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In which [love looks like] a black gown and a piece of paper

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More than 7 years ago, darling, you told me that you wanted to go to seminary. You wanted to take a break from the break-neck speed of your ministry life, to change direction towards a more intentional, thoughtful life focused on missional living. You wanted to take two years to wrestle with theology, with what you believe, you wanted to learn about our postmodern culture, about serving God in a new context and a new world. We made plans to move the east coast of the USA, and then, because Canada was singing me home, and her music wound itself around your own dreams somehow, maybe it was that mystical experience on the roof of the Delta Hotel in Calgary that one night, when you felt like you belonged north of the 49th, and we packed up everything into a U-Haul trailer and drove out for the west coast.

Those first months were our grad student life – the one that people think about when they think about grad school. You studied and learned, you were one of the oldest ones in class, one of the few with actual work experience as a pastor, I walked to work in high heels, we smoked a hookah of apple cinnamon tobacco and talked about predestination in rag-tag living rooms downtown, we drank wine at a potluck at an intentional community house with professors and married couples, we ate turkey with the American ex-pats lonely for football in November, we sat on a high rise balcony on a busy urban street in the evenings talking about Kierkegaard and , we walked to our local pub every week to share appys and a beer while we discussed what you were reading, what we were learning.

And then, surprising everyone, us most of all, there was a baby on the way.

I remember that afternoon when I came home from work, hugely pregnant, you were sitting on our couch, crying over your Bible. I remember asking you why you were crying, for heaven’s sake, and you looked up and said, It’s just so real, have you ever really read the Book of Mark? I’ve read a million times but it’s so beautiful. It’s true. And I feel  like the Bible is alive for me again.

But it was so hard to finish. After Anne, you were full time care giver for her and part-time student while I worked full-time. And then there was yet another devastating miscarriage, and then we were pregnant again with our Joseph. And after he was born, you were supporting us because we both knew I couldn’t leave my babies again, you were starting over in an entirely new career. You drove a white van with phone numbers on the side, you sweated and swore and learned water and fire restoration like you had learned the book of Mark and your one indulgence was that Tim Horton’s coffee every morning. You tried to keep up with those now seemingly high-falutin’ studies but by now we were wondering what the hell we were thinking. That was the year that every one we started school with graduated, went off to pastor, to the academic life, to Oxford. You were on call, working around the clock in a February freeze-and-thaw, in a hazmat suit. I never went on campus anymore, we never went out for beer and appys to talk theology together, we rocked babies, I found God in mothering, you collapsed into bed every night like you were home from a war. You were so close to being finished, but we were so tired and while Joseph learned to crawl and Anne sported pigtails, you worked faithfully, wondering the entire time if you had dedicated your entire life to the service of God just to be hammering nails for the rest of your life. School began to mess with us, things that we thought we understood became opaque. People began to quietly whisper if we were losing our fire, if we were losing our calling? We began to see God at work and play in ten thousand places. We felt unmoored, in the desert, what are we doing exactly, people would ask us, well, what do you want to do when it’s all over? And by now we’d learned to shrug and tell them that we had no idea anymore.

We knew you wanted to pastor but we didn’t have a clue how or when that would work, because by now I wouldn’t darken the door of a church, I railed against institutional churches, I freaked out thoroughly when you began the church planting process with a conservative denomination, so you abandoned it, and you were prepared to walk away from ministry forever, for me. You learned business development, you got a new job, a promotion, you made bonus, you were wearing a tie now in the industry, but you still took extra shifts tearing out drywall just to make us an extra buck, it was always spent before you brought it home.

You loved me more than your calling to pastor, and don’t think I’ll ever forget that, darling.

I will always remember that you chose me, you put us first, every time.

And then a year ago, right about the time that Evelynn Joan was lifting her head on her own, you dug in and said you were done. My heart had turned, had fallen back in love with community and church and the Bride of Christ. You registered for that last class, you signed up with an advisor, you checked out stacks of thick academic books from the library. you went to school, now you were The Old Guy, surrounded by young kids moaning about their work load for studying. You never once smacked one of those kids, the ones there on full scholarship with visions of patched sport coasts in the Ivory Tower, you never once icily mentioned that you were working full time, going into debt, commuting two hours to school, that you had three small babies at home, that you worked in a fast-paced and exhausting industry under tremendous pressure just to come home, kiss your kids for a brief moment, launching into that thesis until well past midnight, just to get up at 6 the next morning and do it all over again, relentlessly. Your American midwestern work ethic got a work out.

I managed our entire life, I raised the tinies practically on my own, I homeschooled our daughter, I began to put down deep roots, I was so tired. My own dreams started to come true, I signed with a literary agent, began writing my book, the first one anyone was interested in reading anyway, and your eyes were full of apologies when you came home for those brief moments. But I didn’t care. I cried when you handed in your thesis. I did this for you and I would do it over again in a heart beat, in a second.

It all came down to this moment, on that Friday night, in a church in Vancouver. Your parents, my parents, my sister cracking jokes about how she was the only one wearing fuchsia and that was exactly what was wrong with seminaries “There’s not enough fuchsia at the Jesus school!” and making me laugh, dull theologians with Francis Schaeffer beards, not a single soul in that room that you started seminary alongside of all those years ago. My heart was beating too fast. You had to be there early, I left the tinies at home with their beloved Miss S.

I sneaked down the back stairs, alone, searching for you, you knew I would be coming, and then there you were, walking towards me in that long hallway, your large black academic gown billowing behind you. I burst into tears at the sight of you, and you opened up your black gown, you pulled me into it, wrapped it around me, kissed my hair, we stood there, both of us in that gown until it was time for you to go upstairs, to walk across the stage and pick up that piece of paper.

Love looks like making each other’s dreams come true and sometimes that looks like this:

When it was all over, we took pictures, we drove home, we laid in our bed that night, exhausted and quiet. In the darkness, you whispered a thank you.

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I write now and then about what love looks like for us.

brian, canada, church, church planting, denominations, faith, journey, love, love looks like, marriage, missional, missional living, postmodern

58 Responses to In which [love looks like] a black gown and a piece of paper

  1. pastordt May 1, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I’ll bet you cried. So glad you both made it through what was often a harrowing experience, I am sure. We had 3 tinies in 4 years and my husband worked full time and I stayed home. He opted to pursue additional training, getting some desirable letters after his name. That meant six months a year for 4 years, he was unavailable weekends and many evenings. So I had a taste of this life – and it was often a bitter taste. It was important and we’re both glad we did it, but man – it was tough sledding. May you find joy in this openness before you, satisfaction in reaching shared goals, and relief in the re-invention of family life…without a student dad. Congratulations to you both.

  2. Jennifer Short Bennett May 1, 2012 at 4:20 pm #

    Beautiful.  So many congratulations to all 5 of you!

  3. Katie Noah Gibson May 1, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

    Wow. Congratulations and so much joy to both of you.

  4. Leanne Penny May 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm #

    Beauty- Totally Beauty- 

    Crying as I read it, crying because I stopped my grad school so we could make space for babies and Kel could do seminary, crying because he’s worked so hard and it’s so close.  Crying because through this you have taught me to see his dreams more and brighter.  And yes, I will make out with that piece of paper (but I’ll wait til it’s behind class) and smell deeply those black robes… 

    Also your hubby looks like the sweetest guy ever

  5. Sarah in GA May 1, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    so beautiful! congratulations!

    we have a similar experience. a few years ago my husband went to grad school and worked full time and somehow in those 3 years (that took everyone else just 18 months) we had 2 babies and i still have no idea how we stayed out of debt. i cried when he walked across the stage and i hugged my 3 year old boy close and told him what an amazing father he had. it’s a team effort! 

  6. Nancy Franson May 1, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

    So glad you wrote this, that you memorialized  those years, raising a virtual Ebenezer to God’s faithfulness and enduring power of love. Congratulations to you both.

  7. Jenn May 1, 2012 at 4:45 pm #

    So awesome and congratulations to all of you!

  8. Tina Francis May 1, 2012 at 4:47 pm #

    I’m a mess. Wow, Sarah. 

  9. the Blah Blah Blahger May 1, 2012 at 4:55 pm #

    I just got kinda choked up reading this…beautiful words and a beautiful experience. You guys are a great team!!!

  10. Brenda Shaw May 1, 2012 at 4:56 pm #

    wow!!  that is what love looks like !!  Congratulations to you both !!

  11. Kristin Odell May 1, 2012 at 5:14 pm #

    This is us right now. In seminary, 3 tinies and one on the way. I will not be able to be more proud of him, of us, the day he walks across that stage. Thanks for sharing this.

  12. Anne J May 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Crying here. I love the honesty of this story….like all your stories. It’s amazing what you were able to do TOGETHER. Love to you.

  13. Katherine Willis Pershey May 1, 2012 at 5:21 pm #

    Congratulations!

  14. Johanna Hanson May 1, 2012 at 5:23 pm #

    Oh my. This brought tears to my eyes. My husband currently works three part-time jobs while attending seminary full-time. I am home with 3 children 4 and under! It’s crazy. It’s hard. Really hard sometimes. It’s rewarding. But when he gets that degree (m.div) it’s mine too. :) Congratulations to all of you for making it through!

  15. Beth Lehman May 1, 2012 at 5:24 pm #

    you had me teary, too.  it’s so hard – supporting each other through life changes while having kids!  you did it!  you should both be so proud!  we had three under 2 1/2 at one point in graduate school.  so hard.  it felt so good to be finished with school – to have real jobs and an income!  i love your phrase about frances schaeffer beards!!!  i don’t know many who know this man!  (i went to an annabaptist high school where we watched frances schaeffer films…. all i can remember are his outfits and beard!)  again, congratulations to you both!

  16. Canita May 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Just absolutely lovely.  What a beautiful story.  Congratulations a thousand times to Brian and to you!

  17. Tanya Marlow @ thornsandgold May 1, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    Thank you so much for sharing your story – it’s great to have more of a sense of your journey. It reads like a joyful testimony to God’s weird and winding plans and a beautiful window into the love that you have for each other. I’m celebrating with you! Thank you.

  18. Kacie May 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    I wrote my post on the seminary experience but it wasn’t anywhere near as beautiful as this. It’s so true, the “making each others’ dreams come true.” That’s why I moved here, to Dallas, that’s why I worked his way through grad school, that’s why he’s staying home with the baby now. Sometimes it’s hard to explain when you’re in the middle of it and the goals have become fuzzy and you’re weighing the cost of the sacrifice.

    What is a dream really worth if it doesn’t take sacrifice?

  19. Beth Woolsey May 1, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    Truly one of the most stunning love letters I’ve ever read. Gorgeous. Thank you.

  20. brandi May 1, 2012 at 5:46 pm #

    Oh, how awesome. Congratulations to your entire family! I teared up reading this… I have a six-month old and am about to start a grad program in religion and youth ministry. I will be that weird old lady who hasn’t been in a classroom in ten years in a room full of 21-year-old guys with goatees. I am scared, but this gives me hope that my family can make it happen. 

  21. Becca May 1, 2012 at 6:00 pm #

    This one made me cry. I know this life, except that I’m still paragraphs from the end with a shrug and an “I have no idea anymore.”

  22. alwaysalleluia May 1, 2012 at 6:08 pm #

    no words, just tears. breathtaking…

  23. Amanda @wandering May 1, 2012 at 6:10 pm #

    This is so beautiful. Brought tears to my eyes. We aren’t seminary folks here,but my husband and I each finished master’s degrees right before babies thinking everything would be perfect.  Now three years later, he is finishing up a couple of years of prereqs for a different degree while working full time and this fall I will be the wife of a nursing student.  All that to say – this post was such an encouragement to me to hang on.

  24. Sillydoodah (Dawn) May 1, 2012 at 6:11 pm #

    Beautiful. :)

  25. Hannah W. May 1, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    Congratulations to both of you. Your life story has strongly resonated with me as my husband and I are a little behind you on this journey of life! We have been married almost four years and in school all of them. This summer we will move from New Jersey to Chicago for him to begin a Ph.D program. We have put off our family so I could work full time and he could go to school. Now the time is coming for us to begin our family and more school too. At times it can be super scary but I know that God has us.

    These last two years have been our journey away from church and now we are headed back to it. . .two different people than when we left. We have different desires and goals that we want to see today’s church achieve!

    Thanks, Sarah, for being willing to write out your life. Your blog has encouraged my dry and weary soul on many a long, dark day.

  26. Vitafamiliae May 1, 2012 at 7:02 pm #

    So beautiful. So happy for you both.

  27. Erin Szczerba May 1, 2012 at 7:06 pm #

    Absolutely beautiful, Sarah. Congratulations to the Mister!! This is the kind of rough and bumpy and loving marriage and family I dream of.

  28. Mme Zalopha May 1, 2012 at 7:10 pm #

    Congratulations to all. I look forward to hearing about what happens next. Best wishes for some restorative, inspiring rest as you both contemplate your next steps.

  29. Micha Boyett May 1, 2012 at 8:33 pm #

    Oh, tears. I love how well you write about marriage, friend. And I love hearing how you two love each other. So happy for you both!

  30. Charlotte May 1, 2012 at 10:33 pm #

    Congratulations to you and your husband! And thanks for sharing this, it gives me hope. I had to drop out of seminary four years ago (and quit school all together three years ago) and I want to go back so bad. I don’t know where the money will come from or how it will all work out, but I want to go back. This gives me hope that it is possible.

  31. HopefulLeigh May 1, 2012 at 10:34 pm #

    Gorgeous, Sarah! I’m so happy for you both.

  32. Sharon O May 1, 2012 at 10:59 pm #

    Such a beautiful writing and tribute to ‘your wonderful husband’ you did it as a team. That is what love is. (my last blog post if you have the time to read ‘to love’…it begins with love is, then moves into… to love.)

  33. Brittaney May 2, 2012 at 12:51 am #

    You’ve got me crying. I love you guys and am sooo proud of Brian. Tell him he’s my new superhero!!

  34. Abby Norman May 2, 2012 at 1:28 am #

    Sarah, I am taking this post, and the comments behind it and printing them out. Then I am going to make copies and hang one on the fridge, one on my desk at school, one on the bathroom mirror. I am only doing this because my husband is in PhD school and I cannot afford to get it tattooed onto my body! I am not alone, people do make it, it is worth it! AMEN AMEN AMEN savor this for us still in it. But mostly savor this for your family.

  35. the Sooz May 2, 2012 at 1:35 am #

    Oh my goodness gracious.  I just love this.  Sniffity sniff sniff.

  36. elizabethesther May 2, 2012 at 2:00 am #

    Oh, such love like this. Real, true. Such love. Thank YOU, both.

  37. Tiffany Norris May 2, 2012 at 2:55 am #

    Congratulations! As a fellow seminary wife, I think this is my favorite post. We’re on degree #2, baby #1, and neither of us would be making it without a lot of help and a lot of grace. Blessings to your family!

  38. Tara_pohlkottepress May 2, 2012 at 2:57 am #

    wohoo! love looks like this. and friendship love? oh, it looks like the dance i’m doing for you both. promise i am. and promise it may be best that no one can see it in person ;)

  39. Smoochagator May 2, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    This is just t

  40. Smoochagator May 2, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    This is just the best. Congratulations to you both, and bless you.

  41. Cherishlifenaturaltherapy May 2, 2012 at 4:18 am #

    Bless & Congrats

  42. Kamille May 2, 2012 at 5:48 am #

    loving is allowing the other’s dreams to come true.  Ben and I have the privilege to counsel three younger couples on the road to engagement (yes, not marriage, engagement), while Ben spoke to one young man about his dreams & considering his ‘hopefully some day’ wife’s dreams saying, “because ultimately, your job is to love her like Christ loved the church, and you will want to see her dreams come true more than your own.”  

    This love like a black gown & piece of paper is what love stories are meant of.  It’s those stories we tuck away to pull out to share with our children and grandchildren.  It’s what Annie, Joseph & Evelynn get to see…love in word & action.  Pure gifts.  Your journey as a family through this whole process is cherished by me.  It’s stories like these that remind me of God’s love never ceasing.  Congrats to both you & Brian!

  43. Jada May 2, 2012 at 3:56 am #

    LOVE LOVE LOVE. Cried and realized how amazing it has been to pray y’all thru this journey. So excited for the next chapters in both of y’alls lives. Congrats to all!

    My husband has one semester left, which starts Jan. ’13. Really, it’s a year, since he’ll be writing a dissertation. The kids and I already have a countdown. We planning a big, ole celebration!

  44. Hannah Tripp May 2, 2012 at 11:41 am #

    Tears dripping off my nose. 

  45. Steph May 2, 2012 at 12:14 pm #

    Seminary nearly killed us. We learned so much but it was so hard. And yes, a definite act of love on both of our parts.

  46. Leah Colbeck May 2, 2012 at 6:24 pm #

    I am crying for you two. WAY TO GO!! We have done school/marriage/kids/work/many moves as well. Thanks for sharing glimpses of your love story.

  47. Kelly @ Love Well May 2, 2012 at 6:52 pm #

    What a GORGEOUS, tribute. You did it. You both did it. I am so proud of you

  48. kelly May 3, 2012 at 5:05 pm #

    i wept at this post. thank you so much for sharing. 

  49. Marina May 3, 2012 at 5:38 pm #

    This made me cry.  My baby is two and a half months old, we’ve slogged through the last semester of my husband’s undergrad, and we’re moving in a week and a half for his PhD program in physics.  I can already tell that it’s going to be so hard, and I’m so grateful for this glimpse from the other side of it to remind me that it’s survivable, and that one day it will be over.  

  50. thegypsymama May 4, 2012 at 1:44 am #

    “Your American midwestern work ethic got a work out.”

    I have one of those too.

    Ached my way through this post – ached. I so get it.

  51. Kerri May 4, 2012 at 1:58 pm #

    This is beautiful.  Congratulations to both of you!

  52. Jenn May 4, 2012 at 5:08 pm #

    Chills and tears! How did I miss this post? So excited for what God has in this next leg of the journey for the two of you. What a beautiful, real love song.

  53. Stephanie May 4, 2012 at 7:37 pm #

    Oh! This is beautiful! I teared up a bit when I first came over from Facebook to read it. 

    Tell Brian that we wish him a huge CONGRATULATIONS for all his hard work + dedication.

    You probably get this question a hundred times too many, but I can’t help asking: What’s next for your family? Career changes? A move? Or staying right where you are now?

    • Sarah Bessey June 5, 2012 at 3:33 am #

      We have no idea, Stephanie. No idea. Just basking in being together and done for a little while, anyway.

  54. JT Adamson May 7, 2012 at 1:46 am #

    I was just musing to my wife yesterday how tragic and how prevalent divorce is. What a beautiful story of commitment and the grace of God.

    Awesome.

  55. Patsy Paterno May 19, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Love is beautiful with all its tatters and exhaustion and baby puke. I like the love is making your dreams come true. How wonderful to look back at the journey and know you did not give up! 

  56. Brenda Olmos November 27, 2012 at 1:04 pm #

    Awesome! So glad I’ve been able to read your life all these years since you left little New Braunfels. Miss you, love you.

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