Laura Yoder, associate professor of nursing, was the last of three invited guests to Residential Life's "Last Lecture” series. Yoder spoke Jan. 26 about the transformational and shaping power of Christ. (EMU photo)

Nursing professor Laura Yoder uses ‘Last Lecture’ to contemplate perfection and transformation through God

Laura Yoder, associate professor of nursing, gave her “last lecture” in the Northlawn Great Lounge on Tuesday, Jan. 26. Yoder started out by assuring the audience that she was not, in fact, leaving Eastern Mennonite University any time soon.

Yoder’s lecture explored the idea of perfection as completeness, and what completeness means to her in relation to her roles as nurse, professor, mother and wife. [Hear her podcast.]

The “Last Lecture” series, sponsored by Residence Life, invited speakers onto campus to impart their wisdom after the model of Cornell professor Randy Pautsch. Pautsch gave a lecture weeks after being diagnosed with terminal cancer in September 2007, which eventually created the basis for a best-selling book, co-written with Jeffrey Zaslow of the Wall Street Journal, of the same name. Pautsch died in July of 2008.

Other speakers in EMU’s series included President Loren Swartzendruber and Eastside Church pastor Peter Eberly, a graduate of Eastern Mennonite Seminary and father of four.

Sharing her story

Among the questions posed to “Last Lecture” speakers are two defining ones that Pautsch asked: What wisdom would we impart to the world if we knew it was our last chance? If we had to vanish tomorrow, what would we want as our legacy?

Yoder said that in order to prepare her thoughts, she had to put herself in a troubling situation: “the only way to get anywhere with formulating this thought was to imagine that either I was in the process of dying or that I had the knowledge that I was going to die soon.”

Her first audience that she kept in mind, she says, were her children.

Laura Yoder
Professor Laura Yoder visits with the audience after delivering a fictional “last lecture,” which she addressed to her two young children. (Photo by Amber Davis)

Yoder’s first point was on Matthew 5:48 [NIV]: Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. She expressed a feeling of distaste for that verse when she was first learning it, due to the worldly view of what perfect is. However, upon further investigation, Yoder found that another translation for “perfect,” “telios,” used in this verse as “complete.” Being as perfect as God is not impossible when one views “perfect” as “complete” or “whole.”

“As a nurse, my concept of completeness has been a part of my conceptual framework and my worldview since I went through the nursing program at Goshen College,” she said.

Being perfect like God is possible through transformation, she said, as stated in Romans 12:2 [NIV]: And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.

Unending transformations

Yoder says that her renewing process has been accomplished through Bible study, by accepting the truths of Jesus and his disciples, and the truths as demonstrated by current disciples she has come to know.

“The refining and transforming process doesn’t end with me,” says Yoder. “The transformation is not ended at the edge of my skin. It will and has, I believe, extended on and out of me to the people I love, the patients I care for, the students I teach.”

Yoder urged her audience to be willing to step into “lifelong task” of being shaped and transformed by Christ.

Yoder has clinical experience in medical-surgical nursing, progressive care/ telemetry nursing, advanced nursing care (Primary Care Adult Nurse Practitioner), and nursing research. After earning her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Goshen College, Yoder continued her education with a master’s degree in nursing from the University of South Florida, and a PhD in nursing from the University of Virginia. Her research centers around understanding adolescent health behavior and the multilevel contextual influences relating to the development of healthy lifestyles.

In 2011, Yoder was honored with the “excellence in nursing instruction” award by the Virginia Student Nurses Association. She is an elder at Park View Mennonite Church.

A version of this article was published in the Jan. 28 issue of the Weather Vane.