Reflections from a Grad Student

January 25, 2017

During a short break from my graduate program, I found myself reading over the collection of Christmas cards and letters my family had received. One letter from a friend I knew throughout my K-12 years of education stood out to me. In the section of the letter dedicated to his life, he included that, following his graduation from his undergraduate studies, he is considering “graduate school, employment, and other opportunities.” This sounded to me like a very suave way of saying “I’m lost”, which is a sentiment I can relate to. The night before I had to return to Philadelphia from my winter break, my mom and I discussed the letter. I finally admitted that I was a little jealous that he still has the option of graduate school, whereas my future options only included “employment and other opportunities.” Sometimes, I disclosed to her, I wonder if I rushed through my time at Dordt College too fast by completing my degree in three years, or if I had really been ready to go straight into my 10-month accelerated master’s program. Ultimately, these are not thoughts that tend to linger, but, as I enter into my final semester of schooling, I feel more lost now than I did a year ago. And a year ago, I distinctly remember realizing that I felt more lost then than I had upon entering my undergraduate program.

Dreaming seemed a lot easier when I was younger. It seems that the more experiences I have, the more I long for the familiarity of what came before. In high school, all I wanted to do was leave my hometown. As a freshman in high school, I began to look at colleges online and sign up for newsletters and information packets. Leaving my high school graduation ceremony, I remember feeling relieved. Yet, while in college, I often felt out of place, and I started dreaming of attending graduate school and living in a big city. Over the last few years, I have collected extraordinary experiences beyond what I used to dream about: I lived and worked in Washington, DC as an intern for the Center for Public Justice; I lived, studied, and worked in Chicago, IL through Chicago Semester; I am now living, studying, and working in Philadelphia, PA for my graduate program.

Here I am, living in a big city, earning my Master of Social Work degree, and serving in a field I am passionate about. But hanging around my neck is a pendant with a map of Iowa, my personal email inbox is full of email conversations with my mom, and I can’t help but think that the work I’m doing with the city of Philadelphia’s system of care for people experiencing homelessness would be just as meaningful in the state that I spent so long trying to get out of. I miss my family, and today I would gladly trade in my city apartment for the sound of my mom’s voice echoing through the house when she comes home from work, my dad’s demand to have control of the TV so he can watch “The Price is Right”, and those moments when my brother’s teenage brooding phase is broken by his wide grin and dimples. I miss my alma mater, and I wish I could have a few more months with the incredible set of women with whom I spent my last year as an undergrad and another set of classes with the professors who were significant sources of wisdom and support. More than anything, I miss being in a community of faith and love where I am poured into and can pour into others. I miss being seen, cared for, known.

When I was young, I was constantly looking forward, keeping my sights set on a dream future. Now, I am constantly looking at what I left behind, second guessing the decisions made, and worrying about what happens next. In hindsight, I wonder when, if ever, was the last time I was content to live in the moment, embracing the struggles and successes of the moment. I profess to believe that I am not my own, but instead I find comfort in the conviction that I belong in body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful Savior, Jesus Christ. However, I have failed to live as though I hold this as true.

As I make my way into this new year and new semester, I am making a commitment to appreciating the moment I find myself in rather than indulging in the longing for what was or what may be. When I miss the past, I will be thankful that I have relationships and experiences that hold deep joy. As I worry about what happens after May, I remember that the sweetest of experiences were the ones that found me rather than the ones I sought out. Looking to the canvas I made a year ago that hangs above my bed, I will repeat the words I inscribed as my daily prayer: “Here I am, Lord. Send me.” There will be days when I fall short of this commitment, but because of grace, even after I fail I am able to start again. My new dream is this: to live with the recognition that my life is not my own, and find peace in the assurance that regardless of where I am or how I am feeling, my God is faithful, loving, and holding on to me.

About the Author
  • Chelsea Maxwell is Program Associate for the Center for Public Justice Families Valued initiative, an initiative promoting policies that support and honor God's call to both work and family life. Chelsea holds a Bachelor's of Social Work from Dordt and Master's of Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania School of Social Policy and Practice. She is a former intern of CPJ's Christians Investing in Education initiative and was a Shared Justice Policy Fellow for What Justice Requires: Paid Family Leave. A native of Iowa, she now lives in the District of Columbia.

What are your thoughts about this topic?
We welcome your ideas and questions about the topics considered here. If you would like to receive others' comments and respond by email, please check the box below the comment form when you submit your own comments.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. Thanks for sharing your honest feelings with us. God has certainly been working in your life, directing you and giving you opportunities to serve Him and the people He cares about deeply. But we still long for what we now realize was safe, and good, and comfortable. In many ways, those realizations and memories are God’s way of ministering to us, assuring us that He is with us and He is faithful. He provided those great experiences for you, and He will continue to do so. Looking back helps to build our faith: God has been faithful and He will continue to the same.

  2. Thank you for sharing Chelsea. This was a good reminder at a needed time. May we all remember that our comfort comes in Christ’s gift of salvation. There is lots of love coming to you from Iowa!