As my family prepares for our move to Laurelville, it has been interesting to think about how we got to this place. At first, it seems like a pretty drastic move: X-ray science to Christian camping. The education and work of the last eighteen years of my life would suggest that I have had the perfect job. And at the important times when I’ve had a choice between science and ministry, and I’ve been pretty consistent in choosing science. So what happened this time?
I decided I wanted to take a closer look – to “raise my Ebenezer”, if you will. I want to give thanks for what has come before in order to live fully into the future.
(If you don’t care to read this autobiography, just skip it. I’ll summarize below.)
1990 – I was a junior in high school. Out of nowhere I received a phone call from the youth minister of Allegheny Mennonite Conference to talk about my position in the conference youth cabinet. Unfortunately, there had been a mix-up. I didn’t know I was part of the youth cabinet. Nobody had said anything to me. And it was supposed to be a two-year term, but I was leaving for college in little more than a year. Nevertheless, after clearing up all of these confusions, I ended up serving for a year on the cabinet. This mistake in communication changed everything for me…
1991 – The conference youth minister was also the director of summer youth programs at Laurelville. She encouraged me to consider being a counselor for the summer camps after I graduated from high school. Not much encouragement was needed – I had been a camper at Laurelville for eight or nine years and was glad to join the summer staff. And I met Ordinary Spouse that summer.
1992 – After my first year of college at Goshen, I really wanted to return to Laurelville for a second summer. But my advisor had encouraged me to apply for a summer program for science majors. (I was studying physics.) So I decided to use a “fleece” like Gideon: I applied for the program and committed to being a part of it if accepted. Well… I was accepted, and so I spent the summer as a scientist, rather than a counselor. This choice (science over ministry) seemed to become a recurring theme.
1993 – I spent the winter semester studying in Costa Rica. Part of the time I lived with a Mennonite pastor and his family – people who became very dear to me. My host mother told me that one day I’d be a pastor, and I took that pretty seriously. In fact, the whole semester was so disorienting (in a good way!) that I decided to take a year off in order to think about the future of my academic studies: Should I continue in science or adjust my focus?
1993-94 – I spent the school year away from school doing voluntary service at Laurelville. Most of the year was spent in the dining hall, where notions of Christian hospitality were being formed. The summer was another chance to be a counselor. At the end of the summer, Ordinary Spouse and I were engaged. I often describe this as the best year of my life; certainly the combination of this year and the semester spent in Costa Rica were profoundly influential. And when I returned to school in the fall, I continued in science – in fact, I added chemistry as a second major.
1994-96 – I finished my undergraduate studies. During the summers, I was an undergraduate researcher in Ann Arbor, where (soon-to-be) Ordinary Spouse had begun her graduate studies. I had also received a number of invitations to explore seminary studies during those summer breaks – supposedly my name was suggested by one of my professors. Those invitations went unanswered.
1996 – Ordinary Spouse and I were married at the end of the summer, and I began graduate school in chemistry immediately after we returned from our honeymoon.
1996-2002 – Graduate school. I think every grad student encounters a time when they want to quit. Four or five years in, I was starting to think about quitting going to seminary. Thankfully, Ordinary Spouse had enough wisdom to suggest that maybe my low point wasn’t the best time to change directions. She suggested perseverance in my graduate work and re-evaluation at a better time.
2002-04 – Immediately after finishing grad school, I started a two-year post-doctoral appointment at the National Synchrotron Light Source. In many ways, the work was very similar to the work that I did in graduate school, and it was the perfect training ground for my current job. This was not a time of re-evaluation.
2004 – 2012 – I knew that I couldn’t stay in the post-doctoral position indefinitely, so I was actively searching for a long-term position… in science. I was pleased to be hired to work for GM/CA-CAT – the position that I’ve held until now.
2012 – Seemingly out of the blue, I applied for a position at Laurelville that came to my attention on the day before the beginning of Lent — a position that pays one-third of my current salary; a position that I may be completely over-qualified for; a position that represents a complete break with the science that I’ve done for the last 18 years; indeed a position that is incredibly similar to the one I held during my year of VS at Laurelville. And by the end of Lent, I had accepted the position, our family had sold our house, and we were getting ready to move.
Ok – you’ve either slogged through that biographical stuff, or you’ve come here for the summary. I’ll put it like this:
My new job at Laurelville will be quite similar to much of what I did when I worked there 18 years ago. So what was the point of leaving? What good was all this science? To put it bluntly: Was this all a waste of time?
You know what? The person who is going to Laurelville now is not the same person that was there 18 years ago…
- Eight additional years of school means that I don’t think of anything the way that I did then.
- I am a whole lot more comfortable with doubt. Challenges to my faith don’t cause me anxiety.
- Four different congregations have given me a chance to explore gifts and calling. In some ways, I think it must have been something like a seminary-of-the-world.
- I’ve blogged quite a bit about hospitality. This thinking has been refined, especially in the last few years, and it motivates this move.
- I’m married. Ordinary Spouse is anything but ordinary. It has been a joy to watch how life and faith have developed for us during this time.
- I’ve now had a taste of the American Dream. I’ve found it to be lacking.
As I’m typing these things, a couple of things occur to me. For one, each of these changes deserves a blog post of its own. For another, I realize that I have no sense of wasted time – only thanksgiving and a curiosity for what comes next.
Anyway, that’s all for this blog post. It’s a bit messy, but I’ve been writing it for a few weeks now, so I’ll let it go and work on something else.