An Open Letter to Millbrook Church

Dear Millbrook Church of the Nazarene,

As our season with you has now drawn to a close, we just want to say thank you. I said this a couple weeks ago while blubbering at the front of the church, but now that I’m safe and sound in Kansas City, I want to say it again. The year of 2015 has been absolutely wonderful because of your presence in our lives. We would not have been able to adjust to life in Millbrook, Larne without the support of you, our church family.

From the moment we stepped out of the airport that cold February day, we felt your arms wrapping around us (although not physically of course, some of you Northern Irish people aren’t the most touchy bunch!) From you we learned more than I could ever write in a blog post. What constitutes a good Ulster Fry, how to bowl and play snooker, how to drive on the left side of the road, where the mums & tots groups were located, how to keep warm in our house, how to play the ukulele, banter etiquette, and where to find the best charity shops. We got to witness a growing church plant, new families being welcomed, the start of a youth group and a toddler group, and lives being changed in and out of the church. We experienced unmatched generosity, heartfelt hospitality, genuine character, honest friendships, a dedicated faith, and deep conversation. You jumped right into our lives and fit so perfectly. It’s like you’d been there all along and, now that we’re apart, I wonder how we’ll survive without you.

But like the song says, la la la la life goes on. Our paths converged for eleven months and now they’re parting. You’ve left imprints on us that changed us and will last a lifetime.

While now physically far away, you will never be far from us. We hold you forever in our hearts and minds and find ourselves thinking of you constantly. For the life of me, I can’t quit saying “half ten” instead of ten thirty. I can’t bring myself to say “pants”, “sweater”, or “diapers” yet, because “trousers”, “jumper”, and “nappies” still linger in my vocabulary. I laugh to myself when I order “tomato basil soup” because I know you all would say “tomaaahhhhto” and rhyme basil with apple.

When we arrived in Northern Ireland, you helped us live without our family. You became our family. Now that we are back in Kansas City, we find ourselves asking the same question as before, “How do we live without our (Millbrook) family?”

We miss you so much already and we are lifting up your families in prayer. Keep fighting the good fight and living like Jesus lives. You are a bright light.

With love stateside,

The Carr Family

“You can kiss your family and friends goodbye and put miles between you, but at the same time you carry them with you in your heart, your mind, your stomach, because you do not just live in a world but a world lives in you.” -Frederick Buechner

Pilgrim or Tourist?

Recently I had the opportunity to engage in a pilgrimage of Celtic Irish history. It was an experience I will remember forever. You see, tourism and travel is an enormous industry today. I read so many blogs where the main goal is to see more of the world and to travel, to really get out of your comfort zone and experience something new. This idea of travel and tourism made me wonder if there was a fundamental difference in what I was doing as a pilgrim, and what thousands of others were doing as tourists.  Were tourism and pilgrimage all the same thing, simply rebranded and renamed? Something in my spirit told me that there was indeed a difference, and yet it took me some time to really put my finger on what that difference was.

During our pilgrimage we began on the slope of an absolutely beautiful mountain near an area called Glendalough. This place is made famous because of a pilgrim known as St. Kevin. We walked down a path that had been beaten by the footsteps of many who had come before us. The path followed a stream right into an ancient monastic village. We had scheduled to meet with a tour guide who would tell us the history of Glendalough and, while we waited, I looked around at the incredible beauty that shot out from every blade of grass and every leaf of the trees. The mountains rose and fell all around us, and a babbling brook coursed its way toward a pair of lakes that it helped to feed. I took a deep breath and could smell the freshness of nature. Simply standing and being was, in its own way, an experience that allowed me to worship Jesus. Directly above me grew several canes of blackberries, which tasted so sweet and refreshing. I lost track of time as I picked blackberries and prayed to God. Before I knew it, our Guide had arrived. His name is Father Michael and he is a retired priest of the Catholic church. He began by blessing our group with a blessing of solitude:

“May you recognise in your life the presence,

power and light of your soul.

May you realise that you are never alone

that your soul in its brightness and belonging

connects you intimately with the rhythm of the

universe.

May you realise that the shape of your soul is

unique,

that you have a special destiny here,

that behind the facade of your life there is

something beautiful, good and eternal

happening.

May you learn to see your self with the same

delight, pride and expectation with which God

sees you in every moment.”

-John O’Donohue

Then we began our journey into the heart of Glendalough. Father Michael encouraged us as we walked to go forward in silence. It was in this silence that I was able to really reflect on the constant presence of God in my life. He led us to the first lake which holds some personal significance to me. My wife and I took our first picture together at this lake nearly ten years ago. Then our guide led us up into the mountains where we got to see where St. Kevin may have lived. Our guide told us the tale of St. Kevin and the blackbird:

“And then there was St. Kevin and the blackbird.

The saint is kneeling, arms stretched out, inside

His cell, but his cell is narrow, so

One turned-up palm is out the window, stiff

As as cross beam, when a blackbird lands

And lays in it and settles down to rest.

Kevin feels the warm eggs, the small breast, the tucked

Neat head and claws and, finding himself linked

Into the network of eternal life,

Is moved to pity: Now he must hold his hand

Like a branch out in the sun and rain for weeks

Until the young are hatched and fledged and flown

And since the whole thing’s imagined anyhow

Imagine being Kevin. Which is he?

Self-forgetful or in agony all the time

From the neck on down through his hurting forearms?

Are his fingers sleeping? Does he still feel his knees?

Or has the shut-eye blank of underearth

Crept up through him? Is there distance in his head?

Alone and mirrored clear in loves deep river,

‘To labour and not seek reward’, he prays,

A prayer his body makes entirely

For he has forgotten self, forgotten bird

And on the river bank forgotten the river’s name”

-Seamus Heaney

Hearing of the discipline that St. Kevin had was a powerful lesson to begin our pilgrimage. Each of us was paired with another group member and made to be prayer partners. After hearing the tale of St. Kevin we split off to pray. We were pilgrims together, and we were learning that the Celtic Christians of old had a deep revere for nature. They also had a respect for the darkness in each one of us. They would have operated with the knowledge that O’Donahue wrote about,

“We are always on a journey from darkness into light. At first, we are children of the darkness. Your body and your face were formed first in the kind darkness of your mother’s womb…Your birth was a first journey from darkness into light. All your life, your mind lives within the darkness of your body. Every thought that you have is a flint moment, a spark of light from your inner darkness. The miracle of thought is its presence in the night side of your soul; the brilliance of thought is born in darkness. Every day is a journey. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm. Ultimately, light is the mother of life. Where there is no light, there can be no life…Life is the secret presence of the divine. It keeps life awake. The soul awakens and lives in light. It helps us glimpse the sacred depths within us.”

Our pilgrimage began as something more. Something different. The Latin name for pilgrimage is peregrinatio, which when translated can mean either “pilgrimage”, or “voluntary abandonment of home and kin for ascetic purposes”. As Balzer puts it, we were seeking to identify with Christ in his death. Just as Christ let go of his divinity to fully embrace humanity, so the pilgrim would let go of his beloved land to follow Christ. It is this relinquishing of all that one holds dear in order to follow Christ that separates a pilgrim from a tourist. Abigail and I are pilgrims, following after Christ everyday.

“Pilgrim, how you journey

one the road you chose

to find our where the winds die

and where the stories go.

All days come from one day

that much you must know,

you cannot change what’s over

but only where you go.

One way leads to diamonds,

one way leads to gold,

another leads you only

to everything you’re told.

in your heart you wonder

which of these is true;

the road that leads to nowhere,

the road that leads to you.

Will you find the answer

in all you say and do?

Will you find the answer

in you?

Each heart is a pilgrim,

each one wants to know

the reason why the winds die

and where the stories go.

Pilgrim, in your journey

you may travel far,

for pilgrim it’s a longway

to find out who you are….

Pilgrim it’s a long way

to find out who you are…

Pilgrim it’s a long way

to find out who you are…”

-Enya: A day without rain

Traveling with a Toddler… How?!

ry=400Besides benefits for baby, there are also benefits of wearing bigger kiddos! In an overstimulating world, toddlers can retreat to the security of their carrier and feel safe on mom, dad, or the loved one who’s wearing them. Being worn helps toddlers to overcome meltdowns before they escalate, and provides a safe space to calm down if a meltdown has already occurred. Practically speaking, being up higher can help your toddler enjoy the same sights you enjoy, whether at a museum or on vacation in a new place. Also, it makes holding conversations with your toddler much easier! You wouldn’t believe the sweet comments my 2 year old has made while riding comfortably and happily on my (or my husband’s) back. Sometimes he even tucks his arms in to “hug” me from inside the carrier. I cherish these moments! <3 ry=400-14

ry=400-13Our toddler could easily be worn in our baby carrier because the weight limit on it goes up to 45lbs. We decided to purchase a Toddler Tula because it is specifically designed for use with older children and because, well, we need to use our baby carrier for our BABY. Ha! Glad we thought that one through 🙂 Our toddler calls the Tula his “big boy carrier” and loves the rocketship design. It has a wider seat for a toddler’s longer legs, a taller back for a toddler’s longer torso, and cushier straps for the wearer to support the extra weight. Most of the weight rests on your hips anyway due to the hip belt. We usually wear him on our backs, but it can be used to wear on your front as well. Oh, and it has a removable hood too just in case your toddler happens to fall asleep on you (*gasp*)! ry=400-1

The BEST IDEA I EVER HAD was purchasing a toddler carrier so that my husband could wear our 2 year old on vacation to Barcelona. (I wish we’d had it in the airport during our recent move from the U.S. to Northern Ireland!) I wore our 8 month old in our Onya and, paired with the Toddler Tula, the two carriers were a dream team! We were able to navigate the streets, metro, trains, and buses of Barcelona with so much ease.

The boys were able to observe their surroundings without feeling overwhelmed and “out there” in a foreign city.

They also napped on us while we got to continue exploring during the day, and we weren’t ever worried about our toddler running off somewhere to explore on his own! ry=400-4

When our babies are on us, we as parents are able to observe our surroundings better too. I’m certain we had a much more enjoyable trip to Spain because we weren’t preoccupied with our children, they were happy being worn and we were happy wandering the streets of a new city. Carriers are also great for taking hiking expeditions where strollers would be too difficult!

ry=400-9 ry=400-6

It seems like we always come across toddlers and babies throwing fits while in buggies, strollers, or on leashes, and I just want to run over to the parents and say,

“It’s okay! We’ve all been there! …But have you ever thought about wearing your baby instead?”

ry=400-15

The Secret to Traveling with a Baby

ry=400-3My husband and I are big fans of babywearing. We love the many benefits that come with keeping your baby close to your heart! Babies who are worn cry much less, resulting in reduced stress hormones in baby’s brain. Because of this, they can calmly observe the world around them, match their heart rate and breathing patterns to the wearer, and have the feeling of being held. When we wear our babies, we are more in tune with their needs and can meet them before crying even begins! I’ve owned and utilized many different slings and carriers; from woven wraps, a moby wrap, an ergo, a beco, and done all sorts of carries: front, back, and hip. All of these have various pros and cons and I used to be seriously obsessed with my woven wrap, but I must say that my absolute FAVORITE carrier has been my Onya Baby Carrier. ry=400-10

This is called a soft-structured carrier and is very comfortable! People always assume my back must ache after a day spent wearing my baby, but because of the hip belt, most of his weight is resting on my hips so no, this carrier doesn’t hurt my back! There are two different pockets on this bad boy which are super convenient for being “on-the-go”. I always stash my phone, keys, cash, cards, etc. in there with easy access. It also has a hood for baby that can get tucked into a pocket when not in use. I  use this all  time when he falls asleep on me!

ry=400-16

ry=400-2 ry=400-12Another feature that makes the Onya the most brilliant carrier ever, is it’s ability to turn into a baby seat. Yep, anytime you have access to an adult-size backed chair, you can turn the onya into a “high chair” of sorts! This is so handy.

We recently moved from the U.S. to Northern Ireland with our 2 kids and having our onya baby carrier in the airport was a Godsend. We were able to coast through checking into our flights, baggage claim, security checkpoints, and never once had to worry if baby (or big brother, read about that HERE) was upset in the stroller and needing to be held.ry=400-7

We spent a week in Barcelona, Spain and I wore my Onya all day every day! It was so brilliant for navigating an unfamiliar city. Baby felt safe and comfortable, and I didn’t have to worry about him feeling upset or getting poked by strangers (because he was in my personal space bubble). Wearing your baby also makes discreet nursing super easy. Carriers are also great for taking hiking expeditions where strollers would be too difficult! ry=400-11

There are great benefits to wearing your big kid too! We use a Toddler Tula.

ry=400-15

Day Trip to Rathlin Island

ry=400-2At some point we realized that all of the kids would be off school here in a couple weeks and everything would start getting super busy. We’d talked about visiting Northern Ireland’s only inhabited island for a while and so we made an impromptu trip to go see what we could find.

The ferry to Rathlin Island leaves from Ballycastle, a nice town on the North coast. You can find timetables on this website. We arrived just in time to catch the next departure and got seats on the roof for our 25 minute journey. Our 2 year old enjoyed the view and waved “bye bye” to Northern Ireland as we sailed away. The baby, on the other hand, must’ve been trying to compete with the wind and waves because he sure was making his voice heard! ry=400-1

Once we landed, we decided to pop in and get some food at McCuaig’s Bar. Arriving a bit before the lunch rush, we had most of the place to ourselves! Any feelings of awkwardness from bringing our children into a pub (totally normal around here) were quickly dispelled by looking at the pub’s only other customers at the time, another family with two young kids 🙂 Our fish and chips were delicious by the way! I should note that there is an ATM inside just in case you need cash.

ry=400This is when we stumbled on a nice playground and let our 2 year old run off some steam. Swings, a see-saw, slides, etc made him really happy! There’s even a few picnic tables inside the enclosure so you can bring/eat your own food.

After getting some wiggles out at the playground, we hopped aboard the Puffin Bus for a trip up to the sea bird viewpoint. It was maybe a 20 minute journey and the driver stopped along the way to point out interesting “fun facts”, like the hill that is said to be a viking burial site! Rathlin Island is supposedly the first place in the whole of Ireland where Vikings settled.

ry=400-5We entered the viewpoint through a Visitor’s Centre (they had water and biscuits available, too!) and took some photos of the gorgeous view we saw!

You know that bird poop smell? That’s what filled our noses over here. BUT, it didn’t take away from the stunning panoramic coastline views!! There were binoculars available for use and a kind employee offered a child’s pair to our toddler. He was absolutely thrilled and LOVED “taking pictures” of the birds. All the black and white dots on these rocks show the vast variety of seabirds that the island receives every year. We learned about puffins, fulmars (in the albatross family), guillemots, kittiwakes, and razorbills. I’ve never been super interested in birds but it was fascinating to see so many and ask questions of the knowledgeable staff members. ry=400-6

Instead of taking the bus, there were several groups of people who chose to hike or cycle up to the viewpoint. If we’d had the foresight, we would’ve checked with the bicycle rental company to see if they offered bike trailers for children. Next time we visit I hope we can walk one of the 8 hikes and/or cycle too.

ry=400-7
“Look, mommy! I can see a puffin with my binoculars!”

 

ry=400-10

We caught the Puffin Bus back to our starting point and admired the coastline for a while longer. We didn’t see them, but supposedly you can watch seals splashing in the sea during the summer!

ry=400-3We had a wonderful day trip to Rathlin Island and it would be fun to go back! We even saw accommodation; I think this would make a great overnight trip.

After riding the ferry back to Ballycastle, you can round out your day with a Maud’s Ice Cream and more playground time (both within walking distance of the ferry car park!)

ry=400-8 Have you been? What did you think?!

Easter Tuesday at Castlewellan Forest Park

It’s still “Easter week” here in Northern Ireland and that means many people are off work and school! This has been fun for us because we’ve been able to spend more quality time with friends. Yesterday we joined a convoy of cars driving to Castlewellan Forest Park in Castlewellan. Driving from Larne, it took us about an hour and a half to get there. It was an absolutely gorgeous day so we had a beautiful drive! We journeyed through Belfast to get there but also traveled on beautiful country roads. We saw green hills, mountains and sheep, and passed by lovely cottages.

10384230_3397149686173_8978817461336280608_n 10923285_3397157366365_171043134425549571_n

Once we parked (£5 per car), we walked down the hill and folded out our blankets on the huge stretch of green. We were right next to the lake and in view of the castle too. Such a gorgeous setting in the Mourne mountains! We were able to get one of the scattered picnic tables but we had blankets for the ground too. We didn’t go inside the castle but apparently you can stay there overnight in their dorm-like rooms. Various conferences and retreats are hosted there.

10404507_3397157686373_6296873692242788816_n

My 2 year old loved watching the dogs run around and jump in the water, and sticking his own feet in the water too. There are a few steps down into the lake where you can sit and play in the water if you want. We saw several people kayaking in kayaks they had rented at the visitor centre. (I want to do that on our next visit!) My toddler also enjoyed flying our kite, kicking around a ball, and walking along the path to collect sticks! There’s a 1-mile trail around the lake and you can even rent bikes to cycle it. This portion is very buggy/bike-friendly!

11146312_3397149206161_8027618723206667050_n

The Peace Maze, on the other hand, is not so buggy-friendly. People did have them but it’s a gravel path and very rocky. My 2 year old rode on my husband’s shoulders and I wore the wee man in my onya carrier. The sign said that most people get through the maze in about 40 minutes but we lucked out and finished it in 25! There is a peace bell at the end that my toddler enjoyed ringing. The maze was lovely and called the “Peace Maze” because it represents the path to a peaceful future for Northern Ireland.

1456539_3397160446442_8192521469400954028_n11148461_3397145046057_5835829739125879985_n

At the end of the maze there is a nice wooden playground that was filled with kids on this busy Easter Tuesday!

11140380_3397160046432_5740512626399862389_n11150967_3397144206036_2485506190427059035_n

There are toilets and changing facilities near the car park so use those before you head down to the lake/castle area. If you get hungry or thirsty there is a cafe on site too. We definitely want to visit again if we have another free day with beautiful weather!

11150351_3397148286138_109203013098950344_n

Easter Monday at Carnfunnock Country Park

Today was what our Northern Irish friends call “Easter Monday” which basically means it’s the day after Easter and most everybody has the day off work/school. Hoping for nice weather, everyone seems to flock to outdoor venues to spend their time. With the gorgeous forecast, Carnfunnock was popular today and we thoroughly enjoyed this huge park!

154529_3395686409592_4078452918812904327_nSet right on the coast near Larne, Carnfunnock boasts over 190 hectares (over 470 acres) of gardens, trails, trees, and stunning views of the coastline. We loved walking around and looking at all the flowers. My toddler especially loved smelling them. There are many attractions for wee ones of all ages! There are remote control boats and cars, bouncy houses, crazy golf (putt putt), a train for younger ones, trampoline jumps for older kids, a huge labyrinth, and even those big inflatable balls you can get inside! All of these cost a couple pounds each.

11038799_3395598847403_7879557885269705777_n

The very best activity in my opinion is the gigantic play area, the “Adventure Playground” which is free! There are a few different playgrounds inside this area, each designed with a specific age group in mind, although all kids can climb on any of the structures. My 2 year old loved the one that looked like a ship, but was very brave and bolted to the top of the bigger one to fly down the slides! There’s even a zip line and some sort of skateboard/skiing simulator activity that looked really neat. Scattered between the play equipment were all types of spinning chairs, tire swings, balance beams, and traditional swings. We could’ve spent all day in this one area.

19803_3395601847478_1489342416289484360_n 11088191_3395600647448_8102756751294261326_n

Just a few steps away is a big grassy pitch where kids were running around playing tag, kicking soccer balls, and throwing frisbees. This is right next to the crazy golf area. There is a small shop that sells ice cream and other treats, along with a Visitor Centre that has balls, bubbles, and toy swords. They also have postcards and all sorts of baubles labeled with “Carnfunnock Country Park”. So if you’re looking for a souvenir, this is the place to be!

11102741_3395685529570_9024427582118525615_n11096533_3395685929580_8603515578252137878_n

We paid for parking today but they don’t always charge for that. There is also a coffee shop in the Visitor Centre if you need a pick me up after all the walking. We did a lot of walking, but all on paved paths of course so it is really buggy-friendly. My 2 year old did great but spent a lot of time riding on my husband’s shoulders. If you have one like we do who is still wearing nappies, I’m happy to point out that there are accessible changing stations too!

We had a wonderful visit on this beautiful day and we’ll definitely be back again. 1422524_3395601207462_5829755120638638774_n    12862_3395599847428_7643432229161630222_n