Monday, August 15, 2016

Five Tips for Seminary Students

The beginning of the school year is fast approaching - if not already begun by some students in some states and programs - and I thought I would share this article I wrote a couple years ago.


In spring 2014, I graduated from seminary with my master's degree in Intercultural Studies after just over three years of study while living in 3 different locations.  I completed 7 credits while living in Ukraine - 2 regular courses and 1 practicum - then 24 credits in the US followed by the remainder here in the Netherlands.

Below are some of my thoughts for current or future seminary students.

1.  Give yourself enough time in your program to let your education be put to use in a real context.

In other words, seminary is not just about book learning - it's about serving real people and learning in real life.

Studying full-time, if you can afford it, lets you focus on studying.  Studying full-time also means it's harder to let your thoughts and ideas simmer while being stirred by education and church involvement.

Given my life circumstances, I thought it would be easier to speed through my program just to finish it.  On a positive note, I can now focus more on learning Dutch and truly understanding my cultural context before attempting to apply my studies.  I can't just "waltz" in with my degree and expect people in the church to immediately listen to me.

See #2 for more about this.

2.  Be involved in ministry, potentially as a leader.

One of my seminary assignments included giving a presentation in the local church - sermon or Bible study - on our Scripture text we had studied.  This was only the second time in my local context that I was able to do something like this.  Ideally I could try this more in order to see if teaching Bible studies is something that I could do.

During seminary, you're still a student, and not expected to have it "all figured out."  I think.  Take this time to find where you fit and/or get more experience where God's called you.

This could include almost anything, like preaching weekly, teaching Sunday school, joining the worship team, greeting visitors at the door, or even serving coffee or cleaning up the church.

3.  Be involved in ministry, but also as a participant.

When I lived in the US, I wanted to go to a church where there were few or no other students from my seminary.  I did not want to feel the pressure or inadequacy of not also being on staff - since I knew I would be there for less than a year.

Join a Bible study - but listen for how God's speaking to you through His Word, and not for how you can use the experience in the future.

Listen to sermons for your own enrichment - don't over-analyze their theology or structure.

As a seminary student, you also need to take time for your relationship with God - which does not depend on how well you write sermons or plan church activities.

4.  Avoid being in a Christian "bubble."

Your days as a seminary student can be filled with reading textbooks, writing papers, going to class, and possibly being involved in ministry at a local church.  But don't let that keep you from interacting with people who are not Christians.

Get a "secular job" not connected to any Christian organization.  This is probably the most necessary, so that you can pay for your education!

Volunteer with a community organization on a regular basis.

Get involved in a community sports league, take lessons in art or language or something you've always wanted to learn, or find something else that interests you.

The keys here are regular interaction and meeting people in other contexts.  Another key is getting into the real world and not the digital world.

5.  Take time to relax and hang out with friends.

Take a day off each week - a Sabbath - since it's not good to work and study 24/7.  I've written more about that here and here.

Get out of your house and go for a walk.  Explore the location where you've chosen to study.  Visit a local museum or landmark.

Have coffee with friends.  Have a night of board games together.

Read a novel - not a textbook! - for fun.  Watch TV shows - try not to watch the entire season of Big Bang Theory or Game of Thrones in one week, though!

Or maybe this day is for one of your activities from #4.

What's next?

What's next for me?  I don't really know.

So many other US seminary graduates have or will have positions in local churches as associate pastor or senior pastor. I'm not sure if that's for me.

I'm currently part of the administration of M+Power, an initiative to mobilize and promote Eurasian Nazarenes in cross-cultural ministry, and involved in our district NMI.  I've also taught a bit for the Bible college on our region, and perhaps one day would like to go back to teaching at an international K-12 school.

For now, I'm mostly home with our toddler, and trying to connect with friends from my Dutch lessons or from church. Another dream is to host people in our home - so, if you're ever here in Holland, come visit!


Got any other tips for seminary students, as an alum or friend?


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Tuesday, July 12, 2016

There are some things not worth fighting against....

...but I still feel defeated.

Why, for instance, is my doctor's office closed for two weeks straight?  (Yes, I know it's the school summer holiday, but people still get sick...) Without anyone even filling in?  I have a cough that's a bit wheezy-sounding, and a few other questions I wanted to ask during my "alone time" this morning.  (Munchkin is at the babysitter's.)  There's a phone number for "life-threatening" things, but otherwise I have to wait til the 25th.  Grrrr.....

Then, when I was in Blokker, I needed to use the bathroom.  There was none in sight, but I knew there had to be one available for the employees.  I didn't want to leave the store and cycle all the way to and from Prenatal (free bathrooms there by the way).  Rather inconvenient in such a time. "Mevrouw, mag ik de WC gebruiken? Ik heb het echt nodig."  ("Ma'am, may I use the restroom? I really need it.") She shook her head no.  Grr....

I wish I had had the guts to challenge her - "Why?" or "What if someone really had a medical issue with their bowels or bladder?  Would you turn them away too?"

I hate that my American driving license isn't good enough for the Dutch government.  If I had come here as an expat, having received a job offer, I could just swap the licenses over - no driver's ed needed.  But noooooooo, I have to pay €35/hour for lessons (plus about the same amount for each of the 4 times I took the theory test).  Beyond that, I have to have a medical clearance before I can register for the practical exam - and that appointment isn't until mid-August.  Never mind that I will be driving every day for 14 days in the US coming up.  It just means that on the weekends when I COULD drive and run errands, I am not allowed.  Stupid stupid stupid.  I'm jealous of these American expats who come and get that privilege - and then leave after a couple years.

As I cycled away from the center, I felt like I couldn't look at any of the faces around me.  They're all complicit in this system.

People keep asking, "Kan je een beetje wenen?"  Not always.  In this moment, the answer is a resounding NO! I know the rules - and Dutch people LOVE rules - and even if I were to fight against it, it wouldn't change anything.  I'd just be running into a wall over and over again.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

My mental clock isn't in the Netherlands' time zone.

For the first 22 years of my life, I lived in the US where the annual calendar looked something like this:

September was the beginning of the school year.
October was mostly school with Halloween at the end.
November meant Thanksgiving break and leaf motifs.
December was red and green and a countdown to Christmas and semester finals, usually with many sunny days.
January was back to school in the cold after time with family and a nice long break.
February was hearts and Black History Month and a good time to ski.
March had a week-long school vacation and the hints of nicer weather to come.
April meant final papers, cherry blossom trees, and Regional Bible Quizzing.
May included semester finals and the occasional welcome hot day.
June meant K-12 schools were wrapping up and summer was really here to make you sweat (literally).
July was hot summer days with thunderstorm nights, my birthday halfway through the month, and beginning to coast back down to the start of the school year.
August was a month of last hurrahs, packing for returns to Ukraine, county fair, and looking for an end to the sweaty days outside of a/c.

This calendar influenced (or was influenced by) the consumer culture, Hallmark, TV, etc.  Shopping discounts, TV shows, references in conversations, and community events all integrated into this general scheme.


As you can see, I think based on the school calendar.  I'm a teacher by trade.  (Conveniently, to figure out how old I was in a particular school year, I also only needed to add 5 to the grade number - and that's how old I was no matter what the school calendar was that year.)  Besides that, the seasons were pretty distinct in Maryland, Massachusetts, and Ukraine.


Ukraine's autumns meant school beginning, kvas tanks everywhere, leaves falling, temperature slowly dropping, Fall Festival at the school.

Ukraine's winters meant not seeing the sidewalk until springtime, slipping and sliding to catch the bus, bundling up from head to toe, glimpsing sunshine meant it was below freezing outside, living in a drab gray environment. BUT Christmas! 

Springtime in Ukraine - lilacs, chestnut blooms, green everywhere! There are more colors to be seen!

And I wasn't there often for the summer, but I remember the late sunsets, early sunrises, sunshine all the time, warm days, sometimes too warm.


But living here in the Netherlands is really messing with my internal clock.

School in our city isn't done until the 8th of July this year.
It's been raining and dreary lately.  We've had one day where it's been above 80*F, I think.
Halloween, Thanksgiving, Memorial Day (the picnicking and Tea Party Festival kind), and Independence Day are not elements of the calendar here.
Most Christmas decorations don't appear till at least December 7.
I don't think we saw snow here this winter at all. 
The 4 seasons in the Netherlands are hot and sunny, cloudy, raining, and cold.  Sometimes all within the week - which makes it hard to get laundry done and dried within a day or so.


"What do you miss about living in the US?" people frequently ask me.

I think my answer right now is -

Hot summers that begin by the beginning or middle of June
Summer camps/activities for kids (since here everyone skedaddles once school lets out)
Cookouts with hot dogs and hamburgers
Grassy yards to set up a sprinkler for our munchkin to cool off in
Being able to go swimming outside or at the beach by now

In other words, a time for everything and everything at the "normal" time.


When living overseas, the surrounding culture operates on a different timetable, and that's really disorienting.  Especially thanks to Facebook and blogs reminding me of my "normal" clock.  My friends in the US are already going on vacations with their families, kids are having grandma/grandpa camp, and "last day of school" photos/posts have long faded away.  Money-saving blogs advertise summer clothing discounts but by the time I could get them, summer here would be over.

I can't trust my own mind to tell me how long ago something was.

I don't have a feeling for which part of the year it is.

There's plenty of time until June, right? It's still May, right? WHAT?!? It's almost July???

It doesn't feel like my birthday is coming in just over 2 weeks.

Just when I'm getting into the rhythm of leaving the house more and finding activities to join, they shut down for the summer.


How do I steady myself from this disorientation?  I could avoid all American contact whatsoever (maybe not a bad idea in this election year), to eliminate the reminders of an alternate paradigm.  Or I could get a job in the expat world working with Americans and insist that our family plans around my holiday schedule.

Nope - those are lose-lose situations.

But I've got no other ideas except to continue floundering in the waters of culture stress and to hope for the best.


What have you done to help mesh your two (or more) clocks together?  How do you minimize this disorientation? Tips appreciated!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

His, Hers, and Theirs - A Mosaic of Memories

Today, November 1, would have been Mom-Mom's 85th birthday.  She passed away suddenly on December 5, 2014, and Pop-Pop followed quickly on September 4, 2015.  

November 10 was the day we always celebrated Pop-Pop's birthday, so November is very much for me "their" month.  I keep dreaming about them, and more vivid memories come back every so often.

This poem is in honor of them.

His, Hers, and Theirs

His was the hand that I held, when I said goodbye each night, not knowing if he would be alive the next day
His was the arm that hugged me during our first goodbye conversation
His were the shoulders that shook with grief during those first few weeks of her passing
His were the arms that comforted me as I clashed with conflict
His were the eyes watching his great-grandson in May, July, and August
His was the mouth laughing with pleasure at the antics of children, Aunt Sis, or comic strips
His was the back upon which he leaned as he cleaned lawnmower blades and worked in the shed at age 88
His were the unsteady legs with replaced knees that still carried him into the sunshine and fresh air
His was the combed back hair on a head that I never knew as bald
His was the mottled brown skin, turned leathery from decades in the sun
His was the pinky finger, nearly chopped off sometime in my childhood

Hers was the front stained with dinner or cherry juice
Hers were the arms, ready to play baseball in the yard with us in her 60s and 70s
Hers was the mind, able to tell all kinds of old family stories, remember her children's classmates, and make many recipes without consulting a book
Hers were the feet, going to those in need or otherwise rarely standing still
Hers was the hip, broken while helping pack banana boxes of clothes/humanitarian aid at church
Hers were the knees that spent unknown hours in prayer on behalf of many people
Hers were the ears, ready for us to talk and her to listen
Hers was the heart, providing encouragement and love when needed
Hers was the always welcoming hug as you came in the door
Hers were the crooked fingers from arthritis that still took time to dial the phone or write pleasant cards and letters
Hers was the hair, permed then melting in the heat as she "perspired" in the kitchen or garden
Hers were the hands, wet with dishwater, wet on my back as she hugged me

Theirs was the house, filled with love and comfort and warmth
Theirs were the many rooms, ready for guests or family dinners
Theirs was the waterfall, where we could visit and splash
Theirs was the pond, iced over in the winter and later filled with sediment
Theirs were the trees, perfect playgrounds for my brother and I
Theirs was the shed, filled with anything you might need for a tractor or machine
Theirs was the garden, filled with delicious fresh vegetables every year
Theirs was the grape arbor, source of homemade seedless grape jelly
Theirs was the view on the field, often with deer and turkey roaming
Theirs were the hummingbirds, cardinals, mockingbirds, blue jays...all singing their songs
Theirs was the peaceful property, a haven of play and rest

Monday, October 5, 2015

internationally home {31 days link-up}

{Joining Kate Motaung's 31 Days of Five Minute Free Writes.  Here goes!}

Home was Dauntsey, with the swingset and parents living together.

Home was McGinnes, with fresh air and peaceful love abounding.

Home was Fourth Street, with my own space as I grew from a preteen to adult.

Home was East Elm, where I studied and grew in my obedience to Christ.

Home was Kyiv - multiple addresses - where I truly became an adult and became deeply bonded with a family of another culture.

Home was not really Overton, a transfer point between countries and lives.

Home is now Thuredrecht, with the roots beginning to grow.

If you ask me where I'm from, I'll easily answer, "Maryland."

If you say where's home, I'll list quite a few places - Maryland, Kyiv, the Netherlands.  Then other places will come bubbling up, places where I never really lived - Johnson, El Paso, Petersburg, etc.

"If home's where the heart is, then I'm out of place."

Home is heaven, yes, that's the "correct" answer.

But home for me is where I have deep friendships, where I know I am welcome any time, where there's a place for me to "hang my hat."  Home is shared with others - they share their home with you, and you share yours with them.  Mi casa es su casa.  

Home in that case is the home of my grandparents - and that is now just a memory.  I've learned so much from Mom-Mom's example of hospitality.

Sometimes the Netherlands is not quite home.  Our house, yes, is a place of comfort for us.  I'm so glad to share a home with my husband and cute baby son.  :)

I want to share our home - my sense of home - with others.

Home is only home with relationships - with family living together, with friends who become family, or friends who come to visit.