Families, Children & Marriage, Restoration & Reconciliation

Recovering from graduate school atrophy


Piled high and Deep.

Pure hell and Destruction.

Penniless, helpless and Determined.

Permanent head Damage.

Prepared for a happy Death.

Whatever those darn little letters mean, they sure take a whole lot out of a body.  Don’t get me wrong, when less than one percent of the world gets a college education,  I am keenly aware of – and amazingly grateful for – the incredible opportunity it is to even enter this realm of education.  My hubby spent four years in a full-time PhD program on top of working full time and helping raise our spirited toddlers.  He’s a pretty remarkable guy with an intense work ethic, and I’m still impressed he managed to finish alive and in tact.

But it took a heckuva lot out of us.

By the time he finished, his mind had grown large, but the rest of his body could barely keep itself upright.  We drug ourselves to the finish line and when it was over, just sat there staring at each other for awhile.  We didn’t even have the energy to cheer we were so tired.  It was, in all senses, a paradox of atrophy and growth. While we grew strong in some areas, we weakened in others.  Most days were push-through-and-make-it-out-alive instead of breathe-deep-and-relish-the-moment.  

We’re now a good year and a half post-PhD, and finally feel like we’re coming out of the fog.  I thought it would feel better as soon as he finished, and in a way, it did, but we still spent nearly a year just taking deep breaths.  We visited the beach, climbed the mountains, even went to Disneyland.  We went on walks, took the kids to parks, watched movies.  The oxygen felt good; a body needs oxygen.

But the second year out, we’re learning we not only need oxygen, but muscles.  With the level of intensity the program required of us both (him on the work front and me on the home front), we’ve discovered that the muscles we need for real life have atrophied a little. This year, we’re building muscles.  We’re sitting together more, drinking coffee slowly, chatting about what makes us tick, watching a TV show together, attempting to resolve the pesky disagreements and unite on the big deals.  We’re learning to look each other in the eye again, not just pass by on our way to do something, and to slow down and rest, laugh, and see each other.

In a way, it’s a gift to the middle-years-rat-race of raising a family and making a life together.  What marriage doesn’t face atrophy at some point?  In a lifetime together, muscles are bound to get tired, even if a PhD program isn’t involved.  I have friends raising sick children, battling addictions, navigating crazy families, holding intense jobs, nursing childhood wounds.  With the occasional taste of these realities I’ve known myself, I can attest that they’re not for the weak, and a body needs some pretty strong muscles to hold up.  But sometimes, the muscles, strong that they are, still get tired and give way.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, I read, and I wonder what it means in today’s realities of noise and technology and traffic jams.  And then I remember what it meant to me as we plodded through those hard years…

Come to me, you who just lost your temper with your wild little ones, turn on Sesame Street for the crazies and sit yourself on the couch for take a deep, long breath.  You need oxygen.  

Come to me, you who haven’t seen your husband for a week, who just bit his head off when you did because you’re tired and lonely and worn thin.  Let the tears fall on the pages of my Words.  I hear them.  

Come to me, you who white knuckle your way through to stay strong.  It’s ok – you don’t need to be.  Take a nap along with the wild ones; I will give you rest.

Come to me, you who don’t know how to survive the masses who just don’t get what it means for your multi-colored family to be different in a sea of sameness.  You may feel alone, but you are not.  I am with you.

Come to me, you who were scheming to move east.  In spite of your great protests, I will send you west, and there, I will breathe life back into your souls, rebuild your muscles, make you strong again.  It may feel far and foreign  but you will find me there amidst the palms and the foothills. Lean into the home I’m creating for you.

Come to me, you who feel torn apart and tired and distant from each other.  I will rejoin you, restore you, rebuild you.  Though your mountains be shaken and your hills be removed, my love for you is not shaken, nor my covenant to walk with you removed.

One of the most beautiful paths we have walked, recovery sings its calming melody, reminding me that we aren’t the ones who held ourselves together through hard years. It regrows in us one-moment-at-a-time a quiet strength that always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

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