It’s 11:22pm, the night before one of the most important events that will mark my life and my ministry, and I can’t sleep.
I always thought ordinations were a little bit silly – it’s another church service for a person to “become a pastor” when they already (in my mind) were already one. You go through so many formal steps in the seminary process – psychological testing, mid-program reviews, exit interviews, classis exams, graduation – that adding something else on top of it seems a bit much to me. As a person who hates most formal occasions, it’s a bit much.
But, as I sat in my bed this evening and looked over the last details for tomorrow’s service, wondering if I forgot anything and trying to memorize the benediction that I know I’ll forget by the morning, I felt different. The day before graduation, I just wanted to all to be over with. The night before classis exams, I cried from the stress of studying. But tonight, I felt a strange mix of excitement and joy and pride and anxiety. I still cried, but it was a different type of tear – one that I’m not sure I’ve ever had before.
If you read my last post three weeks ago (oops, sorry blog – maybe I’ll get better at this someday!), you’ll know that seminary was not the easiest of journeys for me. You read that there were many nights that I wanted to drop out, but I stuck it out. I think that I was putting it a bit lightly there. Let me tell you some more of my seminary story…
When I walked into WTS for the first day of orientation in September 2013, I knew classmates from college and from Geneva and I was ready. I had my books and binders and new glasses and I was ready to dominate grad school and a demanding dual-degree program. But, by the end of the semester, I had an internship that was changing my heart and my first “F” ever in anything for my Greek class. I was in a full blown identity crisis, and my sweet husband of 6 months (thanks for sticking it out with me, Kell!) helped me try to figure out what came next. There were learning disability tests and class changes, and by the end of that first year I had switched degree programs to the M.Div, changed my career focus from counseling to children’s ministry, and successfully directed the first summer of a new day camp program through my church.
When I walked into WTS as a student council member for orientation in September 2014, I was a bit more jaded and a lot less ready for the year ahead of me. I took way more courses that necessary in an attempt to graduate early and continued in an internship that I loved dearly. This was the year that loneliness really kicked in, as the friend group that I spent most of my time with my first year began to change and move on without me. This was also the first year that I was married to a two-sport varsity coach and learned what nights along and precious weekend time together looked like. There were many late nights flipping between doing homework and drafting emails to the admissions department about dropping out of school, and I went on a full-out job hunt in the spring to test the waters outside of graduate school to see what I thought. I found my job, accepted, decided to continue with seminary anyways, and had one last whirlwind summer of camp before saying goodbye to my home-away-from-home church and moving on.
I didn’t walk in to WTS for orientation this past fall. I received my full-time ministry job in the spring and started working weeks before school started, and with mostly online classes and a full fall programming schedule to pull off, I wasn’t around much, and I was fine with that. I felt on top of the world – I got my dream job in Holland and we were going to make it! Then my husband got laid off and we put the house we had an offer for on the back burner, and began to wonder all over again if we were on the path that God wanted for us. We kept working and trying, and I figured out just how little time I could spend on homework and still get good grades (sorry to any professors reading this!) I dove head first into a new community and gained 150 kiddos that I get to call mine. We made it through busy programming seasons, busier sports seasons, and our third year of marriage – and in the midst of it all, decided that buying a house and moving in was a good idea. I’ve now finished classes, gotten a diploma and certificate of fitness, passed classis exams, and am standing on the brink of an ordination service.
That’s a big story to make one simple yet profound point: I never ever ever thought I would be where I am. From my days in college laughing at the idea of seminary to the nights in our townhouse crying from loneliness and stress, to sitting here ready to become the Reverend Kara J. Lepley….I’m truly in shock. The past three years have stretched me in ways that I didn’t like and showed me parts of myself that I didn’t know, and I will forever be grateful for that. I have tears in my eyes even now, because I feel like I’ve just climbed a mountain and am finally staring at the view from the top. I’ve always known that I was an incredibly stubborn person, but this is a new testament to what I can make it through.
Tomorrow evening I’ll stand in front of my friends and family and pledge to be the best minister that I know how to be. I’ll do it with the pride of knowing that I thought this was a journey that I couldn’t complete, but I did it through the grace of God. When I respond to the call on my life with “Yes, truly, with all my heart”, I’ll mean it – and I’ll mean it with a heart that has been through so much in it’s lifetime. I made it.