Wednesday, December 22, 2010


So Juli was doing a little shopping for a Christmas party we're throwing for our friends and neighbors and she discovered that she was 1 euro 76 short at the till (checkout).  The lady running the till told her, "Nah, sure you're fine.  I'll be working here 'till 2, just bring in the difference later."  When's the last time you were given an IOU at your local supermarket?  Can't remember?  I can't either.

Ireland's known for its friendliness and hospitality and this type of incident isn't uncommon here.  It's nice to know that in a world full of mistrust, cynicism, and dishonesty, that there are still a few people who will give you the benefit of the doubt.  By the way, while running a few errands in the village, I popped into Supervalu and paid the lady the difference.  I thought we better live up to our end of the bargain too! - Shay    

Monday, December 20, 2010

Baby Steps

If you've never seen the film What About Bob starring Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfus you need to repent.  In the movie, Murray plays a charming, but troubled man with all sorts of mental hangups.  Dreyfus plays his shrink and some very funny stuff ensues, so if you've yet to see it you're in for some laughs.  One recurring theme that keeps coming up in the movie is the idea of taking your life one small baby step at a time.  Although the movie's not meant to be deep or profound and though the dominant theme of the story is more about the importance of relationships, the concept of "baby steps" isn't a bad one.

Ashlyn took 10 to 15 baby steps this past week.  She's still not confident to venture too far from the support of the couch or coffee table, but she's making progress, slowly but surely.  Most of the time when she's taken 5 or 6 steps, she'll pause, realize like Peter on the Sea of Galilee that her steps don't seem safe, and then plop down on her backside.  We're not at all worried that she won't yet trust herself to take more steps, even though its obvious she can.  We're content to let her take those baby steps one at a time, on her own time.     

Increasingly in our world people have grown impatient with baby steps.  We don't want it now, we wanted it 10 minutes ago.  Yet so many things in life take time and its important not to judge the end product by the work in progress.  My life is still a work in progress and I'm thankful that God has given me the grace to take one small step at a time. - Shay

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


Living in a foreign country teaches you a thing or two.  One of the things that I discovered when I lived in England over a decade ago is that sports are universal.  Not necessarily that every nation and culture plays the same sports, but that all nations and cultures play sports.  The rules may be different, but the passion is the same.  Most of the time in Nottingham when I sat next to someone on a bus, I could easily begin a conversation by simply asking the person if they were a football fan and if so, which club did they support.  It was a great question because even if they hated football (soccer), they could tell you which sport they followed or that they were a part of that small global minority which despises sports of all kinds.  No matter what the answer, a conversation was created.

Ireland shares a lot in common with its larger neighbor to the east, including sports (soccer, rugby), but they also have their own unique games (Gaelic football, hurling).  I've maintained my love for soccer since my days in England, but I've not yet gained a passion for the specifically Irish games.  At this point, I don't think that I will either.  I've only so much energy that I can devote to following teams and with the European soccer seasons lasting from August to May and with the bits and pieces that I'm able to watch of American sports like basketball and football, I'm maxed out on my sports watching capacity.  Sports may be universal, but they're far from being everything, or even the most important thing.  I've learned enough about Gaelic football and hurling that I can at least ask a few questions if I discover that my bus or dart mate is more of an Irish sports fan than a soccer supporter.

What's most interesting about the universality of sports is that there is a universality to people.  Whether we were born in Dublin or Austin, Nairobi or Dubai, we all have similar dreams, similar fears, and similar needs.  We all bleed when we're cut and we all cry when we lose a loved one (or an important sports match).  Parents love their children and children misunderstand their parents in every language and culture on earth.  Politics are just as polarizing in your neighborhood as in every other place on this planet.  Granted, there are certainly a lot of differences between people and places (thankfully, that's what makes travel exciting), but in our central core, we're an awful lot more alike than we might sometimes like to think.  So, when the writer of the gospel of Luke traces Jesus' ancestry all the way back to Adam, he's making more than a statement about pedigree, he's making a statement about universality.  The gospel is for everyone.  Every man and woman in all places throughout all time needs the saving grace of God that comes only through Jesus Christ.  And its through Jesus Christ that I believe our ever shrinking world will finally come together as one. - Shay             

Monday, December 6, 2010

Christmas Comes Early

Well I don't know if we'll have a white Christmas in Dublin, but we very nearly had a white Thanksgiving (by the way, the Irish don't celebrate Thanksgiving, but Americans living here do!).  Two days after Thanksgiving we awoke to a snow covered ground.  I thought to my self, "this will thaw by Monday".  It's Monday, 9 days later and we still have snow everywhere.  Of course we've had several more snowstorms since then and with the sub-zero temperatures, this blanket of flakes will take a while to melt.  Who knows, it may be that we have a white Christmas simply because the stuff we already have on the ground may decide to stick around until then!

One of the added benefits to all of the wintry weather is that the media has been slightly distracted from all of the reports on the Irish financial mess.  Only slightly distracted.  The headlines are still focused on the economy, the budget, and the bailout, but at least some of the pages in between the front page and the sports section have a bit of variety now.  We'll see how long that lasts.  Hopefully at least as long as the snow. - Shay

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preserved by Poverty

Rothenburg, Germany founded in 1170 was strategically located on the Tauber River on the main trade routes from Paris to Prague and Scandinavia to Rome.  Not only was the city situated in a prime geographic location, it also benefited from rich farm and pastureland surrounding its well protected walled environs.  In addition to this, the Holy Roman Emperors granted the city the freedom to print its own currency and dictate its local affairs.  To say that the city was wealthy would have been an understatement.

But in 1631 a different picture began to be painted.  During the 30 Years War (1618-1648) a cold, wet, and hungry Catholic army passing by decided to make the Protestant city it's home for the winter (maybe being on two major trade routes wasn't such a good thing after all!).  The Catholic occupation lasted longer than expected and destroyed the local economy.  For the next 250 years Rothenburg was preserved by poverty.  While other German cities changed, Rothenburg was unable to modernize, so the old houses, buildings, and the cobblestone streets remained the same.

Around the turn of the 20th century Rothenburg became the haunt of poets and artists and they began to promote the medieval charm of the small but scenic city.  A brisk tourist trade was started and the town began to rebuild the wealth of its glorious past.  But in 1945 though the city was insignificant to the German war effort, 40% of Rothenburg was bombed by American forces trying to break German morale.  Fortunately, most of the damage was away from the oldest and most beautiful parts of the village.  Further carnage was avoided when Assistant Secretary of War John McCloy, whose mother had visited Rothenburg before the war, made sure that no artillery was used against the city.  McCloy's restraint and foresight paved the way for the tourist trade to continue to bless the people of Rothenburg into the 21st century.

November 20-23, 2010, the Smiths and some of our Dublin friends joined church workers from across Europe along those ancient trade routes to the city on the Tauber and enjoyed its sights and sounds as well as some good Christian fellowship at the Euro American Family Retreat. - Shay       

Monday, November 15, 2010

Das Land meiner Forbearers

Like most Americans, I'm a mutt.  When I fill out the ethnicity section on a form, I'm always disappointed to discover that there's not a box for Danish, Scots-Irish, German, Welsh, French, Native American.  But rather than checking "other" and writing in the above, I usually just settle for white or Caucasian.  Of course, I may be something else as well, that's just the ancestry that I'm aware of.  One of these days I hope to find out what other kinds of DNA may be floating around in my gene pool.  In the meantime I have the goal of at least visiting the known homelands of my forefathers and mothers.  So far I can check off the USA (that was easy), Scotland, Ireland, Wales, and France (if you count hanging out in the Paris airport for a couple of hours - we did actually walk out on the tarmac before boarding our plane).  After this week, I'll be able to check off Germany too. 

The Hutson, Karnes, and Smith families are headed down to Rothenburg for the Euro-American church retreat.  Phil Jackson of Missions Resource Network will be speaking, while Keith Lancaster will be leading our time in worship.  I doubt I'll be seeing many sights that my ancestors would have seen as Jakobsweiler where they were from is over an hour and 1/2 from where we'll be, but it will be nice to be in the vicinity anyway.  Then in 2011, I can start thinking about heading to Denmark, the birthplace of my grandmother, Augusta Jensen.  Six down, one to go! - Shay

Monday, November 8, 2010

Come on Arsenal!

I was at the Raheny Inn yesterday watching Arsenal lose 1 nil to Newcastle United.  I've been an Arsenal supporter for 11 years now, but because the majority of those years were spent in Austin, TX, I haven't been able to keep up with the Gunners as much as I would have liked.  It's been great to be back on this side of the pond where I can actually watch most of the matches that the north London squad contests.  Football (soccer) supporters are some of the most passionate fans in all of sports.  They take fanaticism to a whole new level.  At every match, regardless of the score, the fans are singing, shouting, and slagging the opposition's players and supporters alike.  They don't just watch their team play, they identify with their club.  Part, if not much of their identity is tied directly to their team of choice.  They rejoice when the team is playing well and they mourn when it's not.     

So as I watched Arsenal suffer through a frustrating afternoon against a team that they had just recently hammered 4 nil, I couldn't help but listen to some of the other Arsenal supporters both encourage (as much as you can through a television set) and criticize (let's just say their language wasn't 100% G rated) the boys in red.  I was reminded that supporters sometimes criticize and question their team or their manager, but they never quit being fans. 

Isn't it great that God Almighty isn't just our creator and king, but also our biggest fan.  God wants nothing more than for each one of us to be rescued from our lives of sin.  He is so much the supporter of humanity, that he didn't just watch our match from the sideline, but he took on our jersey and entered into the game on our behalf through his Son Jesus Christ.  On top of the eternal provision that he's made for each one of us, he also gives us every good thing in this life for our enjoyment (1 Timothy 6:17).  Even when we stink up the pitch, he doesn't bale on us or switch sides at the last minute, he cheers us on and gives us the encouragement we need to pick ourselves up and keeping kicking the ball until it eventually finds the net.  God's the kind of supporter who will shout for his team just as enthusiastically in defeat as in victory.  And with his backing, we can be sure that we will eventually win the ultimate prize.  For those of us in Christ, the only way we'll lose is if we give up on God and quit the team.

So for us Arsenal supporters who missed a golden chance to close the gap on Chelsea yesterday, and even more so, for us Texas Longhorn fans who have forgotten what's it's like to win a game, keep shouting "Come on Arsenal" and "Hook'em Horns" regardless of the numbers on the scoreboard!  After all, that's what fans are for. - Shay  

Monday, November 1, 2010

Bonfires, Fireworks, and The Usual

Believe it or not, Halloween was invented in Ireland.  It was originally a pagan festival called Samhain and it was celebrated to mark the death of summer and the birth of winter.  As the leaves fell to the earth and much of the plant life went dormant, the ancient Irish believed that the separation between the realm of the living and the dead was precariously thin.  So, they did what they've always done well, they threw a party!  The costumes were meant to scare off the spirits and demons and the loss of the summer was, surprisingly, celebrated.  Hey, if its turning darker and colder, you might as well enjoy it.

Like so many pagan holy days, Halloween was eventually "christianized" (I use this term deliberately with an under case "c").  And like so many Christian holy days (holidays), it was eventually commercialized by Americans and shipped back to the old world for their consumption.  So last night as I walked to Scott and Denise Karnes' place in Baldoyle for our worship and communion, I was greeted by the usual sights and sounds of October 31; children dressed up like goblins and superheroes running, laughing, and trick-or-treating their way through the neighborhood.  Well, I might add that I was also bombarded with the sounds of fireworks going off and the sights of bonfires burning on the community greens.  Leave it to the Irish to take a party and make it even better than before! - Shay  

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Every Day is a Brand New Adventure

Time flies when you're having fun, sleeping, or welcoming your first child into the world (it should be noted that it's impossible to combine those last two).  About 372 days ago, Ashlyn Nicole Smith took her first breath of fresh Austin air and she's been breathing, crying, eating, sleeping, and doing other necessary bodily functions ever since.  It's been the slowest year of her life and the fastest of her parents'.

As I type this blog Ashlyn's crawling towards me on our hard wood floor, singing, screeching, and doing her "excited pant".  I don't know what's got her worked up, but it sure sounds like fun!  Things are so simple for little children.  It doesn't take much to make them happy and they forget almost instantly the things that make them sad.  For a little baby, every day is brand new adventure.  Their little minds are constantly at work discovering new sounds, sights, tastes, and touches.  The stuff that we take for granted are the very things that make life so exciting for a one year old. 

G.K. Chesterton once wrote, "A child kicks its legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged...It may be that He (God) has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."

As Ashlyn begins year number two, three, fourteen, thirty-four, and so on I hope that she'll hold onto her abounding vitality and ever seek to imitate the youth of our heavenly Father. - Shay   

Monday, October 18, 2010

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men...

I'm a planner and always have been.  Well, at least until this past weekend.  Thursday evening at our basketball training I went up for a shot, but came down with back spasms.  I watched the rest of the training session from the sideline and I feel like I've been on the sideline ever since.

Many of the plans I had for the weekend and the next few days have been altered by my minor injury.  Instead of meeting Craig Hutson, Eric Miller, and Scott Karnes for Bible study and prayer on Friday morning, I was resting at home and setting up a physio appointment for the afternoon.  Instead of helping out at the basketball academy in Ballymun on Saturday morning, I was sitting on the sofa with a hot water bottle on my back.  Sunday afternoon was absolutely gorgeous in Dublin, but I wasn't outside enjoying it.  Today's not so beautiful, but I'm still not doing what I hoped I'd be doing.

On Saturday evening, Juli commented to me, "I like the fact that you're not able to complete all of your tasks right now.  I like having you around instead of your plans."  Her words are a good reminder that who we are is far more important than what we do.  The Scottish poet Robert Burns famously wrote, "The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men, Gang aft agley."  Or, if you prefer English to the Scots dialect, "The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry."  Proverbs 16:9 states, " In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps."

As we plan our course in Dublin, it's good to know that God is here with us to keep our steps in line with his will.  We would rather follow God where he's leading us than try to embark on some man-made adventure without his blessing.  If it takes a few back spasms to remember this, than so be it. - Shay        

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Cliff Walks and Sea Swims

Last night I caught a lift home from one of my basketball teammates.  In the course of our conversation, he told me that he loves to swim and dive in the sea and he invited me to join him sometime.  He mentioned a place he likes to swim called Howth (a peninsula on the north side of Dublin Bay).  Since his grandfather lived out on Howth, it resonates with him in a special way.  I mentioned to him that I had been out to Howth on multiple occasions and that I had done some of the cliff walks overlooking the sea.  He was pleasantly surprised that I've already taken advantage of being so close to such a scenic location.  He's amazed that so many north Dubliners live just down the road from Howth and yet have never done the cliff walks.  He'll take some of his friends and neighbors out from time to time to swim in the sea or to hike around the peninsula and they always exclaim that they never knew how beautiful their own part of Ireland could be.

Isn't it amazing how much we take for granted?  People can live in some of the most beautiful locations on earth and never stop to appreciate God's creation.  It's often the tourists who take advantage of the most culturally relevant offerings of a city.  The locals never seem to find the time.  Christians are sometimes so busy waiting on life in the age to come that they miss out on what God has available to them in this life and in this age.  I wonder if when we begin that new life in the new creation, we'll look back in amazement at how much of the new age we could have already experienced back in the old one. - Shay 

Monday, September 6, 2010

Where'd the summer go?

Last week we had nothing but sunshine, cool sea breezes off of Dublin Bay, and the occasional cloud of the fluffy marshmallow variety.  The last three days we've had gray skies, chilling gusts of sea soaked wind, and the perpetual drip, drip, drip of rainwater falling on our apartment balcony.  Hey, you don't move to Ireland to get a suntan!  And you're not even guaranteed a summer at all some years, but thankfully we had a beautiful one in 2010.  The autumn equinox may not officially occur for another two weeks, but for all practical purposes, I think this summer's gone.  At least we had one though!

The Smith family couldn't have picked a better summer to finally move to Dublin.  We were able to get into a great apartment in the village of Raheny on the north side of the city where we're literally right across the road from St. Anne's Park (the second largest park in Dublin) and we're only minutes from the beach on North Bull Island in Dublin Bay.  We're just down the road from multiple shops, restaurants, the DART (Dublin Area Rapid Transit), and schools.  And our teammates, Craig and Merschon Hutson are due to move into another apartment complex in Raheny later this week.  Our other teammates Scott and Denise Karnes (and their two children, Davis & Bailey) are only minutes away in Baldoyle.  When Jo finally gets here, maybe she can split the difference between us all!

The best thing about getting to Dublin at this point in time has been the way God has provided us with multiple opportunities to begin to get to know neighbors and to be involved in the community.  I've had a chance to work at two summer camps (Camp Shamrock in Northern Ireland, as well as a sports camp in the Ballymun region of Dublin) and to play on two different basketball teams.  Juli's joined a softball team and we're both exploring several other community service and volunteer opportunities.  Our teammates are also involved in a variety of activities and we're trying to support each other and overlap in our work together.

What will the autumn bring?  It's sure to bring some cooler weather and some damp days, but beyond the temperature shift, we're sure that this change in season will simply bring more and more opportunities to continue to live as citizen's of Christ's kingdom near St. Anne's and the sea. - Shay