Confession: Separation of Experiences

I confess that separation is hard.
There are two experiences. Two things that have nothing to do with each other, and my mind keeps putting them in the same category.
This is confusing for me. One experience was new and exciting. The other, dark and devastating. Unfortunately they happened at the same time. I’m working on rewiring my brain to separate these two experiences.
At the beginning of 2015, after a year of preparation and fundraising, my family moved to Northern Ireland. If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you know all about this lovely experience. A new ministry assignment, a new church family, a new culture… all of it was refreshing and humbling and we learned so much! We met some of the most generous and hospitable people we’d ever encountered, willing to walk through life’s journey with us knowing the year would be over before we could say “What about ye?” We experienced so much joy, so much growth, so much love. That’s the first experience; the happy one.
At the beginning of 2015, I had just had my second baby. I felt like a different mom this time around, but not in a good way. I realized almost a year later that I had been suffering from postpartum depression. A chemical imbalance in my brain gave me extreme anxiety about social gatherings, made me cry on the couch for hours at a time, took away my desire to get out of bed in the mornings, gave me an overwhelming shyness, changed my relationship with food, stole my confidence, and forced me to believe lies about myself. I blamed much of this on culture stress and the difficult task of leaving behind our whole support system in Kansas City. I blamed it on the dreary Northern Irish weather (which was actually quite lovely), and the exhausting task of being the parent of a toddler and a newborn. I didn’t want to admit to struggling with a mental illness and I didn’t even realize that’s what I had at the time. I felt like a terrible mother and I even resented my sweet second-born at times, wondering “…if I hadn’t just given birth, would I still be feeling this way??” There were a lot of factors that caused me stress during this time but, now that I’m on the other side, I’m finding healing in “confessing” that I had a mental illness. Some people ask what it felt like and, besides feeling like I was in a muddy pit that I just COULD NOT climb out of, I tell them that I felt like a totally different person. That’s the second experience, the sad one.
In high school and college, I was always the happy one with the positive outlook. I could turn any situation into a good one, showing others how the glass really was half-full, not half-empty. What people wrote in my yearbooks was that they loved how I was so joyful, how nothing seemed to get me down. What mentors have remarked on in the past was how flexible and adaptable I was, and how I always had a smile on my face. Well, in 2015 that wasn’t me. Either I was really good at pretending, or my new friends didn’t know the type of person I was before. It’s not their fault, but it’s not mine either. I’m allowing myself the grace to own that experience because as awful as it was, it’s part of my journey now. I still can’t talk about it without crying or just cutting the conversation short, but I’m okay with that too. It’s good to feel emotions. God gave us emotions to experience life more fully.
So, I’m working on separating these two experiences. Northern Ireland didn’t make me depressed, I just happened to suffer from postpartum depression while there. I write this to share with you, my dearest friends and family because some of you may not know. If you’re experiencing these feelings, you’re not alone. Sometimes (a lot of times) life isn’t all sunshine and roses, and that’s okay. Even when God calls us to something, that doesn’t mean everything will be easy and fantastic and happy all the time.
im1-shutterflyI’m a different person now. A better one. I’m thankful for my current mental state and how I’m rising up. Even though I wouldn’t want to go back to that dark time, I’m grateful for where it’s brought me. I couldn’t rise up, until I had something to rise up from… this seems to be my mantra these days. And it sounds cliche, but it’s true: The trees are greener, the sun is warmer, the flowers smell better, and God’s presence is more evident than ever.
Thank you for carrying my story in your heart. May you also rise up.
Grace and Peace.

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

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!

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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.

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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.

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“Look, mommy! I can see a puffin with my binoculars!”

 

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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?!

10 Things You Might Start Saying If You Move to Northern Ireland

After spending 3 months (today!) here in Northern Ireland, we’ve learned a bunch of new ways to say things! Some of these are said all over the UK and some are specific to Northern Ireland. Either way, we didn’t say them before we came but now they’re becoming part of our regular vocabulary.
1. Wee
This is such a wonderful wee adjective and it is used to describe anything and everything! Obviously it means “small”, but it’s not always used to refer to small things. I’ve come to realize that it’s used in the same way Americans would say “little”.
Look at her wee dress! My wee man is 6 months old. We took a wee drive up the coast and had a wee ice cream. There’s a wee parent/toddler group on Thursdays. Would anyone like a wee tea or coffee? We’ve also heard people refer to their children as “wee’uns” (wee ones).
2. In Good Form
This phrase is used to talk about someone who’s in a good mood, usually a child. Recently a friend was telling me that her child had stayed up late but was still “in good form”. I think it’s more than the kid just being in a good mood; it means the child is generally behaving well too.
3. I’ll Say to Him
This one I love because it is so literal. This might be something Americans would say but (at least in the Midwest) I’m used to hearing the phrase “I’ll tell him”.
“I’ll say to him now about dinner on Saturday.”
4. “would be…”
I think we all know the common uses for would, like “He said he would do his homework.” and “We would always go to Grandma’s for Christmas.” But here in N.I. I’ve noticed an additional use that seems like it’s interchangeable with the present tense. Instead of saying “I’m hungry too”, people say “I would be hungry too.” Or, “She would have brown hair” to describe someone who currently has brown hair. People ask us, “Would you be in Northern Ireland until December?” …yes, we would be! (we are!)
5. Aubergine/Courgette
These words may look French to the average American and it turns out, they are! I was recently served tea in a cup with a round purple vegetable painted on it and I exclaimed, “Oh! An eggplant!” Everyone looked at me weird and that’s when I learned that, here in Northern Ireland, it’s not an eggplant but an aubergine (OH-ber-zheen). That makes an ordinary eggplant seem extraordinary doesn’t it? And another, courgette (coor-ZHET), which turns your average zucchini into something fancy.
6. “So they are/ So he does”
It seems that everyone we know ends their sentences with a wee recap of what they just said. My son loves to ride his bike so he does. They’re going away for the weekend so they are. I’m cooking dinner tonight so I am. It’s also used in the negative (“He doesn’t work anymore so he doesn’t.”) and in the past tense (“We used to have a cat so we did.”). This is one of my favorites!
7. Surname
This one is a simple enough adjustment for us and is used to talk about someone’s last name. I just like saying it because it sounds so much more proper than “last name”.
8. Trousers
This one’s important. In my American world, trousers are pants. In Northern Ireland, pants are what you wear underneath your trousers. Our friends say, “Oh we know what you mean because we watch American TV!” But still, I don’t want to get caught telling someone I like their pants 🙂
9. “What age is he?”
This just means, “how old is he?” and is often used in conjunction with “What do you call him?” (What’s his name?). Both of these are easy to transition to and i quickly adjusted my small talk with other moms to include these phrases.
10. “Half Ten on the 15th of May”
Telling time here in Northern Ireland is a bit different. Instead of ten thirty, you say half ten. 7:15 is not seven fifteen, but rather “a quarter past seven”. And 1:35 isn’t one thirty-five, but “twenty-five to two”. The date is also switched around from what I’m used to. My birthday isn’t July 26th, but the 26th of July! Most of the world positions their months and days like this, so it’s really we Americans who are doing it backward!
So there you have it! Our updated vocabulary. This list doesn’t include words that are just pronounced differently like fillet, vehicle, or tomato, or the whole host of baby-related words that are different. I could write a whole separate post on those!