Wednesday, May 14, 2014

I'm Still Here.

Once you're past the coursework stage of a Ph.D. program, you tend to lose track of the boundaries that marked life for so many years -- deadlines, breaks, starts and ends of semesters. I only noticed that tomorrow marks the end of my school's spring semester because I happened to glance at my Google Calendar and think, "Oh. Right. I knew mid-May was significant somehow. Wow." I've felt a certain wistfulness as I've watched friends celebrate the end of classes, submission and/or grading of papers. I remember all those milestones viscerally, but they aren't really connected to my life anymore. As it is technically the end of my semester, however, it's as good a time as any to offer a little update.

It turns out that, not only is it easy to lose track of semesters, those semesters stack up alarmingly swiftly into years. A few times over the past year, I've had the chance to talk with wonderful "younger" students ("younger" in the sense of progress, not age; chronological age is another thing that gets somewhat relativized at this stage...) who've commented that it's so great to hear the perspective of a student who's been around for so much longer. Every time, my mental response has been something akin to, "...Oh, wait, you're talking about me? But I've only been here for...oh, CRAP."

Emotionally, I'm still stuck somewhere around May, 2012, at the completion of my coursework, and what I remember as a high point in my confidence and sense of calling. It's very, very tempting to look back on the past two years and wonder what in the world I've been doing, whether it's a bad scholarly dream I'll wake up from at some point. Believe me, I could spend many blog posts enumerating my disillusionment with the academic life. But not only is that putting too dark a spin on it all, it's unhelpful. While it's true that a lot of my drive and vocational certainty have been lost, and I've been grieving that pretty hard, it doesn't account for the good.

So here is the good news:

  • I am still ABD! It turns out they don't revoke your Candidacy status even when you're lousy at it. ;-)
  • I've written sections of a chapter. I won't give you a page count in this public forum, but it is most definitely pages, plural.
  • It's reasonable to project that I can have a draft of this chapter completed by September.
  • I'm still on track to finish in the calendar year 2015, which isn't far off my original goal and is well within the expected time frame for most students.
  • I'm assured of university funding for 2014-2015, which is a great deal more than many fifth-year doctoral students receive.
  • Even when I got badly stuck and depressed over the course of this winter, I was able to pull out of it and press forward, thanks to my supportive husband, prayerful friends, and not a few conversations with doctors/therapists.
  • There are still little flashes of reading and writing and Greek translating (!) that feel fun and meaningful.
  • I don't have any plans of giving up.
And the best news -- perhaps the hardest for me to fathom, but of great comfort to me in recent days -- is that God doesn't waste the seasons of life that feel aimless and barren. He is building something beautiful through them, and thankfully, I don't have to know what the end product is going to look like -- simply trust that, mysteriously, even my flawed and unfinished efforts are able, in Christ, to glorify Him.