Saturday, September 19, 2009

Taking The Long Way Around

Hi all! Brian here. I've been laying low for a year now. So it's time for an update. Something funny happened on the way to the PhD. Actually, it isn't so "ha ha" funny. In any case, it's time for an update.

I've been planning on being a teacher since college. A teacher of theology. I enjoy theology, psychology, pedagogy, and postmodernity. I also like whiteboards, markers, and empowering people to explore new ideas. All of those elements meld together well in the vocation of teacher. So I decided to go to seminary to study theology and then earn a PhD in clinical psychology after that. Well, during seminary several people suggested that I consider doing a PhD in practical theology or pastoral counseling. The more I pondered these options, the better they seemed. So, during the last year of seminary (2008), I studied for the GRE, took the GRE, read a ton of books by pastoral theologians, flew out to visit my favorite PhD program, applied to that program, and then got accepted into that program. I was excited. It felt like my life was coming together in meaningful ways.

Then I hit a bump. Two weeks after I graduated from seminary, my dad had a brain aneurysm that nearly took his life. Several weeks after that, he had a second bleed that knocked him down even further. He ended up having to stay in the ICU for three months. So I spent all of last summer in the waiting room of the ICU with my mom and sister. It was an interesting time. I re-connected with family. I read a lot of books. I took a lot of walks. And I ate a lot of cafeteria food. Oh yeah. I also delayed my enrollment in the PhD program for six months. And I'm very glad to say that my dad is recovering well. Long road, but good road.

In the fall of 2008, I returned to Saint Louis. It was nice to be with Sara again and sleep in my own bed. After some rest, I started to apply for jobs. But since I was leaving for the PhD program in just a few months, nobody wanted to hire me - even retail stores. So I ended up working for the one job that ended at the time I needed to leave: Barack Obama's presidential campaign. It was a fun and meaningful job. Especially on election night when all of the stress, work, and conversations paid off. I got to be an intimate part of that historical election. And thanks to my sister, I also got to go to Obama's inauguration in Washington DC. It was a great way to mark that transition in my life - and celebrate the newest sign of progress in the USA.

Then Sara hit a bump. The HR director of an unnamed school district had hired Sara for a special education job - and then just before we moved down to Texas that same person said that the job was no longer available. So we lived apart for a month. Sara in Saint Louis and me in Texas. Big mistake. It was way too expensive to do that. So, I had to delay enrollment in the PhD program (again) and move back to Saint Louis (again). While I enjoyed being a PhD student for a few weeks, it was definitely the right decision to come back to STL.

At that point, I decided that I needed other options in case Sara didn't get a job. After talking with a few mentors and colleagues, I decided that congregational ministry or chaplaincy would be good avenues for me to explore. So I sent out my profile to a few congregations and applied to several chaplaincy residencies. It seemed like the PhD option was over.

After I had some excellent conversations - and a near "call" to a ministry context - Sara got the news on August 4th, 2009 that she was hired in Texas as a special education teacher. It was a shock. We had grieved the PhD option and moved on. It seemed like I should pursue vocational ministry for a few years and then re-apply to a few PhD programs. But suddenly we found ourselves back on the original plan.

The prospect of moving to Texas sent us reeling. It was an unexpected change of plans. Could we afford to move to Texas after everything that happened this past year? Could we afford living in a wealthy suburban area? Would the financial investment in the PhD program yield fruitful vocational dividends? (I learned that many people with PhDs in theology are having difficultly finding teaching jobs.) Would we be able to raise a family? Would be want to live that far from family? Strangely, these questions kept leading us away from Texas. And away from the PhD plan. What was going on?

Our big dream had changed. No longer did I want to do a PhD in Texas. No longer did Sara have interest in teaching at a huge school in Texas. We both agreed that being near our families in Iowa and raising a family of our own was more important than our grand vocational goals. We wanted to be in Iowa. That was our new dream. And as soon as we started trying to make our new dream into a reality, everything came together beautifully. Sara got a job in a mental health classroom. I got a job in a behavior disorder classroom. We got a 30% discount on a one way U-Haul truck. We moved to Iowa. Got an apartment. Started our new jobs. And before we knew it, we were Iowans again. Close to family. Close to the Hawkeyes. Close to rivers and lakes. Close to perfect!

We're now living our new dream. We took the long way around, but we're glad to be settled in good ol' Iowa!