so I don’t need to be that person’s friend.   I may have avoided the painful process of speaking the truth in love, forgiving, and attempting to reconcile, but I also lost what could have been a great opportunity to grow, and what could have become a closer friendship.  Very sad considering the whole thing may have been a misunderstanding.

My relationship with my Mom is….challenging.  I have always been a pretty independent person who prides myself on learning new things, figuring out how stuff works, and doing things for myself.  I have worked full time since finishing college, lived on my own, taken several road trips by myself, and even became a homeowner a few years ago.  So it has always bothered me that my Mom just doesn’t seem as driven as I am.  I have taken several trips to visit her in Arizona, but she has only made one trip to see me, when I graduated college nearly 20 years ago.  I have had 6 surgeries since then, and each time I had friends care for me because she would not fly out.  I kind of resented it. OK, I didn’t just kind of, I completely resented it. So some years ago I decided I just wouldn’t visit her again until after she came to visit me.  Of course I rationalized it by saying I was setting boundaries.  Yeah, that’s mature.  So much for honoring my father and mother…..  Now all of a sudden Mom is in her 70′s and really can’t travel.  Ironically, it has become much more difficult for me to travel because of the EDS, which I probably got from her, which is partly why it was so difficult for her to travel in the first place.  While I’ve been having my decade-long tantrum I have been robbing myself of a relationship with my mother. For some strange reason my stubborn snit didn’t improve our relationship any.  What I thought would  vindicate me left me feeling  like a whiny little kid.  What appeared to be a good choice left me empty.

In a few weeks I am traveling to see my Mom.  There are consequences to waiting so long.  Our relationship has suffered from neglect.   In my stubbornness I robbed us of the opportunity of a visit when we were both in better health.  I robbed myself of many lessons God may have wanted to teach me through sharing life’s journey with my Mom.  I cannot get that time back.  However, I can choose today whom I will serve.  I can see through eyes of faith rather than relying on my own flawed perception.  I can go against the world’s school of conflict “resolution” and instead choose humility, compassion, forgiveness, and honor for my mother who, like me, is flawed.  I can choose the mercy tree.

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Welcome Pastor Jeff!

My pastor just started a blog.  If his writing is anywhere near as good as his preaching, it is a must read.  Go check it out!

http://gloriousintoxication.blogspot.com

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Where I’ve been, and where I’m going

Hello everyone.  Welcome to 2014.  A lot has been happening here at the cafe.  The irony is, I started this blog to chronicle my journey through seminary, but as with so many things in life the journey had some unexpected twists that I was having a hard time articulating so I have been blog silent.  Now that the cloud has lifted a bit let me give you the cliff-notes version of what I have been up to for the last 12 months or so.

In December of 2012, I saw a geneticist who specializes in connective tissue disorders.  The purpose was to confirm what one of my doctors and I were already pretty sure of.  Yep, it’s official.  I have Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS).  This means that the “recipe” my body uses to make collagen is wrong.  The best way I know to describe it is to think of a piece of elastic.  If you pull it, it stretches and then goes back to its original shape when you stop pulling.  But a bad piece of elastic, when you pull it, will crackle, possibly break, or else it will stay stretched out when you let go rather than contracting.  Collagen is like that.  Because it is found everywhere in the body, the entire body is affected.  So, my skin is unusually stretchy and sensitive.  My muscles and tendons are overstretched and weak, causing virtually every joint in my body to slide around too much and sometimes completely dislocate.  As a result I have a lot of joint and muscle pain.  My bones are too porous (osteoporosis).  My digestive system is sluggish and my intestines too stretchy.  My blood vessels are too stretchy so when I stand up for very long blood collects lower in my body.  Instead of accelerating a little bit like its supposed to, my heart rate tanks and I get lightheaded.  

It took about 2 years from the time I first heard of EDS to official diagnosis.   By the time I got to diagnosis, my entire being–body, mind, spirit, emotions–were exhausted.   EDS can be very nasty.   This is scary stuff.  Having an expert in the field go on record saying I have it made it real.  All the fear I had been desperately trying to keep at bay came crashing to front and center.  I freaked.  

The day after diagnosis, I went to my psychiatrist (Depression, anxiety, and chronic illness, especially when chronic pain is involved, often go hand in hand) and he promptly suggested I be admitted to the hospital.  He wanted to adjust my depression medication but because I had a history of reacting badly to medication changes thought it would be safer to do it under 24/7 supervision.  So I spent 4 days inpatient followed by 4 weeks in a half-day mental health program.  From there I continued the hard work of grieving the life I thought I had and figuring out how to go forward.

I am very fortunate to have a great support system.  I am part of a great church with treasured friends who are not afraid to climb into the mess with me.  Friends brought meals, cleaned my house, called and emailed and texted me.  I have foggy memories of sitting in my small group meeting, giving myself silent pep talks to get through it, trying desperately to focus on what the other people were saying.  It was awful.  But they hung in there with me as I crawled my way through recovery.  I switched to a different psychiatrist who did some additional testing and got me on some better medication.  

In September I took my last Seminary class, the Pentateuch.  I will have plenty to say about that in future posts.  But I will graduate in June.  I feel it is a huge victory.  I could not have done it without God’s help.  It feels really good to say that word, graduation.  

Having finished school now, I wish I had some exciting  “burning bush” story of calling to tell you.  I may never have one.  However, I am grateful to be in a place now where I am engaged with the world around me and open to opportunities to serve in small ways.  I have made some wonderful friends through an EDS support group, and have many opportunities to extend God’s love as a result.  I have participated in a couple activities at my church’s disability ministry and have provided some input for making the building and its activities more accessible to the disabled.  They are small steps but I believe God is present in them.  And  I pray they make Him smile.

Diana

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Belated link

Hello friends.  I wrote a blog post back in April for Today’s Christian Woman, and I thought I posted the link.  Ooops!  Here it is….

http://blog.todayschristianwoman.com/2013/04/what_me_mary_and_martha_have_i.html

My thanks to Today’s Christian Woman, and Christianity Today, for the opportunity.

 

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I’m a Real Live Author!

Friends, I am published.  For real!  Please share my joy and follow this link.  If you like what you read post a comment or post a link on your Facebook so we can get more traffic to the site and I can get more opportunities to write for them. 

http://www.giftedforleadership.com/2012/12/the_sacrament_of_evangelism.html

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