It was a sleepy little garden in a corner of Oxford, England. No showy signs. No gift shops. Just crooked lines of old gravestones, with pale blue forget-me-nots dotted about. The only reason I knew we were in the right place was an on-the-run Google search and a small wooden plaque.
After pacing through rows of long-forgotten names, my uncle pointed—
In loving memory of
Clive Staples Lewis,
Born Belfast 29th November 1898,
Died in this parish
22nd November 1963.
I breathed in, slow and deep.
Running the risk of sounding sacrilegious?
I stood on holy ground.
Like most Christian kids, I was fed The Chronicles of Narnia for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dad read aloud all seven books through my mid-childhood in Hawaii. Unlike my American peers, I got to hear his Kiwi accent—close enough for me to having an English narrator. Not only that, he grew up in a British commonwealth in the ‘50’s, spent young adulthood in England, and his brother lived in London.
The stories Dad told made it all the more real—and a fairy tale—all at the same time.
And as Hawaii is a mythical paradise to the rest of the world—England became my own storybook land.
Visiting and ultimately moving to New Zealand was the closest I could get. Wearing winter coats and staying in quaint cottages—not to mention actual Narnia movie set locations—well, it was dream turned reality.
But every time I sipped English tea, or watched a Jane Austen adaption, or my aunt and uncle told me, Come visit!—something tugged at the deep, deep ropes of my soul.
And not just because of Narnia.
Every child dreams of what they want to be when they “grow up”.
Even now—you could tell me what your dream was (or still is—keep dreaming, friends). For me? Long before my dad read me the first chapter of The Magician’s Nephew, I had already decided.
I was going to write books.
Yet it wasn’t the most common thing to come across in Hawaii.
Small, tropical islands aren’t exactly known for their literary history. There’s a beautiful creative culture, but in the early 2000’s, creativity was usually expressed through a particular stream of dance, production, and art. And if you were blessed with the passion to surf (that overcame your fear of getting sliced by coral reef and lava rock)—small, tropical islands were your stage.
Of course, I didn’t think about this at the time.
All I knew is I liked writing. But all the authors who inspired me had lived on the other side of the planet. Despite this, I was well-equipped by my English-major mother and Bible-researcher father, not to mention my excellent teachers. And confession—I’m pretty sure I spent way more time at the library than the beach.
But the closer I got to freedom—you know, graduating high school—the more I used the non-literary culture of Hawaii as a way to run away from my fears. It was easier to go to the beach with my friends than to stop at the library and be faced with how little I’d accomplished. I didn’t learn to surf, but I got a tan (to the best of my haole ability). In other words?
You don’t have to risk failure while living in a world that doesn’t look for your success.
After high school, I finally moved to New Zealand, a bit closer to the world I longed for. But it’s also easy to go to university, become a teacher, join a Christian ministry, and still not take risks in the dream you desperately want to succeed in.
Oh, don’t worry. I still wrote, a lot. Every day of my life. (Shout-out to my friends who read countless blog posts and listened to a dozen book pitches). Each step of the journey has mattered.
But when I hit my mid-twenties, something was still missing. I sipped English tea, watched too many Jane Austen adaptions, and my aunt and uncle kept telling me, Come visit!
Something tugged at the deep, deep ropes of my soul.
I finally said yes.
In April 2019, I tiptoed through Winchester Cathedral, the burial place of Jane Austen, and got all choked up with gratitude. Auntie Debbie and Uncle Graham would ask, “Where do you want to go next?”, and I couldn’t lie. A very obvious pattern emerged over my five weeks in England: Hometown of author, burial place of author, filming location of a movie based on book by favourite author.
Suddenly, my dreams weren’t on the other side of the planet.
They were right in front of me.
Oh, I still loved the fact I grew up in Hawaii. And I still wanted to go back to New Zealand. This wasn’t about moving countries or changing identities (and hey, C.S. Lewis was actually Irish). So nope, it wasn’t even about England.
This was about embracing the dream that stepped out of the shadows.
Oh, I get it. I know. When your dreams and your fears are in the same room, it’s easy to lock the door and throw out the key.
And it’s even easier to leave them for a very, very long time.
But can’t you hear them knocking?
It was a sleepy little garden in a corner of Oxford, England. No showy signs. No gift shops. Just smooth lines of an old gravestone, with my tiny bouquet of pale blue forget-me-nots placed on top. I breathed in, slow and deep.
I stood on holy ground.
“Holy”—in its truest sense, meaning, set apart.
And five weeks in England affected me so profoundly that it’s taken me two years to write about it.