The 8th of August, 2011.  I will not forget that date.  After ten years of wondering, thinking, praying and making plans for a UK PhD program, that was the day of departure.  That was the day when my wife and I—via a family-led carpool, three planes, a double-decker bus, a southbound train out of Scotland, and a caravan of awaiting friends—brought our four kids to Durham, England… along with 19 pieces of luggage.

I keep a journal.  But I have yet to darken those pages with ink about that final week in the States, save one brief entry scratched out on August 5th while in a surgical waiting room.  My wife was having a cancerous patch removed from the bridge of her nose.  Even on that Friday morning before the Monday of departure, I was unsure if we were really going to leave.

We had been trying to sell our house.  For months.  Every weekend and many weekday nights had been devoted to remodeling—installing windows, patio doors, repairing miscellanies, painting, etc., etc., etc.  Miranda was working three nights a week as a server at The Cheesecake Factory.  Our lives were ratcheted so tight with the stress of an impending series of one-way flights with no resolution to our house and with plenty of friends and family to bid a hard farewell to… assuming some miracle came through with the house and we could actually board those flights.

It was not joyless.  I was quite miserable in spirit throughout much of this pre-departure season.  But in spite of the pressurized situation, there was a sense of joy that surfaced from time to time.  Even so, the disillusionment was very painful.  All those years praying about this vocational path of doctoral work, all the waiting, all the willingness to give it up—it all came down to a few weeks away when nothing, NOTHING, seemed to be coming through circumstantially for us to board that first plane.

I remember providing for my good friends Chuck Hooten and Kyle Bailey a litany of all the impossible factors arrayed against me, factors that God seemed quite content leave untouched by providence.  Both gave memorable responses.  The one bit of good news I shared was that my kids seemed to be handling the upcoming move well.  Kyle kindly (but gravely) warned me not to spread my anxiety to them—it is quite contagious.  Chuck told me, “Well, you did just write a book on disillusionment with God—you shoulda seen this comin’!”  it was the wisdom and levity I needed that morning.

One of the toughest days had been a couple of months earlier when a friend passionately explained how I was destroying my family’s future by taking such a costly course—without outside funding (which I lack), a theology degree in the UK costs well into the six-figure mark.  At the moment of this conversation, my job—a great job, a dream job, a job I had come to love—was being offered to a close friend (fellow blogger, Joel Busby, to be exact!).  He had been my pick for the post.  But though I did not tell many people this, I started looking for another ministry job in Birmingham—I was just so scared.

Another dark day came when we were about to leave for a mini-vacation of sorts at the home of a family member.  After all the madness, all the rush, we finally had a chance for a brief respite in July.  After my wife cleaned the house immaculately (so it could be “show-ready” for any realtors), and after I had loaded up the car, we got the kids’ passports in the mail.  I drove back up the driveway to spend the hours needed applying to the UK visas for my kids.  Passports + Visas for a family of 6 = over $4k.  I had no idea the British government would charge the same for kids as they charged for adults.  Weeks later, I was a bit annoyed when I stood before the Immigration desk at Edinburgh’s airport… though the officer could not have been kinder. That day was also when I got the news from the publisher that my book was not selling very well at all.  So much for daydreaming of income from writing.

And then, just under 3 weeks from before departure, some friends graciously and surprisingly began slipping envelopes into our hands.  Envelopes holding funds that we simply did not have, funds that enabled us to get through the first month of settling in before the loans kicked in.  And a prospective home-buyer offered to lease our house.  And folks showed up to help us move. And the visas actually arrived (there was a real risk they would not, and new immigration laws forbade our entry until weeks after our pre-booked departure date… all this to say the story is much thicker than presented here).

On moving day, while MBCC pastors (thanks, guys… really) heaved our stuff in the worst heat index of the summer into a moving truck that had to be hauled down my steep driveway and unloaded into yet another moving truck, we got a call from the dermatologist that the little spot Miranda casually went in to get checked was actually cancer.  We had about 4 minutes together to take in the news.  And then we had to get back to packing and loading.  The next day I drove that 26 foot Penske from Birmingham to Atlanta where we unloaded it, storing the stuff in my mother-in-law’s basement.  Walter Arroyo drove Miranda and I back home. We were squashed of all strength, just emotionally, physically—and most certainly spiritually—spent.  Miranda had surgery the next day.  Walter and Janet Lamar cleaned our house.  Kyle finished up the last minute remodeling touches.  Providence through community.

A few days later we were in the airport, telling Miranda’s mom and dad goodbye.  It was all so last-minute that we were cancelling utilities and insurance and what-not during the drive to Camp Creek Pkwy and even at the boarding gate.

8th of August, 2011.

And now it has been a year.  It got harder, not easier, after we arrived.  But now that the dust of 2011’s summer and the previous year in the UK is beginning to settle, I am going to be reflecting on what we are doing and how we are doing in a handful of blog posts.  I can say this: the kids are still doing great.  And this: I think that maybe I am actually doing the right thing, kind of, sort of, by being here, by working on this ridiculously expensive doctorate.  And this: my wife is the best person I have ever known and will ever know.  And, finally, this: God dwells in thick darkness… but He is good.

7 thoughts on “Our Life in England and the PhD: Year One

  1. Andy,
    Thanks for posting this. I remember how absolutely chaotic your last few days were in Bham, though I didn’t realize just to what extent. I can’t tell you how much I admire you and Miranda, and am so glad to hear that things are starting to look up. Your faith honestly challenges me to reflect on my life, and how I deal with situations I tend to think of as “difficult” or “painful.” Thank you for such a Godly example, and I look forward to the next time we can sit and have a cup of coffee together and chat. By the way, London 2012 was fantastic, I’m sure you and Miranda and the kids had something to do with it 😉 Take care.

  2. Wow! They don’t give out gold medals for that kind of thing, more’s the pity, but you deserve one. All I can say is, as far as people here are concerned, you are in the right place – and it’s been a blessing to know you.

    Roll on year 2!

    Ed.

  3. This reminds me of when my family packed everything up and moved to the UK to pursue my dad’s Masters degree on 28 July 2000, though of course I saw it through my 12 year old eyes, rather than the extra stress my parents must have felt through it all!

    Having now lived here for 12 years (the UK has captured my heart), I can confidently say that God truly is faithful and loving and GOOD. I am cheering you guys on and praying for you! I see a lot of my family in you guys, and it makes me smile. Keep going!

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