This trip has been years in the making.
Ever since we became parents in 2009, we have dreamt of taking Daryl—and then Amelia as well—to England to meet Peter’s family and English friends, and to experience his homeland. A couple of years ago we thought we would be able to make the journey, but then our old house needed a new furnace and—bang!—our travel fund was depleted.
Well, finally, last fall we managed to purchase tickets to travel to England on May 27, 2017.
Then, on May 22, 22-year-old Salman Abedi detonated a homemade bomb in the foyer of the Manchester Arena, killing 22 people—children and parents—and injuring dozens more.
I can’t even imagine the horror. And I would be lying if I said that the news of this attack didn’t give me pause.
Not that I thought seriously about cancelling our trip. We all know the importance of not letting such things change our way of life. Every time we hear news of another such tragedy, we can’t help but be reminded of the frailty of life, the reality of evil, and our own bothersome lack of control.
So on Saturday evening we boarded a plane—with much prayer and a few nerves—to fly to this beautiful country with the yet-again broken heart.
The voyage went smoother than I had even hoped. United Airlines messed up our seat assignments, but then redeemed themselves by moving us up to Economy Plus where we had an entire row of seven seats all to ourselves. This amounted to a cozy two-seat bed for Amelia, a luxurious three-seat bed for Daryl, and two more seats where Peter and I could doze and chat.
On Sunday morning Peter’s mum met us at Heathrow, and we made the three-hour drive down to Plympton without incident.
Then, with the help of melatonin, we all slept twelve hours that first Sunday night. And—truly—I couldn’t have imagined an easier beginning to our trip. We are all super thankful for that gift!
On Monday we took it slow. Peter went and joined a gym for the month, since one of our goals for our time here is to reestablish a healthy rhythm of life with a foundation of rest and exercise and devotion. That’s what we’re focused on this month with our Holiness Project if you happen to be following along.
After lunch Daryl and I went for our run in Plymbridge Woods. And in the evening we took a little hike to Shaugh Bridge, where the kids played on the rocks in the river and began what we hope is a lifelong love affair with Peter’s beloved Plym Valley.
Yesterday—after another decent night’s sleep and Peter’s morning workout (The kids and I overslept and missed ours. We are a work in progress.)—we took a bus into Plymouth. Peter bought the kids their first Cornish pasty (his favorite meal, and now Daryl’s too) for lunch. We visited the (British!) Toys R Us, and then walked over to the Hoe—Plymouth’s coastline and what is said to be “one of the most perfect natural harbours in the world.” I’m not qualified to make that judgement, but it certainly is spectacular. An expansive lawn stretches out across the park. The red and white Smeaton’s Tower lighthouse stands tall against the horizon, looking out over Drake’s Island and the Plymouth Sound.
Later in the afternoon, Grandma took Amelia shopping while Peter and I took Daryl on a tour of the Royal Citadel—a 17th century fortress that is still used by England’s military today. It was originally erected to defend against the Dutch. Our tour guide told us two-hours’ worth of fascinating history about the Citadel and Plymouth itself. She reminded us of the devastation poor Plymouth endured during World War II. Because Plymouth is home to a Royal Navy Base and because the population in Plymouth was among the densest in the country at the time, she was a prime target. Before the war ended, Plymouth had suffered fifty-nine bombing attacks, during which almost 1200 civilians were killed and almost 4500 were injured.
After our Citadel tour, we walked over to the Barbican—Plymouth’s original harbor and home to the Mayflower Steps, from which the Pilgrim fathers are believed to have left England. The Barbican is also the oldest part of Plymouth, and it blessedly survived WWII when the city centre was flattened. We finished our day with a dinner of fresh fish and chips. Yum!
On our walk back to the bus, we passed the stunning St. Andrews Parish Church. This congregation can trace its history all the way back to the 8th century when “Christian colonisers sailed into Sutton Harbour, set their farm a short distance upstream and built their church on a ridge to the west of the farmhouse.”
Over the centuries, the church was built up and added on to and remodeled to accommodate a growing congregation. But in the blitz of March 1941, the building was bombed and “burnt out and left a roofless shell.”
Not long after the devastating attack, a board bearing only the word “RESURGAM” (Latin for ‘I will rise again’) was nailed over the north door of the church. The sign still hangs there as a memorial, a testament to human resilience and the grace of God that alone has the power to pull us out of the rubble and set us back on our feet.
From 1943 until 1949 the St. Andrew’s congregation continued to meet and worship on the lawn in their open-air cathedral, becoming known throughout England as the “Garden Church.” Then, in 1949, Princess Elizabeth paid a visit and commemorated the beginning of the reconstruction process. In 1957 the completed church was re-consecrated.
And there she still stands.