Giving Thanks in Stressful Times–Plus, a Job Announcement

Note: This was not our Thanksgiving dinner…this was a rare dinner out with my husband last weekend, shortly before I got COVID. In this pic, we were feeling very thankful (and we still do) for our recent good news!

Hi Friends! Long time, no write.…but as it turns out, this week has afforded extra down time.

Just yesterday, the day before Thanksgiving, I was diagnosed with COVID. Thankfully, this has meant an opportunity to reconnect with you via this blog. So, happy Thanksgiving! And it is a day for Thanksgiving in my household, even though COVID screwed up our plans for celebration this week.

What we are celebrating today, this week, is a job offer that came last week…a job offer, finally, after three years of subsisting on (financial) bread crumbs, slogging through grad school, and playing the job market. I’ll announce the job at the end…so skip down if you want to know, or keep reading if you care to hear about my life in recent years:)

Of course, you know about some of it–we’ve all been living through this pandemic, and many of us have been facing new (or old) mental health issues. Two extra life-quakes faced by my household included the death of a parent and the addition of the surviving parent to our household. For myself, the pandemic and grad school have also led to a flare of post-traumatic stress symptoms, along with a disturbing political awakening.

The PTSD and political awakening I am still struggling to find words for, as I work to conclude my doctoral dissertation. However, what I can articulate about these last three years is that I’ve learned much more than I wanted to about chronic stress–and I hope to convince my readers that chronic stress is nothing to sniff at.

About six months ago, I took the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory, which assigns numbers based on recent life events. In this inventory, a sum of 300 is a mega-stress score, and comes with the prediction of a “major health breakdown in the next two years.” I scored at 350. Maybe I should blame my COVID diagnosis on chronic stress?

I’ll write more publicly about these years at some point, perhaps after I finish my dissertation, but for today, I want to praise God that He has sustained me and my family through these years of chronic stress. I give Him glory that He is providing coping skills and tools I did not learn earlier in life, including various types of writing that I have been able to study and practice (mostly privately) while in grad school.

Although I feel beat up by the scholarly life–a very competitive, scholar-eat-scholar enterprise, if you want to know–I thank God that He led me to worthwhile topics that have provided me needed coping mechanisms for this period of my life. In fact, one task of my dissertation is to explain the mental health benefits of private writing for college students–a topic that I feel has not been sufficiently explored. I have a burden for college students who are struggling with mental health–and stats say at least one-third of them do. But as I’ve researched and written on this topic, I have remained aware that I am in this category, too.

Did you know that graduate students are three times more likely than the average American to suffer mental health disorders and depression? Or that roughly half of all PhD students drop out of their programs before graduating? Again, I want to give glory to God that He has sustained me to this point, and I have so many more coping skills now than I did at age nineteen, when I dropped out of my freshman year of college. So there is a poetic through line to my many years in college. While I wish I hadn’t had to go through all this chronic stress, I see that God is using it for His glory, using me to help stressed college students, like I once was (and like I still am).

What I love about God is that, while He allows us to go through these seasons of stress, He also delivers us. He knows such seasons are not sustainable; we are not meant to live like this long-term. Sometimes we have the choice to alleviate these insupportable stress levels; other times we are truly at God’s mercy: we have done what we can do, but there are circumstances that we really cannot change, and we must wait on our Maker to move.

Early last week I was praying to this effect: “God, I am at your mercy. I cannot change this situation: this multi-year job search that keeps ending in no’s, this mentally heavy doctoral work that must be gone through (to follow the path you’ve laid out), this house that my family has outgrown; this need for stability, including a living wage for my family. I truly need you to move, please.” And He did.

 Right before Thanksgiving break, Southwestern Adventist University offered me my old job back–but this offer was better than last time’s temporary, one-year contract. I have accepted a full-time, tenure-track position that begins July 1, 2022.*

Finally, after three years, the search is over. Praise God! As I sit here resting physically because of COVID, I praise God that, in many ways, I can now also rest mentally.

The hard work is not over, of course. I still have a dissertation to finish. But my stress level is getting back to a sustainable amount. Soon we will have real insurance again, and we will have a new house that fits us all; for now, I have the security of knowing that I don’t have to job search while also dissertating (PRAISE GOD; I already played that game last year, job searching while studying for comprehensive exams…and I don’t recommend it). I know that other seasons of stress will come, but for now I am truly thankful during this Thanksgiving season. Glory be to God who helps us in our weaknesses, who gives strength and answers when we have none. Thank you, Heavenly Father.

If you’re at the end of your rope this holiday season, I hope you’ll take time to reconnect with (or get to know) The Man Upstairs. And if your brain is on overload, like mine has been for these past three years, try some therapeutic writing–perhaps writing out your stressors in a prayer journal. Also, for you over-stuffed intellectuals out there, remember that connecting with God doesn’t always have to mean reading yet one more thing; sometimes, it means expressing yourself, crying out, or even having a good cry while listening to some good Christian tunes.* As these recent years have taught me, God’s in the business of fixing our problems–as well the business of sustaining us when solutions take longer than we want them to.

*I distinctly remember one day last year, when I was working virtually in my makeshift she-shed, that I felt overwhelmed, cognitively overloaded, and stumped as to how to connect with God. I remembered a song I’d heard on the radio and looked it up; then I sat there and cried as I listened to these lyrics: “When you don’t know what to say, just say Jesus.” Normally this song would be a bit rock-y for my taste, but that day, it really spoke to me; for three minutes, it was pure worship. While I couldn’t formulate words, I just cried, and I let the song express what I could not. Afterwards, I felt better and I was able to get to the day’s work. In short, I highly recommend making an anti-stress playlist and using it as often as needed! Be well, friends!