For Such A Time As This

Dear Dr. Fledderjohann,

You were my 8:30, my first class, my first professor. You were my introduction to what Moody would be like. And you, with your stern-faced, soft-soul-ed, no-nonsense demeanor, said teaching the Bible had to be interesting. With punctuation. And so we learned, and I took a final in the fireplace room and was proud of my work, and I took criticism in my projects and learned that I deserved it. Thank you.

Dr. Profe,

I took you because I was afraid. Of failing, mostly. At some point in class, you said that learning a language involved being willing to make mistakes, and that when that mistake-making happened, to learn to have fun with it. You said that learning a language involved the sort of failure I was afraid of. I learned to be good at it, and even if I didn’t learn how to have fun at the parts I wasn’t good at, I could at least look at you and realize it could be fun. On another note, you were the first professor whose patience I couldn’t comprehend. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Baurain,

Did I still set the record for most writing done in those minute essays? I’ve always loved to write, but I didn’t know how much I’d need those early crucial tools you gave. Your knowledge of Lewis intimidated me, your essay questions captivated me, your enthusiasm for Nebraska delighted me, and your willingness to engage in conversation taught me that professors could and should be approachable. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Park,

You are still a legend to me; an incendiary one, admittedly, but a legend in both your boldness and the fact that you still remember me–and my sister. You talked about an arena I had little technical knowledge in, and you drew it back to a region of personal impact. You taught me what it looked like to do something that I thought I already knew how to do. Thank you.

Dear Professor Worrall,

I still want to call you ‘Dr.,’ even after you corrected me. You corrected me in class, too, that first early time when the little bubble of loyalty was pricked and old griefs came spilling out. And you corrected me after class, in the pause between things you had to do and things I didn’t understand. You corrected without saying I should know these things already, and I learned–along with bold declarations of faith, deliciously creative classroom presentations, and absurdly beautiful handwriting–that teaching involved stopping and engaging, if even for a moment. Also, I still remember your teary-eyed delight at the wonder of having children. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Baker,

I think I doodled in the back row of your class quite a bit. I promise I was paying attention–truly. I had no concept of what these motions meant until I was out of the sandbox and onto the shore with waves too big for me. And then I realized that, all along, you had been trying to teach us how to swim. That was the first time I was late on a project, the first time I snuck into Fitz late so I could slip a paper under a professor’s door, and the first time I wrote a note to one and signed my name. I wanted you to know that the class mattered to me, and that you did, too. Also, my sister had said that I would want your sweaters. She was right. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Namaan,

You said you had an extra ‘A’ in your name so you could give us one. I appreciated that, but even more so I appreciated your endless desire to see the world know Christ. While I learned that yes, I could write a four-page paper in half an hour, I also learned that I didn’t enjoy being out of my comfort zone but sometimes I had to. I still remember Habakkuk 3:18-19, by the way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Lit,

That’s appropriate, isn’t it? I didn’t know what to expect, sitting in the back and wondering what this would be, but while I didn’t agree with everything, I did learn that theology involved lots of humor and the capacity for endless study. I also learned that I didn’t know theology half as well as I thought I did, and it was humbling in the best possible way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Sauer,

I didn’t know the nickname for your class until I was almost done, but ‘love hour’ wasn’t wrong. I loved every minute. I didn’t know one person could have such unflagging energy for the Word, for life, and for love. You may not remember it or know it, but you were the very first professor in whose office I sat, and said a little, and cried a little, and you flipped through that big Bible on your desk and spoke the very verse that I had been praying for my sister over and over again and never praying for myself. Thank you.

Dear ABD,

I still think of that, and am still rooting for you, however long this journey takes. Thanks for still remembering my name. You recognized our failings as students and sought–even while busy and burdened in ways we never knew–to feed us more information than we could grasp but badly needed to know. I wish I could go back and understand better now what you taught us then. The coffee was delicious, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Mathews,

I never understood how you did it, how you managed to teach and preach and speak and steadily love the Lord and His Word and His Church and His work and His children in the same unflagging breaths. I know we were few and listless, but I still have those books sitting on my shelf, because what you had us read could not leave us untouched. You haven’t given up on the vision of work done well, and you resuscitated that vision for us, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. McDuffee,

I’ve sat under you three times. I think you only remember the last two, but it was the first one that floored me. How do you think of the world with such breadth and with such humility? I finally saw White Cruficixion but it was only after visiting Chagall’s museum and being in tears because I was finally glimpsing a fraction of the way you see the world. I’ll admit that I did sudokus in class to keep my brain grounded to my hands, but I promise the hundreds of pages of notes were from those times when I was able to pin to the page those scraps of thought too vivid to leave alone. I thought you were profound; then I realized you were unforgettable. I had already wept in Yad Vashem, but you taught me that I could weep with both anger and gentleness. And then I wept in your office, and you were kind and still gentle. And you still remember, because somehow your mind can comprehend the full spectrum of color and not forget the specific hue of the people around you. Thank you.

Dear Mrs. Smith,

You were color and sound and always wore something sparkling and glittery. You were the pastor’s wife who never sugarcoated the work of it but never presented it as anything less than the richest gift. You wept in a moment and smiled in the next. You proclaimed conception a miracle and made it all make sense without it ever being made shameful. You gave me my only ‘B’ in 9 years of college. And then you sat across from me at a lunch table and said you could see me. And you sat across from me at a coffee shop and said you could see me again. And then you sat across from me on a plane and saw me again. And in those moments I saw you, a woman, who teaches with passion and loves with ferocity and gives both joy and tears their rightful place. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Weber,

I had heard about you before I sat in your class. So I wasn’t disappointed, and then I wasn’t disappointed again, and then I was surprised because I wasn’t disappointed again. You knew me because of where I sat and you gave us clarity because of who you are and you gave me a fair grade because you would never do anything less. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Peterman (Napoleon),

It only makes sense if you’ve seen it, but then it always makes sense. You were the first person to care about footnotes and margins and the period in exactly the right place. You meant ‘exactly,’ and I learned ‘exactly,’ and in between we were your guinea pigs and we turned out just fine. It seemed like too much reading and too many words and too much knowledge and suddenly it became pastoral because you could do no less. And when I was able to learn from you again, I knew both when to laugh this time and that you were capable of tears, too. And because I knew, I wasn’t afraid to ask, because you never caused us to be afraid of your answer. Thank you.

Dear MM,

I’m sorry I didn’t know how to appreciate you right away. You didn’t pretend that we were better than we were, and up until then I had pretended that I was. And then I was uncertain, and it led to certainty, but I was still uncertain how to bring new certainty to you. And instead you asked, and listened, and let me go with blessing and not complaint. And then I learned that you had taught us to appreciate you, in your own way. Thank you.

Dear Dr. de Rosset,

It feels pretentious to call you anything other than the real thing, but you were never anything remotely pretentious. You had just as many opinions as the next person, but more clarity and gravity in your words than the next fifty persons. And you laughed when it struck you as funny and cried when it wasn’t. You scribbled and marked out and brooked no excuses. You also savored words and named things as good without parsimony. And when I finally sat in your office, you walked straight to my soul, bypassing the masquerade of niceties along the way (and, coincidentally, my name). I treasure your praise, because you are unafraid to both withhold and extend it. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Koessler,

You may not remember that I spoke to you, twice. And the first time you said it was nice and well written and rather boring. And the words I had been so afraid to ask came tumbling out. You went next door to retrieve an awkward fistful of kleenex and gave them, gentleness, and wisdom all with the same generous hands. You had told us to ask what we dare not ask, and I did. And when I saw you again, you asked and were still gentle and I’m still not certain if I can tell what that meant to me in that season. I’m still asking. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Finkbeiner,

You were the nail in the coffin, as it were. Or perhaps the helium in the ballon. Or the instructor on the parachute jump. You made out both soaring and falling to be the greatest adventure of them all, and you scribbled out with pencil and paper those first instructions for how to begin. Then you stood against a wall with your hands in your pockets and asked bad questions and encouraged all manner of fumbling answers and loved theology all the while. And I still am realizing the places we jumped and the things we tasted and what richness you gave us in small, cheerful measure. Thank you.

Dear Mrs. Penfound,

I learned more about the grace of the Word than I did about fitness, I think. Your class meant a lot of pain, which I didn’t enjoy, but you gave a lot of grace, which I needed. You never said our goals were too lofty or silly or that we were not where we were supposed to be. You just did whatever you could to encourage us as who we are as people, people who could do better and people who you encouraged to do yet better still. Thank you.

Dear Coach,

You were pressed for time and persons and yet not pressed for grace. So you gave that to us, and the Lord used you to give us the gift of free time. And in the times you were with us, you didn’t mince words but didn’t withhold engagement. It was a relief and a gift and never a threat. Thank you.

Dear Coach,

I didn’t particularly want to be in your class, until you sat on the desk and took a call and made another one and exposed your love for life and sense of humor. I was reluctant and nervous and in pain most of the time, but even though you didn’t know, you encouraged us in the small ways with a cheer that made it all seem possible. Thank you.

Dear Dr. V.,

I got to know you at your best, didn’t I? Around a table in a little classroom, on the floor around a little living room, on couches in front of Indiana Jones. You said Sys Theo wasn’t your forte, but then you dove into the Greek of the thing with more elan than I had ever approached a language. And the language spoke to the theology, and Biblical theology and Systematic theology settled alongside and within one another better than I had seen before. And you remembered and asked and had a settled, unabashed honesty that stretched my spiritual muscles and helped to heal them, too. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Neely,

I was sorry not to be in class with you, yet I was privileged to sit under you at all. There are moments of you that still strike me; an opening word at FBM that oriented both our day and our lives toward Christ, a sermon at a church in Edinburgh, a conversation around the kitchen table at the Lighthouse, clarity around a campfire. You’ve repeated these moments time and time again in always choosing to greet me. The most striking thoughtfulness is a word you perhaps don’t remember, when your kindness to say how proud you were of me was a ribbon of kindness in a day seamed with grief. Thank you.

Dear James,

You presented yourself with integrity before you ever knew how deeply it would matter. You kept your honesty and welcomed ours and never lost your sense of the absurd, even when you were late to the bus and even when you knew the spiraling troubles ahead. Meanwhile you sat back and crossed your arms and somehow taught us to keep our feet steady when the theology was unsettling. You were honest when you said every passage told us something of God, and you were honest when you didn’t have the answers. And in that restless summer, when all I wanted was answers, I wrestled with God and was finally honest with Him in the end. I left limping and loved anew. I just wish I had more time to learn from you. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Root,

Your knowledge managed to both intimidate and inspire at the same time. Every day was extraordinary and heady and gripping and it felt like we barely scratched the surface. I treasure these moments; a coffee break when you were surprised and blunt in ways you didn’t know I needed; a quiet afternoon in a field when I fell in love with Alice in Wonderland again; a day traipsing in Oxford when you made a doctorate seem like the most ordinary and possible dream in the world; an evening watching and thinking and learning of redemption yet again. I learned to love the Word and its enduring treasures, while you were full of the life of the Word and its enduring transformation. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Goodrich,

I wonder why you never told us quite how difficult it was. Because you taught so steadily, as if was the most delightful and steadfast thing in the world. And it didn’t matter if we were sleeping or staid, because you pressed on and distilled years of study into minutes of teaching. I feel like I skimmed the surface in everything I learned, but I realized that the waters were far deeper than I first thought. I need to learn to swim, and learn to love it, but you helped us begin. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Merchant,

You entrusted us with hefty papers and loaded assignments, and I loved the chance to hear and exchange and begin to see the hands and feet of theology in new and unexpected ways. But what I needed most to hear was that early day, when you confessed and proclaimed that ours was a God of active redemption. In a semester of regret, I needed to know that He was still drawing us up from the deepest places we have wandered. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Schmutzer,

How did you know to ask that first question? To ask if there was something else behind that door that I didn’t want to open? You weren’t afraid to pull boxes off the shelf and name their contents, and in a year when nothing was in order, you spoke truthfully of even the most difficult things. I still feel as if I don’t know and have barely begun to understand, but even when I was uncertain and stumbling for words, you listened and still asked. You were careful with this hurt because you know the Healer so well. Thank you.

Dear Dr. Hong,

I’ve said it before, but I was continually astounded by you. You were tireless beyond comprehension, enthusiastic beyond measure, and prayerful beyond sight. There is much I didn’t say, but what I did you were always careful with in your own way. I didn’t know how bitter I was towards music until I learned to love it again and realized I’d forgotten what it tasted like to sing with both joy and tears in my throat. And you never condemned when my body failed and never ceased to call us higher when we could go yet farther. Thank you.

Dear Dr. C.,

I think of you in terms of honesty, except that your honesty is never unkind. So thank you for your kindness towards those I love, your kindness towards those I don’t yet love, your kindness towards me. I wanted to say thank you first when I realized the way you were gentle and honest in all the ways I couldn’t be, and then you willingly turned towards me with that same grace. Thank you.

Dear Dr. J.,

I have no words to say what you mean to me and what you have taught me. You are my brother and my friend and my teacher and it is forever my privilege to call you so. Thank you.

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Letters From An MBI Student – 4/23

Dear Family,

Lesson of the day/week/semester/year/life-so-far: sometimes the kindest words hurt the most.

I’ve had many, many kind words this semester. I’ve had many, many painful words this semester. If the words were a Venn diagram, there would only be a thin crescent moon on each side of times when those were not the same thing.

They are so innocuous, these words that come out of alphabet soup, these words that sound and seem and are written down as extraordinarily ordinary words.

“How are you doing?”

“Can I do anything for you?”

“You say that a lot, don’t you?”

“Do you always have to do that?”

“Did you know?”

“How can I pray for you?”

“Did you mean to do that?”

“You look nice today.”

“I missed you.”

“I waited for you.”

“I was hoping to see you.”

“I don’t understand you.”

“Where are you?”

All of them, those plain little collections of letters, are stones thrown up against life-old bruises. Maybe it’s self-centered, with that ubiquitous “you”…but then again, isn’t it that little baby of a word that makes it mine? What hurts is the hand of care reaching out, what hurts is the someone reaching for a hug you don’t want, what hurts are the questions that stumble against what you hoped they wouldn’t find. They ask “you,” and “you” give them something of “you” and it hurts.

I’m still learning the difference between a hurt that I draw back from and a hurt I lean into. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I never hope to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I need to have again. Some of the words on that list come from people or conversations that I will have to have again. I don’t get to use a Venn diagram to tell me the difference.

Because where kindness and hurt overlap is where the grace of God comes in gentleness to exactly where I most need it and least want it. I have to know Him to know His hand, and in knowing His hand I know His healing.

“Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.” John 10:25-30

Maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 3/2

Dear Family,

Welcome to the caffeinated ponderings of this week: being tired. I think there are levels, because tired is not an unequivocal thing. To say “I’m tired” can mean one of sundry stages. Here are mine.

Stage One: I’m tired, but I haven’t really considered that yet. I am, but it’s white noise at this point, like walking the halls on Doane 3 and hearing music but not reflecting on it until asked. An annoying trickle of tiredness that I know is always there but don’t bother with. The coffee I hold in my hand is most likely out of habit, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Outstanding,” when asked.

Stage Two: I’m tired, and I know it, and it is habitually ordinary. I will add a dose of caffeine to my afternoon and look with far less enthusiasm at things that have no deadline, like the dishes in my sink. Homework will happen, because panic is still an effective motivator. The coffee in my hand is most likely my second cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Going,” when asked.

Stage Three: I’m tired, and I feel it. I become a minimalist in all things, whittling away at evening plans and extraneous conversations. My caffeine consumption takes the mug form of an IV line, with a dose before every class. The coffee in my hand is most likely my third cup, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Surviving,” when asked.

Stage Four: I’m tired, and I don’t know anything else. I’m counting the hours until I can crawl into a corner, and I’m in glasses and probably the clothes I wore yesterday. Classes will happen, fueled by countless unquestioned cups of coffee interspersed with unsuccessful doses of Earl Grey. The coffee in my hand is not working, and I don’t know you well, so I will say: “Here,” when asked.

Stage Five: Nope.

I don’t actually say, “I’m tired.” Not anymore. I asked Lady to hold me accountable on that, because, please note, there is no Stage Zero. We live this life tired.
The closer I am to Stage Five, the more blurry my perspective on life. It is far too easy to be tired of being tired and far too simple to make that my identity and not an adjective. After a week of wavering between Four and Five, getting back to Stage One will be the closest I get to some sort of ‘not tired.’ So I say other words instead, which sort of mean the same thing, but maybe can encompass other things, too.
For example, to say I’m “Outstanding” means that I’m thinking of you, Father Time, and your persistent slogan of my childhood: “Outstanding and Improving!” It doesn’t mean that I’m not tired, but it makes a little room for the other things in life; like delighting in the lazy snow, engrossed in the class reading, or enriched by unexpected conversation. I’m not not tired, but I’m not just tired. I’m other things, too.

Like maybe missing you,

~Rae

Letters From An MBI Student – 12/5

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Dear Family,

Today has been brought to you by four cups of coffee.

1: Measured and scooped and pressed and brewed in the hurried five minutes before Lady and I left for class. We walked across the slush leftover from yesterday’s snow and I wore my old work boots and G3 sweatshirt and missed a different lifetime but the smell and taste of my hasty Lavazza got me to class and back again.

2: Drained from the dregs of the unexpected dispenser in my second classroom. I walked in with sleep marks on my face and not enough wakefulness to make it through the next two hours, but those using that room during chapel hour had left their coffee totes and tea and bagels and popcorn and I sat in the back with warm coffee and stayed awake enough to take notes.

3: Watched and made and weighed and poured with thoughtfulness and infinite detail by small hands that love with coffee very well. I sat and looked and smelled and carried to class a cup of coffee tasting of brightness and care.

4: Brought unexpectedly at the end of the day, a light roast enjoyed with a dear friend next to the Christmas tree. I sipped and enjoyed and found second words and second breath for the small mountains of tonight.

This weekend was completely beautiful and mostly exhausting and today I was simply too tired to try to put the pieces back together. So today happened with four cups of artificial strength and countless amounts of tangible kindness.

Maybe missing you,

~Rae