Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight.
-1 Corinthians 5:1-5
There have been other times in my life that I have felt this way.
In January 2007, I was living with the nicest Italian girl, Milania, in Baltimore. I was a full-time writer/marketer for my magazine, was picking up shifts per diem at a local psychiatric hospital, and had just been offered my first book deal. I was advancing in my career and was relatively happy with the progress that I was making.
But, I wanted more.
My family is a huge proponent of education and it is just not acceptable, in their eyes, to not attend graduate school. With this in mind, I had applied to Master’s in Fine Arts programs. Milania was a graduate student and was about to finish her occupational therapy program and look for a full-time job. I was fairly certain that I was going to get into graduate school, so we both figured that we’d be parting ways soon. When our lease renewal arrived that January, we only signed for another six months, with this in mind.
My editor at the magazine had written me a sparkling recommendation letter for graduate school. And when he called me into his office a few months later to have “the talk” about my anticipated departure, with my marketing director present, I wasn't surprised. My editor adored me, though. There were laughs and hugs, and we agreed on good terms, that I’d be resigning that summer to start graduate school.
Then, two months later, the MFA rejection letters started pouring in. Everyone was stunned.
My editor said he didn't know what more I could have done; my mother told me that I was obviously overqualified; my roommate said that the timing must have been wrong. All of a sudden, though, I realized that in a few months, I'd have no job, no place to live, and no back up plan. I started panicking.
My life's aspiration was to attend medical school, but a combination of health problems and discouragement from the pre-medical advisors at my school had shattered that dream long ago. Being a writer had started out as being just a backup plan. Thankfully, it had worked out well up until that point, and I had been happy. But, was I doomed to be a columnist, with no chance of advancing to editor, for my whole life?
What do you do when your backup plan fails?
I started aggressively researching Ph.D. programs in Psychology—the backup plan to the backup plan. All of their deadlines for application had already passed, though. Even if they hadn’t, I hadn’t taken my GREs because the MFA programs I had applied to didn’t require them. My self-esteem had been so annihilated at the very prestigious research school where I went to college that I didn’t even dare look at post-baccalaureate pre-medical programs. Even though I had attended college on a full academic scholarship, I had been told so many times that I just “wasn’t medical school material” that I believed it.
Desperation drives us to new lows, though, so I hastily started researching post-baccalaureate programs. It was March, by this time, so most of the deadlines had already passed.
Obviously, a more pressing concern was making sure that I had a job, so when I asked my boss if he had replaced me yet, he didn't even try to conceal his glee. Not only had they not found a replacement, but they hadn't even started looking yet. It was as if my job had never been in jeopardy at all. My roommate also comforted me by declaring that she wanted to keep living together. But, she was tired of having to troll for street parking in the city at night and wanted me to move to a Baltimore suburb with her.
In the midst of all of this, the only post-baccalaureate program still accepting applications was in Washington, DC. Even though I lived in Baltimore, I figured that I could feasibly make the drive from where Milania and were moving. Realistically, I was pretty sure that I wouldn't get in anyway. As mentioned, I hadn't taken my GREs and the only thing I had working in my favor was the ability to write a decent admission essay. (Also see earlier statement about self-esteem being annihilated.)
Still, I wrote out my application quickly and decided to mail it the same day. On my way to the post office, though, a strange sense of urgency overtook me and I found myself driving towards I-95 instead. I texted my roommate to let her know that I hadn’t gone missing (a valid concern for two single women living in Baltimore) and she texted back that although I was crazy to drive 50 miles on a whim, I should go for it. On the way to DC, I called a high school friend who was working at the NIH in Bethesda, and he said to swing by and get him, because he wanted to go with me to hand-deliver my application.
When I got to the university, I asked a friendly girl on campus where the science buildings were. Even though it was after hours, the building whose name I had addressed my application to was unlocked. After finding the faculty mailboxes, my friend commented that it looked like the admission person’s mailbox hadn’t been checked in weeks.
“Let’s find his office and slide it under the door,” he suggested.
So, like stalkers in the chemistry building, we found the building’s directory, found the admission director's office and shoved the 8 ½” x 11 envelope into the door jamb. There was no way he’d even be able to open the door the next morning without touching my application.
(I should note that this same friend is now in an M.D./Ph.D. program at an extremely prestigious university and always wanted me to go to medical school too…not that you couldn’t surmise that from his role in this little escapade).
Two days after my impromptu trip to DC, I flew to California for a 10 day marketing trip. It was while I was in California that I received an email acceptance from the post-baccalaureate program, a mere six days after dropping off my application. To make things more interesting, they had accepted me for the summer session and classes were starting in two weeks. (The school had a rolling admissions policy, so they could have accepted me for a later semester, technically). I wouldn’t realize how miraculous this occurrence was until after starting my program, when the other students told me that it had taken them months to get accepted. More importantly, though, the director of the program was in his late 70’s and hated email. He never responded to my emails as a student and I still don’t know why he chose to email me my acceptance, instead of sending an acceptance package by mail, like he did for everyone else.
Since I was in California when I received the surprising news, I didn’t know how I’d register for classes in time, since post-baccalaureate students were required to meet with an advisor who registered for them. (I don’t know, this school had weird rules.) I called the university and explained my dilemma, as well as time constraints. The director of the program allowed me to register over the phone and waived the deposit usually required.
Overall, the acceptance was great news, if not surprising, and everything was falling into place! Except…remember how I had just gone back to my boss after resigning, and then asked for my job back? How could I possibly go back, within the span of a month, and resign a second time? I couldn’t. And thus began what we’ll call the "worst idea ever:" working full-time while also completing a post-baccalaureate program full-time.
After telling my boss about my acceptance, I assured him that I wouldn't leave. I kept working, including attending all of my scheduled marketing trips, and the night before classes started, I flew home late from Birmingham. The next morning, I left my apartment at 6:30 a.m., as part of the second worst idea ever: commuting from Baltimore to DC for class. The approximate time that it took me to drive each way was 2 ½ hours, because of traffic.
Somehow, the work/school combination didn't kill me and 10 weeks later, when my lease expired, Milania moved to the suburb she had been eyeing and I moved into a basement apartment 10 minutes outside of DC. Thankfully, because most of my work didn’t require me to be in the office, my bosses (editor and marketing director) allowed me to work from home and to schedule marketing trips when I had breaks from school. I also still kept some of my per diem shifts at the hospital, because I needed the money.
Unlike with my attempts at MFA programs, a year after starting my post-baccalaureate program, I took my MCATs, applied to medical school, went on eight of my nine interviews, and received three acceptances before withdrawing the remainder of my applications. “Not medical school material,” indeed. Don’t go to prestigious research universities, guys.
Before this unexpected turn of events in 2007, though, I remember feeling awful. I was so sure that the reason that things had gone so awry with my medical aspirations was because God wanted me to be a writer—which was fine. I was happy with doing that and I was making the appropriate decisions regarding that, but I felt unsatisfied. I used to pray every night, "God, I'll be a writer or do whatever I am supposed to do in life, but please take the desire to be a doctor away." When I didn’t get into the MFA program, that I was so sure was part of The Life Plan, I remember feeling like life was stuck on pause.
Suddenly, nothing was working out and I didn’t know why. I was discouraged, angry, and confused. Eventually, though, I started feeling a quiet fluttering in my heart—like some sort of indication that this was just the calm before the storm.
I remember telling my roommate, after being rejected from MFA programs and before looking into post-baccalaureate programs, that I just felt like something was going to happen. I didn’t know what it was or why or when it was going to happen, but in between periods of fear and anxiety about the future, I had a feeling that something big was going to happen. Fast.
When the post-baccalaureate acceptance came on the heels of signing back on with my job and suddenly needing to find a place to live in DC, while being a full-time student again for the first time in years, I was surprisingly ready. I had know that “it”—something I didn’t know or understand—was coming and I had been waiting for it.
I wish that I could explain the feeling more articulately, but I can’t. Jeremiah 33:3 says that when we call to God, He tells us “great and unsearchable things you [we] do not know.” Perhaps that feeling of something "great and unsearchable" is what I'm trying to describe, but there is a steady, confident feeling that something big, that will likely turn your life upside down, is coming.
When this happened in 2007, things were strangely quiet and annoyingly calm.
I tell you this, because I feel like I’m in a similar holding pattern right now. My frustration is centered on my research project, not graduate school, but the feeling is the same. No matter how many emails I send, I keep hitting dead ends. I can’t buy the rest of my plane tickets or submit my IRB paperwork or do anything else, because I need to have confirmation from my second host site. No matter how many new people I contact, though; no matter how many times I hit “send;” no matter how many times I refresh my university email account; the answer is just not coming.
And yet, I feel a calm, fluttering of my heart.
I don’t know what "it" is, or if it's even related to my project, but that feeling is back. Four years ago, I was terrified and annoyed by not knowing what was going to happen next. Right now, I kind of can’t wait.