Doing Life Together

Joleen and I met in 1992. We were both students at the Church of God Theological Seminary, following God and preparing for God’s call on our lives. We began dating at the end of 1992 and were married in January 1994.

Before we committed to marriage, though, we talked about what it would look like for us to both be in full-time ministry (we grew up with few, if any, clergy couple models). We graduated in 1995 (see photo below), a year and a half into our marriage, but not before co-writing our Master’s thesis on husband and wife co-pastoring, “Covenanted Together in Marriage and Ministry” (by the way, this project focused on Priscilla and Aquila; see our post on Priscilla and Aquila, which tells a little more about our story and includes the chapter on this biblical clergy couple).

We transitioned to the UMC in 1998, seeking a better denominational fit, including one that ordains women. We began co-pastoring (part-time) one, then two, small rural churches while beginning work on the long ordination process.

We hit a wall in 2003, which would add five years to the ordination process. During this delay, we began D.Min. programs at Asbury Theological Seminary in late 2003. In January 2004, we spent our first week on campus. Ironically, we celebrated our tenth anniversary that week (fellow students helped us celebrate with a cake in class that morning). At the time, it somehow seemed appropriate that we return to a seminary campus to celebrate our tenth anniversary!

After four and a half years of hard work, we graduated in 2008 (see photo below).

After we graduated from Asbury, we picked up where we left off six years before with the ordination process. We were commissioned together in 2009, and just over a week ago, we were both ordained (a year earlier than originally expected thanks to a change in the process at the 2008 General Conference).

We don’t know what the future holds, of course, but up to this point, we have lived out (with God’s help!) our covenant to be together in marriage and ministry!

Pair o’ Docs

It may be a corny play on words, but it’s one we’ve heard a couple times already — by one of the members of my dissertation committee and also a fellow student at the doctor of ministry dinner last night — both saying that we’d be a “pair o’ docs.”

The weekend began with a dinner for D.Min. graduates Friday night, and continued Saturday morning with an early morning rehearsal for the commencement ceremony which took pace this afternoon. It was a great day to complete a major chapter in our lives!

We feel gratitude — we’re grateful to God for his guidance and blessings throughout this part of our journey. We are also grateful for all who have supported us with their words and/or prayers. We also feel a huge sense of relief as this part of our journey comes to a close.

It was a wonderful day. We were happy to spend it with family members — Joleen’s mom and step-dad, Randy’s dad and step-mom, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew. In fact, this weekend has been Ethan’s first time to meet and spend time with Randy’s family.

Here are some images from the day …


Wow. It’s been a long journey, but we’re finally reaching the finish line!

The home stretch of the dissertation-writing process involved preparing the final draft of our dissertations after we received the last edit from the editor at Asbury (see The Rest of the (Dissertation) Story and One Step Closer to see recent lists of tasks in the final stages of our dissertation work).

We received our drafts from the editor last Thursday and completed our revisions Monday and Tuesday, printed a copy, then dropped them off at Staples to be copied (we’re required to submit multiple copies). We picked them up today and will deliver them to the D.Min. office at Asbury on Friday.

Tomorrow, we make our last 9-10 hour trip to Kentucky (as part of this program, anyway), and will have most of Friday to relax before kicking off graduation activities Friday evening with a dinner for Doctor of Ministry graduates.

Saturday morning, we have rehearsal for the commencement ceremony followed by a worship service in the historic Hughes Auditorium on the campus of Asbury College (across the street from the seminary). After lunch, graduation activities will conclude with the commencement ceremony, beginning at 2:00 pm.

We’re excited about celebrating this milestone. We’re also excited that my family (dad and step-mom, sister, brother-in-law, and nephew) will get to meet Ethan for the first time as they join us for a few days in Kentucky (they live in Tennessee). Joleen’s mom and step-dad will make the trip with us as well.

We’re tacking on a few days of vacation after graduation in order to get some rest before coming back home to jump into packing!

IMG_0764You might be interested in going back and reading this post from last October (a couple weeks after we learned Ethan would be joining our family) — If Baby Willis Could Speak. Amazingly, things pretty much played out the way we hoped they would (and needed them to)!

Ethan was a huge motivation for us, especially during the final stages of this journey!

Successful Defenses

Good news: we both successfully defended our dissertations!

Over the course of 84 hours, we drove to and from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, KY (nearly 20 hours roundtrip), and met with our dissertation committees:

  • Randy met with Russell West (mentor), Chris Kiesling (second reader), and Milton Lowe (D.Min. team representative).
  • Joleen met Russell West (mentor), Stephen Martyn (second reader), and Tony Headley (D.Min. team representative).

We showed up at the appointed times for our hearings, then the committee members went into a closed room for 30 minutes to get their heads together. That time was the most nerve-racking part of the whole experience.

The defense hearings went well and were very affirming. At the end of the hearings, our committees sent us out to make their decisions. Fortunately, that part of the process only took about 60 seconds or so.

We came away with mainly minor changes to make in the next week or so. Following those changes, we will submit copies of our drafts for one final technical edit. After making those corrections, we will print and mail our final copies (due May 9).

We have been referring to our dissertations as the “projects that never end.” Thankfully, they are finally coming to an end!


Ever since we brought Ethan home 9 weeks ago, we’ve wondered how this trip to Kentucky would go, mainly because Ethan doesn’t always handle the car seat very well.

But Ethan traveled surprisingly well. He got a little tired and fussy toward the end, but that was understandable — it was a long trip, and a long time to spend trapped in the car seat. Thankfully, the trip didn’t take us much longer than it normally does.

However, while we focused so much on the drive here, what we did not expect was how Ethan would react to a strange hotel room.

After we arrived at the Asbury Inn, we went for a walk. By the time we got back to our room it was Ethan’s bed time (which we sometimes refer to as EBT).

We gave Ethan his bottle and tried to put him in the pack-and-play crib, but he resisted and cried — loudly. As it turned out, he fought sleep (amazingly well, I might add) for the next 3 hours. We finally put him in bed between us (at home, he always sleeps in his crib).

Ethan had a short, restless night. He tossed and turned a lot — it was rather dangerous as we both took shots to the body by Ethan’s flailing feet and hands.

I think I got about 5 hours of interrupted sleep, then had to get up and review/prepare for my dissertation defense, which thankfully was scheduled for the afternoon (we plan to report on both defense hearings Friday or Saturday).

Today, Ethan did pretty well, but as EBT neared, he began to fight sleep again. Fortunately, though, he went to sleep (in our bed) a little earlier tonight (10:30 pm).

The experience here reminds us that Ethan is still in transition. Though he is doing incredibly well, “the takeaway” has left a mark (whether he remembers it or not). While we expect him to grow healthier in time, it will take a lot of love, understanding, and patience on our part, especially when we experience an occasional setback.

Well, we need a good night’s rest tonight — Joleen’s dissertation defense is scheduled for 9:00 am and we will be driving home after lunch.

Here are a few images from Asbury …

Ironically, I remembered today that the last time we were here, we learned that this little guy existed and was going to be ours. As we wrap up this part of our journey, this place holds a special place in our hearts. As challenging as the last 24 hours have been, we’re glad Ethan gets to experience this place with us (assuming the rest of the night doesn’t go too badly 🙂 ).

Road Trip!

During our first two months with Ethan, we’ve experienced a number of firsts. This week, we will experience another first — a road trip.

Tomorrow morning after breakfast, we will drive to Asbury in Wilmore, KY where we are scheduled to defend our dissertations Thursday afternoon (Randy) and Friday morning (Joleen) before driving back Friday afternoon and evening.

The trip normally takes us about 9 hours, but that’s with minimal stops. We expect the trip tomorrow and Friday to take longer because we’ll be traveling with Ethan. The question is, how much longer.

Adding to our concern is the fact that Ethan is not a big fan of the car seat idea.

We’re hoping for a good trip with Ethan, and for a good report on both of our defenses!

How Was the Trip?

Whenever we return from traveling (or at the end of some important experience), we’ll commonly ask each other: How was the trip? It gives us an opportunity to reflect on things we enjoyed, things we didn’t enjoy, things we learned, and things we’ll carry with us forever.

Here at the end of our 10-week journey (i.e. parental leave), which involved going to Korea to get our baby and 8 weeks of creating a family with Ethan, it’s a good time for us to reflect on our trip.

General Highlights …

  • Time in Korea. We enjoyed our time there, experiencing a new culture.
  • Making new friends at the Korean Methodist churches, especially the small group with whom we spent our first evening with Ethan.
  • Spending time with Ethan, getting to know him, sometimes entertaining him, and many times being entertained.
  • Introducing Ethan to family and friends.
  • Completing our dissertations (mostly).
  • Memorializing this experience and inviting others on the journey with us, through this Web space.

We’re grateful for God’s incredible gifts to us. And we look forward continuing this journey with God and each other.

One Step Closer

Just before the local post office closed this afternoon, we mailed our defense drafts — 3 copies from each of us — to the doctor of ministry office for the members of our dissertation committees.

Every step is one step closer to the finish line.

Throughout this program, which we began more than 4 years ago, we’ve experienced a lot of pressure, and at times, a lot of relief (e.g., the end of each class and at various milestones of the dissertation writing process). But this step brings the greatest sense of relief so far.

We’ve got a *few* steps left, including …

  • Defend our dissertations at next week’s defense hearings in Kentucky (mine on Thursday and Joleen’s on Friday).
  • Then, we’ll have three short weeks for final edits, including, (1) making committee-recommended changes and (2) making final revisions after our drafts are edited one last time.
  • Then, we go to graduation — in 46 days!

Along with the extra sense of relief tonight is an extra dose of gratitude for God’s presence and help throughout this part of our journey!

Balancing Dissertations and Peekaboo

After lunch today, we needed to split shifts between dissertation work and hanging out with Ethan so that we can mail them tomorrow afternoon.

IMG_0594At the time I went to my computer to get started on my work, Ethan thought it was a good time to play peekaboo. So we did.

Life can be a real balancing act, at times. That’s always true, and it’s especially true for us these days with finishing up dissertations and caring for Ethan.

That will also be true when we go back to work around the middle of the month.

Life is an adventure. That’s never been more true than now!

Seeing Red 2.0

IMG_0588On Friday, we received our second round of edits from the editor at Asbury. And just like the last time (Seeing Red), there’s a lot of red marks on the pages of our drafts!

The edited drafts came about a week late, leaving us only a week to return three cleaned up copies to the faculty members of our dissertation teams, so the rest of this week will be a bit stressful (but also exciting, knowing that the finish line for this part of our journey is getting closer!).

Thankfully, we’re working our way through the list of remaining tasks, which we posted earlier. Basically, after making the revisions in the next few days, it’ll just be a matter of getting ready for defenses (see Defenses Scheduled!), then making any changes recommended by our team members. Then at last, one final edit by the editor and one last round of red marks to plow our way through.

It’s funny. Our mentor describes both of our writing as clear and clean (in terms of grammar). Man, if our writing is clean, I’d hate to see our edits if our writing wasn’t clean! 😯