This weekend, Jonny will don a cap and gown and enter into a new season of life, graduating from seminary with his M.A. in Christian Thought. It’s an end of an era, and as I reflect on our journey together during his post-graduate education, I’m humbled by the way he has continually served and loved me, how he quietly managed so much without complaining or putting our life together on the back burner.
After we finished our undergrad degrees, Jonny applied, and was accepted into, both of the law schools he applied to. University of Iowa, a top-tier law program, sent him a handwritten note inviting him, but he chose a less prestigious law school instead — so I could continue my position as a magazine staff writer.
The first year of law school is challenging. At orientation, they sent home pamphlets warning that most marriages with a law student ended in divorce. They provided informational packets about the soaring rate of alcohol addiction and depression in law students and attorneys. It was scary, but we pressed on, committed to making it work. His load was heavy, but he rarely brought those burdens home. He excelled academically, but aways left those giants books in the library and continued to prioritize our relationship and community and life outside of the post-grad bubble.
The thing is, he was a really good law student…but he hated it. He was discouraged at an imperfect legal system; his heart broke for those who fell through the cracks. His soul burned to help others, but continually felt being an attorney wouldn’t allow him to stand alongside others in the relational way he yearned for. It was during this tension that Jonny and I both felt a deep desire to add to our family through adoption. God was moving and we could feel it, and it was an exciting, terrifying place to be.
Around this time, Jonny and I were getting connected in a new faith community, a church plant downtown that was turning our expectations of church and ministry upside down. Jonny’s natural leadership mixed with an authentic desire to follow Jesus continued to emerge, and as I watched this side of him grow, and it was so nice to see him filled with the passion that law school seemed to slowly steal from him. A Baptist pastor’s kid, his worlds started to crash together, a culmination of his upbringing, undergrad studies, law school, and new views on Christianity.
What if church wasn’t just a place where people dressed up, followed a set of rules, and judged others in the process? What if church was simply a cobbled together community of believers actively loving and pursuing Jesus?
We got coffee with our pastor, and he encouraged Jonny to consider switching from law school to seminary. We prayed about it, and despite the extra student loans and doubtful family members, it wasn’t a tough decision. He finished finals in the spring, and that summer he started a ministry internship and was accepted into Bethel Seminary’s in-ministry program.
It’s the best feeling in the world to see someone you love chasing after something he’s passionate about. It’s the worst thing in the world when you realize that you didn’t support him as much as you should have, something I’m only realizing now as he wraps up his 75-page thesis and prepares for graduation.
Seminary has quietly ingrained itself the essence of every life experience, every milestone in our past four years together. In between power outages and paper chases, Jonny submitted papers while we were in Nigeria during the adoption process. He read thick theology books on the beach when we were on vacation, studying Karl Barth at a Florida coffee shop while I indulged myself in a shopping marathon.
He had stacks of books to read, but instead of being in the office or staying late at the library, he was always found playing blocks with our new son or mowing the lawn in our new house. He had finals and papers and assignments and every right to be selfish but gently and faithfully loved our family with a love truly and wholly inspired by how Christ loves the church.
It was at a seminary intensive block where Jonny met Jeff, who a full-time pastor in a small town who became an instant friend and mentor. He accepted Jonny as a colleague + co-laborer in Christ, even though he had much more experience and insight into ministry. He was there to e-mail Jonny with encouragement when our faith foundation started to crumble right along with our adoption process. He was there to write Jonny letters of recommendation, and finally, he was there to invite us to join him in his ministry, where he has continued to pour into Jonny and encourage him not only as a friend but as a sort of father figure as well. Jeff and Jonny get to graduate from seminary together on Sunday, and I’m so proud of them both. And that’s something I wish I would have told my husband from the beginning.
How proud I was of him — how proud I’ve always been of all the ways he uses his gifts and talents to further the kingdom, always prioritizing his family before work, his wife before himself.
I haven’t deserved all the ways he has faithfully served me while his plate has been so full. He pushed back his graduation date an entire year so he could be present and involved when Asher was born. He loaded the dishwasher and did the laundry when postpartum struggles stole my energy and joy. He slept next to Joseph each time he was hospitalized for his sickle cell. He encouraged me to pursue my passions while he quietly worked on his. He held me and assured me things would get better when he had multiple work and school stresses of his own. When you marry someone who is so positive and so humble, you begin to forget how much they’ve taken on, you begin to believe their hidden stressors and struggles aren’t there.
I wish I could go back and hug my husband more. I wish I could surprise him with more cold-press lattes while he worked into the night on his papers. I wish I could tell him how much I admire the way he is is brilliant but humble, consistently kind to everyone, always putting others before himself. I wish I would have gotten out of my selfish bubble and realized all of the sacrifices he has made for me, for my children, for our life together.
But now is not a time for looking back — it’s a new day to look forward. I am so thankful that I get to walk side by side with Jonny, that we get to raise children together and tackle dreams and serve others hand-in-hand. I can not wait to see all of the ways God will use Jonny to show His deep, all-consuming, all-encompassing love to the world. Jonny, I may not have said it as much as I should, but I’m saying it now.
I’m proud of you.
In the midst of starting a new pastoral ministry, mentoring college students, creating a popular podcast and blog, finishing seminary, being an involved father of two young boys, and continually being an encouragement to me, Jonny has done some published writing that I’m really proud of, for ReKnew, Pastors.com, and Missio Alliance.
The Missio Alliance piece launched today, and it’s about how the Church views race. It is definitely worth reading — you can check it out here.