Surprising Friends + Snowy Fun in CO
Whether you’ve read my previous posts or have heard me ramble on + on about it, you could rightly assume that the time I spent in Denver left a huge impact on my life. I established myriad relationships that were beyond surface level interactions + pined for continual cultivation. My mind seems to always be wandering + my heart yearning for this place + people again, so I decided to follow through + booked a return flight to Denver over my winter break — a little early Christmas surprise for my Colorado comrades.
The plan for a return was mentioned basically since our last week there in the summer, so Mary Claire + I were tracking flights + pondering plans while in the midst of school, stress, side activities. but it wasn’t as quickly fully set in motion. There was a point where the idea was completely falling flat as airline tickets were soaring + other priorities were demanding. But one afternoon following a night of disappointment + despair over the fantasized excursion, God opened a door along with a whisper: “why are you downcast? don’t you know I always provide? why are you trying to take matters into your own hands? don’t you know to trust Me?” The flight had dropped fractions of the previous expense + was structured around the perfect time frame. Mary Claire + I quickly bought tickets while they were so low, then eagerly expected + partially planned our approaching adventure.
Day 1: The Surprise
The three of us (myself, MC + her sister Harper) flew out on a Sunday afternoon, arriving in Denver late afternoon. we had reservations for a rental car which was confirmed at a set all-inclusive price knowing our age, insurance, etc. However, these kinds of things never go so smoothly, do they? When we got to the desk, we had issues paying with Harper’s card, we had to pay extra insurance (in addition to the extra cost for our age), had to pay for it under one name while the driver was underneath another; needless to say it would have been an unnecessary hassle + additional financial strain to follow through so we decided to forgo the rental car + figure out transportation along the way. So, we caught an Uber out of the airport to Josh + Sarah Cook’s house.
To jog your memory, Josh Cook is the pastor of Dwell Church which Mary Claire + I served with for the summer. We had previously contacted Sarah about our trip so she skillfully assisted us in our planning, particularly in order to surprise Josh + Josh. The original plan was for us to show up to the (legendary) Little Man ice cream shop in the neighborhood, but the rental car chaos delayed our arrival so the Joshs had already made plans to go see a movie at that time. Backup tactic was for us to surprise them after the movie, so we went to grab dinner while they were gone + settled in our things at their house while we waited. We anxiously anticipated their arrival (it was the first time either of us have pulled a surprise like this for anyone!). Then around 9:30pm that evening, we casually sat + chatted on their couch as Josh + Josh walked through the door with jaws dropped + an utter confusion followed by “what are you doing in my home??” Their reaction was eerily, accurately, precisely predicted by Mary Claire + Sarah — haha! It was super sweet catching up + reconnecting as the night came to a close.
Day 2: Roaming CO
With the rental car plan out of the way, we reverted back to our days of public transportation, which honestly was a highlight for us. We made our way downtown to explore some of the Christmas decorations + peek through the Denver Art Museum which we had gotten many recommendations for this past summer. For lunch we met up with one of our friends in Golden for Nepalese food + updates on the family, then she took us back to downtown Denver to explore the Brown Palace Hotel which was elegantly decorated with Christmas decorations + fancy finger foods delicately nibbled by posh persons in ostentatious outfits + headwear. Afterward, we wandered over to the Christkindl Market where we sampled European pastries + hot cider + met a new friend, reminding us of the connections we had made previously with the people that drew us back to return again. With our sweet tooth accounted for, we quickly hopped over to Broadway for a thrift store visit before heading back to the Cook’s home for Monday night group gathering for Dwell Church. The night was full of cooking + consuming dinner, sharing highs + lows, chatting about old memories + creating new ones too.
Day 3: Hiking + Running Club
This morning we woke up early to head out to the train station to take us up to Boulder. When we arrived, we met two professional runners from the area that Mary Claire knew (fangirled over) since she currently runs in college. They took us up on a snowy hike to Realization Point that offered phenomenal views of the surrounding city, the Rockies, + miles upon miles of Colorado in the distance. The descent down slick slopes brought a few slips, as well as some eager mule deer passing by. Following, we strolled through shops on Pearl St. + settled in a cozy spot for lunch before riding back to Denver. Tuesday evenings in Denver for us always meant running club, so that’s where we headed once again. We got to surprise some of our friends we met through the club, catch up with them, then hang out playing games afterward. The evening was not exactly what we had expected it to be, but the pros + cons were weighed with the conclusion that God appointed us to arrive in our friends lives at those particular times for a purposeful reason + resuming these kinds of relationships takes time + patience + understanding as we drift through various seasons in life, hoping to cling to Him more than we do ourselves, others, or outside sources.
Day 4: Breckenridge
Since we surprised Josh + Josh with our arrival, they understandably had plans during those days (could we put capitalism on hold?). Well, it turns out, maybe we could just a bit. Josh Cook shuffled + scrambled some meetings around in order to spend the day with us! He took us up to Breckenridge, known for its skiing. We stopped along the way for some pancakes to fuel us through winter wonderland drives, mountain town shops, and of course some snowball fights + tiptoes along frozen rivers. When we returned back to Denver that afternoon, we stopped by the post office to deliver some packages from Dwell Church. As we were standing in the queue of others sending + shipping, we encountered the sweetest elderly couple who were quick to spark conversation regarding our many tiny boxes, their celery juice cleanse, + random tidbits in between. On her way out, the lady popped open her purse + fanned out flavors of Blow Pops for us to choose from, as well as the mail clerk assisting us. The Edgewater Public Market was a new addition since our last visit, so we perused their numerous nourishment options ranging from Venezeulen arepas to lobster rolls, snacks + sliders to Ethiopian cuisine. That evening, Josh Frase had some special surprises of his own for us since he could not join us for the earlier activities. He took us downtown to go ice skating under the clock tower + twinkling tree lights until they closed, then over to taste some tacos where another one of our connections from the summer met up with us. We made our way back to the Cook’s house that evening to watch Star Wars + eventually pack up our bags to return home early the next day.
It’s strange + unusual for me to experience life in this way – to go from wanting to live life alone + never return to the same places or situations I had previously traveled or encountered, to coming back to Colorado again (and again – hello 2020) to revisit the same people + places. It takes a lot of growth + trust to see God working in a place to defy my own thoughts + desires in order to follow where I see Him leading + pushing me to delve into. It’s even difficult for me to come to terms with these changes because I have known + expressed myself to be one way for so long, but man am I excited to take on a new role for the sake of laying my own name down + lifting His up. Thank you Denver for teaching me these things + continuing to draw me back to your neighborhood + His heart.
A Reflection On The Past Year: Experiences, Thoughts, Growth
Man, 2019 has been a year of complete remodeling, rebuilding, renewing, revamping myself in all sorts of ways. I lived in Ireland for four months. I lived in Denver for two. Then somewhere in between my home-home and college-home (you know how that goes…) the rest of the time. I learned to let go of my deep-rooted, tight-gripped sin of control; trusting God with whatever unfolds. I learned to open up to strangers + to genuine community – replacing fears + insecurities with fellowship + vulnerability. I learned to dig in – to His character, His calling, His creation, His community. God has consistently paved my way. Consistently led me on a journey – one He has crafted + known since the beginning (Jeremiah 1:5, Ephesians 1:4); one He delights in revealing to me (Job 12:22, Daniel 2:22). This neck of the woods has been a mix of unknown highs + uncharted lows, comfort + difficulty, expected + unforeseen. Through it all, I’ve been learning to put behind my innate tendencies + give my full, undivided, wholehearted attention to the experience.
I spent the beginnings of the new year in a new country. I took a chance going somewhere I had no distinct connections or draw to, somewhere I had never been, with people I had never met, with really no clear direction or expectations for what I was to do when I arrived. I honestly like this sort of mystery + exploring something new; but paradoxically, the details surrounding that new territory must be mapped out in my brain. This world of unknowns was setting the stage for four months of breaking down my built up walls + loosening my clenched up fists, to humbly be brought down + fully trust my Father in every aspect of my life. Going to Ireland was for a study abroad, but more so for my own enjoyment — to travel + explore + grow in cultural experience. However, God had far greater plans + purposes than either of those reasons — far beyond what my finite mind + persistent heart could comprehend, configure, or contrive. As you may have gathered from a previous post, I struggle(d) with the desire for control — in general, but more specifically in my health/appearance, my school/success, my everyday events/time, etc. Throughout the four months of traveling alone, living in a foreign place, having unknown plans, I learned to let go of those things I was trying to control + let go of the idea that they provided me stability + security. I learned to let go of fear — fear of safety, of unknowns, of failure, of imperfection, of living up to or missing out. It was by no means an easy process. I faced many late nights + early mornings burdened, pressed, stressed out of my mind with tears streaming down my face, just to realize that it was all for nothing (Matthew 6:25-34 James 4:13-15, Proverbs 16:9) — Jesus has already promised to take ALL of that weight off of my shoulders if I just give it to Him (Matthew 11:28) — why had I not done this sooner?? Learning to remove the desire to control, to know the details, to plan all things, to have set expectations, set me on a sure foundation of trusting God completely, constantly + also set me up for the subsequent two months in Denver, and even the upcoming semester at school, and let’s be honest, for life.
The summer brought excitement, and thanks to the first half of the year, unwritten + unestablished expectations. I went into the experience in Denver with an open mind + in turn learned to open up other parts of myself. I was challenged to step outside of my normal/my comfort zone to engage with strangers. This allowed me to truly learn from them + for them to learn from me without any hesitation or pretenses. I was bold in my speech, actions, decisions. I was vulnerable about my faults, past, weaknesses, needs. As I have mentioned before, I am an introvert. It takes a bit to draw me out + for me to feel comfortable, confident, adequate to make myself known. However, I see now, through the process of this summer, that God can use me in that particular way He created me, as well as expand my illusory boundaries to open up unrevealed, concealed parts of me to further grow myself + His Kingdom.
As Fall rolled around, I headed back to campus for the first time since the previous Fall semester. I was uneasy about the transition back, mainly because I had learned + grown + changed so much that the experience would be completely different than what I was used to previously in that environment. Right off the bat, God crossed my path with numerous individuals that provided me the opportunity to form new friendships + invest in being intentional with. Further, I was led to a local church that drew me in like a magnet with the concentration of their community + depth of their doctrine. These opportunities, divine appointments if you will, allowed me to fully express + dive into the uncharted territory that was introduced from the past eight months. It also got me more interested + invested in committing time to wrestle with difficult topics, study theology, search for understanding. I’ve acquired a new found passion + urgency for these things — I keep digging, digging, digging into the Word of God with a continual supply of new findings + questions — it’s the Mary Poppins bag of life! Day by day I am acquiring more knowledge about God + His sovereignty, character, will; moving me from elementary milk to substantial meat (Hebrews 5:12-15, 1 Corinthians 3:2). Now, I must continue in this pursuit, finding a balance beyond selfishly soaking up all the information for myself + rather turning outward to love, encourage, serve, exhort my family of believers + reach out to share this overflowing knowledge, heart, passion with unbelievers who may not have access to or any experiential knowledge of picking up + tasting of this cup.
This year, God has abundantly + exceedingly answered requests.
Concluding the summer, I prayed that I would be able to form the same type of prompt, pointed, purposive, life-giving relationships with people I would come into contact with on campus. Provided.
Prior to my return to my campus from a semester away, I prayed that I would have someone to disciple + lead in the way that a mentor had done for me. Provided.
Going into this past year of 2019, I prayed for a heart change. I think, in review of all this… provided.
I prayed to my good, heavenly, trustworthy Father that what I had learned + grown into within the past year wouldn’t be left behind in Denver or in Dublin or in the cracks between here + there, but I would be able to tap into + draw from that newly dug well of Kristen — that I could let go + open up + dig in to anomalous avenues of life where He was leading.
Wrestling With Staying Put Or Striving Out
I left Denver on a high (no pun intended). I had made memories + connections like I never have before + like I never expected I would. I departed with a heart full of all the goodness of Christ + a head full of ideas, hopes, plans to come back.
But transitioning back home was hard. Transitioning from busy days filled with a constant presence of people + places + plans to a slow murmur of sitting at home, sauntering alone, silent living. I felt like all of the gains I had just made in my life relationally, personally, spiritually had just come to a halting, screeching stop.
My thoughts have been scattered with doubts. My mind is reminding me of the plans I had to travel the world, to see new places, to meet new people. I shouldn’t be wanting to return to the same place again… or should I?
What if God is calling me to settle down + establish roots in a single place at such a time as this, in such a place as this? Can I continue to love a place if I’m living life with the same people? Is this why He placed me in Colorado — to draw me back in? Was Colorado just another destination to meet + connect with new people for the heart movement, head memories, high moments? Or was it planting a seed for a further flourishing in the garden of His plan?
The time spent home didn’t last long because I was soon off to another location — back to my university. I had lots of mixed emotions going in, mainly due to the fact that I hadn’t been back on campus in almost a year. Getting back into a routine of balancing long days full of lectures, work, and studying with the numerous leadership responsibilities I had taken on was daunting. Not to mention this underlying, irrational fear that somehow I had been forgotten by everyone I previously knew due to my prior semester’s absence.
This fear + stress coupled with all that God taught me this summer about intentionality + relationships came together smoothly, satisfyingly, splendidly — because I stepped out of the way + let God do the work. I think I’ve met + established connections with more people on my campus in the past two weeks than I had the previous two years. That fact would have been overwhelming + horrifying to me then. Praise God for that heart change! Not only have I gotten to deepen relationships with individuals whom I only knew a name, but I’ve also met new friends whom I’ve never known before. By opening up + extending friendship like Jesus did, I’ve come into contact with people that I never would have otherwise. Isn’t that what the Kingdom should look like anyway? I want to befriend the people who have a completely different history + who may have been on a totally divergent trajectory, because they very well may be the ones who need someone in this moment the most.
Maybe that’s why I’m here + not in Denver now. For such a moment as this. To reach out to these people + for them to teach me. There’s a time + a place + a season for every part of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8); this we know. But I am currently learning to not yearn, dwell, linger on pieces that previously were because then I miss the pieces that currently are — that are coming to be — by God’s guiding hand. I’m praising + thanking God for what He’s done, watching + listening for what He’s doing, and waiting patiently + eagerly for what He brings next — whether that be something familiar or something entirely new.
Developing A New Mindset For Isolation + For Missions
I have always liked to define myself as being quite independent, isolated, introverted, individualistic. I thrive in solitude — I am more creative, confident, calm, centered when I am left to myself. While great benefit + value, strength + satisfaction may be found in this state, I have learned that it is not meant to dwell in continuously.
In Genesis 2:18-22, God created Eve as a much needed companion for Adam. We, too, were created as social, relational beings not meant to function alone. We were wired for life to be lived with meaningful, worthwhile relationships.
The pendulum of this isolated lifestyle can quickly swing over to a state of loneliness — leaving us with feelings of loss, emptiness, unworthiness. The Father reminds us in His word that those feelings are far from the truth. He guides us (Psalm 73:23), fills us (Exodus 31:3, Ephesians 3:19), frees us (Psalm 27:16-17). In Psalm 139:13-15 we are told of our purposeful, intricate creation, He has given us a spirit of confidence + power (2 Timothy 1:7), and Luke 12:6-7 reminds us that we are fully known + full of worth.
There must be some sense of balance between solitude + socialization. There is a need for accountability — to be fully known + fully loved not just by my Father but also by those who walk beside me, who can press in + push me toward growth in my walk with Jesus. Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 teaches of the importance of being surrounded by other believers, especially to help build us up + lift us up when we have fallen. It is impossible to mature my relationship with the Lord in isolation; the only option alone is stagnancy. In isolation, I may not necessarily be drifting backward, but I am surely not making any progress forward. Through opening up + being vulnerable, allowing the dark parts of myself to be seen by others, I can work to strengthen the aspects that are on the right track + aim to improve those that are not serving to benefit myself or my walk.
God has really been pressing in + making me aware of this isolation tendency of mine for awhile now, but since being in Denver, the concept of community + fellowship has really been emphasized + experienced. For the first time in my life, I have genuine accountability partners that are real with me + I feel comfortable in being open to them. They push me to be better, encourage me when the devil gets into my head, and teach me how to handle various situations maturely + like Christ would. Further, God has been teaching me a lot about Himself + His character through these people that surround me. I see passion, grace, generosity, genuine care, love. I am able to see + experience these unique attributes of the Father because He created each of us in His image — each with different gifts, talents, bits + pieces that work together to function + reflect Him (Ephesians 4:16).
In addition to the importance of community, I have been enlightened with the importance of solitude as well. Recently, as I have come across this understanding of God’s intention for us to be relational beings + dwell in company, I have been harsh + gotten down on myself for the way that I have been operating solo for the majority of my time. However, the two are not in conflict with one another, yet require a balance in our lives in order to operate. We must ultimately learn to create a productive rhythm of fellowship + seclusion, conversation + silence. Jesus modeled this as he took time away by himself with the Father (Matthew 14:23, Mark 1:35). I don’t believe we were made to have the capacity or energy to keep up with others all of the time (we receive this solely from the Lord apart from ourselves), but we aren’t to remain in this solitary state forever either. Each have a distinctive place + purpose in our lives + our walk with Christ.
Lastly, being in Denver has taught me a lot about how to go about fellowship + cultivating community. Previously, I understood service + mission trips as going out to help someone — physically, emotionally, financially, or most importantly, spiritually. A mission trip, understandably, meant that there was some underlying mission to be accomplished. Until recently, I never understood how wrong this mindset was in going out to reach people for Christ. Rather than following Jesus’ example of relational missional living, we see a group of people or an individual as someone in need of something that we can provide; a project or goal that we can accomplish. Going in with this demeanor + mindset is surprisingly evident to the person that you are trying to reach + will most likely make them highly resistant to whatever help or message you are trying to transfer to them.
The alternative to this process is modeled in the life of Christ (John 4:7-42, 5:1-15). He asked questions + then took the time to listen to their ideas, thoughts, perspectives, feelings. Through this process, He meets the person where they’re at, helps them to discern what it is they desire, + then what it is they ultimately need (which is God, not us).
The main purpose in what I am doing in Colorado is to form relationships with people. Not to change them or to fix them, but to genuinely listen to them + show care for them; just as Christ did to the people He interacted with. I have been astounded + overwhelmed by the individuals I have met + the stories they’ve told, baggage they carry, passions they hold. While I still cherish + delight in my time alone, I have come to love engaging with people around me — another beautiful, wonderful piece of the Father’s creation.
Side note: Here are some pictures from some Colorado nature time (my favorite!)
A Recap of My Typical Week On Mission In Denver
Last summer, I embarked on my first mission trip to Mexico. While that was an incredible first experience, I left craving more. This summer, I traveled to Denver, Colorado for two months to explore + engage one of the loneliest cities in the country.
My first two weeks were filled mostly with orientation into what it looks like to be on mission in Denver + working with church plants here. More specifically, the pastors of the church plants spoke with + guided us, we did outside research of the neighborhoods we were living in, we engaged the people living there + did lots of prayer walking throughout the area.
For the remainder of the summer, we will be helping to lead a kids camp with Hope In Our City. It is located in the Sun Valley area with the intention + heart to reach out to refugee and low-income families. These children from various backgrounds combine with children from a partner church to learn about STEM, culinary arts, zoology, and music across the four weeks. Due to this mixed environment, the camp is not directly affiliated with any religion + should not be mistaken as a Vacation Bible School, but rather it is the vessel for the love + life of Christ to be revealed to the kids + families over time through the established, trusted relationships of the workers at the camp. Outside of our time spent here, our aim is to connect with the people of Denver, form genuine relationships with them, and share the love of Christ with them.
With that basic background + overview, here is a more outlined look at my weeks spent here on mission:
Sunday: I have been paired with four other girls to work with Dwell Church for the summer. The church meets at the local elementary school in the West Colfax area which is comprised of students that are 82% Hispanic, 11% African American, 5% Caucasian + 98% of them qualify for free/reduced-price lunch. We arrive at the church at 8am on Sunday mornings, which is about an hour train ride from where we are living. We begin by setting up everything for service (road signs, chairs, coffee station, children’s church, etc.), then we all meet together for announcements + prayer as a group before the service begins at 10am. Each of us five girls will experience the various parts of running a church each week including leading the kids ministry, the connect/welcome team, tech team, and making announcements. Then after the service, we take down + clean up what we had set up for the service.
Monday: Today is the start of our week at Hope In Our City. We begin by meeting the new weekly volunteers, get assigned jobs, have a devotional time, then set up all the materials + stations for the camp. I have been assigned the leader of the craft station for the summer which I particularly enjoy! I lead each group of kids (Pre-K, K-2nd, 3rd-5th) in crafts + activities that are aligned with the theme of the week, as mentioned above. For example, for the first week the theme was STEM, so we made magnetic slime, airplanes, and wood block robots. The camp wraps up around 12:30, then the Dwell Church girls head over to West Colfax for a weekly meeting with Josh Cook (pastor) and Josh Frase (assistant leader/coordinator) of the church. On the first + third Monday of the month, we meet at the Cook’s house for group dinner, fellowship, Bible study. This time has been really refreshing to get to know the members of the church more intimately.
Tuesday-Wednesday: These days, we continue our same routine at Hope In Our City from 7am to about 1pm. I do not have any set plans after camp these days, so it is left open for “missional living.” Personally, I am seeking to engage people in the environments that I can best find connection which include yoga classes in the park, hiking trails, farmers markets, and local cafes/restaurants.
Thursday: Today also is mostly filled with the Summer Kids Club at Hope In Our City. Then at 2pm, all members of the GenSend team meet together at another of the three church plants (Cypress Community Church) where we discuss our readings from the week (we are going through Habits of Grace by David Mathis and Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero), hear from a speaker, do a group-led devotion, and break into small groups for reflection + prayer.
Friday: Today is our last day for the week at the kids camp, then beginning at noon, is the start of our 24 hour Sabbath. This experience has been really different for me in the best way possible. For so long I have been set in the routine of my daily “quiet time” of devotion + prayer, but this daily office, as David Mathis refers to it, is not the same as a Sabbath of intentional time spent in rest as our Father God did. For some of my Sabbath days, I have gone (or plan to go) to Boulder, Rocky Mountain National Park, Garden of the Gods, and Aurora where I spent some time back in 2017. This time for rest + relaxation + reflection has brought me in a deeper relationship with the Father as I learn more about Him (His mind, heart, voice) + His creation (the world, myself, people).
Saturday: The morning concludes our Sabbath, then the evening is left open to more missional living. The past few weeks, we have also had some church outreach events on the weekends including a cookout, movie night, and a camp out to come later in the summer.
In just a few weeks, God has already been teaching me SO much about myself, Himself, and His creation (planet, places, people). I have already seen + felt growth in many areas of my life – parts of me that I was particularly uneasy about. I am genuinely enjoying my time here in Denver + I pray that God will continue to be able to use me + teach me, both while I am here + down the road.
Final Destinations as “Fáilte” Fades To “Farewell”
Here it is — my final days in Ireland have come to an end. My last couple of weekends didn’t slow down, but rather, I took advantage of the time to explore some last minute destinations on my list before I parted the island.
The first of two trips began with a day trip to Kinsale in County Cork. The weekend previous to this, I traveled to Cork with some friends where I spent the weekend exploring the town + kayaking the River Lee. I really enjoyed the area so I was happy to return as I passed through on my way down to Kinsale. As I arrived in the colorful + quaint harbor town, I joined along on a history stroll of the town where I learned about its rich history with the Spanish Armada + English conflict. I also had planned to visit on this particular day to experience the town’s “Street Feast” food festival, as Kinsale is known as the “foodie” town of Ireland (catch some snapshots of that goodness below).
Following my day in Kinsale, I journeyed to Limerick for my accommodation for the evening, where I had lovely views of the River Shannon below. The next morning, I met a tour group outside the park in Limerick to take a trip around the Dingle Peninsula.
Our excursion began with a quick pass through Killarney for a cafe stop before heading to our first destination that was Inch Beach. It was definitely the first time I have been to a beach where lush pasture land met right beside wide open sandy shores. This feature gave the location a unique scent mixture of sheep + seafood (I oddly kind of liked it?). The coastline was particularly broad + happened to be decorated with a vast array of seashells, as we had met it at low tide. As I walked along the sand in search of a tiny treasure to carry back with me, I kept thanking + praising God for such a glorious, gorgeous day He had given us to be out exploring!
After departing the shoreline, we continued along the Slea Head Drive of the peninsula. Along the way, we stopped at a local farm on the side of the road where I came across the dearest little lambs that I was able to hold for a bit. At this same location rest some of the notable Beehive Huts, or clocháin, in the area that are made solely from stone without sand, concrete, etc. (as many of the stone walls here in Ireland are made) where people lived an estimated thousands of years ago, however the exact history + date of their construction is unknown. Some more of these structures were dotted across the Blasket Islands which we had magnificent views of along our coastal drive, including the famed “Sleeping Giant” island which is rightly named.
Further on we stopped by Dunmore Head beach — dark + rocky, yet lush + green islands jut out from vivid clear-teal waters — and Ceann Sibéal where the Jedi temples were created for the eighth Star Wars film. The Slea Head Drive led us back down into Dingle Town where I had quite the tasty seafood lunch overlooking the harbor before our departure back to Limerick + my further transfer back home to Dublin, where I arrived very late in the evening but very well pleased with my little adventure!
For my final weekend in Ireland, I decided to visit Donegal. Now, Donegal had been on the top of my list for places to visit since I have been on the island due to the staggering coastline, Star Wars film locations + Northern Lights viewing at Malin Head, and the outdoor allure of Glenveagh National Park. However, when I was looking for tours + activities to do there, none were available until May after my departure. I pushed off going for this reason, but as my last weekend crept up with nothing planned to fill the time, I saw it as a sign for me to go ahead anyway! I took a bus up to Donegal from Dublin that dropped me off right at my hotel where I once again had a river view — the River Eske. I walked around town (“the Diamond”) for a while + then headed into the tourist information office to see if there were any tours that I had missed with my online search, as well as other things to do around the area. The lady gave me the unfortunate news that I already knew to be the case. However, she then told me that there was one private tour going out the next day that was full but she could call the guy leading it just to double check. He replied that he believed it was a group of seven + his van fit eight people, but he would have to ask them if they would be open to having another person (stranger) join along with them.
As I waited until the evening when I would hear back, I went out on the Donegal Bay Waterbus. A narrator on board pointed out various spots along the way including an old Abbey from 1474, seven different islands with unique owners + history, the embarkation point of many during the Great Famine, an old coast guard station used during World War I, as well as “seal island” which is usually full of harbour + grey seals who unfortunately did not come out to play for us that afternoon. On the return trip back into town, the guide played guitar + sang a variety of traditional Irish songs + international classics for us to enjoy + sing along to. Afterwards, I went out to dinner (the best Indian restaurant in Ireland, to be exact) + I was getting ready for bed, as I had almost just given up on my hopes of hearing back about the tour, when I heard my phone ring: the guy called + said that the group of ladies would be delighted to have me join them on the tour tomorrow! There ya have it folks: God answers prayers + in perfect time.
The next morning I went across the river from my hotel to journey along the Bank Walk. It was a lovely trail along the River Eske + Donegal Bay shaded with mossy trees that were decorated with tiny, colorful fairy doors + houses — a trend in the rural culture. I made my way back over to the town center just as the Donegal Castle was opening, so I perused through the stone walls before going back to the hotel where the tour was supposed to pick up at 11:30am. I met the group of ladies I would be traveling with for the day — they were all cousins from around Ireland + England who decided 10 years ago that they needed to have annual girls weekend trips to catch up + have some time together that wasn’t spent at a wedding or funeral. They made me feel most welcome, engaged in good, genuine conversation + laughter, and passed along many “sweets” throughout our journey, so it’s safe to say that I really enjoyed them + I think they might have liked me too!
We began our drive passing through the largest fishing port on the island, Killybegs, then on to another town called Carrick. The entire drive was incredibly scenic with breathtaking rocky sea cliffs around us. We made our photo stops quick though because it was freezing rain + high winds that could easily blow me right off the edge — the Wild Atlantic Way for sure! Following the coastline, we arrived at Sliabh Liag / Slieve League which are the highest accessible sea cliffs in Europe, providing us with magnificent views from the edge. Next up we encountered Malin Beg, yet another one of Ireland’s strikingly characteristic beaches with teal waters, golden sand, rugged mountains surrounding. There was still some rain showering, but this provided for many full, rushing waterfalls to be seen descending down the cliffs + hillsides. A quick lunch break was made in the folk village of Glencolmcille before passing down through Ghleann Gheis — a deep-cut valley that was illuminated in green due to the rain run-off that settles down in between the two steep sides. It was full of grazing sheep who were enjoying the fresh vegetation, + seemed to be much safer than the many I had seen previously on the edges + extremities of the cliffs. Not long after, we found ourselves circling back into Donegal town where I spent the evening resting, recollecting, reflecting on the weekend that had just summed up.
Wow. That’s what I have been finding myself saying a lot since I have been here — wow. Not only does God answer our prayers but He goes above + beyond them (Ephesians 3:20), and He has done this consistently during my time in Ireland: my classwork + internship days, roommates, finding a church, travel companions ( a variety!), and more + more.
So many times, whether it be for a weekend trip such as these or school assignments or just grocery store runs, I have had a plan going in that has fallen to pieces right in front of me — yet the pieces seemed to have fallen ideally in places not foreseen by me. That’s one of the things that God has been teaching me here — to let go. to not plan every detail. to not hold expectations. But rather, to fully + boldly trust Him to guide, organize, handle all things (Exodus 15:13, Psalm 48:14, 32:8, 73:24). I also feel that I grew much closer to God as I learned more about His character during my time abroad. I was constantly reminded that He is always with me (Deuteronomy 31:8, Joshua 1:9, 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 23:4, 73:23, Isaiah 41:10, John 16:32) — physically walking with me, caring for me, watching over me. But also always in my heart comforting me, fully knowing + loving me. His love is unmatchable, unconditional, unending (Psalm 86:15, Isaiah 54:10, Ephesians 3:18-19). I have been astounded by His continual love + faithfulness.
Without a doubt the Lord has blessed me immensely beyond what I can even explain. I stayed busy, I stayed safe, I stayed enlightened. I am incredibly thankful for the exploration + growth that I encountered in Ireland + I hope you enjoyed journeying along with me!
And if you’re wondering if I’d ever study abroad again, the answer is WITHOUT A DOUBT!
And if you’re wondering whether or not you should study abroad yourself, the answer is YES! One of my favorite quotes in The Wizard of Oz teaches, “Experience is the only thing that brings knowledge, and the longer you are on the earth the more experience you are sure to get.” So seek out the experiences that God is leading you toward, take action in following the path He is paving + aim to give your undivided attention to the experience.
The Earth is beautiful. I am blessed. Life is good. (All thanks to God).
Ireland From The North + South + Everywhere Between
I’ve officially spent four months living 3,787 miles away from home. Throughout that period I have seen + done so much across Ireland. I obviously couldn’t quite make a separate blog post for each place I visited, event I attended, experience I encountered, so I wanted to go back + share some of those remarkable moments that deserve a bit of recognition.
Northern Ireland — Giant Rocks + Giant Conflict
A reflection I wrote for my Irish Life & Cultures class:
Our weekend tour up North began in the heart of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland. While there is extensive character + history to be uncovered in this city (history that is currently + continually being made), my adventure-seeking, nature-loving heart was anxious to escape the concrete confines + enter into the alluring destinations that give the Emerald Isle its name. Once we passed out of Belfast, we entered into a serene journey along the astonishing Antrim Coast through rolling green pastures, hills, glens, leading us up to the Carrick-a-Rede Rope Bridge + then further on to Giant’s Causeway.
The Causeway has left countless locals, scientists, visitors, and the like in absolute awe + wonder for centuries. Each of these observers walk away with their own interpretation + reflection on the mystery, pondering what may have caused the Causeway. From the geologists' perspectives, the rugged coastline was formed around 60 million years ago when volcanic lava cooled + formed into the shaped rocks + pillars. On the other hand, there are individuals who do not believe that the spectacle is a natural feature, but rather it is better explained through local folklore. The story, in short, is recalled that the Irish giant Finn McCool (Fionn Mac Cumhaill) formed a path from these coastal rocks in order to reach a fellow Scottish giant across the way. For me? Well, after viewing the incredibly intriguing location, I would like to take a contrasting approach to the previous two speculations mentioned. The striking, scenic surface is so intricately + intentionally fashioned into puzzled shapes of hexagonal columns, perfectly round discs, symmetrical stepping stones. For this, there is no sense made from an accidental eruption explanation. The only answer lies not from the hands of giants, but within the hands of a creative God who envisioned + established each of these elements making up the world that we experience. Whatever you may choose to believe about its origins, all can agree that the Giant’s Causeway is a staggering stroll back in time, an inspiring + imaginative location, a sight to truly be seen + reflected upon.
The Ring of Kerry + Skellig Ring
Continuing along The Wild Atlantic Way to The Iveragh Peninsula, my family and I embarked on the stunning scenic drive along The Ring of Kerry + the extended Skellig Ring. After passing through Cahirsiveen town, the birthplace of the iconic Irish figure Mr. Daniel O’Connell, a narrow country road led us down to the ruins of Ballycarbery Castle, while following another path gave us an encounter with the gorgeous rocky coast + teal-gray waves of the Atlantic. It started snowing on us along Ballinskelligs Coast — an area of bright green pastures lining high hills, more bright teal waters with large rolling + crashing waves against dark rugged rocks. Despite the luminous clouds overhead, the vibrant yellow gorse + daffodils in bloom illuminated the landscape surrounding. We made a quick stop in the colorful harbor village of Portmagee for lunch at the only place open (Sunday + winter season = everything in Ireland is closed), providing us with the BEST spread of various seafood including chowder, hake, mussels, prawns, crab claws, salmon, mussels! Following our delicious delicacies, we passed over the bridge to Valentia Island just in time for God to open up the snowy clouds + remove the haze that had previously been covering the Skellig Islands (you may recognize these beauties from some Star Wars films). The sheep in the pasture were contently confused with our presence + our fascination with the landscape that they get to call home everyday. Not only did this weather change cause us to catch a glimpse of the skelligs, but the most vibrant full rainbow arched overhead for the remainder of our drive that evening.
The shift in terrain from coast to woodland signaled our entrance into Killarney National Park — the oldest of six national parks in Ireland. It is full of snow-capped mountains in a 360° view, golden valleys lying below that are studded with many lakes, hidden waterfalls, deer, goats. We were just passing through as golden hour loomed which was unreal! The evening was settling in as we made our way up to Torc Waterfall, Muckross House, and Ross Castle to close out our circular drive.
Glendalough + The Wicklow Mountains
My entrance into Wicklow Mountains National Park began with some nice waterfalls descending down rocky mountain sides including the waterslide-esque falls of Glenmacnass. The terrain consisted of dense forested mountains with green, red, gold hues which then led out into vast open plains with no trees in sight but large mountains + hills popping up in every direction. We stopped for lunch in the only place for miles — it ended up being the town of Glencree which was the site of Operation Shamrock where German kids came to Ireland after World War II to escape some of the hardship. Continuing back the same way, we then passed Lough Bray + the more captivating Lough Tay. This lake is also known as Guinness Lake by the locals because of the dark brown colored waters that wash up against the golden sand shore, + also because it is part of the Guinness Estate property. Our drive continued with yet another full rainbow that arched over Lough Dan + a Scouting Ireland camp around the corner which made my brother quite happy! The combination of the rainbow, lake named after Dan (my dad’s absolute best friend that just recently passed away), the scenery + scout camp all in one place at one time was just one of those “God moments” that only He could orchestrate, leaving each of us suitably speechless.
Bray to Greystones Coastal Cliff Walk
The morning that my family left Dublin, I decided to keep the momentum going in order to beat the homesickness that was sure to catch up to me. I took the DART out to Dún Laoghaire to enjoy a nice walk along the water of the harbor town that led me up to The People’s Park where I perused the tempting food options set up for their Sunday Market. It was a delightful sunny + somewhat warm day but as I was about halfway around the stretch of market tents, all of a sudden the blue skies darkened + it started to SNOW? This lasted only about 5 minutes before the warm sun came out again like nothing had happened — pretty peculiar if you ask me, but that’s Ireland’s weather for ya. I boarded the rail once again to head a bit further south towards Bray. I embarked on the cliff walk there that extends to the next town, Greystones. It was a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful start in Bray along mossy cliffs + rocky mountain sides above teal-blue, seafoam color waters that I can’t get enough of here! There was a bit of a rough patch about halfway through the trek with lots of mud + puddles + the snow from Dún Laoghaire had caught up to me again! Then I passed through grassy trails lined with yellow gorse + pasture smells. After about 1.5 hours/7 km, the walk ended a bit underwhelmingly in Greystones where the area was covered in construction + residential development. As I continued to the DART station, though, the town improved as a somewhat beach community with homes, shops, restaurants in a light + airy atmosphere. I definitely foresee this being a walk I come to do a few more times while I am here!
A Break From The Emerald Isle In The Land Of Fire + Ice
It’s insane to think that my study abroad time in Ireland has already passed the halfway mark. For my midterm break, rather than retreating to a warmer climate for relaxation as many of my peers, I traded the “R” for a “C” in location name to discover the vast + isolated beauty of Iceland.
Day 1: Roaming in Reykjavik
I awoke before the sun to get together my last minute things + walk to Heuston Station to catch a bus taking me to the Dublin airport. After a brief plane ride of less than two hours, we touched down in Reykjavik, Iceland — the northernmost capital in the world at latitude 64°08. Once we had all unloaded off of the aircraft, we reloaded onto shuttle buses that took us another hour away from the airport into the heart of the city. The terrain along the ride was like another planet with dark, rocky plains covered in moss + leftover patches of snow with views of large mountain silhouettes in the distance. The weather was a bit colder than Ireland + extremely windy! I went to grab something to eat + noticed the copious amounts of Vietnamese + Thai restaurants available (which is my absolute favorite, so I was good to go)! After enjoying my scrumptious pho, I continued to walk down the main shopping street for some souvenirs + came across the most glorious second-hand shop I have ever been in (I’m quite passionate about thrift shopping, by the way). It was full of iconic vintage pieces including fur coats, sequin blouses, puffer jackets, mom jeans, but best of all: handmade sweaters from all over the world — Iceland, Scotland, Norway, Italy, Denmark. I talked myself out of getting one when I was visiting the Aran Islands which I really regretted, so this was God saving something better for me — the only sweater in the whole shop that was made in Ireland had a spotlight shining down from above + was calling my name! After I left the shop, I made my way over to the outstanding Hallgrímskirkja Cathedral — a truly unique beauty!
Day 2: The Golden Circle
The first day along with my travel group began voyaging through Viking land. We encountered exquisite ice + moss covered plains + mountains that lead us into Þingvellir National Park where the oldest parliament was held by the Norsemen in 930 AD. Iceland is divided by the Mid-Atlantic Rift + this specific area is situated within the Rift Valley between the North American and Eurasian plates where visible cracks, canyons, fissures were visible in the land caused by recent earthquakes. We ever so cautiously + carefully continued our drive over an ice-covered plain up to Laugarvatnshellir — a cave where two Icelandic families resided in the early 20th century. As we all disembarked the bus, we immediately began slipping + sliding across the ice. I finally reached a patch of land that was more snow than ice, but then as I continued forward, my leg sank right through to the earth + the snow line reached my thigh! After several minutes of travelers struggling to journey up the hill through slippery ice, thigh-deep snow, sleet + the driver maneuvering the large bus around a narrow non-icy stretch to turn around, the majority opinion came to a consensus that the weather had won this round + we would continue on to the next stop. The Golden Circle then surprised its visitors with hot springs studded across the hilled landscape + spewing geothermal geysers that luckily were not as foul-smelling as I have experienced in Yellowstone National Park. Next, we headed to Gullfoss (The Golden Waterfall) where the river Hvítá descends over 30 meters (98 feet) into two-tiers of broad falls — partially frozen over due to the winter climate. We concluded the evening with a stop by Skalholt which was Iceland’s capital during the Middle Ages. As I made my way up to the old church + turf-covered farm house, I was blown across the field — nearly off the side of the mountain! Upon return back down the hill, I was informed that the wind gusts were estimated around 25-27 meters/second (56 mph)!!
Day 3: Chasing Waterfalls + Northern Lights
We greeted the morning with “Góðan Daginn!” then made a visit to LAVA Earthquake + Volcano Exhibition. After a short film showcasing vivid eruption footage, we perused a fascinating + fully interactive museum teaching the geological wonders that make up Iceland including the earthquakes + volcanoes that still continue today. Although all credit was given to Mother Nature + evolution from the museum’s perspective, I was quick to correct the mistake + point the glory back to the exceptional Creator that orchestrated each + every event to happen on this earth. Verses such as Psalm 8:3, 19:1-2, 33:6-7 were encircling my thoughts + mind, begging to be understood + accepted by those around me. Afterwards, we visited Seljaslandsfoss + Skogafoss which were monumental + bustling with fresh water. I hiked up to the top of Skogafoss where I had views of the rushing river above that fed into the falls + the extensive, lush farmland below. Continuing on a coastal drive along the south shore, we passed some volcanic sites + ferocious waves crashing in the ocean. A stop at Dyrhólaey was one of my absolute favorites as it provided phenomenal views of steep sea cliffs, stormy waves, unique rock formations, black sand beaches, a panoramic view of snow-capped mountains above teal waters — how does such beauty all exist in one place?? We drove a bit further down + I took a walk along Reynisfjara black sand beach which derives its distinctive hue from pulverized volcanic basalt rock. The dark land paired with more insanely intense waves + rock formations that were cut in neat designs + shapes. Our drive then shifted through various terrain, including lava fields formed from the 1783 eruption that lasted 6-8 months + took out 50-80% of the livestock. It consisted of about 220 square miles of land where hot magma had flowed, cooled, + now is covered in thick, soft, fragile moss. Our hotel for the evening was in Kirkjubæjarklaustur, meaning “Church Farm Covenant” because of the monk + nun community that resided here around 1000-1500 AD. Right outside of our hotel, we confronted another notable waterfall — named Sisters Waterfall, keeping in tune with the theme of the town. Dinner that evening was the local Lindarfiskur Arctic Char (similar to salmon) raised in the frigid spring water running naturally out of the lava fields of Skaftáreldahraun — yum! As the sun set + the sky blanketed itself in darkness, we set out on a Northern Lights hunt complete with blankets, camera, + deliciously rich hot chocolate. It was the perfect clear night for Aurora viewing — not a single cloud in sight + millions of speckled stars twinkling above. After much waiting with no sign of the waves of color, we retreated back to bed + anticipated an “aurora wake up call” if any activity occurred while we were away — unfortunately, it was just not the night.
Day 4: Iceland’s Icebergs + Glaciers
It was a cool + crisp morning setting us up for the adventure planned ahead as we made our first stop at a secluded waterfall called Foss á Siðu. The day was spent in Vatnajökull National Park — the largest national park in Western Europe, dominated by Vatnajökull which is the largest glacier in Europe + Hcannadalshnijúkur which is the highest peak in Iceland at 2110 meters (6900 feet). This place was utterly striking + stunning; a land of distinct contrasts — panoramic views of colossal white mountains wedged with light blue glaciers, accentuating dark lava fields + black sand beneath. Our arrival was perfectly planned by God as the radiant dawning sun was just peeking past the peripheral of the mountains + highlighting the details of the landscape. We continued a bit further to Scvinafellsjökull — one of many glacial outlets emerging from Vatnajökull. Along the road, huge glacial mountains sat to my left + crashing coastal waves lie on the right. Next up: Jokulsarlon Glacial Lagoon was a 180 meter (591 feet) deep containing the most breathtakingly bright blue icebergs afloat the water. I ventured over to the opposite side of the road where more chunks of icebergs were washed up along the black sand beach imitating the look of newly cut crystals scattered along a sheet of black velvet. It’s no wonder why the people here began referring to this as “Diamond Beach.” It’s quite difficult to ponder this kind of scenery — ocean meets mountain, lava rock meets iceberg; all in one place. Lastly, we ended with a tranquil trail walk down to Skaftafellsjökull glacier (about 1.8 km) to get an up-close experience in the valley between. On the return back to the hotel, we passed some waterfalls that were trying their best to fulfill their sole purpose in descending water, yet would be more properly referred to as “waterflies” because the gusts of wind were opposing the flow in an upwards direction! The Aurora wake up call was once again on radar but still to no avail.
Day 5: Coastal Churches + A Dip In The Blue Lagoon
Most of the day was spent driving back Westward toward Reykjavik. Along the way, we passed through several villages including Hveragerdi which is one of few places in the world that lies directly atop a geothermal area. The hot springs heat the land + greenhouses which provide many plants + produce for the town, giving the location the name “flower village.” Grindavík was another village, specifically a fishing town bringing in much of the country’s income. We continued along making a stop at Strandarkirkja — a church built along the coast. As the story goes, some men were caught in a sea storm + prayed for God to come to their aid, promising that they would build a church when they reached shore if He did. As they were praying, a bright light appeared — believed to be an angel — which led them to land. The area is now known as Angel’s Cove + the structure they built is the “Miracle Church.” Finally, the afternoon brought us to the main attraction for the day — The Blue Lagoon. It is one of the 25 wonders of the world as it is a mineral-rich (silica, algae, sulfur) geothermal pool of aesthetically appealing aquamarine water in the middle of a black lava field. It was incredibly frigid outside as I scurried across in a bathing suit to secure some solace in the warm (well, up to 38°C/100°F!) waters surrounding me. I was provided with a rejuvenating silica mud mask to make my skin soft + a refreshing fruit smoothie to sip on as I floated around my blue bath. The one hour return back to Reykjavik was considerably calming considering the period of relaxation I had just experienced. After cleaning up, I concluded my last evening in the land of fire + ice with a grand buffet dinner full of traditional Icelandic dishes + desserts. My favorite was the vast variety of fresh seafood, including the herring in a dijon-mustard sauce which I became completely obsessed with + took advantage of while on this trip!
Day 6: Departure to Dublin
My departing flight was already quite early but had been moved up an hour earlier due to some nasty weather brewing in the area. Considering that I needed to arrive at the airport two hours prior to my departure + the airport was at least an hours drive from Reykjavik, I had to catch the shuttle bus to the airport at 2:30am — yep, after my late evening I just went ahead + pulled an all-nighter. I boarded around 5:30am, slept during the flight, then arrived back in Dublin around 8:40am. I spent the day unloading + unpacking my bags, camera film, memories + prepared for a full day of interning to follow.
I was astounded at the unbelievable beauty of Iceland that challenged my stereotypical expectations of climate with its diverse + varied terrain. I saw much of the world + delved deep into history within a single speck on this earth — it’s mind-boggling to think what more there is to be discovered across the entire planet! Although I was unable to check off my #1 bucket list item to see The Northern Lights, this trip to Iceland was beyond anything I ever planned for or imagined it to be + I am most confident that God has a superior adventure in store for my first viewing of His extraordinary, cosmic creations.
Until next time!
Road trip to Galway + The Aran Islands + Cliffs of Moher
As a part of my study abroad program, I am taking an Irish Life + Cultures class that includes weekend study tours out to visit some top highlights in Ireland that we are learning about. Our first big trip was out West to visit some coastal cities + staggering scenery.
The group loaded onto a coach bus late Friday morning + began the journey towards our first destination — Galway. Along the way, our class instructor educated us with some knowledge + history of the places we were passing as well as playing some traditional Irish music + teaching us some songs to sing along to including Galway Girl + The Fields Of Athenry. We checked in our hostel, dropped off our bags, then headed out to explore the town. After a bit of shop-hopping + menu-scanning we made our way down by the coast. The sun was shining brightly accompanied by a light mist — the perfect combination for producing a rainbow, a full arch to be exact! We then had a nice three course meal together at McSwiggan's Pub which was a perfect wrap up to our first evening.
The next morning we departed our hostel fairly early to drive to the port where we loaded onto a ferry out to the Aran Islands. This area of Ireland is one of few places in the country that still speak Irish opposed to English, or both, so our instructor taught us some common Irish small talk such as how to say “Hello” and “What is your name?” It was a quite rainy morning which was worrisome considering our plans for taking a ferry out to the islands. However, God’s plan is always greater than the limited picture that we can see in the moment: just as we were backing out of the dock, the clouds passed away + the sky’s opened bursting with brilliant light! As we were warned, though, the ferry ride is always somewhat of a rollercoaster no matter the weather. We jumped up + over waves, rocking side to side with views from the window showcasing sky, then sea, sky, sea. It’s hard to wrap my mind around the storms that Jesus + the disciples faced in the Bible. No doubt, the waves that I encountered on this ferry were of no comparison to the raging sea that they met (Matthew 8:23-27, Mark 4:35-41, Luke 8:22-25), yet Jesus was completely unphased by the storm — slept through it even! Meanwhile the disciples (aka us in our own storms of life) freaked out. The Lord awoke to calm them + the sea with a single remark. It is so humbling + comforting to know + worship + follow someone of such great power + wisdom that leaves you standing in awe — each + every time. Despite the wild ride, my adventurous nature called me out to the back deck of the ferry to experience the waves in all of their glory. After stumbling my way across, grasping random objects along the way to keep balance, I made it out the back door + my heart overflowed! The golden sun peeked through the clouds + reflected off of the raging green-turquoise waves + a sliver of a vibrant rainbow caught my eye in the distance. As I was taking it all in, a massive wave came across the side of the ferry + smacked right into me leaving me drenched but man was it worth it (after I knew my camera was still in tact)!
Unfortunately, my boat bonanza ceased as we arrived at the island of Inis Mór (Inishmore — “The Big Island”). It is 11 miles long, 2.5 miles wide, containing about 750 permanent residents. As we got off the ferry, we immediately boarded onto smaller tour buses that took us around the island. We stopped off at Dún Aonghasa which is a circular stone fort said to have been built a few thousand years ago for religious purposes initially. It was atop a rocky hillside with dramatic cliff drops on its peripheral. As we made our way back down the hill, it began pouring rain. We all got completely soaked (número dos for me today) + managed to stumble our way down the rocks while battling the strong winds. Everyone on the island seemed to gather inside the only cafe in the area of the fort to warm up with some hot soup + brown bread. Meanwhile, I made my way to the bathroom where I had to ring out all of the water from my pants, socks, gloves — I could have filled a small pool with the rain I was carrying on me! Our group loaded back onto our buses to continue around the island where we came across many old churches, cemeteries, small houses + cottages, extensive coastline. Once we finished up our tour, we perused the handknit Aran sweater markets + boarded the ferry back to the mainland under a dusted pink + orange sky.
Sunday morning started straight on the roads out of Galway to the Cliffs of Moher. Along the way we passed through The Burren (“Great Rock”) in County Clare which is an area of land + mountains made from limestone bedrock that portrays an interesting gray, crackled look. We also passed Dunguaire Castle, as well as numerous mountains, cattle + sheep pastures, small cottages + villages. It was a lovely drive across the coast, clear enough for us to see the Aran Islands in the distance.
Our much-awaited arrival to the Cliffs of Moher had come about noon that day. As most natural wonders, many films had scenes shot in this location including Leap Year, The Princess Bride, and Harry Potter + the Half-Blood Prince. The Princess Bride’s title for the cliffs is quite accurate — the Cliffs of Insanity! They were absolutely stunning + jaw-dropping + unreal + unlike anything I have seen before. At first I was a bit underwhelmed because it was just a simple viewpoint ledge at the top of the hill, but then I kept walking along + eventually found myself trekking a narrow muddy path on the side of the cliff + rocks — ah, just what I was seeking! The weather was just perfect too. I was so worried that there would be fog + rain preventing our view of the cliffs, yet the Father is faithful in answering our prayers + settling our worries. It was completely clear with very little wind as we explored the cliffs, while the clouds + rain began to come out just as we were departing our well-visited scene.
A 2.5 hour bus ride back to Dublin left every single person aboard the coach fast asleep! It’s easy to rest after a satisfying, exhausting weekend exploring new territories + destinations that leave you in wonder + reflection. God’s creative + intricate handiwork is so evident in this country; I hope to bring that realization into the city of Dublin + among the people who are blind + unreceptive to His greatness. I am grateful for the opportunities that are laid out before me + continue to reveal themselves through various people, places, phases.
City-dwelling + Cliff-side Hiking + Castle Visit
Greetings! I’ve made my way across the waters + have now begun my adventure in Ireland. I spent my first few days in Dublin getting acquainted with the city that I’ll be living in, then I made my way out to explore a bit outside the concrete confines.
Fortunately, I see many of Dublin's top highlights in my everyday walk to school including Dublin Castle, Christ Church Cathedral, The Guinness Storehouse, Trinity College, Grafton Street, and St. Stephen's Green. However, I did spend one afternoon during my first week as a tourist exploring some of the other locations more in depth. These places included many museums such as the EPIC Irish emigration museum, Dublin City Gallery, the Little Museum of Dublin, National Gallery, and Natural History Museum, as well as Oscar Wilde's birthplace and statue, the Ha'Penny Bridge, and the Dublin Zoo.
My first day trip out was to Howth for a cliff-side hike. The little town was quite cute + quaint by the coast full of docked boats + tempting fresh seafood restaurants. We went on the shorter of two hikes which was incredibly reminiscent of my time along The West Highland Way in Scotland. The trail was rocky with a bit of mush from previous rain, the grass was a vibrant green with the occasional pop of bright yellow blooms, and the views! oh my! The ocean extended infinitely beyond the horizon into a fuzzy haze of blue — I could see the entire world from atop the hill. The calm, dreamy waves brushed up against the steep + jagged rock side creating a beautiful, bubbly sea foam that was rich in an icy blue-green hue. The only words I could seem to utter were along the lines of “oh, wow! thank you, thank you Jesus!” It is in times + locations such as these that I am absolutely speechless as the magnificence, weight, glory, wisdom, creativity of my God!
When we made our way back down the hillside, we scoped out our options for fresh fish grub. We got some recommendations from the locals and fish + chips seemed to be the popular go-to — I’m always down for seafood! After we ate + walked a bit around the market in town we boarded the DART once again to head back to Dublin.
Normally, I would be attending my internship two days a week, but since I did not begin there my first week in Dublin, I took advantage of my free day to visit another new destination. Three of my friends joined me in journeying up to Malahide for the day. We are all fairly unfamiliar with public transportation, and especially in a new city (country!) we’ve never been, so we were basically running around like chickens with our heads cut off trying to find the right location, station, platform, etc. for us to board the right mode of transport. Thankfully, everyone in Ireland is incredibly helpful + gracious so they pointed us in the right direction.
When we departed the DART, we ventured over to begin a tour of the Malahide Castle. It had been inhabited by members of the Talbot family for over 800 years + included all of the original paintings + furniture from throughout those times! We then exited the exquisite home to explore the 268 acres of woodland, gardens, greenhouses + even got to walk through a fairy trail + enter into the Republic of Ireland’s only butterfly house.
After the tour of the Talbot’s former property, we headed out to the local village + marina. It was quite similar to Howth in its local feel with little tourists or popular businesses.
I will admit, my first few days abroad took some getting used to. I felt all alone + afraid. But continually God reminded me how He is ALWAYS with me — He never leaves me nor forsakes me + I am in His care (Deuteronomy 31:8, 1 Kings 8:57, Psalm 73:23-24, 139:10). With Him — and only through Him — I have confidence + can take courage to continue on the journey He has laid out before me (Joshua 1:9, 1 Chronicles 28:20)! These verses have been exceptionally encouraging + relevant for me.
“If I Settle On The Far Side Of The Sea, Even There Your Hand Will Guide Me”