Monday, June 27, 2011


I won't embarrass him with a long, public tribute, but I did want to acknowledge that today is my daddy's 60th birthday! I am so proud to be his daughter. He's had a huge impact on the person I've become and is truly a hero of mine. Last week, Kevin was teasing me about the fact that I was unfamiliar with a TV show that was popular when we were kids. Jokingly he said, "What, did you have a dad who stayed home with you and played with you all the time or something?" I realized that was exactly the case! (Obviously I am not implying that if you did watch afternoon television as a kid, it means you had a lousy, neglectful dad.) All the time I've become more thankful for the carefree and imaginative childhood I was blessed with, thanks largely to my loving, attentive parents. Including a daddy who walked me to and from elementary school each day and instinctively understood my make-believe worlds (or at least pretended to!). Happy birthday, Daddy!


I also realized the other day that it's been exactly a year since we moved to St. Louis. A year! That's hard to believe. Undoubtedly, it's been a great move for us. I'm not just talking about school, either; clearly, my PhD program has been a good thing in our lives. But, beyond that, St. Louis has been a more comfortable fit than Berkeley, California, by far. There are things I miss about California as a whole (especially my in-laws), but our rent is much lower here, the lifestyle is less frantic, and we've found the Midwest culture to be friendlier and more down-to-earth than the San Francisco Bay Area. Our church has been a big part of the adjustment as well. We love the worship and community there, and it reminds us weekly that our life isn't all about our academic careers.

With that, I need to get back to French homework and the start of another week. I hope to post an entry in the next couple of days explaining why I'm pursuing a PhD in the first place. I'm sure you won't want to miss that! ;)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Names on a Page

Some of you will remember my teenaged preoccupation with genealogy (as teenaged preoccupations go, a pretty good one, I guess). It's never entirely faded, but only in the past couple of years have I started actively doing anything with it again.

A few months before I got married, I was surprised to discover that I was excited to learn about my husband-to-be's family history, as excited as if I were unearthing names, dates, and facts about my own ancestors. It made sense, I realized, because his family was about to become mine, in a very real way. And because whatever children we might someday have would be descended just as much from these "new" ancestors as from those whose names I'd had memorized for years.

A few days ago, I started going through the information I'd compiled in 2008 and inputting it into a family tree database at Rather than finding it tedious, I have always found something oddly soothing about entering names, birth, marriage, and death dates, and location details into genealogy software. I can't explain it. There's just something so satisfying about accounting for someone's existence with a few keystrokes and watching their little box appear on the relevant familial branch.

I've had to remind myself, though, that genealogy is more than just names on a page. Sure, it's that -- so much of the spadework involves scanning hastily-scrawled census records, dusty county history volumes, or digital listings for that one elusive name. And I suppose that entering data in FamilyTreeMaker that was once lovingly recorded in someone's family Bible is a way of honoring ancestors, too. It's vital work.

But too easily, I think, it can become a disembodied act. I can lose focus on the fact that the new leaf on my tree is not just a collection of dates, but a human being who lived, suffered, loved, prayed, and died. He or she might have borne a trace resemblance to me, but the similarity may have ended there -- were we to meet face to face, who knows how we would have gotten along? This progenitor who lived, say, 160 years ago is essentially a stranger to me -- and yet, without her, I would not now exist, at least not in exactly the same way. It's humbling to think about.

Of course, quite often, it isn't possible to recover more about a long-dead ancestor than a handful of data. In those cases, I can do no more than imagine. But I think that's better than forgetting that my ancestors were people, not facts...and that I am a small twig on a much bigger tree that long preceded me and that will grow, God willing, long after.

I'm hopeful that Kevin and I may be able to visit some of his ancestors' old stomping grounds in northern Missouri later this summer. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Something you might wonder about the life of an academic-in-formation is whether I get summers “off.” Well, yes and no. More “yes” than “no,” really. Let me explain.

I don’t have a full course load in the summers (thank goodness!), but the fellowship that enables me and Kevin to eat (thank goodness again) does require me to register for a summer class. This is not exactly a hardship, as you might have guessed, especially compared to the kind of load I carry during the academic year. It allows for a more relaxed, summer-like pace, which is certainly a perk of this profession, admittedly one that I enjoy.

Something I’ve learned (and re-learned) about myself, though, is that I don’t tend to thrive without a structured routine. I’ve also learned that I prefer to pour my energy into a few specific things rather than diffusing it into a long list of commitments. So, I approached this summer with the hope of implementing a “realistically ambitious” structure that would keep me on track mentally while also affording me time to recuperate following a taxing first year of doctoral study.

The Plan is two-pronged:

1. Languages. Grad students (in the humanities, at least; I can’t speak for other fields) traditionally tackle languages in the summer, and I’m no exception. At Yale, I worked on Hebrew and Latin in the summers. Last summer, when I had first moved to St. Louis, I worked on German. This summer, I’m learning a new language and continuing work on two others:

  • French: I’m learning to read it, not speak it. A nifty perk of academia is that one can get away without actually having to pronounce and converse in a given language. You just have to learn the grammar well enough to be able to (armed with a dictionary) blunder through books and articles written by French, German, or other scholars in your field. It isn’t as bad as it sounds, and it’s actually surprising how quickly you can dive into, say, a newspaper article after a week of grammar and vocabulary drilling.
  • Greek: Ancient, not modern. I’ve actually been studying it for 5+ years now, but my reading isn’t as fluent as I’d like it to be at this stage. With the added motivation of my program’s qualifying Greek exam coming up in the fall, I hope to put in a good block of translation each week.
  • Syriac: Because the common languages apparently weren’t enough for me (!?), I started informally studying Syriac (a dialect of Aramaic, akin to Hebrew) with a handful of other students last fall. Only tiny communities actually speak Syriac anymore, and the only people who study it, are, typically, historians of early Eastern Christianity. Like yours truly!

Contrary to what the foregoing might have led you to believe, I don’t actually consider myself to have a natural aptitude for languages. I can do well at them, but that owes more to a set of skills I am consciously developing than to native ability. I often enjoy it, but it can certainly be a chore, too.

I said there was a second prong, didn’t I?

2. Reading. Specifically, starting on the required Second-Year Reading List I’ll be examined on next May. The motivation for this becomes clear when I tell you that the list totals roughly 9,000 pages! Also, I am hoping that in the process, a potential dissertation topic will start to come into focus.

Again, bibliophile though I have always been, it’s far from effortless for me to spend half my day reading, say, Biblical Exegesis and the Formation of Christian Culture. It takes discipline (which I’m not consistently summoning on a daily basis yet!), but it’s my job, and it’s what’s forming me into (I hope) an honest-to-goodness scholar.

So, that’s roughly how I’m dividing my days and weeks this summer: between language-learning, review and translation, and heavy scholarly reading. Whether that sounds enviable or nightmarish to you, I can’t guess, but I can tell you that on an average day, the reality falls somewhere in between. At any rate, if you’ve ever wondered what “summer vacation” looks like for a novice academic, now you know!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A Beginning

Family and friends, welcome to my new blog, “A Wonderful Providence”! I’m happy you’re here.

I’m not a stranger to blogging, but I haven’t successfully launched a public blog before. Why attempt it now? Good question. Not because I feel the blogosphere lacks for twenty-something graduate students sharing their wisdom on the latest issues of controversy (!). Or that my daily life is so interesting that you simply can't be spared the details. No. Rather, I hope it can just be a way to let my family, many of whom are farther-flung than I’d like, get a clearer idea of what I’m doing and why. (And, who knows, perhaps I’ll gain a clearer idea in the process!)

Will this, then, be a “theology blog”? I don’t think so. Obviously, studying theology is a big part of my life, so I expect to write about it sometimes. And when I do, I hope to write in a way that’s comprehensible – so that you can, in some sense, get it, even if it’s not your cup of tea. (If I can’t explain how what I’m doing for a living matters -- in whatever small way -- for the church and the world, then I think I have some hard thinking to do.) But, if that stuff’s boring to you (what? I can't imagine!), please, by all means, scroll past those posts!

To start with, I’m deliberately keeping the bar a bit low; I’ll try to post around twice a week. And I imagine my goals for the blog might shift as I gain a sense of my “readership” and what’s interesting for you guys. But my ultimate aim is simply for this to be a fun way to stay connected, in more depth than something like Facebook really allows. And also to show how “a wonderful Providence” (see the Samuel Rutherford quote to the side there – a delightful old Scottish preacher) continues to be at work in my life.

Do feel free to post comments. Click on the blue "Comments" link below. If you choose the "anonymous" option, though, please be sure to include your initials, goofy nickname, etc. so that I know who it is. :)

Thanks for reading!