Written by Judy – a former graduate wife
Today I open the book of readings my husband gave me over 26 years ago—before we were married—and the author’s dedication reminds me of who I am: ‘For every pilgrim who yearns for God’
I am a pilgrim, though an unlikely one. When I was growing up, my family rarely traveled. We lived in the same house since I was four years old and the furthest we traveled was to a nearby campground for our vacations. We did not suffer from wanderlust.
So I think it came as a surprise to all of us when, at the age of seventeen, I became convinced that I was meant to go away from home for university. Far away. Three thousand miles away. And though I have been back for visits, and even married a man from the same state, I have never lived there again. In fact, I have never lived again in any of the nine cities (in three different countries) in which we have lived since getting married.
I could say I blame my husband for my vagabond state. He was a graduate student when I met him, and three graduate degrees and a job in academia later, all of our moves have been related to his career. But it wouldn’t be true to say that it is his fault. I knew before I met him that I was not called to stay in one place; I was called to ‘go’.
One of my favorite passages in the bible comes from Psalm 84. I can still remember reading it, before I had ever met my husband, and knowing that there was a message there for me: ‘Blessed are those whose strength is in you, who have set their hearts on pilgrimage…They go from strength to strength…’ The Cambridge dictionary defines a pilgrim as ‘a person who makes a journey, which is often long and difficult, to a special place for religious reasons.’ I have made a journey, which has been long and sometimes difficult (and often amazing), to many special places because that is what I believe God has called me to do. I have set my heart on pilgrimage.
I say this, not because I think I am special—I believe we are all called by God to an amazing journey with Him—but because I think that unless you have a sense of calling, it is impossible to live the life of ‘sacrificial support’ that is the life of the wife of a graduate student.
I love that term, ‘sacrificial support’. I think it precisely embodies what it means to be the spouse of a graduate student. Because providing the support that a person who is pursuing a graduate degree needs does require sacrifice, often on a comprehensive scale: sacrifice in terms of career, income, children, family, home-making, personal pursuits, even attention and affection. It is not for the faint (or the selfish) of heart. And while in the early stages love for our spouse and a love of adventure may propel us along, there comes a day when the newness wears off and we begin to feel neglected and unappreciated and we wonder, ‘Is this what I signed up for?’ It’s then that we have the chance to truly understand the sacrificial part of the equation; it’s then that we have the chance to dig deep to find what we didn’t know we had.
Or not. I’ve seen graduate marriages fail, and others take a severe beating. This can be a very difficult road to travel. And while I don’t believe there is a formula for success, I do believe that it is essential to have a shared sense of call and vision, something larger than merely what this means to the interests and career path of the one who is studying, and something larger than the attitude ‘I’m letting you have your turn now so that I can have my turn later.’ There is no 50/50 in marriage. There is give and take; there is negotiation; but always there is sacrifice—on both parts, because that is what love is about.
So here I am, twenty-six years of marriage, fourteen moves of house and three (mostly) grown children later, looking back at the beginning of this adventure in ‘sacrificial support’. I had no idea what I was in for and it has not turned out anything like I’d expected. And I’m sure the adventure is not over. There have been wonderful experiences too numerous to count, and there have been difficulties I couldn’t have managed if I had not believed that this was all part of a bigger plan, part of a pilgrim call.
So I am very thankful for my pilgrim heart. I think it has helped me negotiate this sometimes difficult road. It has helped me to keep the big picture in view—that we are on a journey and that each stop along the way is just that, a stop; it is not the final destination. It is not the point at which I can say, ‘Well, that’s over. Now I can begin my life.’ Life is in the journey.
Words from a Michael Card song that I love:
There is a joy in the journey,
there’s a light we can love on the way.
There is a wonder and wildness to life,
and freedom for those who obey.
May we all experience joy in the journey; May we all experience the wonder and wildness of life and the freedom that comes from following our call.
As a graduate wife, did you ever feel ‘called’ to begin this graduate journey with your husband? If so, how has that ‘call’ helped with your transition into this season of life?