I recently had to write an annual report for a fellowship that I have that discussed challenges and highlights of my first year as a Ph.D. student. The report follows, for those who may be interested in hearing a bit more about the challenges and blessings of the past year:
My first year as a John Wesley Fellow and as a Ph.D. student at Southern Methodist University has been both eventful and challenging. In this annual report I would like to discuss a few personal and academic highlights and challenges. Overall, the last year provided many opportunities to test my calling to pastor seminary students who are preparing to become pastors. At the end of my first year of coursework, I have a deeper sense of the challenges that will come with seeking to build a bridge (or reinforce bridges that are already in existence) between the academy and the church. Yet, though I may be a bit less naïve than I was this time last year, I am as passionate as I have ever been about pursuing what I perceive to be God’s call on my life.
The primary personal challenge I have faced in my first year as a Ph.D. student has simply been finding balance between being a full-time Ph.D. student, full-time husband, full-time father, and full-time Christian. There were times during the year that I felt like I was at the mercy of the semester schedule and just had to bear down and get through. During these times I often did not give as much time to my family or my faith as I wanted to. My accountability group was often a means of grace, reminding me that there was a bigger picture than getting through the semester. The primary challenge has been that I have had to recognize that there are times when I simply do not have time to do everything that I would like to do as well as I want to. I still struggle with this, but I believe that through this experience a kind of purification is happening where I am reevaluating my priorities and seeking to live a life that is consistent with them.
The primary academic challenge of the past year has been the unrelenting pace of this first year. We moved to Dallas in early June and I spent the summer studying for my French language exam. A few days after the exam, the fall semester started. After the fall semester ended, I began studying for my first field exam, which covered 17-18th century ecclesiastical history. I took that exam a few days before the spring semester began. At the beginning of the spring semester, I was not sure I was ready for another semester to begin. When the spring semester ended, I began studying for my second field exam, which covered the history of Christian doctrine. My online summer German course began the same week as that field exam. Two days after my field exam, I went to Oklahoma to attend my Annual Conference. Things are finally starting to slow down a bit, and I am going to be intentional this summer about not working more than forty hours a week. However, I recognize that next year will be every bit as much of a marathon as last year. I have rejoiced several times throughout the past year because as tired as I have been, I have never doubted whether this was the right thing for me to do. I continue to believe that I am being faithful to God’s calling. And I know that without God’s grace (and my wife’s support!) I would not have made it this far.
Thankfully, the past year has had more highlights than challenges. There have been several personal highlights. The most important one has been the joy and blessing of being a part of my 13 month old daughter’s life. Simply watching her grow and develop has been both miraculous and mysterious. I have also been grateful for my wife, Melissa, who is a natural mother and makes it easier for me to learn what being a father looks like. As I write this, I am made aware of just how blessed I am simply to be able to share life with my wife and to be Bethany Faith’s dad.
Another personal highlight was the publication of my first book as the sole author, A Blueprint for Discipleship: Wesley’s General Rules as a Guide for Christian Living. The process of writing and seeing a book through to publication has been both gratifying and humbling. I have realized that writing a book, particularly one geared primarily toward the church, is more like starting a conversation than having the last word.
There have been several academic highlights of the past year as well. I am thankful to have passed my French language exam and to have passed my first field exam. I am also glad to have survived the first year of my Ph.D. program. I have enjoyed the opportunities this year to do some preliminary work on my anticipated dissertation topic. I have also appreciated and enjoyed the opportunity over the past year to be Dr. Ted Campbell’s research assistant for his work on the upcoming volumes of Wesley’s Letters for the Bicentennial Edition.
Another major highly was recently being given the opportunity to teach United Methodist History at Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University in the Fall of 2009 as an adjunct faculty member. I am particularly looking forward to teaching United Methodist History in the fall, because this is the class that I hoped to be able to teach someday when I first considered doing Ph.D. work. I did not think the opportunity would come so soon, and am thrilled that it has.
Writing this report has helped me to realize how much really has happened in the past year. It has been mind numbing at times. However, looking back I am thankful for the ways that I have seen God’s provision throughout the many challenges. I am grateful to have made it this far, and look forward to seeing what the next year brings.