Family · Inspiration · Marriage

Grad Life Voices: Living in the Moment

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– written by Tash, a current graduate wife

I am a planner; not a meal planner – that would be helpful, but instead, a crystal ball planner. I know I want to build a family home, and although it will be years before we can finance such a project, I feel like I am already intimate with every nook and cranny of the design. I knew how our wedding would look years before our engagement, and what we would name the family dog. I’m so goal driven and outcomes based that I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the uncertainty of our current situation and feel an inner desperation to settle, to relax, and to take a breath.

My husband has been my very best friend for a very long time. He is incredibly intelligent, loyal, and loving. He is deep, intuitive and the most incredible thinker. Like most of us, if he isn’t following his passion, he is simply a shadow of himself. Our children are 3 and 5, and, quite frankly, amazing human beings. It’s so important that my children watch what my husband is going through, because, dare I say it, I believe they are wired in a very similar way. It’s so important that my significant other is at university, because he is happy and healthy and smiling!

And then there is me. I am 27. I am a Mum and a youth worker, but most critically, I am the wife of a post grad student. I say most critically because my children deserve the stability of a strong and connected Mum and Dad. Given the pressures of the grad life, I’m okay with my order of focus.

Looking back on my past plans, it seems my crystal ball lead me on a defunct path. Where I once thought I would be a stay at home mum, I actually work. With living in a small country township, and with extended family members who could have that magic time at home with their own children, I was initially resentful.

Eventually I came to an understanding about the gift of our circumstances. My young children have genuine and incredible friendships, built through their time at preschool. They have an understanding of the outside world and a light, but clear belief of the importance of societal contribution. Through the work opportunities I have had, I’ve discovered more about myself and my abilities in the last few years than ever before. My husband’s return to university has pushed me to discover who I really am, and the gifts and talents that I have to offer. Interactions and progress within my career has given me a personal confidence that positively impacts my parenting. The intensity in which we as a household live drives us to be conscious about getting quiet time out in wide open spaces. Grad Life is a gift that has allowed for self development and enriched family life.

Despite this, I still fall into patterns of fear and loss.

I’m lucky in that I know my home is ‘home’ until The Engineer finishes his PhD. But where is home base for the long term? What if I have to let go of the community I’m so attached to, of the friends and neighbours that have been behind us during such an intense time? What if my children will have to learn to let go of their real world relationships and substitute them for Skype and Facebook as they go about making new connections in another town? What if this path isn’t leading us to the security that we convince ourselves it will, and if the husband doesn’t find work that meets his emotional, social and intellectual needs?

It’s a big, scary, wide world out there.

We can plan until the cows come home, until we’ve got the future colour coded, alphabetized, and listed. Then, when plans don’t come into fruition on our time line, it can be a lonely experience, and it can hurt.

So, we have to consciously rewire our brain. We have to push against ourselves, and we have to settle. Because as morbid and as cliché as it sounds, we get to be alive today. Who knows what tomorrow will bring. What works for one may not work for another, but I highly recommend reading “The Happiness Project” by Gretchin Rubin, to help get the inspiration flowing. Listed below are some of the wee baby steps that are helping retrain the way I approach this stage of life.

I began a gratitude journal. It’s where I slow myself right down, and take note of how good I’ve actually got it. My children are healthy, my husband is healthy, and my life has purpose. Some days, it’s simply I found the energy to make my morning coffee – that’s okay too. It’d be far worse a day if you didn’t have the energy to make your morning coffee!

Photography is therapy, it simply changed my outlook on life. I by no means sing my own praises, but I am fortunate to have a camera, and a great local camera club to learn from. I have slowly become aware of natural beauty, the colours of the sky, the shapes of the clouds, and the tranquility of water. I think my children are having a hard time with our lifestyle, but then I look back at the photographic memories and realise just how much mood and attitude can mess with our outlook and opinions. It turns out my kids are having an incredible childhood, and I’ve got the images to prove it. I have amazing relationships with my children’s teachers and they reiterate the balance in our children and the stories they share. So actually, as far as parents go, we’re doing just fine.

I’ve created shrines in my house. A ‘happy place’ shrine has little mementos of time with my family, and a bunch of my favourite flowers. I walk past it and smile, regardless. A shelf in our bookcase has been dedicated to our wedding, with the photo album, a shell from the beach we had our photos, the communion cup and a few other little extras. These things remind me that I am loved.

When I finish work early, I head to the university. It means the hubby and I get to travel home together and score a few minutes down time in one another’s company. Friday nights are simply not work nights. Sure we both want his PhD, but we want our marriage more. We have a jar with about a dozen washi-taped sticks. I googled ‘in-house’ and ‘budget’ date ideas, wrote them on the sticks and the stuck them in our jar. On date night, we don’t have to think about what to do, the jar will tell us. It doesn’t have to be flashy or expensive, but it means I’m not waiting for the day I get my husband back.

I accept where I am right now, in this moment. If I’m happy, that is okay. If I’m sad, that is okay. If I don’t feel up to entertaining once a month, it is okay. I am me with my strengths, weaknesses, dreams and desires and there is nothing wrong with that – in fact, it’s perfect. There is a reason I am the way I am, no justification required. There is a roof over my head, so therefore I need to love it. This is my home, and I am blessed to have one. It’s a time consuming but incredibly rewarding project to make it the best darn home I can, spending as minimally as I can. The future house loses its lustre when it means I have to leave the one I’ve created!

I haven’t nailed it, I still struggle with the concept, but living in the moment is certainly one of the key and most meaningful lessons that is emerging throughout our journey. Rest assured that if this post resonates with you at all you’re not alone, and that supposedly, one day we’ll look back and realise just how awesome we all really are.

Graduation day will come, for our significant others, and for us.

 As a graduate wife, how do you live in the moment?

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Inspiration

The Journey of a Year

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In November/December 2012, I read several articles (many sent to me by various friends, others randomly) about rest/self-care/sabbaticals. By the 4th or 5th article in, I remember thinking that this was too coincidental. I started thinking about the concept of rest, and how it could be incorporated into this crazy graduate life we were living. Everyone that knows me knows that being still is not my forte. I like to make lists. I like to check things off said lists. I like to be busy. I like Excel. I like to be challenged. I like to be around people. I like to work on lots of projects. I like to read books. Translation: I. Never. Stop.

In that late December, the dots finally connected. A friend of mine from Florida posted on Facebook information about this site: My One Word, then asked her friends what their one word would be for 2013. I started to read through the comments, and 56 comments later, I realized what my word should be.

For those of you that don’t know about this site, here’s the basic cliff notes:

If you’re like most people, each January goes something like this: You choose a problematic behavior that has plagued you for years and vow to reverse it. In fact, you can probably think of two or three undesirable habits—make that four or five.

Thus begins the litany of imperfections to be perfected commonly known as “New Year’s Resolutions.” All of which are typically off your radar by February.

“My One Word” is an experiment designed to move you beyond this cycle. The challenge is simple: lose the long list of changes you want to make this year and instead pick ONE WORD.

This process provides clarity by taking all your big plans for life change and narrowing them down into a single focus. Just one word that centers on your character and creates a vision for your future. So, we invite you to join us and pick one word for the next twelve months. 

It should be noted that I’m not really into New Year’s resolutions. I loved (and still do) to set outlandish goals or targets that I was more than certain could not be reached in one year. It was (and still is!) fun to look back to see if I actually achieved any of them.

But the concept of one word to describe my year? I loved this idea. I loved that literally one word would and could define not only a year of my life, but also the activities I was involved in, bringing focus and clarity to whatever season I was living.

It would make the things I said ‘yes’ to much sweeter, and the things I said ‘no’ to much easier to let go.

I spent a lot of time over that Christmas break doing a lot of reflection on 2012; what it meant for me emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Even though the year ended on a good note, the only word I can use to describe that year was ‘loss’. As I came up on the first anniversaries of my Mom’s cancer diagnosis and my miscarriage, I felt like I entered another season of mourning, although it was not the raw, gaping wound that it was the previous year. I knew that it was part of the grieving process – c’mon now, I was a psych major in college- but I also knew, if I’m honest, I had not allowed myself time to completely heal- this is strictly in the emotional/spiritual sense – because that would call for me to Rest. And since I don’t sit still very well, any kind of healing would be difficult.

So, I dubbed 2013 a year of Rest for me. I had absolutely no idea what it would look like, as it was a definition in progress, but knew it would not involve me lying around all the time on a couch eating chocolate and drinking wine, even though that was a terrific thought. :) It had to be something more uniquely attuned to my personality and the way God designed me.

The very first two things I did identify that needed to be answered:

1. I had to ask myself why I was so afraid to be still and silent. I knew only I could answer that question.

My answer? Staying busy was an avoidance therapy, a place I visited when I didn’t want to address potential emotional issues in front of me. When I realized that, full healing could begin.

2. Could I do this alone? No, I could not.

I decided then to email some friends for help. I sent the email to 30 friends and family members, and asked them to keep me accountable. That might seem excessive to some, but I was intentional about who I asked. I selfishly chose friends that lived in Oxford and Orlando who were part of my graduate journey; friends and mentors from previous cities and walks of life; family that was far away. I asked them to partner with me as I began, asking for prayer (or good thoughts and wishes if prayer wasn’t their thing) so that all my decisions for that year would be clear and focused, completely surrounding the word Rest. I also gave them permission to ask me at any time if I was resting, knowing full well I would and could easily slip back into my busy ways.

I did ask one thing of them – to send me their word for that coming year. It allowed me to reciprocate in both prayers and good wishes, and asking them the same question.

I had no idea who would participate, or if everyone would think I was a rambling idiot, but their responses were astonishing. These are some of the many words I received:

Yes.

No.

Anticipation.

Peace.

Live.

Discipline.

Trust.

Purpose.

Love.

I saved them all in an excel spreadsheet, and agreed to journey with them over the coming year, as they lived their words.

So, what happened?

This one word journey was a definite life-changer for me. I think my friends would say the same thing. It is something I intend to do every year going forward. As I sit in early January 2014, reflecting on 2013, I’m grateful I put aside time to Rest last year. In an ironic twist, it ended up being the busiest year we’ve ever had in the graduate journey. We went through a myriad of changes that I didn’t know we would be going through as we headed into 2013: new jobs in a new city, new house, new nursery school for our son, new community, new church, new everything! I think if I hadn’t given myself that space to heal, I wouldn’t have been emotionally or spiritually ready for those changes.

This past year also gave me the space to dream again. It’s amazing what happens when you sit still. I didn’t realize the constant busyness was stifling my creativity. I said no to a lot of things (but not all) that I would have loved to do. My friends were very respectful of my ‘no’ decisions, which I appreciated immensely.

I also learned to accept where I was in life. My good friend, Betsy, always quoted Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quip – “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Let’s be honest, graduate life can kick you when you’re down, and I was spending far too much time being jealous and wishing my life were better like so-and-so, and not living in the present moment that I’d been given. When I started to accept that this was my current season of life, I found joy and peace in the midst of my designated rest. That was a bonus.

My word for 2014? Hope. I love the definition of hope: state which promotes the desire of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one’s life or in the world at large.

I have so many hopes and dreams for myself, and for my family as we’ve entered into a new season of life. I am relishing in the hope of seeing those dreams (all or some) fulfilled this year.

What would your word be for 2014?

Maybe you’re in the middle of graduate life. Maybe you’re at the end of graduate life and starting a new season, like me. Or, maybe you’re just at the beginning. Wherever you are, I challenge you to pick a word to shape your year. Maybe your word is perseverance, as you trawl through another graduate year. Maybe your word is community, as you seek to bond with others around you. Maybe your word is peace. Whatever you choose, live it for the next year. And if you feel like sharing your word for 2014, please put in the comments below, as we’d love to see what you word would be!

From my heart to yours,

~Mandy

Inspiration · Marriage

REPOST: Pockets of Time

-written by Keeley, a current graduate wife

It was Valentine’s Day of the first year in our marriage, and we were living in Cambridge, Mass. in a little apartment halfway between Harvard and Central Square. I was scheduled to work the closing shift at Au Bon Pain, a bakery chain that’s very popular in the Northeast. Instead of having a fancy dinner, I decided we’d do a special lunch before I went in to work, composed of meatloaf, green beans, and mashed potatoes (incidentally, the supper my mom fixed on my husband’s first visit to our home while we were dating). It wasn’t until the phone was ringing did I realize how silly I was being, calling my mom at 7:30 in the morning to ask her how to make a meatloaf. It was one of those dinners I had made about four times growing up, on those nights when my mom was coming in late from work and I had to pinch-hit, so I couldn’t remember the details but could have sworn it took 3 to 4 hours to cook. Fortunately for me, she was awake, she is ready any moment of the day to share how to make a meatloaf, and it doesn’t take nearly that long! We will never forget the Valentine’s Day morning we spent watching a movie and enjoying our home-cooked lunch before walking to work through a snowstorm.

That Valentine’s Day, and that year, will always be special to my husband and me, partly because it was our first year of marriage, but partly because we made such an effort to spend pockets of time together whenever we could. Finding these pockets is a skill which only grows more valuable as time passes and a temptation to take one another for granted subtly sets in, particularly once children arrive, so I’ve heard. I remember our Monday afternoons, especially. I had work at Au Bon Pain from 7 a.m.-3 p.m., and Jason had work at City Sports, about a block away, from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. We decided to meet in the middle and spend the hour together, sitting on the grass and enjoying the occasional treat I was able to mooch from work, sometimes a scone or a “practice” sandwich I had learned to make out of the extensive lunch menu. We were creative and resourceful about our time, because for whatever reason, we felt compelled to make the most of every moment.

Our rhythm has lost some of the urgency of that first year–we’ve moved and are now in the fourth year of Jason’s PhD program and have settled into something of a routine. But I am grateful for the habits that we formed so early, particularly sharing meals together. Breakfast, dinner, and the occasional lunch will find us at the little round wooden table we found at Target the summer we were married, one or both of our cats looking on curiously. We both are great appreciators of food anyway, but it’s also a time when we are completely focused on the conversation between us, looking directly at one another as opposed to having a computer or two in the way, as is so often the case!

My work schedule is odd because I work retail, so my day off is Monday. Just this week, we packed a simple picnic lunch and found a new hiking trail that led to a small pond, where we enjoyed skipping stones and looking for frogs. I haven’t had regular Saturdays off since we first moved to Massachusetts six years ago, but it’s fun being able to have a special outing on an otherwise nondescript Monday. Because Jason is at the writing stage in his program, every day is pretty much the same–full of writing with a few breaks!

Another tradition we have is to take a day trip sometime around our anniversary. This doesn’t have to be expensive, although it will of course depend on where you live. We’ve enjoyed getting away and seeing some of the sights around where we have lived, whether it’s to the mountains or the beach, or to Amish country. A few times we’ve saved up and stayed in a bed & breakfast, but other years we’ve just taken a day off to spend together in a different setting.

One thing that I hope we never forget is the reality that we will always be busy. We will always (hopefully!) have work to do, other friendships and relationships to pursue, and chores to get done. But for us, finding a moment here and a moment there has made our marriage a lot stronger than I think it would otherwise be, and has made us a family, operating with a sense of unity and a mutual rhythm in how we live our days. I am grateful for a husband who values this as much as I do, and pray that we will continue to find ways to take advantage of these pockets of time as we grow and pass through the seasons to come in our life together.

What are some creative ways that you make the most of the time you have with your spouse? Do you have any weekly/monthly/yearly traditions that you feel have especially enriched your marriage?

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part III}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the third post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here, and the second post here.

Moving:

  •      Pick and choose carefully when packing those boxes.

o      Consider the climate carefully and realistically. If you’re moving to the UK like we did, you might as well leave behind those flip-flops, bathing suits, shorts and sundresses. This girl paid to move all those things, only to end up stuffing them in a suitcase headed back to the US for the holidays.

o      Pack lightly. Are you really going to need all those t-shirts? Could you purchase Tupperware more cheaply than moving it? Sure that crystal vase is nice, but really?

o      On the other hand, I wish I had brought our wedding album and that quilt that has been in the family for three generations. Those extra special items will bring comfort when homesickness hits.

  • Don’t put off the paperwork.

o      If you need residence permits or visas, know the requirements and get started early. Unless you want to be like us, running through the streets of downtown Chicago during the two hour time slot you have before your friend’s wedding in order to get a same day passport.

  • Brace yourself for the (extra) cost.

o      There are layers and layers of fees and unexpected costs, from setting up Internet to paying for a TV license (what? a license to watch TV?). Make room for this in your budget.

o      A furnished flat/apartment could come without a kitchen table. You’ll probably need some extra cash for that trip to Ikea or Walmart [insert local substitute here].

o      When you’ve first arrived and you’re exhausted, emotionally and physically, it may be worth grabbing a taxi and throwing your grand plan of walking the last mile and a half to your new apartment out the window instead.

  • Investigate your destination city.

o      Don’t settle on a mover or a bank or a grocery store until you ask for others’ experiences, even if they are strangers on the Internet (You’ve struck gold if your destination city happens to be featured on The Graduate Wife’s survival guide section.).

o      Don’t be afraid to ask questions, as your elementary school teacher once told you. Seriously, others have gone before you. Seek them out and get some help settling.

Dealing with Internal Battles:

We came here for the purpose of my husband’s education, and that education came at a cost for both of us, and for our family and friends back home. I had wholeheartedly agreed to this new adventure prior to our coming, and I plunged into the job-hunt and life-making once we landed in Scotland (okay, so I cried for the first couple days).

What felt romantic and adventurous while still living in the US, however, quickly became hard. Figuring out a new culture, going through the process of student teaching in Scotland and again in England (since my American credential didn’t transfer) and enduring a climate that happens to have really hard, dark, wet winters were some of the challenges. Add to that the fact that we moved from Scotland to England to Germany and back to England within three years, and I was tired. Really tired. And my emotional trap was to blame my husband, as if the challenges surrounding the decision to study abroad were his doing. It hasn’t been easy to work through my misplaced anger when enduring a particularly tough season.

The best advice I can give is to turn off the DVD player and start talking. Work through it, regardless of how hard the conversation is. Otherwise, the bitterness is at risk of festering and creating resentment. My companion on this journey is my husband, the one who was by my side through every move and bad day at work and hard winter – we must work hard to protect and enrich our alliance. Without his companionship, I simply could not do this another day.

Simplifying your life:

My brother once asked me if it was true that European and British residents rode bicycles to work and often wore the same outfit twice in one week. Emphatically, I said “yes, and it’s awesome” (okay, maybe a slightly smug exaggeration, but still).

Six years living here, and we may have a tinge of this beautiful outlook on material possessions: you don’t need much to live comfortably. Of course, this outlook is not confined to Europe. Anyone on a student budget can tell you that saving money wherever you can breeds simplicity. This is refreshing, and it is conveniently conducive to the student lifestyle.

So, grab a bike and wear that ten-year-old pair of jeans without a second thought, and do it every single day.

Holding on to your own dreams:

So if you are the one putting your husband or wife through school, it may be the case that a dream of your own has been put on hold. For me, I’d like to go back to school. My husband’s doctorate and six years later, this dream has not been realized.

I’ve come, however, to understand that waiting to pursue one’s dreams doesn’t have to mean that they diminish, ‘dry up’ or even ‘explode’ as Langston Hughes famously penned. Rather, the waiting has refined my goal, changed its direction and enriched its beauty. The dream deferred can turn into an aging wine rather than a raisin in the sun. And in this space of waiting, I’ve seen other aspirations blossom and flourish: having children and starting a family, establishing traditions of our own, getting to know another culture.

If you could pass along any lessons learned in your own graduate wife journey, what would they be, and why?

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known… {part II}

-Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are featuring the second post on the series: “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Please see the first post here.

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Work:  When my husband and I made the decision to go to graduate school, I committed to support us. I have worked the entire time we’ve been in school, and have had some really wonderful (but often difficult) jobs along the way.  It’s not easy putting your other half through school, either emotionally or financially. There’s a lot of self-sacrificing involved.

I’ve had several fellow graduate wives work some pretty incredible jobs to be that financial support – everything from clown, journalist, nanny, and lawyer. Usually when I hear their stories, my respect for them, no matter what they do, triples.  If you are working, and your other half is in school AND working, how do you find the time to support each other? I don’t know about you, but time is a precious commodity in our house.

Here are some things we’ve done over the course of the last few years:

  • Be supportive of each other. When my husband has a deadline coming up, I know he’s going to be incredibly stressed. I’ve learned the best way I can support him is to step out of his way, and give him the space he needs. (This means not nagging him whenever he hasn’t taken the garbage out or vacuumed)! He does the same for me whenever I have a deadline at work.
  • Work as hard as you can…then let it go. There are never going to be enough hours in the day to get everything accomplished. Decide what it’s important, and do that. Let everything else go. (For this perfectionist personality, that was a hard one)!
  • Communicate. When we first started school, almost every night we watched television while eating dinner. We both soon realized that with our jobs (in addition to my job, he was going to school full time and working three part time jobs), we weren’t seeing each other. Why were we wasting time doing that, when we could be spending it with each other? We finally turned the television off. We don’t even own one now.
  •  You will be living in different worlds. Unless you are working at the school your other half attends, then more than likely you’ll be in a much different environment than he is. Case in point: during our masters’ program, my husband had friends who were keeping their air conditioning off (in Florida), because they were worried about paying their bill. I, on the other hand, worked in an office where colleagues were buying yachts. Nothing is wrong with either of those scenarios, but it meant we had to work doubly hard to understand and be patient with each others worlds.
  • Celebrate the little things. When you’re both working, hardly seeing each other, it’s worth taking the time to celebrate a good review at work, a good meeting with a supervisor, or a deadline met. So put your work aside, pop open a bottle of champagne, have some chocolate covered strawberries, and celebrate!

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Avoiding Pitfalls:

I do love the sense of adventure that the graduate journey has brought us, even through the most difficult times. One of the things I haven’t particularly enjoyed is moving. I don’t like having our ‘stuff’ strewn through two States at parent’s homes; I don’t like not knowing where things are (even though, I did at one point have all our storage boxes labelled by number that corresponded with an excel spreadsheet – so literally at any time, I could go call my Mom to say, “Will you go to box 16 and mail me ____?” I obviously had too much time on my hands before we moved); and I really don’t like the fact that nothing in our current flat seems like it’s ‘ours’ right now.

When you move and start over, there are always pitfalls to avoid as you wouldn’t want to end up in a crappy apartment with black mold growing down the walls or a neighbor whose favorite past time is playing Jay-Z’s new song, Glory. At 3 am. To full volume. (No offense to Jay-Z, or to Glory).

How do you plan accordingly for moving to a new city? A lot of this will seem like common sense, but there are some things on this list we didn’t do before we moved, and paid a dear price for later on.

  • Research. Seriously? Yes. Research the heck out of your new city. Take the time to learn its quirks, even before you arrive. Pick up every piece of information you can find, from the internet, to the library, to a book store. Buy a special book or journal, and make that your “New City” book. Keep any key pieces of information you’d like to have on hand in your new book.
  • Learn from other people’s experiences. My husband and I are contemplating another move at the moment. I am in the process of meeting or communicating with several people (some I’ve never met) who have lived in the city (or nearby) we are considering. It seems strange to start an email with, “Hi, you don’t know me, but I’m friends with blah blah blah…” but you know what? Most people are eager to help you on your journey, because they were in your shoes once. The information they pass on to you will be priceless…and perhaps something to put in your new book! MC and I met over the phone, and spent 8 months talking about Oxford before she actually moved here.
  •  Plan carefully, but be willing to take a risk. Plans are never foolproof. Something will always go wrong. There are going to be times you’re going to have to make a decision blindly. When you do, roll with it. Chances are, things will turn out just fine. If not, then you’ll have a wonderful story to tell your grandchildren someday.

Traveling:  Hands down, the biggest regret that my husband and I have since living here is that we haven’t taken the time to travel more in the UK. We have an intimate relationship with Oxford, but haven’t made the time to visit very many other places in the UK. (We have managed to travel through a bit of Europe).  Now with a toddler running around, it makes things even more difficult.

With all the groupon coupons, living social coupons, etc you should be able to afford and make the time to travel to other places in the area, State, or country you live in. Get to know the city you live in – visit the museums, hang out in the coffee shops, visit the restaurants. When I first worked in Oxford, I visited a news agent so frequently, that I became friends with the owner.

Our excuse for not traveling was my husband’s schedule. Looking back, would it have mattered if it had taken him another month or two in the long run to finish his dissertation? The answer is NO! So pack your bags and go!

Expectations · Inspiration · Moving · Sacrifice

REPOST: What I wish I had known…{part I}

Written by Mandy & Julia

Today we are staring a three part series on “What I wish I had known” going into my graduate wife journey.  Mandy and Julia have almost 16 years combined experience of being graduate wives and they have moved almost 8 times to different institutions between the two of them.  Today’s post focuses on ‘intangible’ things they wish they known to expect, Thursday’s post will focus on more ‘tangible’ things they wish they had known to be aware of, and finally we will close next week with a post sharing a bit of both.  I have read through this and am incredibly encouraged and thankful for the advice.  I hope it speaks to you on the journey as well! – M.C.

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Uncertain Future: The world of academia is a chasm of uncertainty. Open posts are few and far between; our other halves constantly compete for posts against their friends, and inevitably watch their friends win; and most of the time, 250 applications (or more) will be filled out before one interview is granted. I can attest to the fact that most of time, our lives feel like one big question mark after another.

For you graduate wives just beginning your journey, the ‘end’ is the light at the end of the tunnel; it’s the present that’s difficult as you try to make it through with a husband, fiancée, or boyfriend who spends way too many nights in the library with his new mistress, the dissertation.

For you graduate wives ending your journey, you’ve proudly watched your other half step across a platform to be granted a degree, your heart nearly bursting with pride. Now, you’re watching him slog through application after application, and you have no idea where you’re going to be living in six months.

 How in the world do you navigate that?

I wish I had an easy answer. This was only supposed to be a three-year gig when we began our journey (sometime I’ll tell you that whole story). Instead, we sit here eight years later, with no idea of what’s around the corner for us. The best reminder that I’ve received from an older graduate wife is this is just a season of life. And it is. Sometimes, when I am incredibly weary, I get tired of hearing it, and I worry that my husband will never find a post, and that none of my dreams will ever be actualized. But, you know what? Something WILL inevitably work out. It will more than likely look completely opposite than what we had in mind, but it will be right for us. And, it will be right for you.

Remember this as your graduate wife story is being penned: This is only a season of your life.

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Familial Alienation: For me, it initially felt easier to leave the stories of our European adventures in Europe when visiting family back home. My rationale went like this: “If I tell them about all the beauty we’ve taken in, I come off as bragging and just plain old obnoxious. Worse, if I tell them about the weekly ritual of scrubbing mold from our furniture, clothing and walls, won’t they just think I am simply ungrateful?”

This way of thinking may have worked for the first year or so, especially when I had one foot in Target and the other just teetering on the edge of Tesco’s (a big grocery chain in the UK) doorstep. But then my marriage, my children, my career – my life – rooted and blossomed here. What then?

I had to get over my insecurities about sharing our world with our families so that our families knew us. It’s hard enough to leave your loved ones behind physically – don’t fall into the trap of leaving them emotionally as well.

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Community: If you read this blog, you know we harp on building community. We do that because MC and I have seen the benefits of what happens when you’re willing to share your life and story with other people traveling the same journey. We’ve previously focused on how you cultivate community, but haven’t really touched on the emotional why parts of it.

The first part of our graduate journey was spent rehashing that lesson again and again and again; I refused to put down roots in our new city, and in the first year of school, I (we) went back to see our friends in Atlanta six or seven times. I had one foot firmly planted where my heart was, and the other foot planted because it’s where I had to be. It wasn’t healthy.

After many discussions (I use that term loosely ha ha) with my husband, we agreed it wasn’t emotionally healthy or balanced to try to maintain a life in Atlanta when we did not live there.  It seems like a fairly simple concept now, but at the time I truly felt like, once again, my world was being ripped from my hands. We made the decision together that we would not return to Atlanta for one year.

By investing in the city or community you live in, you are choosing to live in the present. If you spend all your time wishing you were somewhere else, then you may miss an important part or piece of your life’s growth process. That’s not an easy thing to do when you’d rather be somewhere else.  When I began the process of actually getting to know the Orlando community, I discovered it wasn’t such a bad place to live. When I started investing in relationships, I realized there were some amazing people that were worth getting to know. I look back now, and often wonder what life would be like today, if we hadn’t made the decision to cultivate community and plant our feet firmly where we lived. When we moved from there in 2007, we left some wonderful friends that I was genuinely sad to leave.

I do think it has been one of the greatest lessons I’ve learned along this path: Live in the present and invest in those around you.

Inspiration · Roles · Sharing 'Worlds'

REPOST: Saving the world…(or something like that)

“Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go and do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”

-Howard Thurman (1900-1981) minister, educator, civil rights leader

 

These words have haunted me ever since I first read them years ago, and they continue to now as I sit here with my macbook, curled up in a thousand blankets (because it is freezing in England).  Oh Howard Thurman, how true your words are; how freeing, how powerful they are for me to hear…yet, how hard they are as well.

I have always been a dreamer, a young girl with an overactive imagination and a lot of gusto.  I would get hooked on an idea and within minutes, I could convince my two younger brothers that it was the most important mission in the world, and that we had to dedicate our entire lives to it.  I was also incredibly swayed and romanced by anyone who could speak passionately, especially if they were speaking out for a cause. I watched (true confession) the Maury Povich show when I was ten years old and saw this horrid sad tale of children who died of e-coli in hamburgers, and I promise you that I have only eaten around two hamburgers since then. Because I had a heart for people, I was always attracted to the more extreme lifestyles and careers of those who were living to help/nurture/care for others, even when the lifestyle itself didn’t seem a good fit for me.  For a while, I was sure I would become a nun, then a missionary to Africa, then a doctor.  These people seemed to be the most effective in redeeming the world, and that was my passion, right?  So what if none of these careers seemed to match my strengths & gifts? How else would I be able to act out my passions in any other capacity?

Somewhere between the end of high school and the present, I have thankfully shed the ‘save the world/I can do it all’ mentality and have learned a lot about accepting who I am and living fully within my own skills, gifts and passions.  I have learned, as Howard so eloquently puts it, to stop asking what the world needs and trying to cram myself into certain molds that don’t seem to fit me.  I have learned to appreciate and to flourish in my natural gifts and skills, and I have prayed for eyes to see where they are needed and to be able to contribute and serve in those areas.

It hasn’t been peachy though.  It’s been a loooong  journey for me, and it has involved a lot anguish, fear, uncertainty and questioning.  Because, it’s sometimes easier to take the ‘road more traveled’ and to fall into social norms and to never let oneself dig deep…to dream….to fail and to grow along the way isn’t it?  I know that for some, it actually isn’t financially or physically possible to pursue as a career ‘what makes you come alive’ and I am so utterly thankful I have been able to do so.  I have learned that I am a far better spouse, mother, daughter and friend when I am able to pursue my true passions.  I’m beyond grateful.

But…of course you knew there would be a ‘but’.  It is a lot harder for some reason to encourage my husband at times when he feels the weight of Howard’s words upon him.  I think he actually struggles with this question (of pursing one’s passion) a lot more than I do.  It’s funny how he doesn’t struggle with figuring out what makes him come alive; he knows what does and it is clearly why we moved across the world making many sacrifices to follow that passion.  He is definitely doing what makes him come alive by studying, reading and dreaming of getting to teach one day.  Hands down he is the best teacher I have ever known.

However, he struggles with the reality of fully living that passion out and even though he doesn’t say it, I wonder if his thoughts go something like this:

“I am doing what I feel I was made to do, and I feel like this is exactly where I am supposed to be in life.  I’m so thankful, and I’m loving every minute of it.  BUT…my friend Andrew is literally saving lives in Africa.  He is working on water treatment facilities and he is using art to help heal children who were forced to be soldiers.  Amazing. And my friend Francis has given his entire life to do ground-breaking work in genomic research to help end life-threatening diseases.  And my friend Wendell is writing music that makes the world more beautiful.  And my friend Corrie…and my friend Hahna …  And I sit and think.  I sit in a library.  All. Day. Long.”

 It’s almost not fair contrasting his work to so many extreme examples, but then again it is hard not to.  Don’t get me wrong, I know we have friends right here in Oxford doing amazing research that is literally helping make changes in the world, but it’s hard at times to not contrast ourselves to those out doing seemingly more physical things with more immediate results.  Howard Thurman, it is amazing to get to tap into what makes you come alive and to pursue it, but it is also a hard task to figure out how/why/when/where that ‘passion’ plays into the bigger picture of one’s life and the greater good of the world around you.

We had some friends over for dinner last week and after an amazing discussion we both walked away encouraged and renewed at why ‘we are doing what we do’ here in graduate school, as the student and as the spouse.  We concluded, as we always do, that each of us was created unique and beautiful.  Each of us has a role to play and each of us has gifts that are to be used and enjoyed and applied to help make this world a more beautiful place.  I was affirmed in thinking that although my husband could do the work our friend Andrew does in Africa (these graduate students are always so competent), his heart simply isn’t into it, and it just wouldn’t work as beautifully if he tried to do it. My husband was blessed with a mind that loves logic and reason and loves philosophizing about things.  Big things.  Cool things.  Spiritual things.  Important things.

Sometimes even though the fruit isn’t always as evident in our work, we can’t give up on believing in a greater and deeper work that we are involved in.  Our lives are like a tapestry and each little stitch here and there is woven into a beautiful scene, but it is never fully seen until it is completed.

If you ever have felt this in your graduate wife journey, take courage.  You work is valuable.  Your work is important and its fruit might reach beyond anything you could ever imagine.  You might be creating a tapestry more beautiful than you could possibly dream of.

-M.C.

How have you dealt with these issues in your graduate wife journey?  Have you found anything particularly helpful or encouraging to shed light on this topic?