An Unexpected New Season Begins

An Unexpected New Season Begins August 9, 2013

In 2012, I wrote a post for Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog entitled, “When Higher Education Is Neither: Why Should I Earn A Degree?” In it, I explained my lifestyle of learning, as well as the longstanding truce I’d made my my decision not to complete college:

I found myself back on staff at an evangelical college and seminary when my youngest son finished high school. There it was again, a new variation of the Question, being asked of me by various coworkers and a few students: “Why don’t you finish college, and go on for a divinity degree? You’re certainly bright enough, and you’d be in good company,” they told me. “There are lots of women your age enrolled here.”

I eventually left the job, but there is a part of me that still wonders if I should pursue my college education. Many of the people I respect most in my life possess advanced degrees. There are teaching and leadership doors I would love to enter, but many are closed to me without a degree key to open them. Those lingering regrets, along with a nagging sense that I may have shortcircuited the opportunities presented me by God, are the parts of me that squirm when people ask where I attended college.

Part of the midlife task is coming to terms with your limitations. Some doors must remain forever closed, the result of the march of time and maturation that moved your life past those possibilities. For example, if you don’t attend prom as a high school student, the giddy “almost adult” experience of getting dressed up, pinning a corsage onto your date’s rental tux, posing for awkward pictures and dancing the night away with your classmates will never be fully yours, even if you get invited to attend prom as a 35 year-old.

“There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under heaven,” King Solomon wrote. I thought the classroom was a season that had passed long ago in my life.

And then earlier this summer, a professor I respect asked me if I’d ever considered attending seminary. We’d met a couple of times over the years in person, but he knows me primarily from my writing. I was flattered by his question, and told him in effect that this was a dream I couldn’t dream for myself because I didn’t have a Bachelors’ degree. He paused the correspondence to tell me he was going to contact the powers-that-be on my behalf at the school where he is a respected professor.

The school, Northern Seminary, agreed that they’d be willing to allow me to attend as a special status student (which means some additional evaluation of my coursework and progress will need to be made by school administrators before they grant me a degree), and invited me to apply. I had to write an application essay – and all those years of being a writing instructor, coaching home schooled high school students through the college essay application process came flooding back as I penned an essay on my own behalf. (If you’re interested in reading the essay, click here and I’ll be happy to send it to you.)

Two days ago, I received this letter from the school:

I am humbled by the belief this professor expressed in my writing and thinking abilities. It is a high honor for this 54-year old Jewish grandmother who has lived her faith life as a pilgrim on a long road trip to make camp in this school’s community. I imagine my perspective, faith and practice will be stretched in new ways, kingdom ways, as a result of this experience. The school’s admissions director told me that seminary will give me new thinking partners – a phrase I’ve turned over and over again in my mind like a brand-new penny. I can’t wait to meet these new thinking partners! So much of my life at this stage is about seeking the integration of heart, soul, mind, and strength so I am formed into a mature, childlike lover of the One who first loved me and gave his life for me.

Financing this leg of the journey is a faith-stretcher (suffice it to say we don’t have the funds on the money tree growing just behind our rental townhome), but the only way I will discover the story God is telling me in this is by following him to school this fall.

Your prayers and support are a gift to me, friends. I’ll be sharing my experiences here on this blog, and look forward to hearing your thoughts as I move into the parable of this new season at this time of my life. There is a time, Solomon wrote, and that time is now.

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  • Pat68

    I went to seminary in my late 30s, and while that is younger than you are now, 13 years ago, it did make me part of the older, non-traditional crowd. I don’t regret a minute of it and would do it all again. I also have a friend who received her doctorate in her early 70s, so you can do it!

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I need to hear these stories, Pat! 🙂

  • Heather

    Michelle, this is incredible!!! I can relate. Really, really. Never earned my degree. I’ve been able to do some cool things. Freelance writing, creating children’s church curriculum, etc. but being surrounded by brilliant people who have letters following their names was always an issue for me. My colleagues would say, “Look at what you’re able to do. You don’t need to earn a degree at this point.” Of course, I’d follow that up with a “Thanks, I appreciate the sentiment, however it’s easy to say when you have the degree. It doesn’t bother you. It bothers me. A lot.” After a great deal of thought, I finally jumped. So, yeah! Back in school.
    What a wonderful opportunity for you! I’m so glad to hear stories like this. It says a lot about your superb intelligence and gifting. You are exceptional. Breakin’ the rules. Kicking ass. Taking names. Getting a MF’n MFA. Yay!

    • Michelle Van Loon

      My sister in crime – breakin’ rules, kickin’ ass, taking names! Mazel tov to you. TO US!

      Where are you going to school? You’re a brilliant writer, Heather, and I am sure you’ve heard again and again just what I’ve heard: “Look at what you’ve done. You don’t need a degree at this point.” Which is true, and now, “need” isn’t the question anymore. I get to take this step, and so do you!

      • Heather

        My career path will be a little different. I’m going to school for IT-cloud computing. So, although I will still write and remain a creative to the bone, my day job will be one that pays better than poetry. But hopefully there will be ways of combining some of my interests. Oh, and thanks for your kind encouragement. *fist bump*

  • Exciting! I’m a college drop out, so I get what you’re saying… but what an adventure and an opportunity!

  • Boyd

    You will bring much to the table that younger students who followed the traditional path won’t. They will have books to quote while you will have books AND life to quote. Everyone will all benefit. 🙂

  • Way to go Michelle! This is wonderful news, and I will watch with interest to see how God funds and uses this new opportunity in your life.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I’m watching with interest on the funding end, too, Judy. 😉

  • judy Douglass

    Happy for you, and for them, Michelle.

  • How wonderfully exciting–so happy for you. It’s going to be a great adventure!

  • Tim

    Michelle, if there’s anyone who should be given a slot in seminary, it’s you. I am so glad that professor recognized that and got the school to give your application the consideration it deserved. You’re going to do wonderful things in the places God takes you!


  • Ingrid Faro

    Excited to walk with you through this journey!

  • Puchinpappy

    I know several people who have made the journey you are about to take. In some ways, life experience is better preparation than college. I look forward to hearing your story. It took me 34 years (after university) to finish my seminary degree. Life has a way of slowing down one’s dreams while also preparing one to achieve them.

    • Michelle Van Loon

      I’d welcome your thoughts and tips, Puchinpappy. I haven’t been in a classroom since I was 19!

  • Michelle Van Loon

    A voice from the past! Hi Sheila! 🙂

  • Michelle Van Loon

    Adriana, you are the sweetest!