Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Homemaker Horror

My Dearest Ben,

Well, I just got home from my first grad school class and you're already snug in the bed, snoozing away. I guess a guy needs his sleep when he gets up at 3:00 a.m. and works 14 hour days. Anyway, what are my reflections on my first day of class? I think it's going to be hard. Darn it.

Anyway, darling, the reason I'm really writing is to let you know that if tomorrow your morning coffee has a metallic taste to it, that's because I had to staple the bottom of the filter together. Why did I have to do this? Because the filter in the coffee pot is on its fourth use as I have forgotten to purchase coffee filters for the second day in a row. But just think how much money I'm saving in coffee filters with each re-use!

Thanks for understanding.

Love,

Angela

Yeah, I'm an awesome wife. June Cleaver is rolling over in her grave.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Living Simply



Recently, Ben and I find ourselves discussing what we hope we remember from our medical school experience. This suburban Atlanta girl just returned to city life in Birmingham after two years in rural Appalachia. I couldn’t wait to get back to restaurants, shopping, museums, symphonies, and theaters (not that I spent a significant amount of time in the latter three, but just knowing they are there…you understand…). Civilization awaited me with arms wide open, beckoning me home. I thought I was the same girl who left the city a mere two years earlier. I thought I was leaving the place I didn’t belong for the place I did.

I was wrong.

Two years in Appalach
ia transformed me in ways I didn’t anticipate. Reentry has not gone as smoothly as I expected. The most unexpected part? I like the changes within myself. I don’t want to change back.

In the mountains I lived in a modest little home (okay, I still do, but bear with me, I'm painting a picture here). I took a job as a secretary and a 60% cut in pay and we took out student loans for the first time in our lives. Our income was meager. In the beginning I felt a daily tightening in my chest wondering if we would make it. And you know what? We did. We budgeted and cut corners. I didn’t get expensive haircuts or bi-weekly manicures and pedicures or pricey clothes. Our grocery list took a major beating, filet mignon was replaced with stew meat (maybe not literally, but you get the idea) and I bought clothes at Steve and Barry’s. After a few months I realized we were thriving and happy, and we were proud. We were even able to purchase furniture and travel. We were able to do this because other things, like expensive clothes and fancy meals out, didn’t seem so important anymore. We were prioritizing, and I was surprised how far we could stretch our little budget. Only then did I realize how much money we spent before medical school. I wondered, with a sick feeling in my gut, where that money (about $65,000 more annually than our current income) had gone.

An interesting thing happens when you start going
without. Instead of looking for joy in material things (a joy which quickly wears off, leaving you looking for the next item to purchase), you must find happiness elsewhere. You can’t take that trip to Target to cheer you up, so you take a walk outside. You relish the warmth of the sun on your skin, the scent in the breeze as it whips your clothes around you, and quiet conversations with the Lord. You and your husband decide on a cheap bottle of wine and dinner at home (which has many benefits as it turns out, there’s so many things you can do during a date night at home that are just not appropriate for a restaurant). Instead of sitting in a Starbucks with a girlfriend she invites you into her home where you can finish off an entire pot of coffee while laughing and crying together on her comfy couch. The past two years I shared my home with more people than I ever had before because there was really no where else for us to go. And even if there had been, we couldn’t afford it! There is something about being in each others homes that intensifies the bonds of friendship.

There was something else about thos
e friendships. We were all in the same boat. We were all poor. We were all supporting our significant others on a long, hard road to achieving their dream. There was absolutely no competition in these friendships because we were all equal. If one month someone could afford something beautiful for her home or a great new pair of shoes we all rejoiced with her. If one month one of us was waiting for loan money to hit the bank so she could buy groceries, we supported and comforted, and assured her that this too would pass. There were no frienemies among us. I experienced a purity of friendship there that I never had before. There was no one else who could understand what it was like to be the wife of a medical student and facing a life of coming in second. Ben goes through periods where I feel like I’m barely a footnote in his existence. This, of course, is not the reality. He has the weight of the world on his shoulders, or at least the weight of our little world. It would take a caring friend whose husband was acting similarly to remind me that although it may seem like I was coming in second, every thing Ben did was not for himself, but for my future and the future of our family and that I’m always close to his thoughts and heart. My marriage was better because of those friendships.

And so, that is what Tennessee gave me. Everything new, shiny, and distracting was stripped away leaving only what mattered in life: love, family, friendship, and the Lord. My eyes fill with tears at the thought of what we’ve left behind. At the risk of sounding trite, I truly did not realize what we had until it was gone. I am so thankful I had the opportunity to change. I never want to return to the girl who thought expensive jewelry, a fancy car, and designer clothes paved the way to happiness. Being plunged back into a world where material things are used as measurement for self-worth makes it clear how much I’ve changed. No matter what our future income may be, I want to continue to live simply, allocating our money towards the things we value like education, travel, tithing, and creating a home that is a haven (not necessarily a showplace) and not wasting it on keeping up with our friends and neighbors. If I buy something of quality or expense, I want to buy it because it’s something I will value or cherish, not because someone else might think more of me for owning it. That is the lesson I want to keep close to me.

I know that we have made the right decision to move to Birmingham. It is allowing us to spend more time with family and old friends (but not old frienemies, I got rid of those a long time ago), Ben is in a hospital where he is experiencing new things every day, and I am able to pursue my dream of continuing my education. But a little part of my heart remains nestled amongst green rolling hills in a tiny town that time has forgotten, and it is there it will always stay.

And no one is more surprised than me.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why do I blog?

This is a question I’ve been considering lately. I didn’t even realize I was considering it until I read the question here and here. I’ve had a little burnout and was even {gasp} considering taking my blog down. I've experienced blogger burnout before, but this was serious.



So what is my purpose for blogging? The genesis of my blog was two years ago when I was faced with moving away from my friends and family for the first time and it didn’t look like I’d be moving back anytime soon. At least not in the next ten years. I blogged to stay connected. I thought our parents and grandparents would enjoy the pictures and stories about our lives in Tennessee and that it would help them to feel closer to us. Beyond maybe about six people however, I didn’t expect my readership to grow. I blogged in the third person trying to make it sound like Ben and I were speaking as one from the blog. Then that got tiring and I just started writing in the first person because who was I kidding? Did anyone really think Ben and I were sitting at the computer together planning out what we were going to say? No way, Ben was studying and I was lonely and it felt that by speaking as a unit I was being dishonest. Then, other people started reading my blog. Before I knew it my fourth cousin twice removed on my father’s mother’s side was asking me why my blog hadn’t been updated lately. Friends were telling me which posts they loved. Strangers were stopping by and leaving me sweet comments, telling me they were praying for us and our adventure as a military family. Then my blogging developed a new purpose. Not only was I blogging but I was reading other blogs. I was in the blogosphere to feel connected to not just family, but the outside world. When my husband was busy and there were no friends or family, blogs became my comfort. It was my link to a world outside of medical school.



While immersing myself in blog world, I decided that our blog was going to become an online diary to share with our children. I would print it out each year and save for the kiddies to someday cherish as a glimpse into who we were before them (begin humming “The Way We Were” here). With this I put undue pressure on myself to post every event, every picture, every move, every time one of us sneezed. A little unnecessary. That’s what picture albums are for. I still want my words here for our future children, but maybe not every little mundane thing. That equals burnout for me.



So what does that leave me with? What is my purpose?



I think I would like to share my thoughts and feelings, not just give a play by play on our lives. I want my blog to be something more than just an electronic scrapbook. If I had a chronicle of my parents’ early lives together I wouldn’t want to know just what they did, I would want to know what they felt. What they thought. The most memorable pictures of my parents together were when they were 17 and 18, just married, and driving across country to live in Colorado where my father was stationed in the Army. They took pictures at the different state lines to record the trip. Sure, I know they did that, but what were they thinking and feeling while they did that? When were they happy? When were they sad? Did my mother, only a baby herself, ever cry at night thinking about leaving behind her mother, father, sister and niece? Did my father ever feel overwhelmed with the responsibility of moving his young bride across the country and being faced with providing for a family? When they spoke about the future which was nothing but a blank slate filled with hope and promise, what plans did they lay?



So with that in mind, I’ve decided what I want to record for my children is the deeper part of me. And it doesn’t matter who reads or doesn’t read. I’m going to write for me and I’m going to write for my kids (and in case you're new here, there aren't actually any kids yet, we're talking future children). Now, this is not to say that every post will now become a profound proclamation of who I am as a person. I’m still going to talk about our lives together and what we do and where we go, but I’m going to do it with a different purpose. Maybe that will show through, maybe it won’t. Maybe it will just look like the same old blog to you. But to me it will feel different, and that will inspire me to keep going. Not just to blog with a different purpose, but maybe even to live with a different purpose.



In fact, perhaps I will start living on purpose. And if I do, that may be the best possible outcome for this humble little blog.