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
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
May you realise that the shape of your soul is
that you have a special destiny here,
that behind the facade of your life there is
something beautiful, good and eternal
May you learn to see your self with the same
delight, pride and expectation with which God
sees you in every moment.”
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”
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
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
“So how did you figure out how to open a bank account in Northern Ireland?”
I seem to get asked this a lot.
In the beginning of February we moved our family from Kansas City, Missouri to Larne, Northern Ireland. During our first week in the UK, we were recovering from jetlag and lounging around the house while the boys ran circles around us. One day, we heard a loud beeping noise! Something we had never heard before, and we had no idea where it was coming from. When we texted our new Northern Irish friends, we learned that it was our electrical box beeping to tell us we had no more credit left. I found the card that our landlord had left behind and I went to the website to see if I could pay online. No luck, I needed a debit card that was registered in the UK. I couldn’t get one because I had no bank account, so I would have to go to a shop and pay in person. Well unfortunately, it was 7pm and we had no car. We called our mentor and she came over on this cold, rainy evening with her son and they took me to the grocery store where I was able to top up our account with cash. This wasn’t a huge deal, but it was inconvenient, and we were nervous about our electricity shutting off! Inconveniences like this kept coming up and inspired me to take the bus into town, walk into a bank, and try to figure out how to open up an account.
The bank was very kind but basically told me that I had no proof of address, even though I had a signed lease. All my bills were either paid by someone else or they were on a top up system so we couldn’t use any of those things to prove our address. The bank told me there was nothing they could do and sent me on my way. Well if any of you know me, you know that I research things. Thoroughly. So I put my research skills to task and figured out how to prove my address in order to open an account.
First, I got a pre-paid credit card through cashplus.
Note that I did not qualify for most of the perks that go along with being a card holder, but this was only a means to an end. The card took about a week to get to our house and then I took the bus to the post office where they let me top up the card with cash.
After topping up the card I called the customer service line (which costs) and requested a credit card statement be sent to my house. The customer service representative tried to talk me in to getting an electronic one, but I persevered and had the statement sent to my house (which cost £10). It took about 10 days to get the statement in the mail.
Now that I had the credit card statement, I had a piece of mail that confirmed my address. I took this along with my visa to Ulster Bank where I was able to open a current (checking) account. This provided me with cheques, deposit slips, and a debit card.
Voila! Bank account opened. Now I am able to start my free Amazon UK Prime 30 day trial, switch my iTunes account over to the UK store to download some of the free apps (that are only available in the UK), accept cheques from people wanting to help us financially, and pay with a card instead of cash at the grocery shop! If you try this, I hope it works out for you as well as it did for us.
My 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.
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!
Another 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.
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!
At 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!
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.
This 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.
We 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.
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.
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!
We 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!)