By Beth Bruno

Going Back to Grad School as a Mother

I will always think fondly of Arthur, the fuzzy aardvark on PBS. Arthur reminds me of those darkening Seattle afternoons, just as my oldest came home from school and the younger two needed the naps they refused to take. The three kids could squeeze next to me on our big green couch without noticing my one outstretched arm above their heads holding a book. When “Arthur” ended and “Word Girl” began, no one noticed my departure to the kitchen to start dinner, book still in hand. PBS got me through grad school.

My husband and I had moved to Seattle without knowing a soul. We had just returned to the states after living overseas for the better part of a decade, and had recently left staff with a college ministry. In (stereo)typical fashion, my husband was planning to get a Master of Divinity, and I was going to get a counseling master’s degree: the perfect duo — pastor and counselor. The only problem was that neither of us really wanted those particular degrees. Our hearts pulsed to different beats. Soon, it was my husband pursuing the counseling degree.

And me?

It all started with a documentary that woke me up to a passion for the marginalized that had been dormant for ten years. Then I heard a commercial on the radio — a new program at a Christian university I had never heard of. I later bumped into the program director — turns out I knew him from our time abroad. Within weeks, I was enrolled as a student.

Up until then, I had no idea a master’s degree in International Community Development was a thing. I was still waking up to desire and calling that had fallen prey to cross-cultural survival and mothering young children. I barely recognized myself, let alone these new convictions and ambitions.

With children aged eight, five, and two, I began my graduate program as the only mother in my cohort. I spent nights and weekends in class or online, interacting with classmates, writing papers, watching documentaries, reading, reading, reading. I always had a book in hand — in the carpool line, on the couch, at the stove, with the chickens in our backyard.

I was a bit jaded from our time in overseas missions. Tired of being a professional Christian, I relished talking to neighbors without an agenda or reading the Bible without preparing a study. I had mostly stopped even reading the Bible. But in the spaces of my soul that seemed to have died, restoration began.

Being a student was intellectually stimulating. I learned of heartbreaking global problems and fascinating solutions. The library’s EBSCO database fed my unquenchable curiosity as I mined its treasures for information on questions I had long since stopped asking. Nearly every assignment led me back to the country we had just left and, through a new lens of research and community development, I came to know it in a new, more intimate way. I began to love anew the place I had left so weary.

As I journeyed deeper and deeper into the world’s injustice and pain, I experienced Jesus more personally than ever before. My heart broke over suffering and injustice, and I walked with him in a communion I had never known. Grad school became a spiritual revival of sorts.

Somehow, we parented our three kids, and I recall it as a joyful season. They were young enough to put to bed at seven o’clock, so my husband and I had a good three hours each night to work on assignments. As he and I both came alive to new passions and interests, our kids benefited. The chickens, the weekly trips to the farmers market, and a world map full of sponsored kids were all products of studying local economies, environmental justice, and global poverty. I worked to digest it all for them and started a blog (no longer active) to share what I was learning with others called Justice in the Kitchen: Imparting a heart for justice to our kids in bite-sized chunks.

I limped into Seattle battered and bruised — emotionally, spiritually, and mentally. Grad school gave me life. It awakened in me passions God has given me to offer the world. It made me a more interesting, more engaged mother. It infused curiosity and healthy debate into my marriage. It reawakened my love for God. Grad school set me on a new vocational journey, but it did far more — it revived my soul.

About the Author

Beth Bruno received her MA in International Community Development from Northwest University after serving on staff with CRU for a decade, mostly in the Middle East. She received her BA in Social Policy from Northwestern University. She is the Founder and Director of A Face to Reframe, which reframes marginalized populations with dignity through participatory photography, as well as the Manager of Domestic Sex Trafficking with the U COUNT Campaign. She is the co-author of END: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking and a proud member of Redbud Writer’s Guild. Her writings and activities can be found at

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