I asked Lauren Hilty, March’s Extraordinary Ordinary featured person, to recommend someone she knew for this blog. She recommended Alan Hernandez, a new graduate of Trinity International University and a newlywed. The extraordinary accomplishment of finishing his degree while working and getting married is Alan’s strength, juggling all the ordinary things of life into success.
Q) How did you meet your lovely bride?
A) When I was still in my senior year of high school, I worked at a nearby Target that she worked at as well. She worked in a different department but I knew of her. I approached her out of the blue and introduced myself. We slowly became friends over the course of about a year and a half before we ever went out on a date. It wasn’t something either one of us had in mind when we met, she’s two years my senior. So at the time, I’m sure she didn’t even understand why she was friends with a high schooler! But we got to know each other well while we both worked there. So much so that my brother made the joke at our wedding that you really can find everything at Target, even a wife!
Photo Courtesy of Alan Hernandez
Q) What was it about her that made you know she was “the one”?
A) One of my favorite pastors was once asked, “How do you know if you married the one, especially when the going gets rough?” He responded with: “Look at your marriage certificate, the name on there, that’s ‘the one’ for you.” Joy, that’s my wife’s name, is to me as her name: she brings joy into my life, she makes me laugh, she supports me and encourages me, she’s a beautiful woman, and she loves me and chooses to love me each day. All of those things assured me that I wanted to marry her, and when I did, she became the one for me.
Q) I, too, chose to get married during college and found it was so challenging that I ended up working and going back later for my degree. How did you juggle school, work and wedding plans?
A) Good question! Grace, a lot of patience, and a lot of flexibility. Joy and I gave ourselves about 5 months to plan the wedding, we wanted to get married before my senior year with enough time to enjoy the summer and learn to be with each other (somewhat) before I had school again. Joy was a trooper too. She took on the wedding plans during our junior year and tackled them. We had a lot of help with planning, with all the details and with all the stressors that came along. We both had to give each other a lot of room to be able to relax, as well as give the other person space to continue to work. For me, that meant the space to be able to go to the library to get work done even after we each had long days and wanted to relax with each other. School definitely suffered a little bit, I think it was my worst semester grade wise, but it was a worthwhile sacrifice. I still did my best to work well, I just wasn’t losing sleep over a B.
Q) Married life as a college student isn’t easy. How did you two manage?
A) Marriage came first, that was our commitment above all other things. We were going to take care of each other, prioritize each other, and make sure that we were giving each other the best of us. That wasn’t always easy, but it was fundamental to everything else we were doing and responsible for. We needed to sacrifice a lot; I still had a commitment to do well with hopes for graduate school, so I needed to keep working hard. Joy had to take on the majority financial responsibility, working as much as she could since I was only able to work part time. There were some tough times, but it was an amazing experience. We lived on Trinity’s campus, which made it easy to manage going to class, and we loved doing life together and facing everything together. Coming home to each other was, and still is, a tremendous blessing.
Q) What were some of the struggles you faced in college?
A) College was great! I originally started going to Augustana College for psychology and pre-med, but felt called to church ministry and wanted to go to school for that. I started at Trinity a few months later and loved my experience. Getting into a new environment was different, but I was apt at the material, and excelled. After living on campus at Augustana, I commuted to Trinity from my parents, and that made social aspects of college difficult. It was much easier after class to go back home as soon as possible than to stay around and meet people or be with friends I already had. After Joy and I got married and lived on campus, I was a lot closer to the community, but I almost always wanted to get back home to my wife and rest. I also saw college as a stepping stone to graduate school for a long time, which made it difficult to stay interested in subject material specifically, or the slow moving three years to graduation in general. My goal was seminary, and so I didn’t make the most of the time I had in college. It has always been easy to be a full time student for me, but working a job and putting in effort there seemed like a distraction. While in college, putting forth effort working at the library, trying to do job the well, sacrificing to bring more money home, have been mindsets I’ve had to improve.
Q) How did you manage paying for college? There’s so much in the news about student loans being a burden.
A) I got married! When we were telling my family, they were deeply concerned. The majority of people in the U.S. would probably react the same way, I was 21 and my wife was 22 at the time, so they deeply doubted our maturity level and readiness to get married. But finances have actually been one of the easiest parts about being married. Being an independent means a lot more government help. Not that getting married is a wise or practical solution to paying for college, no one should get married because they want to make college cheaper! It was something we found out after the fact, and were deeply thankful for it. We talked to a lot of people and got onto a strict and detailed budget and stuck to it as best as we could so that paying for rent, groceries, loans, etc. was natural and we never had to worry that we weren’t going to make it. It was tight, it still is, but with planning and help, it’s been made really easy. I still have loans, and my wife and I are putting all that we can towards paying them off as soon as possible. My parents were extremely helpful before I got married as well. They sacrificed a lot to help pay for school. I received several scholarships which were helpful, but ultimately it’s been about diligence for us, prioritizing getting school and loans paid for over everything else. There’s no “get rich quick” here; it’s a boring reality, but it’ll be so worth it.
Q) You did it, you graduated! What area of expertise are you gradimicated in?
A) Woo! I graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies. As I said above, when I left Augustana I wanted to learn the Bible and enter into church ministry to some degree. I could have continued along with my original degree idea, and done seminary later, but I wanted to get started as soon as possible.
Photo Courtesy of Alan Hernandez
Q) Where do you see your degree taking you in the future?
A) Well, I’m back in school! Short lived celebration, right? I am pursuing my Master of Divinity degree at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Basically it’s a multi-field ministry degree standard for pastoral ministry in the western world. My Biblical Studies undergraduate degree prepared me to enter in with a head start in my Masters, and it gave me a lot of practice for the academic and intellectual rigor that my Masters is already requiring. My Masters and Bachelors will hopefully lead to my being in pastoral ministry in a church some day; I’m not sure to what specific degree, but I love people and I love connecting them with the Bible and what I believe to be the foundational reality to the world.
Q) As a 20-something, where do you envision yourself in 10 or 20 years?
A) These questions are always so tough. I have no idea what’s in store for me, which is an exciting and incredibly frightening prospect. Even more than that, its difficult to distinguish where I wish I’ll be and where I realistically see myself in that time period. But I definitely would love to be in a church, working particularly with small group ministries and the community within the church. Learning to associate with one another and training up leaders who can lead groups, counsel, and read and teach the Bible rightly. Relating well and beneficially in community is a natural but often so difficult aspect of life, and being a part of ministry that facilitates that well would be awesome. I can also envision myself in an academic setting. I love learning and I love academia. I would love, if I have the talent and mind for it, to continue on and get a PhD and then teach in a small college somewhere. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a top university or anything, but I would love the opportunity to teach and engage with students in smaller classes at a college.
Q) Is there something surprising about you, an unexpected thing perchance, that you wouldn’t mind sharing?
A) I have an overly active imagination, particularly as it comes to day dreaming. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had trouble getting out of my head. It can be a huge distraction.
Thanks for reading Alan’s extraordinary adventure here at Look and Be. If you, or someone you know, would like to be featured on this Extraordinary Ordinary blog, please email me at soulfixer13 at yahoo dot com and put Extraordinary Ordinary in the subject line and you will be contacted.