Inclement weather, flight delays, and plane malfunctions behind us, we made it.
After a month away, we are home.
And what a month it was. The shortest, fullest, deepest, most challenging, most enjoyable month of my life thus far.
In one sense, it seems to have flown by. It seems that only yesterday we were up before the sun, loading a bus to Tulsa, anxious and excited for the trip to come.
In another sense, the trip does not seem short at all. As I look back through my mind, my journal entries, and my photos, the memories seem too many to have come from a mere month.
We looked on with excitement at our first glimpse of the Irish landscape as we flew into Dublin, awestruck at the green of the hills, the blue of the sea, and the red of the sunrise.
We contemplated as we toured the Shankhill Road, seeing the religious and political division that brought so much pain during Northern Ireland’s Troubles.
We experienced God’s presence in a new way at Saul Church, learning its rich history and worshipping together in song.
We grew in community at the manor, creating new friendships and deepening old ones.
We took a step into Narnia as we explored Tollymore Forest, just as C.S. Lewis did as a child.
We gained independence and expanded our perspectives as we traveled the continent on our weekend trips.
We fellowshipped and studied God’s Word through morning devotionals, local church services, and Sunday afternoons in coffee shops.
We took in the wisdom of Hadden Wilson, an elderly professor and pastor who, despite his other occupations, had time to teach us, and even to sit down for a cup of tea.
We listened, laughed, and pondered as each of us shared what we had created for poetry night.
We saw the beauty of God’s creation as we toured the North Coast, a beauty and an experience nearly too rich to be put into words.
The list goes on.
I can honestly say that our month in Ireland was the greatest adventure I have yet experienced. I loved everything about Ireland. And honestly, at first, I did not want to leave. The last few days, as our departure approached, a real sense of sadness came over me.
“Why do we have to leave? Why isn’t the trip longer? How can I find a way to come back here? … What if I never can come back? What if this trip, at 19 years old, is the high point of my entire life? What if this is all some great tease, being given something you love, only to have it snatched away with the knowledge that you will never have it again?”
As my mind tumbled down this trail of thoughts, it was almost instantaneously met, not by other thoughts of my own, but by a faint memory from long ago. The words of something I first read as a young child came flooding back.
“Please, Aslan," said Lucy. "Before we go, will you tell us when we can come back to Narnia again? Please. And oh, do, do, do make it soon."
"Dearest," said Aslan very gently, "you and your brother will never come back to Narnia."
"Oh, Aslan!!" said Edmund and Lucy both together in despairing voices.
"You are too old, children," said Aslan, "and you must begin to come close to your own world now."
"It isn't Narnia, you know," sobbed Lucy. "It's you. We shan't meet you there. And how can we live, never meeting you?”
"But you shall meet me, dear one," said Aslan.
"Are you there too, Sir?" said Edmund.
"I am," said Aslan. "But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there.”
Perhaps this is also the very reason why we were brought to Ireland.
Perhaps some journeys are incomplete without a return voyage.
Perhaps one of the most amazing things about sailing around the world is that you end up sailing right back home.
Perhaps Chesterton was right in saying that “the whole object of travel is not to set foot on foreign land; it is at last to set foot on one's own country as a foreign land.”
Perhaps one of the greatest things about an adventure through Middle Earth is the return home to the Shire.
Perhaps the purpose of going away is not staying away, but coming back a different person than when you were when you left.
Perhaps the best journeys don’t consist simply of traveling there, but there and back again.
I thank God for our trip to Ireland.
I thank Him for meeting us there, and for bringing us safely home.
I pray that by knowing Him there for a little, we may know Him better here.