Early this spring, Athena, a pharmacy student and our listserve coordinator, sent out evites to the upcoming Fellowship of Graduate and Professional Student Women retreat: Meeting God in Grad School. On a balmy Friday night in late April, women from the medical and vet schools, pharmacy, astronomy, mechanical and materials engineering, biology, and statistics gathered in our home, some with sleeping bags under their arms. Over pizza and iced tea, we got acquainted over an ice breaker — guessing the products represented by Advertising Age’s “Top ten slogans of the century.” Then we spent a few minutes considering number three, “The pause that refreshes.”
Beginning with Jesus’ instruction to the disciples during a busy time of ministry to “come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31), we discussed common obstacles in graduate school that keep us from taking time away to rest and be refreshed (e.g., feeling like a slacker, fear of falling behind peers). We looked at God’s gift of the Sabbath and considered the implications of the fact that God gave this as a commandment, not just a suggestion. Then we each took a copy of Psalm 63:1-8 along with pens and markers, found a comfortable place to sit, and spent the next 45 minutes pausing and being refreshed through manuscript study. Then we gathered in groups of 3 or 4 for a discussion of what we had discovered in these verses, before our whole group gathered for a few more minutes to compare notes. Brittany, a medical student, shared a helpful principle she had learned. Whenever she looks at Scripture, she asks two questions: where do I see me and where do I see Jesus? Great stuff.
Refueling from the snack table, we launched into a spirited game of Catch Phrase until late in the evening when some headed home to their own beds, others upstairs or downstairs to settle in for the night.
Saturday morning, after a leisurely breakfast, we heard from Crystal, a graduating veterinary student, who joined us via Skype from Oregon. An unexpected change in plans prevented her from being with us in person, but enabled us to break new ground with a “teleconference” portion of the retreat. Her message, based in part on Psalm 9:10, “…you, LORD, have never forsaken those who seek you.,” highlighted the particular ways she has learned, during graduate school, that God is trustworthy. Next, each of us found a comfortable spot on the back porch, on the grass outside, or in the living room, to spend an hour or so in an extended time of quiet before God. We gathered again to hear from Klodiana, a former law student, now in practice with a large Columbus firm. She shared some things the Lord has taught her during the transition from grad school to professional life. Two nuggets –- “List what you know is true about yourself and what is true about God and keep going back to that!” and “Find friends, who will tell you the truth, who are NOT in your profession.” After extended discussion about the messages we’d heard from our friends and what we’d heard from the Lord during our quiet times, we finished by praying for one another.
Two years ago, we incorporated a new practice into our time together. Each woman writes herself a letter at the end of the retreat, summarizing some things she has learned. Each woman’s letter is mailed back to her a month after the retreat. A few weeks after this year’s retreat ended, an email arrived from Jan, a medical student:
“I have to share a wonderful encouragement that I experienced today…. It came through the letters that we wrote to ourselves at the women’s retreat. My letter has been waiting patiently on my desk in its bright pink, sealed envelope since April. I’ve been saving it for the perfect moment, the moment when its contents would speak to me right where I was. I didn’t know when that moment would be, but felt that I would recognize it when it came. It came today. When I settled into the cozy office chair at my desk, with waning patience at life’s complications and frustrations, the letter caught my eye. I read the notes I had taken during our retreat and found just what I needed in my notes from Jeremiah 33:2-3. This is what the LORD says, he who made the earth, the LORD who formed it and established it — the LORD is his name: call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know. Amazing! I’m more and more awestruck by the way the Lord works every day. It’s a wonderful feeling and something I had to share with you.”
What a delight to hear about this ongoing encouragement from the retreat — a pause that continues to refresh!
Next month: Postgraduate women gather for fellowship “in the transition” into careers.
Debbie Splaingard has an undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and a Masters in Organizational Communication from Marquette University. Over the years, she has been a medical grant writer, owner of a personnel consulting business, church staff member, wife, mom and grandmother. She is currently a research associate at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and a campus volunteer with InterVarsity Graduate and Faculty Ministries at Ohio State University.
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