Some of you may be wondering when I am going to tell you about Michael--our meeting, our marriage, and our Kemper. Rest assured, I am saving the best for last....even though now the story may be a little bit out of order. Just know that Michael has been the prominent force in my life for fourteen years, so he is the thread that runs from Hollins to the present.
As I may have said before, I went to Hollins for the Creative Writing program. I like to tell people that I wanted to be a famous writer and show up on Oprah's book club, tour the country and be named poet laureate. But it wasn't long before I felt at odds with this choice. The program at Hollins is excellent, but writing on demand to turn in something creatively for critique each week became difficult for me. It seemed to stifle me. I also felt out of place among the other writing students. The ones who were majors in the subject like myself (for the most part) wrote of drastically different subject matters than I did. We generally did not run in the same circles of friends. Many of them wrote of dark, depressing things. I could truly see them in a dark brick basement, sitting on a stool before a microphone while people snapped fingers and cigarette smoke lingered in the air. They were all really good writers...but it left me feeling like I was....maybe...not.
So in the fall of my Sophomore year I had to declare my major and minor. What did I want to do? Who was I going to be? What did I love to do enough to follow it to a career? The answer came to me while sitting on the front porch of Main. I loved the church. I loved to be a part of the creative nature of worship. And I was transformed by youth group, so maybe youth ministry was where I could use the gifts God had given me. My calling was not a lightening rod moment. It did not come to me in a vision or a dream. But it did come in a moment of calm and clarity. And I remembered my youth leaders telling me in high school that I should go to seminary and being in complete opposition to it. There was no way I was learning Biblical languages just so I could sit in boring session meetings all day. So, for this to all come to me in such a definitive way was surprising. I stuck with English/Creative Writing as my major and declared Religious studies as my minor. I secured a short term internship in youth ministry from my home church and I started scoping out seminaries, just to get an idea.
I told my parents of this line of thinking and they were overwhelmingly supportive. I went to my pastor Joseph ( who was moving to a new church pretty soon after that) and he cried tears of joy with us. I told Michael and he said, "yeah I figured." As most of you probably know, Michael's dad is a Methodist minister so I always tell folks that for him to stick by me through all of this, knowing full well what he was getting into is a miracle. Michael's parents have also been among my greatest supporters and mentors. In the spring of that year, Michael and I went to Asheville and Montreat to visit, so that I could tell Bill and Aimee Buchanan, my former youth leaders, of my intentions. It was like telling them that I loved french fries--they already knew! It seems like everyone around me saw what was inside except for me. It is a great affirmation, but also kind of scary!
I decided I wanted a dual degree--to get a Masters of Divinity and be ordained and also to have a Masters in Christian Education. I visited Union in Richmond, and much like Hollins, I didn't feel a need to look elsewhere. It seemed like the right fit for me. Michael was living in Charlottesville at the time so location was a great factor as well. I didn't want to be far from him or my family. I was looking at four years straight of seminary education. I plowed through. I graduated Hollins in May of 2006 and began Seminary in July.
Seminary is a special place. Taking a summer crash course in Biblical languages has a way of bringing people together. You quickly form bonds and learn to lean on one another to make it through. Seminary is this little bubble of its own. It's just a unique community when you are all coming together from different backgrounds and worshiping together, studying together, asking hard questions, living in close quarters and having a social life at the same time. And ultimately, in the end--you are all competing (like it or not) for the same jobs! While in seminary, you work on two timelines--you have requirements for your school and degrees that include internships, coursework, and ordination exams. But you also have a timeline with your presbytery. You have to go yearly for consultations and achieve certain things before they give you approval to be ready to receive a call. I am really glad that I can say that I did all of that in Presbytery of the Peaks and had a positive experience. I now serve on that same committee as a pastor. Fun side note, Kitty Mortara was on the committee when I was a student! Dusty Fiedler was on the examinations committee when I came forward for ordination.
I met wonderful folks at the seminary. Friends and colleagues who have taught me so much. People that I have shared meals with and celebrated weddings, ordinations, birthdays, and children with. One of my dearest friends, Crystal, is a lifelong Richmonder. She began serving as youth director at Three Chopt Presbyterian and she said she needed youth advisors and asked if I'd like to visit sometime. This is probably the greatest invitation I have ever had. Three Chopt was the perfect church home for me. I did serve as an advisor, and I was the student intern for one year, and finally an interim youth director before my call to Appomattox. The congregation and pastors there were loving and supportive. It's a great church for seminary students. Now those teens are all grown up but I get to watch from afar and be so proud of them. This gave me a church family and roots in the big city.
My life was different from a lot of my friends in several ways. Michael and I got married after my first year of school and there were not many married students my age. We lived in a teeny-tiny campus apartment....and then moved across the hall to a wee bit less tiny of an apartment. :) Michael worked at Cokesbury in Richmond while we lived there so I got a deal on text books and lots of sale items. Thank you, Michael! To be newlyweds while in seminary is not ideal, for downtime is precious little. But, we knew we wanted to be married. And Michael decided he didn't ever want to have another roommate, except for me. We did not honeymoon until after I finished Greek school. We went to our favorite little motor lodge in the Outer Banks. We would occasionally go out to PF Changs for a date night (miss those lettuce wraps). Michael would buy me rainbow cookies from Ukrops. We roasted with a little window AC unit in the summers. Our bathroom was the size of a crackerjack box. But, it was home.
When I wasn't in class or at Three Chopt Presbyterian, I was working. Most students did not work in seminary. It was said that more than ten hours a week could not be done. It can be, trust me. Probably the single greatest surprise and gift of my time in Richmond was working at Saxon Shoes. I first got a job at Target but I hated it. A college friend, Kate-Sears was living in the area too and she worked as a cashier and told me to apply at Saxon's. I thought Gary, the owner, would hire me as a cashier. Instead he told me I would be selling children's shoes...and not to worry, they would teach me. This is probably the only place in the world where a student like myself could create their own work schedule. I did learn how to do the job and did it well. I worked there for almost four years and by the end I was often the person left in charge of the department to close at night. I met the most wonderful people. I made the sweetest friends. The women in that department became like family to me. When I had to do a summer internship, they allowed me the flexibility. When I was preparing to interview for jobs and move away, they gave me that time. They threw me a shower before my wedding. They came to my graduation. They have visited me and sent cards and letters. I took Kemper back there for his first pair of shoes. I could not have asked for a better community. There are certainly days in the ministry where I think, "maybe I'll just go back and fit shoes."
I've been so blessed by the people God has placed around me. Pastors that have nurtured me in the faith who I can call and say, "how would you handle this?" Friends and colleagues who I can call and say, "what curriculum are you using, how is your session structured, what did you do for that first funeral?" And friends I can call and say, "Do you remember that time when Peter put on the tiny t-shirt?" or "I'm eating french fries and thinking of you, Asian Priestess." or simply, "Do you remember Calvin Ball, or sketchy mustache night, or that one time at Whitby." And they get it. You share a special bond because of a few years of time in your life. And I for one am glad that they Presbyterian world is, in fact, very small when you get to know it.