Lessons Learned in the Life of a Grad Student

Ah, yes, about two weeks ago was when I returned from France. Sweet indeed!

The last two weeks have been some pretty crazy ones. Let’s just say I’ve been living up to the title that is often assigned to us graduate students. You know, this idea that we’re sort of low on the funds generally and eat whatever doesn’t eat us first because well, it was only $3 and we had a coupon too.

I’m used to working and working and working all summer long in order to avoid being that on edge about eating and paying bills. I came back from France and back to a job that’s not really able to give me many hours to work unfortunately. Yes, I did show up to the establishment with a panicked look on my face nearly begging for any sort of ease in the form of more hours. I received sympathy and an understanding look but no remedy. Then, later I received an even more discouraging mass email explaining the cause of reduced hours and that things would hopefully be better in about 6 weeks. I try not to be cynical, but financial stress put me in quite a mood when I got that email. I’ve started looking for other employment, but I have a complication since school will start up in a little over a month. We all know how much “free time” one has for a part-time job during a semester of grad school.

Yes, I budgeted for France. I had just counted on having employment when I got back. Yes, I do have enough to pay the basics for about the next month, but umm…after that it’s going to get crazy.

However, I do always try to find the happy aspects of such a dismal looking circumstance. I’m learning a few things in the midst of this experience:

1. I am learning a whole new meaning to living within one’s means.

Can I live without this? In most cases other than food and perhaps toothpaste, the answer is usually yes. So that means for the next months until I get the next installment of my stipend no movie theater, Starbucks (!), eating out, froyo, shopping, etc. I’m still holding on to coffee although I’m cutting back my intake which honestly probably is a good thing. One also finds out more creative ways as well to make easy meals with as cheap a cost as possible. One cuts out that fancy cereal one likes too and finds the cheap store brand kind. I’m not down to only rice and beans, but I do have that option if I feel I need to cut back more.

I’m truly trying to treat this as an adventure! So, the next thing to go… the a/c.

2. Our ancestors lived without the air conditioning and the French live without it, can’t we?

Harder question asked than carried out. I have a really old window unit in my apartment. It has a fan setting that my brother and I keep on just to keep the air circulating. I will admit that with the frequent severity of Texas heat, it does get hard to bear, so we do turn the a/c on for a little while now and then, just to cool things off a little. We just don’t leave it on extensively and well, we leave the lights off as much as possible too. Those electricity bills can really bite you if you’re not careful!

3. One gets to spend more time with family.

During my crazy first year of graduate school, I really spent very little time at home visiting my parents. Oh, sure, I usually briefly dropped by after church on Sundays but seemed to always have a paper to write or a book that needed to be read for class. As a result, my visits were often very short and hurried. Then, I left for France for five weeks a couple of weeks after the semester ended.

Since I’ve been getting an overabundance of time off, I’ve been spending a lot of time at my parents’ home which is about 45 minutes from where I live. My parents have been delighted to have both my brother (who’s in a similar situation) and myself over more often, and we’ve been enjoying it too. Jesse and I also enjoy the comforts of home including the air conditioning and mom’s cooking. 😉

I’ve been especially blessed getting to spend time with my mom. I felt so bad last semester when she wanted to come meet me for coffee one day, and I only had a 20 minute window available between classes. I couldn’t squeeze her in at any time the rest of that week either because it was such a busy week. How terrible! I really regretted that.

It’s been special to make up the time and just sit and chat for hours over a cup of coffee or two.

4. I am learning to be more thankful for what I have and have had.

I realized today how ungrateful I have been for what I had in the past. I took for granted being able to have some income (even small as it seemed) coming in to pay bills and for food. Not to say that whenever the solution to this problem comes that I’ll instantly be better at being thankful. However, I do hope that I will be more thankful and careful with what is given to me.

I’m thinking as well over the things that I have been blessed with in the midst of this time. I have people all around me who love me and are willing to offer encouragement. I will not have to buy so many books this fall as usual. I received a larger grant for tuition than I was expecting. Last summer, I followed Dave Ramsey’s advice and saved back a $1000 emergency fund that I’m currently living off of until I can find some sort of better income. Things could definitely be so much worse.

5. Trials often come in multiples for a reason.

It’s just life. Several things often happen all at once. There’s been quite a bit going on in the last few months. It would drive me to insanity if I didn’t trust that the difficult times of questioning and uncertainty were not for a reason. God sends trials not only to test us but also to teach us. Over the last year, the Lord has really been testing my trust in Him and teaching me how I am to trust.  I see this in every trial that I’ve met with in the past months.

Ever since I was a child, I never liked to do something until I was sure I could do it, basically a form of self-reliance. As I lay awake last night thinking through my list of options and worrying, a thought came to mind. When one is learning how to swim, one will often hang on to the side of the pool as one is learning the different strokes and movements to stay afloat. However, one will never learn how to swim until one lets go of the side of the pool. It was nearly as if God was saying: “Stacey, you’re still holding on to the side of the pool. It’s time for you to let go if you’re going to grow and learn.”

I’m trying so hard to trust and to leave this in God’s hands. This situation is scary for me! Yet, I have to trust that God has a plan even if I don’t understand it right now. I know that as I let go of the side of the pool so to speak, God is going to be there to lead me through. I won’t sink!

Please be in prayer as I try to make it through this as wisely and as carefully as possible!

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