So, Ben is officially a United States Airman! Didn’t see that one coming, did ya? Neither did we. If you read the “How God Got Ben Into Vet School” post a couple years ago, you know about the crazy, roundabout way that God led Ben and me to Minnesota and enabled Ben to fulfill his dream of attending veterinary school. And then there was the stressful, dramatic adventure we’ll call How God Got Us a House. And I’m sure you know about our eventful entrance into parenthood that happened at pretty much exactly the same time. We have definitely seen God’s hand in our lives these past few years, and there’s no way we could have orchestrated or predicted where we’d be now or the ways things have unfolded.
I don’t want to constantly be talking about ourselves, especially in such a long post as this, but as one of the biggest decisions we will make in our lives, and possibly one that’s hard for people to understand, I figured it was worthy of a blog post. Besides, the whole point of this blog is to try to explain in real life terms what it’s like to follow Jesus, and how His Word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit give light to our path, hopefully pointing people to Him, not to us.
I considered jokingly titling this post “How God Paid for Vet School.” It took a lot of faith at times to believe that God could get Ben into vet school, and we knew before we ever got to Minnesota that it was going to take just as much faith to believe that he could provide the means for us to pay back the outlandish tuition costs (seen the recent NY Times article?). But, we reasoned, if this is really where God is leading us, and we believed it was, he will provide a way to pay for it. He owns “the cattle on a thousand hills,” right? Or as I like to tell Ben, “God’s got a lot of money.” Not that we deserve it, but he’s in the business of multiplying what we offer to him and making it more than enough. It’s what he does.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke them. Then he gave them to the disciples to distribute to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.” -Luke 9:16-17
I remember one night sitting in our little apartment in Urbana, IL. I don’t remember for sure if Ben had been accepted to UMN yet or not, but I remember that we had been thinking about the crazy amount of debt we would incur (think in the ballpark of $300,000…yikes.). We were trying not to be terrified at the prospect of incurring that insane amount of debt and trying to convince ourselves we weren’t being terribly irresponsible. Ben had just come across some information about a scholarship offered by the U.S. Army to veterinarians which would pay for most of the schooling costs in exchange for 3 years of service. We didn’t know yet if that would be an avenue we’d want to seriously consider, and we figured it was probably a longshot that he’d get the scholarship anyway, but I remember the sense of gratitude verging on relief that I felt to God that night for sending us a reminder that he could provide for our needs in any number of unexpected ways. He does own the cattle on a thousand hills. We knew then and we know now that God could just as easily provide for our needs through a regular job where we’d work to pay off the loans over the years (though that’s getting harder and harder for vet students to do, as the NYT article describes). I think we expected that that’s what would happen, that we’d just settle down and chip away at the debt.
But apparently God was up to something…
“…all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be.” – Psalm 139:16
And there was always more to it than money, from that very first night. I remember the interest that was starting to bubble up in Benjamin as he considered what a military life would be like. He was excited by the thought of an opportunity to grow in personal discipline and physical fitness. As much as it might surprise you because of his spontaneity in certain situations, he is actually someone who highly values discipline, order, and structure, and the idea of being a part of an organization that would nurture those values in him was appealing. He also had long wrestled in the back of his mind with trying to reconcile his passion for veterinary medicine with his desire to serve people (in a way a little more significant than just taking care of someone’s darling kitty- no offense to those of you who love your pets, we love our Leo and Snakey, too.) That was a primary reason for his interest in working with large animals who provide a livelihood for farmers. But perhaps an opportunity like the Army could allow him to use his training and passion to be of service to people in an even more direct way, at least for a few years?
As for my end of it, I was concerned as I wondered about the possibility of combat, of course, but otherwise I was open to it. I had learned through our previous adventures (i.e. yearly moves, usually at the very last minute) to go with the flow a lot more (I even have a pet snake now…). I was sure that such an opportunity would provide ways for me to grow too, as I was getting a glimpse of through a military wife and husband who were a part of our small group at the time. Besides, doesn’t every girl love a man in uniform?
So, the vet school dream became a reality, and eventually the Army scholarship became a real possibility, as well. After some thought and a lot of work on a 30-something page application, Ben submitted his application. Or so he thought. He had double-checked with the recruiter he was working with to make sure he had turned in everything that was needed, and the recruiter assured him it was good to go and he was submitting in on Ben’s behalf. Apparently that meant sticking in in a drawer, along with one of his classmate’s applications, and then deciding he was going to quit his job, never bothering to make sure that the applications got to where he promised they’d go. So Ben’s application never got reviewed. It was pretty disappointing. What rubbed the salt in the wound was that the other 2 out of the 4 students from his school who applied got the scholarship. He and his other classmate were left high and dry, and the Army couldn’t do anything about it because the decisions had already been made for the year. The person he spoke with kindly assured him that if he chose to reapply the following year, he would personally make sure his application was taken care of. It was little consolation for Ben, who wasn’t even sure he wanted to reapply. But we moved along, and tried to trust that God was in control over it. Maybe he didn’t want Ben to be in the Army anyway.
The next year came, and Ben was in the process of deciding whether or not to reapply for the Army scholarship, talking with a recruiter and doing some work to update his application. He was still undecided when he suddenly learned of a similar scholarship that was being offered by the Air Force. We heard from several people who spoke highly of their experiences in the Air Force, and Ben got a phone interview right away, around Christmas of 2012. The interview went well and the recruiter thought he had a really good shot at being selected. So, he filled out all the application materials and went in for his official military physical (a pretty interesting experience, from what he described afterward). Then, the bad news. He failed his eye exam. The Air Force is known for being pretty picky about eyesight, since you need to be ableto see to, you know, fly planes and stuff. It would have been nice if they had told him that before he went through the whole process. There was a chance that they could approve a waiver for him, though, since he’d be entering as an officer and non-pilot, but the date of the scholarship selection board meeting was quickly approaching, and we weren’t hearing back about the waiver. All there was to do was pray. We (my Tuesday morning Caribou Coffee prayer group included) prayed that God would us guide in all of this, allowing Ben to get the waiver, and the scholarship, if it was where he wanted us. And conversely, that he would deny Ben the waiver and/or the scholarship if it was not where he wanted us. Because, really, we didn’t know if he should join the military or not. It wasn’t something that had been in our plans, and it would be kind of life-altering, for sure. Though we were interested in the prospect, there were pros, cons, and a lot of unknowns, and we felt kind of unqualified to make that choice. We really needed direction, and approval or denial was a pretty clear way God could give us that direction, just as he had done through the 9 vet school rejection letters, the apartments and houses we couldn’t get, and the Army scholarship that never got reviewed.
Ben got the waiver. He got the scholarship, too. Excited at first, his enthusiasm quickly turned to a feeling of seriousness over the weightiness of having to make this huge decision. By Friday. It was Tuesday. He called and told me he had gotten the offer. We figured we’d need to talk about it in depth that night and start weighing the pros and cons. Or… maybe not. After all, we had been praying for God to guide us by allowing him to get the scholarship, or not get it. That’s what we asked for, so maybe we should trust that he gave us our answer. Maybe our job now was just to be faithful. After we hung up, unable to really talk about all of that because of a bad cell phone connection, that was the thought that filled each of our minds the rest of that day: it seems like this is God’s answer. That night, we prayed. And then we talked. And it wasn’t a weighing of the pros and cons. We were just on the same page. It seemed clear that, unless God made it very plain to us in the next few days that this was not what he wanted, it felt like this was what we were supposed to do.
We were excited! Ben was struck by the knowledge that his selection was “a gift and an honor,” as he put it. Yes, there were going to be downsides. More time away from family and friends, something we don’t take lightly. Possible deployment. More moves. A twist/delay in Ben’s veterinary career. But along with the sacrifices to be made by us and the ones we love, we saw much opportunity as well, and our minds started to be filled with ways that this looked to be an answer to prayer, and more than just the prayer for the money to pay for vet school. We had recently been praying that God would deepen our vision and ability to cultivate strong bonds and a solid foundation for our new little family unit. And as much as we have missed being away from our parents, siblings, niece, nephews, and close friends and have come to value proximity to them more, the distance has required us to learn to manage with less help and more autonomy, something I’m sure God is using to strengthen our relationships with each other and make our little family more cohesive. That, along with Ben’s long hours studying, has also increased Jen’s endurance and self-discipline in some needed ways, ways that she, like Ben, hopes and expects to continue to grow in as a military spouse. For this and many other reasons, some of which we will probably share more about in the future, it felt right, felt like God, and the rest just seemed like small bumps in the road to be overcome with faith in the God who has always been so faithful.
The day Ben got the offer, it had been on each of our minds before we even talked about it that it was pretty interesting how it all happened with not getting the Army scholarship. The existence of the Army scholarship is what first encouraged our faith that God could provide not only finances but direction for our future in ways we couldn’t plan on our own. Ben also probably would not have come to apply for the Air Force scholarship without it, since the Army position was specifically for a veterinarian, where the Air Force one was not, and he probably wouldn’t have known about it or paid much attention to it had the military not already been on his radar. It didn’t seem like a coincidence that his application, which probably would have been competitive, never got seen. Why would God want Ben in the Air Force specifically, rather than the Army? Who knows? But we know he could have any number of reasons: A person or people we are supposed to meet and influence or be influenced by? Our safety? Someone else’s safety? A way to lead Ben to whatever job he is supposed to have afterward? Something Elden is supposed to glean from what will be a very interesting season of his childhood? All of the above? It also appears that the Air Force gave out several scholarships this year, more than they have in some years past. Some years, including last year, they didn’t give out any at all. Were the things that delayed Ben’s commencement of vet school (think 2 years as a tire salesman, and then an interesting and positive 1.5 year educational detour which led us to meet some of our dearest lifelong friends) all part of bringing him here during this specific year in order to guide him into the Air Force? And why did God lead us to Minnesota specifically (by lead I mean closing every other door besides this one!)? To meet certain people? To incur the highest vet school tuition possible to test our faith that God could provide? To get one of the Air Force Scholarships, half of which were given to UMN students? And what was up with all the Residency Status drama (application, denial, appeal, denial, last-minute reversal)? Was it just another way for God to show us that he could provide for our financial needs? Was it a test of whether or not we would be completely truthful with the residency status committee about our future plans? (Oh, and sidenote, if you’re up for a challenge, try explaining the whole letting-God-guide-your-future thing to a committee of people who need to determine whether or not you intend to stay in their state.) And if that was a test, was it also a test for Ben to constantly be surrounded by classmates who had specific plans laid out for their future, for him to struggle to believe that his lack of a “5-year plan” was not him being “behind” or “irresponsible” but a natural part of the journey when you’re living a life of faith? As you can see, my mind spins to think how God can weave our lives!
“Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.”
While we’re on the subject of letting God guide your future, it seems appropriate here to back up a bit to our 5th anniversary dinner last June. The topic of conversation turned to where we imagined ourselves in 5 or 10 years. At that point, we had pretty much zero idea of where we’d go after vet school (that’s kind of been a theme in our marriage so far, not knowing where we’re going…). We really wanted to be close to family. We weren’t all that excited about Illinois itself, though, largely because of the funding cuts to education and social services which would probably impact Jen’s ability to get a job. We liked Minnesota pretty well, but we weren’t sure if we should stay there or not. It sounded exciting to live in another part of the country, perhaps somewhere with a little more diverse geographical features. Ben loves the cold, but me, not so much. And was it really worth being away from family and friends? Probably not. But we didn’t know. Once again, we were recognizing that we were unqualified to make these big decisions when the God who knew us— our desires, our needs, our circumstances and our futures could make a better choice for us, and for all the other people our life course may impact. We felt keenly aware that we could come up with a plan ourselves and try to make it happen, and we could very well end up dissatisfied. We didn’t want to base our life on mere pros and cons. We knew we just wanted to be wherever God wanted us to be, and that that was the only way we’d be sure to be in the best place and really be content. It was also in the back of our minds, especially once the Army and Air Force scholarships became possibilities, that our move to Minnesota could very well be a time of preparation for a bigger move (or moves), rather than simply a 4-year detour from Illinois. Honestly, a part of us always kind of longed for an adventure. We both can be introverted homebodies, but inside Ben is also the kind of guy who dreams of exploring the Galapagos Islands and hiking the Appalachian Trail, who rappelled down several stories of his dorm building in college (I hope his mom doesn’t see that…). I spent a semester of college traveling around Europe and was kind of hoping Ben might have to go the unaccredited vet school route so we could spend 4 years living on the island of St. Kitts. On our honeymoon, we had some crazy experiences climbing the tallest mountain in the northeastern United States, an experience that may have been a symbol of the adventures to come in our life together.
But the homebodies in us, and the part of us that really wants to be near the people we love, probably would not have chosen any long-term adventures without our circumstances leading us there and almost necessitating it. God knew that. And so here we are, in a house in Minnesota, with Ben commissioned today as a Lieutenant in the United States Air Force (with me an Air Force wife, and little Air Force Boy Elden, too!) Who would have thought?
So Ben will be finishing vet school during the next two years, with not really any Air Force commitments during that time. He should be receiving his assignment sometime before graduation in 2015. That summer he will head off to Commissioned Officer Training, and after graduating COT move to Active Duty as a Public Health Officer, and we will all head wherever his assignment (and God) take us, and see how the next 3 years unfold!
We are grateful for God’s provision, in the ways we can see and in the ways we haven’t discovered yet. We are thankful that Ben already has a job lined up for after graduation, and that we actually get to know 2 years in advance what we’re going to be doing next, even if we don’t know where exactly (Illinois? Alaska? An island in the Middle of Nowhere?). We are not used to that much foreknowledge of our future, and yet the unknowns are even bigger this time. It’s exciting. We are also looking forward to the travel opportunities the Air Force offers, including hopefully the ability to travel home relatively easily/frequently.
I am proud of Ben for his courage and his achievement in being accepted into the US Air Force and selected for the scholarship. Even more so, as I’ve told him, I am proud of him for his faith in God, his commitment to act with integrity, and his dedication to his family. Congratulations, Lieutenant Wier!