Carrol Wilson is a 2nd year M.Div. student at the Candler School of Theology. Proud parent of #1, #2, and the bonus. Lover of Nags Champa, sunsets and beaches. Who considers her previous life experiences BS (before seminary) as a training ground for her real purpose in life. Providing pastoral care to those that are hurt, whoever and wherever they may be.
[Carrol’s wisdom saturates this post as she talks about how her life experiences lead her away from the whimsical, fairy tale ideas about seminary into the glorious light of the liberating truth.]
“Once upon a time, in a land far away there lived…” This is how most fairy tales begin. It was also how I thought my time in seminary would be as well.
My journey to seminary came after a very arduous period in my life. The disintegration of marriage number two left me feeling sad, (very) lonely, and like a failure. According to my then husband, I was condemned to “hell” because I wore pants to church.
“You’re going to bust hell wide open!” he’d say. According to him, I also worked in church too much. He suggested that I would be a better woman/wife if I “smoked a little weed, drank Hypnotic, and went to the clubs more and church less.” As a woman who loved God, I could never submit to this kind of life.
After a period of despondency and depression (and finally a divorce), God answered my prayers and directed me toward seminary.
I had this idea that seminary would be a place where people would sit around singing “Kum Ba Yah” all day. It would be a place where there would be endless discussions about God and the bible, almost like an extended Vacation Bible School (VBS) experience but without the arts and crafts. I thought that seminary would be a continual love fest where everyone walked around as if they were walking on heavenly clouds.
Our theme song would be “Don’t Worry Be Happy!” Seminary had to be a place like this for me; I fought like “hell” to be here.
However, as soon as my feet touched “Zion” (A.K.A. Atlanta) all hell broke loose in my life. During that first week of orientation, my housing plan fell apart; my car broke down, and my daughter’s father died unexpectedly. New to the area, and with only one relative in the city, I felt like I had been hit by a truck.
My relative was gracious enough to allow me and my teenaged son to stay with her and I was SO thankful. I was able to get my car was fixed, and though I missed some days of orientation, I was able to attend the funeral and to be with my daughter.
As you can imagine, I did not feel oriented to Candler and I did not see people walking on clouds…nor were they singing “Kum ba Yah!” Additionally, the coursework was not like VBS at all! Some days I sat in my Old Testament class feeling like it was all Greek to me. (Yes, I realize that the OT is the Hebrew translation but it might as well have been Greek to me because I know neither Hebrew nor Greek!)
Furthermore, as I struggled to master my academic coursework, I also struggled with my housing situation.
A week before finals exams, I received an eviction notice from my relative.
I felt like the door that Luther nailed his theses on–beat up. Guess who did not finish the first semester strong?
Over the break, I prayed and tried to regroup. However, I found that my second semester was almost a repeat of the first. I experienced a death (this time one of my beloved aunts), car trouble (I had to replace tires, a radiator, and a broken axle), and near homelessness (I drove to campus with all of our belongings loaded into my car waiting for our new place to be ready).
The coursework was still the same; Old Testament was still Greek to me on most days. Oh! And we won’t talk about how strange my funds became; the car repairs wiped me out.
I spent numerous days asking the financial aid office about jobs only to be told that there were none.
I even thought about holding a cup out seeking donations.
And if it couldn’t get any worse, someone broke into my car and stole my ignition cylinder.
I remember lying down, crying in despair. Through my tears I simply asked God “Why?” I recounted all of the trials, disappointments, and heartache that I had been through this year.
And you know what? I didn’t hear God’s voice answer at all.
Instead, in the darkness of the night I heard a bird singing.
The sweetness of the song reminded me of all of the blessings I had received this year as well.
I am surrounded by a group of supportive classmates who are family to me.
I have a group of personal pastors (Rev. P.) who have bandaged my wounds.
I have brothers and sisters who sing my soul happy; people who pray for me unceasingly; friends with lyrical, Jamaican voices who are beloved to me.
In short, even when I walked through the valley (hell) I say YHWH YOU are with me. Your rod (friends) and staff (classmates) are sent to comfort me.
Despite it all, my cup runs over!
These days you can find me listening for the birds that sing through the night!
It is in that song that God speaks.