There is no feeling quite like setting out on an adventure to finish something that has been waiting a very long time to be completed. So it was this week. After a long thirty-four year interruption, there was finally enough health, time and money to return to college to finish a nearly-complete bachelors degree. Thirty-four years was time enough to equal more than half of a life, filled with countless challenges and blessings. Yet, this was the one undone endeavor that still carried a sting of lament. After investing four years at two colleges, the final semester of college was never completed.
Over the intervening years, a lot of stuff happened! Enough years had passed to,
- Love a husband more than a third of a century
- Work long enough in a career to earn a pension and start to think about retirement
- Conquer great financial hardship and recover, and go on to own two homes
- Face the threat of imminent death three times
- Raise two children and watch them graduate from high school and college
- Watch children marry and enjoy four grandchildren
- Lose one parent suddenly and lose the other slowly to dementia
Why the long wait?
Paying medical bills
Why did it take so long to get to this point? In a couple of words, life and lupus got in the way!
Several times a target date was set and never worked out. First, after taking a semester off college to get married, a baby [note, the pill does not always work!] was soon on the way and a prayerful decision reached that my husband needed to finish college first since we had started a family who needed nurturing. We assumed my degree would quickly follow, as soon as toddlers went off to school. But, when severe asthma shattered those plans my husband’s medical bills equaled enough to pay off a house (without ever having a house to show for it.) Somehow we paid all the bills, but it took seven years, and thankfully, without declaring bankruptcy. It was a small price to pay, and we were grateful, because the doctors saved his life!
Sober concerns about my husband’s long-term survival made him urge me to find a job that could support us right away as well prepare me financially for the very real possibility of losing him. So, this meant going to work without finishing the degree. Even then, Lupus was lurking around in the shadows, but still had not introduced itself properly.
As kids went to school, their dad was home, through kindergarten and several years along. This meant my job was the sole support for the four of us for a while. It was a great blessing to see God’s wonderful provision meeting our financial needs through my new career as a paralegal trainee, over the next three decades promoting through the law office ranks to government law office management. Eventually breakthroughs in asthma medications stabilized his health, but by then our children were a little older and my career was well-established.
Photo by Lupus Adventurer’s Daughter-In-Law
Then, we traded places. lupus came out of hiding while he regained health and became the strong one. As children turned into teenagers, lupus was in full flare with arthritis, fatigue, rashes, mouth ulcers and deep gnawing bone pain. Many nights spent in a chair rocking back and forth was sometimes the only tolerable way to pass through those early morning watches.
Then, while grieving my mother’s death, opportunistic lupus rampaged through my body, targeting my central nervous system and muddying memory, coordination, speech and analytical thinking. That was the year lupus moved in like an unwelcome intruder, threatening my career and nearly completely disabling me. When abdominal artery ruptured, nearly taking my life, while our kids struggled with a mom who got confused, forgot things and was struggling to stay afloat. When there wasn’t enough of mom to go around, there was also complete peace that husband and children were the priority that came first. College was never even a consideration because of time and money.
Finding an open door
Two important questions
It did not make sense to put personal goals first unless it made sense to heart, budget and what mattered the most in the depths of my heart. While wishing I could finish college, other commitments and priorities mattered far more. Character and patience required waiting until a right combination of physical health and strength, priorities and schedule, and financial resources and wisdom would (ever) add up an open door. A final decision also required defensible answers to two important questions, especially this late in the game:
- Would there be enough return on the investment to make spending the money a wise financial investment?
- Would the degree contribute enough to reaching future goals to merit spending the necessary time and energy?
Regardless how long it took to get here, there are no complaints about the wait. It was always clear when God used events to deliver a very personal message that not all moms should be “stay home” moms, and not all moms are supposed to get their college degrees before their kids do! Sometimes, God calls a few of us down a different, sometimes difficult path to help us understand His love and care through the struggles. Now, it makes sense to spend the time and money on getting the degree completed. It will boost earning power and open up a wider arrange of choices for a meaningful semi-retirement second career.
Back on campus!
So, this week it was thrilling (and a little nerve rattling) to become a college student once again. On-campus classes are held one night each week for the next eighteen months as part of the degree completion program. Someday husband, daughter and son — who all finished their college degrees (daughter has two) — will assemble to watch mom put on cap and gown and cross the stage to receive her diploma. This is the time to make it happen, lupus and life not withstanding!