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  • Writer's pictureVirginia Knowles

This Is My Story #7: To Dream the Impossible Dream

What I find ironic is that I was simultaneously filling out divorce paperwork and seminary application paperwork. That is a story in itself.

My mother once asked me what I would do with my life if time and money were no object. I instantly replied, “I want to get a master’s degree in Christian counseling or something.” But time and money were insurmountable objects. I was still homeschooling several children, living as frugally as I could on a tight budget, and trying to make my broken marriage work. Nope, a master’s degree wasn’t going to happen! But God.

At times we let a dream-seed go dormant under the soil, waiting for its emergence. In my case, I expected nothing at all. I put it out of my mind. My mother died from surgical complications in 2013, but not before cheering me on from her hospital bed when I was hired as a part-time teacher at a Christian school. Yet the dream-seed, buried in the dark, silently waited to sprout.

Finally, in 2017, a fellow church-watchdog blogger posted on Facebook that she was flying to my city for the Christians for Biblical Equality conference. Intrigued, I commented that I couldn’t afford the registration, but would apply for a scholarship. One of our mutual Facebook friends, whom I had never met in person, wrote to CBE and told them she would pay for me to go, as she had done for several other women and men. Bless her!

For a few days, it was like breathing fresh mountain air right in the middle of our muggy Florida summer. Women valued as equals! Mutual love, mutual respect, mutual dignity, mutual service! What a concept! I explained to people that I was “emerging from deep patriarchy” and I could now see a future for myself. I didn’t know what that would look like, though. I laugh now that I mostly ignored the seminary booths, having long given up on the idea of getting a master’s degree. But God!

A few months later, my daughter rescheduled my grandson’s birthday party six weeks late on a Sunday morning when I would normally be at my Presbyterian church. I had been wanting to visit a Methodist church ever since I had met a few Methodist women at the CBE conference. It was also my late mother’s birthday, and she had been both a Methodist and a stained glass artist. In honor of all that, I decided to find a Methodist church with an early service and pretty stained glass windows, and sure enough, there was one ten minutes from my house.

I showed up at the Methodist church at 8:15 AM and settled into a pew with my youngest daughter. I was startled to hear a familiar voice leading the opening liturgy from the pulpit. Patricia had been the guidance counselor at the Christian school where I taught the year after my mom died. As an MDiv student at Asbury Theological Seminary, she served at this church as part of her Mentored Ministry internship credits.

Patricia invited me to the six-week Lectio Divina Bible study series she would teach at this church a few months later. (This is a contemplative approach to listening to Scripture and being open to what God is speaking through it. More on this later!) By the time the classes started in January 2018, I knew without a doubt that my already long estranged marriage was functionally over and divorce was imminent. I was ready for a new season of spiritual growth and possibilities. I eagerly absorbed what Patricia was teaching us about listening to God through prayer and Scripture. One evening I arrived early, and she enthusiastically showed me her seminary homework for Inductive Bible Study, which is in-depth, intensive research directly into the Scripture text. My heart skipped a beat. This is exactly what I wanted. I told her, “Shut up! You’re making me drool!” 

When Patricia left that evening, I stood in the quiet room. I felt a God-nudge: “Your turn. It’s time to go to seminary.” There was no ambiguity. It was a call. I bought myself a small vase of flowers on the way home to commemorate it. I scheduled an admissions appointment the following week, and started my classes in the MA Ministry program that fall. Substantial scholarships, generous gifts from my father, and a part-time job covered my tuition and books for three years. I always say that seminary gave me my life back.

So here I am now, nearly 60, a single mother of ten and grandmother of eight, with my MA in Ministry from seminary, homeschooling my youngest teen, working at a crisis hotline, teaching language arts and English at another homeschool hybrid program, and trying to keep my house clean. People have been telling me for years that I should write another book. I kept saying, “No, I barely ever have time to blog. I’m too busy with life and seminary assignments.” But God! Here is my unfolding story of how this book eventually came into being.

The Lord works in mysterious ways, because another thing that I didn’t expect is that I would become an Episcopalian. Blame Patricia. In December 2018, she and her husband decided to visit a small parish pastored by one of her former classmates, Father Tom. She texted me about it on a Sunday morning while I was on my way to church. I impulsively turned right instead of going straight and showed up at the sweet little chapel out in the woods at a retreat center.

This is how, despite my prejudice about all Episcopalians being too liberal for me, I suddenly found myself in a Jesus-centered congregation which treasures God’s Word, prayer, and missions. I love reading the Scripture lectionary from the pulpit during services. I love greeting visitors. I love the liturgy, the weekly Eucharist, the prayer meetings, and the Bible studies. I especially loved teaching a series on Colossians for my own Asbury internship. I used the Inductive Bible Study method that first drew me to seminary. I eventually took over Patricia’s Psalms IBS study when she was hired by the cathedral downtown, and had the honor of reading one of the lectionary Scripture passages at her ordination the following year. The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

One of the other midweek study series was about prayer. As homework before one class, we were to spend a short time in waiting prayer, listening for whatever God would want to tell us. I frankly didn’t expect anything profound. Yet in the space of five minutes, God spoke. I quickly jotted it down on the closest slip of paper: It’s time to write another book. No way! Where did that come from? Seriously? But it was the same kind of divine nudge that told me to go to seminary, and I had seen the doors fly open to make that happen. I trust that voice. Well… Yes, God, but show me how. What should I write about, among all the ideas buzzing in my brain? How on earth will I find the time?

A few days later on a Sunday morning, I woke up with a concept and framework for the book in my head. Huh. That answered my first question! Then I realized I could propose an independent study course to give me research and writing time, This was approved by the seminary. Second question down, and I was good to go!

I decided to take only this one independent class so I could focus better on my research. I also wanted to be, as I felt God was saying, positioned for flexibility. Just after that, one of my former professors asked me to be her online course assistant for her Practical Theology class, which is where I had learned in-depth research methodology. Later in the semester, another professor asked me to help evaluate student writing assignments, which I have now done for multiple semesters at the master's and doctoral levels. I am glad I had already made space for those side gigs. Then, in my final semester, I decided to do a second independent research course focused on the intersection of crisis and spirituality. I love theology. I love writing and research. This is the life for me! My graduation in May 2021 was bittersweet because I loved seminary so much.

So yes, here I am! My life is so different than it was ten years ago. It has been difficult and at times dark. That is an understatement. I have doubted God’s goodness and even his existence. I still have many unresolved issues about life and faith. Yet for all that, even my still-lingering skepticism, I cannot imagine not being a Christian, not being a wholehearted follower of Jesus. It is who I am, by the grace of God. I haven’t always known what I would do next. I don’t yet know what my life will look like in the next 10 years. But as I tell people, “God has guided me and provided for me in such unusual ways that I can’t help but trust him to keep doing that.”

And I will lift up my head and laugh.

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