“Why did you go to school in Scotland?”
Many a friend has wondered. My answer is not brief, I’m afraid. To respond, I must tell a story. I must peel back the veil to reveal the process of my mind and heart. Come in friend, and have some tea, while I tell my story…
Back in High School, though I had no older brother of my own, I greatly admired my friend’s older brother. I asked him to teach me to play guitar, fed off his passion for God’s word, and admired his academic pursuits. When he went off to University, he spent some time at Oxford learning through their tutorial-system of teaching. As he described it to me, my mind painted romantic pictures of students sitting in ancient stone buildings with tweed-clad professors who stroked their goatees while the class discussed and debated their latest readings. Ever since this picture imprinted itself in my mind, I’ve wanted to be one of those students…
Fast-forward about a dozen years, and I’m in my late-twenties and settling into a new life in Hawai’i. I’d completed my own BA degree in California, then joined the staff of a University-based non-profit and now I was starting a new international student organization at the University of Hawai’i in Honolulu. Brushing shoulders with amazingly talented international graduate students working toward their Master’s and PhD’s got me itching to go back to school again and exercise my mind. While I’d entertained the idea of grad school from time to time, only 30% of me was really keen on this idea, thus it languished in a forgotten corner of my heart.
But then I had a dream.
Now, my readers might have a variety of opinions about the efficacy of dreams to determine one’s path in life, but I will be frank and say that in my reading of the Bible and in my own experience as well, dreams are one of the most powerful ways God directs (e.g. Joseph seeing the cows and wheat and then ruling next to Pharaoh, Jesus’ parents escaping to Egypt before infanticide breaks out, Paul hearing the cries of a man in Macedonia and then going to plant the church at Philippi, among others). God continues directing his people through dreams today. Without going into the details, my dream indicated that a next step for me was to study in the UK and highlighted a friend of mine who would be significant in this juncture. I tucked this away in my journal and waited not knowing when it was meant to happen.
Four years later at a conference, I brushed shoulders with a Theologian whom I greatly admire. Standing beside him in a musical worship service, I could tell that his faith was very much alive in spite of all he knows in his mind. I told the Lord, “If I can be like Bruce, I’ll go on for more schooling.” It’s long been my fear that to fill my head with big Theological concepts could calcify my faith—perhaps my biggest hesitation to enrolling in seminary. But that day, when I lifted up my prayer…
I heard a voice.
Again, some readers might furrow their brows at this and ask me, “But how can you know?” I have no good answer for this except that when you know a person well, you know how they sound when they speak to you—whether audibly, in writing, or in expressions and gestures. The more I know God as savior and intimate friend, the more I know His voice. It usually comes with a quieting peace, a reassurance, an affirmation. And he spoke to me through a Scripture verse…
In their hearts humans plan their course,
but the Lord establishes their steps. – Proverbs 16:9
I knew in my heart he was saying to me, “Go ahead and plan for graduate school, I will be with you.” I was strangely warmed and, in that moment, a long-hibernating academic passion awakened and stretched its arms to the heavens. I said to the Lord, please guide my steps.
Jump ahead several months later, and I got off the phone with a Professor at the University of St Andrews in Scotland whom, after hearing of my study intentions said to me, “I think this program is perfectly suited to your interests.” Over the previous several months I’d identified my biggest intellectual questions, read academic articles, and researched suitable Master’s programs—in the UK. St Andrews was just about to start a new interdisciplinary Master’s degree called Global Social and Political Thought and, should I choose to join, I would be part of its inaugural cohort. After that call, I had a peace that this was the place for me and that somehow God would provide all I needed to get there.
I remembered my dream 4 years earlier and the friend who was going to be important in this transition and I went out of my way to visit her in Atlanta, GA. We’d met as undergrads studying Communications and had stayed in touch in years since, updating one another about our reading and writing projects. On this visit, I told Stefani about my plans to apply to the University of St Andrews, and without a moment’s hesitation she responded, “Maybe I should go there too!” It seemed a wild and impulsive notion, and she and her husband would need to put some life plans on hold, but we all felt a surge of energy around the idea of going to Scotland together, facetimed with a friend of ours in St Andrews and started working on our applications.
September 2019, we reunited in St Andrews, Scotland. While I won’t recount all the labor and challenges to getting here, I will say that it’s clear to us both that while we planned our course, the Lord established our steps. Applications, visas, funding, and housing all eventually panned out (with some anxiety pimples and premature hair-loss), but now we were in Scotland, settling into the rhythm of weekly tutorials in ancient stone buildings with tweed-clad lecturers. As Stefani studies Theology and I examine Politics and Society, we are affirmed in our conviction that we’re studying two sides of the same coin. We hope to collaborate on writing projects in the future.
I recently told a friend of mine that a life of following Jesus is exciting, never boring. It’s risky and dangerous to follow my savior and friend whose transient homelessness was anything but comfortable and whose life ended at 33 (ironically the age I am now) in a shameful public crucifixion. But this Jesus has already brought me from death to life, and so I abandon comfort and fear to follow. The paths I tread with him may be blood-soaked paths of human atrocity, as I examine the post-colonial wreckage left in wake of self-serving empires, but my Jesus is there with me.
He was there when teenage Rachel envisioned herself in a tutorial lecture in the UK, when 20-something Rachel had a dream that indicated attending a UK University, and when early-30s Rachel heard a voice directing her to step out and go.
And here I sit in rainy Scotland, half-way through my degree as an international graduate student, looking back to tell the story.
Thank you for listening! Now let me pour you another cup of tea and you can tell me a story too.