About four years ago I was talking on the phone with a friend, sharing my then deep struggle with depression, weariness, and general malaise. It was a difficult time for me. It's not that those emotions were totally foreign to my overall melancholic tendencies and personality (Is this why my name shares so many letters with the word? Sigh...), but the melancholy had elevated to include extreme fatigue, exacerbated despair, and a very strong desire to "check out" of my life. There were many contributing factors, and looking back, I view the very difficult phase as just that ~ very difficult, but also precious. A brutally beautiful time during which the Lord met me in His Word, in prayer, in my husband's humble service and support, through some time with a compassionate Christian counselor, and through several helpful books.
But in the midst of that difficult time my sincere and well-meaning friend said this:
"I just wish you could do something you really love."
She's a "head-in-the-clouds-follow-your-heart-chase-your-dreams" sort of person.
I, on the other hand, was recently diagnosed via one of those online personality tests as a "Reliable Realist." After I read the description, I was amazed at how quickly I could be summed up in a 10 minute test. It was me to a T.
- Reliable Realists are down-to-earth and responsible-minded. They are precise, reserved and demanding. Their most prominent quality is reliability and they will always make every effort to keep any promise given.
- Their strong points are thoroughness, a marked sense of justice, doggedness bordering on pigheadedness and a pragmatic, vigorous and purposeful manner. Reliable Realists do not dither about if something has to be done. They do what is necessary without wasting words.
- They have no problem respecting authorities and hierarchies but do not like to delegate tasks. They are certain that others would not deal with them as conscientiously as they do.
A far cry from the "Dreamy Idealist" this phone friend's evaluation most certainly would have revealed. I determined to NOT post my results on Facebook like everyone else was doing, because... "RELIABLE REALIST????" Ugh. It's a wonder I have any friends at all. (But evidently, once I truly love, respect, and connect with you ~ you're stuck with me. And I couldn't be a "flake" even if I tried really hard, so I guess that's a plus?)
Now, I KNOW that I am much more than the results of some silly online test. I am created in the image of God, and that goes far beyond the scope of any temperament test. But, I do think He uses the different personality "types" with their God-given, sanctified gifts in His Body, the church, and in the world. Sometimes I just wish my "type" was different. I wish I was the funny one and not the serious one. I wish I could be more laid-back and not so scheduled and exacting. I wish I was a team-player and a winsome conversationalist, but I'm really not, and I'm learning that it's okay. I'm also learning how to adapt and temper the extremes if need be. Marriage, kids, ministry, Jesus Himself, people, etc. have a way of forcing that, in case you hadn't noticed.
Her comment about "doing what I love" really affected me. At first I responded with some level of agreement, but then I thought more about the phrase she used. It caused me to realize that she didn't really know me as well as I thought, because I WAS doing what I loved.
"I AM doing what I love," I explained.
"I am married to a wonderful man, staying at home raising three great kids, homeschooling, ministering to other women through Bible studies and one-on-one discipleship, traveling to beautiful places because of this ministry adventure, and much more. I've never wanted to do anything other than these things."
"So...I am 'living the dream,'" I urged, "it's just this dream, which includes all the things I love, also includes some hard realities, and I'm tired."
I don't think she was totally convinced. In fact, I think she may have felt sorry for me.
(I had even published a book a few years prior, which was a "dream" I didn't know I had, but it's what I'm calling "Dream Come True 1" for the sake of this post.)
And speaking of the "chase your dreams" and "do whatever makes you happy" culture we are steeped in these days, which has always rubbed this "Reliable Realist" the wrong way, I read a great, grounding blog post the other day that articulates well the reason I was reacting pretty strongly to this particular worldview. It's called "You're Going To Die And So Might Your Dreams." And with that upbeat, glass-half-full, hopeful, optimistic title, I'm sure you will be clicking right over there to have your dreams crushed...or possibly sanctified and refined.
Anyway, I think I'm on a soap box that I didn't intend when I sat down to write, but this is something I think about a lot. The truth is that I do have "dreams" or hopes or aspirations or whatever you want to call them. Maybe even a "calling" ~ I don't know for certain, but recently I got word that one of my "dreams" could soon, Lord willing, become a reality.
Here it is:
In case you can't read the email (I can't!) without enlarging your screen view, it's an acceptance to Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in North Carolina, and I am so, so, excited. (No, I'm not moving. It's an online Master's Degree program!) I have wanted to go to seminary ever since I was a senior in college. Well, either that or join the staff of Campus Crusade (CRU), but I knew my parents would never approve of either of those career paths. Also at that time, the Lord brought a godly, handsome young man into my life who proposed just six months after we began dating. I said yes, and, well, that's sort of been an all-encompasing-total-life-demanding dream (also not necessarily met with parental approval), so seminary has been on the back burner for the last 23 years.
But there's the thing. For 23 years it never left my mind. It never left my heart. It was always there - simmering. I lived vicariously through Robert's six years of seminary, listening intently to his systematic theology discoveries, staying up late with him while he typed papers on church history and parsed Hebrew in the book of Ruth. All this while being pregnant, raising babies, and continuing to work alongside of him in ministry. (He was employed in full-time church ministry the WHOLE time he was in seminary completing a Master's of Divinity. It was 90 grueling hours of coursework on top of 50+ hours of a work week as a student pastor. He amazes me.)
I've also had doubts about this along the way. About 10 years ago I was thinking a lot about seminary and craving (again) a more formal study of the Bible and Theology, but hearing accusatory voices in my head.
"You're not smart enough."
"It's not proper for a woman." (This is still a concern that maybe I will write about later.)
"It's prideful to want to gain knowledge."
"Why spend years and money when the church needs humble servants and volunteers right now? No advanced degree is required for working in the nursery or cooking lunch for college students or leading a small group! Just stick with the basics! Tabitha made cloaks, you make chili and baked potatoes and brownies."
Right at that time I attended a regional conference in Boston called Vision New England. It was the only time I've attended that conference, but a breakout seminar caught my attention. It had something to do with "personal worship styles" or "how you uniquely relate to God" or something like that, and so I went curiously. What the Lord did in that seminar was confirm to me that "academics" and "intellect" is a way that some people best relate with and worship God. I was blown away, because the other voice I was hearing was the one that said if worship is not emotional and very outwardly demonstrative, it's probably not authentic or sincere. That voice was particularly concerning and condemning, as I tended to worship deeply while reading of the book of Romans ~ stunned by and in awe of Christ because of Paul's air-tight arguments and impressive sentence structures.
The funny thing is, I'm NOT that smart. Really. No one would consider me an "intellectual" and I have my college transcript (which I had to send to the seminary for the application process...cringe...) to prove it. Still, my bent is to be very drawn to the Lord by hearing the preaching of the Word, by reading it for myself, by reading books about it, and by teaching it ~ even if I don't understand all of its logic and implications and connectivity all of the time.
That breakout session was a great encouragement and affirmation to me. The Lord used it to "validate" my "dream" or His purpose for me, and also His love for and intimate concern for me. That He would answer so many of my questions, relieve so many fears, and dispel my concerns, and my hang-ups was received by me as a gift of grace upon grace.
By the way, Robert has ALWAYS affirmed this dream of mine and has brought it up occasionally, purposefully over the last 23 years, "checking in" with me about it, letting me know he hasn't forgotten and doesn't think it's silly or unnecessary. (Though he has added words of caution, too, which I appreciate.)
So...I'm taking only one class this fall, because I'm still living the mothering/homeschooling/cook-dinner-every-night/ministry to women dream right now, so I don't know how feasible graduate school will be. But I sense it's time to begin. (You know, because we want to see just how many college tuitions we can
And my ultimate dream? Or at least the goal I think I'm working toward is first of all to love Jesus more through the study of Him and His Word and His Church. Beyond that, I dream of teaching Bible courses on a college campus. (I also lived vicariously through Kory who had to take two semesters of Bible/Church History at Baylor this year), and so maybe teaching something similar somewhere is in my future. I've been telling the few friends who know of my dream that I want to be Jennie Barbour when I grow up ~ who is my friend from church (who recently moved away) and also from England with her PhD in Old Testament who was hired by both UMass and Amherst college to teach Bible courses in their religion departments. It doesn't hurt that her PhD is from CAMBRIDGE, of course, but maybe there is hope for me yet.
Because even a Reliable Realist can dream.