Dear Laura

REPOST: Dear Laura: Baffled

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

What if you follow your spouse to grad school to support their dream, and after years of support through school, when they struggle to find a job they say you’re putting too much pressure on them to be the one with the career and why can’t you find something and be the breadwinner?

Sincerely,

Baffled

Dear Baffled,

It was a bright, crisp winter day and as I walked through our neighborhood, I came across a towering, solid oak bookcase – free to a good home –  which seemed like it might serve as a great central piece in our teeny (think grad student budget on a diet) apartment. I briskly padded home, begged my brawny hubby to come help me, and we wrestled the monstrous piece of furniture four blocks home and then up the steep, treacherous staircase to our flat. (Can you see where this is going?)  Need I say: it didn’t fit in our place?  But how long did it take for me to come to that realization, and how many times did I (gently?) instruct my husband to try this possibility and that, and how long until we muscled the @#$% bookcase back down those steep stairs and out to the street with a “Free” sign reluctantly stuck to its solid back?   I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I know the way the story ends: though I had said nothing about not having enough money for a nice bookcases, and though in the wrestling I never mentioned that we were grown adults living in a postage-stamp-sized apartment because my husband was a graduate student, this scene closed with him yelling out “maybe you should have married a doctor or a lawyer!!!” and stomping off.  Thus began a cold silence between us that lasted well into the next day.

I was baffled. What had happened? All I did was try to fit a bookcase into our flat, and it ended in an explosion (one that has become a great joke between us, and between friends who were privy to the story), but I could not understand how it got there, because I didn’t feel it was a commentary on my husband’s success or potential; it was just a bookcase.

What I know now is that when one is married or partnered, the graduate journey is a supreme exercise in risk and vulnerability, for both spouses.  The vulnerability flows in and out of seemingly benign conversations, it creeps into moods and thoughts, it certainly shadows daily decisions and conversations of life’s challenges.  The vulnerability is sometimes painful, sometimes debilitating, and much of the time, can be terrifying.

The graduate student him or herself has chosen to take a very public risk, to invest resources and life capital into a dream, knowing that it may amount to nothing; he or she might have to bear the shame of having risked and lost, with nowhere to hide.  The student’s spouse is asked to counterintuitively place complete trust in the other person’s dream, but with no control over the journey itself; the quality of work, the decisions made every day at the office, the job interviews which form the path for future career development are completely out of the spouse’s hands.  The sacrifices are deep, the mutual support required is intense, relational and spiritual resources are often tried by fire.

And so, to answer your question:  First, let me say that I am making two assumptions. 1) I choose to believe that you are smart enough not to have said something to your husband like, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get a job already?”, and 2) For various reasons, I am assuming that he did not literally mean what he said. Unless he did, and then that is a different discussion. (Do let me know if I’ve assumed wrongly; this requires a different response.)

That said,  I think that the comment made by your husband is likely fueled by complete terror and exhaustion over the weight of the vulnerability mentioned earlier. His success or failure is swiftly becoming public knowledge – one must report back to family and friends how one fared in recent interviews and with various job prospects – and his worst fears are starting to become a reality; he has nothing to show for his risk, and what is worse, he feels responsible for having asked you to sacrifice to the extent that you have.  So, like the insecurity expressed in the “you should have married a doctor or a lawyer” comment I heard long ago, you may have been having a benign interaction, but the vulnerability is rising to the surface and it is threatening to swallow your husband’s sense of who he is, who he will be, and whether it all was worth the cost.

Maybe he is begging for some relief from the pressure of having to make this career a success and hold up the pillars of your family. Maybe he had a bad interaction with his advisor or heard that his colleague was just hired for the most lucrative, most highly sought after job at one of the schools with the most ivy climbing the brick and mortar. Maybe you said something that made him feel you didn’t understand his efforts. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was being whiny and immature. I don’t know; it’s all conjecture on my part. But, I can tell you that neurologically, we experience separation, rejection (including job market rejection), and exclusion in the exact same way that we experience physical pain, and that contact with a loving partner literally acts as a buffer against shock, stress, and pain. He is in pain, you are in pain.

So, hold his hand. Ask him to hold yours. Hug each other.  Hold each other. Stand together, literally and metaphorically.  It mediates distress and enlivens positive hormones, it increases one’s immune system, and cements you together.  Sit in silence or allow music to fill the background, pray if that’s a part of your lives, look each other in the eye, and prop each other up against the terror of academic uncertainty.

Then, tomorrow or next week, after you have built and re-built the foundation beneath you, then you can talk about who is going to work at Starbucks and who is going to start a pie making business. It won’t be quite so terrifying if you are facing it together; really, truly together.

Baffled, you know that the circumstances of your email and the question posted here include depth and history, to which I am not privy; do let me know if based on the limitations here you would like more discussion or if I’m way off the mark, or otherwise.  If so, maybe you should have emailed a doctor or a lawyer. :)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

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Dear Laura

REPOST: Dear Laura: Looking for Balance

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

My question is: how can I remain supportive to my husband’s journey while still pursuing mine? Our biggest challenge is that the PhD path will delay my dream to start a family. I also have a lot of fears about moving across the country and away from our family and support network while starting a family of our own. At this time, I am the primary income provider and will continue to be while my husband is in school. What advice do you have for me to remain supportive while still focusing on my dreams and needs?

Signed,

Looking for Balance

Dear Looking for Balance,

The first rule – and the last rule, and every rule in between- of the grad student life is this: to survive this adventure, you have to be willing to accept that this journey will ask you, at different times and in different ways, to let go of your expectations for how your life will be. This might sound terrifying, but it also can be the source of much freedom and adventure, depending on how you lay the foundation for its reality.

Of course I will elaborate, but if I may summarize my response simply, here it is:  you need to evaluate, with your husband, whether this is the right path for you, and evaluation involves deciding whether your individual and shared life dreams can reasonably be tended if you begin this new grad student journey.

The littlest known fact about the academic life is that a certain level of loss of control is required. Oh, but control, how we do love you! All the controllers and planners out there are sighing at the idea that they will be (or have been) stripped of this fantastic comfort, right? Well, I believe there is reason to see this as a great gift rather than a painful reality. (Fellow controllers, close the ten-point life plan doc, complete with relevant websites and google maps and read on. Trust me, I am one of you; I can see your checklists even as I write.)

I like that you used the word “balance” because indeed the open-handedness which can be so fruitful and exciting must also be tempered with a resolve to hold on to the things that are most valuable, those goals and hopes and visions for your life which you will tenaciously grasp and claim.

So, the question is, how do you sift through every life vision and expectation you have had for your next stages of life, and wrestle with deciding which ones belong in the treasure pile, and which will be laid down to rest?  Here are some practical tasks:

  1. Sit down with a good cup of coffee or tea and have a chat with your two good friends, “Expectations” and “Big Plans” (not many friends enjoy being called “big”, but in this case, it’s okay). List them, look them over, and spend some time thinking about where they have originated; are they simply born of the norms of your current culture, or family expectations? Or are they deep, heartfelt hopes and dreams?
  2. Decide which of these expectations and plans fall into the category of those which you must treasure, respect, and cultivate or which become offerings to be set aside for the sake of the academic dream.
  3. Talk to your husband about his expectations – for himself, his career, and your family. Also, share your two metaphorical baskets: the one to which holds the dreams you are firmly clinging, and the one which holds the things you are willing to offer in order to trade them for something greater – the awesome unknown.
  4. Practically and deliberately plan for how each set of dreams and goals will be achieved and honoured. When I say practical, I mean every last detail.  If you both decide you want to have a baby before grad school is completed, discuss how you will obtain medical benefits, how much money you will need saved, and how you might balance childcare needs. Email others who have had children in grad school and ask 100 questions about how to make that work. And figure out a plan.
  5. Seek to make these dreams a reality, but also review the first and last rule of the grad student journey; as it turns out, it is not only the first and last rule for this journey, but for much of life.

Sometimes being stripped clean of everything you hold tightly leaves your hands empty, wide open, and ready to receive something new and beautiful, something greater than your imagination would have allowed. In other cases, the things that are closest to our hearts are meant to be protected, cherished, and cultivated; and the most difficult part is identifying what those are, then working out – together with your husband – how to bring them to life.

Be brave enough to tell yourself the truth, and you will find the balance you are seeking. (That sounds a bit Yoda-like, I know, but try it and see what happens, and then let me know how it goes!)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

Dear Laura

Dear Laura: Baffled

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

What if you follow your spouse to grad school to support their dream, and after years of support through school, when they struggle to find a job they say you’re putting too much pressure on them to be the one with the career and why can’t you find something and be the breadwinner?

Sincerely,

Baffled

Dear Baffled,

It was a bright, crisp winter day and as I walked through our neighborhood, I came across a towering, solid oak bookcase – free to a good home –  which seemed like it might serve as a great central piece in our teeny (think grad student budget on a diet) apartment. I briskly padded home, begged my brawny hubby to come help me, and we wrestled the monstrous piece of furniture four blocks home and then up the steep, treacherous staircase to our flat. (Can you see where this is going?)  Need I say: it didn’t fit in our place?  But how long did it take for me to come to that realization, and how many times did I (gently?) instruct my husband to try this possibility and that, and how long until we muscled the @#$% bookcase back down those steep stairs and out to the street with a “Free” sign reluctantly stuck to its solid back?   I have no idea how much time elapsed, but I know the way the story ends: though I had said nothing about not having enough money for a nice bookcases, and though in the wrestling I never mentioned that we were grown adults living in a postage-stamp-sized apartment because my husband was a graduate student, this scene closed with him yelling out “maybe you should have married a doctor or a lawyer!!!” and stomping off.  Thus began a cold silence between us that lasted well into the next day.

I was baffled. What had happened? All I did was try to fit a bookcase into our flat, and it ended in an explosion (one that has become a great joke between us, and between friends who were privy to the story), but I could not understand how it got there, because I didn’t feel it was a commentary on my husband’s success or potential; it was just a bookcase.

What I know now is that when one is married or partnered, the graduate journey is a supreme exercise in risk and vulnerability, for both spouses.  The vulnerability flows in and out of seemingly benign conversations, it creeps into moods and thoughts, it certainly shadows daily decisions and conversations of life’s challenges.  The vulnerability is sometimes painful, sometimes debilitating, and much of the time, can be terrifying.

The graduate student him or herself has chosen to take a very public risk, to invest resources and life capital into a dream, knowing that it may amount to nothing; he or she might have to bear the shame of having risked and lost, with nowhere to hide.  The student’s spouse is asked to counterintuitively place complete trust in the other person’s dream, but with no control over the journey itself; the quality of work, the decisions made every day at the office, the job interviews which form the path for future career development are completely out of the spouse’s hands.  The sacrifices are deep, the mutual support required is intense, relational and spiritual resources are often tried by fire.

And so, to answer your question:  First, let me say that I am making two assumptions. 1) I choose to believe that you are smart enough not to have said something to your husband like, “What’s wrong with you? Why can’t you just get a job already?”, and 2) For various reasons, I am assuming that he did not literally mean what he said. Unless he did, and then that is a different discussion. (Do let me know if I’ve assumed wrongly; this requires a different response.)

That said,  I think that the comment made by your husband is likely fueled by complete terror and exhaustion over the weight of the vulnerability mentioned earlier. His success or failure is swiftly becoming public knowledge – one must report back to family and friends how one fared in recent interviews and with various job prospects – and his worst fears are starting to become a reality; he has nothing to show for his risk, and what is worse, he feels responsible for having asked you to sacrifice to the extent that you have.  So, like the insecurity expressed in the “you should have married a doctor or a lawyer” comment I heard long ago, you may have been having a benign interaction, but the vulnerability is rising to the surface and it is threatening to swallow your husband’s sense of who he is, who he will be, and whether it all was worth the cost.

Maybe he is begging for some relief from the pressure of having to make this career a success and hold up the pillars of your family. Maybe he had a bad interaction with his advisor or heard that his colleague was just hired for the most lucrative, most highly sought after job at one of the schools with the most ivy climbing the brick and mortar. Maybe you said something that made him feel you didn’t understand his efforts. Maybe he was tired. Maybe he was being whiny and immature. I don’t know; it’s all conjecture on my part. But, I can tell you that neurologically, we experience separation, rejection (including job market rejection), and exclusion in the exact same way that we experience physical pain, and that contact with a loving partner literally acts as a buffer against shock, stress, and pain. He is in pain, you are in pain.

So, hold his hand. Ask him to hold yours. Hug each other.  Hold each other. Stand together, literally and metaphorically.  It mediates distress and enlivens positive hormones, it increases one’s immune system, and cements you together.  Sit in silence or allow music to fill the background, pray if that’s a part of your lives, look each other in the eye, and prop each other up against the terror of academic uncertainty.

Then, tomorrow or next week, after you have built and re-built the foundation beneath you, then you can talk about who is going to work at Starbucks and who is going to start a pie making business. It won’t be quite so terrifying if you are facing it together; really, truly together.

Baffled, you know that the circumstances of your email and the question posted here include depth and history, to which I am not privy; do let me know if based on the limitations here you would like more discussion or if I’m way off the mark, or otherwise.  If so, maybe you should have emailed a doctor or a lawyer. :)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

Uncertainty

5 Ways to Cope with Uncertainty

credit

The post box door flung open and I winced as our mail flew around me into a heap on the floor.  As I knelt to scoop pieces of mail back into a neat pile, I saw it.

A thin letter. The glaring University logo in the corner of the envelope. I felt my heart sink in despair.

It was THE letter we had hoped to never receive, the one that began with these paraphrased words, “You’re awesome, but not awesome enough to be teaching at our school; good luck finding a teaching post at another school.”

I knew what the coming evening would bring: reflection on what could have been done better, comparison to colleagues, conversations on publish or perish, all done with an overarching sense of failure. In the long run, this also meant another option had been scratched off our ever-shrinking list. There was absolutely nothing I could do to avoid the oncoming train of discouragement that was about to hit us.

As I wandered back up the stairs to our flat, the cloud of uncertainty fully enveloped me, and I wondered how I would once again garner enough strength to be the cheerleader he needed me to be. How many more times could I do this?

____________________________________________________________________________

How many of us have lived that scene of uncertainty, or one similar to it? Maybe in your world, it’s your students’ applications to graduate school, law/medical school, a fellowship program, or in my own case, a teaching post. How are you dealing with the uncertainty? And how do you remain hopeful? Can we, as supportive graduate wives, maintain a level of positivity during the midst of constant change and uncertainty? I hope so, but I know I struggle with it!

Here are five ways to deal with uncertainty; this is not an exhaustive list by any means, but things I’ve learned from fellow graduate wives and my own graduate journey:

How do we accept this uncertainty?

1.   Acknowledge that you may face several possibilities.  In our world, for the last two or three years, my husband has had a different job (or in some cases, jobs), every year.  As of right now, since he doesn’t have a permanent post, we have no idea from year to year where we’ll live and what we’ll be doing. At one point last summer, he had applications out in four different countries. With so many possibilities, I found it difficult (and still do) to try to plan anything. My anxiety kicked in, and I began to panic and worry over things I had no control over. It was only after I acknowledged that it was just a possibility that my anxiety slowly dissipated. I learned to wait for an answer, be it a ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘you’re on the waiting list’, and dealt with it then.

How would you deal with the idea of several possibilities?

2.    Focus on what you can control. I may be able to control some things in our lives, but I can’t control a hiring committee, a school reviewing applications, or post-doctoral funding. I can control the atmosphere in our home, working hard at a job that will pay our school bills, and at the cleaning of laundry and dishes. It’s often unfair, if not difficult, when your husband’s future is determined by someone sitting on the other side of a desk. But if you can learn now to let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you can control, life will be a lot easier.

How do you deal with control?

3.    Manage expectations.  What happens if your student spouse doesn’t get accepted into the school of their dreams? What happens if you don’t end up in the city you had wanted to live in? Learning to manage expectations by having an adaptable plan is important in the graduate life. Sit down with your spouse and write down your non-negotiable and negotiable desires. Make a plan from there. When your spouse has fourteen different job/school/fellowship applications out in three different countries or six different states, an adaptable plan will come in handy.

How do you manage expectations?

4.    Be honest about how you’re feeling. But be wise in your timing of sharing it. Pick a time that your student will be in the right frame of mind – if you choose to do it during a particularly stressful season (i.e. exams, etc). then you may not get the response you were looking for. Over the past eight years, the sweetest moments in our graduate life have occurred when I’ve been able to share with my husband that I was fearful and frightened of what his future in the Academy may not hold for us. Such honesty allowed us to have an open, frank dialogue, reminding us that we were a team. While it’s important to have these conversations, it is also equally important that they are done in a respectful and understanding way.

Are you honest with yourself, and your student spouse?

5.    Keep moving forward.  It’s not easy feeling caught between the place you came from and the place you’re headed. It’s difficult to gain momentum when you feel trapped in the same place doing the same things. However, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last eight years it is this: you have to keep moving forward by developing yourself, investing in relationships around you, and learning from those pesky, teachable life moments.  Those experiences are the things that will define and refine you, and those are the things you’ll be able to carry into future endeavors.

How do you keep moving forward?

If you’re in the middle of uncertainty right now, how are you coping with it? Would you be willing to share in the comments below?

“I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned, the hard way, that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity” (Gilda Radner).

~Mandy

Dear Laura

Dear Laura: Looking for Balance

Dear Laura

Dear Laura,

My question is: how can I remain supportive to my husband’s journey while still pursuing mine? Our biggest challenge is that the PhD path will delay my dream to start a family. I also have a lot of fears about moving across the country and away from our family and support network while starting a family of our own. At this time, I am the primary income provider and will continue to be while my husband is in school. What advice do you have for me to remain supportive while still focusing on my dreams and needs?

Signed,

Looking for Balance

Dear Looking for Balance,

The first rule – and the last rule, and every rule in between- of the grad student life is this: to survive this adventure, you have to be willing to accept that this journey will ask you, at different times and in different ways, to let go of your expectations for how your life will be. This might sound terrifying, but it also can be the source of much freedom and adventure, depending on how you lay the foundation for its reality.

Of course I will elaborate, but if I may summarize my response simply, here it is:  you need to evaluate, with your husband, whether this is the right path for you, and evaluation involves deciding whether your individual and shared life dreams can reasonably be tended if you begin this new grad student journey.

The littlest known fact about the academic life is that a certain level of loss of control is required. Oh, but control, how we do love you! All the controllers and planners out there are sighing at the idea that they will be (or have been) stripped of this fantastic comfort, right? Well, I believe there is reason to see this as a great gift rather than a painful reality. (Fellow controllers, close the ten-point life plan doc, complete with relevant websites and google maps and read on. Trust me, I am one of you; I can see your checklists even as I write.)

I like that you used the word “balance” because indeed the open-handedness which can be so fruitful and exciting must also be tempered with a resolve to hold on to the things that are most valuable, those goals and hopes and visions for your life which you will tenaciously grasp and claim.

So, the question is, how do you sift through every life vision and expectation you have had for your next stages of life, and wrestle with deciding which ones belong in the treasure pile, and which will be laid down to rest?  Here are some practical tasks:

  1. Sit down with a good cup of coffee or tea and have a chat with your two good friends, “Expectations” and “Big Plans” (not many friends enjoy being called “big”, but in this case, it’s okay). List them, look them over, and spend some time thinking about where they have originated; are they simply born of the norms of your current culture, or family expectations? Or are they deep, heartfelt hopes and dreams?
  2. Decide which of these expectations and plans fall into the category of those which you must treasure, respect, and cultivate or which become offerings to be set aside for the sake of the academic dream.
  3. Talk to your husband about his expectations – for himself, his career, and your family. Also, share your two metaphorical baskets: the one to which holds the dreams you are firmly clinging, and the one which holds the things you are willing to offer in order to trade them for something greater – the awesome unknown.
  4. Practically and deliberately plan for how each set of dreams and goals will be achieved and honoured. When I say practical, I mean every last detail.  If you both decide you want to have a baby before grad school is completed, discuss how you will obtain medical benefits, how much money you will need saved, and how you might balance childcare needs. Email others who have had children in grad school and ask 100 questions about how to make that work. And figure out a plan.
  5. Seek to make these dreams a reality, but also review the first and last rule of the grad student journey; as it turns out, it is not only the first and last rule for this journey, but for much of life.

Sometimes being stripped clean of everything you hold tightly leaves your hands empty, wide open, and ready to receive something new and beautiful, something greater than your imagination would have allowed. In other cases, the things that are closest to our hearts are meant to be protected, cherished, and cultivated; and the most difficult part is identifying what those are, then working out – together with your husband – how to bring them to life.

Be brave enough to tell yourself the truth, and you will find the balance you are seeking. (That sounds a bit Yoda-like, I know, but try it and see what happens, and then let me know how it goes!)

-Laura

Laura M. Benton, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and professional Graduate Wife (12 years, friends. Two MA’s and a PhD.)

To write with your own question for The Graduate Wife team, email TheGraduateWife@gmail.com or LBenton.LMFT@gmail.com

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}

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?