So I’m back from an 18-month hiatus from writing called graduate school. If anyone had a valid excuse to not write for pleasure over the last year and a half, I believe it was me. When I wasn’t skimming 200 pages of reading a night, I was juggling several 15 to 30 page papers at one time. After four back-to-back semesters, I’m excited to share that I’ve finished my Master’s degree in social work, and beginning my career as a professional social worker. Although nothing should hold me back from a life-giving activity, the reality is that I had to prioritize my life during graduate school. So instead of blog posts about spiritual discipline, I was busy writing research papers about policies that impact transition-aged youth phasing out of the foster care system. Biopsychosocial assessments took the place of blogging about my travel adventures. And honestly, I am okay with that. For me, it was still exciting content. I am passionate about social work and committed to my academic pursuits. But I am so excited to get back to writing for pleasure. I’m not certain what direction it will take me in this next season, but I know that writing will be a part of it.

The most natural thing for me to write about for my first post back is the thing that has consumed all of my focus over the past 18 months, and that’s my degree in social work.

It was an incredibly rapid transition between returning from Bolivia and beginning graduate school. I had applied to USC a few months before the end of my time in Bolivia, knowing that I would have to hit the ground running in August. I’ve never been known for slowing down, so two weeks after returning state-side, I began life as a full-time graduate student.

I owe so much of my journey as a social worker to the incredible team of social workers at IJM Bolivia (mis compañeras en la lucha). Witnessing the fearless team of social workers drastically changed me. They were the ones down on bended knee, grasping the hands of clients, looking into their eyes, and promising to walk with them through their process of healing. It was a beautifully clear representation of Christ’s heart for the brokenhearted, and I knew I had to be a part of it.

I spent the rest of my time with IJM gleaning wisdom from the social workers and the rest of the IJM team. It was my first exposure to the principles and values that ground social work as a profession: service, social justice, dignity of each person, importance of relationships, integrity and competence. I watched as the social workers intervened in crises, built trust, empowered the lowly, fought for restoration, created community, spoke for the voiceless, and conveyed intrinsic worth to each and every survivor. Sounds a lot like Jesus to me.

I began my MSW program with a fierce passion to serve the least and the last of our society. I am leaving this program with that same sustained passion, but accompanied by a new set of skills and a clearer sense of direction. This program has stoked my insatiable desire to give my life for this mission, a mission to “defend the weak and the fatherless; to uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.” (Psalm 82:3, NIV). I am thrilled to share that the Lord has invited me to be a part of the child welfare system in LA County as a foster care social worker. I’ll also be working as a part-time adoption social worker at an international adoption agency, but more on that in my next post.

What an honor it has been to earn a Master’s degree in social work over the past eighteen months. I may carry an extra three letters behind my name now, but this degree is not for me. It’s for the forgotten, the voiceless, the poor, the marginalized, the hurt. It’s for those who have lost their way and just need somebody to believe in them. It’s for those who have been stigmatized, institutionalized, roughed up, beat down, and told they’re not enough. It’s for the victim and the perpetrator, because we are all hurt and all desperately need grace. This degree is me staring in the face of evil, and saying, “Not today, not ever.” This degree is because of Jesus and who he is and what he did for us on the cross. It’s about looking our brother and sister in the eye and whispering, “You are beloved.” This degree is the least I could do to give a little back after I’ve so freely received. It’s me dancing on holy ground rejoicing because the battle has already been won. It’s me doing whatever I can to make my little corner of the world a bit brighter. This degree is me fighting the good fight, running the race, and being a part of the Kingdom coming.

I am brought to my knees in gratitude thinking about this gift that God has entrusted me with. It is with absolutely nothing of my own strength or will or ability that I get to respond to this mission. By Him. For Him. Through Him. So incredibly thankful. -Kathryn Smyth, MSW (!!!!!)