July 2017 marks the 5 year anniversary of our move to Dublin. Over the next few months I’m writing a few posts to share about that journey. You can keep up with all posts in this series here.

Our family…before Ireland…or Méabh…was even an idea.

While this summer marks 5 years, since we arrived in Dublin, it is also the 7 year anniversary of our first trip here as a family. With that trip playing such an important part in the life of our family, I wanted to explain a bit about how it came about.

There were actually a few things that came together to bring this trip about.

A Promise to Liz

As a child, Liz had traveled to Ireland twice with her family…the last time when she was 16. Both her parents were born here and Ireland had always been a huge part of her life.

Liz and her dad our first night in Ireland.

One evening she was quite sad. When I asked why, she mentioned that while her dad and her two sisters traveled to Ireland often, she had not been in more than 25 years. (One of the things about being in full-time ministry, is that most of your trips are work-related and there isn’t usually a lot left over for big trips).

And with her father getting older, she was thinking she’d never been able to have her kids and dad over here together.

So I told her, “We’ll go next year.” She gave me one of those, “there’s no way,” looks, but I said I promise…I’ll get you there next year. If we save our tax return and put a bit aside, we can do it…she was still skeptical that it’d work, but I began putting a good part of my energy into making sure that this would happen. Of course, if we had not been able to stay at Liz’s farm for the whole trip, we never could have pulled it off.

That was the first piece of the puzzle.

A Couple of Challenging Years

In 2008 our church in Ithaca began a building program. I had heard so many horror stories from church leaders about the kind of stuff that happens during building projects…ours did not disappoint.

Start with difficulty in getting proper permits and having to pay full rent even though we can’t do any work on the space…let alone use it. Then add having to go to family court because one of your kids was attacked in school, while a couple in the church are asking other staff, “who takes over if Bob gets fired?”

While our church was growing and a lot of good stuff was going on…so many hard things were happening too…and for the first time I was seriously considering leaving full-time ministry. I had had enough.

A Friend’s Suggestion

We spent 2 weeks in Idaho at a Pastor’s Sabbath Retreat…They ended up being 2 of the most important weeks in our lives.

It was shortly after that, one of my close friends suggested taking a sabbatical. By this point, Liz and I had been leading the church for 10 years and were due to have one. Now seemed like the perfect time.

That night Liz and I chatted about it, and the next day I received an email saying that our denomination was holding their next pastor’s sabbath retreat in two months and there was space for one more couple. We signed up immediately.  Those 2 weeks were an incredible life-giving experience for both of us (and actually for Méabh too as it was during that conference when we decided we wanted one more kid…so lots of life going around).

We actually split our sabbatical into two parts. The first part would be in April and May. We would attend the Pastors Sabbath Retreat in Boise and the Emotionally Healthy Leader’s Conference in NYC. The second half would be in July and August…our trip to Ireland.

Bringing It Home

Our first-ever view of our future home. The heavy clouds should have been a warning.

So in July of 2010, the five of us (well, 6 if you count our stow-away…Liz still didn’t know she was pregnant at that point) boarded a plane for London (via Iceland) where we took a train and a ferry to Ireland. 

While we were here, our prayer was that God would make it clear to us what he had for us over the next 20 years. As so much of the building project chaos had cleared, I assumed the answer would be, stay in Ithaca and keep leading the church you planted.

As you already know, that isn’t how things shook out. But more on that soon.