In every direction, a mountain range graces the Irish skyline. The ancient peaks are rounded and clothed with patchwork vests of tan grasses, green forests, and pink heather. Distinct borders set aside each odd shaped patch of color from its neighbor. These borders are built of stones cleared from fields and stacked vertically, or more often, horizontally, into thick barriers. Vines loaded with blackberries, miniature roses, or drooping bells of crimson blooms crisscross the walls, increasing the walls’ girths.
These stone fences also line rural roads in Ireland. Often trees abut the backs of the walls and join arms over the narrow roads, giving the feeling of driving through leafy tunnels in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Enchanting as the views are, driving on the 1 ½ lane roads churns anxiety. Motorists drive on the left side of the road, and steering wheels are mounted on the right side of the cars. Each time an oncoming car approaches us, my hands grip the steering wheel, and I hold my breath, wondering if this time I’m going to clash mirrors on one side or scrape the other side of our rental on the rock wall.
Much of the roads wind up and down mountains and valleys forming S curves, 90* turns and roundabouts. One mountain road we travel snakes along the edge of a cliff for several kilometers. Cyclists, hikers and motorcyclists share the cramped space. Driving in the outside lane suddenly confronted with a 90* turn gives the impression that we are headed over the cliff until the last minute when we angle the jag. This road, even narrower than others, pushes me to my limits.
Narrow, unpredictable roads are only one challenge to driving in Ireland.The Irish list speed limits in km/hr and measure distances between towns in kilometers. I have a feel for speeds like 30 or 60 mph, but gauging speeds in km poses another challenge. Each driving difference requires brain-rewiring for this Western driver, which means I must rotate checking the speedometer while avoiding stone walls, oncoming cars, hairpin turns and noting signs for the next town.
To multiply driving anxiety, we cannot connect to the internet. We are unmoored without GPS telling us the number of kilometers to our next turn or that we took the wrong roundabout exit. We don’t know where we are or how to get where we want to be. By God’s grace we spy a map in a tiny grocery, and my husband deciphers its symbols to navigate from tiny town to tiny town. There are no trains, and I shudder to imagine riding a bus on those roads. To get from one area to another, we must drive on miniature roads, by their rules, and navigate by inadequate maps with names we can’t pronounce. Everything is beyond our control.
The uncertainty of finding our destinations squeezes prayers out of me. I depend on my map-reading husband and ultimately on God to preserve us and locate our lodgings. When we finally reach each of our BnBs, I am convinced of God’s gracious providence and am falling on my knees in my heart out of gratitude and exhaustion.
The sight of hairpin turns marked by black and yellow signs plague my dreams. After returning home, I find myself facing turns in life, when I least expect them and without room to pull over and regroup. I have no choice but to continue down the highway. Events cannot be altered, like sharp bends in the road. They must be navigated. Life slows by necessity but still continues forward. In most ways, I am no more in control of events at home than I am abroad. I sometimes find that I am lost.
Though God does not remove jags in the road, He comforts us by traveling with us and helping us to maneuver one turn, one roundabout at a time. Sometimes, we make a wrong turn, but we zig zag our way back to where we went astray, and relief floods us when we get back on track. Though the road may feel like it dead-ends into a drop-off, God is a very present help in trouble. He directs us past the cliff, even with our stomachs in our mouths. We will eventually reach our destination, because He IS ultimately in control. He knows where we are and where we’re going. On our way, God opens our eyes to breathtakingly beautiful views.
May the road rise up to meet you.
May the wind be always at your back.
May the sun shine warm upon your face;
The rains fall soft upon your fields and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
(Follow the link embedded in “An Irish Blessing“ to hear it in song.)