My unexpected, ironic path to a PhD

My posts normally revolve around the body, and while this one doesn’t really address the body, it does explain why I started Forsaken Body in the first place. I hope my unexpected journey encourages you.

I graduated with a PhD in Systematic Theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary a couple of days ago. And let me just tell have no idea how ironic that sentence is.

I actually never enjoyed school. I was fairly good at it, but outside of gym class, I kind of hated it. After graduating high school, I begrudgingly started a community college in Knoxville. My dad was a pharmacist and tried his best to convince me to follow in his footsteps. No way I said. I had no desire to be in school that long, let alone get a bachelors. Absolutely not.

You see, I loved two things. Reading theology and working out. School seemed like a waste of time. Instead of studying psychology or calculus, I wanted to study Scripture and systematic theology (which covers major beliefs in the bible like the Trinity, salvation, or the Holy Spirit). I didn't want to be distracted or burdened by classes, so I wanted nothing to do with college. Little did I know then how true Proverbs 16:9 would be in my life: the mind of a person plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps. My plans were certainly not what the Lord had for me.

To appease my parents, I finished an associate’s degree at that community college. I was done. No more school. But after the associate's, I came across a personal training and nutrition certification. It was an in depth 6 month program just outside Atlanta. This was it. Working out and helping others workout for a living. My church had a gym, and prior to actually getting certified, I’d trained some very brave individuals there. Obviously, an actual certification was the next step.

After getting certified, I went back to Knoxville to train and loved it. That is until one day when a coworker made a gut-wrenching comment. Knowing I had two years of college down and that my parents graciously paid for it, he told me I should go back. That I’d regret it forever if I didn’t. My heart sank because I knew he was right.

So, back to college I went and studied at the University of Tennessee. Because I was a trainer and it just made sense, I chose the exercise science degree. But more school was a challenge. Even though I wanted to honor the Lord because I knew he had directed my steps to go back, it was a struggle. Somehow, by the grace of God, I finished it. But I was definitely, absolutely done with school.

At this point, I was still training but the Lord had led me to work for a church in Knoxville. About 2 months into the job, I nearly quit. Part of my job was leading a high school girls’ small group. I was horrified. Talk in front of others?! No way I could do that! Painfully introverted, I would’ve preferred surgery to speaking in public. But the Lord persevered me, and to my shock, I actually get excited to teach now. Anyway, I loved working in ministry and still couldn't get enough doctrine. In God’s gracious providence, Dallas Theological Seminary started an extension campus across the street from my church. I was blown away. I could pursue what I cared about for so many years - a biblical, theological education. Plus, my church would help me pay for it. I was ecstatic. I knew this was the next step the Lord had.

Fast forward a few years later, and after writing my thesis on religion and the obesity epidemic, I finished my masters in Christian leadership. Still training and working at the church in Knoxville, people told me I should go on to pursue a PhD. No way I said. I had no desire to do anymore school, especially when I didn’t have a reason for a doctorate. Absolutely not.

But once again, the Lord knew otherwise. (Side note, this next part may seem crazy to many of you, but it’s true.) Though I’d grown up Southern Baptist, worked at a non-denominational church with Southern Baptist doctrine, and lived in TN, I’d never heard of Southern Seminary just across the border in KY. That was until one day a coworker started an online degree from Southern. I was intrigued by some of his classes, so I decided to peruse the website. I pulled up the doctoral programs, naturally checked out the systematic theology discipline, and was intrigued by one of the course listings. Theological anthropology. Ok…this seems interesting, I thought. So I clicked it and was able to view the syllabus. The professor, Gregg Allison, brought in an exercise physiologist and nutritionist for two lectures. My background and my love collided! My jaw hit the floor, a light shone down on my computer, and I heard a chorus of angels sing, ahhhhhhh. No, not really. Figuratively speaking of course, but this was how it felt. That's because it was a perfect marriage of two things God had made me so passionate about years before - doctrine and caring for the body. I knew this was the Lord’s next step, albeit extremely an unexpected and daunting one.

Fast forward to today, and looking back, I’m incredibly humbled and floored by the last few years. Of course, there were many challenges over the years. Finances, nerve-racking presentations, a totaled car, challenging assignments, a couple of week long hospitalizations, difficult relationships, oh and writing my dissertation while the library stacks were closed during Covid...yeah. But had my former plans held up, I wouldn't have gotten more than a 2 year community college degree. And I certainly would never have spoken in public or taught even a small group of people. But that’s how the Lord works. In his guidance and providential care, I found Ephesians 3:20-21 to be so true in my life. God has done immeasurably more than anything I could ask or imagine, according to his power working in me. All of which is truly for his glory. He kept and persevered me during the most demanding days and arduous assignments.

Looking back now, it’s become clear that the Lord directed my steps and shaped my experiences to help believers recognize their embodied reality, that soul AND body are part of the image of God and his very good creation. It matters that we know Scripture and what God thinks about our body - to be convinced that our bodies are valuable and under his authority as Creator. Knowing these truths will motivate us to use them for his glory (1 Corinthians 6:20) and keep us from a forsaken body.