The Discipline Of Being Overwhelmed

Beside the road, the grass was parted into a path created by the feet of those who had walked there before me. I didn’t know the destination, but I had time, so I decided to follow the lead of those feet and find out where they were going.

It was a good decision. The path took me over a rise and around a corner, then sloped down gradually with a panoramic view of the ocean in front of me. On the right, the ground sloped down sharply towards a rocky cove where people were swimming. On the left, there was no ground. Only a sheer cliff, and the waves far below.

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St. Patrick’s Lost Years

Today marks the second St. Patrick’s Day in a row without celebrations in Ireland, St. Patrick’s country, which is perhaps more appropriate than it sounds. Patrick would understand the experience of having plans upended. The only reason we think of Ireland as his homeland today is because his life did not go to plan. At all. Growing up in Wales (probably), he never thought that his future would be in Ireland, and he didn’t much care for God, either. Then, disaster struck. He tells us in his autobiography: “I was taken prisoner. I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. I was taken into captivity in Ireland, along with thousands of others.”

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An Irish Christmas Selection Box

It’s Christmas week, and we’ve already ended up with more chocolate selection boxes than is good for us, which is traditional. I can’t share those with you, but I would like to share a selection box of some of the things I’ve enjoyed online from Ireland this Christmas season…

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We Get Used To Things

When we moved to Ireland, we were cold all the time. Our bodies were used to heat, and for all the truly wonderful things Ireland has to offer, it simply doesn’t come with that feature. There’s a reason the Romans called this island “Hibernia”, the “land of winter”. But unlike the Romans, we stuck around. At first, we got funny looks from our neighbours because we wore coats even when they were breaking out their shorts. Over time, though, we acclimatised. Now we say “It’s roasting”, and mean it, on days we used to describe as chilly. Our temperature scale really is different. Once, when we visited America, one of our young children asked me, greatly concerned: “Dad—I’m getting wet? On my forehead..?” He didn’t know about sweat yet. He didn’t know that I grew up in sweat. When he walks out the door into an Irish summer, he doesn’t hit a wall of heat and humidity, and neither do I anymore. We’re Hibernians now.

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The Invisible Castle

In the year of our Lord, 1858, the Shirleys of Lough Fea boasted that their estate house contained the largest room in County Monaghan. The honour was not secure, however—a nearby Baron, Lord Rossmore, was determined to claim it for himself. He extended the drawing room of Rossmore Castle to steal the distinction from them. But the rivalry wasn’t over. Lord Rossmore had to extend the drawing room five times to stay ahead of the Shirleys’ relentless construction, and in the end his drawing room still came in second to their Great Hall.

Even though it lacked the largest room in the county, no one could deny that Rossmore Castle was beautiful, built as it was on top of a hill with a panoramic view and 117 windows to see it through (the Shirleys only had 96). Its towers and turrets looked as if they had been lifted straight out of a fairytale illustration, even more so when there was a party on, and there were a lot of parties. The guest lists were star-studded as well—the Prince of Wales was a personal friend of Lord Rossmore. But, as can happen in fairytales, the castle vanished. This had more to do with dry rot than magic, but the effect was the same.

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A Trip To The Embassy

I was excited. We’d only lived in Ireland a few months—long enough to begin to feel the reality of deep differences, but not nearly long enough to adjust to them. Our second son had just been born, a different experience in a different medical system, and we needed to register his birth at the United States embassy. American soil, in Ireland. It would be nice to get a little taste of all we’d left behind. A few hours on the motorway got us to Dublin, where we found the US embassy—a big round thing looking out of place on its street-corner, like a landed UFO. Like us. 

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The Notorious Adventures Of Nutt The Nefarious

From the sandy beach in Youghal, Ireland, you can see Capel Island just off the coast, with half a lighthouse. The unfinished tower now serves as a shelter for wild goats, who are the island’s only inhabitants, aside from the birds. But there’s more mystery in the history of Capel Island than abandoned construction projects and goats—legend has it that an infamous pirate buried treasure there in the 1620’s. We know the pirate was real, and we know his name: Nutt. We also know that he was betrayed and nearly hanged in England, but managed to avoid the noose thanks to his friendship with the Secretary of State. 

After our family heard about Nutt, the infamous Captain began making appearances on family camping trips, telling tall tales of his fantastic adventures. In every story he nearly died, yet somehow managed to escape at the last minute. I wrote down some of these tales, intending to give them to my children as a Christmas gift (that was nearly three years ago… better late than never, right?). Now, in order to give them a physical copy that looks and feels like the real thing, I’ve self-published the book through Amazon. I’ve got their copies ordered, but in light of the current situation I thought I’d share the stories with you as well, in case you or your children would also like to hear the tall tales of the Captain willing to travel beyond the Edges of Doom in his hunt for the legendary Dessert Island, where the lollipoppies grow behind brown sugar beaches.

I want this to be my gift to you, so I’ve made the Kindle version free until Friday, the 1st of May (as long as Amazon will let me):

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The Things We Remember When Normal Life Stops

Normal life evaporated in Ireland today. It’s like the nation caught the virus, and went to bed. Schools are closed, events are cancelled, and the streets are getting quiet (although the shops have been crazy). It feels like the world is turning upside down, burying the life we’re used to and bringing up uncertainty and fear in its place. And the fear is real.

No one knows for sure when this will end, or what it will cost us in lives and livelihoods. We do know this, though: Normal life is good. We already miss it. And maybe that’s a silver lining to these dark clouds – we remember what we love. The steady rhythms of normal life can make us sleepy and distracted, but now we’re awake. Now we remember:

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On Being An Immigrant

Growing up in Alabama, I knew the rules: I knew when to say “yes, ma’am” and how to order a Sprite by asking for a Coke and waiting for the server to say “What kind?” I knew what was expected of me, and I knew what to expect from others. I knew how to say things so that people would listen, and when I needed opportunities, I was confident that doors would open and people would give me trust. And I was right. Even when I made mistakes, the trust remained and I knew I would have the help I needed to get back up and try again. Alabama was good to me, and I learned to expect it. I didn’t even think about it.

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Ireland’s Treasure: The Book Of Kells

Recently Munster Bible College had a week-long intensive course in early church history. There’s a lot to cover in a course like that, but by Friday evening we were talking about the gospel coming to Ireland through Patrick. What a man. He lived and breathed Scripture, which comes through in his surviving writings and his willingness to leave a comfortable life and sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had kidnapped and enslaved him in his youth. You could hardly get a better picture of the gospel of Jesus, who stepped out of Heaven to sacrifice everything for the sake of the very people who had rejected him. Continue reading Ireland’s Treasure: The Book Of Kells