Being a Seminary Wife

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There’s a particular moment in the early morning when Kyle can be found at our kitchen table, pencil in his right hand and book cradled in his left, head cocked to the same angle, studying.

Sometimes after a run or while I make breakfast I can literally stare at him for minutes undetected because he is so engrossed in his reading. Oftentimes I am filled with admiration for his commitment to studying Scripture and so many formational textbooks…especially before 8 a.m. Let’s be honest.

Most of these mornings, it’s sweet to be a seminary wife.

There are also mornings when I’m ready for my full-time student, part-time employee, tuition-paying husband to be done with seminary.

While the experience differs for every couple, there are privileges and challenges to being a seminary wife. I’ve tried here to explain briefly what it’s like for me.

Being a Seminary Wife…Over the Dinner Table

At least twice a week I sit across from my husband who expresses with animation that something in class will (quote) “blow my mind.” Most times the discussion is interesting, and for the times when I don’t resonate with the topic, I know how to gently let myself off the hook (a crucial skill for all seminary wives). He takes it well and knows I won’t ever share his enthusiasm for Greek parsing.

That said, it’s a privilege to be the one Kyle includes first in his learning process. And lest we forget my own learning process, this year my musings and questions are sparking dialogues I haven’t allowed myself to have in awhile. My intrigued husband makes me feel smart with his affirmation and engagement. We’re getting to know each other more deeply. This is definitely a perk of being a seminary wife.

Speaking of dinner, we almost always eat together every night. It’s the sacred moment of our day when phones go away, homework goes away, and we actually make eye contact and talk about what’s going on. We’re usually eating homemade food, since my de-stressor from work is cooking and we rarely go out to eat because of the budget we committed to. Feeding Kyle is my tiny way of freeing him up to engage with his studies and work.

If I can be really honest, it’s hard going from DINC (Double Income No Kids) to SISS (Single Income with Seminary Student) (technical term I made up, by the way). Yet for the years ahead when kids or sickness or unemployment create a tight financial situation, we can always look back on these days and say confidently that God supplies what we need (and really know what that means, a skill that many Americans starting with myself sorely lack).

Being a Seminary Wife…In Our Home

Our home is 477 square feet of cozy but old and un-spectacular space. ‘Tiny’ does mean less to clean and fewer ways to avoid each other, resulting in better conflict resolution (silver linings people). I try to recognize that even though our apartment is being torn down in nine months, our bathroom ceiling sometimes leaks, and we have itty bitty sugar ants who visit us once a week, we can bless the Lord who gives us a roof over our heads. Our home is comfortable and clean, but we can’t afford glorious.  As a seminary wife, I’m learning to be content with this and abandon any feelings of entitlement (relapses occur weekly).

We only have space to host one couple or family at a time. All the same, we just love having people over. Hospitality is very simple for us, but as a seminary wife, I find it a privilege to come alongside my husband in creating an authentic and welcoming place to continue the conversations from the classroom. I hope to carry this spirit of hospitality into the future.

Being a Seminary Wife…With Our Neighbors

The beauty of living in housing so close to Fuller is that many of our neighbors are also seminary students, or seminary spouses. The bummer is that we’re a good 1000+ miles from all the friends we have history with, who given the choice we’d also make live on the same block. And we also still miss our families–living so very far away hasn’t normalized.

A fantastic thing about Fuller is that seminary spouses don’t have to stay on the fringes. I can audit classes for next to nothing; I am welcome to attend many of the functions and events that students do; and I even have my own support group!

This group of fellow seminary wives we nicknamed “The Fuller Wives Club.” We are led by the wife of the Dean of Intercultural Studies, and we meet regularly to pray for each other and our husbands. We plan beach days during finals weeks…after all, we’re not the ones who have to take the exams. We empathize immediately when someone says “I’m tired of the studying” or “we’re broke” or “I miss home.” We wrestle through our calling to a lifestyle of ministry, beginning with the demands and schedule of seminary. I’ve never been in a community quite like this and I doubt I’ll ever be in one like it again.

The other surprise blessing of being a seminary wife is that even though I’m not taking classes, I get to be friends with cool students who are here for the classes. One of the original draws to Fuller for Kyle and me was the tri-fold emphasis on intercultural, psychological, and theological studies. I can’t even count how many students from all three of these disciplines I’ve gotten to know either personally or with Kyle. These are people who are shaping my worldview and heart for the kingdom. They never treat me as ’just’ a seminary wife either, but rather as a vital member of this community.

Being a Seminary Wife…For the Long Haul

Seminary is a unique investment. I think of all the energy already spent studying and feeding the study-er. Going to class and going to work to pay for the class. Praying over our present and our future. Sometimes, if I’m honest, I ask myself if it will be worth it. It sounds like an awful thing to say as a seminary wife, but it’s where I’m at some days. Why are we doing this? What pay-off awaits on the other side?  Typical grad school outcomes like higher salary or more recognition are not what any of this is about in the end.

It’s about something much bigger than ourselves or our marriage, actually.

Yes, it’s about giving Kyle the opportunity to pursue a degree at a school that he has dreamed of for several years. It’s about the amazing servants of God that we’re meeting because we moved 2,000 miles to Southern California. It’s about putting some money where our mouth is and believing that kingdom goals are worth the time, tuition, and dedication.

I think about the people we don’t yet know that God will have us serve, encourage, or spur on toward loving Jesus. They will be worth this training–this seminary training, definitely, and equally valuable, this seminary wife training.

I underestimated the commitment this degree requires from a wife, and I’m being stretched—uncomfortably, sometimes—by it. This commitment takes submission to Jesus, to my husband the full-time student, to a community of believers from all backgrounds and denominations, and to the truth that God has a use for our lives far beyond our own plans.

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The State of the Call

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IMG_0584In our most recent post, Natalie reflected upon the sorts of milestones the summer had brought for us. Our first year in Pasadena went by so fast–and I have no doubt that Year Two will move just as quickly!

Sometimes in the midst of our quickening life here, it’s hard for me to take a step back and reflect on what has transpired since coming to Fuller. There have been so many memorable classes, challenging conversations, wonderful people, and formative experiences that I sometimes fear I am moving too quickly to fully embrace them.

Today, however, I took some time to myself to reflect back over the last year and consider the question: “How have I progressed in the pursuit of my calling since coming to Fuller?” Addressing this question, I hope, will help me keep addressing another, weightier question: “What the heck am I gonna do after seminary?” After all, I came to Fuller in the first place to continue equipping myself for some sort of call to ministry. While I am still sorting through the answer(s) to these questions, I thought that those of you who know me well might at least be curious to know what my thoughts on these matters are currently.

Before diving right in though, I thought I’d share that I was aided greatly in this reflection through reading Fuller President Mark Labberton’s brand new book on vocation called, well, Called: The Crisis and Promise of Following Jesus Today. From Dr. Labberton’s many years of pastoral ministry, he shares a wealth of wisdom on vocational formation that is presented in a concise, accessible, and practical way (which is quite refreshing, might I add–I’ve read my share of books by pastors and theologians that was none of those three things!). I commend it here to you for two reasons: first, because it is an important book on vocation; and second, because Dr. Labberton is using the royalties from the book to establish scholarships at Fuller. Enough said.

Putting First Things First

Last year on a trip to visit my in-laws, we stopped by my mother-in-law’s classroom on the last day of school with her first grade class. Mrs. Graf introduced us to all her students and told them a little bit about us.

“Everyone, this is my daughter, Natalie. She lives in St. Louis and works for a company called Beta Gamma Sigma. And this is her husband, Kyle. He’s going to be going back to school again, just like you all. But he’s going to school to become a pastor. Does anyone know what the name for a school for pastors is?”

One particularly precocious young man shot up his hand.

“A cemetery?” he suggested with confidence. I didn’t think that first graders knew that joke, but perhaps I was mistaken.

There is an unfortunate but pervasive assumption among some that going to seminary will kill a student’s faith. It is even more unfortunate that there are indeed seminarians (and seminaries) around the country that have helped to reinforce this assumption.

This, however, is not what I have found at Fuller. In fact, quite the reverse is true: I have been amazed by the number of people who are genuinely seeking to model the way of Jesus in their own lives and possess a deep commitment to him. Daily, we are forced to consider the essential beliefs and practices of Christianity in sustained and honest ways. Sometimes, this serves to reinforce things in which I have always believed and have sought to embody. Other times, this encourages me to remember things which I have always believed but have not been very good about embodying. Still other times, this challenges me to re-consider beliefs that I have taken for granted as Christian but were perhaps not accurate expressions of the Christian faith.

This is what Dr. Labberton calls in his book addressing the “First Things.” Before we can ever consider what sort of career or position in life God might call us to, we must be thoroughly committed to live out the good news of Christ wherever we are, whatever we are doing. This is our primary calling. My seminary education thus far has helped me to do this in many ways, not least of which through the example of the committed people (both on staff and students) that are part of Fuller. Of course, I still have a long way to go, but I have felt essentially supported in this throughout my time at Fuller.

“The Andy Factor”

That’s probably not the first place the conversation of “career” or “calling” or “vocation” goes though, is it (though as Dr. Labberton argues, it really should be)? Normally, we’re talking about what one does from 9 to 5, what sort of work a person undertakes.

When someone asks me what I plan to do after seminary, the stock answer I give them is, “some sort of pastoral ministry.” I don’t say more than that because I really still don’t know more than that. Some of my friends have always known they wanted to be the senior pastor of a church, or work for WorldVision, or lead worship services. I, on the other hand, have always struggled to understand what my exact role should be.

Am I supposed to be a worship leader? A writer? A pastor? A teacher? None of the above?

In the spring, Nat and I had the privilege of sitting at a dinner next to a leader in Fuller’s community named Andy. We respect him greatly, and just getting the chance to talk with him was an unexpected gift. However, as we continued talking, a second, more unexpected gift emerged. Andy shared a little bit of his background with us, and his story began to resonate deeply with mine. Andy worked in campus ministry for several years–that’s how I started in ministry. He serves as a worship leader for his church–that was my first paid job in ministry. Now, he is known more as a writer and a speaker, which means that he also teaches and leads in a variety of contexts. Those are the very skills I came to seminary hoping to hone.

Let me be clear here: the point is not that I want to be Andy per se. Rather, getting a glimpse into his life gave me a glimpse into what it means to live out one’s primary calling through one’s career. Andy is a committed follower of Jesus, and he has learned how to use a range of gifts that God has given him through his working life. It didn’t happen all at once, and there is no real job description for the breadth of what he does now. While he does indeed have a job title with his employer, his job title does not encompass his calling.

Among a few core friends who discuss vocation regularly, I have taken to calling this “The Andy Factor.” As I shared these things with them, I began to realize how freeing Andy’s story was to me. Instead of stressing about which traditional pastoral role I was supposed to pursue, I began to understand that leaving the question more open-ended may in fact be the more faithful thing to do. After all, I may not even be aware yet of the role which I am to fill after Fuller. I do know that it will require me to use the best of what I can offer to serve God and others through my work.

Insert Vocation Here

One reason I have been frustrated in the past in thinking about career is that we often frame one’s career vocation as a sort of mantle that God puts on us. We haven’t become fully alive yet until we finally get the big cosmic clue that this job was the one we were made for. This one is the one we were supposed to do all along.

I am sure that for some people, they really do have this sort of experience. But then I think about the Andys of the world again. I would say that he is “doing what he was made for” right now. But does that mean that he wasn’t “doing what he was made for” when he was still working with the campus ministry?

My boss at Fuller’s Field Education department likes to call one’s current ministry role their “ministry assignment.” I like that, because an assignment implies both that you are sent by someone to do a job and that there’s the potential that at some point, you might not be on that “assignment” anymore. You may be asked to move somewhere else in the “kingdom department.”

However, I am not too sure that all the particulars of one’s ministry assignment are literally “assigned.” When I was about to start my second year of work for The Crossing, my supervising pastor asked me to fill out my own job description and submit it to him.

Fill out my own job description? Who gets to do that?

After I submitted it, he sat down with me and worked through what I had suggested. Because I had worked there for a year, I already owned several responsibilities and had an idea of some others that I could take on. Most of my job description he accepted wholeheartedly. However, there were some things that he said no to because he knew my gifts and experience didn’t match those tasks. Others he said no to because they weren’t really deep needs of the church. He also added some things to my plate that weren’t necessarily my first choice of things to do but that were needs in the church I could help fill.

I’ve come to envision our sense of career calling a little bit like this. It’s a little bit less like a job description whose details are already worked out and handed to us by God, and a bit more like a job description whose details take shape over time. If we have been rooted to a community of believers in prayer and conversation, and if our gifts and passions have been confirmed by the experiences of others, then maybe sometimes God invites us to start by filling out the form as best we can. Through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the church, he then works with us over time to help us live out our primary call to follow Christ in ways that are consistent with who we are. That’s how I’ve come to think of it anyway.

So, what do I plan to do after seminary?

“Some sort of pastoral ministry.”

And, at this point, that answer suits me just fine.

Summer’s several anniversaries

This summer started with our second anniversary and ended with our first anniversary. How about that?

May 27th marked two years of marriage and August 8th marked one year in California, and we’ve certainly tried to enjoy each day in between.

Santa Barbara, two year wedding anniversary

Santa Barbara, two year wedding anniversary

Back in May, Kyle and I commemorated year #2 by hopping on Highway 1 up to Santa Barbara, where we strolled a 1786 Catholic Mission hosting a sidewalk art festival and wandered in and out of restaurants and wine tasting bars, eventually making it to the ocean shore. We had a fabulous day.  Inevitably the memories surfaced from first floating down Highway 1 in our rental car, dizzied with newlywed excitement, the June breeze perfectly cued every time we stepped out of the car to enjoy the California coast. That was over two years ago, on our honeymoon, just a few hours north of where we live today.

I remember casually tossing phrases into conversation on our honeymoon like, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to actually live here, 365 days of the year? This state has it all…”

As luck would have it, now we’ve truly lived here 365 days a year!

Yosemite

Backpacking Yosemite

The most recent 60 or so days here have been full…

Kyle is currently hunkered down to write several final papers for his two summer classes, The Art of Evangelism and Old Testament, both of which were taught by outstanding professors.  At the end of June, Kyle was best man for his brother Tyler’s wedding in St. Louis, and in July I co-hosted a baby shower for my good friend Kathryn and initiated a ‘Christmas in July’ party for my department at work. The first few days in August we traveled to Yosemite National Park for a weekend backpacking adventure with our Swiss Fuller friends Sabine and Dario. I began a weekly Saturday position at the Adult Day Center of a local homeless service provider in Pasadena.

Just this past holiday weekend we made it down to La Jolla for the day, an expensive San Diego suburb, where we mostly enjoyed the free, clean beach and charming farmers market (ok, the farmers market was not free–we succumbed to a melt-in-your-mouth tub of California dates before we got out of there).

All these occasions and milestones cause me to reflect on how far God has brought us since our first drive on ‘the’ Highway 210 into Pasadena a year ago:

  • We both looked for jobs and heard what the other desired so deeply in a career. Kyle landed in some really rewarding part-time positions this year, and I landed at a company that has proven to be a God-given fit so far.
Kyle's Birthday Dodgers Game

Kyle’s Birthday Dodgers Game

  • We both walked through the process of choosing and being chosen by friends, which can be a beautifully raw process. Just a year later, we’re rich in new confidants and mentors, family away from family so to speak, even as we stay in touch with many from back home.
  • We held each other when we were homesick, and held each other back when we (most often me) wanted to go on lavish Cali dates we couldn’t afford. (Side note: California seems to have an hourly rate on their weather and accessible-everything. It’s daunting to be residents on one and a half salaries while in grad school, and remains one of our biggest sources of strain, but God has provided so much, and more).
  • I supported Kyle as he labored away in year one of grad school, wrestled through some really pivotal questions, and humbly succeeded in ways big and small. Kyle supported me as I labored away at Russ Reid, wrestled through questions about my career and giftedness, and humbly tackled whatever the task at hand with eagerness to learn.

In fact, these things have carried us seamlessly into year three. And year two. Ah, you get the picture.

Here’s to our second California fall, when it’s still 92 degrees but hey, the Pumpkin Spice Latte is back at Starbucks!

Would love to hear what milestones you are celebrating in your own life!  YosemiteLa Jolla's beauty

No April Showers, But Lots of Flowers

The flowers spring from a different kind of soil here in Southern California. I’ve been amazed that they have survived and flourished on literally a few days of rain since we moved here seven months ago. Below is a wonderful portrait of what an iPhone can capture on a five minute walk during my lunch break! flowers

Local chatter these days is often about the recent earthquake activity (did you see our local news anchors’ reactions here in L.A.?). I also overhear a lot about the ice cap levels in the mountains surrounding L.A.–this is allegedly the ice earmarked as L.A.’s water supply when it trickles down to all of us sea-level folks during the summer months. Ok, so maybe not allegedly–for real. It’s fascinating conversation for a Midwesterner who has never lived in a desert nor on a tectonic divide, and whose state is still getting snow showers in April. Earthquake readiness kit with lots of bottled water, coming soon to our front hall closet!

Kyle’s spring break came and went during March; he used his time in both relaxing (read: went to the beach) productive (read: oil change and doctors appointments) ways. Now he’s immersed in quarter number three, with a lineup of Greek (still), New Testament Introduction: Romans through Revelation, and Church and Mission in Global Contexts. I’ve already received a few homilies at dinnertime. He’s REALLY excited about Theology Week this year at Fuller, May 1-3, when Miroslav Volf and THE N.T. Wright will be giving lectures throughout the week.

Beach day reading and relaxing during spring break

Beach day reading and relaxing during spring break

I’ve grown into my role at Russ Reid and am especially encouraged recently by the friendships I’ve built with many of my coworkers. Russ Reid celebrates 50 years this June and will throw a big party in Pasadena to celebrate. Speaking of celebrations, for the first time ever, I’m actually feeling ok about going in to work on my birthday in May, because our department usually makes it pretty special! I am also looking forward to “summer half-day Fridays” starting in late May, when the company hours are 8am–5:30pm, and–you guessed it–a half day every Friday. That is, if I can get away–operations work is the most stressful from June to August, so I hear.

Outside of work, I’m pleased to have joined the Young Leaders Society of Union Station Homeless Services, a group of young professionals in their 20’s and 30’s. After looking into various service opportunities since moving here, I knew this was IT as soon as I attended one event. The group volunteers together, first and foremost; they also meet together in committees to support Union Station’s core goals and they even have social events. On April 26, we’ll cook and serve breakfast to 100+ homeless people. Perhaps I’ll serve a familiar face; I pass so many homeless people each day I walk to work and I’m anxious to know more of their names.

Kyle and I are counting down the days until two exciting trips this summer. My brother Austin graduates from Clemson University on May 9, and Kyle and I will take a long weekend out in South Carolina to celebrate him and see my immediate family. Then, in late June we’re headed to the Midwest to be at Kyle’s brother Tyler’s wedding in Iowa and to see Kyle’s family. We’re grateful for the opportunities to see both our families (albeit briefly) in the next few months.

Easter is something we’re looking forward to celebrating with our new church home, Fellowship Monrovia. It’ll be especially exciting this year because we are partnering with two other churches and gathering as one big community at the Hollywood Bowl!  Talk about a memorable first-time experience at this famous outdoor venue. We’ll let you know what it was like in our next post!

Happy Easter,

Natalie

Checked out another amazing hiking trail about 20 minutes from home with some dear friends from Switzerland, Dario and Sabine.

Checked out another amazing hiking trail about 20 minutes from home with some dear friends from Switzerland, Dario and Sabine.

 

 

Five Things I Love About Fuller

Kyle on Library Steps

On the steps outside of Payton Hall.

In thinking back over previous blog posts, it occurred to me that we have said a lot about our lives here in southern California–what Pasadena is like, the kinds of people we’re meeting, the sorts of activities in which we’ve taken part–yet we haven’t really said all that much about the thing that brought us here: Fuller Theological Seminary. In fact, I went so far as to share a blog post about things that I had learned outside of the classroom while at Fuller. 

But you might be wondering what Fuller itself is like from my perspective, and I’d love to tell you. So far, I have felt nothing but confirmation about coming to Fuller. It is a great school for me to be attending to receive my M.Div. (which is kind of a gateway degree to all things pastoral). Many denominations still require their pastors to receive this particular degree. It also is a common degree taken by those pursuing even higher degrees, so there is a really nice blend of practical education as well as theological reflection contained within an M.Div. program.

Right, you might say, but you could have gotten that degree anywhere. Why go to the other side of the country to get the same degree you could have right down the street? I’m glad you asked. Here are five things about Fuller that set it apart, things that I believe will help to shape me into a more faithful pastor. After all, isn’t that what this is all about?

1. Fuller has a unique voice in the evangelical community. The oft-heard joke around here is that Fuller is too conservative for the liberals, and too liberal for the conservatives. Some see this as a deficit; I tend to see it as a strength. There is deep concern here for academic rigor, but unlike some places, I truly feel as though the academic rigor is always in service of God’s kingdom–not the other way around. This critical reflection sometimes pushes Fuller toward stances with which not everyone in the evangelical community would agree.* However, I feel as though the stance they have taken has given them a vantage point of credibility, both within the church at large as well as with the secular community–a bridge sorely needed in our increasingly secular society. Those in leadership at the seminary have historically set the tone well in this area, and with the inauguration of our new President, Dr. Mark Labberton, I think this will only continue. He is a class-act.

Greek w:Coffee Pic

Unfortunately, this is indeed what 6:30 A.M. looks like for me all-to-often: an already half-empty mug of coffee and Greek textbook in front of me. We all know I secretly love it, though.

2. Fuller is concerned with the redemption of the total person. The seminary itself is actually composed of three schools: the School of Theology, the School of Psychology, and the School of Intercultural Studies (formerly known as the School of World Mission). Together, these schools address the total needs of people, ministering to one’s entire self. True redemption is not merely a matter of the soul, but also concerns the minds and bodies of people and their social situations. Each one of these schools produces some of the finest scholars and practitioners in their respective fields, and there is much cross-pollination. For example, I plan to take a class next quarter in the School of Intercultural Studies called “Church and Mission in Global Contexts,” discussing the way other cultures envision church and how the church can learn to be a force in whatever context she finds herself. Fuller is particularly good at this because of the next point below.

3. Fuller emphasizes diversity in many forms. I could be wrong, but my sense is that very few seminary communities are as diverse as Fuller. Where else could I share creative writing with a friend whose family originated in the Philippines, have delicious dinners with our neighbors from Vietnam, and meet for prayer each Wednesday with an African American youth pastor? This is teaching me a greater cultural dexterity and offering me a new set of questions to ask when I meet people and engage with them. Further, one unique thing about Fuller is that it offers certain degrees taught entirely in Spanish or Korean. But the diversity does not only deal with race or ethnicity. Each day, I sit next to students who come from literally EVERY denomination imaginable. It really pushes us to refine our own assumptions about our denominational traditions.

Aughtrys at Getty

Our good friends, the Aughtrys. Matt just might have the best bi-vocational calling ever: pastor-filmmaker.

4. Fuller attracts some pretty amazing people as students, faculty, and visiting presenters. You would not believe what some of my peers, colleagues, and mentors have done. One of my best friends on campus studied film at USC (“Not that USC,” he is quick to point out. “The University of South Carolina.”). Part of why he is here is to be stretched in how he connects his art with the Gospel. Currently, I have a professor who has produced award-winning work on the relationship between science and religion. The kicker? I studied her work in some of my undergraduate courses in philosophy (at a secular university, mind you). Two people I respect deeply in the Christian community–John Ortberg and Andy Crouch–serve on the Board of Trustees at Fuller. This spring, both N.T. Wright and Miroslav Volf will be presenting on campus within a week of each other (if you are nerdy enough, this should be eliciting goosebumps for you). I could go on and on. But maybe this is the best evidence for my case: one of the former deans of the School of Psychology founded eHarmony. Does it get any better than that?

5. Fuller students are passionate about following Christ. This is the one that really matters at the end of the day. We could talk theology all day long, but if it was for our own ends, all would be for naught. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks here who have some really sweet, bold, audacious, holy dreams in their hearts, and they are fired up to see them be realized in service of the Kingdom. It makes each class a privilege and a joy to attend.

Stay tuned in the next couple weeks for a follow-up post, because I’d love to share with you some of the specific, important things that I’ve learned from my classes thus far.

Until next time,
Kyle

*Note from above: One example of an issue that some evangelicals would disagree with is Fuller’s refusal to use the word “inerrant” in describing characteristics of the Bible. If you are curious, I’d encourage you to see their entire position on the Bible, outlined here. For the specific issue at hand, read below the heading The Language of “Inerrancy” and its Dangers.

Turning a Corner

Gorgeous January afternoon in Old Town San Diego.

Loving the gorgeous January afternoon in Old Town San Diego.

While getting ready for work a few weeks ago, Natalie yelled to me from the bathroom:

“Have you heard anything from the housing office recently?”

Me: “No, why?”

Her: “Because I just realized–our lease is almost up. It’s already been six months!”

Me: “Six months? We haven’t been here six months! Our lease began on August 1st.”

Her: “Exactly. So…” And then both of us counted on our fingers to work out such highly advanced math. And she was right. We have been in California for nearly six months.

If I had to sum up last fall for us, it was all about getting our feet under us. We had to answer some really important questions about what our working lives would look like and how we would orient our schedules and what kind of relationships we could build and what kind of budget we were really working with and whether the Dodgers would beat the Cardinals in the playoffs…? You know, the really crucial questions. Answering these required greater amounts of attention, thought, energy, and prayer.

Of course, we knew (or at least hoped) this period of adjustment would not last forever; and over the past few weeks, we feel as though we have turned a corner. Here have been some encouraging reflections for each of us recently:

From Kyle:

  • Our sense of community has deepened since Christmas. For Natalie, her involvement with a group of Fuller wives has provided great support and amazing new women of all ages to connect with. She also has become closer with some of her co-workers. As for me, I have been blessed to have met some really wonderful people at Fuller, and have begun to foster great friendships outside the classroom.
  • Sunset on Coronado Island.

    Sunset on Coronado Island

    We have chosen to take root in a church called Fellowship Monrovia for the time being. It is a church plant that just turned two years old and is associated with Redeemer City-to-City‘s church planting network. We will probably have much more to say about the church in the future, especially because we have started to explore serving opportunities there (including with their college ministry, which brings back many warm memories of CCF for both of us).

  • Natalie has expressed a better sense of belonging to Russ Reid. Her co-workers and supervisors think highly of her (no surprise there, right?), even hiring a woman that Natalie referred to the company. As an added bonus, Natalie got the privilege of traveling with the company much sooner than she expected to go on a press check at one of the largest direct mail printing vendors in the country, Segardahl. A surprise blessing was getting to have an impromptu dinner with her parents during her quick 36-hour trip!

From Natalie: 

  • Kyle is thoroughly enjoying his seminary experience. I’ve never seen the man so focused, so intentional. He’s acing his classes. He is connecting spiritually with a few other married men on campus. He is contributing a great deal to the Field Education office at Fuller (where he continues to work). He is telling me all (only) the interesting things he learns. In fact, I’m auditing Pastoral Counseling with him every Wednesday evening. All right–we are both enjoying this seminary experience. Because it makes me so happy that he gets to do this.
  • The most delightful coffee shop stop on our way to San Diego!

    The most delightful coffee shop stop on our way to San Diego!

    We are making Southern California our own. On Sunday we drove further into the Angeles National Forest and hiked on Mount Baldy, the highest point in L.A. County at 10,068 feet. Over Martin Luther King weekend we used Christmas money to drive south to San Diego and spend the night in Little Italy. And most recently, we walked the majority of downtown Pasadena deciding on a restaurant that fit our date night budget. No doubt we’re getting some great exercise here thanks to our sense of adventure, indecisiveness, and frugality!

  • We are beginning to feel full again. Starting over in a new place means that at first we inevitably felt a little needy: needy for friends, for a church home, for familiarity with our city, and so on. During the fall, we definitely felt as much on the receiving end as the giving. This was good. It has also been good to turn a corner and realize that, without trying explicitly, we are becoming less focused on our own immediate needs or worries and more inspired to bless, encourage, and be generous toward others.

God has been good in His faithfulness; give glory to Him for His steadfast hand on us thus far! We love what is forming here in Pasadena, and we’re grateful for your support and excitement for us across the miles.

~Kyle and Natalie

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A completely different world above the clouds in the Angeles National Forest, just 45 minutes from our home

A Christmas Message from the Oesches

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The two of us at a Christmas party hosted by Natalie’s employer, Russ Reid

Just before moving to Pasadena, I sat down with the lead pastor at The Crossing (the church I worked at in St. Louis) and talked to him about the seminary plans Natalie and I had. In that conversation, I expressed to him our mutual excitement, as well as our mutual concerns, about moving. Would we be employed and/or receive enough financial aid? Would the classes be hard? Would we make friends? Would there be as many hippies there as we were told?

As is often the case with these sorts of things, his response was incredibly simple–something like this: “Of course you’re worried about those things, because you won’t know the answers to those questions until you are there.”

And now we are here. It’s already been quite a ride, and we’ve only been living in our little apartment for four months or so. Some of the worries we’d had have evaporated now that we are actually living here. On the other hand, some unforeseen circumstances and challenges have come along that have forced us to change our perspective and our plans at times. And some new opportunities, goals, and dreams have come along that never would have had we not stepped out onto this new leg of the adventure. We had to be in Pasadena in the flesh before we could know whether our hopes–and our fears–were founded.

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A picture sitting in the congregation of Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the nation

Coming in the flesh…the intersection of hope and fear…reflecting on our lives here has truly pointed us to celebrating the birth of Jesus this year. The Incarnation is a beautiful mystery for many reasons; one of them is that it represents God’s fullest and final statement about what he really is like. He came to a guest room in Bethlehem to show us. People didn’t have to wonder anymore, because God came to be with us in the flesh.

“The hopes and fears of all the years/Are met in thee tonight.” It’s one of my favorite lines in the whole Christmas carol canon and is from “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” Technically, it’s referring to the meeting of humankind’s hopes and fears in Bethlehem; but by extension, of course it also is referring to the meeting of our hopes and fears in the one that was born in Bethlehem. The fact that Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us created the opportunity for our hopes to be realized and our fears to be dealt with once and for all.

IMG_0011That’s what makes every day an adventure here. We know that we are here because we have found this great hope in a living Lord, and that our greatest fears have already been accounted for and dealt with. Are we still adjusting? Absolutely. Is it uncomfortable sometimes? Oh yeah. But here at Christmas, we are thanking God for being “God-with-us” during this first quarter of seminary.

Tomorrow, all of us will celebrate the birth of God himself (and for the two of us, it will be with Natalie’s family, actually, which is a pleasant surprise for our first Christmas here!). We wish that we could be there to do it with you too. But since we can’t, let us say that we miss you from afar and are looking forward to the time when we can see you again! Have a blessed Christmas, full of the hope and assurance that comes with the birth of a baby–our King.

Grace, peace and love always,
Kyle and Natalie

Getting to Know the Neighbors

Our friendship with the Nguyen family from Vietnam began with a simple gesture of neighborliness.  Today they call us “Uncle Ky and Auntie Natalie.”  I’ve been waiting for weeks to share with you one of the unexpected blessings of moving into Fuller housing!

Rose (still with baby) and Timmy at Blaze Pizza in Pasadena, Timmy's birthday destination.

Rose (still with baby) and Timmy at Blaze Pizza in Pasadena, Timmy’s birthday destination.

How We Met

We met Peter Nguyen within the first few hours of arriving in Pasadena, when a bunch of good-natured seminary students decided on a whim to interrupt their afternoon and help us move our life from two small Relocubes to one small apartment.  As we walked out our front door, there was Peter, one end of our desk in his hands, serving us by showing up just in time to carry in what was our last piece of furniture.

As it often happens when you live in close proximity, we began to bump into Peter as we walked to our car or to get the mail, and soon we met his wife, Rose, and six-year-old son, Timmy. We returned the neighborly gesture by sharing a meal together not long after.

Expecting

At the time, Rose was nearly eight months pregnant. This is an important detail for several reasons. First, there were a few nights when Rose showed up at our door around 8pm to deliver a foil-covered plate of treats. I felt so tickled each time I uncovered the aluminum foil because with it, I sensed I was uncovering a growing friendship and fun exchange of culture. I was thankful for our very pregnant neighbor who had a sweets craving.

Timmy (middle) starring as Tacky the Penguin!

Timmy (middle) starring as Tacky the Penguin!

As her due date approached, our relationship developed with the family whose floor was our ceiling. One day the Nguyens approached us about taking care of Timmy if the baby came at an inconvenient time (which babies tend to do). Without family in the area (let alone the country), we felt privileged that they asked us to be “on call.” I distinctly remember a sweet moment running into Rose’s mentor soon after; she grabbed my shoulders and said sincerely, “Oh! I have been praying for someone like you to come into Rose and Peter’s life to help them when the baby comes. Thank you.”

Seemingly overnight, Kyle and I became “Uncle Ky and Auntie Natalie.” I attended Timmy’s 1st grade musical (hilarious, and Timmy was the star!), we celebrated Timmy’s 6th birthday over dinner out, we carved jack-o-lanterns together (their first time!), and the Nguyens taught us about Vietnamese church, culture, and shared REALLY hot peppers that they grow on their porch.

Sharing cultures: carving pumpkins!

Sharing cultures: carving pumpkins!

Then came Grace Quynh-anh on October 11!

We got the 6am call one Friday morning and rushed upstairs in sweatpants just as Rose and Peter were walking out the door on the way to the hospital. Timmy was beside himself with excitement, so Kyle and I took turns getting ready for work, one showering while the other built Lego cities with Timmy as the sun came up. I’ll never forget the wonder of being with a six-year-old whose first sibling was finally arriving.

Grace was born without many complications at all (Praise God!) and the family returned home the next day. Just days later I got to hold Grace in my arms. Timmy, of course, still wanted to play Legos (babies are boring to a six-year-old).

Grace at 3 days old.

Grace at 3 days old.

Sharing Life

Fast-forward to November 11th, Grace’s one month birthday. Vietnamese tradition has it that the mother stays in her home for anywhere from one to three months after the baby is born; Rose and Peter ended this healing time with worship, prayer, and celebration. And they invited us to be there.

We sat on chairs in a circle in their tiny living room, Peter with a guitar, radiant Rose with baby Grace in her arms, Timmy, Kyle and me. We sang songs in both Vietnamese and English (and by “we” I mean the Nguyens definitely carried the Vietnamese songs…). We read Psalm 65 together.  We prayed in thanksgiving and joy over the family, and the family prayed (in Vietnamese) over their new daughter and over us. It touched me so much. Their happiness was tangible and their deep reverence of God so clear.

We have made many special friends here, and maybe you’ll hear about them in subsequent posts.  But for this week, I wanted to share about God’s divine inspiration in sending us neighbors like the Nguyens. We have learned so much about faith, trust, family, and service through their friendship. It seems God gave us to them and them to us for many reasons.

Not to mention we’ll be taking the Auntie and Uncle titles very seriously.

-Natalie

Four Things I’ve Learned in Seminary (That I Haven’t Learned in Class)

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From the evening before the inauguration of Fuller’s new president, Dr. Mark Labberton. I helped out with some of the inauguration events.

Yep, we still do have a blog.

And yep, it’s totally my fault that it was left dormant for a few weeks. It was my turn to write, and, well, let’s just say time has gotten away from me a bit. Fortunately, Natalie resurrected the blog last week. If you haven’t read her post from last week, you definitely should–she does a great job of quickly summarizing what life has been like for us recently.

Time really has flown. We have ten weeks of classes each quarter before finals, and we are finishing week seven now. I’m learning that each quarter feels much more like a sprint than a marathon–a much different feeling than in undergrad. It’s been an adjustment.

Actually, I’ve learned a whole lot of things this quarter already. Many of them have come through my studies, like the historical background behind covenants in the Ancient Near East, or how issues in translating Greek affect our understandings of the Biblical text (two things we discussed just yesterday). But as with many things in life, some of the best lessons have come outside of the classroom. I’d like to share just four of them with you below.

1. Past experiences have opened doors for many present opportunities. On almost a daily basis, something comes up in a class or at work that reminds me that I have been very fortunate to have had some wonderful experiences prior to coming to seminary. Some of the people I meet have come to seminary to start over; they’re on a second or third career and are back in school to try to discern their true call. Well, I’m still trying to discern my call too. But fortunately, it feels much more like I’ve been on a trajectory, and seminary has just been the next step. My classes at Truman, the ministry and leadership opportunities at CCF and The Crossing, and the family, friends, and mentors throughout my life that have intentionally invested in me have offered me a really, really great foundation. I am grateful for that, and I am excited to see where this trajectory leads next when the time comes.

2. “Small places need big men.” And women, I might add. These words were prayed over me two nights ago as I worked with Fuller’s calling program. One of the perks of that job is that we get to chat with, and pray for, Fuller alumni from all over the country. A kind man from Montana, who pastors in a town of only 5,000, said those words, and they have stuck with me. Many of us young bucks want to go out and change the world, but I must admit, some of the people who have been most influential on my life are the ones who were faithful with “little,” but their “little” yielded much. It reminds me that the kingdom I now consider daily deals not with the majestic palm trees I see daily, but with meager mustard seeds. A good lesson as I continue.

3. My wife is a stud. You know how this is related to seminary? Because she is totally making it possible for me to be here. She’s always making dinners and buying groceries, doing some laundry, paying bills…you get the idea. Don’t get me wrong–I try to pull my weight. But the truth of it is that I’m a full-time student and I work 20 hours a week. Free time is not as abundant as it once was. We even joked the other night that we don’t know how single people would get through seminary. “They eat lots of ramen and wear the same underwear for a week,” I think I said. Not only this, but she also has really done a fantastic job at Russ Reid. She would never tell this to you personally, but I will: three days ago, Natalie’s boss’s boss–the woman that hired Natalie–told Natalie’s direct supervisor that Natalie has been a model employee since coming to Russ Reid. Nat has gained a reputation for asking good questions and being a constant learner. I am proud of her, and you all should be too. Seriously.

4. Being at Fuller is great, but it also forces us to make some tough decisions. Fuller Theological Seminary has so many opportunities available for students. Not only is Fuller’s faculty world-class, and not only am I working with some world-class students (from all over the world, actually), but the school also provides world-class opportunities to hear from voices outside the seminary. Just yesterday, Natalie and I both got to hear from a professor from Columbia University discuss issues related to humanitarian aid and how people of faith must interact with secularism to bring about good. So we really have been soaking it up. The difficulty, as you might expect, is that we are a long way from home and living on the seminarian’s budget. From our front door here to my parents’ house is 1,780 miles away. To Natalie’s parents, it’s 1,989 miles. For the first time, we do not expect to make it home for the holidays, and we have already seen how life here forces us to miss big life events for others that we care about back in the Midwest. And we are coming to terms with the fact that this is the new normal. Unless anyone has a private jet they would like to bequeath to us…

And if there was a fifth thing I might have learned, it would be not to bite off more than you can chew with blogs. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep up with it a little more moving forward! Thanks for reading, everyone.

All the best,
Kyle

What’s Going On

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Our street corner…pretty nice view at sunset!

Remember that one time when Kyle and I liked the idea of keeping a blog about faith, marriage, and Southern California?

We still like the idea.

However, our new life is in full swing here, and with that many weeks of adjusting and readjusting have arrived. I think we both agree that it’s been more taxing than we realized, thus….never updating our blog. But we’re back!

Here’s a brief update on what’s goin’ on at 251 N. Oakland…

Seminary

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Kyle on his first day of seminary!

Kyle is already rounding the corner into the second half of the quarter! The stack of greek vocab cards he has learned grows taller every week on top of our desk (he’s kind of a god when it comes to Greek). He’s right in the thick of Abraham’s story in his Pentateuch class and always has fascinating things to teach me over dinner. An atheist artist came to his Theology and the Arts touchstone course a few weeks ago, and last week I actually got to attend that class, which was a lecture on theology and narrative featuring famous (and old-man-adorable, might I add) Eugene Lowry and Pixar employee Bobbette Buster. Fascinatingly good times.

Work

Many of you already know that since I last wrote about my employment situation, Russ Reid offered me a full-time position as an Operations Manager which I  began on September 30th. I am thrilled to have found something full time! My current position puts me as one of four managers of direct mail, digital, newspaper, and radio projects for our 80+ U.S. Mission clients (one is the Los Angeles Mission right here in town, which Russ Reid grew from an operating budget of $125k  in the 80’s to $15 million today!). I interact with our data controllers, print buyers, creative artists, writers, and client-facing teams on a daily basis. To be honest, the month of October (and into November) has been stressful and taxing, with long hours and information overload. This is one of the busiest seasons of our advertising year, so I’m doing my best to hang in there, because I know the purpose of the company and the people who work there are one-of-a-kind.

So far we've seen bridal magazine photo shoots, a fashion show catwalk, and a concert in front of City Hall.  And yes, it's also the setting for the TV show Parks and Rec!

So far we’ve seen bridal magazine photo shoots, a fashion show catwalk, and a concert in front of City Hall. And yes, it’s also the setting for the TV show Parks and Rec!

Pasadena

Kyle and I are starting to get a knack for finding free things to do around L.A.! A few weekends ago you would have found us at a pumpkin festival at Cal State Polytechnic’s campus (along with literally 20,000 other people); in early October we attended the annual Pasadena Pops Concert Under the Stars, right in front of City Hall; this past Sunday, we took advantage yet again of the great hiking in “our mountains” right up the street. We’ve been really good about making our fun time together Saturday night into Sunday afternoon, and its actually one of the few times we use our car! We’re also having couples over to our apartment and starting to form memories with new friends…more on that in another post.

Church

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At President Mark Labberton’s Inauguration Luncheon on Fuller’s mall this week.

We successfully finished the Partnership class at Christian Assembly and both agree that its a really solid place. While it was helpful to take and informative about the church, we’re glad to have a few precious hours of our Sunday morning back, too.  We’re still inclined to explore a few more churches in the area before settling on CA, so we’ll probably bounce around a bit more until God confirms our placement at CA or reveals something better for us. It’s so encouraging to hear about what churches are doing to cultivate God’s kingdom here in this city, and we’re anxious to invest in one.

We miss the faces (and foliage) of home quite often, even as we hit 3 months of living in (and truly loving) Pasadena. Thanks to many for your encouragement from afar, for your prayers, and for reading this post! We’d love to hear more about how you are doing.        -Natalie