Updated: 6 days ago
When I was 20 years old I studied abroad for a semester in the north of England at the University of Salford. It was a gritty, industrial town adjacent to Manchester. When I arrived in the fall of 1990 it was the center of a very trendy music scene.
It was the beginning of my junior year and until then I had not lived in a dorm. There were five of us from Wayne State University in Detroit, living in international student housing. We didn’t know each other before the trip but three of us became good friends who still get together.
From left, Lydia the bricky (our English friend studying architecture) Brit, and the four female Wayne State University exchange students: Shawn, Gretchen, Angelique (top) and Tracey (bottom)
We lived with a dozen young women from Spain, nearly all named Maria! It was such an exciting time of my life, meeting people from almost every continent, learning more about myself and the world. I was eager to soak in as much culture and travel as I could, so I hit the ground running.
From bottom left: Rosie, Maria and I. Top row, the beautiful Spaniards, mostly all Marias, one Fina and one Santi - Salford University, Castle Irwell, Fall 1990.
At the end of the program, my Spanish friend Fina invited me to visit southern Spain for a week and I stayed with her endearing family in their sweet home near the Mediterranean in rural Sangonera la Verde. Can you pick out the tacky American? To my lame credit, the word "SUCK" was an acronym for the "Salford University Caving and Kayaking" club. Nice 90s hair to go with the sweatshirt.
Though I did actually have classes to attend and books to read, this was by far not the highlight. I do recall learning from my Shakespeare professor (whose first name was Angus) that real scholars just read for their degree. After visiting Stratford-upon-Avon and seeing The Tempest acted out on stage, I begged to differ. Words are powerfully instructive. But experiences are too. God spoke everything into existence. And then He became flesh and dwelt among us—words and deeds.
I procrastinated completing my British college coursework. I was too busy traveling every weekend and socializing at the student pub/disco on weeknights. I have never been a fan of beer, stout, lager, bitters or any other form of liquid hops. However, I do really like apples, and I was easily won over by hard cider. England is where this Baptist girl learned that dancing is fun.
My travel experiences were made convenient thanks to a number of factors: I joined a few student groups—hiking, kayaking and caving—with planned excursions; newfound friends invited me to visit their English homes; and a U.S. cousin in London on business showed me the town (including the musical Cats from the front row in the round!) I traveled to Wales and Scotland and oodles of places in between: Bath, Liverpool, and my favorite, the Lake District—stomping ground of Beatrix Potter, creator of Peter Rabbit.
Learning to navigate public transportation was a fun challenge, and I might have gotten on a train going the wrong direction more than once. It’s the journey, right? The most exciting experience I had involved not a railroad but a cave.
(I looked high and low for the journal that I kept whilst traversing the United Kingdom, but nary a page did I find. So I will recount from memory what I now consider to be a harrowing adventure.)
Spelunk: a term derived from the Latin spēlunca ("cave, cavern, den”), is the recreational pastime of exploring wild cave systems.
I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. It all seemed harmless enough in the student union the day I signed up for the Salford Spelunking Club. We practiced weekly in the gym, learning how to rappel, a controlled descent from a vertical drop. After a few weeks of practice, we ventured out to the caves of the Yorkshire Dales, a national park area an hour north of Salford.
Here I am--third in from the right--preparing to spelunk with some Salford University friends
The landscape is beautiful rolling hills dotted with boulders and decorated with wooly sheep. We strapped on helmets with headlamps (the first clue this might be more dangerous than I initially assessed) and lowered ourselves into a large dark hole in the ground. Goodbye terra firma.
It was damp, cold and dark. I was on high alert, following the experienced cavers into the bowels of the earth. Before long we came to a highly technical pass nicknamed “the cheese press”. I will now provide a rudimentary line drawing of how I remember this part of the cave:
Five skinny British men preceded me, sliding through the cheese press as though they had been dipped into a vat of vegetable oil. Then it was my turn. The most generous space in this pass may have been 18 inches tall. I was at a distinct disadvantage as a woman, with much more contour at the top of my torso. Also, I had been regularly enjoying the national pastime of fish and chips so had a little extra in my middle. My skintight dry suit felt like velcro pulling against the rock surface. Sprawled on my belly, leading with my head and hands, I inched and squirmed and crawled, forcing my feet, ankles, knees, elbows and shoulders to their flattest angles.
The opening must have narrowed as I went because I don’t think I would have entered this pass if it were the dimension at the point which I became wedged. Yes, wedged. Stuck worse than Pooh Bear after he ate too much honey in Rabbit’s hole and tried to get out. At least his head was above ground with fresh air all around. My helmeted head was caught between two multi-ton layers of sedimentary rock. I could not turn my head from side to side.
Are you panicking yet? Recounting this experience causes my blood pressure to rise and my heart to race. Years later I definitely credit this experience with me becoming mildly claustrophobic. Don’t ask me to sleep on a top bunk, not happening.
The caving club members were great cheerleaders, encouraging me to just keep wiggling and find those extra-generous millimeter spaces to creep ahead into. To say “agonizing” would be melodramatic. Giving birth is agonizing. At the time, being wedged in the cheese press in the Yorkshire Dales was adrenalizing.
I’m not sure how long it took me to get out of that memorable tight space. It certainly seemed like way too long and the thought of being there now is terrifying. That was my first and last time spelunking, check!
The story isn’t over though. Once through the cheese press, we explored more of the cave system, and though it was probably super cool, I don’t have much memory of it. I’m sure all I could think about the whole time was having to go back through the cheese press to get out of the cave. My survivalist instincts must have kicked in because I didn’t whine or cry, I just stuck with it, sucked it up and savored the thought of eventually getting out alive.
Then I saw daylight. We were exiting the cave. But wait! What’s going on here? I excitedly questioned my friends, “We didn’t have to go back through the cheese press?!?”
“Naw, mate,” the leader glibly replied, “We took the chicken route.”
Have you ever felt simultaneously pissed and relieved?
As far as I can stretch this metaphor, I’ve been on a 27-year expedition that is coming to a close. Parenting four children has been more everything-you-can-think-of than any spelunking adventure could ever offer (also providing years of fodder for blogging.) Scott and I have been on a whirlwind tour this year. And there’s nothing like a grand finale.
Our baby just graduated from high school and is preparing to move to her dorm at Hope College in late August. Our oldest just graduated from University of Hawai’i and is embarking on a new adventure as a botanist and science writer. Our middle two sons are well on their way, one finishing up his electrical engineering degree and the other—married and using his biology degree (these are mutually exclusive)—is now considering law school.
All along the way, we have experienced mountaintops and valleys, with many a cheese press in between (and sorry, no chicken routes here.) Our marriage, rooted in our trusting in Yeshua, has been the head lamp for all the dark places and the day light for the mundane and joyful ones. God knows, the best thing for a child is a father and mother who are committed to Him, marriage and family. We are all so blessed.
If raising them was a great inhale, it’s about time for a seismic exhale. We know we’ll always be parents but parenting adults has a whole different set of rules, challenges and joys. Bring it on.
Mighty May `22
Top: a delightful Mother's Day 2022 on Oahu, Bailey made us salmon risotto. A visit to Pearl Harbor.
Catherine, Bailey and I enjoyed a ladies' night out at Sky Waikiki--celebrating togetherness
Bailey June on the steps she often climbed this year at University of Hawai'i at Manoa; a papaya bowl at The Sunrise Shack in Haleiwa; Bailey is a magnet to limu/seaweed; the surf off Diamond Head
A "sick" snorkel boat adventure with Captain Joe, the Kristians, Dege, Bailey, Scott and me - Oahu
Interacting with a starfish and a sea turtle, pure joy. Being in/on the ocean with Bailey and Dege, priceless.
Commencement, University of Hawai'i, Manoa, Bailey June receives her bachelor of science in botany
A joyful reception and lei ceremony for a wonderfully auspicious occasion
Bailey had a great cheering section with Greg and Catherine Kristian, Dege, mom, dad and Maria
She's already off and running with a development role at a farm market and science writing internship
A perfect ending to an exceedingly celebratory day, a beautiful hula taught by Bailey's friend Bianca
Mother/daughter--grandmother Bonnie couldn't be there but her college ring graced Bailey's finger
Greeted by a full moon on Maui; the same view the next day--The Pools of `Ohe'o/Seven Sacred Pools
The O'Connell zoo, clockwise from top left: Kinky Bob, Roots, Brutus and Orange Kitty
(Meanwhile, in Canton, Michigan...)
While we were island hopping, Buck went to Fox Boot Camp--seen here relaxing with Kona (left), Redman (top) and Argo. I consider my sweet friend Diane "THE Dog Whisperer". She was excited to have Buck! He had so much fun with his new friends and came home a better-behaved canine.
Mahalo to our exceptionally gracious hosts--Bailey, Dege, Patrick and Patricia!
The O'Connell gardens, clockwise from top left: ginger, pineapple, orchid, lime
Daddy/daughter, overlooking Hamoa Beach - May 17, 2022
One week later Bailey arrives for Bella's graduation
Sisters and Tikvah; Bailey meets Buck for the first time; getting ready for commencement
Isabella Marie Spry graduates high school cum laude. Way to go Bella!
The Spry Family (missing Hailey Kate) - May 26, 2022 - Waterford, Michigan
Clockwise from left: Scott and Shawn, Aaron, Bailey and Jacob with Bella - Waterford, Michigan
Bella's cousins, aunt and uncle join the celebration, the Hillary Family from left: Jordyn, Mati, Kevin, Heather, Ashton and Owen--a `22 graduate of Oxford High School, way to go "O"!
Upon graduation, Aunt Heather gifts each Shellnut grandchild with a very special heart, made from a piece of fabric from our father Bennie's favorite shirt. Poppa passed on in 2011 when Isabella was just six years old. She has many fond memories of time well spent with him. She will wear his heart well.
Grandma Bonnie rejoices with newly graduated Bella - May 26, 2022
Grandpa John and Grandma Sharon laugh with Bella after commencement - Troy, Michigan
Nanny and Poppy beaming with Bella
Caption this! Bella and Redding...
The end of an era--Oakland Christian School graduates Bailey (`13) and Bella (`22) Spry
The deceitfully named Reproductive Freedom for All (deceitful because it does not include freedom for the unborn) petition is currently being circulated in Michigan by pro-abortion volunteers and paid circulators who hope to collect enough signatures to put an amendment on the ballot in November which would override current prolife laws that will go into effect if/when the U.S. Supreme Court decides in favor of the unborn in the Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization case (which, in effect, would overturn Roe v. Wade/Doe v. Bolton.) Pro-abortion volunteers and circulators have increased and will likely continue to do so throughout the next few weeks, focusing on college campuses, farmers markets, and post offices.
Are you willing to share the truth about this with friends, family, coworkers, strangers? There are resources HERE to help you. Be prepared NOT to sign if approached by a petitioner. And be prepared to warn others about it.
The Reproductive Freedom for All constitutional amendment is not about protecting existing rights, but smuggling a radical proposal into the constitution that would repeal or drastically alter dozens of state laws which protect children, mothers and the unborn. The amendment would fundamentally change the relationships between parents and children, as well as women and their doctors.
HERE is a link to the 92-word summary of the amendment that appears on the petitions and will appear on the ballot in November if enough valid signatures are collected.
Men and women have an equal right to weigh in on that question. Religious and non-religious people do as well. A tolerant society will welcome a free exchange of ideas and judge arguments according to their merits, not the gender or religion of those advancing them.
Premise #1: It is morally wrong to intentionally kill innocent human beings.
Premise #2: Abortion intentionally kills innocent human beings.
Therefore: Abortion is morally wrong.
Pro-life advocates defend their essential argument with science and philosophy. They argue from science that the unborn are distinct, living, and whole human beings. You didn’t come from an embryo; you once were an embryo. They argue from philosophy that there is no relevant difference between the embryo you once were and the adult you are today that justifies killing you at that earlier stage of development. Differences of size, level of development, environment, and degree of dependency are not good reasons for saying you could be killed then but not now.
"Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those being crushed. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice." ~ Proverbs 31:8 - 9
HAPPY FATHER'S DAY!
Being a good father is one of the most important things in life that a man could ever hope to achieve. Scott Spry is an excellent (husband to me and) father to his four adoring children. Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado ~ 2007