Brave enough to begin

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About a month ago, I listened to a podcast interview with Alastair Humphreys, adventurer extraordinaire. In the closing moments, he uttered a phrase that has held me absolutely captivated:

“I’m obsessed with the idea of trying to make myself brave enough to begin things.”

I cannot tell you how often I’ve been turning that over (and over, and over) in my mind this last month or so.

There are dreams that have lain silent in my heart for some time. Dreams I thought long dead are making rumblings again, like a dormant volcano reminding the environment not to get too settled.



Eight years ago, I did a gap year that changed my life. I got to spend twelve months telling stories about the devastation poverty causes, and walking alongside people to show them how they could bring change into those situations. One of the great privileges of that year was the friendships I made.

One of those women, Jen, has played the role of confidant, encourager and mischief-maker in my life since then. Over the last few years her job has taken her to places well off the beaten track, and she’s discovered that her unique gifts line up perfectly with a job we could never have imagined of as kids – the kind that seems so tailor made you’d think we dreamt it up.

It has brought me great joy to see her discover that what she has to offer is not only enough, it is essential.

She was brave enough to begin, and she makes me braver by her inspiration.



Bravery is a strange word. Just the mention of it conjures up images of warriors and windswept landscapes. I am more interested, though, in the silent, unseen kind of bravery. The kind that of bravery that notices a change in a friend and points it out in love. The kind that sees an opportunity and doesn’t shrink back from it, even if it might unbalance the scales. I want to be more like that kind of person; to have the kind of bravery Jen exhibits. I want to be brave enough to begin.

In Peace Apart

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“We live in peace, but we live apart”

This 6 minute film brought tears to my eyes and broke my heart all over again for the land I was born and raised in, making me long afresh for the courage to imagine a better future.

I have a deep love for the land I grew up in. It is full-to-bursting with hope. There is redemption breaking out on macro and micro levels all over the country – stories of communities changed, perceptions challenged, fears overcome.

I have not always felt this way. For a long period of time I struggled with my identity as a Northern Irish citizen, wishing that I hadn’t started from there.

It seems that the more I have found my place in Scotland, made my home in Glasgow, the more I have grown to love and hope for my first home, for Northern Ireland.

The last two years saw a lot of political posturing in my second home, and brought that first home to mind often.

two homes

The stories we tell ourselves matter.

On the whole, I found myself deeply excited and encourage by the discussions surrounding the Scottish independence vote in Sept 2014. What started as a mud-slinging campaign became, for many of us, a real conversation about the kind of nation we wanted to live in (regardless of how we intended to vote).

The similarities between Northern Ireland and Scotland are many.

Is it possible for us to hold intelligent conversations – to imagine a better future – regardless of our political system, religion, school, village…?

Walter Brueggemann reflects on this need for imagination.

We need to ask not whether it is realistic or practical or viable but whether it is imaginable. We need to ask if our consciousness and imagination have been so assaulted and co-opted by the royal consciousness that we have been robbed of the courage or power to think an alternative thought.

The Prophetic Imagination – Walter Brueggemann

I dream of this for Northern Ireland, in the same ways I dream of it for Scotland. In the post-referendum haze, it was easy to find ourselves sidetracked and lazy in the language we used. It was tempting to take the easy way out and stigmatise ‘the other side’.

This, I think, is our greatest challenge: a failure of imagination.

Having already spent a long time in a deeply divided nation, I have no desire to see Scotland become (more of) one too. Can we be brave enough, have courage enough, to not settle for polarisation but to push and prod our nations onwards? Can we commit together to walk slowly towards a better life?

There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater.

But sometimes it doesn’t.

Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.

That is the sort of bravery I must have now.

Allegiant – Veronica Roth

why not

Saying all the wrong things

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It is easy to hide behind this screen.

It is easy to sit and contemplate, to craft my words with care and attention and to carefully decide how much of me, of my heart, you get to see. How far to peel back the curtain.

Doing that in person is a different thing altogether.

I believe in the power of story. I believe that it is strong enough to shape us and transform us. I know that is true because I’ve watched stories change me, and because of that I will never stop writing or photographing stories.

But stories fail us when they’re only ever veiled.

“There is something about witnessing an individual’s search for the right phrases, looking into their eyes, shaking hands, or hugging shoulders that makes our stories come alive in a way that is overwhelmingly real and unforgettable.”

[Alyce Youngblood – TWLOHA]

I can turn a phrase on paper, but in person I get tongue-tied and trip all over my words. Countless silent nights and teary phone calls with friends only prove how difficult it is to wrap words around the human experience.

Despite this, we must try.

We must be brave. We must find someone to share our story with, with courage and determination. We must find people to fight for us, to fight for our stories when we can’t. We must fumble and mumble and say all the wrong things, until anger and frustration and fear run out and give way to hope.

“I will always write. I will always read. Yet, in the end, it wasn’t the blinking screen or the paper and ink stories that I will most remember about these past few years. What I will remember — what saved me, transformed me, and got me through — were the hours on my couch with friends, the countless coffee dates, the hugs and smiles, the prayers and tears.”

[Roxanne Wieman – TWLOHA]

May you have someone to say all the wrong things to.

Learning to Confess What Lies Unknown

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“It is useless to compare something I’m working on now to something I’ve created in the past. This line of thinking will always prove to be unhelpful and unhealthy.

The only expectation when creating should be to do the work that is in front of you.

Now.”

[Blaine Hogan]

We can all suffer from unhealthy expectations, but the worst are often the expectations we have of ourselves.

You know, save the world single-handedly before breakfast and look great doing it.

Or, something like that….

The problem is, what happens when we don’t meet those expectations?
When we fall short of the standards we set for ourselves?

I have some crazy-big dreams that absolutely terrify me, and right now I feel like I’m falling short of them. That can be paralysing. Or it can be freeing.

“The only expectation when creating should be doing the work in front of you. Now.”

So, I’m starting over. I’m trying to rediscover those crazy dreams and why I even had them in the first place. It starts like this:

books

Scratch.

Read, write, watch, listen, remember.

“Our job as artists is to learn how to confess what lies unknown with us so that others might as well.”

[Blaine]

It begins with doing the hard work of figuring out what it is that lies unknown within ourselves. Why we are driven to do what we do. Why it matters. And then we share it. Because the world needs what God is doing in your heart.

Missing Mugs, Dr Pepper & Pizza

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My flat mate has just returned from a month in his native Germany, and you can tell: toiletries strewn across the bathroom, bowls and mugs MIA, Dr Pepper and pizza lying around the kitchen.

I like everything to have a place. Cosmetic products neatly spaced on the bathroom shelf. Dr Pepper and cereal boxes stowed away in cupboards.

My life’s like that, too. Everything has its place. Hurt goes here; instinct here; logic here. Shame and anger, well I hide them so deep not even I know where they are stowed.

Pity it doesn’t work that way. Life is messy.

Gloriously messy.

I’m fighting to unshackle my emotions. They’ve been kept buried for so long, most of the time I don’t even recognise them. I’ve lived a long time in logic, in my head. But that’s no way to live, to really live. Fear and hurt and embarrassment and joy and love… they all have a role to play.

The mess helps us know we are alive.

Maybe I know this deep down. I like order, but when my flatmate was gone? Books strewn across the living room table; dishes stacking up for days on end in the kitchen.

Maybe I’ve known all along.

Welcome to the mess.

2010 In The Rearviewmirror

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It’s that time of year again: turkeys, over-indulgence, reflection, rest, crackers, fireworks…

As I read back through this years blog archives, I found some words I’d all but forgotten about, but that God clearly hadn’t:

“I don’t really have any specific resolutions (though if I did they’d probably echo my buddy Chris)
for this year, or decade, but I know I want it to be one where I continue to push myself out of my
comfort zones. I want to be a part of something bigger than myself.”

How true that turned out to be. 2010 has been the most difficult year of my life. Yet I’m glad; I’m glad that I am moving forward even if that has meant going back, and going through seasons of pain.

Thought I’d share a few highlights of 2010.

-> Photographing some good friends weddings
-> Getting to know someone who has quickly become my best friend
-> Photographing Belfast from the top of the Obel Tower
-> Facing fears and taking steps towards healing and wholeness
-> Alton Towers roadtrip
-> Being loved & valued by my Geek Summit community
-> Tell It In Colour, and Jude’s friendship
-> Being a part of the Green Pasture’s family, however briefly

How about you? What has marked 2010 for you?

This Place, These Experiences

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A few weeks ago, I wrote this post about my experiences, good and bad, growing up in Northern Ireland. It sparked a few interesting conversations, and I guess I felt that it deserved a bit of a follow up.

Maybe it was my fault for writing in to vague & generic a tone. I don’t mean to paint N.I. with such broad strokes… for all it’s size, it is an incredibly diverse little country.

My post was written from a deeply personal perspective; shaped by my experiences growing up there. Others have had completely different experiences, no less valid.

The post was coming from a place of truly grappling with my past for the first time; with being ready to start to face the fears and hurts I carry from it, as well as the joys.

Those experiences I wrote of come from a particular set of circumstances.

It comes from growing up in the D.U.P. heartland, “Ulster Says Never” area.

It comes from watching a friend be run out of her home because she was the “wrong” religion for the village.

It comes from a lack of space to question.

It comes from attending 5 funerals by the age of 23, only one of which was for someone above the age of 30.

Those are a few of the things that have shaped, moulded, and marked me. They are (some of) what I wrestle with in my dark nights. So, please forgive me if my previous post was too broad-sweeping and perhaps not quite honest enough. It’s all a learning curve, right?

I Wouldn’t Start From Here

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I have a confession: I am Northern Irish.

There it is.
That thing I have run so hard from. Tried to hide. Been a little bit disappointed about.

I spent the first 18 years of my life growing up in a land full of blessing and heartache.
And I’ve spent the last 5 years running away from it.

Growing up in Northern Ireland can leave you with a bit of an identity crisis if you’re not careful. Every decision aligns you one way or another, politically and religiously. It’s easy to get a little bit lost in the maze of politics, religions, ethics, scandals, and everything else.

But it’s also a place full of beauty; full of God breaking out and doing new things.
Like my friend Jude, and her dream: Tell It In Colour. Stories of redemption and hope in a land saturated with bad stories, dull stories, colourless stories.

I have so much affection for the little country, but I like to keep it at a distance.

More and more, I am coming to a realisation that I must accept the past, accept the places I have been, the experiences I have lived.

There’s an old story of a man asking for directions, for the best route to a specific location, only to be told, “Well, I wouldn’t start from here!”

That’s so often been how I feel about being Northern Irish. It’s felt like a handicap. Like something to be overcome. Like I shouldn’t start from here.

But I have started from here.
Northern Ireland is the context God placed me in, got me started in.

For
a
reason.

Now, I am starting to look for ways to see it as a blessing.
It’s my heritage.
It’s where I’m from.
It’s shaped me in more ways that I can even begin to imagine.

And not all of those are bad.

* Please don’t mishear me. I love NI. I just didn’t love growing up there. And I’m trying to find the good stuff in it now, and not run away from it. I’ve done that for too long.

** Also, this post has been deeply shaped by a blog post from Blaine, a conversation with Vicky, and my counsellor, Martin.