As referenced in the last post, I feel as though my family and I are emerging from a season in such a way that we can look back and recognize the past four years do indeed amount to a particular season. Our lives in England continue, of course, but the strange and wonderful era of completing a PhD and beginning an academic post is now a closing chapter. A list of the greatest challenges awaits. Here is a list of the greatest delights and blessings…
Meeting new friends
We were warmly welcomed before we ever arrived in England by the incredible leaders, staff, and community of Kings Church Durham. Members of Christ’s body have family all over the world. Fortunately, KCD is used to Americans, so we all have good laughs over the cross-cultural distinctives and stereotypes. And soon after we arrived, Wes Hill was kind enough to take me out for coffee, then welcome me into the elite club (tongue in cheek) of PhD students that met and studied in a crammed, unglamorous study space affectionately called “37a” (taken from its address). A unique bond is forged between fellow students facing their deepest insecurities while piling on massive amounts of debt to prepare for a degree that may or may not secure them a future job with any income, a process also known as studying-theology-overseas. And the relationships I have been able to build with neighbors, colleagues at St Mary’s College and St John’s College… well, I am (relationally) rich beyond measure.
Watching my children thrive
There was an unforgettable moment of despair when Miranda and I arrived in England six weeks before our move. When trying to register our two older kids for school, we were told they would be separated due to a lack of space. After we left the County Council building, we actually burst into tears walking down North Road. Of all the sensitive factors involved in this venture, none were more acute for us than how our decision to move overseas would affect our kids.
Several weeks later I appeared before a panel that granted our appeal, and both kids got to enlist in the same primary school. To our relief and joy, we can report that from their first day in the UK, sleepily watching the North Sea whiz past on the train from Edinburgh to Durham, our children have flourished, rendering vain those tears that fell four years ago on North Road.
Since hiking Slieve Donard in Northern Ireland with Lance Canter in 1997—and even before that when I saw photos from Joel Brooks’ adventures in Ireland—some portion of my soul has been ensnared for the landscape of the British Isles. Public footpaths, some of them dating back to the early Medieval period, etch the vales and hills. Best of all, we can get to places like the Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, Northumberland, and (our favorite) the Lake District… all within 2 hours driving. Our vacations have been largely “walking holidays” in places like Ireland, Scotland, France, Wales, and the Lakes.
An iconic moment for me was sitting in a crowded pub on the Isle of Skye enjoying fish and chips with a pint of ale brewed with springwater from the Cuillin Hills while sitting at an old table with my family after one of the most glorious hikes of my life.
I cannot express how important those moments have been for me these past four years. When my wits were outstretched, my heart languishing with doubts and frustrations, it was a handful of scenes like these through which God gave me just enough of a nudge to keep going.
Ministering in a different culture
Churches here have been gracious enough to invite me to preach, and the chaplaincy work at St Mary’s has been so rewarding. Throughout our marriage and beforehand, Miranda and I have wondered if we were called to the amorphous locale of “the mission field.” These past four years have placed us in a cross-cultural context where we have been able to serve in various forms of ministry, whether “official” or not (while also being ministered to by our church and friends, both here and back in the States).
Studying and Writing
I cannot describe the sense of vocational relief that derived from realizing that my daily job as a PhD student was to study and write. (Really? It’s okay to spend an entire day doing that?). Now, studying and writing is not as dreamy as it may sound (for some, of course, such disciplines are “dreamy” only in the form of nightmares)—I was not sitting around in wing-backed leather chairs wearing tweed and sipping lattes beside castles with books in hand (though let it be noted that there are indeed a few coffee shops near Durham Castle). I was banging my brain everyday with Hebrew, Greek, and German, and shoving hard against the white emptiness of my laptop, trying to produce words grounded in thick, sophisticated research. The work could be brutalizing. But I loved it… in a suffering sort of way. Durham’s Theology Department is an exceptional place to grow academically, and to be free to explore ideas I’ve mused over about John’s Gospel was such a delight (though the costs for that freedom were so high).
There are more delights that can be recorded, of course. But next, a list of the challenges…