Slowly the Afternoon

This week, my sister and I went through the first draft of my book about the trip. As is typical with first drafts, we found numerous glaring errors. Most of them we simply corrected and moved on, but there were a few we couldn't resist playing with. We made note of these and later wrote short stories around them. The typo I received was "slowly the afternoon." I'd left out a very important "that," but on this Advent holiday, the phrase took on its own meaning, to read as follows...

Slowly, the afternoon passed. Two friends met on the road. They saw each other twice a day, once at this hour and once much earlier. As they did, they would wave without stopping. Neither had said a word to the other in an epoch. Oldest of friends, but custom is custom. A schedule must be kept, all the roosters of the world depend on it. Today, though, they slowed to speak. 

"It's been a long time," one said.
"A good long time," said the other. 

Slowly, the afternoon lingered. Two friends shook hands and leaned on hips to enjoy the time. There would never be another dusk like this, so it could afford to stay a while. After tonight, everything would change. Nothing would ever be the same again. The sky blazed a painted fire as they laughed at the joy of what was coming.

"They won't know what hit 'em," one said.
"Not until the end," said the other. 

Slowly, the afternoon darkened into night. Two friends parted ways. The moon took her post, the sun retired till morning. And as stars fell into place, the moon laughed again at the joy of what was coming. A baby cried out from the city of David below and a mother sighed relief. For unto us a child was born, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 

Friends, Family, World

The gang and I arrived home a little earlier this week, and we have been enjoying the comfort of our own beds. It has been wonderful to reunite with our families, too, whom we have missed these past few weeks. I, personally, am visiting my sister and parents for a few days at the home where I grew up. Since I moved out, three years ago, they’ve expanded the garden, remodeled the kitchen, added a roof to the deck. Things change, like furniture and curtains, but I can still return here and it’s still home. I’m reminded of the line from an Avett Brothers’ song, “It’s not where I am, it’s who I’m with.” This is something I thought of on the trip, too, in regards to the friends I was with. 

We had some really amazing days, dancing down the streets of Paris, feeding parakeets in Kensington, hiking to the top of old Skellig Michael. But we had some tough days too, like when we missed our train in France, or when almost all of us got sick in England, or when I sprained my foot in Ireland. And there were boring, quiet days when we reluctantly opted for rest instead of adventure. In all of these circumstances, though, I had the guys around me. Luke, Ben, Tom, Philip, Robbie, Jamison. Big or small, happy or hard, every experience I had across the pond was with these brothers by my side, and that made it good, special, priceless.

And we had you all with us. You followed online, sent emails, left comments. Some of you met up with us on purpose while some just happened to run into us. We made new friends, too, and hopefully you’re following along now to stay in touch. Our story is just getting started, and it’s about a lot more than just seven guys on the road.

So, with that, I want to thank you for supporting us, inspiring us, and cheering us on. We couldn't have made this trip without you, and we wouldn’t have wanted to. Keep an eye out for the book and documentary, coming Spring of 2017. And stay tuned, also, for more adventures on the horizon.

To Skellig We Go

It was about 4.5 hours total, but I could write a book about our time with Skellig. And I will, in the coming months, but I'd like to share with you a few thoughts on the experience for now.

Due to complications beyond our control, our team was stripped down from seven to four. The final decision was to have Philip and Tom carry me while Luke filmed. Now, there is a 45 minute boat ride to reach the island and then back, and these proved to be a great times of prayer and reflection for me as we sputtered along through the open blue. Unlike its predecessor, this was a clear day with sunshine and not a breeze in sight. What was funny to me was my reaction as we first passed Lesser Skellig, a smaller island just a stone's through from Skellig Michael. It is a jagged, uninhabitable rock, covered in birds and my response was a breathless "It's huge!" Then I thought of the name and laughed to myself. We ain't seen nothing yet. Just a few minutes later and we reached the ominous feet of Skellig Michael, and our ascent commenced.

Tom started, as he felt most confident in his legs to make the step from boat to shore. This was our primary concern from the get-go, but Tom made short work of it, steadying himself carefully on each sopping step. There is a plateau which levels out a little more than halfway up, called Christ's Saddle, and our plan was to switch carriers there. Before arriving there, though, we scaled several winding steps of thin stone (dry, thankfully), past the Weeping Woman rock, and up one long, vertical staircase. We'd recently invested in a set of trekking poles, which came in very handy on the climb, and Philip stayed close for support.

As planned, we took a much-needed reprieve at Christ's Saddle and then Philip took over. Though Philip's climb may not have been as far, it was fraught with areas of danger. I find myself struggling to glance out over the sheer drop-off just inches from us, but Philip is a sturdy man and carried himself (and myself) well. Overhead was the monastery, and it did my heart good to explore this area with Philip. We studied the huts - some homes, some chapels for gathering - and we had opportunity to talk with a guide about the history of these particular monks. But most of all, we gazed out over the ocean to the mainland. That was why the monks called this home, for the view of their beloved country, the subject of their ever-faithful prayers. It was a profound moment, to pause their at the height of our pilgrimage and take in a view of such historic conviction. It reminded me of the lengths Christ's love will go.

And so we descended, resting again at the Saddle and finally returning to the mainland. The rest of our team awaited us with open arms and a seat at the pub, where we celebrated the day. It was a good day of labor, pain, exhaustion, commitment, revelation, and beauty. 

Skellig Eve

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Tuesday was our big Skellig day. It was supposed to be Monday, but the weather would not permit it. So, instead of climbing the island that day, we went to the cliffs and looked out over the cloudy day to see the island staring back at us. It was a showdown. Skellig Michael knew we were coming, and he warned us from seven miles away that he was a force not to be reckoned with. But as I stood there with my friends, the wind and waves crashing with fury around us, I was reminded of the 29th Psalm - "The voice of the Lord is over the waters; the God of glory thunders over many waters." The earth is subject to this God of glory, and he has given us dominion over it. So Skellig stared me down and I stared right back. It settled into all of us that day, just how crazy we were. But at the same time, we knew we were exactly where we needed to be. This would be an adventure for the ages.

England Pt 2: The Countryside

Thursday, we set off into the countryside. Our host, Mike, led the way out of Westerham, up through alleyways that transformed into pastures and then woods. We ducked under trees, sloshed through mud puddles, and climbed a handful of fences. Our landscape ebbed and flowed like a song between thick woods to open forest floors, to endless green fields and knolls to cow country and wide estates. It was a six-mile hike, and the guys were worn to the bone by the end. But near the end, as we crested our last great hill, the company set me on the ground and left me alone for some time of reflection. You see, I've never been out in the country that far, let alone with such a view, and I've always wanted to get there and be alone. So my friends gave that to me. And my imagination came to life. I could see for miles, and every detail reached my depths as I thought of the men who had walked these hills and dales for ages before me. They'd be inspired; they'd found certainty; they'd fallen in love. Hearts and minds were shaped in these skies and under them on the ground. I'd always heard the phrase "God's green country," in reference to England, and as I sat there in the grass, looking out over the hamlet and the hills beyond, I understood fully the monicker. 

England: Part 1


It has been a full and dynamic week. We are staying with a wonderful couple in Oxted, just a few miles from Churchill's home (we walked there yesterday). When we were in Paris, each day was busy but wrapped up with us all sitting around, eating or checking emails. Now, our evenings bring us into a living room with scotch, British punk records, and stories swapped with our new friends. So, there has been less time for writing, but today is our "day off," so I'm playing a little catch-up. I have the new Sara Watkins album in my headphones, English clouds rolling by outside my window, and a pile of Jaffa Cakes by my side. Here goes a bit of the week in review.

Monday found us in the heart of London, where we visited Kensington Gardens. We are all familiar, I believe, with Peter Pan. His creator J.M. Barrie has been a great literary influence to me for many years, and he was especially fond of this magnificent park. He wrote a prequel to Peter Pan, in which Peter escaped his perambulator and was raised by the fairies in Kensington for a while until he could fly himself well enough to reach Neverland. Before seeing the place myself, I would've doubted how a child could live in hiding there for any length of time. Shows how much I know! We picnicked near the entrance with some local friends and then wandered toward the palace. Once we reached it, we started the other way, aiming for the legendary Peter Pan statue.

After walking, walking, and walking to the palace, we walked, walked, and walked some more to the Long Water river toward the statue. Along the way, we saw a gaggle of kids playing football (soccer) around the pond, and a little further along an old man feeding a hundred birds like they were his children. We passed another statue, a mighty one called something like "Energy," though my friend Lauren and I agreed it could've been more energetic. Finally, we came around a bend and there it was! A solid black edifice spiraling high; a boy in his tattered nighty, playing his pipe with no care or even regard for the passing world; he stood aloft a rock, and below his bare feet, fairies and critters reach for the impish figure overhead.

In 1902, Barrie commissioned this statue and had it placed in that spot as the spot where Peter landed when he flew from his perambulator. Philip carried me up the steps to it and, as we circled it, I ran my hand over the fairies' wings and faces. Time ceased as I took it in. As I've read Barrie's work and read about his life, I can't help but connect. The way he saw the world, the way he interacted with it, and the struggle he bore internally to process all that through writing. I see a kindred spirit in his words, an elder with a hand on my shoulder, saying to me it'll be ok. So I let it settle in that day - that I stood where he stood one afternoon and saw what he saw a hundred years ago. We stood there together, looking at his boy Peter, and he said to me, it'll be ok.

Paris to London

It's a little after 10:00 PM here in England. We've made it to our host home, in a small town just outside London. Tom, Ben, and I are up, watching Coldplay on TV, performing live at Glastonbury. The rest of the gang has gone to bed and we'll be joining soon.

It was a long day of subways and trains from Paris to here, with some unexpected twists in the narrative. Namely, we wound up at the wrong train station in Paris and realized it 30 minutes before our train left across town. I was on Philip's back and that guy took off running! You know that rush you get running last minute across the terminal to your plane? Well that was us, but across all of Paris. Yes, it was as wild and nerve-wracking and as awesome as it sounds. Unfortunately, we missed our train, but they put us on the next one with no extra charge, so it all worked out. Our host family is amazing and welcomed our weary souls with open arms, a comfortable home, and all the Flaming Lips albums one could ever hope for.

Tomorrow will be full of fun in London, but tonight we relax in a flat on the English countryside and thank the Lord for another unforgettable day. 

By the River

Today is our "Sabbath," which we decided we needed, yesterday on the train back to Paris. 
Tuesday was Summer Solstice, at which point, the city became one big dance party. As we walked the streets, each corner featured a different kind of music with a different kind of dance. I was carried by Tom for this part, who committed himself (and me) to the scene entirely, and we found ourselves in the middle of as many of these celebrations as possible.

Wednesday was a tourist day, as we visited Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower. We found a way for me to sit more naturally in the backpack when we're not trekking, so breaks for rest have been easier and more... restful. So the day ended perfectly, with us all sitting together in the cooling rain, on the steps of a park looking out upon the Eiffel Tower.

In contrast to these two crazy city-life days, yesterday led us out to the countryside. The initial draw I had to France was Django Reinhardt, to visit his hometown area and be among the folks who carry on his legacy with their lives and music. It took a few subways, trains, and buses, but we got there.

This week, in fact, is the annual festival in his memory. While we were figuring out our route at the bus station, a lovely lady named Paula noticed we spoke English (she is Italian, but speaks English very well). She was going to the festival and invited us to go with her, but not to the official festival. No no. She was going to the campground where everyone was staying - featured performers and patrons alike. She said they were all just hanging out, playing music, until the festival started that night. That afternoon was a magical experience for me.

Imagine, if you will, a crowd of tents and caravans set up along a river (the Siene River, in this case). The day is hot and sunny, but no one seems to care. Find some shade, take a dip in the brisk water, have another drink. As long as there's music going on, everything's fine! There is music everywhere, and it's all Django's style. And it's beautiful.

As we came into the camp, it set in where we really were - a gypsy camp ground, reminiscent of what Django lived in and along this very river. Hundreds of musicians were gathered, and all knew the songs. Jazz standards, played Django's way, with plenty of room for improv. The jam sessions were ramshackle pockets of musicians all over the grounds, members coming and going for no reason, just mingling. Social chitchat in the language of music. There would be joking here and there, or a greeting between friends, but mostly everyone just played their instruments and connected through that. And it was beautiful.

Our group sat together, at first, and listened to Paula sing with a pocket of players. Then some of the guys went swimming while Ben carried me on a leisurely stroll through the camp. We lingered at each collection of players we found and enjoyed their "conversation" for a while before moving on.

For a few hours one afternoon, I was part of Django's world, his ideology and music fully realized in a way that transcends generations. It all happens along the river where he fished and played music himself, and I could've sworn I saw him there yesterday, leaning against a tree with a cigarette on his lip. I heard his mangled fingers on the strings of every guitar; I saw his mystic gaze in the eyes of every patron; and I felt his restless, unbreakable heart beating in my own chest. And it was beautiful.