Have you ever felt disconnected from what you were doing, like you were watching yourself do things and wondering how you got there? That happened to me a few times in 2012. It was a year of great upheaval for us. We sold our house in Colorado and moved to California. I ended one job and started another. Tim ended his old job and started seminary. I finished grad school. My mom was diagnosed with cancer, which meant we took a couple of unexpected trips to Pennsylvania. In the midst of our tumultuous circumstances, we witnessed God’s great faithfulness to us. I wasn’t always as quick to turn to Him as I should have been, but whenever I finally did, I was reminded of the fact that He is the only source of peace and stability in a chaotic world.
January initiated the busiest semester of my life. I was working two jobs: my full time job teaching English at ECA, and a part time job teaching at Colorado State University. Despite my status as a lowly grad student, my advisor gave me the tremendous opportunity to teach a 400-level class called Teaching Adolescent Literature. I would finish an 8 hour workday with my high school students, and then twice a week I would drive an hour to Pueblo to teach this class. It was one of those disconnected experiences. I would think, “I’m 29 years old. I don’t yet have my Masters degree. How can I possibly teach college seniors?” If nothing else, hopefully I was at least able to communicate my passion for teaching and for literature. We read great books, and we mostly just sat and talked about strategies for approaching each text in a junior high or high school classroom. I enjoyed the experience of teaching students who truly wanted to be there, so teaching at the college level is still in the realm of possibility for me.
Two jobs apparently weren’t enough to keep me busy, however. I was working on my thesis at the same time. I had spent the previous fall researching and constructing a detailed outline as I was finishing my coursework; in the spring, I started drafting. The thesis was about the connections between 18th century epistolary literacy and 21st century digital literacy. I argued for the phrase “networking literacy” as a term that captured the essential overlapping elements of the other two. Most people are skeptical when I explain my thesis; they will usually ask a question like, “Are there really connections between 18th century letter writing and Facebook?” I don’t know how to respond. “No, there really aren’t, but I figure most grad papers are just made-up crap anyway.” Actually, I was able to find a number of pretty cool connections. If you’re still interested, Google “From Fountain Pen to Facebook Post” and click on the link from Colorado State University.
I successfully defended my thesis in May. My husband was present for my defense, as were my advisor and thesis committee, many of my colleagues and some of the students from my undergrad class. It was quite the roller coaster ride. There were moments when I felt at the top of my game, digging deep into my three years of grad instruction and pulling out thoughtful answers to my committee’s tough questions. In other moments, I felt like a drunk orangutan with a mouth full of cotton balls. Somehow, miraculously, I passed.
I feel like I have been falling through the air since then and have yet to land. As we were driving away from my thesis defense toward our favorite Mexican restaurant and celebratory margaritas, Tim asked me how I was feeling. “Really happy, really proud, really grateful, and really let down.” Do you know what I’m talking about, reader? Do you know that moment when you climb to a pinnacle of achievement, look around, and think, “Now what?” I honestly have no idea what the next steps will be for me; for now, I’m contentedly teaching high school English and trying to keep my scholarly aspirations simmering, but not boiling over.
Toward the end of May, Tim finished his job at Glen Eyrie as well as his career in the tech world. He left behind databases and reports and turned instead toward books and ancient languages. He was accepted into his top choice for seminary, Westminster California in Escondido, where he is currently pursuing his Masters of Divinity. All the way through my grad school, he had folded laundry and mopped floors and cooked dinners and rubbed my feet and gave me pep talks when I was down for the count. Now is my chance to do the same for him. I am excited to see him pursue a dream he’s had on hold for the last five years.
May was a month of celebration as well, as my mom and my sisters Amy and Jenna flew to Colorado for my graduation, and then Tim and I flew to Pennsylvania for Amy and Dan’s wedding. My grad present was a trip to Denver with Tim and with my dear friend Jenny and her husband Paul to eat dinner at a French restaurant and go see Wicked, possibly the most spectacular musical ever (right up there with Phantom and Les Mis).
We began packing up our home and the old dreams that went with it. We bought our first house in Colorado expecting to fill it with children and live the typical suburban life: minivans, soccer practice, birthday parties. The longer we spent without children, the larger and emptier the house felt. The extra rooms stared blankly at us, constant reminders of the life we thought we would have. We had accepted God’s will for our lives and had started following Him down an exciting new path, but the house weighed us down. The market was tough, and we worried about what would happen if we couldn’t sell. Should we rent? Could we make that work long-distance? Would we have to dramatically lower the price? Would we end up upside-down on our mortgage?
The house sold for our full asking price in four days. We had three offers.
I had worried and fretted and mistrusted, but God was faithful. I can be such an Israelite sometimes. Over and over, I watch Him part the Red Sea, send manna from the sky, and lead me in a pillars of cloud and fire, but I still doubt Him and try to put my trust in other things. Over and over, He breaks into my life in marvelous ways. Note to self: look up to God before you start looking around at your circumstances.
Other worries sprang up quickly. Would I be able to find a job that would support both of us and pay Tim’s tuition? Could we find an affordable place to live in Southern California? Again, God provided in spectacular fashion. I got a job at Calvin Christian, a small private school very similar to the one where I taught in Colorado. It was the same position (high school English teacher) teaching many of the same classes (AP Lit, British Lit, American Lit, etc.). A family affiliated with CCS rented to us their two bedroom guest house for substantially less than a studio apartment would have cost us. Second note to self: look up to God BEFORE you start looking around at your circumstances.
No doubt, it was brutally hard to leave ECA. There are days when I look down at the doormat that says “Mrs. Wilson’s Class” and was signed by all my students, and my heart hurts. I had invested so much in that school, and was close to my students and their families. I was especially close to the class that graduated in May: I had taught them every year since they were in 7th grade. They threw me a “Sweet 16” birthday party every year, and they made me laugh every single day. Some of them came on my 2010 trip to Europe, and they asked me to the be the commencement speaker at their graduation. I still remember their first day of 7th grade, looking around and thinking, “Someday in the future, it will be their last day of secondary school.” It seemed like such a long way off then, but it has come and gone: six wonderful years with an extraordinary group of students.
Shortly after school ended, I was off to Europe with a group of ECA students, leading a study tour that I’d been planning for two years. It was a whirlwind tour of England, France, Switzerland, and Italy. There were some truly magical moments on that tour that I keep returning to in my mind. In England, it was attending Evensong at Westminster Abbey, visiting the British Museum, and seeing a show in London’s fashionable theater district, the West End. In France, it was a completely perfect day in which we went to the Louvre, picnicked in the Jardins du Tuileries, went to the Opera House (and heard Phantom playing there), ate pastries, watched the sun set over the Pont Alexandre III, and then sat by the river Seine in the darkness until the Eiffel Tower began to sparkle. In Switzerland, it was watching the clouds break over beautiful pasture land from the top of Mt. Pilatus and then riding down the mountain in a gondola and hearing the cow bells. In Italy, it was staying in a renovated farmhouse tucked among the Tuscan vineyards, eating gelato in Florence, seeing the graves of Macchiavelli, Galileo, and Michelangelo, and shopping for my Italian leather purse.
I came home to very difficult news: my mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and it had reached her liver and a lymph node (you can read all about her journey here). At the time, her circumstances looked extremely bleak, and I was devastated. The British have a fitting word for this feeling of devastation: they say “gutted.” That is the right word, that captures both the intense pain and the hollow feeling that follows receiving hard news about a loved one. I went to see her in August, just as she was starting her chemotherapy treatment, and Tim and I went to see her in December, just as she was finishing chemo. Thankfully, it looks like she might be cancer free soon after next week’s surgery. We are so grateful to God for His healing.
So I’ve finished a semester of teaching at Calvin, and I love it. Working with high school students is delightfully invigorating–and yes, I know that I’m spoiled because I work with kids from good families. Most of them haven’t yet faced the disappointment, heartaches, and the “thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” that make so many adults thick-skinned and cynical. Nearly every possibility is still open to them, so their dreams are still big. The world is full of possibility, and ordinary things still fill them with wonder. I must say that I also enjoy the thrill of discovering new things for myself as I teach my way through old friends like Jane Eyre and Hamlet. I taught Heart of Darkness for the second time this year. The first time I read it, I was largely unimpressed, but this time around, I felt like my mind was exploding every time I turned the page. I think I will have to write a separate blog post about that one.
Likewise, Tim has finished a semester at Westminster, and he is thriving there. Finally able to devote himself full time to studying theology, he is reading thousands of pages from ponderous tomes, learning ancient languages, taking tough exams, and writing long papers with zeal. The biggest surprise for us has been his alacrity in picking up the languages. We thought he would struggle the most with Greek and Hebrew, but he has performed beautifully in those classes, making straight As so far. He especially loves the poetry and expressiveness of Hebrew. It has been a blessing for us to forge relationships with other like-minded seminary students and spouses, and we are also grateful to be members of New Life Church in Escondido.
California has finally started to feel like home, and the longer we are here, the more we like it. Tim and I love being able to walk or bike to school every day in the beautiful weather. The beach is lovely, especially Torrey Pines, with its reddish cliffs and black sand. I’ve been able to help lead a couple of student trips to see Shakespeare plays performed at The Old Globe theater in Balboa park. Recently, Tim and I took a trip to Mexico, where we enjoyed an outdoor brunch, an afternoon of wine tasting, and a delicious lobster dinner in the evening. Locally, we’ve found a French cafe that we love and that has delicious espresso and pain au chocolat whenever we need a little Europe fix. These little things help make us feel more at home here.
We have witnessed God’s grace to us this past year, and that gives us boldness and peace for the future. We have no idea what the next steps will be after Tim is finished with seminary. But God knows. Again and again, He has proven His faithfulness to us, and we want to respond with hearts full of thankfulness and trust.