Thomas, WV

It’s the little surprises along the way that often make road trips truly memorable.

Such was the case with a recent trip to Elakala Falls. As we drove through field and mountain, Deep Creek Lake fading in the distance behind us, we happened upon a small town called Thomas.  The rural countryside suddenly opened up to reveal a charming small town: brick storefronts on our left faced a river-fronted forest to the right.  

One of many beautiful buildings

One of many beautiful buildings

We stopped in on the way home from the falls, with only a limited time before the shops began to close.  First on the list was Thomasyard, a unique florist & gift shop with a great variety of pottery and knick-knacks.  From there, we passed a few antique stores and art galleries that had already closed for the day, but included enough enticing objects in their window display to ensure an affirmative decision to return.

Flowers, mugs, and more!

Flowers, mugs, and more!

Next was TipTop, a beautiful coffeehouse and bar.  They had interesting art and edibles for sale, as well as a great selection of beverages and desserts.  Certainly a watering hole worth another visit!  Unfortunately, we had to run, so it was back into the car for us.  As we drove away, it was clear we only had scratched the surface - many more storefronts beckoned!

Some of the items available in Tip Top

Some of the items available in Tip Top

There is much to see in this small town.  Just under an hour from Deep Creek Lake, and only ten minutes from Blackwater Falls, it’s an unquestionably good choice to add Thomas to your adventure itinerary.

Have a seat on this delightful bench!

Have a seat on this delightful bench!

Sure, I'll fly to Boston for Easter

Clam Chowder at a pub whose namesake is that where Patrick Henry and Sam Adams planned the revolution?  Yes please.

I woke early and headed to BWI courtesy of another early-rising friend, breezing through security with enough time to wander the terminal, browse the books, and do some reading.  We boarded, the girl next to me giving advice on where to eat and what to see while in Boston.  Up and back down nearly as quickly, flying over suburbs which, from high above, betrayed lingering signs of the ten feet of snow that had buried the city a few weeks before.

Walk, bus, subway, and up the stairs and out to the streets of Boston, oddly quiet for a Saturday.  To the right stood the towering Celtics stadium; to the left, city streets of eating establishments and apartments.  I wandered around the block and settled on a coffee shop.  I purchased a small black coffee from a barista who seemed miffed at my choice and sat down to read as people came and went, conversations flowing past until early afternoon.

Marcus arrived, having won the battle against traffic, and we headed down the street to the Grand Canal, a wonderfully Irish pub.  We caught up on life, discussing the various pains and joys we’ve both endured and celebrated over the past months, wondering about the journey we are on and where it might lead.  He, studying at seminary; I, designing ductwork and plumbing - both of us earnestly concerned about what we might do with our lives, how we might impact this world for good.

“Cheers, thanks a million,” said the waitress in true Irish fashion, and we headed onwards.  A drive, a prayer for God’s continued grace in our lives, and back on the streets I went, now at Park Street - bustling with lives in the midst of a bright and blustery day.  I wandered the paths, wondering about this city and how it got that way and what the passers-by were pondering.  The Steinway Piano store beckoned and I entered, sitting down at a $124,000 to play a simple song about a God who sees us, knows us, and loves us - through and through.  Shall I not express my thankfulness on one of the very best pianos, the culmination of decades of thought and innovation?  I shall, and a small part of my soul will grow lighter.

More wandering and finally Isaac’s arrival, later than expected due to a roommate’s clogged shower drain, which had required immediate attention.  We caught up as well, discussing his graduate studies and my work as we wandered the Freedom Trail, taking in all the buildings and streets which once knew the names of men like Patrick Henry and Sam Adams.  Cannoli from Mike’s Pastry, a delightfully crowded counter of all sorts of folks clamoring for dessert, and clam chowder at the Green Dragon, which bills itself as the Birthplace of the Revolution.  The original building, sadly, is no more, but an enthralling idea nonetheless to eat in the same pub where the Sons of Liberty talked and planned and dreamed and birthed a nation.

Again on the T - another prayer and another goodbye - and then on a bench, waiting.  Yunhe then appeared from a hotel, through which we doubled back to see his office building.  Our walk became a meandering tour of MIT as dusk turned to nighttime, and the campus streets around the engineering department’s wind tunnel turned into a scene from a film noir.  Finished now with walking, we left the city and headed to his apartment in the suburbs.  Yunhe made dinner - shrimp and broccoli - quite delighted to host a guest.  We ate and talked and finished the day.

Up the next morning, a large breakfast, and a long ride on the T from one end of the Red line to the other.  Conversation about life and what matters, really?  A girl sits next to me and I ask, "where are you headed?"  She seems surprised by the question (who speaks to strangers on the subway?) and yet delighted, and shares that she’s on her way to church.  The train stops, “happy Easter,” says she, and out she goes.  A few more stops and we leave the train as well, up to a waiting car driven by Nola, a friend.  To church we go to celebrate Easter - indeed, the original reason why I found myself in Boston was due to Yunhe’s request.  Some text messages, confirmations, and a plane ticket later and the plans were set.

We enjoyed the service, a typical American protestant/non-denominational service as far as I understand, and afterward had many conversations with Yunhe’s friends.  After meeting twenty people, many of whom were characters and wonderfully so, we were off.  Down to the Red Line, nearly punched in the face by a man jealously guarding his backpack as he washed his face in the restroom, through the gates, and back on the train.  We paused to wander Harvard, pondering the question of whether Jesus really raised a girl from the dead and what it says about who He may be.  Can we believe that story?  What about Jesus would give him the authority to call a dead person back to life?  Can a person be spiritually or emotionally dead?  Could Jesus raise that person to life?

We pass a gate with the Harvard logo, veritas emblazoned thereon.  Veritas.  Truth.

What is true?  Does it matter?

Onwards we go, back to the airport.  Another goodbye with much gratitude on my part - both of us, really.  Another flight, another landing - back to Baltimore.

And I am thankful - for soul-conversations, for Steinway pianos, for Patrick Henry, for people, for life, for grace, for resurrection. 



The snow, fallen; the evening activity, canceled.  What now?  A camera, warm clothes, and the forest beneath a full moon yet half-concealed by swift wisps of cloud.

He walks, pausing occasionally.  A dog barks down the street, children play in the cul-de-sac around the bend.  But the forest is quiet.  He sees the tracks - a fox walked past some time ago.  A rabbit bounded through the yard.  Deer trotted off to a place of warmth.  But now, amidst the trees, only silence.

He walks past the stream and up the embankment to the railroad tracks, to the bridge he has been to countless times.  Sets up the tripod and camera, takes a photo, adjusts, another photo, adjusts again until satisfaction hits, the camera is placed elsewhere, and the process begins again.

Each image, thirty seconds of light waves hitting an electronic sensor, recorded to memory.  Thirty seconds to think - what's next?  Where is he heading?  An impossibility becomes possible with unforeseen suddenness.  Habits, expectations, processes change and mold to a new 40-hour workweek life.  Jesus Christ is making all things new and he can never let go of that, but his heart breaks for the brokenhearted who can't see hope and he fights the feeling -the lie- of uselessness as he wonders how he might be a part of restoration.

The shutter closes; another image appears.  Adjust, reposition, again.

Back to thoughts of change and the unknown.  Back to the house. 

The forest is quiet.


After visiting the OM Ireland office on Tuesday, I got a ride to Roscommon town, spent two hours wandering around, and then caught Bus Eireann for the 6+ hour journey to Cork.

I finally arrived around half-ten (10:30 for the Americans) and began walking from the bus station down the main thoroughfare to the house where I would be spending the next three nights.  Arriving at the downtown home after a 15-minute walk, I rang the doorbell and the door swung open to reveal dozens of students from the local college.

This night was the weekly gathering of the Christian Union, Ireland's equivalent to InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  Students were talking, playing various games (Dutch Blitz!), and making music.  There was a fantastic energy to it; a great sense of welcome.

My host offered me some pizza and introduced me to several of the students.  I immediately hit it off with Abigail and Dominic, talking with them for quite sometime before heading upstairs to the piano room, where Joel was playing Like a Lion, a song that's been on the Christian radio station a whole lot for the past few months.

Somehow, we got on the topic of politics, and several of the Irish students were happy with my intention to vote for Romney.  "I mean, how can you vote for a guy who hasn't done anything the past four years?" I now recall this moment with a sense of irony.

Soon, the students went home, and I went to bed.

The next day,  I wandered the city, walking along the river out to University College Cork and back through the English Market, where I purchased a delicious sandwich and some strawberries as well.  Then, hiding from the rain, I found myself in a small cafe with Naomi, a girl from Singapore who recognized me from the previous night's gathering.  We talked about culture and faith a bit, and then traveled on.  I noticed then that the house in which I was staying was just across the street from where I had stayed 3 years earlier on a study abroad weekend at the Cork Jazz Festival.  Funny how these things work out.

Much of that afternoon was spent reading Tim Keller's Reason for God and N. T. Wright's Surprised by Hope - both very thought-provoking books.

Instead of going out for Halloween - whether the usual revelry or the alternative Christian Union party - I had the privilege of praying for the city of Cork with my host family.  We prayed for all those out on the streets, in the clubs and bars:  that fights would not break out, that no one would fall in the river (as has happened), that they might know God's love for them.  It was a joy to pray with them and witness their love for the city of Cork and its people.  They told me of the Street Pastor ministry, in which church members stay up until 4 AM on weekend nights, helping people make it home after a night in the club, giving flip-flops to girls who can't wear their 5-inch heels anymore, talking to whoever might be lonely or angry.  Christ's love, Christ's light still shines.

The next day, I was off to Cobh (pronounced Cove), a small town just a half-hour train ride away.  It was from this town that the Titanic set sail for its one and only voyage.  The pier at which it docked is still there, though in severe disrepair.

I wandered this little town for several hours, even venturing a few kilometers outside town to visit a nature reserve and have a good-natured conversation with several geese and muskrats.

Back to Cork I went for more time with my wonderful host family - dinner, conversation, and reading.  Another night of sleep, an early morning, and off on the bus again.

Off to Donegal, where my ancestral clan once lived.