Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Drenched Fleece

“Then Gideon said to God, ‘In order to see whether you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said, I am going to lay a fleece of wool on the threshing-floor; if there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will deliver Israel by my hand, as you have said.’ And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not let your anger burn against me, let me speak one more time; let me, please, make trial with the fleece just once more; let it be dry only on the fleece, and on all the ground let there be dew.’ And God did so that night. It was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew."                                                        --Judges 6: 36-40

When I was in high school, I remember Pastor Larson talking about “putting a fleece before the Lord,” sharing a story about a decision he had to make and the way he asked God to give him a clear sign. I thought that was a load of horse poo. It was the spiritual equivalent of consulting the Magic 8 Ball I had gotten for my 9th birthday. Even at fourteen, I knew God didn’t work that way. (I knew everything when I was fourteen.)

I see it differently now. It’s more about having the humility to set aside what I think should happen, and being open to see and hear what’s really going on around me.

Last June, I applied to Luther Seminary almost on a whim. I had been doing some serious vision work and the results were clear. I was passionate about creativity—writing, drama, art, music—and my faith tradition. I started a children’s drama ministry. I continued to volunteer in the education department at my church. I realized that far from being a chore, this kind of work fed me, filled me, inspired and excited me. It was my outlet from the much more demanding work of parenting high needs children, which is my primary vocation.  In support of this, I thought it would be fantastic to take some seminary classes, so I investigated. It was possible to apply online, so I applied, thinking it would be months before I would have to make any sort of commitment.

I was accepted within two weeks and offered an extremely generous scholarship that would require me to be a full-time student. I figured this was clearly meant to be and started trying to figure out a way to make it work, with the understanding that student loans were not an option. The other possibilities I investigated did not pan out. The last resort was to defer enrollment for a year and apply for a Presidential Scholarship, which would cover the full tuition. I knew that without that scholarship, seminary would not be an option for me right now. But in my mind, I had sort of decided it would all work out somehow and I’d be starting in the fall of 2015 for sure. After all, they awarded twenty-five of those scholarships. I figured my odds were pretty good.

Last Sunday and Monday, I went over to the seminary for “Scholarship Weekend,” the culmination of the application process, which included an interview as well as several events and opportunities to experience the campus and meet fellow incoming students. I went with no expectations. In a way, without consciously realizing it, I “laid my fleece before the Lord.” If I was meant to be at seminary in the fall, it would be clear. The threshing floor would be covered with dew and the fleece would be bone dry.

I did not "connect" with Luther Seminary. I wanted to. So badly. The Sunday evening was enjoyable enough. A somewhat awkward un-facilitated “mingle,” which, for an introvert, was not entirely pleasant, but mercifully brief. A moving worship service, marred only by the use of a couple praise songs (strike one) including one song which included a passionate plea that God would “reclaim this nation,” (a strike so egregious I wanted to go and quietly throw up in a corner.) A lovely dinner at which I sat with another prospective student, a current distance learner, my husband, and the academic dean (who was truly a wonderful person!) Dan and I went home having had a nice time and liking the atmosphere and the staff and faculty with whom we had interacted. But there hadn’t been that instant connection I was hoping for. An excitement or anticipation of being part of that place. Was that a little bit of moisture on the fleece? It was hard to say.

The second day I had my interview followed by a student panel, chapel, lunch, a campus tour, and a sample class. It was all great, actually, and there were some particular highlights. But I went home absolutely exhausted and not at all convinced that as a non-traditional commuting student I would have any success integrating into the campus community they work so hard to build.  That evening, as I was extraordinarily crabby, biting everyone’s head off and yelling at the dog, I wondered, “Am I even capable of going back to school full time? Do I have the physical stamina to do this?” I didn’t want to spend the next two years being a raging b-word to my family.

Maybe that should have been enough. The fleece was certainly damp.  But my own desires and expectations reasserted themselves and I explained it all away. No, I just hadn’t slept well. It was pretty intensive all day and classes wouldn’t be like that. I would find my niche in the community. I could make it work.

Except that when I had gotten home from the seminary that afternoon, I found out that Gavin had forgotten the passcode to the garage and didn’t have his phone, so he’d had to sit outside in the freezing cold for an hour and a half until Eiledon got home to let him in, since I wasn’t there. I wasn’t there. Unavailable. Wasn’t it more important at this point in my kids’ lives that I be around? Was the fleece just damp? Or maybe a little soggy?

Well, no, it was just a reminder of all the things that would have to be put into place in order to make this work for the family. Making sure of phones. Hiding a key somewhere outside. Stuff like that. We could figure it out. Surely the kids are old enough now not to need me so much. They need to learn to be more independent after all.

It took me until Wednesday to really recover my energy, and a sort of resignation was setting in. I started to accept that if I didn’t get a Presidential Scholarship, seminary was just not going to happen. The signs continued to support this.

On Thursday I wrote a children’s sermon on the themes: God keeps God’s promises, and God’s ways are not human ways. Um. That night I read the daily reading for a group I’m a part of and it stated unequivocally that we don’t incur debt to get a college degree. Okay. Friday morning I went to a meeting about transitioning my autistic 8th grader to high school next fall. Transition. Autistic. High School. My potential unavailability suddenly seemed utterly foolish.

By the time I got the call at eleven that I had not been awarded a Presidential Scholarship, the point was moot. The fleece was already drenched, right along with the ground.

I still cried. I’m an overachiever, after all, and I don’t like to fail. I’d been talking about seminary for months and wasn’t relishing the idea of telling people it wasn’t happening. I didn’t want the people around me to feel bad or insist there must be a way to make it happen for me.

It’s not time.

Does that mean it will never be time? Not necessarily. But just for today, my life is incredibly full. I can go back to my original idea of taking a seminary class here and there as a distance learner when I have the resources to do it, rather than feeling all this pressure to barrel through it as a full time student.

In the end, there was nothing all Magic 8 Ball about the decision. It was just about laying out the fleece and being open to seeing the reality of its condition in the morning. I know a lot less than I did when I was fourteen, for which I’m extremely grateful, and it turns out Pastor Larson wasn’t completely crazy after all.