PhD Reflection: Surround Yourself with Better

I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years.

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I am supposed to be working on my PhD thesis. However, I just finished a meeting with my doctoral supervisor and wanted to jot a thought or two.

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In the School of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh, it doesn’t take long to realize that you are just one of many. I had to quickly face the fact that I am not one of the smartest people here (understatement!). You don’t come to a place like this to rule the roost. But I find that there is great peace and joy in confessing this truth. I am here to learn. I am here to grow. I am here to get better. I am here to make connections. I am here to prepare for what God has planned. Besides, being the best is not what this is about. Rather, I want to maximize the abilities that God has given me. This is about faithfulness and preparation.

Regarding intelligence, you may think that I am referring to various professors and lecturers. I am, but my comments are not restricted to that group. I have met several PhD candidates that are several steps ahead of me from a theological perspective. Because my past education is in psychology and philosophy, I have some catching up to do. On the other hand, all of our projects are different, so there is nothing wrong with having different areas of expertise.

Today my supervisor sat with me and discussed my work for over an hour. It always amazes me when he takes this much time to discuss my research. The dialogue is always challenging, stimulating, and enjoyable. It is also humbling. I told my wife the other day, “If I studied the next ten years, I don’t think that I would know as much as this guy.” He is that intelligent and articulate. But this brings me to the main point of this blog: I am experiencing a deep sense of satisfaction and fulfillment knowing that the people around me are going to make me better over the next few years. To get better (no matter whether you are speaking of a skill, virtue, intimacy with God, etc.), you need people around you that are better than you in that specific area. Now, I could feel insecure and threatened. If I let insecurity rule, it would steal the opportunity to glean from those around me. And notice I said, “If I let insecurity rule…” I chose this wording on purpose. When you step out of your comfort zone, of course you will experience insecurity at times. But who cares. It is not the end of the world. The question is not, “Will I experience insecurity?” but rather, “Will I let it take control of me or will I set it aside and move forward?”

The bottom line is this:

Better people make you better. 

You can apply this to motherhood, fatherhood, pastoring, teaching, studying, playing a sport, learning a language, starting a church, cooking a new recipe, repairing a car, getting better at your job, etc. You fill in the blank. So you can hold on to your pride if you want. Or, you can put a little humility in your pocket and glean and grow from other people’s strengths.

Our First Ten Days in Edinburgh, Scotland

You think things will go one way and they don’t. They hardly ever do, right?

Where do I begin? The idea of trying to share everything from the last ten days is overwhelming. As wonderful as it has been, it has not been easy. One challenge is always followed with another.

IMG_1440We traveled for almost two days. Before flying from Boston to Iceland, we had a chance to hang out with Joe and Megan Weidemann. They really took care of us. We would have left Boston worn out if not for them. After all, we had a three-year old son, five suitcases (almost everything we own), and two backpacks. They made that step easy.

After leaving Texas on Monday around 7pm central time, we arrived in Edinburgh at noon Wednesday (Edinburgh time). We were tired beyond words. When we arrived, Allison’s cell phone and my computer were dead. However, we did not have universal adapters for the electrical outlets in the UK. Again, it is the little things that add up with an international transition that can wear you down. We decided to crash. We feel asleep around 2:30pm and woke up at 9pm. Yep, we were that tired. We woke up, walked to the Morningside District, bought some groceries, returned to our air bnb rental, ate, and went back to bed.

Not having a power adapter was a major problem. My work is remote/online, so without it, I could not do my job. We checked at the grocery that night and they did not have any universal adapters. We saw one more shop open in Morningside. We entered the store and there they were…plastic gold! Each adapter was three pounds ($3.96). Little did the young man know that I would have paid any amount for that adapter that evening. We bought two.

We quickly realized that it was going to take an act of God to secure a rental property. The market moves SO FAST. I had to spend hours each day scanning different property websites, calling property managers, setting up appointments, and then studying google maps to find out which bus goes where and coordinate the time of it all. It was mentally and emotionally exhausting. On top of that, more than once we would receive a call that the property we were supposed to see that day or the next had gone under contract. Again, the market moves at the speed of light.

By our first weekend, it felt impossible to secure a rental. We were a bit discouraged. Family and friends really began to pray for us. I got up early Monday morning and made a list of properties that fit our criteria (I had been doing this every morning upon arrival). I called and set up as many viewings as possible. Awkwardly, when you view properties in the UK, you do so with several other individuals/couples/families. Whoever is interested then submits an application. Even if you like the property, you are up against so many others. The chances of securing a property is slim. We felt this pressure because until you secure a property, you are jumping from one air bnb to the next. That is exactly what we had to do yesterday.

Our goal was to be in our permanent rental before school started (tomorrow).

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We were so naive. There was never a chance for that. However, thanks be to the Lord and all of the people praying for God’s favor, our application was accepted for a property that we absolutely love only six days after arriving. We were so relieved. However, we can’t move in until this Friday, September 15th, so yesterday we had to pack up everything once again, book a large taxi, load up all of our belongings, go across town, and move into another short-term rental. We are tired and a bit weary.

You think things will go one way and they don’t. They hardly ever do, right? After 2.5 years of keeping the dream alive and living out of suitcases, the extra week felt like a bigger deal than usual.

To give you an idea of how difficult an international transition is, we still don’t have cell phones. So listen to this. Before getting a cell phone, you have to have a local bank account. But as an international student, I can’t get a bank account until I have secured a rental property and have a fixed address. This felt nearly impossible. On top of that, once the rental property is secured, you have to make a special trip to the school to get a Bank Introduction Letter. You then have to take this into the bank of choice and then you can set up an account. Then you can get cell phones.

Needless to say, everything is like this. You need A to get B, but without C, you can’t get B. This has been the transition life.

Another difficult part of transition is that we really miss family and friends. You can’t have everything in life. We could have stayed close to our friends in Spokane. We could live close to family. However, we would have never taken this leap. With every gain, there is a loss (and I suppose the opposite is true; with every loss, there is a gain). Right now, especially because we are not yet settled, the “losses” feel heavy.

In the middle of it all, we have stopped to take everything in.

In Morningside, we found the most amazing cheese shop ever. We have already been to that shop three times to get “Prima Donna Maturo.” This is a hard cheese produced by a family in the Netherlands. Whoever the family, they are God’s gift to the world. This cheese is brilliant (as they say here in Edinburgh).

We went to Holyrood Park and saw Arthur’s Peak first hand. It was breathtaking. We cannot wait to set aside some time to scale the peak.

We are a bit proud of ourselves regarding public transportation. Thanks to Allison, we wasted no time learning the system. We arrived on a Wednesday and by Thursday, we were using the Lothian buses. During my doctoral years, we will not own a car. Public transportation is splendid and so simple. We are figuring our way around and Ezra is having the time of his life. The busses are “double-deckers.” When we have a longer trip, we go upstairs. We sit in the very front when the seats are open. It brings my heart joy to watch him. He comes alive. He loves the simple things.  Traveling with a young child has its challenges, but at the same time, he brings something to the experience that you could never have otherwise. A child is truly amazing. No wonder Jesus told people that they had to be like kids to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Adults are no fun. Adults are too serious. Adults are too hard to impress. Adults would rather be anxious while missing the beauty around them.

That is enough for now. We move into our place Friday. School starts tomorrow. We are going to go view the building where I will be studying for the first time today. We wanted to see it as a family first before I report in. After all, this is our accomplishment. We did this together.  Now one of the deepest desires of my heart is for the Lord to make Edinburgh a very special place for Allison and Ezra.