We got married right after we graduated from undergrad. I had a degree in K-12 music education and was teaching. Ben applied for a few random jobs, but he didn’t really know what to do with a BA in sociology, and he didn’t know what he was called to do as a career. He ended up deciding to work for a year at the organization that ran the program where we met, and to apply to grad school programs in sociology while working there, thinking he might end up being a professor. He accepted an offer to pursue a PHD in sociology at the University of Nebraska Lincoln. We were Nebraska bound.
During his first year in the program, 2011, he took a stats class and really liked it.
He came home one day and told me he wanted a degree in math. Or statistics. Or something statistics related.
Say what? I didn’t even know he liked math. (Turns out I married a math nerd. I wrote about how surprising that was here.)
But sure enough, over the next 18 months, Ben was certain the Lord was leading him to do something stats-related. And for some crazy reason, I thought it was a good idea! He spent the next year and a half taking all the pre-recs for getting into a phd statistics program (a LOT of calculus) and finishing the masters portion of his degree at UNL. He started applying to phd stats programs. In Oct 2012, he was traveling to a sociology conference and saw an article in Harvard Business Review about “Big Data.” It was the first he’d heard of it. He picked up a copy, read the article, and was hooked. “I want to do big data.” Again, for some strange reason, I thought this made sense and was a good idea. No one even knew what big data meant.
The magazine talked about the Data Management Revolution and even claimed “Data Scientist” would be the sexiest job of the 21st century.
That fall and winter, Ben sent out a TON of grad school apps… including an application to a one year program at Harvard in “big data.” (Technically, “computational science and engineering” but ain’t nobody got time for that.)
He only got into 1 phd stats program – a 5 year minimum program in North Carolina.
But he got into all the computer programming/ business analyst/ data science type masters programs he applied to. 2 were in Chicago. and 1 was Harvard. It was a tough decision, but Ben was (again) certain the Lord was leading him to good old Cambridge, Massachusetts.
I, on the other hand, wasn’t so sure. At first. We wanted to be in agreement before moving forward with the decision, so I committed to praying a lot. For Ben’s mind to be changed, of course. HA! Just kidding. But I did ask God to tell me if we were supposed to move to Boston, and to please make it clear because you know, I wanted to know for sure.
I still remember EXACTLY where I was driving when I knew for sure that we were supposed to move. Heading east on Pioneers in Lincoln, almost at the intersection of 70th and Pioneers (my Lincoln friends know where that is!)
It was almost audible – Ben is supposed to go to Harvard. You need to move to Boston.
me: are you sure?
And you know what? It was really hard. It was by far the most challenging of his academic career. But, he learned a lot. He now speaks in coding languages that sound about as clear as Chinese to me. (I didn’t even know there were coding languages.) He learned all that data management stuff and it turns out he’s pretty good at it. (Allegedly. I mean, what do I know.)
It was challenging for us too – we learned how to communicate better and love each other more selflessly.
We learned how to give each other our time and energy in new ways, and how to support each other when we’re both drained and tired.
I learned how to be a stay at home mom.
We didn’t learn how to successfully implement naturally family planning… (you can read about that here.)
People often ask how Ben ended up in Data Science, which is part of the reason I am writing it all down 🙂 But the other reason I wanted to share it is because recalling this journey always reminds us about 2 things:
#1 Sometimes God only shows you one step of the journey at a time.
In Genesis, it’s recorded: “The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1) The author of Hebrews retells this story for us: “By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.” (Hebrews 11:8)
God didn’t give Abraham every step of the journey at the beginning; He led him one step at a time. Sometimes that’s how it is for us too. Taking the next step in obedience even when you don’t know where it’s going to lead. The unknown is hard, but there is great comfort in clinging to the truth that God is good, and knows the end from the beginning.
2. God can redeem any situation in any area of life for your good and His glory.
Ben wasn’t praying or asking God what to study in college 9 years ago when he picked his major. The advice he got was probably the same advice you and I got – study something you think is interesting. He started out his undergrad pre-med but figured out quickly he didn’t want to go into medicine. He did however kinda like his Sociology 101 class, so sociology it was. Overtime it became less and less interesting to him, and he had no desire to pursue this field as a career path. Data science, on the other hand, didn’t even exist when Ben was picking a major. And yet, this career is a clear calling for him. He gets to go to work and do something he loves, is challenging, and that he excels at. My friends, that is such grace.
If God cares to transform something as trivial as a degree, a job or career path, how much more must He care about transforming people. No pit is too deep, no darkness too black, no heart too jaded… Jesus is a great Redeemer, and He gives grace upon grace.