Skip to content

Counting Our Blessings, Two Years Later

Two years ago today, my Papa was given the privilege of meeting his Savior face to face. A few days later on Good Friday, we, like the disciples a few thousand years before us, felt the mournful reality of death. But unlike the disciples, we knew the rest of the story. On that darkest of days we rejoiced in knowing that while Papa’s body was laid to rest in the ground, his soul was even then worshipping a Savior who conquered death and promised one day to bring all of His children to His side. Papa got to experience that blessing, a fulfillment of his hopes, a bit before the rest of us. His passing left a jagged hole in all our lives that has healed around the edges in the passing days but still remains a fixed part of our family’s reality.

I spoke at Papa’s funeral about his many roles in the family. He truly was the quintessential patriarch, respected and revered for his wisdom and experience and loved dearly for his ability to make anyone laugh and being so quick to tell his grandchildren, “I am so, so proud of you.”

But the one thing that stuck out to me when I was preparing my speech for the funeral, and what has remained a fixture in my mind when I’ve thought of Papa since that time, was his love of music. I’ll always fondly remember him singing hymns in his favorite church pew in his rich baritone and then laughingly singing “Hit the Road, Jack” on every. single. roadtrip. One of his favorite hymns, or at least one that he seemed to sing most often, was Count Your Blessings. Some of Papa’s last breaths were used asking the Lord for grace. And God in His wisdom granted him that grace by giving him ultimate rest in His presence. This must have been his greatest blessing. But the Lord has continued to bless the Parrish family even in the midst of loss. I told those in attendance at Papa’s funeral that we would get through the days ahead by counting our blessings, and I think it fitting to give thanks, to recognize the graces He has shown, to count our blessings today.

  1. The Lord has been faithful to us in the past two years without our Papa. His promises have become more real to us, our hope in the resurrection even more vital to our faith.
  2. Our sweet, sweet Lucy was given to us. I see this as such a tangible reminder that the same Lord that is with His children at the end of life also gives life, and blesses us in ways we couldn’t have imagined.
  3. One of the most touching ways the Lord has blessed me personally in the past two years has been in the ability for me to watch my godly Nana’s unshakeable faith in the face of such heart-breaking loss. She has remained steady because she has built her life on the firm foundation of our unchanging God rather than the ever-changing circumstances of this life.

Even with these blessings, the past two years have been hard. This day will always carry the sting of loss, the darkness of Good Friday. We will always mourn, but not as those who have no hope. Because Good Friday was when we laid our Papa’s body in the ground. But praise God, Easter morning is a reality we believe in. Friday is dark, but Sunday’s comin’! This is not where the story ends. And until then, through Christ all is grace.

Tea and Leprosy

On Valentine’s Day a few weeks ago, the ladies of Welch College (where I work) hosted a tea for the female students. Each table hostess was given a card with ice breakers and topics to facilitate deep and meaningful conversations with the students placed at that particular table for the hour they were together.

After a few minutes of chatting about silly things and munching on our chicken salad croissants, my table ventured into the deeper conversation starters, beginning with the first questions: “What have you been praying for longest? What is the most recent prayer God has answered for you?” The first question itself left me feeling a bit guilty, as I realized how inconsistent my prayer life often is; was there any specific prayer request that I had frequently brought to the Lord? Sure, there were desires in my life I wanted to see filled, family members I wanted to see reconciled with God, but how often do I intentionally bring those burdens before the throne of God in prayer?

As we went around the table each student shared prayers they were praying for themselves or others, and then the conversation gradually shifted to answering the second question: What prayer has God recently answered for you? This question brought quite a few smiles as we considered ways the Lord was answering our prayers and working in our lives.

Then Chelsea spoke up.

“I’m afraid I often don’t recognize the prayers God answers for me, because life just gradually gets better or a situation goes back to the way I think it should be and I move on with my life.”

Her words struck a chord with me. I said, “In some ways, we are all the nine lepers Jesus healed who don’t remember to return and thank their Healer.”

I’ve been stuck on this idea for the past two weeks since the conversation, and since my Bible reading this week from Leviticus even discussed what a leper must do to be counted as clean again by the priest, the thought remained quite fresh in my mind. My reading even brought more clarity to the gospel account, because lepers would not be considered as truly healed until the priest announced them “clean” again. There were detailed sacrifices and rituals that had to be done for those who had once been afflicted to resume a normal place in society.

So, maybe the nine got caught up in the ritual. Maybe they were so overwhelmed with all the rights they had regained that they had to find family and friends to rejoice with over their good fortune. It’s a little understandable. In fact, as the student at my tea table pointed out, it’s something we’re quite good at, if we’re honest.

For the Christian, Christ has been Healer and Redeemer for us in a way just as powerful and life-changing as those ten lepers. Yet we are all too prone to go our way and forget the Source of our freedom. We rejoice in the changes we see in our lives, both from His work of salvation and the ongoing redemptive work He is working in and through His people, but often we stop there. We revel in the results, the benefits; we neglect the Giver of all good gifts.

Instead, let’s work to cultivate in our hearts the response of leper number ten:

“Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks.”

Bring your burdens to the Lord, friends. And then bring your gratitude back to Him when He helps carry the load.

Flight Delays & Fancy Dress

This past week, Zach and I, along with his parents, took a trip to the UK for his Cambridge graduation. It was the first time out of the country for my in-laws, and boy, did they get a crash course in trans-continental traveling! Zach and I were supposed to meet them in Atlanta where we would all be on the same flight to London, then catch a bus to another London airport to fly on to Glasgow. We thought we would be available to guide them through the airport maze and answer any questions about customs and border patrol.

But you know what they say about best-laid plans…

As Zach and I were walking away from the check-in counter in Atlanta where we’d just sent off our checked bags, Zach got a call.

“Hey, our plane to Atlanta has a problem with its brake system. They’re working on it and will tell us soon how long it will be before we can take off.”

Thus began hours of phone calls, delays, and scrambling to re-book flights and convey as much information as possible via text, while Zach and I flew over the Atlantic several hours ahead of his parents. They stepped up to the challenge of navigating these new experiences like pros, though, and met us in Glasgow later the next night. They even chose to walk the mile from the bus station with us to our Air BnB instead of catching a cab! We Vickerys are a strong bunch.

After all of that craziness, the rest of the trip was fairly smooth (and very cold!). We spent the next day and a half enjoying Glasgow while Zach met with his supervisor, and then it was on to Cambridge for the rest of the week. We enjoyed as much of Cambridge history, architecture, and food as possible in the few days we were there, even fitting in an Evensong Service at King’s College Chapel. And if Mrs. Susan’s FitBit data is to be believed, we walked a total of 145,834 steps (that’s 69.21 miles for those of you following along at home)!

Then came Saturday and Zach’s graduation ceremony. He got all dressed up in his academic robes and white bow tie and paraded down the streets of Cambridge with other members of his college on the way to the Senate House. He told me that was when he felt most like a Cambridge student. Then he stood with other members of Magdalene College while the Praelector told the Deputy Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge (in Latin, of course) that he deserved to have his degree conferred upon him due to his moral and academic standing. He knelt in front of the Vice-Chancellor (whose voice sounded just like Judy Dench) and she clasped his hands and, to put it in his words, “spoke some Latin at him.”

We met him outside the Senate House for pictures and admired his diploma. He was very happy to be allowed to walk on the grass, which, if you’ve ever been to Cambridge is much more exciting than it may seem.

We wrapped up our trip with a whirlwind tour of London and then it was back across the pond (and back to work) for our very tired, very happy group!

7 Amazon Finds to Help You Keep Your New Year’s Resolution

**This post contains Amazon affiliate links. This simply means that if you click on the links and buy the products listed here, I get a small commission. It does not change the price you pay, it just helps me pay for the costs of this blog!**

 

If you’re anything like me, getting out of bed to go to the gym is becoming harder and harder to do as January (cold, cold January) wears on. Maybe you’re still on top of all your New Year’s resolutions. Or maybe, like me, you need a bit of a push now that the “new-ness” of the year has worn off and 6 a.m. runs aren’t as fun as they were two weeks ago, or becoming a more organized person is harder than you thought.

If you find yourself in that boat, here are a few gifts you can buy yourself with that leftover Christmas money.

1. A Journal to Get You Organized

I got a bullet journal for Christmas in 2017 and it certainly helped me stay on task with my goal to be more organized in 2018! This year, I’m simplifying the way I bullet journal to help this practice better meet my needs. In other words, my spreads may not be Instagram-worthy, but they get the job done! If you’re wanting to know more about Bullet Journaling, the creator of the method just released a book explaining the system and why it works, which you can buy here.

2. A Book to Get You Motivated

This was one of maybe three non-fiction books I read last year and it was by far the one I most enjoyed. If you want to read more about the science behind sticking to your goals but also like to read stories much more than you want to hear statistics, this book is for you!

3. A Belt to Keep You Running

There’s tons of versions of these, but I like a belt that has multiple pockets but doesn’t look like a fanny pack, circa 1997. When I ran my first 5k this past Thanksgiving, my aunt was able to keep keys, tissues, and even mints in her fancy-schmancy belt. I use mine to keep my phone and keys with me but out of the way during outdoor runs. And maybe for you, purchasing a practical accessory like this will give you one less excuse not to make time for that early morning jog!

4. A Bath Pillow to Help You Relax

Zach bought me this as a Christmas gift this year and I have never taken more baths in the month of January than I have in 2019! This pillow is super easy to attach and remove, and it does a great job of keeping your upper back and neck from having to touch the too-cold bathtub rim while you’re relaxing after a long day. Also, this is totally a purchase you can get if your New Year’s resolution was to burn more calories, because a recent study found that sitting in a hot bath can actually burn as many or more calories as a 30-minute walk! So, #treatyoself friends.

5. Some Aromatherapy to Help You Sleep

I got these for Christmas, too! They don’t smell strongly of lavender, but they do give off just enough of an aroma to leave you feeling peaceful and ready for a restful night of sleep. Add these to your 2019 self-care regimen (and make your nose happy while you burn those calories!).

6 & 7. Some Great Books that Remind You to Relax

 

Zach and I got these books for each other for Christmas this year, and I’ve already loaned my copy to two special women in my life!

EVERYONE NEEDS TO READ THESE BOOKS! 

These aren’t your typical productivity or self-help books, but my goodness were they helpful for us to consider. Reset was written first and is directed toward men, while Refresh was adapted from this first book to address similar needs from a woman’s perspective. Both books remind us that the pace in which we live our lives flows from the way we see God and ourselves. Each book is a really quick but great read when you need to remember the importance of a grace-paced life, especially in this first-of-the-year, perfection-obsessed season.

The Joy of Unplugging

Over Thanksgiving, Zach and I traveled to Alabama to spend time with our families for the holiday weekend. We stopped first with my grandparents in Northern Alabama before making our way further south to see the Vickerys. We had a wonderful time eating, laughing, and even running (I ran my first 5k after my aunt asked me the night before the race if I wanted to join her!).

On the way to our first stop with my grandparents, Zach and I talked about how much we looked forward to our trips to their house as a time to unplug and live a bit more simply, to breathe a bit more deeply. We knew our time would be rushed but still looked forward to the peacefulness that comes from any time spent at “the lake house”. In all the craziness of the past year, a few days with spotty cell service and lots of home-cooked food sounded like perfection.

One of the holiday traditions in my Mom’s family is putting together (ridiculously difficult) puzzles during our stay each holiday. This year we completed two 1000-piece puzzles in the two days Zach and I were there. It was equally frustrating and fun to work through the puzzles together, personal space becoming minimal as we all reached across each other for the perfect piece to complete our chosen sections. 

It’s remarkable how much better a conversation becomes when phones are put away and hands are busy shifting puzzle pieces rather than scrolling news feeds. And without the television blaring, the stories shared were more poignant, my brother-in-law’s wit more biting (and hilarious), and the laughter of my sister and me much louder. Even though our time was short, it felt like all a Thanksgiving should be. The viral video could wait. I needed my hands to hold my sweet niece (or shovel down some macaroni and cheese!).

When we made our way to Zach’s family, the television and cell service was present, but the family still spent quite a bit of time outdoors battling it out in a home run derby. Watching my father-in-law hit the dirt after my mother-in-law launched a hit right at him was much higher quality entertainment than anything I could’ve found online. 

I wish more of life could be spent at the lake house, or outside in a home run derby. We all could use some time this holiday season without cell service. Because when our hands are full of technology, we miss the chance to hold onto all the truly good gifts we’ve been given. The holiday memories made together will mean much more in the years to come than how many people liked our Christmas selfies or the amount of laughs our throwback holiday photo garnered. So let’s plug in the lights on the tree, turn off the television, and put away the phones. Let’s be together this Christmas with grateful, open hands.

A Girl Called Norman

“Tragedy has struck…”

My stomach churned as I felt an odd sense of what those words might mean. There were no details in the Facebook post, but in my mind I immediately sensed at a gut level what had occurred. I hoped I was wrong and continued scrolling.

This morning, I stumbled upon the post that proved me right and confirmed my fears.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. This story doesn’t begin with a Facebook post. It really begins twelve years ago, but we’ll start with the chapter with which I’m most familiar. This past June, Zach and I had the opportunity to represent our undergraduate alma mater at the church youth camp Zach had attended as a teenager. I had visited the camp once before as a college representative, and both of us were excited to be back.

The week before we left, I began praying that God would use me to lead the young girls I would meet toward Himself and His grace. He answered that prayer by bringing me girls full of hurt. My heart broke as I listened to a few girls talk calmly, even flippantly, about being sexually abused by family members and how their mothers left because “she didn’t love us anymore.” So matter of fact. So…clinical.

And then, there was my Norman. My family has always used the name “Norman” to refer to a person in our lives that God sends our way. This person is placed in our path for us to minister to them, but often their personality clashes with our own or leaves us feeling worn down and annoyed. Even so, we meet them with the knowledge – a nudge by God Himself, perhaps – that we have been called to love this person and thus show them the love God has for them. The name comes from a book and movie that I watched in the early 2000s, and the idea has stuck with us all these years later.

This Norman was very unlike the original Norman from the story; mine was a petite, active, and inquisitive pre-teen girl with curly blonde hair rather than the large, lumbering male that inspired the moniker. Their need for love and attention was the same. Throughout the week I would find her plopped on my bed with another question about why she had to follow the dress code or if her inner thoughts and feelings were normal. I sat with her in some of the services and tried to help her focus on the Word of God. I’m not sure I was as patient as I could have been, but even so she took to me. I even had an opportunity to pray with her when she felt doubts about her relationship with God.

Fast forward to this week and the foreboding post I saw. When I read the word tragedy and the name of her youth group in the same sentence, I immediately saw her face, felt intuitively that tragedy had come to her. Unfortunately, I was right. For reasons unknown to me, my Norman lost her life to suicide this week. She wasn’t even a teenager yet.

I don’t really have words to provide application for this post. Not today. Not other than to say, love your Normans, friends. Love those who annoy you, who cling to you, who are so very, very different. Love them most of all.

It’s Okay to Be Needy

I was recently telling a friend about one of my husband’s pet peeves. Often, as he tries to get ready in the morning, I feel a compelling need to be shown love and affection right. at. that. moment. He’s halfway through buttoning his shirt or straightening his tie, even mid-way through brushing his teeth, and I’m engulfing him in a hug or invading his personal space, lips puckered, waiting for a kiss. He is not amused. It does not seem to leave him with the warm fuzzies I feel during those moments. I guess I just have to keep trying!

This week, he is away getting some of our things we left in storage in England and meeting with his advisor in Glasgow. There are no morning routines for me to interrupt. At the same time, there has been a deluge of information parading around me about the importance of independence, but the blessing of community. In our hyper-individualized culture, we all crave community and connection, but the characterization of being dependent on others or needy? We avoid that like the plague. We all want to be strong, independent women who don’t need no man. Or whatever.

I am all about healthy boundaries (regardless of what my morning routine of compulsive affection-giving may indicate). I also prize the individual hobbies and interests Zach and I have and our ability to maintain a personal life that isn’t completely encompassed with the other. However, I also recognize that my husband makes me a better person. Beyond simply liking it when he’s around (which I do! A lot!), being apart from him for any extended period of time helps me recognize my need for him to keep me accountable with my goals, focused on the good in life, and committed to adulting rather than whiling away my hours on Netflix as I would otherwise be wont to do. Can I do these things on my own? Yeah, but it’s much more difficult.

My neediness extends beyond my marriage, though. I spoke last post about the women’s book study I have been able to be a part of this semester. Each week, I’m confronted with my need for godly women of varying backgrounds and ages to speak wisely and lovingly into my life. I need mentorship and the opportunities to converse, cry, and rejoice with women on various stages of their life journeys. I could sit at home alone and read my Bible, pray every day. In fact, I should be doing those things on an individual level. But if that’s all I get? I am missing out, and so are the other members of the church.

And if this weekly reminder of my need for others were not enough, this week our church held a special service focused on covenanting together as a body of believers. I had already begun writing this blog, but I was reminded once again in the sermon that God calls us to meet together, to share with one another the ways the Lord is working (or seeming silent) in our lives. We need one another to spur each other on to good works. God’s Word tells us that we need to be needy. We just can’t go it alone. We need the Lord and His grace above all things, but we also need one another.

So be independent. Be strong. Be productive and efficient and successful. But don’t be an island. See the needs of others and meet them if you can, but recognize your need for others, too. Learn to be okay with being needy.

When God Is Quiet

Last week, I started a book study with some women attending or affiliated with the small Christian college where I received my undergrad. We’re going through the True Woman 201 group study, and I couldn’t more highly recommend it! This past week’s focus was on the need for discernment, and it was a timely lesson for me. I feel like my whole life is currently made up of large, looming decisions that need to be made.

I’m being a bit dramatic. Are we surprised? Not really.

The scary part of these decisions is that some of them are choices I have to make on my own. In the past, when these sorts of decisions have needed to be made, someone else has made them for me, or God has made it exceptionally plain which choice was best. Not so this time. In fact, rather than loudly and clearly proclaiming what my next steps should be, God has remained notably quiet.

It’s always seemed to me that life would be so much easier if God would give us each a book with all the main decision points laid out for our lives, like the one David mentions in Psalm 139:16. But that’s not how He works. Instead, He gives us His Word, with principles on how to live godly lives on whichever path we walk.

Principles, though, don’t tell you where to complete your practicum, or how many children to have and when to have them.

This is why I sometimes wish for a more clear-cut announcement from heaven on where to go next and how long to stay there. What I’m learning, however, is that when God doesn’t shout out the answers, I’m forced to well and truly listen. To seek out his voice. To be still. I said in a previous post that waiting is hard for me. Being still and quiet isn’t much easier – just ask my husband how often (and loudly) I belt out showtunes around the house for proof of this fact.

When I do force my body, soul, and mind to quiet down, I realize that even when God seems silent, He is not absent. He may not be giving me the clear-cut answers I desire, but He is giving me the strength and grace to continue to seek Him in the confusion. He’s provided me with so many wonderful sources of community as well from which to seek wisdom and comfort when I feel a bit lost. He’s also given me His Word, which is such an incredible gift when we stop to consider the vast source of information it is concerning who God is and what He expects, what He has done in the world and what His plans are for its future.

As I slow down to rest in Him, to see Him at work in the small things, and to speak with and rely on other wise and godly people around me, I see that even when I feel overwhelmed and confused, the Lord is at work. The question is, will I only allow Him to quietly work around me? Or will I quietly come before Him and allow Him to work in me, as well?

For even when it’s hard to see or understand, His hand is at work accomplishing His perfect purposes. And even when He’s quiet, God is good.

Bloom & Grow

A little over two weeks ago, my sister gave birth to beautifully stubborn baby girl. Sweet Lucy Marie chose to make her entrance on her own terms, demonstrating the strong will that had been present practically since her conception. Born two weeks early, she entered the world quickly, screaming, and with a head full of black hair.

She entered our hearts just as swiftly, though perhaps more quietly. My sister remarked to me a few days postpartum, “Isn’t it odd that it already seems like she’s always been here?” And it really does.

I was able to spend a few days with Lucy and her parents last weekend, and it was such a joy to watch the ways in which she is already developing. I pretended at being a photographer for an afternoon and captured a few photos of her sweet face, tightly-closed fingers, and stretched-out toes. My favorite part of the weekend, though, was the time I was able to spend holding her and singing my favorite songs to her. I sang quite a few hymns to her, but also incorporated a few quiet melodies from the secular sphere. On my last day with her, I rocked her in the nursery while singing Adelweiss, and teared up when I got to the lyric, “Blossom of snow, May you bloom and grow”.

I hope, little Lucy, that you do. Blossom into your own sweet, perhaps a bit stubborn, person. Thrive under the love of your parents, family, friends, and God. Bloom and grow, dear niece of mine. Bloom and grow forever.

 

Where are we going from here?

clouds countryside daylight environment

This summer has been full of twists, turns, and lots of waiting. Waiting for the next step. For a better vision of the road ahead. For some sort of plan for the future.

And let me tell you, I hate waiting.

But after a summer of waiting, of maybes, of “well we think…”, we finally have some sort of answer to give to the question, “So what are your plans?”

Where are we going from here?

In May, Zach completed his MPhil from Cambridge. (Woohoo!) Up until this past week, we thought we were heading to Durham, England, for him to begin a PhD. I had even typed out a blog post to update you with that exact information. But remember all that waiting we’ve been doing? It’s not an activity conducive to getting visa applications in on time. For over a month now we’ve been waiting for one small piece of information that we needed to continue the visa application process. We came to the conclusion this past week that due to forces outside our control, we would not be making the trek to Durham this fall, after all.

Then, because this is how our lives work, we threw a new twist in the path. Zach emailed a colleague and would-be supervisor at another school he had considered for his PhD, the University of Glasgow. Throughout the process of looking for PhD programs, this was the supervisor under whom Zach most wanted to study. He wanted to make sure he understood all of his options for the coming year before committing to remain with Durham and pushing his PhD start date to Fall 2019. He asked the supervisor if there was an option to begin a PhD at Glasgow from the U.S. and to come to Scotland to be on campus after the first year. Unexpectedly, the answer was yes!

To sum up, we thought we were going to Durham. Then we thought we would have to stay in the U.S. and wait a year for Zach’s PhD to begin. Now, we will stay here for one year and go to Scotland in the fall of 2019. When we leave next fall Zach will have completed one year of the PhD program and I will be completely finished with my own master’s requirements, which will (hopefully) make it easier for me to find work after the move. I’m excited to finish up my master’s degree and enjoy some more time with family and friends on this side of the Atlantic. Zach is excited to start his PhD, work with a great supervisor, and still have continued access to sweet tea, Southern comfort food, and the ability to go deer hunting this fall!

Because of all of these topsy-turvy transitions, I needed to revamp my blog. The Durham/Gallatin/Glasgow Wife didn’t quite have the same ring to it as my previous moniker, and I wanted a name that would resonate with each chapter of my life, even the ones to come. In thinking through this name change, my mind went to one of my favorite hymns from childhood – All the Way My Savior Leads Me. In the second verse, the hymn writer reminds us that God “cheers each winding path I tread”. If there is one adjective that describes the path Zach and I have been on for the past two plus years of marriage, winding would be it. Knowing the lives my family members tend to lead, and considering how God often moves in the lives of His children, I’d wager the paths to come will remain winding, as well.

But that’s how we grow, isn’t it? When we can’t give detailed answers to the “Where are we going from here?” questions, we have to trust that God still cheers each winding path, even when we can’t see the end (or middle, or next five feet) of those paths. We learn to lean on Him and His understanding because we can’t trust our own. We try to enjoy the scenery at each bend in the road, knowing He leads us all the way, and He’s much better at navigating than we are.