My daughter loved her preschool. In fact, as a first grader she STILL talks about her teacher and how much she misses it. The thing is, each morning of preschool you never would have known it. Almost every morning was a time of crying, holding on to me, needing to be plopped in a teacher’s lap or have a teacher pull her off of me. Later, when I would arrive at the end of the day to pick her up, she would often say she wasn’t ready yet. The reason? Transitions.
Almost every parenting book for little children will talk about the challenge of transitions, and how the best thing to do to help them go smoothly is to make them as predictable as possible and to follow a pattern. If we’re being honest, this is just as true for adults—we just don’t always express our discomfort as fully as an honest 3-year-old.
However, I think these past eight months have been testing our ability not to scream like a 3-year-old (or at least they have for me), especially as this semester once again ends in a way that feels abrupt. We are reminded of how little control we have, even if we did all we could to try to control the virus on this campus. We are reminded that many of the things that we love and had planned for are being taken away from us, so that we can keep ourselves, our families, and our neighbors safe.
Scripture is full of stories of people in the midst of wilderness, transitions, shadow spaces, in need of reconciliation, in need of healing, and communities in the midst of division and conflict. Over and over God shows up and abides with God’s people. In Isaiah we are reminded of the ways that God has been with God’s people since the Exodus from slavery. One of my favorite chapters in Isaiah 43 starts off reminding us, ““Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine.” This chapter is part of the section of scripture that is addressing the Israelites while they are living in exile. The world as they knew it was no more, they were in the wilderness. They couldn’t even worship like they were used to. Sound a little familiar? Later in the chapter, Isaiah 43:19, it says “See I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”
These are the promises I cling to, that God abides with each and every one of us whether we are together on this campus or not. God abides with us as we figure out how to be community during these strange times. God abides with this campus and is at work here. Even in the midst of all the transitions this institution and our leadership are going through, God is at work.
As I begin to transition away from being your campus minister, I lament the fact that it will take place in this crazy way. Many of you are already away from campus or in quarantine, and saying goodbye over Zoom just doesn’t have the same feel. I’m grateful that on Sunday we will have the chance to gather one last time together at 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. to worship, to pray, and to gather at the Lord’s table. We will join together through the bread and wine and be “re-membered” into the Body of Christ, trusting that no matter where we are and where we are sent, Christ holds us together and abides with each of us.
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul writes, “I thank my God every time I think of you! I always pray with joy, whenever I pray for you all, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.” This is how I feel about this community and your willingness to let me serve you and walk with you as your campus minister, listening deeply to what God is calling us to do, learn, and be a part of in this place. You have been Christ to me, showing deep hospitality, inviting me into your journeys, letting me hold parts of your stories, and helping my own faith continue to grow.
I’m excited to see the new things that God is stirring up for Valparaiso University. I know that no matter what springs forth, the things that have made this an amazing place to do ministry will continue to be present. Your new pastor will bring many gifts to share, and she will be blessed by the gifts of hospitality, faith, and service that you will share with her. She will have the joy of working with incredible colleagues like Pastor Jim and, together, they will continue to surround you with prayer and walk with you through your joys, questions, sadness, and wilderness places. They will remind you—and you them—that God has called you each by name and claimed you as beloved.
Nov. 11, 2020