Leah Boal and her husband are currently in residency in the city that I spent three of my high school years and my parents still live in the area. We will have to meet up in real life during my next visit to South Carolina, but for now I love learning from her as we prepare for residency in less than a year!
Leah is the Manager of Affiliate Programming for Youth Volunteer Corps, an organization that works with youth across the US and Canada to volunteer (based out of KC, but she works remotely 😀 while her husband completes is 2nd year of residency in EM. When she isn’t working she is busy taking care of her fur puppy, Mabel, hiking, baking, and listening to music! I already feel we would be bffs!
Ah, what a peaceful word. When I think of reflection, I think of wisdom, tranquility, and life-changing epitomes.
However, when I reflect upon our first year of residency, it sometimes feels more like trying to water ski (emphasis on the word “trying”) than confidently gazing out over a still, calm, beautiful lake.
Everyone told us residency would be hard. I mean, everyone. Mostly trying-to-be-helpful people that had never experienced residency or knew anyone that had- you know, the most encouraging kind of advice. Yes, residency has been hard. Yet, as a dear friend of mine wisely says, hard is relative. Your hard is different than my hard for various reasons. Residency has surely had it’s moments, but it’s also been full of memories, new experiences, beauty, and lots of learning. So, here I am, sharing my learnings with you.
Before I begin pouring out my reflections to you, I want to start with a piece of advice that I tell anyone who will listen. We are all different. Our marriages are different, our personalities are different, our cities are different, our spouse’s programs are different, our life experiences are different, our medical journeys are different. You may resonate with 0 total things I say or you may resonate with all of them. I will be the first to say that I do not have all the answers and I surely don’t have it all together. These are simply things I’ve been mulling over for the last several months and a collection of nuggets that I would share with any dear friend entering into the next stage of this journey.
Give yourself grace.
My goodness, friends. I am the queen of setting unrealistic expectations for myself. My to-do list is ever longer and my expectations ever higher. I beat myself up when my home is a mess and apologize when I haven’t had a chance to go to the grocery store. With a husband working long hours in residency, it’s easy to feel like it’s all up to me to keep our home-world spinning. It’s not, of course. I recently listened to a podcast with Jon Acuff about his book, “Finish.” In the podcast, he talks about letting your standards change with the seasons. Maybe the laundry gets done, but not folded. You’ll, of course, eat dinner, but maybe it’s a turkey sandwich instead of a fancy meal. Wow! This is a game changer for me- what a great way to ease our own loads. When my husband is on nights and we only get 2 waking hours together, I need to spend that time with him instead of cooking dinner or mowing the lawn. And you know what? That’s the most important thing to do in that moment. Amongst an exhausting, rigorous schedule, my husband doesn’t need a frantic, do-it-all wife. He needs a present one. You know what else? My home is still standing even though there’s currently a pan in the sink and the floor needs scrubbed. Ok. There are two pans in the sink. Ok, three.
God has ordained this time.
Having been involved in church my whole life, one of the most difficult aspects of residency has been not having as much capacity to serve my church. As we were visiting churches after moving, someone stood on stage and pleaded for volunteers. “We seriously need every single person to help.” I could feel myself getting smaller and smaller in my seat, slouching down, hoping no one would see the guilt that I carried in shoulders. I couldn’t help. We couldn’t help. After continuing our church search, the Lord began reminding me that He knows our hearts. He knows this season of life and He knows that it breaks our hearts to not be as involved as we’d like. God is not surprised at my husband’s schedule. I can’t worry what people my think of me or my husband, because God sees and knows. There are many ways to serve the church; find what’s best for you and your spouse.
Flex and Adapt.
The best marriage advice we received was to regularly assess our roles. The counselor at our church said the biggest reason married couples came to him with problems was because they never adapted with the changing seasons of life. This is a lesson we naturally learned in medical school. With a schedule that literally changed every few weeks (let’s be honest- every day), our marriage roles did too! Some days, my husband finished up his day at 2pm. Guess who made dinner? He did. Sometimes, he had a few days off in a row while I was working. Guess who helped with laundry? He did. It’s important to regularly check in with your spouse about how things are working for both of you. Communication is key in every marriage, but especially when the residency schedule makes you feel like ships in the night some months. Honestly, friend, you will probably carry a heavier load throughout your husband’s residency, but that doesn’t mean you don’t communicate. Acknowledge that you are both working your tails off in different ways, be gracious, be loving, and figure out what works for you. Once you figure out how you work together best, be confident in that and don’t let others’ expectations shame you because your marriage looks different than what they are used to.
Before we made the move from KS to SC, my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t make friends or find community. I consider myself an extroverted introvert and I knew that I would need some major courage to put myself out there, invite people to coffee, attend church by myself, and explore a new city. You WILL need community throughout this journey and it’s highly unlikely that a great friend will suddenly show up at your doorstep the day after you move. Be confident in who you are. I remember crying to my husband, “what if no one wants to be my friend? What if no one in SC thinks I’m funny?” He gently reminded me that God has always been faithful to provide friends for me. Before we moved, I made a list of things I knew I needed to do in my first month in a new city: get a library card, try out a gym, go to church, introduce myself to at least two neighbors, etc. During residency, you will probably have more time on your own. Learn about yourself. Pick up a new hobby. Do the things you know you need to do to be emotionally, physically, and spiritually healthy. Go to events without your husband. Be proud of yourself for stepping out of your comfort zone and then do it again.
You and your family have entered into a totally new season of life. There will be, at minimum, a gazillion bumps in the road. Starting out, when my husband had a hard day at work, I would stress myself out. “How can I make it better? What if tomorrow is hard too? How will I encourage him?” Bad days will happen. Your sweet husband will be exhausted. There will be days when you wish you could fast forward 3+ years to just have some sense of normalcy. Know when to let things go and when it’s time to hash things out. Relax. Listen. Pray. Laugh. Remember who you are, remember who your husband is, and remember a faithful God. It’s so easy to wish away seasons that are just plain challenging. Embrace this season knowing that you are not alone. You and your husband will sometimes survive and sometimes thrive. In the end, I think we will look back and see God’s faithfulness through it all.
P.S. I made friends and they occasionally laugh at the things I say.
P.P.S I still can’t water ski.