Forward and Sideways

I’m on a plane, somewhere between California and Oregon. I’m a third year doctoral student, somewhere between my final courses (EVER!) and my dissertation project. And I’m in the middle of books for three different classes, with at least 40 articles saved on my laptop for further reading.
To say that I’m at peace right now would be a significant error, with “significant” having all of the quantitative research meaning that I can remember from last year. But I’m definitely moving forward while the clouds float around us.

In the past two weeks of school, there were some major steps forward in my educational journey. One of our amazing faculty members agreed to serve as the dissertation chair, and another agreed to be a supporting member through the the committee (which means just one more to ask, and I have hopes for who that will be). My proposal from two years ago is long gone, and the one I submitted July 1 has be shifted in a very different but more clear and meaningful direction. I’m still focusing on the importance of mission in guiding development and support decisions, and still advocating for the needs of marginalized adult students, just in a new way that connects these two pieces through a framework that also considers the capitalism in American culture, which can even sway the ivory towers in higher education. This new vision, provided by my chair (still love having a chair!), gives me marching orders and a full Amazon.com cart; along with a new way to view our entire student body as subjects and participants in education.

Along with this new primary area of growth, I have four courses to juggle this semester and confidence supported by some wise friends and faculty to make it through. Now that’s not to say that the next six months will be easy. Did you miss the part about four courses and dissertation work? Oh, and I forgot to mention the hope of tackling my final comp exam. No, it won’t be easy. But nothing in this program has been easy. It’s been worth it. That’s the difference. When I first met with a first-year student I’m mentoring, I tried to start by highlighting this fact. It’s all worth it.

In the past two weeks, in 14 days that sometimes felt like years, I also spent enough time in my head and in books to learn more about myself. For one example, a classmate asked about professional goals while we were driving back from a dinner, and my unplanned answer was different than the line I had been saying for the past two years. How interesting to have the heart declare something new. Now I’m processing that word and trying to align it with what I think was more me trying to fit into others’ definition of fun or cool or right rather than my own. I know these sentences are pretty cryptic, but that’s all I can offer for now. Just know that I’m heading further down this path, believing that the light is getting brighter and clearer.

Last piece I want to write, before the flight crew demands my iPad close for landing is how grateful I am to my friends in Portland who pray for me and who are there to answer when I call or text. Azusa Pacific labels these two weeks as “Intensives” for good reason. There is a constant number of opportunities to engage with content and classmates throughout these short weeks. I’ve learned over recent years that my favorite gatherings are groups of three or four where the conversation can be communal and inclusive. At the same time there are so many wise and wonderful people at my school that I want to soak up as many moments together as possible before we are scattered throughout the states again. This semester my mental metaphor was the juggler running among the plates on sticks, touching each one often to keep them moving. During these weeks the plates are platters and weighty with value. I continue learning how to juggle them while taking moments to breathe amid the sprinting. And I appreciate those that I know I can call out to for a smile or a word of wisdom to provide a little extra oxygen.

If there is one thread to this wandering reflection, it’s simply this: it’s worth it. Every struggle. Every book. Every conversation. Every run/hike up to a mountain top. Every break from the action. Every moment of vulnerability. Every word poured out. Only giving up would be failure.

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