Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Total Surrender


This topic has been on my mind and in my heart for quite some time now, so I'm very grateful and hopeful the Holy Spirit is finally helping me find the words to put it down in writing. Shortly after our wedding in September I began to realize that hardly anyone in my life beyond my immediate family actually knew or understood what it is Michael does or what his job entails...in terms of what blessings we've been given but also what sacrifices we have made and make on a continual basis.

Every engaged or newlywed couple makes a lot of decisions together, ranging from the trivial to the life-altering. Michael and I were very blessed to be on the same page when it came to all of our “big” decisions and how we would be approaching things as a couple/family. However, this meant that while our choices and our game plan made obvious sense to us, it wasn’t until after the wedding that I realized I was facing a reality in which very well-intentioned friends or family would ask me questions that simply exasperated me. Something I hadn’t anticipated was having to explain over and over again to curious friends what our situation was or why we would pursue this path we are on…because they didn’t really “get it” without much explanation.

In many ways, this was the first big lesson I learned about marriage: the decisions Michael and I so easily and obviously make aren't always so obvious to people outside of our marriage (and that's fine). While we certainly don’t need their approval or for them to even agree with what we do, it can be difficult when friends or family members simply don’t understand your priorities...or your husband’s job. Fortunately we've been blessed with many friends who, after me explaining in detail what Michael does for a living, eventually came to understand and be supportive of what our daily lives entail. Now that we've been married for 5 months I think my closest friends are all finally in the loop and better understand why it is I’m not currently working, why we aren't buying a house or a puppy any time soon, why I have no idea where we’ll live next, or why I can’t answer any of the other standard questions they so innocently and kindly ask, etc.

So what are these big decisions I’m talking about? Simply put: Michael and I have agreed that my currently sacrificing a “career” and agreeing that where we’ll be living will be determined by his job for the next 5 or 6 years is worth it to us…because it means we get to be together. And what newlywed couple doesn't want to be together?! We just found our vocations and finally get to start living them more fully - why would we want to be separated? Especially considering we were long distance nearly our entire dating relationship.

Starting our lives of (God-willing)
no more long distance!
Our situation is unique because Michael’s job and the age at which he is doing it is unique. He is a bio-medical engineer, but after a couple years of working full-time he was given a huge opportunity (which moved him to Ann Arbor while we were dating and I was volunteering in Chicago) to enter into the "consulting world" of bio-medical engineers. This is how I (not an engineer) explain it to people: medical manufacturing companies are regulated by the FDA, so when these companies get warnings or are under consent decree (meaning they’ll get shut down if they don’t pass their next FDA audits) they need people like Michael. They bring in consultants to figure out what they’re doing wrong and get them back on track while their full-time engineers keep manufacturing. This means Michael doesn't really “work for” the company he is at here in Ann Arbor and he is not given a salary or benefits. Instead, it’s like this place is his client and they pay him hourly, overtime, and per diem for travel (because not all consultants actually move to their project and have to travel back home to see their families when they can on weekends).

What most people don’t understand at first is that all of this means we could have to pack up and move at virtually any time...so we hardly have any certainty about when we'll have to move, where we could be moving to, etc. When this project is over we are done here (so no, we're not buying a house) and these projects can change or end abruptly based on several factors - funding could get cut, they could move up or push back the project timeline drastically, or they could decide that what Michael has done for them is all they need right now and let him go so they no longer have to pay him. In other words, we will potentially be moving every year (sometimes more often, considering most projects only guarantee about 6 months of work) for the next 6 or so years – or however long Michael continues consulting before switching back to a more stable, full-time engineering position and we settle a bit more. Most people would never want to live like this (which is obviously reflected in how some people talk to me about it) - constantly not knowing and having to be open to going anywhere and leaving your current life within a couple weeks notice.

The most common question I got from friends after our wedding was something along the lines of, “so are you looking for a job?” or “what kind of job will you get there?” This plunged me into having to explain Michael’s job so they could understand why it might not actually be feasible for me to have a full-time job here. The reality is that any job I would work (although now that I’m pregnant this point will be moot in another 4.5 months or so) would have to be temporary – something I could walk away from quickly (if need be) without burning bridges or looking like a huge flake.

Part of why we’re so willing to do all of this is because people Michael’s age rarely are able to break into the consulting world of engineering (he got this job because  - I'm proud of him so I'll say it! - he’s insanely good at what he does and he networks well). Normally you need 20-30 years of experience as an engineer, which means almost everyone he works with is in their 50’s or 60’s. These other consultants usually already have a permanent address somewhere and their family stays there while they go work on a project for 6 months, a year, etc. This means their wives can have "normal" careers and the consultants travel on weekends to see them. Believe it or not, once I explained that this was the norm for these consultants some of my friends actually asked why we don’t do that…as if me settling somewhere & having a career was so important that I would sacrifice actually living with my husband and seeing him every single day when we are very recently married and now have a baby on the way (no thank you). I thank God constantly that Michael’s job is able to provide for us so I don’t have to work right now and I am able to move with him. I know this isn't a reality for all couples and I certainly do not wish to ever take it for granted.

In terms of spirituality, I struggled with a lot of this early on in our new marriage – not because I wanted some fancy full-time career or struggled with being open to just trusting God will guide us through all this uncertainty, but because it can be hard to let people assume or think things about you if they don’t know or understand your situation. As humans we have this desire to gain the approval or understanding of everyone we know which can be a difficult thing to free ourselves of (but is very necessary in order to follow Christ, understanding His is the only approval we truly seek). 

I wanted everyone to understand Michael’s job so they would understand that I wasn't unemployed because I wasn't smart, qualified, or capable  (prideful much?) – but because it was a sacrifice I was making for our marriage and family at this time (Michael never asked me to do this but has certainly supported my decision because me moving with him is what we both want). All of this put me in a situation where I could more deeply trust God and just let go of feeling like I need to somehow prove myself to others; I think I especially felt this way because I had taken a year to volunteer full-time and everyone expects you to then get a job or do something “real” (funny how I was able to let go and not care of what people thought as I volunteered – something lots of career-driven people also didn't understand – but then unnecessarily felt pressure about defending my not having a career afterwards). But whether other people in general society see it or not, what I do by being present to my marriage in this way is real work that I value because it’s what I do so Michael and I can be a normal married couple living together (even if we might move abnormally often). 

Listening to Danielle Rose's version of the Litany of Humility and praying it certainly helped free me from this "desire of being esteemed," too.

One time, as I went through my spiel about what Michael does, how or why we might move any time, and why it means I hadn't really pursued a “normal” job here, my friend silently paused on the other end of the phone and then said, “Wow, that is really a total surrender to God’s will.” As soon as she said that my heart burst with joy because she understood! She understood what our daily life was like – very blessed and happy to be with one another but inevitably not knowing when or where we’ll move next, making strong efforts to simply let God guide us where He will. This job of Michael's forces us to give up job security, certain comforts, and knowing where we'll go but it's worth it to us and we simply strive to surrender the uncertainties and transform them into trust in God.

When Michael and I focus on seeing his job and all the choices we've made as putting all our trust in God I am able to more fully see how blessed we are to have this opportunity – for Michael’s career growth, for the chance to experience so many cities while we’re young, to relinquish the desire to control our lives and where we go, and of course to be together! It doesn't matter if we don’t yet have a house, I don’t have a job, whether or not others understand our marital priorities, or that we have absolutely no idea where He will lead us next...because He leads us and frees us from feeling we need to impress or explain things to anyone else other than Himself when we surrender. After all, when we love and follow Christ to the point of surrender He blesses us far beyond any approval this world could give us. So may we all strive this Lenten season to "let go and let God" do His work within each of our lives, whatever that means for our own unique situations.

"One thing Jesus asks of me: that I lean upon Him; that in Him and in Him alone I put complete trust; that I surrender myself to Him unreservedly. I need to give up my own desires in the work of my perfection. Even when all goes wrong, and I feel as if I was a ship without a compass, I must give myself completely to Him. I must not attempt to control God's action, I must not count the stages in the journey He would have me make. I must not desire a clear perception of my advance upon the road, not know precisely where I am upon the way of holiness. I ask Him to make a Saint of me, yet I must leave to Him the choice of that saintliness itself, and still more the choice of the means which lead to it."
-Blessed Mother Teresa

1 comment:

  1. Stephanie,
    AMEN! This is beautiful. May you both continue to be blessed as you live out your vocation- continuing to surrender to His will through trust. This is something that spoke dearly to my heart tonight thank you :)

    In Christ