In America, we call it a “vacation”—those few weeks each year when we leave work and home behind. We “vacate” our regular routine and take up temporary residence in another locale.
We sometimes escape to a peaceful place for rest and refreshment. We sometimes hurry off to an amusement park or a cruise ship, seeking entertainment and fun. We sometimes climb a mountain or wander off into the wilderness, craving the sort of adventure and beauty that can only be found in less-trodden territory. We sometimes tour museums and monuments and explore ancient cobbled lanes, absorbing culture and learning more of our human history along the way. We sometimes board a plane or a train, load up the minivan, or rent an RV and hit the open road. There are many ways we “get away from it all.”
We vacation to make memories, to collect experiences, to cross locations off of our bucket list. Sometimes we just want a break from the stress and responsibility of our ordinary lives—although if you travel with children, one of your greatest responsibilities follows you around, asking for ice cream and souvenirs…
Our family has been in England now for almost four weeks.
After an eight-hour flight from O’Hare to Heathrow, a five-hour coach trip from London to Plymouth, and a twenty-minute car ride from the Plymouth bus station to number 4 Deeble Close, we finally came to a screeching halt at my mother-in-law’s semi-detached house. We were bone-weary, out-of-breath, and lacking much of a plan beyond “Get to Grandma’s!”
You see, we had a wild roller-coaster ride of a school year. Our whole family was hanging onto the safety bar, white-knuckled, for much of those nine months—perpetually uncertain of when we would next be jerked from side-to-side or flipped completely upside down. We had our sights set on summer since we purchased the plane tickets last October, and our expectancy only grew with every one of life’s twists and turns. However, because we’d been in survival mode, we hadn’t had the opportunity or the energy to organize many of the details of our four-week UK stay.
Last year we spent the month of June in England as well. God willing, this will be an annual family thing. Last year, though, we had a more singular and predetermined purpose and plan—to show our kids and Dan and some American friends as much of Devon and Cornwall as we could. Last June we were constantly on the road—taking day trips up to Bath and down to Penzance, visiting numerous beaches, frequenting National Trust houses, seeing all the sights. Last year was lovely. Last year we lived more like tourists.
But this year has been different. This year has been less prescribed. This year it’s just been us four Worralls and Grandma Viv. And when we stared at each other across the breakfast table, over bacon and eggs, on our first morning here, we said something like, “We made it! (Heavy sighs all around.) Now what do we want to do?”
An entire, glorious, unclaimed month stretched out in front of us. And—to my thinking, at least—we needed to get organized and make the most of it. While Peter would be happy to just wake up each morning and decide what we might do, he humors me and my penchant for a plan. (This is a dynamic we’ve learned to navigate fairly well in our regular lives, but when we’re on vacation, it seems to surface in new and interesting ways. Another case in point: “The Worralls Go West: Best Laid Plans.”)
That first morning then, once the breakfast dishes had been cleared, I asked Peter’s mum for some paper and a pen. On one page I drew the grid lines of a makeshift calendar. And on another, we started to brainstorm and then prioritize our ideas. Obviously, our problem wasn’t that we couldn’t think of anything to do. Quite the opposite. We quickly realized that we had many and varied and as-yet-unstated hopes for our 2018 England Time—and only four weeks to make them a reality.
At the top of our priority list we put spending time with family and friends. Peter’s aunts and uncles and cousins and their kids. His old school and camp friends and the church family with whom he grew up.
Just as important, was our time together—reconnecting in our marriage, with Mum, with the kids—realigning our lives, deepening our bonds, creating shared memories, dreaming new dreams.
Enjoying God’s great outdoors was another obvious goal. It’s inconceivable to be in the southwest of England and not walk the coastal footpath, hike on the moor, or play in the sea.
Several local Plymouth attractions also made the list—the theatre, the ice rink, the ski hill, the Barbican, the Hoe, and the Dartmoor Zoo. (Cool Fact: This is the real zoo upon which the We Bought a Zoo movie is based.)
Then, of course, there was our need to rest, to read, to write, and to eat plenty of pasties and fish and chips.
And so, we started to designate our days.
Partway through the process of filling little calendar boxes with very good things, Peter stopped and reminded me of a conversation we had had many times before. “Really,” he said, “I just want us to live life in England. I want us to have a regular England routine. I want to make this our home away from home.”
So, ultimately, that’s what we’ve tried to do.
On most mornings—just like at home—I’ve woken up extra early. I’ve tiptoed down the stairs, trying not to step on the creakiest spot. I’ve turn on the kettle, made a cup of coffee, and read my Bible by the window, overlooking Grandma’s flower garden, while the sun comes up. Then I’ve used any remaining quiet time to read and to write.
When the rest of the family has surfaced, we’ve headed up the hill to the Elfordleigh Hotel, where we purchased a month-long family membership. Peter and I have exercised in the fitness room while Grandma has swum with the kids at the pool. Back at home, we’ve read the Bible together over breakfast and done a bit of summer schoolwork with the kids. And then we’ve headed into the day.
But we’ve also done more homey things. We’ve connected with more people over barbeques, cups of tea, and walks at the Saltram Estate. Simply put, we’ve sent down a few more English roots.
Vacations, like most aspects of life, are multi-dimensional entities. They can look completely different, depending on where you stand. They can be deep, and they can be wide.
They are wide when we cover a lot of ground on this great globe, when we skate across its surface, seeing as much as we can see.
But vacations can also be deep—when we return to the same spot year after year, when we go back to that resort that we love, that cabin by the lake that has been in our family for years, or that condo on a mountainside where we honeymooned many moons ago.
Vacations have depth when we eat ice cream at the same corner shop, when we connect with the same people over pasties, when we run the same river trails, when we see the mighty hand of God in the same stormy seaside view.
And just by virtue of the time we’ve spent together, a place sinks into our skin and becomes a part of who we are.
Here, in England, they call it a “holiday,” and I much prefer the term.
It’s a holy day.
A time—not emptied—but filled with the most worthwhile aspects of our lives.
Not an excuse to “vacate” or run away.
Rather, an opportunity to run toward the important things.
A chance to chase down and connect with who we’re really created to be.
I woke up extra early again this morning.
We’ve been spending our final four days in London, truly being tourists, taking photos with wax figures, and riding high on the Eye.
I just made a cup of hotel coffee, quietly in the corner, trying hard not to wake the three sleeping Worralls on the other side of the room. I read from the book of Romans, and now I am trying to write—to finish at least one blog post before we head back to our regular lives.
Tomorrow we board a plane from Heathrow to O’Hare.
Yesterday, as we were traipsing to the Tube, I reminded Amelia of this imminent reality.
“Oh no!” she exclaimed, “I’m not ready to leave our beloved England!”
“Neither am I, baby,” I told her. “Neither am I.”
For as we all know, the deeper the ties, the harder it is to say, “Good bye.”