Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: The Cultural Evolution of Toys

A fellow graduate wife recently shared this post with me and it has definitely given me much to think about.

The author, Rachel, a former graduate wife herself, shares a disturbing trend in the evolution of the My Little Pony doll and has raised some good points on what these startling changes mean for our children.  Having a daughter myself, I am dreading the day she wants to go shopping for a new doll and hands me a barbie that resembles a stripper.  Not my idea of a fun and carefree childhood toy.  Hmm… and thinking through what all this means for our society, not just my little two year old.  What is up?!

Check out her post that is full of interesting and surprising pictures, as well as few other similar posts that capture (in words and pictures) the rapid change from innocent girl toys made for five year olds, to over the top, cleaveage showing dolls made with more shopping accessories than you can imagine.

Some of her thoughts below:

On My Little Pony: “Is the slimming of toy horses reflective of the growing fear of fat in our culture? Does sexiness in a toy animal relate in any way to the expectation of sexiness in or of a young girl? I don’t know. But the old ponies seem childlike and sweet, and the new ones don’t.”

On Strawberry Shortcake: “Why does a fanciful, friendly rag doll have to be turned into a sexy, skinny pre-teen?  Are we witnessing the Disney-princessification of everything?”

On Polly Pocket: “Polly and her anorexic friends (seen here) aboard a floating paradise-of-consumption.”

Thoughts?  How do you handle this with your kids?  What does this say about the world we are living in?

-M.C.

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Expectations · Family · Vocation/Gifts/Calling

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

Written by Catherine, a former graduate wife

Jonathan, our 9-month-old daughter Charlotte and I left Omaha, Nebraska in March of 2007 to begin our graduate journey at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.  When Jonathan began the Master of Divinity program, intended for those planning to enter formal ministerial positions and/or pursue advanced degrees, I would have never imagined that 5 years later we would be back in Omaha, running a farm as well as a non-profit organization focused on educating people in sustainable agriculture, organic farming practices and healthy living, both in the U.S. and in Nicaragua.  My narrow expectations of what life as the wife of a M.Div. graduate would look like had me thinking of the stereotypical pastor’s wife: overly modest dress, children quietly in tow, a casserole always ready at a moment’s notice to deliver to a family need, playing piano in church, working in Sunday school weekly… I had begun to resign myself to the fact that this is what life intended for me (not that any of those things are bad-just not for me).  I wondered if I would be the wife silently working to support her husband’s work and letting go of any other dreams I might have had or the hope for something not so stereotypical for my life.

Hallelujah, for this is not what happened.

Jonathan comes from a family of pastors. Seriously, his great-grandfather, grandfather, father, uncle, and brother are all pastors.  It gets kind of intense whenever this bunch starts a theological conversation.  Jonathan’s main motive for starting the M.Div. program was to learn as much as he could so that he could dominate these theological discussions that seem to occur every time the whole family is together.  However, during the third (final) year of his program, a church in Vancouver started taking interest in him becoming its lead pastor and we seriously considered taking the job.  After 2+ years of living on my measly earnings as a nanny and office support staff, I was thrilled with the idea of my husband finally having a ‘real’ job with a livable salary, benefits, financial assistance to buy a house, etc.  These things made the ‘pastor’s wife’ idea not seem so bad…I was ready to have a steady income and stay home with our then 2 children.  I was also happy that my family would be able to breathe a sigh of relief knowing that my husband would be gainfully employed in a job much more financially supported than his pre-grad school job of working at a homeless shelter.

As you might be guessing, this job didn’t happen for us.

It didn’t fall through – we consciously made the choice to move in a different direction.  As excited as I was for my husband to be offered such a promising job, we felt moved to start working with a longtime friend’s missions organization, WEGO (Worldwide Evangelical Gospel Outreach).  One of WEGO’s projects is an orphanage in Nicaragua and a gift had been given to WEGO’s director to start a coffee company, selling Nicaraguan coffee in the U.S. and using the profits to support the orphanage.  My husband volunteered to help get this company started and we packed up our things, left Vancouver and drove across the U.S. to Florida, where WEGO is situated. We had no salary and had to rely on support from family and friends to survive, something we should have raised before moving.  My expectation of the salary with benefits was quickly gone and I soon began wishing I was wearing a ‘Little House on the Prairie’ dress and delivering casseroles to widows.

However, I believe that God wastes nothing and I believe His plan is always greater than we can see.

While selling the Nicaraguan coffee at farmers’ markets in our area of central Florida, Jonathan began connecting with local farmers and learning about growing vegetables and raising animals.  We also, during that time, rented a small house on 4 acres that had a stable and a large field.  We didn’t want to waste the space we were paying for, so we decided to use the stable as a chicken coop and some of the field as a garden.  “Oh, so you must have grown up gardening and growing things” you must be thinking.  Not at all.  It just seemed like a fun idea.  Very long story short, what started out as a ‘fun idea’ turned into a working farm with egg-laying chickens, meat chickens, goats, a pond stocked with fish, and a ½ acre garden, all organically/naturally done.  Naturally, M.Div. graduate + French major wife from California = perfect farming couple.  We asked people in the community for help when we got overwhelmed and ended up with 8 interns, a CSA (community supported agriculture) program, monthly community work days, and a non-profit organization birthed from it all.  My expectations for what our life was ‘supposed’ to look like were again being challenged.  Did we really move to Canada and spend $XXXXX on graduate school just for my husband to wear overalls and us to work in the Florida heat and sandy soil trying to run a farm?

 Yes.  And his education was used in more ways than we ever could have imagined.  What we found was that many of the people who ended up volunteering on our farm were questioning deep theological issues and what they needed was someone who was theologically trained to question and with whom they could bounce ideas around.  It was Jonathan who was there to challenge ideas, propose new ones, get to the heart of issues, to teach, and it was us together who were there to love people, open our home to lonely hearts and to offer food to the hungry.

We have now come full circle, back to Omaha, where Jonathan has recently taken a job with a church as a missions pastor, men’s discipleship pastor and campus pastor of the church’s satellite campus.  It is busy and it is demanding but he is always happy to come home to our 5 acres where we are already starting a new farm.  It has become a part of who we are – it was the farm experience in Florida that strengthened our marriage to where it is today and grew our family to now 3 children.  My expectation for what life should have looked like was thrown out the window a few years ago and although it has constantly been challenged I would never give up a single part of the journey that has made me who I am today.

How much do you hold on to your expectations?  When your expectations are not met, what does your attitude regarding the situation reflect about your ability to be open to new possibilities?

{To check out Catherine’s family’s non-profit, click here}

Beauty and the Budget

Beauty & the Budget: Easter DIY

Spring has sprung in Oxford!  My heart feels lighter and my spirits are up as I find myself surrounded by daffodils and tulips and warm sunny picnics in the meadow.  I think I can understand the urgency in Robert Browning’s poem “Home-Thoughts, From Abroad”, (penned while he was traveling) when he begins with, “Oh, to be in England, Now that April’s there”.  The spring landscape is indeed something to yearn for.

This season presents images for us that have a way of calling us to stop, to marvel and to reflect.  To reflect upon the beauty of new beginnings and to appreciate the simpleness of things such as robin’s eggs and budding flowers.  Spring has a way of reminding us to savor moments a little longer…by lingering in the sunshine or having a meal on a blanket outside.  For me, Easter is the highlight of this time of year…a time for me to reflect upon my faith and to celebrate the beautiful gift of hope that seems to bud forth in my heart anew.

To celebrate this season I found a few lovely DIY treats online and put in a few of my own as well. Don’t worry about going over budget and enjoy making your space feel fresh and decked out for Easter and spring!

a. fabric scrap cards

b. paint sample egg garland

c. tissue paper and parsley eggs

d. bunny napkin fold

 

e. Homemade chocolate eggs

f. easy chocolate bird nests

g. family doilie table runner

h. decoupage pots

Expectations · Inspiration

Picture?


Today’s beautiful post comes from a woman I’ve had the privilege of getting to know here in Oxford.  She has not just sacrificed career choices or zip codes to help support her husband’s plans in graduate school, she has moved countries, cultures and even languages (English is not her native tongue) on her journey thus far, and this is only the beginning of where their graduate school path will take them. Having never traveled outside of her own country before she met her husband, she has since traveled and moved a great deal.  I hope you enjoy a small part of her story as much as I have and I hope it gives you perspective and encouragement while taking a moment to step back to marvel at the unique and beautiful ways our lives have take different paths than we might have anticipated.  –M.C.

                                                

“ What a nice weather!  How lovely they are.   I am watching the old couple who is sitting in my next bench. The husband is holding his wife’s hand tightly.  They are looking at each other with love and smelling sea breeze together.  It seems by years. I am watching that lovely picture and smiling.  And thinking what is my future husband going to look like.  How tall he is? What color his hair is? Where does he live now? What is he doing right now, right now!?”

This was one of my notes I wrote a long time ago before I ever met my husband.

When I wrote these notes, I had a completely different life than now.  I was sure I had already completed my full self-development…all I learned was enough and I was pretty sure I knew how my life would turn out. But there were other surprises for me!

When I met my husband, it was an ordinary day like others.  All I wanted to do was find the cheapest carpet and I found more than a cheap carpet at that souvenir shop!  I found my most special thing!

Not long later we decided to marry.  I’d never left my country before, I’d never had any opportunity to travel around the world.  Life wasn’t very easy for me, and for my generation.  I felt I always had to study and achieve something, I had to deserve my family’s effort for me and I always had to hold in high honour.

That wasn’t their wish for me to marry a foreigner sometime. To let me to leave my country, leave my culture, leave my family? It should have been a nightmare. It was a long and painful period to deal with them and with my friends. That wasn’t just my family who was against the idea, my friends, my relatives and my professors. I decided to not finish my masters degree. That should call “Cultural Shock!”

But thankfully with patience and love, everything changed.  Yes, I had to given up lots of things.  Now I am in a different culture, different language, different side walk, with different friends, different traditions and that wasn’t a picture I thought when I was watching that old couple. But the picture and frame which I have, I love it! There are somethings that still needs to repair in picture but with faith and love nothing is impossible.

“You are my gift from God!” that is what I wrote in my husband’s wedding ring with my hand writing, and that is what he wrote in mine in my language.

God is always ready to give gifts and ready to help us to find the best frames for our pictures of life. It doesn’t matter on which wall it hangs. The wall doesn’t affect the way picture looks, but the picture in a nice frame effects the wall and the whole atmosphere of the room tremendously.   On your graduate wife journey, does your picture look like you had planned it?

Children · Faith · Moving · Patience · Sacrifice

Little House on the…

Written by Michelle – a former graduate wife

Baths are done, pajamas are on, and teeth are brushed, so our boys cuddle up on our laps to listen to a chapter of a bedtime story.  Right now, we are starting the third book in the Little House series.  During last night’s reading, our eldest son realized that the little girl named Laura in the story is actually Laura Ingalls Wilder, the author.  We thought about the fact that our six-year-old son, who has moved five times and lived in four countries, probably already has enough material to create his own series.  My husband and I laughed as we suggested possible titles for each book in our own Little House series, a series that begins with my first year as a graduate wife.  Here are the titles we came up with and descriptions supplied afterward by me:

Little House on the Golf Course                                                                                                    Naperville, IL

A young married couple discovers that God has His own surprising plans as they face an unexpected pregnancy and Dad not getting into ay doctoral schools.  Will their brand new marriage survive the shock and loud pelting of golf balls on the windows?

Little Town near the Big City                                                                                                                     Glen Ellyn, IL

This year Dad is accepted to doctoral schools, but which will he choose? He must decide between attending an American university (fully funded) or following God’s leading to schools that have little funding and are an ocean away from family and friends.

By the Shores of the Sea                                                                                                                                    St. Andrews, Scotland

This year finds the family in a community of new friends in the wild, rugged beauty of Scotland.  Dad begins his doctorate, but just as they are settling in, unanticipated news makes it clear that another move is on the horizon. 

Two Rooms of Damp and Mold                                                                                                               Oxford, England

Did Mom and Dad make a mistake in bringing their family to Oxford for Dad’s studies?  Dad is exquisitely happy wearing flowing black robes at the University, but their housing situation is so difficult Mom is not sure she can manage.  During Mom’s second pregnancy doctors are convinced that something is wrong, yet she feels that the baby is healthy.  When the baby is ready to be born, the midwife, the doula, nor the paramedics arrive in time.   Will they welcome another member into their family safely?

On the Banks of the Rhine                                                                                                                          Bonn, Germany

With two healthy boys, the family settles into a new home in another new country.  The eldest son works hard to learn enough German to participate in school.  Mom finds her way through a new city on public transportation in German with two little ones.  She struggles to know how to support her eldest son who is floundering amidst all the transitions.  Dad finishes his doctorate, finds work at the university, and spends many months applying to jobs.  Uncertainty about the future weighs heavily upon them all . . . .

Little House by Donnington Bridge                                                                                                         Oxford, England

After holding their breaths through over 50 applications, the whole family rejoices when Dad receives a post-doc in Oxford.  Three years in one place!  What a tremendously gracious gift.  During this time of stability, Mom and Dad hope to thoughtfully and purposefully prepare for whatever God has next for them.

Coming soon . . .

Little House in South America                                                                                                                  exact location TBA

Dad begins work as a missionary scholar and Mom and the boys enjoy their own set of new adventures. 

As you can see from this description of our travels, chasing this dream of my husband’s doctorate has not been straightforward.  We have spent a lot of time agonizing about the future with questions like these plaguing us:

–      Will we ever find real community?

–      How will we get our visas extended while we wait to hear about job applications?

–      Where is the money going to come from for tuition . . . rent . . . food?

–      What will we do if after this degree my husband cannot find any job?

And equally heart-wrenching are our children’s questions:

–      Will I spend my next birthday in this country or a new one?

–      Will I get to keep my best friend or do I have to meet a new best friend next year?

–      Will we ever live near our grandmas and grandpas?

Over the course of my time as a graduate wife, I have learned to hold my plans for our family very loosely. I have tried to stop myself from thinking that I am entitled to have advance notice about what will happen next.  Sometimes when I pray, I try to visualize placing the things that I am gripping with white knuckles (like my desire for my sons to have stability and security) into God’s ready and open hands.  I have to remind myself again and again that my fierce, protective love for my sons cannot compare to the strength of God’s love for them.

I am learning that life is made of up of small moments, and that if I spend my time just waiting for the next phase to come, I run the risk of missing something in store for me in the here and now.  I just started reading a book recommended by a friend called One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are.  That is my prayer for each of us graduate wives: that amidst all the uncertainty we face, we could embrace the change and live fully right where we are.

If you had to come up with a title for your graduate wife adventure, what would it be and why?  What would be the theme of your story?

Identity · Roles · Sacrifice

Identity Theft

Written by Nicole – a current graduate wife

Who am I?

I can tell you who I used to be.

A blonde, tan cheerleading captain, one half of the large California public high school power couple (the other half being the quarterback of the football team, naturally).

An over-involved, over-achieving student, active in student government, athletics, and community service from elementary school to graduate school.

A loving daughter of well-respected parents, whose connections coupled with the aforementioned drive for success earned her several job offers in education.

A capable, passionate teacher who was gifted the Award for Teaching Excellence, voted on by her colleagues.

I’m not any of those things anymore.

Who am I?

Now I’m just another graduate student’s wife.

The pier of what I have known to be my identity has been slowly crumbling because each of the pillars holding it up in the middle of the ocean is being knocked out. At this point, I’m not sure what else can be removed from under me, but I’m afraid there’s more to come. Through tears as we lay in bed one night, I told my husband that I feel like I don’t have much else for God to take away from my life. Which of these pillars could I be relying on?

Money? The year of my salary we saved to move here and pay international student fees is disappearing faster than you can say “lickety split.”

Family/Friends? We’re far, far away from them. Very far.

Marriage? We’ve been through enough seriously tough, painful crap to know better than to worship each other.

Children? Don’t have those, and can’t have those. No medical explanation on either side of the pond as to why. Can’t adopt here, and can’t adopt there. We’re just plain stuck on that front.

Health? My daily struggle with the ol’ chronic illness without a cure (a.k.a. the ‘betes) reminds me that this is not a given.

Appearance? My skin is verging on translucently pale, I’ve probably gained a solid 10 pounds (conservative estimate) this winter, and my hair is the color of dirty dishwater.

House? I live in a barn. I’m not exaggerating.

Possessions? Two suitcases worth, with half of the space in them taken up by medical supplies.

Convenience? What’s that? Most everything here is a p r o c e s s.

Luxury? Okay, I do miss driving wherever I want, whenever I want; going to the movies; getting my nails done (twice a year, but whatever); wandering through Target; and Mexican food.

Career? I don’t have one at present, and there is nothing promising on the horizon despite the dozens and dozens (and dozens!) of applications I’ve filled out.  I know that these years here require sacrifice on my part, and I am willing to do whatever it takes to keep us afloat, but bearing the sole weight of the financial responsibility for our family feels very unnatural to me. It freaks me out, to be perfectly honest.

Education? It’s hard to brag about my grade point average when that’s not a term that people here understand or accept as a legitimate form of assessment.

Myself? I started out my unemployment tenure with a strict hourly schedule to keep productive and happy. That lasted two days. Now I just stay in my pajamas too long and bake too many cookies and realize what a wretched, sinful woman I am who can’t do anything apart from God’s grace.

I know that these losses I’m grieving are completely relative. Life is hard in general, but my life is not that hard. I could lose much more. I could be suffering without food, clothing, shelter, or loving relationships. I’ll be the first to tell you that I’m really a completely spoiled American brat who doesn’t have the first understanding of God’s faithfulness or the brevity of life.

I know this is where we’re supposed to be right now. My husband is thriving in his work, being affirmed by his supervisor and peers, and really loving his studies. For that I am supremely grateful.

I, on the other hand, feel like my world has been completely rocked. All the things I thought I was either aren’t true of me anymore or don’t really matter at all.

Who am I?

 After sending a prayer SOS to some close friends, one wrote this response back to me. As a Christian, these words spoke deeply to me and I hope that even if you are not of a faith, that you can find truth and comfort in them too.

You are loved and have value by simply existing. To suddenly have no career and “little productivity” is an extreme shock to the system, but at the end of the day whether or not you have accomplished anything speaks nothing to your value. You are loved. Period. PJs, sleep in days, no work, pale skin, LOVED. “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  He loved us before we had ourselves together.
I totally appreciate the joy it brings to check things off a list and feel like you have “done something.”  But maybe there are other plans in store for you right now.  Use this time to listen, to be patient, to slow down, to discover.

In your graduate wife journey, what has been the most difficult part of your ‘identity shift’?