Over the past year, there has been a journey that I have made many times over. Before it became a regular feature of my weekends, it had always been a rare, but tediously long trip, with only one way there, and one way back. I’m talking about the drive down the Ards Peninsula.
It is only about 30 miles from where we live in Belfast and takes about an hour, sometimes less. Over the Holywood Hills and down into Newtownards and out along the lough shore, past Mount Stewart, through Greyabbey and Kircubbin, then across country a few miles south of Portaferry, heading for Kearney and Quintin Bay. And the purpose of these weekend excursions? Our daughter has riding lessons on the eastern side of the peninsula, where the wind blows in off the Irish Sea.
A long journey that has become shorter
For some reason it is a journey that has become shorter over the last 12 months. It is also one that I now look forward to - in fact, love. Not just because it is quality ‘daddy-daughter time’ for a few hours, but for the sheer ever-changing beauty of the drive down this finger strip of County Down.
And it is ever-changing, as we have been travelling down and back up again through late summer and into autumn, plumbing the depths of winter with foaming waves from the lough crashing over the car, onto the newness of spring and summer once more.
Past the odd field of bulbous cabbages and adjacent leeks, cattle grazing close to the mudflats, the deep brown of rich furrowed earth waiting to be sown, or luscious pasture, patient for a first cut. The twists and turns along the undulating road hugging the drumlins and the shoreline of Strangford Lough - be it a twinkling greeny-blue, or dour turbulent slate grey - the yellow of the hard-blown whin bushes, or dainty white of the May flower along the hedgerows inland. Not to mention the autumnal colours splashed across the landscape each year.
Even polythene sheets blanketing distant fields gives the impression of snow in late spring. With the Mountains of Mourne visible on a clear day, far off to the south west, I never now tire of this journey and the ever-changing countryside that whizzes by.
Constant and ever-faithful
How God has blessed the most easterly part of this island of ours! But just as He orders the seasons, I am so thankful that through thick and thin, He is completely unchanging, constant and ever-faithful.
God told the Old Testament prophet Malachi, “‘For I the Lord do not change’” (Malachi 3:6). Not only does He never change, we discover that “The Lord is the everlasting God…” (Isaiah 40:28) whose “…faithfulness continues through all generations…” (Psalm 119:90) and likewise, in Psalm 136:1-26 we are told no fewer than 26 times that “His love endures forever” and “His mercies are new every morning…” (Lamentations 3:23.) God loves you and never stops reaching out through His Son, Jesus, who He sent so that you “…may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).
And just to remind us, someone has painted ‘Jesus saves’ on a large rock in Strangford Lough. In this ever-changing world, if you would like to know this unchanging, steadfast, loving and compassionate God, repent of the sin that entangles and accept the salvation He offers with all your heart, from the One who “…is the same yesterday, today and forever,” (Hebrews 13:8).
Before coming to live in Belfast nearly 40 years ago, Mark Smith grew up in a village in rural Sussex, coming to Northern Ireland in his late teens. He is a member of Bloomfield Presbyterian Church in east Belfast and the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s press officer.
His blog appeared in today’s Farming Life, a fortnightly column entitled ‘Good News for the Countryside’, where people from a farming background, or who have a heart for the countryside, offer a personal reflection on faith and rural life.
You can look at other blogs in this series here.
Photo: The 'Jesus Saves' rock in Strangford Lough.
If you would like to talk to someone about any of the issues raised in this article, please email Rev Kenny Hanna, PCI’s Rural Chaplain at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him on 07938 488 372.