Before I can even start the story, I need to give some background. If my life were a movie, this would be a quick flashback, but my life is not a movie and instead it's a long rambling blog post. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Union University is a top-ranked private Christian university united in its love for Christ, for rigorous academics and for Biblical truth. (I didn't write that--it's direct from the website, but it is truth, and you can check it out here: www.uu.edu) Union is the gold standard in evangelical Christian liberal arts education, and has been for decades. The former president, David Dockery, a brilliant theologian, writer and thinker, influenced and shaped Nathan's view of higher education for the glory of God.
Five or more years ago, Nathan and I informally talked about our five and ten year 'plan.'
It wasn't a real plan, as in we did not take active steps to put things in motion; it was more of a dream followed by some searching questions about what was next for us. Union was a 'pie in the sky' kind of dream in that talk. You see, in our early married life, we never expected to teach at a seminary. "Our plan" was always to pursue a Ph.D. and then Nathan would find a job in a small Christian college. Teaching opportunities at a seminary rarely materialized, and so we didn't hope for it. When we discussed our pipe dreams, teaching at Union under David Dockery was on the list.
But that changed--honestly because we found ourselves becoming more rooted in Southeastern. More involved in the vision of the campus. More in love with the Wake Forest/Raleigh/Durham area. We loved being a part of the mission at SEBTS and had no desire to leave.
Let me also back up a little bit and say that in the academic world, there are some positions, some jobs, that just due to WHAT they are, you should hear them out. In other words, don't automatically say no, don't slam the phone down on them, don't say it could never happen. Once upon a time, Dr. Akin told several young faculty members that though he wants them to stay at Southeastern forever, if certain schools should come calling, especially for positions of influence, they had to talk to them. Yes, Nathan was one of the people who heard that speech. Union was one of the schools on that list, but Nathan thought nothing of it.
Circling back around (thanks for bearing with me, folks!), Union University's Dean of the School of Theology and Missions left two years ago to become the president of another school. The position has been vacant for a long time! It was vacant while we were here for sabbatical last spring, which led to a lot of jokes (which really weren't jokes) about us having a semester long audition for the job. Let the record show, the job was not offered to Nathan while we were here January 2014-June 2014:-)
We didn't even really pick Union for our sabbatical. Shortly before Thanksgiving 2013, we were discussing Nathan's upcoming sabbatical and I wished out loud that we could go someplace exotic (confession: I meant England). Nathan told me that we could relocate, but it would have to be affordable, and have access to a library and writing space. I thought it sounded intriguing, and we made a list of a few schools to contact. Union happened to be the first one because Nathan has a good relationship with several administrators. To our surprise, Union was very amenable to the idea, and ended up rolling out the red carpet for us, finding us a house to live in for free, giving Nathan office space, and granting him library access. So we moved to Jackson for five months.
And...Nathan's and my experiences were a bit different:-)
He researched and wrote all day almost every day. He attended weekly STM faculty teas (basically just faculty hang out time), and though they gave him plenty of space to do his work, he got to know most of the faculty in the department. For me, it was harder. We moved in January, when the temperature was zero degrees. I had four children that I was homeschooling, it was freezing cold and I didn't want to go out, and the youngest child was just eight months old. It was a lonelier time for me. I confess that I allowed that loneliness to color my interpretation of Jackson to my friends back home, to the point that someone said to me "How can you move there? You hated it!" Whoops.
I didn't hate Jackson. I missed my friends, my home, my church, my rhythms of life in Wake Forest. Jackson felt foreign to me, though it is a very Southern town and in many ways is oh so familiar. My kids were very lonely during the cold winter months, especially my social butterfly, Georgia. I did not feel like people made much of an effort to reach out to me, and I allowed that to irk me. In addition, though we lived in Jackson for five and half months, we were away from that city five weeks of the time, visiting Wake Forest, hanging out with friends in Nashville and Kentucky, and spending two weeks in Georgia when Nathan's mother was deathly ill. We were never in town more than five weeks in a row. I could have made an effort to make friends and get to know more people, but I wasn't too concerned about it-- we were going back home to Wake Forest soon!
All of the above aside, Jackson was an amazing time for us as a family. The Finnlings grew in their relationships with each other and their abilities to play together. I read so many books because we didn't have any evening plans! As a family we explored parks and cities that we had never seen before. Chickasaw State Park became a favorite weekend spot, we adored our day trips to Memphis, and we stayed in Nashville for the weekend as much as possible:-) We found our favorite Mexican restaurant, Tulum, in Jackson, Tennessee. Much to my surprise, after returning to Wake Forest, we had many moments where we spoke about how we missed Jackson.
It was the Lord preparing our hearts.