Of New Year’s Resolutions and One Word

Happy New Year! I hope that 2015 is off to a roaring start for you all.

I’m not a New Year’s Resolutions girl. I wrote last year about why I had ditched them in favour of picking one word for the year. It’s something that’s worked really well for me, and for friends who’ve done it as well. Personally, it’s simplified my life in ways I hadn’t expected. The things I’ve accomplished over the past 2 years have literally been due to living life in a purposeful way.

This past November, I sat down to reflect on the year. I looked at what worked, what didn’t. I kept coming back to a specific word that I was sure was going to be my word for 2015. However, as December life events unfolded, I began to waver a bit.

The first weekend in December found us on a plane returning to our beloved city of Atlanta for the celebration of my best friend’s wedding. We were able to be with ‘framily’ that have been part of our lives since before our marriage; people who’ve known and loved us and been part of our life community as we’ve lived far, far away. It was a joyous occasion, and to be honest, for someone who is not often sentimental, my heart nearly burst with love and gratitude as we travelled back to the UK.

The third weekend in December found me on a plane returning to the place I was born for the funeral of my 80 year-old Grandmother. It was a completely unexpected departure from this life to the next. I was able to be with my family that have known me since I was born; people who have also loved us and been part of our life community as we’ve lived far, far away. It was a sobering occasion, but we celebrated her life lived well. I know she would have enjoyed all of us being together, as we are a family that does laughter and tears well.

The juxtaposition of those two weekends shaped my last week of December. Recovering from intense jet lag, I struggled through the days, putting one foot in front of another. As grief and emotions whirled around in my head, I kept thinking about the word I had originally chosen for 2015, and now how it just felt wrong.

Thinking through the time I spent in both places, with the people that I love, I kept coming back to the word intentional. While in Atlanta, we were with friends who had been intentional with us at the start of our marriage, providing guidance and support as we moved from our family of origin to our family of choice; we were with friends who intentionally chose us to be godparents to their children; we were with friends who had been an intentional part of our graduate journey. While in my birth place, I was with my parents who had been intentional with they way they raised my brother and myself; I was with family that have played intentional and pivotal parts in my life.

2015 will be my year of being intentional.

I made a list and set some goals of the important ways I want to be intentional this year in my family, friendships, faith, and health. The death of my grandmother caused me to refocus on the fact that we all are here for a limited time, so we should be living purposefully, with intention, all the time. In the mundane moments of time, it’s hard to remember that. This week, I was reminded by a friend that it’s the mundane moments where we should be living our best, as they make up the bigger picture of our lives.

The good thing is, it doesn’t matter what stage of your life you’re in right now; maybe you’re a graduate wife, maybe you work full time or maybe you’re a stay- at-home-Mum. No matter where you are right now, I want to challenge you to do something different this year. Pick a word and live by it. Set some personal goals. Pick three things you know you’ll do well this year, and do them. But whatever you do: Love well. Live purposefully. Be intentional.

~Mandy

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When Strangers Become Your People

Sometimes, graduate school is hard.

But, it’s even harder when you don’t have your people. A couple of weeks ago, Elissa wrote about diving into the graduate school dating game,  speaking eloquently about how we all long to share history and be known; essentially longing to share our lives with our people.

Recently, my dear friend and former graduate wife, Allison, recounted an experience she had while on the subway in Atlanta, an inspirational story of hope and love and what happens when strangers become your people. As I read it, I couldn’t help but think of all of us on this graduate journey, who are learning what it means to place trust in people who aren’t necessarily known to us. I was reminded of my own graduate school experiences, and the people along the way who were there during the unexpected times. My heart filled with gratitude. I hope you enjoy it. – Mandy

Our-People-Come-Together

We all have our people, the tribe of folks providing a safety net of security so that we can take courageous leaps that would otherwise paralyze us in fear. These are the same faces that breathe encouragement into us when we are broken and joyously with us celebrate in our highs.

We can live life more fully because of the support of our people.

This weekend I had the opportunity of attending the Allume writer’s conference in South Carolina. On my way home, I stopped through Atlanta for a night with my sister’s family.

As I waited at the Marta station this morning to take a train to the airport, I noticed an elderly woman standing uncomfortably, hunched over, clutching her bag as if somebody were going to grab it and run. Her acute self-awareness clearly communicated this was her first and last Marta trip to the airport.

In an effort to put her at ease, I engaged in small talk about my three children. Her flight was not for another 6 hours, but she worried about this trip to the airport, a ride her children had assured her was a simple process.

People-coming-together

The direct train to the airport never arrived. I explained that we needed to hop on a different line and switch trains, but not to worry because we were going to do this together. This overwhelmed her. She did not yet trust me, but realized what we both knew…I was her best option. She had no people.

We rolled our bags onto the train to get situated. As the train jerked into gear, the next few minutes felt like slow motion. My new friend had such a death grip on her bags, she had forgotten to hold on. Her 78-year-old self went flying through the cabin. Several of us attempted to break her fall but failed. She went down…hard. She yelled in panic. Bags scattered. We all jumped to her aid.

A homeless, toothless man locked eyes with me before speaking,

“Ma’am, I may be dirty, but I’m honest. I’ll get your bags, and you help her. She don’t want me touching her.”

I saw straight into his kind heart wishing for a different conversation I knew we had no time to have.

A teenage punk previously entranced by the music on his headphones turned out to be a medic-in-training and assessed her for injuries before two construction workers lifted her to a seat.

As the homeless man gathered our bags and purses, he guarded them with great pride. A sweaty runner who had just finished a 5k offered up her water as I rubbed our shaken friend’s back.

Hips were thankfully not broken, but her spirit was. Embarrassment now trumped her trepidation over this adventure. We surrounded her with reassurance and comfort, little of which was received. The construction workers made some cute jokes to ease her tension before everybody went back to their seats.

I sat in the next row offering her enough space to recover alone, but close enough to jump to any need.

As her head leaned onto the train window, her eyes shut. I quietly prayed. When her eyes opened, tears poured down from underneath her wire-rimmed glasses falling onto the gray shawl draped across her shoulders. Her pale skin was still void of any color. Her hands shook. I understood the recovery was temporary. I asked,

“Is there anybody I can call for you?”

She responded in a whisper.

“They said this would be easy. But it’s not. Unexpected things happen that change everything. This is too hard for me.”

In that moment, my eyes filled with tears. I understood exactly how she felt. She’s right. It’s hard. All of it. So many times when it’s supposed to be easy…it isn’t.

Just before exiting the train, a businessman sensitive to her embarrassment gave her a wink.

“I didn’t see a thing, Beautiful.”

A little color reappeared in her cheeks. Each person in our group spoke to her before exiting, and with each comment her breathing deepened and confidence reestablished. But it was the homeless man at the second to last stop that got me. He looked at her and simply said, “Ma’am” and then gave her a nod.

With tremendous grace and gentleness she uttered,

“Thank you Sir for helping me with my bags today.”

And she offered him her hand. He looked at me as if for permission to accept, and I smiled. He shook her hand, a physical touch meaning more to him than she understood. As he turned to leave, he stood taller…exiting the train with a greater sense of dignity than when he arrived.

Seven people entered a train this morning from very different walks of life and in a matter of moments became a team with one purpose, to support a 78-year-old woman we had never met. We became her people, even if just for a train ride.

Sometimes our people look different than we imagine.

Sometimes they are only in our life for a train ride.

But we need them to get us through the unexpected.

Today I am grateful for my people, both the ones that support me in my daily walk and the ones God provides simply for those unexpected moments when it’s just too difficult to stand on my own.

*reprinted with permission by The House of Hendrix – please go visit!

Humans of New York: A Peek into Graduate Life

Stories are worth sharing.

I’ve been a big fan of Humans of New York, both on Facebook and Tumblr for some time. Brandon has done a tremendous job of sharing amazing stories of people all over the world, and it truly highlights that fact that no matter what culture we’re part of or country we live in, a lot of the same fears, hopes, and dreams are universal.

One of the stories he shared recently was from a couple from Vietnam who had weathered graduate school in the USA. Here’s a snippet of the post:

“Our daughter was five months old when I got a scholarship to Johns Hopkins. My wife came with me to Baltimore so that our family could stay together. I will always be thankful for that sacrifice, because I know it was the toughest three years of her life. She didn’t speak a word of English…”

It’s a beautiful story of giving, sacrificial love, and the deepening of relationships. No matter where we sit in the graduate life at the moment, it’s stories like this that keep me going, and I hope it does the same for you too.

~Mandy

 

 

The Top 10 Things I Learned as a Graduate Wife

As my graduate wife journey has come to an end, and I have transitioned onto the next adventure, I have had time to reflect on what I have learned as a graduate wife. I have also had time to be thankful for the opportunity to share this journey with so many other graduate spouses, through this blog and the University communities I was a part of. Here are the top ten things I have learned, paired with some of our best posts that highlight each lesson.

1. Graduate life is only a season. During our time in grad school, I was friends with a woman whose husband had completed grad school 20 years prior. She constantly told me that grad life was a season. Although my head believed her, my heart did not. When we were in the middle of it, and the process was continually kicking us in the face, it was easy to lose hope. After 9 years of grad school life, and 1 year of being back on the ‘other side of real life,’ I can say….she was right. It really is only a season, and to be honest, it will probably end up being a short chapter in my life book!

Savor the Here and Now

2. Investing in relationships takes work. Moving, starting over, and building a new community is hard work. You have to be willing to invest time in people around you. A community doesn’t happen over night. The time you’re investing now will pay off. Stick with it!

The Mark of Friendship- Response

3. Grad school is a marathon, not a sprint. There will be times that grad school will feel like it’s never ending. You get through one goal, only to discover there are 30 more in front of you. When I started to focus on what seemed like never-ending goals in front of us, I immediately became overwhelmed. I learned to take life one day at a time. I only needed enough strength to make it through that one day!

Six Stages of the Graduate Journey

4. Living simply is an art.  For most of us, the stipends and scholarships barely cover living expenses. I had to learn to live a much more simple life. It wasn’t easy to do, but once we settled into just taking care of what was needed, we became used to it. Since we were also part of a community that was living the same type of life we were, it was good to share ways with each other to even further simplify the simple.

Beauty and the Budget Series

5. Having your dreams shattered might the best thing that’s ever happened to you. My husband and I have always been planners. Unfortunately, graduate school is not kind to planners. It’s hard when your entire life is being determined by a hiring committee. We definitely had our fair share of disappointments: failed grant proposals, interviews that didn’t end with job offers, interviews that didn’t happen, etc. Looking back, it’s now easy for me to see that those things had to happen in order for us to be who we are and where we are today.

Grad Wife to Farmer Life

6. You are not alone. I remember vividly sitting in a coffee shop with a dear friend of mine telling her I didn’t think I could press on any further with this grad school thing. I also remember being shocked as she told me she often felt the same way. The very act of being really vulnerable with a friend turned the tables for me. I left the coffee shop with a resolve and strength that I didn’t have when I arrived….I was not alone.

A Name for Pain

7. Don’t put your own dreams on hold. It’s so easy to slide into being the ‘support’, but if you stay in that mode for too long, you will lose yourself.  I have a friend that moved with her husband to London when he started grad school. While they were there, she was offered her dream job in California. They had long talk(s) and decided they could live a part for year, seeing each other in person once every three to four months, to make both their dreams happen. While that scenario wouldn’t work for everyone, if you have your own burgeoning career, figure out a way to make it happen, and do it!

Don’t Put Your Life on Hold

8. Learn to live in the present. My friend, Betsy, always said to me, “Bloom where you’re planted.” It resonated with me then, but especially now as we’ve entered a new city. Do I miss Oxford? You betcha. I miss our friends, the familiarity, the little family we made there. I also miss those things from Orlando and Atlanta (and if I’m honest, a pretty long list of our favorite restaurants). Even though these places are part of my story and woven into the fabric of my heart, I no longer reside in them. I am still learning what it means to embrace where I am placed.

Life is Now

9. You will change. Grad school changes you. You will not be the same person at the end that you were in the beginning. The experiences will mold and shape your character, teaching you so many wonderful lessons about life, love, and sacrifice. Some of it will be hard. Some of it will be amazing. But in the end, as your life words are being penned, allow it to permeate your soul and become part of who you are. There will be purpose and joy in your pain. I promise.

I used to…

10. This will be an experience of a lifetime. As more and more time passes between our time in grad school and this new season of life, I have come to realize what an absolute irreplaceable gift it was. From learning and living life lessons, to being part of an amazing community of people, to watching my husband obtain one of his dreams….it was all a gift. I’m so thankful we were given this amazing opportunity.

Love, Written on My Heart

As a former, current, or soon-to-be graduate wife, if you could add your own point to this list, what would it be?

-Mandy

 

 

 

 

Grad Life Voices: Making Sacrifices

Peter Hayes

written by Lacey, a current graduate wife

In the past couple years, my husband and I have learned the importance of working together in order for him to get through grad school. Most of his colleagues don’t have families, and sometimes it seems it gives them an advantage. We both agree that it is important that he focuses as much as he can on his work. I don’t want him to have to deal with the stresses of family life especially when he’s approaching a deadline. His schedule is crazy. I’d say most days it doesn’t bother me, but then other days I feel so alone.

About six months ago, I was just about done with all of this grad school stuff. I was working a job that I absolutely hated and after applying to job after job with no luck, I felt like I was trapped there. As much as I hated my job, it had its benefits. It was close to home, I got a lot of time off and although it wasn’t great, the pay was manageable. I would go through times where I would just tell myself to suck it up, but the job was so draining. Around the time that I quit, we started to have childcare issues. With both our incomes combined, we could not afford most daycares. We first enrolled our girls into a program that we liked, but the hours didn’t work for us. We had to hire a babysitter to fill in when the daycare’s schedule didn’t fit with ours. We found someone I loved and who was able to work with us on price. But then, of course, she moved, and we had trouble finding a good replacement for her. I think losing the provider that we loved was where things went downhill for me. I hated that I was dropping my kids off with someone I wasn’t crazy about so that I could work a job that I hated. I really felt I had no control over my own life. I was so unhappy and it was really starting to affect my life with my family.

Finally, we discussed my quitting. I opened up a shop online before the awful job just to see where it would go, and I used it while I was employed to help relieve stress. Since quitting, I’ve been able to focus more on it. Some months I make pretty good sales, but it nowhere compares to my old income. I’m a lot happier now and it’s been easier for me to be the support my husband needs. I miss being able to eat out whenever we wanted and not having to worry so much about finances, but I don’t have the stress from the job and childcare. My husband doesn’t have to work his schedule around dropping off and picking up kids. We don’t have to stress out about snow days and one of the kid’s billionth sick day. I will be honest and say there were times that I resented my husband because I felt I was putting aside my happiness for his career. I’ve always been an optimistic, happy person, but the job I had brought out a bad side. I’m happy to be doing something for me for once. I get to work towards my goals and I get to spend quality time with my girls. Still, it’s a short term solution, and I am currently on the job hunt again. I’m hoping this time around I will find something that’s actually rewarding!

It seems with this journey, we’re going to make sacrifices no matter what, and we have to figure out which are worth making. If we really knew what we were getting ourselves into, we may not have chosen grad school. I’m happy we did though. We may not be living a comfortable life now, but I know in the long run this will be worth it, and my husband will actually be doing something he enjoys and believes is important.

As a graduate wife, what sacrifices have you had to make?

Grad Life Voices: Life is Now

“It’ll only be two more years,” said the professor’s wife, smiling. She looked so confident, her dyed-blonde hair attractively styled, clothes and jewelry perfectly coordinated. As she encouraged us that we could do it, that seminary wasn’t all that long, I tried to smile back while a voice inside my head screamed, “Two more? Not for me!” Not even a month into the school year, I already struggled to find joy in my circumstances and the speaker’s intended encouragement felt more like a bag full of rocks.

I sat with a group of first year student wives; we listened, a little wide-eyed, on comfortable couches nestled close to the expansive fireplace. Every month, the seminary women met in the administration building, an old mansion, to socialize and listen to a professor’s wife or guest speaker give a short talk. When I walked through the mansion’s huge double doors into the wood-paneled foyer, I felt as if I should be greeted by a butler who would bow slightly and say, “Right this way, Madame.” Even with no butler, the opulent surroundings dazzled me a little in contrast to our run-down little house which boasted rusty well water, a miniature oven that burned everything, and living room windows so low that you had to sit down to see outside!

Many husbands of women in the room planned to be pastors and would indeed finish school in three years. Mine, however, looked ahead to a PhD and at least five additional years in school, which sounded to my new-bride ears like an eternity. Although I still had much to learn, that day I realized that I couldn’t just count the years, the days, until school was done and, “real life” could begin. If I did, then time, a precious gift from God, would slip past unnoticed while I pitied my hardships as a student wife. No, I realized. Life is now.

I am now six years into my journey as a student wife (with at least four to go) and I would like to offer encouragement to those of you on the same journey. G. K. Chesterton wrote that “an adventure is only an inconvenience rightly considered.” My husband and I often refer to our grad school life as an adventure. We could endure this time as challenge, and we might survive. Or we could choose to enjoy it and really live.

So how do we live in the now instead of straining our eyes to glimpse the future, that elusive time when our partners have a “normal” job? I’ve found that it helps me to focus on the good things about this time in graduate school instead of the difficulties. And don’t get me wrong, I fully understand that it can be tough. I too stare at the budget and wish the stipend stretched just a little further and I can feel jealous of the Latin book which often replaces me as my husband’s evening companion. And yet, this time on our grad school journey has been a wonderful time of new places and experiences. We moved from a little Mid-Western town to the Pacific Northwest, back to the Mid-West, then to the Eastern coast. In each place, and during the long moves in between, I met many interesting people and stocked my memory full of beautiful places: orcas swimming in Puget Sound, deep shaded evergreen woods, long stretches of desert studded with strange and fantastic rock formations, fields upon fields of corn and beans, peaceful bay waters stretching past seeing. All these experiences I owe to grad school.

Not only is it important to find the particular benefits of being a grad student wife, but I have found that simple gratitude helps me live in the now. This past year, I read a book by Ann Voskamp entitled One Thousand Gifts. In it she encourages readers to notice and give thanks for God’s abundant blessings in our lives. As I tried to follow her advice, the sheer number of blessings overwhelmed me. I saw God’s love as I savored morning coffee steaming in my favorite pink mug, I found it in a fog-breaking rainbow across the harbor and when I basked in a quiet golden-pink sunrise. Simply noticing and thanking God for His blessings has been perhaps the most important way for me to remain content with my current season of life.

While gratitude is the key to enjoying our time during grad school, I have also found several practical tips which help me fully live in the present. First, keep your priorities and passions alive. My husband and I place a strong priority on remaining open to children, so now outstretched arms and excited cries of “Daddy!” barrage his ears as he steps in the door, a daily reminder of life beyond the papers and lectures. Our choice to start a family, perhaps more than any other, has helped us to recognize that our life is not on hold during school. Families and situations differ but what is most important to your family should dictate your life during grad school, not the other way around.

Supporting a partner through grad school is a worthy task, but don’t let the busyness drive you to abandon your own interests. It may sound implausible to fit your own interests into a schedule already overflowing with housekeeping, child-raising and perhaps a job or homeschooling. And yet, I have found that everyone in my house benefits from a happier mama. If I stop to read a good book, or play the piano, or sew something, it helps me remember the person that I am, one that I often forget amid crying children and piles of laundry. Being a graduate student’s wife requires sacrifice, but we don’t have to play the martyr by needlessly giving up what we care about.

One of the most important ways to live your life now is to keep a strong relationship with your partner. One practice that has been very important to my husband and me during graduate school is our weekly date night. I use the word “date” rather loosely since it almost never involves leaving our house. Our actual activities may not seem that exciting to anyone else: watching Star Trek re-runs or classic movies on Netflix, reading The Lord of the Rings or Flannery O’Connor’s short stories aloud, my husband attempting to teach me chess, or just sitting on the couch to talk. Perhaps the best part of date night for me is that my husband schedules time to be with me. No books, no papers, no planner, just us. As I’m sure all of you student wives know, school work is practically endless and it is important for you and your husband to set boundaries. My husband also schedules time with our children during the week. These set aside times help keep our focus in the right place. School, however important, is just school. People come first.

Mother Teresa once said “Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.” We wives have great power to set the tone for our families. It is in large part up to us whether this graduate school season is miserable or fabulous. So ladies, let’s make time with our partners a priority, let’s keep our passions alive, and let’s choose gratitude. Your life is now. Let us begin.