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?


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Inspiration

The Soundtrack of My Graduate Wife Life

As the stereo blares, I jump around to dance beats with my three year old, contorting my body into dance moves that only Seinfeld’s Elaine would be proud of. We groove to the music for a few minutes, and finally find ourselves at the end of the song, in a heap on the floor, breathless.

“Again, Mummy! Again!”

I hit replay, and the music, jumping, and dancing begin once more.

I feel joy.

I feel life.

I feel alive.

___

I grew up in an extended musical family, so you can appreciate that music was a huge part of my childhood. When words couldn’t be articulated, we sang. I can look back over most of my life, as I’m sure most of us can, and define seasons of it by music genres and song lyrics.

It’s only fitting that 2012 was a year of lyrics. It was a year marked by significant events: a miscarriage, my mother’s cancer diagnosis, my graduate’s multiple professional rejections, and my own painful, personal growth. I refer to it as my ‘gray’ year – occasionally filled with intermittent sunshine, but, on the whole, very dark and gray.  Throughout it, as I struggled to catch my breath between sadness and sorrow, I relied heavily on artists like Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Radiohead, and The David Crowder Band to articulate what I couldn’t.  There were a lot of songs I held on to during that time, but one in particular stuck with me: Coldplay’s Every Teardrop Is a Waterfall. It’s an upbeat song; one that when played at full volume makes you get up and dance. That song brought me a lot of joy and hope during immense sorrow. And there was one lyric in the song that I kept coming back to over and over and over: I’d rather be a comma than a full stop.

I spent a lot of time thinking about that phrase. What does it mean to live life as a comma, rather than a full stop? How does one do that? How do I do that? How do I get through the difficulties in front me without forgetting that I am actually still living a life? And, how does it apply to my current season of life as the wife of a graduate student?

After thinking about it for some time, I finally concluded that, for me, it meant being willing to allow personal growth to continue through painful life challenges; being willing to see flashes of light in dark places; being willing to believe in hope when it feels like there is nothing but despair.  If I’m willing to walk bravely through those dark places, it will make me a better wife, mother, daughter, sister, and friend.

That is much easier said than done. I would never choose pain over joy. I would never choose sorrow over laughter. I’m a joyful, positive person, and I’d like to be that way 100% of the time. However, you and I both know that isn’t realistic. Often, being able to walk through those times allows us to see the good or the new on the other side.

I think graduate wives are some of the strongest women I know. There are many of you who read this blog whom I’ve never met, but I know this much: we shoulder an immense amount of responsibility, wearing multiple hats on a daily basis, somehow managing to keep everything afloat at our own personal expense.

During all these difficult life challenges, we are tempted to stop. I know the majority of the time I want to quit. I’d much rather be curled up under a duvet avoiding my life than often having to deal with what’s in front of me. But if I’ve learned anything from 2012, I’ve learned this: when you are willing to put a comma in your life, instead of a full stop, it means you are still growing. There’s another part of the story coming. There’s another sentence, another paragraph, another moment of hope just around the corner.

-Mandy

Has there been a particular song, poem or phrase that has inspired you through your graduate journey? Would you be willing to share it in the comments below?

Monday's Food for Thought

Monday’s Food for Thought: Symphonies and Whistles

The ability to create beauty in the midst of chaos is something that is always intriguing to me.  I’ve found it fascinating to view art that has emerged from war zones and to see it’s powerful messages of hope stand valiantly in the face of darkness and despair.  I stumbled across this amazing little clip a few weeks ago and was so moved by these Congolese men and women’s ability to create beauty and order in the midst of the chaos around them.  ‘They seem to defy the poverty of their war-torn country’ and produce music that is almost angelic.  It makes me reflect upon my own ability/energy/willingness to make something beautiful from something chaotic in my own life.

On a similar note, I recently went to my high school reunion (another post on that possibly coming soon:) and ran into an old friend who has started a campaign calledfalling whistles to help end the war in Congo.  Their mission is simple and inspiring. Check it out.  Again, it made me think of the Congo and also the incredible power of beauty and love in the face of war and destruction.

-M.C.

Identity

I used to…

I used to dance.  I used to dance a lot.  I used to eat and sleep ballet and rehearsals and auditions.  I used to find such joy in being able to move and express myself through motion…through twists and turns and pirouettes and pas de chats.

I used to journal.  I used to get up early every morning to have a sacred quiet time alone with God and with words.

I used to really really enjoy live music.  I used to have butterflies all day as I anticipated a concert on the horizon.

Hmm…I don’t really ‘do’ any of the above three things anymore on a daily basis.  I’ve had one too many knee surgeries to dance that much, I’ve had one too many reality checks on the possibility of hopping off to a concert these days and I’ve had one too many late nights (or busy days) with a toddler to find the strength to get up early and savor the silence.  Sometimes I feel like Nicole shared in her piece on here a while back…who am I now and what makes me, me?

Recently, I have had hints of these three former ‘dos’ in my life creep up…and it has felt like running into your childhood best friend and finding them still looking and smiling and giggling in the exact same way after 20 some years or so.

  • I was playing some music with my daughter and all of the sudden we just broke out into a full on dance session.  It was like parts of my soul were screaming…”Finally! Let me move again in this way!  There is a lot of story here to be told since the last time you moved this way…let it out!  Forget the knee pain, move in other directions…just do something!”  And with a happy and confused toddler and tears streaming down my face I realized that dancing doesn’t have to be something that I ‘used to do’.

  • These next forty days in the Christian tradition are called ‘lent’.  The tradition started somewhere in the 4th century and people would pray and fast for forty days in order to ‘prepare’ their hearts to receive the resurrection of Jesus, as celebrated at Easter.  I’ve gone through phases of really engaging this season by committing to new habits or giving up old ones, and at other times I haven’t.  This year I decided to ignore the urge to snooze and to get up.  To get up when the streets are still quiet and peeps of sunlight are barely reaching my bedroom window.  To get up and make tea and get a pen and paper and just be.  I did it once already…and I found that the words wouldn’t stop.  The words, thoughts, ideas, prayers, dreams just kept coming as I sat in the silence. As I smiled with satisfaction when I heard my daughter waking up, I realized that journaling doesn’t have to be something that I ‘used to do.
  • Lastly, I have to share about the fantastic treat my husband and I experienced last week in London.  It all started around a convo that went something like…gosh, we used to be cool and into live music before kids and grad school right? As we lamented and shared fun old concert memories, it was like we were pulling out gentle treasured heirlooms of lace or silk.  Pulling them out to share and marvel at them…only to have to put them back for safekeeping.  Lace isn’t something you wear everyday, I remember hearing once.  This band came to London and we barely got tickets to one of their sold out shows. We hit the big city and were transported back in time…or at least transported somewhere.  Somewhere that involves…No deadlines, No papers to mark, No diapers to change, No bills to fret about, No worry about what you look like or what you are wearing, No sense of time or hunger or knee pain after standing for 2 hours straight.  Concerts do that don’t they?  Good, true live music takes hold of you and draws you in. You feel connected to others around you and all of the sudden everyone in the dingy, cramped music hall in NE London is like a family…all moving and swaying and singing and feeling the energy and joy that is coming from those on stage before us.  I hadn’t felt that in a long long time and as we were examining our ‘lace’ mementos from the past, I had begun to wonder if I would feel like that ever again.  But alas, as I stood there swaying and smiling, I realized that going to gigs every now and then doesn’t have to be something I ‘used to do’.

I share all of this to ask, “what did you ‘used to do’?”  What made you have butterflies or made you feel refreshed and alive?  It is easy on this graduate journey to clutter up our lives with so much important and necessary ‘stuff’ that we can easily forget to create time (or even find time) to nurture those things that used to really satisfy and inspire us.  There are meals to cook and tutorials to attend and articles to publish.  I was encouraged to discover that just because some of my favorite things had gotten a little dusty, it didn’t mean that they were any less a part of me.  Even if they don’t look exactly like they used to (I can’t actually take a ballet class at this point sadly, but I can still try to engage this part of me in some new way).  Don’t be afraid to brush off the dust and flex some old muscles.  Take a moment to dream and remember.  It’s surprising how good it feels to bump into old friends and rediscover them in a new season of life.

-M.C.

Are there hobbies or interests or passions that you have long since had a chance to enjoy?  Have you rediscovered new ways of enjoying them in different seasons?  

Inspiration · Roles · Sharing 'Worlds'

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?