Freedom

For my whole life I have lived in free societies, from growing up in America to now living in Ireland. In the long span of human history, and even in the world today, I know that I am in the minority to be able to live with this level of freedom. I also know that the freedoms I enjoy (and so often take for granted) did not come easily. Freedom is a gift, not a given. It is won and maintained only with effort and care. That’s what this poem is about:

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A Thousand Words Are Worth A Picture

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but as someone pointed out to me recently—can you draw a picture that effectively communicates that concept? Maybe you’re a good artist and you have an idea of how you could do that well, but I’ve never seen anyone try, and isn’t it interesting that the phrase always comes to us in words, not pictures? The whole point is that pictures are more powerful, but to make that powerful point we use words, not pictures.

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Dress-Up Servants

There’s a house in Ireland, on the grounds of Cahir Castle, that is known as The Swiss Cottage. It has nothing at all to do with Switzerland, but the name sounds exotic and foreign and I’m pretty sure Switzerland doesn’t mind. It was actually designed by a famous English architect (who also designed parts of Buckingham Palace) for a powerful Irish Earl in the early 1800’s. It was made as a cottage orné, a style that imitated and idealised the homes of the poor, while still retaining the comforts of the wealthly. The Earl and his family and friends could escape from their large castle to the fanciful cottage for a picnic or party, and for a while pretend that they were like simple peasants, like the peasants who worked their large estates. They even went so far as to dress up for the part sometimes, or perhaps it’s more proper to say that they dressed down, into the clothes of the common people. Nearby, an underground tunnel meant that actual peasants could come and go from a hidden basement kitchen without being seen, until they were called upon to serve their masters, who were pretending to be like their own servants in the garden. Can you imagine being one of those servants, watching powerful lords and ladies playing dress-up in servant’s clothes, while still making you do all the actual work? If the walls of that underground kitchen could talk, I’d imagine they could repeat a few choice words. The Earl and his family may have dressed the same way as the servants, but there was still a big difference: the real servants served. The pretend servants didn’t.

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Dream Small Is Now Available For Preorder

Most of you already know that I have written a book, titled Dream Small. I know the title sounds odd in a world obsessed with bigger and better, but the truth is that the things the world typically measures as bigger really aren’t better. There are better dreams to live for right in front of you, wherever you are. This book is about finding and living for those dreams, even if the world considers them small. I’m happy to let you know that Dream Small will release on the 1st of September (earlier than expected!), and that it is now available for preorder. Here a few of the places you can preorder it from:

The Good Book Company UK / USA

Teach Solas (Cork) / The Evangelical Bookshop (Belfast)

Amazon.com / .co.uk

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5 Top Tips For Christians Travelling In 2022

This is a guest post from my friend, Peter Grier, author of Travel: in tandem with God’s Heart. I found Peter’s book very helpful, and asked him to share a few thoughts on how we can travel as Christians now that the world is opening up again:

The pandemic has been (largely) left behind and finally we’re free! Travel figures are back surging again as travel-hungry individuals, families and groups of friends seek to make up for lost time. Wanted to go somewhere for that big birthday? 2022 is your year to catch-up! Missed a honeymoon? 2022! Simply want to see family and friends again after years? Now’s your chance!

Partly due to the surge, and partly to make up for lost sales, travel in 2022 may not be the cheapest it’s ever been (car hire and competition around accommodation especially), but there’s plenty of bargains out there still, depending on what kind of travel you’re interested in and whether you’re flexible.

But what does it look like for a Jesus-follower to travel this year? Here’s 5 ideas which hopefully may be of use to us all:

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A Strategic Retreat

About a year ago, I deleted all the social media apps on my phone. It felt drastic at the time, like chopping off my own thumb (you know, the scrolling one). But I still have those apps on my tablet, and I still have both my thumbs, so I don’t think I’ve actually missed much. I still enjoy using social media. I guess I just got tired of missing things in the real world because I was looking at my phone too much when I could have been looking around. 

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Seedlings Need The Weather

There’s a small square of earth behind our house that belongs to us. Which is strange, because it was here a long time before we were and will be here a long time after we’re gone. But there’s a deed in an office somewhere that has our names on it, so the ground is ours. And with that ground comes the responsibility to care for it—a responsibility that didn’t come from an office, but from Heaven.

We do our best. And when I say “we”, I really mean my wife, Jessica. She’s the one who does most of the caring and tending and planting. I made the raised beds around the edges of the garden, but she’s the one that filled them with roses and blueberries, mint and strawberries, pineapple sage and climbing jasmine and passion flowers. This year, she brought home packets of seeds for dahlias, zinnias, and cornflowers as well, because she wants to have flowers to cut for our dinner table throughout the spring, summer, and autumn. She sowed the seeds in trays of compost and found the perfect spot inside our glass door where our seedlings could have ideal conditions: plenty of sun (by Irish standards), warmth inside the house, protection from cold and storms and slugs, and regular watering. We babied our little baby plants, and we were delighted to see them grow, and grow fast. In fact they grew so fast that their stems became long and thin and too weak to hold up their own new leaves. One by one me they began to fall over. What went wrong? How could our seedlings be so weak when we protected them from every difficulty and obstacle? What more could we do for them? 

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Every Corner Is Crowded

Last week, I stood in front of a barn in the woods in Alabama that no animals have ever lived in, but I lived in it. I was a child then, and my family lived there while our house was being built on the same property and that worked out pretty well for us. I hadn’t seen it for several years, but it still looks like a barn. At least, that’s all you would see. When I look at it, I see more. I see so much that my mind can hardly keep up. I could stand there all day and look around at the barn and the house and the trees and I could watch the river of scenes pass by for hours and hours because this is my place, this is where my life took root and grew up with the pecan trees that my father and grandfather planted. When I go back there now, I feel like I have to walk slowly because the place is so crowded with memories. The sweet and bitter and happy and sad and embarrassing are all jumbled up together—every step, every sight, every sound and smell is full of them.

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Being Somebody

At my house growing up, I was somebody. When my mom asked if somebody would bring in firewood, or let the dog out, or fetch the groceries, I knew she was talking to me. As the youngest child, I ended up being the last somebody in the house besides my parents, so I got to be somebody a lot. Eventually it became a joke, and she’d look right at me and say, “could somebody…?” and we’d laugh, and I’d do it, whatever it was.

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