Monday, November 9, 2015

Dear Graduate School

Dear Graduate School,

You and I have quite a history together, don't we?
I was born during the midst of my own father's graduate school years,
and you had a high profile on our radar as Sam and I prepared for our marriage.
Applications were completed, schools were visited, and together we made a decision about where we would become acquainted with you.
And after five years, we thought we would be done--after all, a PhD seemed more than adequate.
But there you lay again, just around the corner, wrapped up in a lovely post-doctoral fellowship and a related field of research.
You've certainly given us some difficulties, it's true--
but today I pay tribute to all we have learned as we have walked, skipped, and sometimes trudged through your course.

You taught us how to rely on each other.
Remember how you took us about 2,000 miles away from our families just weeks before our first son was born?
I cried more than once at the thought of him growing up without the wonderful influence of our families, but Sam and I learned to turn to each other in our parenting, and the joys of parenthood became extremely intimate as they existed only within our little world.
Remember that time our newborn baby got RSV? Remember how helpless we felt as we watched our tiny son as he lay in a hospital bed with so many cords and monitors protruding out of his blanket? Remember that phone call to my parents as I explained our circumstances and my mom instantly began making phone calls to our other family members, encouraging them to fast and pray for our baby? And then how he had a miraculously quick recovery that shocked the doctor?
Our families' support from afar strengthened us, but it was to one another that we clung with our worries.
Remember that time when the doctor informed me that I did have meningitis and I was rushed to the hospital?
There was an awful lot of concern as I lay in a hospital bed while numerous tests were performed, longing to be home taking care of my motherly duties again.
My mom wanted desperately to drop everything and fly down to help us--and yet, practicality prevailed, and once again we turned to each other for strength while our family members fasted and prayed. And somehow, despite the doctor's certainty, the tests came back negative and I was released the next day.
Remember the un-celebrated baby blessings, the holidays spent with just our little family, and the numerous car problems our only car had? Remember the many discussions Sam and I had as we determined what goals and standards we wanted to exist in our family, independent of external influences?
You've brought us much closer to home now, but our marriage has been built on a solid foundation of turning to one another for strength and making our own family our central focus.

You opened our eyes to the love of others.
Yes, you did teach us to rely on each other, but sometimes we had to turn to others for help.
It's humbling to ask people you barely know for help, sometimes at their great inconvenience, but it tends to bring out the best in others and unites us with a unique bond to our friends.
All those car problems meant and living life with only one car meant asking for rides or car-help from others.
Remember when the kids and I somehow got locked out of the house and my keys were inside?
One friend took us to the landlord's office and, when we learned they couldn't find the spare key to our unit, she took us to another friend's home where we spent the whole day while we waited for Sam to get home with his keys.
Remember when we randomly opened our mailbox one day to find an anonymous gift of many hundreds of dollars in cash? Remember how friends took care of our children when we had our second and third sons so Sam could be in the hospital with me? Remember how we would frequently get phone calls from friends who thought to give us things they were giving away? Somehow, during all of those years, we never really seemed to get duplicates. We always seemed to be presented with exactly what we were in need of--baby furniture, new clothes the next size up for our kids, food that was "about to go bad and needed to be used," toys for our children, books (as in the photo above), and the list goes on and on. I stand in awe today as I look around our home and recognize that nearly everything we own was given to us by loving friends and family who thought of us.

You taught us to be creative.
Financial constraints do a lot to increase creativity, don't they?
This creativity was manifest most of all in our gifts to one another and our weekly date nights.
Once I wrote Sam a poem and cut it apart into single lines. I put each line into a balloon along with a miniature candy bar, blew up the balloons, and filled the car with him to find the morning of Valentine's Day. It was a simple, inexpensive gift, but the poem meant a lot to him as he pieced it together line by line.
Remember the wildflower bouquets, the games from thrift stores, and the Amazon 1-cent books?
(Find many more of our thrifty gift ideas here.) 
Remember the array of date nights we had? Going to dinner every week wasn't in the budget, so instead we looked forward to surprise bike rides on trails, exploring Houston's free museums, long drives through the country, experiencing the free outdoor theater, racing to put together model dinosaurs at home, picnics in the park, frisbee golf, and so much more.
Since it wasn't financially easy to go on dates, you also taught us to make that time together a priority.
Even as our financial situation improves when we bid you a final good-bye, I hope that creativity will continue--it has made for so many fun memories!

You helped us learn to live in the present in a virtuality-obsessed world.
One evening Sam and I were discussing ways we could save money even more. I remembered something I had heard about called the "MagicJack"--a landline telephone that goes through the Internet and costs only $30/year. 
That was that--just a few days later, I said good-bye to my cell phone and re-entered the landline life. And guess what? Though it's been about 4 years since we made that decision, I still have no cell phone and Sam has a simple flip-phone. I'm sure someday soon we'll get smart phones, but in the meantime, we've learned how to not be glued to phones all the time. 
Sam jokes that by the time we get caught up with the technology of the world there will be a steep learning curve, but it's been refreshing to remove ourselves from the whirlwind of virtual lives and focus on real-life human interactions. When I do finally cave and get a cell phone, it is my hope that I will still be focused on the joy of my children when I go to the park rather than being glued to a screen.

You taught us to live a more health-conscious lifestyle.
The fact that Sam studies cancer has brought about a lot of "rules" we try to follow when we make dietary choices. But you made it so we couldn't just eat out or go through the drive-through when life was hectic. You made me turn away from the discounted Halloween candy bars in early November, because even $2 was too much to waste. You made me ignore the hot chocolate mixes that would have otherwise probably been a constant part of wintertime. Trying not to waste money on non-necessities really helped us develop healthy habits.

You taught us to be intentional with our time.
For all the good you've done, you're awfully demanding, you know?
But with that, you've taught our family to be smart about the time we have together. When Sam is free, we try to make the most of that time. Again, even if Sam's "real job" (no offense, grad school) allows us more time together, I hope we will follow that same pattern.

You helped us focus on that which matters most.
Elaborate vacations? Trendy clothes? Top-selling toys at Christmastime? The latest gadgets?
You helped us see how many of the world's priorities are really just "fluff." We found the greatest happiness in our family relationships and through our faith. That has set a precedent for our family that will likely never change. And when we do make bigger expenditures, they will be motivated by the desire to enrich that which matters most in life.

You increased our faith.
Finally, you've helped us turn to Heavenly Father together when the future has been unclear or you have been particularly difficult to get through. You have helped provide us with so many experiences to see how God provides for us when we put our faith in Him.
Remember when we were in that minor car accident?
No one was hurt, and there was only a little bit of damage to the trunk and bumper. That poor old woman was so apologetic as she explained that she had had surgery on her foot and, on her way to get her medicine, her medical boot had gotten stuck on the pedal edge so she couldn't hit the brakes. Our car was so old and had so many miles on it that it was considered totaled.
Which meant that we received a check for nearly $2,000 while our car had almost no functional damage. Have you ever seen a broken trunk latch suddenly start working again and ALL of a smashed in bumper pop back out into its original shape, leaving just a few scratches on the back of the car after being rear-ended at 30ish miles per hour? Well, that happened to our car. A few months later, we bought a new-to-us car and, sadly, after purchasing it, learned it needed a new transmission. We were dismayed, but we had faith that it would somehow work out.
Well, the car was still under a seller's warranty that would cover 50% of any needed repairs. And then, on top of that, the dealership found some other ways they could shave down the price. When we went to pick up the car, to our amazement, the total amount was almost to the penny the amount that we had received from the car accident!
That experience was only one of many that showed us that Heavenly Father would provide for us, and we meet life's ups and downs now with an assurance that He knows what is best and will provide for us accordingly.

So, grad school, our time together is nearing its end. And while part of me is extremely excited to enter a new chapter of life within the next year-and-a-half or so, another part of me will be sad to see you go. You have definitely helped define Sam and me, and our relationship has grown ever stronger as you've been a part of our life. And despite the bad rap you have, I'll forever look on you with fondness.

Thanks for the ride,

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