It doesn’t take much to create a huge distance between people

2015-08-30 13.55.34-2This past week I was in Berlin for a work conference aimed at equipping young(er) leaders across Europe to pursue healthy Christian leadership. For some reason, Berlin has never really been on my list of “places to visit.” With so much going on leading up to this trip, I hardly even had time to brush up on its history and figure out what I might want to see during down time. Well actually, in my ignorance, I didn’t think there would be all that much to see … and I wasn’t really counting on any down time. When Sunday rolled around I was ready to hit the ground running for five hours of exploring before heading back to the airport.

01d59673cea20fedef28aee44749bb62bdadd4e913Climbing the steps out of the belly of the city into the heat of summer, I was surprised to see so few people near the Brandenburg Gate. It was large and impressive but not more spectacular than structures I’ve seen in Paris and Rome. As we passed through to the other side, my co-explorer for the day explained some of the significance of it during WWII. The significance of it isn’t tied to what it looks like but how it was used and what it meant to the people who lived on either side of it. As we walked further through the waves and blocks in the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, I looked up to see the colour and the shapes in modern buildings surrounding the square. There was a story in each of these – in the hands of the people who designed them. You could nearly feel the heartbeat of the architects as they tried to convey a message to everyone who can see the sky above and feel the earth below. Words were only introduced when we entered the Topography of Terror, explaining how the city under our feet took shape in the last 100 years. Exposed and free of charge, it felt like a public announcement of repentance for past sin and a warning to never return.

2015-08-30 11.51.28-1A good few tram stops north of there, we joined the bohemian crowds filtering into Mauerpark for Sunday afternoon festivities. Passing by musicians and artists we made our way into the large flea market where we jostled our way in search of lunch. Currywurst in hand, we sat listening to a couple of different bands performing under the shade of the trees. A hill ascended in front of us and at the top stood a piece of “the wall” – a colourful backdrop for the lighthearted summer Sunday celebrations of the city. In front of it swings lifted people up and down from sturdy, tall wooden frames. Swings: flying, freedom, play, peace. Families gathered to release a hiss of colour onto the wall, creating something beautiful.

2015-08-30 13.44.15-112 feet high – the wall was part of a death strip from 1961-1989, an area designated to make sure no one crossed from East to West alive. If I had been born near there, I would have grown up with death in my backyard until I was seven, not swings. At the end of that portion of wall, I stopped where a fence replaced the concrete. A security guard in a high viz vest on the football stadium side looked at me strangely through the fence as I just stared at the abrupt end. It was less than a foot thick. I was struck in that moment by how little it takes to create such a huge divide between people. The obstacles themselves are easy to overcome but it is our militant effort to ensure that no one overcomes them without our permission that makes them dangerous.

Leading people towards hope is deconstructing obstacles and helping people move from oppression to freedom, regardless of if they are one of us or not. It is public repentance of how much harm has been done under the false illusion of good. It is recreating something beautiful and useful in the place of damage. It is rebellion against symbols of death by setting up swings in front of them. Can you hear the carefree laughter? That is hope.

Thank you, Berlin, for what you have taught me.

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my love for smithfield: sparks bistro

2015-08-12 16.34.56-1“Good morning! How are you?”

Eyes shine behind a genuine welcome at Sparks Bistro whether it is a busy day or a quiet day. “It is good to see you. What can I get for you today?”

Service is laced with the joie de vivre of staff who love their place of work as much as the regulars do. It is a beautiful little gem in Smithfield where elegance is understated in the simplicity of the open plan cafe. Decadent sauces sizzle from the kitchen on the other side of the counter while the lunchtime crowd fills every inch of floor space. Chef, Guiseppe Cipolla, creates daily specials that intertwine an Irish style with exotic influence: sea bass, Wicklow lamb, steak, chicken, salmon, cod … all paired with veg and sauce that melt in the mouth. With good food in front of you and lively conversations you could forget the world for an hour.

2015-08-12 16.33.18-1In the morning, afternoon or evening you might just find a quieter table to have a more intimate conversation or get some work done. That is how I ended up in Sparks for the first time. Laura and I met at the table beside the window shortly after Sparks fully opened in January of this year.  Comfortably situated, we began putting together plans for C Squared – the community creative project we are working on. It didn’t take long before I began to bring everyone who came to visit or suggest to friends that we meet for coffee, lunch or dinner either in the main room of the bistro or, on a special occasion, in the beautiful tea room in the back.

2015-08-14 12.50.13-1On a long summer evening, Sparks takes on the feel of a classic European local in the making, situated in its perfect corner of the world. Confident in good food, good wine, good service and good friends – what more do you need unless you are searching for the chaos of hurried crowds searching for a night out. And in this city, Sparks is affordable with a two course dinner menu for under €17. You’d be hard pressed to find something equal in quality of flavour or service off Grafton Street for twice the price.

Perhaps Sparks is a small influence on the city that Dublin will become. With rich hospitality and excellence in the smallest things, Hassan Higazy and his staff take the finest things of local community living and create something extraordinary.

spotting talent

2015-08-01 11.19.48-1Lawrence’s strong back shimmers in the evening light as water sloshes over it. I take a step back to get my city shoes out of the way while Jane rubs her horse down, prepping him for the show the next day. After knowing Jane for 11 years I finally made it to the Glens of Antrim to visit her in her home, surrounded by some of her favourite things. How unlike the chaotic field of tents and rambunctious urban teenagers that were our common passion.

Blueberry pancakes set us up the next morning before I climb aboard the gigantic horse hotel on wheels, along with Lawrence and Jane’s team for the horse show – her dedicated mum and dad, and Nikki … who seemed to be as much of a younger sister in the family as the groom. Just east of Belfast Jane pulls us into a relatively empty field that is roped off into sections. Following orders, I place two lawn chairs in their usual spot, right in front of the vehicle for front row seats.

2015-08-01 09.12.39Now this is no Calgary Stampede right here – it is much more dignified than that. Helmets, riding jackets and jodhpurs replace stetsons, cotton plaid and denim. Women outnumber men. Draft, Hunter, Cob, Connemara and Riding Horses are groomed with precision according to their class. For Lawrence it was a lot of hair off the top, two wide lines drawn on his rump prepped with pigs oil, and sharks teeth to finish the look off. The black nail varnish on his hooves is already beginning to wear off from its unappreciated application the day before.

2015-08-01 13.32.46“That is a beautiful horse,” each of my hosts would say now and again as horses and riders circled in front of us.

It was that day I began to understand these shows were not about primping a horse and displaying it as if in some sort of beauty pageant. They are about owners “spotting talent” in a horse at a young age, training it, grooming it and giving it a future career with someone else. You have to pour heart and soul into an animal, knowing you will have to let it go. It takes cost and risk for very little return. After a bad fall (her father made sure to tell me that it was no fault of her own), Jane recovered from a broken back in her early 20s. This was only several years after wining Supreme Champion at the Dublin Horse Show in the RDS – the win of wins! Her first question was about when she could ride again.

Even after a lot of work to get a horse to a show, there is no guarantee for a win. I can’t say that I’m too much of a fan of the subjective nature of judging at this event … both during the competition and after. Horse and rider are all under scrutiny from a hundred pairs of eyes.

2015-08-01 13.36.54-1By the time Jane’s event was over, the field was full of people, horses, pet dogs and gigantic vehicles. The dark clouds gave up their rain as we climbed into the shelter of our vehicle and reversed out to head home. My own brief attempt at cowgirl-turned-proper-horse-rider-with-the-english-saddle was a bit of a bust that afternoon and reminder that there is a long way to go before I could live the particular fantasy where I am the heroine in a Louis L’Amour book. But this is where Jane thrives and dreams.

As we walked under canopies of lush, green forest surrounding Glenarm Castle the following morning, we shared mutual inspiration for the starting of great things that grow from existing talents that we gave time to develop alongside our professional and spiritual lives. It just so happens that we are both in a place where these realities have collided with enough ferocity that the sparks have jumped, igniting opportunity. In our respective areas we are “spotting talent” – taking raw material and beginning to forge something new from inherent possibility.

the no regrets pact

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If you were to live today with no regrets, what would you do? This isn’t the sort of question that gives you time to make a bucket list of everything you want to do before you die. It is a decision maker based on what is within reach here, right now.

According to Erikson’s stages of development, we shouldn’t really be thinking about the value of our lives and the impact we make in our world around us until we hit at least 40 … and spend the rest of our lives making sure we leave a meaningful legacy for someone within our spheres of influence, however big or small those may be. Maslow figured that the ability to think beyond ourselves and give to others altruistically, spiritually, is the pinnacle of development. But what if it didn’t have to be that way? What if there was a way to choose to hijack these lines of development?

I had this weird niggling thought in my head since I was a teenager that I would die between the ages of 26-28, mostly likely in a plane crash. A little morbid and a little weird? Absolutely! Oddly enough though, it never made me afraid. It pushed me to really live. Guess what? I’m still not dead.

No regrets living takes us places and gets us off the couch. It builds bridges with people. It accomplishes things. It gives us experiences and wisdom. It only has that healthy respect for fear. It is a courageous life. No regrets isn’t the ability to forgive yourself for not meeting the mark. It is the choice to do something that you won’t have to forgive yourself for.

Several weeks ago I had a friend over for dinner and we decided it was time to start a #noregretspact with each other. The best part is, we actually check in with each other: “How’s your #noregretspact?” It has challenged me to live like I used to live when I thought time was short – fully alive. The key to success? When there is a choice, make the courageous decision that you won’t regret tomorrow. For me, that might be getting out the door to Pilates, telling someone the good I see in them right there and then, swimming in the sea when it is still freezing cold, getting out of bed when I wake up (even if the alarm hasn’t gone off yet), saying “no” to that good thing I don’t actually have time for, having that conversation with God I don’t feel like having, answering emails in the morning, stopping to listen to someone, following through with something I told someone I’d do, taking a risk …

Right now, when you finish reading this, what will you choose to do?

#noregretspact

would you like to avoid the toll roads?

IMG_2997I slid into my car, turned it on, rolled the window down in preparation for a warm day, plugged my phone in and opened up reliable TomTom. My brother wasn’t far behind across from me. When the app loaded I was asked where I wanted to navigate to. I typed in “Zurich” and was promptly asked if I wanted to avoid the toll roads. At this stage we only had two options: Avoid the tolls through France. Pay the tolls through France. We knew we weren’t staying so we had to choose one.

Reasons to avoid the tolls: Avoiding the toll roads often means a more scenic route through countryside. It usually means a bit of a longer journey as well. Tolls cost money.

Reasons to pay the tolls: For a long day of driving it means that we get to our destination in a shorter amount of time and can enjoy exploring a little longer. When it cuts driving time considerably it might save money on petrol.

So far, we had mostly avoided the tolls on our road trip from Dublin to Beaune because we wanted to experience the small villages and get a more personal look at the fields and forests spread across rolling hills. Going from Mont Saint Michel to Versailles wasn’t a difficult decision because the route wasn’t that much further and we were just beginning to enjoy the pastoral area. From Versailles to Beaune we decided to take the shorter journey and go for the tolls after skirting Paris. Apart from travelling faster, the journey was a little dull. Once we exited the motorway my brother thought I’d been caught for speeding because of the price we paid! … We had been charged for every kilometre we’d travelled on the motorway. Sitting in Beaune we knew that going toll free to Zurich would take us a couple more hours than taking the tolled route. Knowing we’d be heading for some extremely beautiful mountainous areas and unsure what the tolls would look like, we opted for toll free without regrets. We also knew we would be spending a few nights in Zurich.

What I learnt was that we always have those options. When we consider the people we want to become or the things we want to do we have to choose whether we want to get their quickly and pay the toll so as to enjoy more of the destination or take a longer route to enjoy the journey. Either way, we sacrifice something and it is our choice as to what. This morning I wondered … if I were to open TomTom, how would I respond to its first question: Where would you like to navigate to? And then the second: Do you want to avoid the tolls?

The morning we left Zurich we had a better idea how the Swiss roads worked and decided to take the shorter route to Basel under the hills and mountains through some pretty cool tunnels. During the whole trip we clocked up 3333km while driving and a total distance, including ferries and tunnels, of around 4610km.

Want to read the stories from road trip as it happened? Check out our family travel blog: Road Antics

stop checking out my adventures and go have your own

Adventure is wherever you find it, on whatever budget you are willing to spend. Adventure is always a choice. I love adventures … crave them, actually. They make me feel alive and fuel my dreams. They give me determination and teach me I am strong – I am strong enough to choose to be fully alive with every day I wake up to.

This time last year I was in Canada traveling around, speaking in places and meeting with friends and family who cheer me on in my work here. In previous years I would dread the thought of staying in a different bed every couple of nights, driving long hours and participating in activities that were so far from what I do best (i.e. public speaking). As much as I love the people I visit on these “tours” I usually feel so completely exhausted and drained by the end of them. Last year I decided to do things differently. I planned on approaching the journey the same way I would here: an adventure, during which I would look for every opportunity to really see and then give. The difference was astounding! I found places in my home country that I had never heard of before. I participated in people’s lives with depth. As I drove from one place to the next I encountered generous people who have come to love my adventures as much as I have. In one home I arrived to delicious muffins that had been baked just for me … all because I bake muffins and share the joy with others when I do. When I got to my home town I was greeted with several invitations to an adventure with other friends! People experimented with meals just for me. They took me to cafes and constructed beautiful day outings just to experience the wonder of transforming the ordinary into the extraordinary.

Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary adventure is not as complicated as it looks. If you’ve been on an adventure with me, you already know this. All you really need is:

To notice – The cafe you have always walked past. The path through the park. The shape of a leaf. The feel of the breeze. The emotion of the environment. The little brown sign pointing off the road to an historic site you have never heard of before. Not that I really want to, but I could probably sit in my living room every day for a month and notice something new without even moving. It has to do with forgetting the familiarity of the mundane. It has to do with seeing the different colours of the sunset from one day to the next, watching the shadows dance, wondering about the curves and creases of fonts over that shop across the road, savouring each flavour and texture of peanut butter and jam on toast.

To stop – Noticing is only enough to make a day interesting if you don’t stop. It doesn’t have to be long, just a moment at the very least. Sometimes it is to stop the direction you are going to follow the rabbit trail. To stop is to let go of the fear of trying something new, being somewhere new, of losing control.

To feel – Only when fear is gone can you really begin to feel – from the ground beneath your feet to the sun or rain on your face; from the lazy meanderings of small town life to the tension filled street of a driven city. Let it all soak in – what the senses pick up and what is revealed without any evidence at all but leaves impressions in the mind. To feel is to acknowledge and allow the moment to interact with your own thoughts and emotions. These things will change you but they won’t consume you.

To memorise – Replaying the moments over and over again seals them in our memory as enticements to really live. Remembering the moment is more than a picture that paints 1000 words. Remembering the moment is giving validity to your existence and experience. I have begun to own the experiences I have and take them to heart as gifts that I have been given to treasure. From them I feel the heartbeat of something so much more that whispers purpose and love on my heart. I no longer have to grasp and claw for the experiences I see others having, but rather feel generous in genuinely wanting others to know the same.

Believe it or not, my adventures are not costly apart from my own willingness to take my eyes off myself and put them on everything else, cherishing this broken and beautiful world that grows old beside me … every single day. That includes you. You are in this world with me. You are part of the adventure. Join me. Take an adventure today.

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grow like no one is watching

We are made to exude the beauty of creation and to thrive in our seasons regardless of who is watching. In that place of rich fullness of life someone will glance our way and be struck with hope.

A soft breeze swept up the hill and with it the natural perfume of pine with floral accents. The spring sky carrying hints of summer canopied our morning stroll through Powerscourt Gardens. As we circled around fountains and looked down into the sunken Japanese sanctuary, scents began to become more woodsy with hints of vanilla. Bluebells and wild garlic laid a carpet of blue and white under the proud old trees. We wound up the stairs of Pepperpot Tower for a bird’s eye view. Turning in a full circle the forest came into view and with them, azaleas and rhododendrons that hide amongst the trees not otherwise seen. From top to bottom they were covered in blossoms as brilliantly beautiful as those that line the pathways. In blissful ignorance of the lack of attention they receive they bloomed with as much conviction as their relatives along carefully manicured paths. They didn’t require praise. They didn’t require status. They didn’t require promise of one day having those.

We were made to bloom where we grow – In the quiet moments of morning when our eyes first open; in simple conversations and thoughts we have about others; in that space between performances; in the waiting and wishing for more.

The forest would have remained a collage of green had the flowers not been blooming. My thoughts would have passed over without any regret. Then the colour caught my eye and I was stopped in a moment of appreciation. Forests bursting into colour don’t depend on the size of their audience or proximity to others. Flowers bloom because the season is right and that is what they were made to do. We do the same when we find our way back to the source of life, dig our roots deep and grow like no one is watching.

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