Sunday, January 22, 2017

The worst part about having this blog... that I don't post enough. I can't believe it's already 2017 and I haven't written in this in almost a year. I even started this blog post in September and never finished it!! If it makes you feel any better, every time I write a blog for work (which is OFTEN) I think about THIS blog and how I've slowly let it die!

Last you heard from me, we had just returned from over a month in the States waiting for our new visas. Since then, it's been a pretty crazy couple of months.

Clay started doing more for the Baptist Church - visiting home groups, working with the students, preaching more. I really think he's built for a ministry profession. He's convinced that PhD is still in the future, but for now, ministry is where we are content.

Clay at YoungLife camp
Part of the stipulations of his visa is that Clay can only get a part-time job outside of his work with the Baptist Church, AND it has to be in the same field of work (ministry). Luckily, he got connected with YoungLife, which is a Christian organization whose goal is to build relationships with teenagers. And lemme tell you this - teenagers LOVE Clay for some reason. I think it's because he's terrifying and they think that if they can befriend the giant, he won't destroy them. No... I'm kidding. But seriously. Teenagers are drawn to Clay, and YoungLife is an absolute answer to prayer. We were worried about what kind of churchy part-time work would be available for Clay and this is just perfect for him.

Clay and YoungLife Staff
Now, here's the part where my blog gets real. For many of us, money is a struggle in St Andrews. Many students choose to take out massive, unrealistic student loans to ensure that they could live comfortably on a lower/non-existent income, but Clay and I decided against that when we got here. We were doing ok last year in terms of finances. My job paid the bills and gave us a little extra. But since Clay stopped being a student in November, that meant our St Andrews student loan went into repayment, AND because we were no longer students, we had to pay council tax. I sat down at the beginning of the year with all of our money and said, "Ok. Without another income, we can pay all of our bills on my salary and savings through the month of June, and then the 1st of July, we'll start overdrafting everything."

Now, remember last time I blogged when I said that Clay thinks that God is only using this as an opportunity to strengthen my faith? I think he's partially right. The other reason I think God is orchestrating everything this way is to show us and EVERYONE ELSE how he is miraculously and hilariously providing for us.

60 Euros and a weird Chinese Mickey Mouse?
Back in June, I was sweating bullets, and considering getting a extra part-time job to try to support us since I don't have any restrictions with how much I can work. We prayed and prayed that God would support us, and just had to wait around and trust that God would do it. We did a bit of dumpster diving (classy, right?) once the students all left and not only did we find lots of random treasures, like an unopened 5kg bag of sugar, the entire box set of Harry Potter movies and a whole new CASHMERE wardrobe that magically fits Clay's muscles, but we found cash. Someone literally threw away money, and not just a little bit. £62 in change. A bunch of Chinese money. 60 Euros. All sliding around at the bottom of a box with opened mail, a hair straightener and some giant speakers. I just sat in the floor and laughed with Melody while she was here. We prayed that God would provide for us and he sent us TRASH.

Since then, it's been one of those stories that so many Christians have heard. Someone felt moved to give us a money, and it just HAPPENED to be the right amount to pay our bills for July, for August, for September. We got 3 months past the point where we should have run out of money, and we were still scraping the bottom of the barrel and making it work. GOD IS SO GOOD.

That being said, Clay is now being paid and WE'RE FIIIIIINE. This has been a rollercoaster of a time in Scotland, and while it has been terrible and frustrating and has made me cry more than any other place we've ever lived, we love it here. And God is taking care of us.


Sunday, February 28, 2016


::dad's phone makes a weird beep sound::
me: did you just take a video?
dad: no, i did something called 'pano...'

So, if you know anything about our lives, you know the last few months have been... interesting, to say the least. I'll try not to spend too much time recapping.

Last blog, I basically gave an entire account of all the craziness that was our lives here in Scotland. Lots of drama around Clay's degree (and I didn't even get to the drama with my visa and them taking away my legal right to work last year!). The last 3 months have had even more drama. Let's begin:

Clay submitted his MPhil thesis, and was told that, instead of getting marks back, he was going to Viva, which is what PhD students do when they defend their work in front of a board. A bit out of the ordinary, but I thought they were just doing it because his time at uni has already been so unconventional, and they were making exceptions to progress him to PhD, so why not? He read some books and then on the 11th of November, he spent a little less than an hour talking to the board, and then called me to say that he was told he wasn't progressing to PhD because the University changed their rules and weren't allowed to let him... and didn't tell us until now. And so began my week of crying every single day.

We spent the next few days in a complete blur. Why would they string us along for so long, telling Clay that he would get upgraded to PhD at the next step, no wait, the NEXT step, just wait a little longer, get to the NEXT step, just to flat out tell him no? Our visas were set to expire on the 26th of November (yet another University blunder) and we had exactly 15 days to figure out what we were going to do, or legit pack up and move back to the States.

Long story short (and I'll save you all the angry tears and stuff that I threw around the house in fits of rage), he got official word that his work was not sufficient enough to pass him onto PhD, we came to terms with it, and then St Andrews Baptist Church rescued us. They had an unused Tier 2 work visa that they offered to Clay which would keep us here for at least 3 more years, while Clay could get licensed with the Scottish Baptist Union. The only thing was... we had to apply for it from within the States.

December 6th - On the beach!!
Sooooo. Thanksgiving Day, we flew from Edinburgh to London and then London to Atlanta! We applied for visas and then waited and waited and waited, and were approved on the 21st of December. Luckily for me, my job is amazing and let me stay home until after Christmas (STILL GETTING PAID- WHAAAAAAAAAT). So we spent a month at home, went to NOLA, drove all over Atlanta, drove to Panama City Beach 3 different times and jumped in the Gulf of Mexico. It was glorious. We got the summer weather that we missed over the last year in Scotland and got to hug all my family and friends. It was really a much needed time to relax. We have essentially spent the last 2 years desperately trying to make a home and set down roots here with the University constantly telling us there was no hope, and it was just nice to be back in something familiar and settled for once.

This is certainly the more boring version of what has happened to us. Sometimes, it's crazy to me when I look back and see how difficult this whole process has been. How much we've struggled through the last few years. Several people have said to us, "Do you think maybe this is God's way of telling you __________" and then fill in the blank with anything. We shouldn't be in Scotland, Clay shouldn't be doing PhD, this isn't where God wants you to be, you're sinning and you need to get your heart right... I mean, really, the list goes on.  These are things people have actually said to us. But honestly, if God didn't want us to be here, HE'D TELL US. It's not like we got to Scotland and said, "Ok, God, thanks for getting us to this magical land of haggis and haar and old haunted castles, but we can do this on our own now." And really, where does the Bible say that if you're following God's leadership, your life is peaches? Where does it say "And Paul told people about Jesus and God made his life super easy, and he never had to leave his family and nobody ever said mean things to him and he didn't ever cry and had IHOP pancakes for breakfast every morning?" (That's clearly the Message translation). But really, why do people automatically assume that, because life is hard, something must be wrong?

This whole process has been a matter of trust. Clay jokingly says that God is purposefully making this difficult for us because my faith is so shaky... just to test me! I have to tell myself every day, no matter what, that God didn't call us here to fail, and he is working out the details. We are just here in obedience, and it just so happens that we love it, despite the cold and rain, despite the University and visa drama, despite the tight finances and the fact that stuff seems to be continually breaking. We are content.
This is what it looks like outside my house. Why would anyone ever leave Scotland??

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Nothing and Everything is Exciting All at Once

So just like that, summer is over.

Early Sunday morning 2 weeks ago, we all set our clocks back one hour, and while it was nice to have the sun come up an hour earlier, it means sunset is now officially 4:16pm and we're losing 4-5 minutes of daylight every single day until we get to the shortest days of the year in December, which are just shy of 7 hours long.

The courier says this weather phenomenon has been
haard to bear... wah wah waaaaaaaaaah.
Over the last 2 weeks, the haar has been out of control. Imagine the thickest fog you've ever seen. Now imagine it in Scotland. Welcome to Haar, and lucky for us, most of it can be felt in our living room. Clay and I made a pact after our first winter in St Andrews, when we left our gas heating on CONSTANTLY and racked up over £400 in utility bills over 2 months, that we would suffer through the cold until the 1st of November, and would ONLY turn the heat on then. ADULTHOOD.

Right now, we're in limbo again with the University. For those of you who don't know about our precarious time in St Andrews, I will try to give you a short summary:

It was literally like this for 2 whole days
August 2013 to March 2014 - Clay was doing the 1 year MLitt Masters to transition to PhD over the summer. He worked on his PhD thesis proposal with a certain professor, tailored it to him, and then when the time came for professors to pick their PhD students, this guy went on research leave... for like 4 years. Soooo, none of the other professors were really interested in Clay's topic, plus his grades were not the best, so we just kind of hung there for a few months. They finally gave him a conditional offer, but he fell just short of one of the conditions. Luckily, the head of the school of Divinity took him on as his supervisor, said they would make him a 2nd year Masters student, and then the next summer, would evaluate him again for PhD.

March 2014 to May 2015 - Clay trucked along, working on his 10,000 word GRO (1st chapter of his proposed PhD thesis) reeeeeeaaaalllly liked his supervisor, and submitted in the Spring in the hopes that they would upgrade him. In May, we heard back that one of the markers of his GRO was not really happy with it, and just said to let him finish the Masters and be done. No PhD. We were devastated, and also terrified, because we love Scotland and have put down roots here, and didn't really have a plan B. Fortunately, Dr. Supervisor told Clay, "Don't worry. I want to keep you here. Finish your 40,000-word Masters dissertation, and then in September, we'll evaluate you to upgrade."

May 2015 to Present - So Clay wrote a billion words in 4 months, submitted it (in spite of his Mac dying 4 days before his submission date!!!) and Dr. Supervisor has now said that Clay will Viva (fancy University speak for 'Defending his Paper') on the 10th of November in order to upgrade.

It's autumn, yall.
So this is our precarious situation. God has come through for us in every obstacle and we are so so thankful to still be here. Scotland has been such a fun time for us, and I'm sure everyone thinks everything is all sunshine and rainbows, and while it definitely IS, it certainly has not been easy. And this only scratches the surface of the issues we've had here - from not having a place to live, to Visa problems to bikes being stolen (yep - Clay's birthday bike!) to job issues. Despite all of this, we are content here.

Little Mr. Fiat Panda!
In other more positive news, Clay is on track to be licensed with the Baptist Union of Scotland hopefully sometime in the Spring, so he will be able to do full-time ministry! Since we left The Lord's Church, Clay thought he was meant for academia, but he has slowly realized that his heart is still in ministry, so we have pursued that avenue as well. We were also given a CAR by the lovely Becky Keating at church, and we're in the process of getting licensed to drive that around as well. Woohoo!

Now, we're just waiting to get through the next 2 days so we can finally have some stability in our situation. I kind of liken us to Mr. and Mrs. Bates on Downton Abbey. Oh yay, everything's good - wait, the police are here. You have to go to jail. No wait, everything's fine now! Nope, the police are back. Back in jail. Feels like that sometimes.

But we are content.


Monday, August 24, 2015

2 Years!

I just realized I've completely missed the entire summer on my blog. Maybe it's because it DOESN'T REALLY FEEL LIKE SUMMER??

Last I wrote, it was May, we were winding up to a beautiful summer - long sunny days, the sun going down at 11pm. It was going to be amazing. Well, the past almost 3 months has proven a bit colder than normal. I think it's mostly been high 50s/low 60s, and it has legit been in the 40s at night. There have been a few nice sunny days in the high 60s, but for the most part, it's been very un-summerlike.

Last week, Clay and I celebrated 2 years in Scotland. We have a tradition: on our anniversary of living in St A, we go eat dinner at Maisha, because that's where we ended up our first day here. We got off the plane at 10am in Manchester, somehow navigated the 5-6 hours into Scotland with a dinky road map, and NEVER STOPPED FOR FOOD. I lived off of Target Caramel Cashew trail mix because that was all we had, but neither of us felt brave enough to stop anywhere and talk to anyone because we knew they would peg us as tourists. We stopped ONCE to go to the bathroom at a rest stop (which was also a little farm shop?) and I wanted to look around, and Clay refused, and was completely silent. It's so funny looking back now at how ridiculous that was. NOOOOO, they'll know we're Americans and shun us! Needless to say, when we finally arrived in St A, we were jet lagged and starving. Indian food was an easy choice and wow, was it good. So now, every year on the 15th of August, we eat Maisha, in memory of the sad, jet-lagged and terrified Americans we used to be!

Summertime in Scotland gave me bragging rights last year. It's like never ending springtime, but then you have 18 hour days, long stretches of sunshine, no mosquitos. Now, I just keep thinking about those warm summer nights in City Park in NOLA, listening to crickets and cicadas, and feeling the 90 degrees like a soft blanket while we watch the sun set. I am in desperate need of a holiday... on a warm beach somewhere.

June was pretty nice. I celebrated 1 year at the Ardgowan Hotel (I'm sure it feels like it's been longer than that for my co-workers - HA!) Mom, Dad, and Mels came to visit for a few days and we had a great time. Note to anyone booking a place to stay on AirBnB: make sure they have internet before you book it. Their place didn't and it proved to be especially difficult to do simple things like planning our time together and getting in touch with one another. But we went a few places we'd never been, like Inverness and the Edinburgh Castle, and worked a few puzzles. We also got to introduce our family to our home group, which I really loved. It's always fun when you realize that people love Jesus all over the world.

July was fun. The British Open was here, and, while work was insanely busy, I didn't really get to experience much else of the Open. I was mostly just working. But people were friendly and spent lots of money, so that's good, I guess. Will Ferrell was in St Andrews though... and I didn't see him. It was a sad sad day. Another sad sad day is that we had to say goodbye the Quentin, which has now left a maple leaf shaped hole in our home group. Missing you, buddy.

August so far has been weird. One of the great things about living in a university town is that you meet people from all over the world. But then, probably the worst part, they all leave just as quickly as they came. This time last year, we were worried that our homegroup numbers were dwindling down to nothing, but we had a huge influx of postgrads and our homegroup jumped to nearly 20 people, with more new people coming in and out. We've all grown so close over the last year, and the time has come where, one by one, they are all heading back to the real world. I will miss being your homegroup mom, guys!

The only other interesting that that is happening is our always precarious situation here. Will Clay get upgraded to PhD? Will our Visas ever come back saying I can work? (they did) Will Clay be doing ministry or academics? Only time will tell. Hopefully, sooner rather than later, I will be updating this blog again with good news! But for now, it's August, we're here, and we're still alive.

Friday, May 29, 2015

In the summer time when the weather is... cold?

I'm going to start this blog with a fun story. This is part of the reason I want to live in Scotland the rest of my life.

So Clay got a bike for his 30th birthday. Lots of our friends and family chipped in to help us buy him a great bike since we walk everywhere and don't have a car here in St Andrews. So we started looking for something for me on the CHEAP. Gumtree had proven unsuccessful, even though I contacted several people about bikes that they said would 'fit a small human.' So when I finally found a great bike for £10 in Leven, just south of us in Fife, I jumped on the opportunity.

After some emails and phone calls, Clay and I caught the X58 bus to Leven and met John, the son of the guy selling us the bike. He chatted with us for a few minutes, telling us we were the first Americans he had EVER met, and then handed over the bike. When he asked how we were getting it back without a car, we told him we would just take it on the bus. He said, "Well, you have my number, so if you can't take it on the bus with you, call me and I'll drive you to St Andrews."

WHAT. I love this country.


Sunset on the Old Course at 9:30pm!
So it's almost the end of May, and pseudo-summer is on its way. I say 'pseudo' because it never gets over 70 degrees. I think the high over the next 10 days is 63? That's like never-ending springtime. I haven't seen 80+ degrees since August 13, 2013 (that's when I moved here). The sun comes up at 4:33am and goes down at 9:43pm, with the sky still kinda blue at 10:45pm.

March/April/May has been fun. In March, uveitis came back in full force, but lucky for me, the NHS is STILL FREE. For everyone who says it's difficult to get an appointment because of free healthcare: I called them at 3:00pm on Sunday afternoon, and was in and out of the Dr. Vallance's office by 11:00am the next morning, and a sweet Scottish man gave me a free cup of coffee in the waiting room. I have a follow-up in July, but I'm pretty sure this most recent flare up disconnected some of my scar tissue cause now I can see a teensy bit better than before. BOOM.

April was fun. I spent the month raising money for Clay's 30th birthday bike, which was a huge success. I started watching Downton Abbey which was a glorious mistake. I have taken on some new responsibilities at work, one of which involves training and I absolutely hate it. I always feel like a weirdo trying to train people how to do things, and end up giggling a lot and them looking like a deer in headlights. This makes my masters degree in education especially ironic.
Sometimes my work makes me feel like this.
Other times, it makes me feel like this. And yes, a professional took this.

May's been good. We had a weekend away with church, which was basically like extended Home Group time. Blankets, no shoes, and shenanigans. We learned a new card game, Lauren dominated everyone, and then Clay and Gavin had a paper ball fight and a snuggle. It was a really really good time.

snuggle time.

Jasper and Quentin at home.
Jasper and Quentin at the weekend away... exactly the same.

And now May is almost over. It's still cold and rainy some days (one of those days being today) but it makes the sun especially nice. Clay and I went for a nice bike ride to Tentsmuir Forest, rode around on what can only be described as a roller coaster bike path through a forest, and then saw some seals out on the beach.

Also, today is our 5th anniversary! What have we done today? Absolutely nothing. We have plans for dumpster diving (because I've already found a Microsoft Surface Tablet in the trash?) and then some dinner, where we will finally have the 5th Anniversary conversation to decide that we're still not having kids yet.

Lastly, I want to tell you about something cute that they do in Scotland. Whenever something is found on the sidewalk/pavement or in the street, people pick it up and put it somewhere prominent in hopes that the owner will come back by and find it. I can't tell you how many hats and socks and baby gloves I've seen on people's front gates or on fences. This one was particularly exciting.


Friday, March 27, 2015

A Christmas Holiday in 3 Parts: Act III

Well, here we are. The last week in the States.

We spent the night with my grandparents again in East Point, watching football, and sleeping late. They bought us breakfast Monday at Cracker Barrell. GRITS.

That night, we continued our tradition of Farm Burger with Katie and Gabe Mick in Buckhead. I just love the story of my friendship with Katie. We found each other on this random roommate search engine in early 2005 while preparing to start at the University of Georgia in the Fall. We met randomly in person at the Laser Show at Stone Mountain, decided we would be roommates, and then lived together for exactly 4 months before I quit UGA and moved to Florida. Now, any normal person would expect us not to be friends anymore. But Katie stuck with me, and we visited each other every year, either in Suwanee or Florida or New Orleans, and were in each other's weddings. I am so so lucky to call her friend. And BONUS, Gabe and Clay get along.

Tuesday, we had dinner with Brent and Kate and CORA! The last time we saw them was our last night in Georgia at our last Braves game before we moved to Scotland. It was so great reconnecting with them, and they gave us hope for when we eventually become parents (whenever that may be in the distant future).

Wednesday we had ANOTHER great burger at Five Guys with Mr. Dad, and then went to Bethlehem to see Mels and Manda and get my hair cut. Nothing like some good sister time and a much-needed haircut.

Thursday, we had some lunch and then saw Josh Stewart, who is still alive, and has a job, a dog and a girlfriend. But he's still the same grumpy old man.

Friday, Sam and I drove to McDonough to see Kellie. Now, these two are another of my favorite friend stories. I met Sam at church in 2003 and she introduced me to Kellie. Somehow, we all stayed friends despite me moving to UGA, then to Florida, then to Nola, then to SCOTLAND! But they are a testament to how blessed I am to have friends who communicate better than I do. Sadly, there were no pictures taken. But here's a throwback so you get the idea.

Friday night was like high school all over again. We got besties Jeff and Clay back together, we ate some Krispy Kremes, we went by the Elam's, and spent the night with the Ritchies. Our last full day in the States started with Chick-fil-A breakfast and Mario Kart. We couldn't ask for more perfect friends.

Saturday night, we had the traditional Rowe family dinner (plus a Turner!) and then it was church Sunday, back to East Point to all-too-briefly see my Aunt Joni and Aunt Robin, and then head back to Hartsfield Jackson Atlanta Baby Girl International Airport. Oh, but not before Melody made me cry, as I'm getting in the car, so then I was weeping uncontrollably at the international terminal while hugging my grandparents and saying goodbye. As I thanked them for everything they had done for us for this trip, my Granama held my hands and said, "Carmen. God is taking care of you." How true.

I was taking funny pictures to try to stop crying.
Clay was not impressed.

We got business class again on the way back to Scotland, and I COULD say that nothing eventful happened... except around 10pm EST/3am GBT, CLAY NOTICED TIM HOWARD ON OUR FLIGHT BEHIND ME IN BUSINESS CLASS. I noticed him too, but not because I knew who he was, but because he had a long, homeless looking beard and I was hoping that Clay wouldn't get any ideas. When we landed in Manchester around 8am, Clay grabbed me and whispered, "TIM HOWARD IS WALKING BEHIND YOUUUUUU!" so I sneakily took photos of them walking together like they were best friends. Clay was ecstatic. We had a cuppa before catching the trains back to St A.
Oh, you know. Clay and his new best friend Tim Howard walking together.
Clay looks like he just saw a murder.
Getting off the plane this time around felt completely different. We knew where we were going, how to get there, and we weren't terrified of people finding out we were Americans. All in all, a good three weeks, but we were happy to be back to real life...



A Christmas Holiday in 3 Parts - Act II

We spent the second week in the States in New Orleans. Now, NOLA holds a special place in our hearts. It's where some of our best friends live. It's where we spent the first 3 years of our marriage, where we worked in our first church, where we got our Masters Degrees, and where we developed our love for Mardi Gras.

Atlanta is home, but NOLA is special.

Jackson Square!
We made the long drive from Atlanta to NOLA, and reconnected with John and Lauren. They were the amazing friends that graciously let us live with them for the last almost 4 months that we lived in NOLA, after the seminary kicked us out of married housing and we had nowhere else to go. Since we've been gone, Trindon is almost 4, and a bit more calm than the crazy 2 year old we left in 2013. They have also added a fourth member to their family, Sweet Caroline, and they are all so precious to us.

Pretty sure there were some sappy girl tears
shed during the fireworks just before this!

A few days later, we met up with Matt and Elise, and did all the usuals: Pizza Delicious, Faubourg, Pearl Wine Co., New Years lighting things on fire on the Bayou, grilling and playing Mexican Train. We even legit sat around an entire day and just watched football. It was magical. We made our way into the French Quarter as well, and enjoyed balmy 75F/25C degree weather, wearing shorts and no socks... IN JANUARY.

It's so funny how different this was than what I expected. I thought everything would be different: our friends have moved on and made other close friends, our friends with kids have had MORE KIDS, everyone's growing up. But it was almost like we had never left. Our friendships are just as strong, we still laugh hysterically together about the same stuff, and we still love each other so much. I love this.

I'm always terrified of losing people. I'm awful at keeping in touch because my ADD brain only sees the people here now and what's going on right here. With the way technology is now, I can skype or facetime or facebook, or text, or tweet everyone in my life, and yet, I neglect this. I've always felt like I deserved to lose friendships because I'm so terrible, and yet, they continue to love me, and continue to put forth effort to keep in touch. This is huge and I can't even begin to describe how blessed I feel because of it.

This may look like Scotland, but don't let it fool you.
Those are Kentwood cows!

We spent our last day in Louisiana in Kentwood at The Lord's Church. I cannot tell you the amount of love that we have for this place. We relate so much of our Scotland lives to our Kentwood lives. Country people really are the same no matter where you are. And our TLC family loves us like no other. Over the years, we've heard so many horror stories about ministry work from people we've known through seminary and beyond. Church people are not always the best people to work with. But we were blessed to have an amazing church family, who loved us despite the fact that we were far away and that Clay threw their children into garbage cans and wrestled them to the ground. This place and these people are so special to us!

After church, we trucked it back up to Atlanta in Little Yaris. Only 1 week left to go!

Tom Maloney - a great boss who, despite his happy face in this photo,
was ready to go hunting and said he 'needed to go kill something.'