The Writer

Attention fellow bloggers! Have you ever been caught in the creative flow, hunched over your keyboard, and the thoughts and ideas and have just flowed effortlessly from your mind and onto the screen via your frenetic fingers?

This has been happening me more and more lately. To the extent where it has felt like an out of body experience where I have been looking down at myself typing. I am writing but they are not my words. I am merely the conduit.

I experienced something similar when I was praying the other evening. Normally it feels like a one way conversation but on this occasion the following words seared across my mind like a streak of lightning – ‘You need to reposition your life.’ I was praying but they were not my words. It doesn’t happen me very often but I truly believe it was God speaking to me. They were his words. I was merely  the conduit.


I have been mulling over the above all week. I have been blogging for around six weeks now and have been so encouraged by the positive feedback I have received. I want to write and I want God to use me to speak to others via this medium. I have been excited but impatient. I want him to floor the accelerator, to take me to the next level. To unravel his plan for me, reveal his vision for my life.

As I was walking to work this morning I decided to take a shortcut through a shopping centre (mall). Playing over the tannoy was an Ellie Goulding song, one of my favourite female musicians. The song was ‘The Writer’ and these were the lyrics:

You change your position and you are changing me….But I’ve got a plan. Why don’t you be the artist, and make me out of clay? Why don’t you be the writer and decide the words I say.’

The words hit me like a hammer and two passages of Scripture immediately flooded into my mind.

Psalm 45:1 – ‘My heart is stirred by a noble theme as I recite my verses for the king; my tongue is the pen of a skilful writer.’

Isaiah 64:8 – ‘Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.’

I have an awful memory but Fionnuala reminded me this evening that some years ago a very wise and loving Christian lady gave me a prophetic word that one day I would write and interpret the Bible in a new way for people. I want to start doing that via this blog.

Use me Lord. Like a potter uses clay and a writer uses the written word. I am a lump of clay. Mould and shape me to obey your will. I am a blank page. Fill me with words and stories which glorify your name. 

Reposition my life to stride along your path and not my own. Lead me to the light. Lead me beyond these earthly shackles. Lead me to the next dimension.

Does God speak to you through music?

Have you ever felt like someone else was writing for you?

When did you last receive a prophetic word?

Maggie’s Story

Every morning my commute to work involves a 15 minute walk from the train station, through Belfast city centre, to my office. En route I pass a lot of homeless people and I have been trying to build up relationships with them rather than just throwing a few coins their way, mumbling some throwaway words, and then hurrying away back to my own safe, comfortable life.

I found it a bit intimidating at first. What if they told me to go away (or more colourful words to that effect) regarding me as just another clueless do gooder who knew nothing of their real needs and situation. 

However, pretty much universally, my tentative, nervous approaches have been met with gratitude. Despite their often dishevelled appearance they could teach many of the well dressed commuters that rush past them a thing or two about manners and dignity.

One of tbem is called Maggie. She is a waif of a girl. She has told me she is twenty years old but looks about twelve. Most days you can see her around the city centre huddled in a doorway trying to keep warm. She is totally vulnerable and I shudder to think what experiences she has been through while living on the streets. Sometimes I see her in the company of much older men and my heart breaks for her.

Don’t get me wrong, she is no angel. There are times I speak to her and she can be distant and uncommunicative, rude even. She has issues with drugs and sometimes I find her glassy eyed and monosyllabic. I suspect she lies to me quite a lot but beneath it all is a lost soul with a good heart just waiting to be heard and helped. There but for the grace of God….

Most of the time, however, she is bright, energetic yet proud and humble. I have to force her to take money, food or cigarettes from me. ‘You do enough she says. You’re my mate. I don’t like taking stuff from you.’ When she is lucid she is witty, intelligent and polite. When she is lucid….

The one thing she can never get right is my name. It has become something of a running joke between the two of us. ‘What’s my name?’ I will ask. ‘Paul’ she will confidently reply before slapping her forehead with the palm of her hand upon realising her mistake. ‘I mean Stephen’ followed by profuse apologies.

I laugh now but I didn’t in the early days of our friendship. It annoyed ME. Here I was giving my time and money to someone who couldn’t even be bothered to remember MY name (never mind she couldn’t probably remember her own name when she was high). How ungrateful.

Then I realised one day that it wasn’t about me. It was about HER. Helping her, loving her and revealing the love of God through my actions. Once more I needed to crucify my former self; feeding her with love would simultaneously starve my ego.

Maggie doesn’t go to church. She doesn’t have a Bible. But from my conversations with her I know she has a faith. It is a brittle, fluctuating faith but it is still there, flickering like a candle in a drafty room. If I can in any way strengthen that weak flame in her then I am doing my job. The relationship between Maggie and me is only a conduit to a much more important relationship between Jesus and her.

So it doesn’t matter if she calls me Stephen, Seth or Serendipity. It’s irrelevant. What matters is that she remembers the name of Jesus. At the end of the day, his is the only name that matters.

In order to protect her identity Maggie is not her real name. But please include her in your prayers today. Pray for her protection, provision and salvation.

Please consider helping a homeless person today on your daily commute. A hot drink, a few coins or a friendly word could mean everything to them.

Psalm 112:1

I opened my Bible at Psalm 112 this morning. To be honest it’s been a while since I have read it and I was glad it was a Psalm. I love the Psalms especially those written by King David. They are honest and raw. Brilliant, brooding and bloody. Warts and all. They are a safe place for me. I am with David in a cave as he pours his heart and soul out. 

He writes desperately and deeply. They are poetry to me, soothing and comforting. Like cough medicine sliding down a ravaged throat or a duvet wrapped round you on a cold winter’s morning. They heal me, restore me and bring me back to life. Armed with such words I feel stronger and ready to step out of the cave into the harsh reality of life. Armed with the truth of the written Word.

The verse I got stuck on this morning was Psalm 112:1.

‘Praise the Lord. Blessed are those who fear the Lord, who find great delight in his commands.’ (NIV)


It’s simplicity is it’s beauty. Thank you God. The word ‘fear’ is better translated as ‘respect.’ Just as you would respect your mother or father, or a trusted friend, so you should respect God. He knows best for you. He has plans for you. Great plans. Respect him and trust him. Even if it makes no sense at the time. Even if your emotions tell you to do otherwise. Emotions are fleeting and dictated by shifting circumstances. His Word is permanent and timeless. Immovable.

The psalmist asks us to find great delight. The onus is on us to draw near to God, to actively seek him out. God does not force us to, he is not a dictator. Forced love is not real love. That is why evil exists. Because he gave us the freewill to choose. To seek out and find the true path or to turn our backs on him and revel in the ways of the world. The road that leads nowhere but the grave.

He commands us but again our decision to follow him is voluntary. But if we do we will experience ‘great delight’, a satisfaction that will outlive any temporary pleasure of the flesh. If we choose to follow Jesus we cannot go wrong. It won’t be easy, it won’t be pretty and it will cost you. But ultimately it will lead to life. God’s Word ultimately unlocks the door to freedom. No more low self-esteem; no more grabbing onto addictive pursuits that suck you dry; no more worshipping at the idols of destructive relationships and meaningless materialism. 

One book. One verse. One way to live.

When did you last read the Bible?

What verse spoke to you?

What is your favourite Psalm?

Dawn Of The Dead

Tomorrow morning our son, Adam, is going on an end of term school trip to Scotland. He is super excited about this and has been looking forward to it for weeks. I am not quite so excited as (a) I had to pay for the trip (b) he announced he would need £60-80 ‘spending money’ but this was okay as the ‘spoilt kids’ were taking £150 and (c) I will have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to drive him to his pick up point.

After that I have five hours to kill before work. What to do? What to do? Go back to bed? Unlikely that I will get back to sleep and, even if I did, I would probably wake up more shattered than before. Go for a run? I hate early morning runs and always struggle on them. Plus I haven’t been feeling that well this week so my running mojo has been somewhat lacking.

Go on Amazon and buy some new books for my Kindle Fire? Tempting if it wasn’t for the fact that our son has already bankrupted me of late through semi-formals, school trips, new school uniform and rugby kit etc. The Bank of Dad is down to its last few pennies make no mistake.

Spring clean the house from top to bottom and prepare breakfast in bed for my wonderful wife? This has potential but runs the risk of burning the house down or waking Fionnuala up early as I blunder around the kitchen banging cupboard doors and dropping saucepans on the floor.


So many options coursed through my head. Then it hit me. Never once had I included God in my enforced early start. Why wasn’t I starting my day in his company? When was the last time I started the day studying his Word, praying the million prayers I should be praying or just quietly meditating in his presence?

We are so used to living our noisy, chaotic lives at a million miles an hour that when we do get cursed (I mean blessed) with a dawn start we immediately look for ways to fill the time with additional clutter as opposed to making the most of the opportunity and spending time with God.

Jesus often got up early to spend time with his Father in Heaven. And he had the busiest days imaginable. So why can’t we follow his example. Now that the brighter mornings are here (at least where we live) it isn’t much to ask. He wants to spend time with us. And it will be time well spent.

Anyway I’m off to bed. I have an early start tomorrow 😳

Mark 1:35 – ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’

Are you a morning person? Or do you fail to function as a human being until after noon?

When do you spend your quiet time with God?

What is the first thing you normally do when you get up?

The Extra Mile

Regular readers of this blog may have noticed the recurring theme of my love of ice cream. This has increased significantly in recent years as my marathon training has justified (in my mind anyway) my need to consume copious amounts of the stuff while binge watching Netflix. Currently Jessica Jones.

I’m not fussy when it comes to my ice cream but Fionnuala is. Her favourite  is ‘Pooh Bear’ honeycomb flavour. And I have to admit she has got me hooked on it. To the extent that I am digging into a litre tub of it as I write this. So excuse the sticky fingers please. 

The shop in our village stocks Morelli’s ice cream, a very famous brand in Northern Ireland. And they boast a variety of flavours. Including ‘Pooh Bear’. And very nice it is too. However my wife has high standards when it comes to her taste buds and insists on eating only Maud’s ‘Pooh Bear’ ice cream. No exceptions. And don’t try to fool her for she will find out, hunt you down and kill you.

This involves me driving to the next village to purchase the aforementioned dessert. Which involves driving an extra mile no less. And then driving back again. This huge outlay of time and effort on my part is outweighed by the fact that I can’t really complain. Bringing Fionnuala back the wrong ice cream would be the equivalent of returning to me with Pepsi Max when I asked for Diet Coke. Divorce proceedings would be imminent.


So I’m quite happy to go the extra mile where ice cream is concerned. But when was the last time we went the extra mile to help a friend, neighbour or for that matter total stranger? When was the last time we went the extra mile to help out at our church when we would rather just turn up every Sunday and go through the motions? When was the last time we went the extra mile and stepped out of our comfort zone to talk about our faith and advance the Kingdom of God.

It’s easy for us to go the extra mile when it suits us and serves our own selfish needs. Not so much when it clashes with our sinful, default instincts. Jesus went the extra mile for us. To the Cross. Punched, kicked and spat upon every step of the way. Flayed to the bone and beaten to an unrecognisable pulp. He didn’t have to. He asked God was there another way. But he did it. To rectify the complete mess we had made, were making and would make of our lives.

I didn’t run today so I didn’t really deserve ice cream. But I went the extra mile for it anyway. I didn’t deserve what Jesus achieved at the Cross. But he went the extra mile for me. The least I can do is spend the rest of my life going the extra mile for him and for others. 

Or even better. Two miles.

Matthew 5:41 – ‘If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles.’

How far have you ever driven for your favourite treat?

How could you go the extra mile for someone today?

Just Giving

In my last blog I wrote about our efforts to raise funds to buy a new wheelchair for our daughter, Hannah. As part of that process Fionnuala (the technically gifted one in our marriage) has set up a ‘Just Giving’ account so that people can donate online at the touch of a button.

It’s so simple. And the money has already started to come in. Every time a donation is made Fionnuala’s phone gets a notification and we excitedly look at the screen to see who has donated. From close friends and family to complete strangers. We have been humbled by the generosity of people.

An hour ago some friends who we haven’t seen in many months turned up at our front door and made a generous and totally unexpected donation. They had been driving through our village and felt led to bless Hannah with the gift. My gob was well and truly smacked. 


Such generosity is truly inspiring. It fills me with hope and positivity for the future. Every donation, no matter how small, is a little raindrop of love on our daughters head who, herself, loves her family and friends 24/7 with a passion. As I write this she is her room singing Ariana and Adele songs live on Facebook to her adoring public. A miraculous step from the sad and lonely girl we were fretting over 24 hours ago. Filled with hope again of a future outside of the four walls of her bedroom. Thanks to the kindness of others.

Just Giving is a brilliant concept. But there is no such thing as ‘just’ giving. By giving we are spreading love and light into a broken world full of broken people. Giving a homeless person a meal or a hot drink. Giving a lonely, elderly relative a phone call. Giving a friend in need your time and undivided attention. 

You are not ‘just’ giving. You are going on the front foot and setting down foundations for a better world. A world where a little girl can sing and dance today, where yesterday she was heartbroken. Living your life in a way that impacts on others and breaks down the walls of selfishness and indifference. Bringing a little bit of Heaven to earth. 

Generosity is a blessing. A gift that can change lives and build kingdoms. It’s not just a one-off act. It should be a lifestyle choice. It’s not just giving. It’s living.

We need to live to give. 

Proverbs 3:27 – ‘Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.’


Don’t Give Up 

For what seems like forever we have been battling with our local health trust to acquire a new wheelchair for our daughter,  Hannah. Hannah is 13 years old and was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She has outgrown her current wheelchair to the extent that it is now dangerous for her to use. She has been out of school for six weeks (and counting) and is largely housebound as we fight an ongoing bureaucratic nightmare with the medical authorities to obtain the essential equipment Hannah needs to live her life.

It’s got to the point now where he have decided to raise the funds ourselves to buy the chair that Hannah needs. Kids with disabilities should be at the very heart of our society. They should be loved, cherished and protected, not exiled to the fringes and seen as an inconvenience by some medical professionals. They deserve better.

As do their carers. I will have known my wife Fionnuala for 21 years this summer. She is an utterly devoted wife and mother. To the extent where she has given up her career to care for Hannah and our other two kids. The problems with Hannah’s chair have had a devastating ripple effect on the family. Fionnuala has been affected most of all. She cannot leave Hannah’s side so is effectively housebound herself. 

Every day for her is ‘Groundhog Day.’ A mind numbing routine of housework and hospital appointments. She has a heart as big as a house but it is breaking at present. Breaking for her daughter but also breaking for the life she had which now seems so tantalisingly out of her reach. A year ago she had an important job and had a hectic social life. She was very involved in our church.

Now that she has had to give up her job and we have decided to step down from church life the phone has stopped ringing. She gives so much and expects so little in return. Yet people forget. People disappoint. And she sits and looks out the window as life appears to pass her by. 


It’s easy, at times like this, to think that God has forgotten as well. When the loneliness is overwhelming and the obstacles seem insurmountable. We have prayed long and hard about this. Fionnuala has cried, pleaded and screamed. She will fight tooth and nail for her family. She always puts the needs of others before her own.

They say an untested faith is a useless faith. Well our faith is being sorely tested of late. My wife is a proud woman. An intelligent woman. And a patient and forgiving woman (she did marry me after all!). I know this is just a season of her life and that God has incredible plans for her. Just around the corner. But we round the corners of our lives in his time and not our own.

I feel Fionnuala’s corner is close, very close. But that is little consolation to someone who feels at the bottom of the pit, at the end of their tether. Words are cheap. As meaningless as chasing the wind. But prayer is powerful. And just as light always overcomes darkness so love will always conquer despair.

Fionnuala as you read this I pray for you. That your light keeps burning, that your flame never goes out. You are deeply loved and the heartbeat of this family. We are nothing without you. You are strong and beautiful, a warrior. A Daughter of the living King. My best friend, my earthly salvation, my number one fan. Yes cry, scream, swear and shout.

But do not give up. As I will never give up on you and us.

Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.’

D.N.F.

On Wednesday evening I ran my second half marathon of the year through the streets of Lisburn, joining 6500 other runners for the annual event. I was quite nervous before the start for a variety of reasons. It was the first race I had taken part in since my recent foot injury so I was apprehensive as to how that would hold up. 

Secondly it was probably the hottest evening of the year. Now when I say hot, I mean by Northern Irish standards where we regularly have four seasons in one day and summer usually consists of a sunny Tuesday afternoon in June. So when I say the thermometer was hitting 25C (77F) at the start many of you may turn up your noses in disdain.

But to your average Northern Irish male this equates to Death Valley-esque conditions. So as I set off into the arid desert that is Lisburn and surrounding countryside I kept repeating the same word over and over in my head – hydrate, hydrate, hydrate.

Now as all you ladies know us men struggle to carry out two tasks simultaneously. And running and drinking water is no exception. First there is the approach to the water station where you have to slow down and time your approach in order to reach out and take the polystyrene cup from the volunteer while, at the same time, avoiding other thirsty runners and gangs of kids wanting to high five you.

Next is the mechanics of getting the cup to your lips. I was taught the old runner’s trick of pinching the cup into a funnel which certainly works. But I still manage on a regular basis to miss my mouth, choke on the drink or stumble over discarded cups on the road as I exit the water station. 

It’s a veritable nightmare. Sometimes I just run past them without slowing down. But at Lisburn I made a point of taking on fluid at every available opportunity. No matter how awkward I looked in the process. The heat and humidity just seemed to increase with every passing mile. There was no breeze whatsoever and the cloud cover overhead just added to the draining conditions.

I finished in a decent time but upon crossing the line had to immediately sit down to avoid keeling over. My t shirt was soaking wet and for the next 48 hours I could not drink enough. I had completed the course but was seriously dehydrated. Had I not drank at every water station I’m pretty certain that the dreaded letters ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish) would have been against my name in the official records.


As Christians we need to constantly refuel as well. The race we run is long and arduous. We will face many obstacles and challenges along the way. But we have the best possible coach in Jesus who, via the Holy Spirit, is with us every step of the way; and who provides all the encouragement and replenishment we need.

Dehydration leads to pain, lack of focus, illness and ultimately death. You can easily collapse by the wayside or stumble down the wrong path. I have many times. Without prayer, study, worship and fellowship you will fail to finish the race. Run the race. Run it fast and strong. But also run it wisely. Don’t neglect rehydrating with living water at every opportunity.

Don’t be a DNF….

John 4:13-14 – ‘Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’

What is your favourite drink?

Have you ever been badly hydrated?

How do you spiritually refuel?

The Day I Met The Stark Sisters

I am a massive Game Of Thrones fan. I regard myself as a purist as I had read the books before the TV series took off and became such a worldwide hit. I grew up on a diet of J.R.R. Tolkien and was a proud member of the Dungeons & Dragons Society at school. All of the above contributed to the fact that I didn’t speak to a girl until I was eighteen. Yes I was a geek. But I was a happy geek.

The icing on the cake regarding Game Of Thrones (or GOT as us afficiandos like to call it) is that much of it is filmed in little old Northern Ireland. The Giants Causeway, Dunluce Castle and The Dark Hedges all suddenly became internationally recognisable as GOT film sets. And I would often take my lunchtime run past The Paint Studios near Belfast Docks in the slim hope of seeing one of the cast being whisked through the security gates for filming.

GOT cast spotting in Belfast city centre became something of a national pastime. Unconfirmed sightings regularly flooded Facebook in addition to photographs of the stars of the show in the most peculiar of settings. Brienne of Tarth playing pool with Ramsay Bolton  in Laverys Bar. Tyrion Lannister strolling down the Lisburn Road doing a bit of window shopping.

These were all small fry as far as I was concerned. I was Team Stark and the true jewel in the crown of any fanboy was a photograph with one of the Starks, the family whose fortunes and actions lay at the heart of the show. I scoured the streets every day for a glimpse of Sean Bean, Sophie Turner or Kit Harrington. But alas to no avail.

Until one day. I was wandering through the city centre on my lunch break when up ahead of me I saw a tall girl with flame red hair cutting through the crowds at speed. With her was a smaller girl with shorter, dark hair. They look just like Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams (Sansa and Arya Stark in the show) I mused to myself before it hit me like a rampaging rhino. It was Sophie Turner and Maisie Williams!

To cut a long story short I used my finely honed surveillance skills to follow them to a shopping centre where I cornered them in a jewellery store. I babbled a bit about how much I loved the show, before getting a photograph taken and tben floating back out of the shop on Cloud 9. They were both lovely by the way.

I spent the rest of the day phoning, texting and tweeting virtually everyone I knew to tell them my earth shattering news. My equally nerdy fans gushed and gasped with me but a number caused me great offence when they politely replied ‘Er…..Sophie and Maisie who?’

Had they been living under a rock I responded in disbelief? You don’t know who they are? I shook my head in pity at their ignorance and returned to gaping at my celebrity pic of the century.


Celebrity is a very fickle occupation. Today’s superstar is tomorrow’s z lister dependent on the mood of the public. Fame is equally subjective. My hero could mean very little to you and vice versa. The reverse happened to me earlier this week when I walked past a local rugby star who had been asked to give out the prizes at our daughter’s sports day. I only realised later when I saw his photo on Facebook surrounded by awestruck pupils. But to me he had been just some random guy on the street.

This made me think of Jesus. Even the most belligerent agnostic or atheist will agree that he has the most famous name in the world. Believers would fall to his feet in adoring worship were he to appear in our street today. Surely we would recognise him immediately? Heralded by trumpets and flashes of lightning? Long brown hair, beard and a robe right?

But Jesus appeared in many guises following his resurrection. And his closest companions did not recognise him. And there are arguments that he pops up throughout the Old Testament. In fact Jesus is everywhere. So when we walk past the homeless person in the street; when we ignore the sounds of domestic violence next door; when we turn our backs on the friend or relative who is struggling with debt, addiction or depression are we not in fact neglecting our supposed Lord and Saviour who died for us.

My prayer for you is that you do not walk past Jesus today. My prayer is that your walk through this life leaves footprints that reverberate love and compassion through the lives of others. My prayer is that you fine tune your spiritual antennae so that you see him in every aspect of your daily routine. 

Please like and share if you enjoyed this blog. Or check out some of our other posts. 

Have you ever ‘stalked’ a celebrity through the streets?

What societies were you in at school? Were you a jock or a geek?

When did you last see Jesus in somebody else.

Bin There Done That

Today was bin day. This is one of the few domestic chores that Fionnuala trusts me to do without (a) setting off the smoke alarm (b) seriously injuring myself and/or other family members or (c) incurring financial costs for damages in excess of the original expense of performing said task.

Having OCD I rather enjoy our waste disposal system. We have three wheelie bins. A black one for general waste, a green one for recyclables and a brown one for degadeable products. Today was ‘Big Daddy’ day, the black one.


A more organised and cautious man would ensure that the bin is put out the night before collection as our bin men (I mean refuge disposal operatives) descend upon our street early and at speed. Woe betide anyone who does not have their bin in place because, blink, and they are gone.

I have been caught out like this a number of times which has resulted in recriminations and much wailing and gnashing of teeth. Question? When was the last time you gnashed your teeth? Do you gnash regularly or are you merely a social gnasher? What gnashing technique do you currently deploy?

An overflowing bin is no party. Apart from the wrath of your spouse, they are smelly, untidy and unhygienic. Then why do I keep taking a chance by not leaving it out the night before but instead leaving it to the following morning with all its inherent risks?

Much as I would like to see myself as a rule flaunting maverick it is probably more to do with the fact that I am a bit lazy and at the end of a long day cannot face the Herculean task of wheeling a bin the staggering distance of thirty yards from the back of the house to the front of the house.

In the same way our emotional bins need regularly emptied. Of all the mental junk that we accumulate during an average week. The anger, guilt, jealousy, unforgiveness and hate that eat away at us from the inside out and poison our thoughts and words if left untended.

An overflowing emotional bin ultimately leads to depression, despair and incalculable hurt to yourself and those close to you. As followers of Jesus we cannot be transformed more to his likeness if we don’t regularly attend to this matter. Through prayer, worship, study and having the right people in place around you who you can regularly unload to.

In order to foster a healthy mind and healthy relationships every day needs to be bin day. Otherwise life is just rubbish.

How many bins do you have?

When did you last empty your emotional bin?

Is gnashing and wailing past it’s sell by date?

Life Without Diet Coke

If you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island what three items would you take with you? It’s one of those questions we have all been asked at least once in our lives. And the answers often say a lot about who we are and where we are at in our lives.

The question popped into my head the other day and my subconscious went into overdrive. Do wives and children count as one item? And if not which one of my three kids get the heave ho. Because obviously Fionnuala is a shoe-in. Obviously….

What about books? I am an avid reader and couldn’t survive without more than three books? Which books? What if I brought my Kindle Fire? Then I could have hundreds of books. Happy Days! But hang on. Is there wifi on the island? And for that matter electricity?? This is more difficult than I first thought. Aaaaaaaarrrrggghhhhh!

My Diet Coke addiction raises other issues. I drink a ridiculous amount of the stuff. More than I should I know. It started at university when I got hooked on it in order to get me through endless nights of panicked cramming. And my love affair with it has blossomed from there.

I can’t manage a day without it. I have tried. And failed miserably. Let’s just say it would end up like that scene in ‘Trainspotting’ involving Ewan McGregor and the three buckets. It’s one of my first actions in the morning, just like a nicotine addict reaching for a cigarette from their bedside table. 

My office desk is cluttered with empty tins. I know where to go in Belfast for the best deals and have been known to boycott stores when their offers end. I prefer the taste of tinned Diet Coke to bottled Diet Coke. Is that even possible? And don’t get me started on Diet Pepsi. It would be like offering methadrone to a heroin addict.

So that’s that sorted tben. My family (included as one item), my Kindle Fire (if wifi and electricity are included in the equation) and an unlimited supply of Diet Coke. Can a fridge be thrown in as well he asked hopefully?

Your three items will no doubt be different. But they all have one thing in common. They are items that we can’t live without; or at least think we can’t live without.

So what about God? Where does he fit in? Can we live without him? It pains me to say that whereas I can’t go a day without Diet Coke, I have more than once gone days (weeks he cringed) without picking up my Bible or praying. And as for living my life like Jesus as opposed to like selfish, sinful Stephen. Er…….

We fill our lives with earthly junk. Gorge ourselves on earthly needs. Bow down to false idols every day. And amidst all this noise and clutter God is often pushed to the back of the queue. But at the end of the day it’s all meaningless. 

The only person who can fill a God sized hole is God. And the beauty of being a Christian is that we believe he resides within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. And when it comes to talking to him you don’t need wifi or phone signals. He has given us a more effective communication tool. It’s called prayer. 

Now I’m off to post this blog and celebrate with a Diet Coke. I’m sure God won’t mind….

Ecclesiastes 1:14 – I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.

What items would be on your Desert Island list?

What is your secret (or not so secret) addiction?

When did you last talk to God?

Calcification Of The Soul

Regular readers of the blog (Hi Mum) will know all about the foot injury I sustained while out running last month. The initial prognosis was an avulsion fracture of the cuboid bone in my left foot and torn ligaments. Dr. Google informed me that this could mean months out of action. Which seemed to bring to an end my dream of running a half marathon for charity on 21 June. Which is in 36 hours and 23 minutes to be precise. Not that I’m counting.

However as I write this I am preparing to go out on my final training plod before the big event tomorrow. Yes I’m running it. The foot is 100% again. No crutches. No pain. Prayers have been answered and I am going to do it, having been given the all-clear by my physiotherapist last week.

The reason? Well I truly believe that God played a huge part given the intense pain and discomfort I was in at the time. Rest and doing what the medical staff advised me to also undoubtedly ended. But there was a third reason.

The foot wasn’t broken.

When I was shown the initial x-ray there was, clear as day, a shadow adjacent to the bone. It was explained to me that this was a flake of bone that had been torn from my foot when the ankle ligament became detached. Sorry for the graphic detail here but it did look that way even to my uneducated eye.


Fast forward two weeks and the physiotherapist cheerfully informed me that the initial diagnosis had been inaccurate and the official verdict of the radiographer who had subsequently assessed the x-ray was no fracture. But then what was the mystery UFO (Unidentified Floating Object) that had shown up on the x-ray?

Turns out that when a tendon or ligament is overused (say by a middle aged man who should know better but still insists on running marathons) it becomes inflamed. Which can lead to the build-up of calcium salts in the relevant area. A bit like barnacles on the hull of a ship. It is called calcification.

How many times in your life have you felt broken? Unable to stand? Utterly helpless? In incredible pain? And I’m not talking physically broken. But mentally, emotionally, spiritually. You have hit rock bottom and can see no way out of the dark hole you have dug yourself into. 

You have allowed life to overwhelm you. Years of guilt, secrets, lies and regrets have steadily accumulated to the stage where you feel irrevocably broken and defeated. Calcification of the soul.

As a person I have been there. More than once. But when I decided to become a Christian four years ago God set to work removing all the grime and dirt that I had allowed to develop during my journey through life. He picked it all away. Not a pretty process but a necessary one.

Don’t get me wrong. I still mess up. It is a constant work in process. Like painting a massive road bridge that takes years to complete. Once they get to one end the painters have to go back to the other side and start all over again. 

God can remove all of the dirt. And when he shows us the x-ray we can see that there was no fracture. Our souls were not permanently broken. They just needed a little godly TLC.

You are not broken. You are loved. Just hand the junk over to God. Decalcify today….

Psalm 34:18 – The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

Does the above message speak to you? We would love to hear your thoughts.

Touch 

I was walking through the train station this morning praying that God would grace me with a blog idea that would have a positive impact on the life of someone who read it. I was concentrating so wasn’t really looking where I was going, causing me to lose my balance and stumble into a man walking to my right.

I mumbled an embarrassed apology to him and continued on out of the station and into the city. No harm done, or so I thought. Then I remembered (or rather God prompted me) a book I read some weeks ago called ‘Touch’ by Claire North. It is the story of a spirit named Kepler who can move from human body to human body via the slightest touch of human skin. In the book it is known as ‘jumping.’

Kepler was formerly a human who was brutally murdered but at the point of death ‘jumped’ into the body of his (or her. We are never told either way by the author) killer. Now hundreds of years old the spirit is being hunted by a sinister international syndicate determined to wipe out Kepler  and his/her fellow spirits. 

For they are more than one. The spirits roam the earth imparting good or evil as they see fit. Upon jumping they inherit all the physical and attributes of their hosts. But not the memories. Some remain with their hosts for mere seconds before ‘jumping’ to the next occupant. On other occasions they remain days, weeks, months and even years in the body.

Following a jump the original host has no memory of the period during which they have been occupied. Young men can regain their senses to find they are 10 miles from where they last recalled and they have no recollection of the previous day. Others awake continents away and decades later to a life they have no memory of.


It’s a fascinating premise and a great read. And I’m sure there are many times we have all wished we could escape our mundane, messed up lives and start again. Or looked enviously at someone we regard as more attractive, eloquent, wealthier or ‘happier’ than ourselves. 

Unfortunately life doesn’t work like that. We have one life, one body, one chance. And while that might appear hopefully inadequate at any given time there has to be a method to the madness. 

As a Christian I have faith that God created me as I am for a purpose. I must be on this earth for a reason. Otherwise life makes very little sense. If I am only a random collection of molecules genetically thrown together for a finite period of time then my outlook is fairly grim.

I regularly struggle as to what that purpose is. Especially on the bad days when the grass looks so much greener on the other side. But as I once heard a pastor say in response to this cliche ‘Well maybe you need to start watering the grass on your side a little bit more.’

God has equipped us all with gifts that will allow us to transform the lives of others within our sphere of influence. That sphere can be a home, a classroom, a sports team or an entire nation. We don’t get the opportunity to ‘jump’ but we do get the opportunity to ‘touch.’ To be kind, to be patient, to show compassion and to fight injustice. To love. 

So today. Don’t jump. Touch….

Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’

When did you last want to ‘jump’ out of your own life into another one?

Where is your sphere of influence?

How has God touched your life lately?

Yawn Of The Dead

A terrible, terrible thing happened the other evening. Fionnuala and I have been trying to get into the routine of praying together every night before we go to sleep. What with the chaos that is sharing a house with three kids and a border terrier dog this is often the only oasis of calm in our otherwise hectic schedule.

Anyway this night had been no different than any other. I had finished praying and Fionnuala was, as ever, performing the ‘sweeper’ role of praying over the many matters that I had overlooked. It had been a long day and while I try very hard not to ‘pray by numbers’ this had not been my most scintillating conversation with God.

As Fionnuala prayed I endeavoured to stay focused but, before I could curtail it, a yawn began to form in the core of my being. Realising that this was a virtual death sentence if I let it pass my lips (God would forgive me. Fionnuala I wasn’t so sure.) I fought valiantly to suppress it. But it was like a broken pencil. Pointless. And the yawn rolled resplendently out of my mouth, reverberating off our bedroom walls.

Yawning during prayer. A new low in my Christian journey. What next? Belching as the sermon is in full flow? Bottom burps as the collection basket is being passed round? 

After wheedling and grovelling my way into my wife’s good books (Did you just yawn there?!? During my prayer?!?!) I apologised profusely to God as well. I mean how rude. Imagine if you were talking to your best friend and they let out a mighty snort in the middle of it. You wouldn’t be best pleased I would imagine. 

The good news for me is that I don’t have to apologise to God. I can yawn, sneeze, laugh, cry or hyperventilate during prayer. He doesn’t care. He just wants to hear from us. And the most natural and direct way to do this is via regular prayer. 

For many years I was burdened with guilt and secrets. Bogged down in sin. Depressed and despairing as it gnawed away at me. I tried to soften the pain. Alcohol, food, social media. I danced with all these addictions. I danced until my heart and the hearts of my loved ones were battered, bruised and eventually broken.

But now I pray. I don’t let it fester. I don’t let it eat me from the outside. I dealt with my OCD through medication and talking about it to Fionnuala. I deal with my other worldly worries now via the spiritual medication of prayer and chewing the fat with the Lord. 

There are several theories as to why we yawn. One is that it occurs when the bloodstream has excessive levels of carbon dioxide and needs to expel these and replace them with oxygen. Prayer is a bit like that too. Getting all the junk out of our minds. Handing it over to God and replenishing our minds and souls with the life affirming oxygen of the Holy Spirit.

So if you ever pray and a yawn sneaks out don’t beat yourself up too much about. God understands.

As for your wife however….

When is your favourite time to pray?

When did you last have prayer answered ?

What is your most embarrassing prayer experience ?

The Persistent Widow 

My wife, Fionnuala, is many things. Loyal, loving, forgiving, practical and incredibly patient to name but a few. The latter has come in particularly handy since marrying me. She is also persistent. Some men might call this nagging. But not me. Because I value my life.

She asks me to do ‘stuff’. I don’t do it. She persists. I still don’t do it. She continues to persist. This often involves persisting loudly (shouting) and inducements (thinly veiled threats). I normally cave in at that point.

Persistence is defined as ‘continuing firmly or obstinately in an opinion or course of action in spite of difficulty or opposition.’ Which brings me to Luke Chapter18:1-8 where Jesus tells the Parable of the Persistent Widow.

You can read it again (or for the first time) yourself but it is the story of a poor widow who nagged (I mean persisted with) a hard hearted judge until he threw his hands up in exasperation, muttered ‘whatever’ and granted her justice in her case.


Jesus used this parable to teach us the importance of persisting in prayer. If the aforementioned judicial Scrooge eventually listened to the widow then how much more likely is our loving God. He might not do so in the way we want, or at the pace we want, but he will always hear our prayers and answer them with our best interests at heart.

All we have to do is persist. Prayer does work and can change lives. Fionnuala and I would like to pray for you tonight. All you have to do is leave a comment detailing your prayer request. You can tell us as much or as little as you feel comfortable with. 

Philippians 4:6 – Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

How can we pray for you today?

A Different Story

In my last blog I mentioned that God spoke to me through dreams and one dream that I had years ago has been popping into my head a lot this week so after chatting to Stephen about it he thinks I should blog it because that is Stephen’s answer to everything these days since he’s got his writing mojo back!

I was brought up in the Catholic faith my mum had and still has a very strong faith. When I was about 5 or 6 we were going to mass on Palm Sunday and my mum told me that if you stand still during the Gospel that God would let a soul out of purgatory and into Heaven. Looking back at that now I know she told me that so that I wouldn’t get bored or fidget during mass, clever parenting. I used this parenting technique myself on our children and told them for years that if an ice cream van comes into the street with music playing that means that the ice cream isn’t nice and so they never asked for ice cream, I must pray for forgiveness for this. Getting back to my story sorry, for those of you that aren’t familiar with a Catholic Palm Sunday service for a young child it seems to last an eternity but there is a fun part and that is the congregation response which I used to enjoy and look forward to. I had heard a lot of stories about death and going to purgatory before you got to Heaven so I really wanted to help a soul get through the big pearly gates.

As a child we had the Saturday night ritual of getting bathed, hair washed and combed through with the big silver metal comb, on a Sunday my mum always dressed us in our best clothes for going to mass and she always wore her fur coat to mass which I loved. I would sit next to her and stroke her arm or rub my face on her arm just to feel the softness and comfort from the fur.

In my dream I was this young child again sitting alongside my mum in mass on Palm Sunday running my hand across the sleeve of her coat. Just as the priest was about to read the Gospel the roof of the church opened up and there was a white beaming light shining in and a huge staircase of light spiralled down in front of me. I felt somebody take my hand and bring me towards the staircase as I looked up at I saw it was a man and I knew it was Jesus and he said to me “Let me tell you a different story” and took me up the staircase with him.

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I had this dream not long after I became a Christian when I was learning a lot about the Christian faith and was trying to break off the Catholic rituals that I had grew up in.

The one thing that I was shocked about was how easy it is to pray. I was brought up believing that you had to pray to Saints and dead relatives and you went to a priest every two weeks on a Saturday lunchtime and confessed your sins. There was always a middle man/woman that you had to go through to get your prayers put across.

Being a Christian to me is not about religious rituals, rules and regulations it is about the love that my Heavenly Father showers me with continuously, it’s a relationship that I have with my best friend Jesus who died for me so that I can live this life that I now live – THERE IS NO MIDDLE MAN. Being a Christian is so easy it’s so simple that even a child can understand it. If my children need something or want to speak to me I don’t have an assistant that they go through first to get to me they come directly to me I drop everything and listen to them. It’s the same with our Heavenly Father he doesn’t want us praying to anything or anybody else he is there waiting to hear from us, he wants to hear from us directly. It really is that simple.

Exodus 34 v 14
“You must worship no other gods, for the Lord, whose very name is Jealous, is a God who is jealous about his relationship with you”

Fionnuala

What is your favourite childhood memory?

Have you ever told a little fib to your children?

The Man With No Brain 

Yesterday morning I had a physio appointment at the hospital to assess the foot injury I sustained a few weeks ago when out running. Despite having hobbled about the house on crutches in a compression bandage for several days our ever alert teenage son, upon learning I was off to the hospital, asked why I was going. ‘They want to check if he has a brain’ replied my ever witty wife, sharp as you like.

My son mulled this over for a few moments before asking in all sincerity ‘Is that really the reason you are going to the hospital?’ It’s hard to believe that this is the same boy who passed his end of year exams with flying colours earlier this term.

Later that night Fionnuala and I were watching a new TV drama called ‘The Loch’. It is a crime series and centres around a body tied down with weights at the bottom of Loch Ness in Scotland. I have always wanted to run the Loch Ness Marathon but I’m not so sure now having watched this show. Anyway, the first episode ended with a close up of the submerged body to reveal that’s its heart was missing.

It got me thinking. If we had to choose which do you think we could cope best without – a brain or a heart? On the one hand the centre for our logic, reasoning and intellect. And on the other the organ associated with our desires, passion and emotions.

Both have their pros and cons. It’s a tough call. The two traditionally are pitted against one another, hence the phrase the heart overruling the head and vice versa. And I think most of us would plump for retaining our hearts. After all what would life be like without feelings, without emotions? Without love? Doesn’t the Bible say that all our deeds and acts are meaningless without love? Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 13 ‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.”


So that’s that sorted. The heart wins. Bye Bye Mr. Brain. We need to love. Love is an emotion. Love wins hands down every time right? Er…..no. As Christians we cannot allow our hearts to dictate our every action. And love is not an emotion. It is a conscious decision, an act of will even when every fibre in our bodies is screaming at us to do the exact opposite. 

When Jesus told us to love our enemies he was not thinking of the gushing emotion that overwhelms us the first time we fall ‘in love.’ No he was referring to gritting your teeth and often forcing ourselves to show compassion and kindness to people who we don’t particularly like; people who will never say thank you; people who view us as weak, naive and gullible.

One of my favourite Christian books is ‘The Mystery’ by Lacey Sturm. In it she writes of emotional love as opposed to the more deliberate (and therefore to many, dull) love espoused by Jesus. Emotional love is invariably a lie that leads us down false paths. 

‘It’s exchanging real pearls for fake ones that won’t last. We yearn for it, because it masquerades as the true love we need from heaven. But when the mask comes off, we realize that true love is not who we are dancing with. There is a faint voice at our backs whispering truth to our hearts.

Following your feelings has deceived you.

Looking for a soul mate has taught you to chase the wind.

True love is not a wind that deceives and disappears.

Choose life. Choose truth. Choose love. But make sure it is a love governed by the head and the heart. Choose Jesus love.

When did you last love someone through gritted teeth?

What was their response?

How did you feel afterwards?



Believe

No marriage is “perfect” and ours is no different I’d go as far to say that we’ve had more than our fair share of problems over the almost 21 years we’ve been together but we always find our way back to where God want’s us to be with each other and him.

Stephen and I will be together 21 years in August this year I was 21 and Stephen was 26. We worked for the same organisation and no it wasn’t love at first sight. I didn’t like Stephen the first time I ever saw him or spoke to him he was listening to his Walkman, remember them long before the iPod was even thought of, and I was talking to a friend of ours sat next to him when I interrupted him and asked him was he listening to Scooter he looked at me horrified mumbled something and walked away. I don’t think I will give my exact response to this as the language might have been slightly colourful but it was along the lines of ‘what a charmer’! Unbeknown to me Stephen had seen me around work and had a notion on me he just had a funny way of showing it.

About two months later one of our colleagues was leaving and we all took a half day which just happened to be pay day and went to the pub beside our work and Stephen and I got talking music related again but this time a band that we both loved Oasis and that was us for the rest of the afternoon apart from when Stephen was up singing on the karaoke but I won’t embarrass him and tell you what he sang. Like all good things they come to an end and everybody was starting to go off on their separate ways my friends were going to a different bar and Stephen’s friends were going to another so we parted ways only to end up in the same bar later that evening where Stephen made his move and gave me a cheeky kiss before going off to a nightclub and I wasn’t too long following behind him and that is how our journey of love began.

Fast forward an engagement, a baby, a wedding and another two babies and we are a family of five with a mad dog. Now we are 15/16 years into our journey and like all marriages we had our stumbles and falls but got back up again we had three little people depending on us and I was so busy being a mother and looking after the house and Stephen was busy with work providing for us all as I had left work by now to focus on the children. We started to spend less and less time with each other and at this stage Walkman’s were no more we both iPhone and twitter was the new big thing. I had my network of friends and Stephen had his and then our evenings involved picking Stephen up from the train station, home, dinner, homework’s, sorting kids out for bed, Stephen would ring his mum and then we would take up our places at either end of the sofa phones out and we would get lost for the rest of the night in the world of social media.

This went on for a few years and the weekends looking back now were just so bad Stephen would have his beers and I would have my wine which then turned to vodka because I joined slimming world and vodka had less syns than wine this turned into a recipe for disaster. Without going into too much detail each night we drifted further and further away from each other and other than our 3 children and mad dog we had nothing in common with each other and didn’t particularly like each other anymore. Our marriage was dead and I couldn’t see how we were coming back from it this time.

After one wine, vodka and beer infused Saturday night we had a huge fight and as far I was concerned we were over and I wanted Stephen to move out. Prior to this a friend of mine who is a Christian had arranged with Stephen to take him to her church as they had a guest speaker visiting to give his testimony. This friend had been through everything with me and knew everything going on when she came for him that morning he was jabbering wreck and fit to go nowhere both her and her husband got him out of the house into their car and took him to church my last words to them was don’t bring him back!

A few hours later and Stephen was back at the house to which I was not amused. My friend came in and said we have good news stay calm and listen to what Stephen has to tell you everything is going to be different and I looked at her as if she had two heads and told her to get out and take him with her. Stephen was standing in the kitchen and told me he had been ‘Saved’ to which I said you’ve what? He proceeded to tell me what had happened and I thought this is a new excuse to get staying at the house you’ve haven’t tried that one before but there was something different about him. I watched how he spoke with the kids and interacted with them and his eyes looked different too. My friend said to me it will be different this time you haven’t let God in before to change him just give him a chance.

I wasn’t happy with what was going on I still just wanted him to leave I didn’t want to look at him and this new happy clappy person in the house was doing my head in I thought has he forgot what happened last night and this morning. I sat down and the television was on and this advert for vodka came on the screen I have never seen it again and have even searched the internet for it I can’t find it. The girl in it had a tattoo on her arm and it said ‘Believe’. Those words came at me in 3D and the feeling that it stirred up in my stomach was something that I had never felt before, that was my first experience with the Holy Spirit.

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God really had the holy spirit hard at work in our house that week the next Sunday Stephen went back to church and myself and the children went with him and that was the beginning of our new spiritual journey.

Our lives changed dramatically over the following weeks. Instead of our evenings spent on the sofa on our iphones we started to go to a house group at another friend’s house were we met other Christian people who have taught us so much. I had so many questions and had a hunger and thirst to learn more and hear more about the bible and Jesus. I came to know that Jesus was never far away from me I started having dreams about doors that I wanted to open but there was no handle and it was frustrating me I wanted to open the door I wanted to see what was on the other side of the door but I couldn’t find the handle all I could see was this beaming white light trying to break through the edge of the door and I wanted to see it.

One morning I was so upset Stephen couldn’t go to work because I was in such a state I couldn’t sleep because every time I closed my eyes I kept seeing this door that I couldn’t open. We talked about all day and I rang a few of the Christian women that I had got to know and they prayed for me. That night we met at our house group and I discovered how to open the door by inviting Jesus my saviour into my heart

John 10 v9 ‘I am the door; by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.’

That night I had a dream and thankfully there was no door just a never ending corridor of beaming light and on each side of the corridor were tiny feet and legs of toddlers as I started to take my first steps down the corridor, I believe that the toddler legs and feet represented me as a new Christian taking my first steps on my Christian walk.

As any honest Christian knows life as a Christian isn’t easy it can be extremely difficult at times and a battle. We still have our ups and downs but nowadays we have more than three children and a mad dog in common we also have our heavenly Father in common who loves us unconditionally and is the God of love, the God of hope, the God of faith and the God of second, third, fourth and fifth chances nothing we do is too bad for him to turn his back on us that’s how deep his love is for us.

Fionnuala

Can you remember your first experience with the Holy Spirit?

Does God speak to you through dreams?

Do you want to get to know Jesus?

The French Lady

You see some strange sights walking to work. Take earlier this week. I was taking my normal route from the train station to the office which involves walking past a large coffee shop in the city centre. At that time of the morning there are normally a smattering of workers sitting outside getting their last hits of caffeine and nicotine before reluctantly dragging themselves back into the rat race.

This day was no different. I half glanced in the direction of the coffee shop before walking on past it, no doubt day dreaming about my next award winning blog. But then I heard it. A woman’s voice speaking loudly in a foreign language. Appalling  linguist as I am even I was able to tell that she was speaking (or shouting) in French.

The shouting continued. I looked over to see a well dressed elderly lady sitting outside the coffee shop. She was shouting across the street. Thinking she was a tourist (yes believe it or not Belfast has quite a few) I naturally followed her gaze to see who she was talking to. A grandchild who had perhaps strayed too far. Or a husband taking photographs of a sedentary pigeon or passing bin lorry.

There was nobody there. Oh there were people about. But it was quite obvious that none of them knew this lady from Adam (or Eve) and were studiously avoiding making eye contact with her. Hoping she would disappear if they did so long enough. Or at least shut up in order to save their embarrassment.

I did the honourable thing. I put my head down and walked on as well. Not something I was particularly proud of. But I had a meeting to go to and the last thing I needed was trying to communicate with a French pensioner when my sole topic of conversation would have been telling her my name and where I live – Je m’appelle Stephen. J’habite dans Belfast.’

I felt sorry for the lady. She clearly had some kind of mental health issue. She seemed bewildered and confused. Maybe she was asking for help. But nobody understood. Or took the time to understand. Worse still would anyone have stopped to assist her if she was shouting in English? I have my doubts.

There are people all around us who need our help. Some are more obvious than others. But they are on our radar. We might not understand what their specific needs are but it is clear that they are vulnerable and in trouble. Just like I did not understand what the lady was saying but I understood that all was not well with her.

I saw and heard enough to act. But I did not. Just like in your sphere of influence today you will walk past people clearly in need of your help. The desperate, the addicted, the broken. Some are more visible than others. They can be sitting begging on the street corner. But they are just as likely to be found in your classroom, office or neighbourhood. 

You might not be able to do much. But do want you can. Where you can and when you can. Be a light in their world. For the light will always overcome the darkness.

Merci mes amis….


Do you know somebody who needs your help today?

What could you do to help them?

How many languages can you converse in?

Heel The World

One of my least favourite phrases is ‘You know the world doesn’t revolve around you Stephen!’ My wife, Fionnuala, has been known occasionally (as in most days) to direct this comment in my direction.

It drives me nuts because I am clearly one of the least selfish people I know. I work hard. I provide for our kids (see The Bank Of Dad blog for details), I love my wife and, despite my appalling DIY and cookery skills, try to help around the house. I don’t drink, smoke or take drugs (does a serious Diet Coke dependency count?)

I pay my taxes and give to charities. I help out several homeless people I have befriended in the city centre. I am an all round good bloke. Or so I keep telling myself.

The other morning I got out of bed and went downstairs to raid the cupboards for breakfast. As I opened one to get some bread to toast I was delighted to see a loaf of Nutty Krust sliced plain bread staring back at me. My favourite bread to toast. And even better the heel (or crust) was still intact. This is my favourite part of my favourite loaf. 


The slight downside to this was it is also Fionnuala’s favourite part of the loaf. Given this we have always had an uneasy understanding in recent years that when such a loaf is purchased we take one heel (the slice at either end of the loaf) apiece. Anyone who dared eat both heels would be guilty of a breach of said treaty punishable by death. Or at the very least the silent treatment for the remainder of the day.

A few weeks ago there was an outrageous violation of this age old contract. One of the aforementioned parties ate both heels! In order to save their embarrassment I will not name this person. But they weren’t female and their name did not begin with the letter ‘F’.

So I found myself the other day alone in the kitchen. Just me and the Nutty Krust luring me onto the rocks of toasting temptation. On one hand the delicious heel. On the other the wrath of my better half. 

I did the honourable thing, closed the cupboard door reluctantly, and took a banana from the fruit bowl. I was once more a wonderful human being and my act of loving selflessness was no doubt making the angelic hosts above weep with joy.

But it made me think. Was I really such a selfless soul? I have a very needy personality. My default setting is to be liked. I avoid confrontation at all costs. But this means I often put the needs of myself above the needs of others. And I thought of the countless times I had put my own selfish, sinful needs in front of the people who really matter. My wife and children. 

That morning in the kitchen was a tiny victory. But I have a massive hill to climb before I can even come remotely close to the selfless person I want to be. We all do. This is a selfie culture after all. But it was a start.

The world does not revolve around you Stephen….

How do you rate yourself on the selfometer?

When was the last time you put someone else in front of yourself?

What is your favourite breakfast?

Feeding Time At The Zoo

How many of you say grace before eating a meal? Ok hands down. But how many of you have a sneaky mouthful of the meal beforehand. My long suffering wife, Fionnuala, is a wonderful cook. And a selfless one too. She always makes sure she has dished out dinner to the kids and myself before she serves herself and we sit down to eat together.

This can take several minutes in the chaos that is our kitchen at meal times. And it is in that tea time ‘twilight zone’ that I find myself staring at a plate of delicious food. My stomach is growling. It feels like my throat has been cut. Fionnuala’s back is turned on me. The kids aren’t looking either. Surely God wouldn’t miss one mouthful….

One mouthful invariably leads to two and then three. And before you know it my plate is considerably depleted by the time we are all seated together and join hands to thank God for the food we are about to eat.

About to eat? Er…..sorry God. Sorry that I have the willpower of a flea. Sorry that I put my hunger pangs before honouring you for the gift of grace. For the million and one things that I take for granted in my pampered, privileged first world existence. Sorry that I constantly stumble and put my own base, material urges in front of serving and glorifying your name. 

As a Christian the numero uno in your life should be God. The rest will take care of itself. Family, friends, football. Oviously in that order. God came to earth in human form to rectify the horrendous mess we had made of our lives. No flood to cover the planet this time. Not water anyway. Instead Jesus came to wash away our sins, to drown us in love and to shower us in grace.

His grace overcame the grave. We did not deserve it. We could never earn it. But God delivered it anyway in the form of the Cross. And he keeps dishing it out every time we mess up. Every time we take him for granted. Every time we take a seat at the banquet of sin and start gorging ourselves on ungodly delicacies.

That’s the beauty of grace. It’s bottomless. It makes no sense. It’s beyond our understanding. But it’s there all the same. Day after day. Meal after meal. And the more of it we receive the more we should want to dispense it to others. Our neighbours, work colleagues, in fact anyone we encounter in our daily routines. We should be full of God’s grace yet hungry to spread justice and mercy throughout our sphere of influence.

Now that’s worth working up an appetite for.

Romans 3:23-24: For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified free through his grace that came through tbe redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

How has the grace of God changed your life?

Are you hungry to serve God?

Ever had a sneaky mouthful before saying grace before a meal?

Be Still 

One of the most popular and oft quoted verses in the Bible can be found in Psalm 46:10. It’s only eight words long but for millennia now it has given hope and comfort to millions of Christians across the globe. I want to talk a little bit about the first two words.


BE STILL….To me this suggests that we are perpetually in motion. Backwards, forwards, sideways. It doesn’t really matter. We humans tear through our lives at a thousand miles an hour. We don’t have time to listen to God. There is too much else to do. Too many distractions. Too much to worry about. Too many problems to overcome. And no matter how independent and self sufficient we are at some point it all gets too much.

We always seem to be searching for something. That elusive ‘missing ingredient’ that will somehow permanently satisfy us and satisfy our endless want. This invariably involves an idol. Money, food, relationships, drugs, exercise. The list is endless. And in isolation none of these ‘things’ are necessarily bad for us. In fact they can be very good for us. 

No, they become bad when they become a barrier between God and ourselves. When they replace him at the centre of our lives. When the noise of the world drowns out his small, quiet voice asking us to BE STILL.

Stop moving. Stop wanting. Stop searching. JUST STOP. Hand this need over to him. For he is ALL that we need, this craving, this emptiness that gnaws away inside of us. Because only when we stop and drown out the bewildering noise can we regain our focus and clarity. Regain our sanity.

Clarity as to where we must place him in our whirlwind existences. He is the eye in the hurricane of our lives. He is the sanctuary, the retreat, the safe place. All we have to do is BE STILL. Only then can we truly build a relationship with Jesus. Through prayer, study and worship. 

Only then can we get to know him. As our God. The one who ultimately matters.

Just be still.

What are you chasing in your life at the moment?

When were you last truly still before God?

How did you achieve this stillness?

The Geek On The Train 

I am a train commuter. Not the Emily Blunt type who downs neat vodka as she stares glumly out of the window at her old house. No I’m more interested in what is going on inside the carriage. You see I’m a people watcher. And when I don’t have my nose stuck in my Kindle Fire I like to imagine the lives of my fellow travellers.

From the angry looking businessman with his mobile phone permanently attached to his ear. To the grey skinned, suited man who is the double of a top European football manager. I watch them all on my 25 minute journey to and from the city each day. 

Same faces. Day after day. Maybe they look at me the same way and imagine what my life beyond the train is like. Or maybe they just try and avoid eye contact with the creepy guy with the Kindle Fire down the carriage. Either way it passes the time. Part of the daily routine. 


But every now and again something unusual happens. And yesterday was one of those days. Seconds before the train pulled out of the station an elegant, elderly lady landed breathlessly in the seat opposite me. She chuckled to herself and commented on how close she had come to missing the train. Everybody smiled at her. She had pretty much secured the last seat in our carriage. She looked settled for the journey.

Ten minutes later we pulled into our first stop. Several passengers disembarked freeing up more seats. Quick as a flash the lady jumped up and took a seat facing in the opposite direction. ‘That’s better’ she remarked to her new neighbours. ‘I always prefer to look at where I’m going as opposed to where I’ve come from.’

My jaw dropped open at the wisdom of this simple, throwaway comment. We spend so much of our lives being defined and burdened by our pasts. The mistakes, the regrets, the missed opportunities. We spend our days mulling guiltily over the sins of yesterday. 

Yes we need to understand and learn from our pasts in order to avoid making the same mistakes in our futures. But we can’t change the past. It’s happened. And if we spend too long looking back we will miss what is going on around us in the here and now. Or worse, fall flat on our face.

As a Christian I have struggled with my sinful past. Wishing I had lived my life differently. Reliving my failures on an endless blooper reel in my head. But that’s not the way God wants us to live. He says forget the past. It’s all been sorted. By Jesus on the cross. 

He has given us hope and a new, bright future. All we have to do is grasp it. And live lives full of love, generosity and compassion. By looking forwards, and not back. 

Isaiah 43:18 – Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

Are you living today being tortured by your past?

Are you desperate to move forward but somehow can’t?

Do you need support or prayer? Please let us know so we can help you. 

God Is Real

Today our guest blogger is a very special young lady who knocked us over the other week about a conversation she had at school. Our daughter, Rebecca. I will hand you over to her now….

Hi my name is Rebecca and I am 10 years old. I love playing football and I support Manchester United like my daddy. My favourite player is Marouane Fellaini because he is really good at headers and has curly hair like me.

 I think God is amazing, real and alive. One day at school a boy at my table said that God wasn’t real. I said that yes he was. The boy said no he wasn’t as you can’t see him and you only believe what you can see. I asked him then did he believe in air. He said yes. I asked him could he see air. He said no. I told him if you don’t believe in God and you can’t see him then how can you believe in air. I felt happy that I stood up for God.


Beauty and the Beast 

I read a lot of Christian literature about evangelism and talking confidently about your faith. But I have yet to come up with a better definition of the complex issue of faith. It’s about looking beyond the visible and trusting in the invisible.

Thank you God for our kids. Jesus spoke about how we had to become more like our children. Our little ones can teach us so much about our struggles with faith. They keep it simple. They trust. They believe. And they let God do the rest. 

Matthew 18:3 – Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.

Have you ever been asked to prove God exists? What was your response?

What have children taught you about your faith?

Who is your favourite sports star? 

F.O.M.O. 

I was in the office the other day when I overheard two colleagues talking about an upcoming social event. One spent several minutes elaborating about how they really did not want to attend before concluding ‘But I will probably go anyway.’ 

When the other one enquired as to why they were making this apparent u-turn the first colleague looked at them as if they were insane before answering FOMO ‘Aaaah’ replied their co-worker as the blindingly obvious dawned on them before the conversation meandered to another topic.

FOMO sounded to me like a new brand of yoghurt (now with bigger chunks) or a trendy work acronym that had somehow passed me by (Finance Officers Management Overview? First Office of Municipal Operations?) But I soon established that it simply stood for ‘fear of missing out.’

It’s that well known human trait of nosiness. We may attend 99 dull office parties and are adamant that never again will we endure the sight of Jim from Accounts drunkenly photocopying his backside or Patricia from IT being sick in a wastepaper bin. But come the next one we are faithfully in attendance just in case this is the one where something worthwhile occurs. We are afraid of missing out.

And we are all victims of it, myself included. From sports fans who turn up to watch their team despite a 20 game losing streak to the gambler who makes that one last bet despite the mound of beaten betting slips lying at their feet; from the teenager who clings onto an unhealthy friendship despite the constant bullying about her weight/looks/clothes to the addict who reaches for the pills/bottle/needle for that elusive ultimate high.

We are all afraid of missing out….

As a Christian I’m afraid of missing out too….on eternal life. But for all my many failings I’m ultimately in safe hands. For Jesus has already done everything required when he died the cruellest of deaths on a Roman cross. He died for my sins….and yours. And all you have to do is accept him as our Lord and Saviour. Our best friend who we can hand our worries over to.

So here’s the good news. No matter how messed up your life might be there is hope. There is happiness. There is a future in this life and beyond. All you have to do is say yes to Him and turn your back on the earthly addictions, struggles and temptations which have been dragging you down all these years.

Just say yes. Or are you afraid of missing out?

John 3:16 – For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life

Are you interested in Christianity? What is holding you back?

What is the worst office party you have ever been to? 

The Gospel According to Logan Paul 

Have you ever got a song in your head that drills through your skull and deep into the recesses of your brain in a never ending loop. One that lasts for hours, days, weeks. That drives you to the edge of sanity and then beyond. Leaving you a shell of your former self, a gibbering wreck.

It’s bad enough if it is a song that you used to love but grow to hate as it gnaws away relentlessly every waking moment of the day. But what if it is one that you despised from the start. But which digs it’s nails into your soul and drags you screaming to the fiery gates of Hell themselves. 

One such demonic dirge currently doing laps of my mind is ‘Help Me Help You’ by Logan Paul featuring Why Don’t We. A week ago I had no idea who the aforementioned Mr Paul was but thanks to our 10 year old daughter,Rebecca, and the joys of You Tube it has entered our lives for the foreseeable future. 

Logan Paul appears to have no discernible talent in the video. He can’t sing, dance or act. It therefore made total sense to find out that he has an online following of millions and probably earns more in a day than I do in a year. 

And on it goes. The lyrics can be best summed up by the fact that two lines rhyme with the words ‘clue’ and ‘scooby do’. Lennon & McCartney these people are not. But then they did give us ‘I Am The Walrus.’


A week of ‘Help Me Help You’ would break anyone. I’m sure the CIA are already in on the act and deploy it 24/7 at all of their interrogation facilities. Which of course don’t exist. Give me water boarding any day of the week over this living nightmare. 

But God speaks to us in a multitude of ways. And why utilise rousing worship music or even his small, quiet voice when there is crappy Z list bubble pop bilge to inflict on me, his obedient and humble servant. Isn’t it funny how God sometimes has to bludgeon you (lovingly) over the head in order to get your attention.

In the early part of this year I hit a major flat spot in my Christian journey. I stopped going to church, stopped reading the Bible, stopped most activities really. I was convinced God wasn’t listening and, even if he was, didn’t want to intervene as I slipped irrevocably back to a meaningless, secular experience. 

He didn’t care. And he wasn’t there. I wanted him to save me, to swoop down and lift me up from the trough of self pity and apathy I had slithered into. But thanks to wise counsel from some very experienced Christian friends and the loving encouragement and patience of my wife I began to read again, pray again and blog again.

God seemed near once more and my creative juices began to flow. I was getting back to my old self again. I even laughed at a television show the other day and Fionnuala remarked that she hadn’t heard me laugh like that in….well forever.

And I realised. Just like the sagely Mr. Paul sometimes you have to take the first step out of a situation in order for God to do the rest. That little mustard seed of faith is all you need for the mountain to move. Jesus often asked people seeking healing what they wanted. And when they were healed he didn’t help them to their feet. He told them to get up. 

Take that first step and he will do the rest. He can and will. But only if you take that initial leap of faith in order to help him help you – Stephen.

Jesus 1 Logan Paul 0….

Matthew 7:7-8 – Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.’

What’s the most annoying song which has stuck in your head?

Has God helped you today? 

Who is Logan Paul???

PATIENCE/PATIENT

Today we have a guest blogger this is her first time blogging so please be kind to her.  Let me introduce you to our daughter Hannah who is 13 years old.  Hannah has been off school for 4 weeks now due to a pressure sore on her foot.  Hannah loves school and misses her friends and some of her teachers.  Hannah and myself are stuck in the house all day every day because she doesn’t have a suitable wheel chair to facilitate us getting out and about and Hannah getting to school so we have decided because we are bored we would jointly write a blog about some of her friends in school.

Over to Hannah –

First up is my BFF Jodie.  Jodie will be 14 at the end of August and we have known each other from we were 2 years of age.  For a long time me and Jodie didn’t get along with each other because we were too similar and always tried to out do each other.  Fast forward a few years later and we are now Best Friends Forever.  Jodie is my best friend because she never fails to make me laugh and she is one of my greatest supporters.  In fact I don’t think of her as my best friend but as my big sister.  Whenever I’m feeling rubbish she always cheers me up, whenever I’m having boy trouble, which is very often but don’t tell my dad, she always gets me to wise up and realise boys aren’t worth it.  In return I’m always there for Jodie and always will be we both are each other’s greatest encouragers.

Secondly is my other best friend Bob.  Bob is 13 and would be my tallest friend I think if he wasn’t in a wheelchair he would be taller than my dad!  Bob doesn’t use his voice to speak but that doesn’t mean he is quiet he is anything but because he uses his communication board and tortures me and the rest of my classmates.

Up next we have the beautiful Crystal.  Crystal is also 13 and only joined our class last year.  Crystal is a very funny character and always makes me laugh with everything she does especially when she falls asleep when she’s in a class that she doesn’t like.

This is only three of my friends that I really miss from school I have that many I could be writing all week.  I just wish that I could get to school to see them every day like any other teenage girl but right now I just have to rest my foot and pray that the right wheelchair will turn up soon.

Hannah

mummy and hannah

The last four weeks have been a lesson for me in patience.  I have been fighting and fighting for the right equipment for Hannah and have got nowhere.  Yesterday was an awful day for me personally which resulted in me spending the majority of it crying because I felt so helpless that I couldn’t fix things for Hannah and it was all out of my control.

This morning when I woke up I heard God say “Give it to me” and it was so obvious I thought why have I not done this before now and the answer is because I’m a fixer and want to do things for my children myself.  This is exactly what our Heavenly Father wants to do for us and the thing is he can do it so much better than we can.

I got up and prayed and handed all of the things that I was worried about yesterday over to God and promised him that I would make no phone calls today to medical therapists and just focus on physically looking after Hannah.  An hour ago I got a phone call from one of Hannah’s therapists with good news telling me that it looks like we finally meet the requirements for Hannah to get two pieces of the equipment that we need for her and all I can say is “Thank you God”.  We still need other items approved but today I believe is just the beginning because we serve an amazing God that just wants to shower us with grace and love.

I have heard a phrase “walk a day in my shoes and see how you do” and I think it is so patronising.  Everybody has their worries no matter how big or small those worries are they are still mountains for that individual.  No matter what your situation is there is always somebody worse than you but that doesn’t make your situation any less it’s still a matter of concern for you.  Over the last few weeks I have chatted with people online who are trying to have a baby, I know of a couple personally that have had problems trying to have a baby and I know of couples who have lost baby’s through miscarriages and I thank God that yes I have problems about equipment for my daughter but I thank him that I actually have been blessed with two beautiful daughters and one amazing son.

Fionnuala

 

I’m A Little Bit OCD

I was enduring the season opener of Big Brother UK last night. Fionnuala watches this every year hoping to recreate the halcyon years of Nasty Nick, Craig the Builder and Tourettes Pete. But by Week 2 she has invariably given up as that years conveyor belt of desperate wannabes have her diving desperately for the remote control. 

This year promises to be no exception. The Bible tells us to love our enemy. I am reluctant to include perma tanned, obnoxious, Z list reality TV stars in this admittedly open ended verse. Serial killers, yes. ISIS, yes. But the Season 3 cast of Geordie Shore? God is really testing me here.

But I digress. Lurid as they were I manfully watched each contestant totter out on stage to give vacuous, insipid answers to questions posed by an increasingly bemused Emma Willis. Sexual conquests, excruciating personal hygiene issues, nothing was taboo for this motley crue. If nothing else it made my self-worth and value to society soar as the night progressed. 

Out traipsed Miss Nigeria UK (the best looking Nigerian woman in the UK or the best looking British woman in Nigeria I pondered) to proudly declare herself as the ‘definition of OCD’ to the baying audience. She loved cleaning or something like that.

Once again OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) had been dismissively stereotyped as a positive attribute, something to aspire to be, something to shout from the rooftops. OCD was quirky, fun and an invaluable life skill. Yet whenever I hear the words ‘I’m a little bit OCD’ or ‘I suppose we all have a bit OCD in us’ it is akin to scraping nails down my mental blackboard.


OCD is not fun. Asking your manager at work the same question 46 times in one day to the point where they look at you as if you are insanity personified is not fun. You know the answer in the first place. They have confirmed that to you 46 times. But did you hear them correctly? What if you misheard them each time? Or the answer wasn’t in exactly the sequence of words you needed it to be? Best ask it one more time. Just to be 100% certain. This will be absolutely, categorically the last time. Unless of course….

OCD is not fun. Binge eating eight days in a row to the point where you are nauseous but having to ensure that you eat certain foods in a certain order, in a certain room while reciting a certain mental mantra in exactly the right order is not fun. And if you get even one of these variables wrong then it’s onto Day 9. And you can’t finish on an odd number. So roll on Day 10.

OCD is not fun. Thinking you are a paedophile and a threat to your kids is not fun. Convincing yourself that you are a closet homosexual and you need to confess all to your wife is not fun. Compromising every living relationship in your life by wanting to blurt out unwanted, obscene thoughts about that person is not fun.

OCD is not fun. It never sleeps. It is the wriggling monster in your mind that you can never pin down, that you can never drown out. It is brutal, uncompromising and seeks to overwhelm every other rational thought in your mind. It wants to take over. It wants to break you. It wants to destroy you. 

I’m not a little bit OCD. I’m 100% OCD. It will always be there. Lurking, waiting, probing for the slightest chink in my armour. An armour of counselling, family support, medication and prayer built up through bitter experience and countless battles. An armour that works for me 99% of the time now after twenty years of utter chaos at the hands of this crippling mental illness.

It’s there. It always will be. And it’s not fun.

Do you have OCD or know of someone with it? Tell me about your experiences?

If you need support or prayer please comment below. We can help.

The P.R.I.C.E. Of Pain 

A week ago I was hopping out of an Accident & Emergency Department on crutches with my running dreams in tatters. I had sustained torn ankle ligaments and an avulsion fracture of the cuboid bone in my left foot. Basically the ligament had torn taking a small flake of bone with it. I could put no weight on the foot at all and was in a lot of pain. 

Mature adult that I was I reacted to this setback like any other mature adult would – by wallowing in self-pity on the sofa with a gallon tub of Pooh Bear honeycomb ice cream for company. I had been told at the hospital that it would be some time before I could run again. Worse still Dr. Google predicted several months out of action. Rumours were already circulating round my workplace that I would never run again.

I was prescribed RICE. Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation. Or in my world SPAF. Sofa, Peas (the frozen variety), Ankle Bandage, Foot Up. Fionnuala and the kids tended for my every need which largely consisted of trips to the fridge for Diet Coke, Double Decker bars and er….more ice cream. 

Monday turned into Tuesday. And the initial novelty of sofa surfing began to develop into cabin fever as I became increasingly frustrated. We prayed for healing but I imagined God had more pressing matters on his mind than the marathon running dreams of a middle aged moaner.

Then a funny thing happened. Wednesday morning came and I woke up with the now customary dread of setting my left foot on the bedroom floor. The previous three days had resulted in a shooting pain through my foot. Gingerly I levered myself out of bed and lowered my feet tentatively to the ground. Through gritted teeth and half shut eyes I counted down to contact with Planet Pain. 3,2,1…..

Nothing. Nada. Not a wince, tweak or spasm. I stood up and shuffled tentatively downstairs. Without crutches. Without pain. I had heard of people being healed but had always regarded it with a pinch of salt. Yes I knew it could happen. And I knew it did happen. But to me? Surely God reserved such party pieces for people with terminal illnesses or near death experiences. Not 47 year old men chasing 3:30:00 marathons. 

But there it was. RICE I hooted to myself as I walked the (limp free) walk of the righteous. RICE! God bless frozen vegetables. God bless co-codamol! God bless Maud’s ice cream! But then I remembered the missing ingredient. Prayer. While Fionnuala had prayed with me for my foot to heal I had inwardly muttered that God had put the brakes on my running career for a reason. 

I had felt a bit lost. Deflated. Why had God taken running from me? Was it a punishment? Had it become an idol in my life that I had valued above him, my family, my work? Was he putting me once and for all on the running scrap heap? Paying me back for the ego fuelled Instagram years when my running account had accumulated thousands of followers. While simultaneously pumping my ego and draining my soul. 

But prayer had been answered. I had been healed. My tiny brain could come up with no other explanation than answered prayer. RICE had become PRICE. The situation continued to improve in the coming days. I was back at work two days later. Rather sheepishly I might add given my work colleagues had sent me a get well soon card the previous day.

And today, a week after I was crawling about the office floor in agony, I was walking around it pain free. When asked about it I just shrugged my shoulders and answered ‘It’s a miracle really.’ My colleagues nodded knowingly not realising that I actually meant what I said. This was a 100% ‘lowered through the ceiling, pick up your mat and go home’ moment. (Miracle aside how annoyed must the owner of that house have been when those blokes lowered their mate through his roof. I bet it was the last time they invited Jesus round for lunch).

‘Yes of course I will heal him, but I’m not footing the bill for that hole.’

I ran for the first time again this evening. Nothing special. Just a gentle 30 minute walk/run with my son and wife’s cousin. But it’s a start. A step towards 26.2 miles again. A step towards helping others and glorifying God. Through my running. For him, not me. Time to let go of the ego. 

A broken bone one week. And I’m blogging about running the next. Something I never thought I’d do again after screwing it up so massively the last time. But God believes in me and has a plan for me. It’s time to put my best foot forward (literally), run the race in faith and see where it takes me.

I’m nervous but excited. Broken bone? Torn ligaments? A small PRICE to pay….

1 JOHN 5:14 – This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us.

Have you ever experienced the healing power of God?

Or are you cynical about my story? Either way let me know?

Oh….and what’s your favourite ice cream?

Stephen 

When a Friendship Turns Sour

 

When I was starting off on my Christian journey a very wise man, who is now somebody I look up to and respect, told me “God will close doors on friendships and relationships that you will not understand the reasons why at the time but you will” at the time I didn’t think much of it but since then those words have rang in my ears on quite a few occasions.

At the time, I had a good friend we were so close we were more like sisters.  We done everything together shopped, drank, socialised, holidayed, confided in each other I trusted her with everything and I was a complete open book to her and believed I had made a friend for life, that was until I became a Christian and God changed my life and sent me in a different direction than the one she was travelling on.

When my life began to change direction the new me didn’t want to down two bottles of wine on a Thursday night or go out to the pub on a Friday or Saturday night I was thirsty but not for alcohol a completely new and different kind of spirit that didn’t make you do stupid things and wake up the next morning feeling sick or having a pounding headache, no this spirit filled me up with love and peace and a hunger that no amount of Chinese food or bacon sandwich could ever fill it was the Holy Spirit.  I’d fallen in love with my best friend, my councillor, my saviour, my redeemer and his name is Jesus.

 

 My friend, who was a Christian herself, found all of this very hard to take in when I began to say “No” to her and wanted to do things that she had no interest in.  I listened to worship music that was a fault because she didn’t, I got involved with church and began to go to church events that was a fault, I turned down nights out with her to go to a prayer meeting or worship concert guess what that was a fault too.

 It was at this stage I could take a good long look at the friendship and it was then that it became very clear to me that this wasn’t a true, real friendship this was control this was somebody that had so much control over my life that I couldn’t see it until God revealed it to me.

 

 I found myself being able to think for myself again, being able to make decisions with my husband about our home and our children and not feeling as if I had to involve her.  My marriage was now between myself and my husband again with God at the centre not her.

 

 This friend thrived when things in my life were bad when I was having problems with my marriage she was there and she was amazing she helped me up and pulled me out of so many pits of despair that I depended on her too much.  When things were going pear shape in my life she was there.  I dropped everything for this girl and would have done and did do anything for her No was a word that I never used where she was concerned I put her before everybody because the backlash if she didn’t get her way just wasn’t worth the agro.  To be honest I don’t think she ever saw what she was doing was wrong.  She honestly believed she was going above and beyond for me and that I was being unreasonable for going down a different path that she wasn’t ready to go down herself.  Friendship turns sour when the spirit of control and jealousy comes in the door. 

Friends_know_all_about_you_quote_85_1

 

 Warning signals of a controlling or unhealthy friendship:

 

·         Your friend is not familiar with word NO

 

·         Your friend must always get things done their way

 

·         Your friend has too much to say with how you live your life

 

·         Your friend interferes in your relationships

 

 To me a friend is somebody that loves you even with all your flaws and imperfections.  A friend is somebody who encourages you and somebody that you can trust.  A real friend will never put you down through your past mistakes up in your face, bullies or manipulates you.   

 

 1 Corinthians 13:4-8New International Version (NIV)

 

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

 

 I watch my daughters and the group of friends that they have around them right now and I pray that they are always surrounded with good friends that will encourage them no matter what way their journeys take them.

 

 So, when a friendship or relationship ends that you just don’t seem to understand the reasons why just remember “God will close doors on friendships and relationships that you will not understand the reasons why at the time but you will”

Fionnuala

 

Pray For The Bombers 

This has been a horrific and senseless week in the United Kingdom. Twenty two people were slaughtered by a lone suicide bomber in Manchester at an Ariana Grande concert. And at the time of writing, seven more have died at the hands of three men in central London last night. Dozens more wounded, many with life changing injuries. Not to mention the catastrophic emotional and psychological damage. 

Twenty nine dead the media will tell us right? Well no actually. Even my decidedly average mathematics tells me that thirty three people died. Of course I’m including the four men who committed the carnage. Evil, mindless terrorist scum many will argue. However, uncomfortable as this might be to stomach, they were still human beings. With parents, partners and friends and families whose lives have also been ripped apart by the attacks.

I have been trying to pray for ALL of the dead and their families. Because whose to say if I (or any of us) brought up in an identical social, political, cultural and religious environment would as them would not have turned out the same way. What was going through his head when Salman Abedi detonated the explosives. We will never know.

It was too late for him by then. And there are thousands of other young Muslim men out there who now see his martyrdom as inspirational. An act that will motivate them to take forward the jihad against the infidel West. 

Is it too late for them? No it’s not. You just need to look at my own country Northern Ireland where 3000 people died at the hands of terrorists between 1969-1998. A more bitter, hate fuelled, sectarian conflict you could not imagine. But now my work brings me into contact with men who have turned their back on that lifestyle. Men with blood on their hands who now use those same hands for peace and reconciliation.


That’s the great thing about having willpower. The capacity for change. Jesus chose an extremist, violent bigot, Simon the Zealot, to be one of his disciples. So if he and others can change what’s to say that a future generation of Islamic martyrs can’t?

So that’s why I choose to pray for the bombers, their families and the Salman Abedi’s of the future. Our shared future.

Please let me know your thoughts about this post.

The Butterfly

This is my first time blogging, normally it’s my husband’s witty blogs that you read and it looks like I’ve caught the blogging bug which thankfully doesn’t require medical attention as I’ve seen enough of doctors, therapists and hospitals this week.  I want to share a bit of testimony with you about a small part of my journey but somebody who is a HUGE part of my life; our daughter Hannah.

In March 2003 we discovered I was pregnant.  We were really excited we had already a son Adam who was 8 months old. We were looking forward to our two children being really close together and good company for each other as they grew up.  My pregnancy was progressing really well. I was healthy and had gone back to work after my maternity leave with Adam. Life was good and our baby was due on Christmas Eve.  We were really looking forward to our big scan coming up and we decided that we were going to find out the sex of our baby this time. I was just too impatient and had to know.

On the morning of our scan we left Adam off at my mums and headed off to the hospital.  My mum is amazing she knows everything about everything and I am just like her!  When I was pregnant with Adam I used to give off because I was never called to see my consultant. I always just got one of her registrars and my mum told me stop your complaining you will only see your consultant if there is something wrong.

We were so happy that morning and excited to see our baby and find out if it was a boy or girl.

Eventually my name was called and in we went.  The scan was underway and there wasn’t very much talk out of the sonographer so we asked her to let us know the sex of the baby. She told us she would see what she could do.  She took a lot of time doing the scan and was extremely quiet and I can remember thinking she is being very thorough. Then she said she thought we were having a girl but it was hard to see as the baby seemed to be sleeping. She then said she just needed to nip out for a moment.  I still didn’t think anything was wrong at this stage. I was getting excited and thinking about which shops I was going to hit after I left the hospital to buy everything pink I could see.

A few minutes later a woman entered the room with the sonographer and introduced herself to me as my consultant and my heart sank as I knew there was something wrong.  She scanned our baby and then informed us that our baby had Spina Bifida and possibly hydrocephalus and that things were not looking good for her.  I can remember thinking that this can’t be happening to me things like this don’t really happen it was all a bad dream.  I could see her mouth moving but I couldn’t hear anything.  Next thing I knew there were other nurses in the room with us and I looked at Stephen and he had turned grey; that’s when I knew it was real.

I had heard of Spina Bifida before but didn’t know what it was or how it would affect our baby girl.  We were fortunate enough that day that the doctors and consultants who we needed to speak with were there to give us information and tell us what to expect.  We spoke with one doctor who told us that our baby if she survived the pregnancy might only live for seconds, minutes or days and if she did live she would be both physically and mentally disabled.  She wouldn’t be able to talk, walk and in his words would be brain damaged.  He advised us that we should have our pregnancy terminated and gave us 24 hours to think it over.  I can remember thinking there is no way on this earth I am giving up on my baby and was worried my husband wouldn’t have thought the same as me.

The doctor left us alone for a few minutes and we both agreed there and then that we were not giving up on our daughter and we were going to cherish whatever moments we were going to be blessed with her and remember them always.

We told the doctor our decision but he still insisted that we think it over and really did try and persuade us to change our minds.

At this time my husband belonged to a Presbyterian church and I belonged to a Catholic church but to be honest neither of us ever practiced our faith or even prayed and when we look back now we have both wondered how we get through that part of our lives when we weren’t walking with God. We do believe now that this was all part of God’s plan for us.

My mum works in a convent beside the hospital and we left and went over to see her and told her what had happened.  As soon as she saw me she just knew that we had received bad news in fact she knew when I was at her house before I went to the hospital.  From that day nuns and priests the length and breadth of Ireland were praying for our baby.

The next morning at 9am my husband rang the doctor and told him that we were not giving up on our baby and going ahead with our pregnancy.  The remainder of the pregnancy was just full of appointments monitoring everything with the baby and each time they were giving us the most terrible news but we were still not giving up on our baby girl.

I experienced very mixed reactions from people regarding my pregnancy; both of our families were very supportive but what shocked me was my friends that I had been through everything with telling me that I was being selfish and not thinking of Adam and how it was going to affect him; another friend of my mums asked her, in her words, “why did she not get rid of it”.  They couldn’t understand that whatever time, whether it be long or short, we were going to have with our baby was going to be the most precious time of our lives.   I know I couldn’t have lived with myself if I had have given up on her and I now thank God that it was us that he trusted with that decision for our baby and not them.

I got a real strengthening of faith over the next few months and started going to mass and praying more that I probably ever had before.  The nuns prayed for us every day and they had a few special masses for us.  The last mass that was said for us was the weekend before I went into hospital for a C Section to deliver our baby into the world.  During the mass I noticed a beautiful butterfly on the altar and it stayed there all throughout the service. I can remember thinking I have never seen a butterfly in December before as in Ireland this is very rare.  At the end of the mass one of the nuns lifted the butterfly and brought it over to me and placed it in my hands.  Now if you have ever tried to lift a butterfly and carry it across a room and place it in another persons hand it is extremely hard to do.  The butterfly just sat in the palm of my hand and didn’t move, I actually thought it wasn’t real until it started to flutter.  This butterfly has always stayed in my memory and I have always thought there was something very significant about it.

When thinking about this recently I googled butterflies in the bible and was guided to the following  scripture  2 Corinthians 5:17-18 “This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person.  The old life is gone, a new life has begun.  And all of this is a gift from God.”

The Christian symbol of a butterfly is the resurrection of Jesus.  The caterpillar disappears into a cocoon which is like the tomb Jesus lay in after he was crucified; after a while the caterpillar emerges from the cocoon having been transformed into something more powerful – a butterfly.

To me the caterpillar represented my life before I became a Christian. I was stuck in the earth dirty and ugly with sin.  Then I stopped running and hiding from God; he saved me and transformed me into a new creation – a butterfly.

On 10th December 2003 at 10.30am our baby girl Hannah was brought into the world weighing a whopping 8lb 12oz.  She defied everything the doctors had said and would continue to do so.  My husband had a quick cuddle with her before she was taken away to the neo natal unit.  When I was brought out of theatre I was brought to see Hannah it was very funny she was the biggest and healthiest baby in the neo natal unit filling the incubator with this massive head of brown hair. I knew then and there that she was a fighter and that everything was going to be just right.

I didn’t get to see Hannah again until later that night. I couldn’t settle back on the ward and one of the nurses on the night shift said that if I was able to get out of bed they could get me a wheelchair and take me up to see her.  She didn’t have to tell me that twice I was up and out of bed right away.  When I got to the neo natal unit the doctor  was doing the rounds and he told me yet again how my baby wouldn’t walk, talk or be able to do anything for herself and that we wouldn’t know until she was a year old what damage there was going to be to her brain.  I was petrified as it was nearly midnight and I was sitting here on my own in the hospital with my baby in an incubator and I still couldn’t get to hold her.  The nurse came and brought me back to the ward and gave me a sleeping tablet to help me sleep but it never happened and I couldn’t wait until morning when my husband would come and see me.

The next day our little girl was transferred to the Children’s Hospital to have her first of many surgeries and that evening I signed myself out of hospital and went to see my daughter where I finally got to hold her for the very first time.

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On Christmas morning we got the best present ever and we were allowed to take our baby girl home from hospital.  The first six months of Hannah’s life were spent in and out of hospital and either myself or her daddy were with her at all times and Adam was never neglected or felt deprived in any way.

Hannah is now 13 years old and she is the most amazing and outgoing girl you could meet.  Don’t get me wrong she is a typical teenager; mood swings and temper tantrums are a daily occurrence in our house.  Hannah did and continues to defy everything that the doctors said she couldn’t do.  She can talk, boy did they get that one wrong, the only problem we have there is getting her to stop!  She sings, dances, writes, reads and is currently rehearsing for a Stars in their Eyes charity show to raise money for a Children’s Cancer Unit.  The only thing the doctors got right is that she can’t walk and so far she hasn’t proved them wrong but we pray and believe that one day she will if it’s part of God’s plan for her.

My advice to anybody that finds themselves in a similar situation in their life is to have hope and faith in God as there is nothing that he will take you into that he can’t help you get through to the other side.  We are all God’s children; he has a plan and purpose for each and every one of us and he knows it before we are even created and has it written out on our scrolls in heaven.  We are all different and unique in our own way.  Some of us are black, some of us are white, some tall, some small, some thin and some not so thin and then there are the Limited Editions who have a very special, unique plan that only God knows what is ahead for them.  Every baby deserves a fighting chance of a life and it is God’s decision as to how long or short that life will be.

Psalm 139 v13-14

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

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Samson – The MTV Years

I’m not an authority on Biblical timelines but I’m pretty sure the Book of Proverbs was written after Samson’s time on Planet Earth. Or if it was he didn’t get around to reading it. I get the feeling that Samson wasn’t much of a reader. Too busy leading the life of a heroic leader and warrior for all that nonsense.

When I read of Samson’s story in the Book of Judges I get the image of a really cheesy 1980’s heavy metal video with lots of pyrotechnics and dry ice. Samson was the Old Testament’s pre-cursor to Vince Neill from Motley Crue. Or maybe a young Alice Cooper.

Now before you shout blasphemy let’s study the facts. An only child raised by devoted and probably well to do parents he appears to have developed all the qualities of a spoilt brat in his formative years. No doubt handsome and possessed with superhuman strength he has also acquired vanity, arrogance and insufferable smugness. What Samson saw, Samson got.

His best friend was undoubtedly his mirror. Imagine the preening, pouting and backcombing that went on. He no doubt had a considerable entourage and Israeli (as well as Philistine) girls swooned at his feet wherever he went. Yes as Biblical heroes go Samson really was a bit of a prat.

This Old Testament jock had it all. Or so he thought. The wealth, the looks, the body. But beneath it all was he happy? I’m not so sure. He had a terrible temper. Now we’ve all been cross before. But capturing 300 foxes, tying them in pairs and then unleashing them alight through your enemys’ cornfields? That’s supercross.


He also had terrible judgement when it came to women. His marriage was a disaster and as for his dalliance with Delilah? Well there’s gullible, there’s naive and then there’s Samson. It’s ironic that this escapade cost him his physical sight given that a blind man wearing earphones could have seen that gold digging diva from a mile off. 

Samson led a heroic but tragic life. He was greatly blessed but deeply flawed. If Samson could screw up a situation he 100% did. But beneath the flaws and the screw ups was a man who loved God. Was a man who wanted to please God. Was a man who at the end of his life reflected on his behaviour, realised the errors of his ways and sacrificed himself for his God and his nation. It all came crashing down on Samson in the end. But what a way to bow out and enter eternity!

We can all relate to Samson. Not the million miles an hour rock star lifestyle. But beneath all that when we look at the man and his insecurities we can see ourselves. Wanting to lead a godly life but dragged down by earthly temptations, false idols and misleading emotions. I have been the king of screw ups. Samson without the looks and the money, that’s me.

But I am really starting to think that this blog and my writing could be my calling. I feel new hope and a stronger faith after years of false starts and falser friendships. And if Samson can do it then so can I. Without the big hair and the eyeliner of course….

Tell me about your worst ever hairstyle? Mullet anecdotes particularly welcome.

How can you relate to Samson?

Is God leading you beyond your past failings and into Kingdom work?

The Pressures of Zero Pressure

We as a family are no strangers to Accident & Emergency Departments. A few months ago it was our son who broke his wrist playing rugby. That’s a bit like American Football without the wimpy pads for our friends across the Atlantic.

Then there was my fractured foot and torn ankle ligaments which I blogged about earlier in the week (I’m fine thanks for asking). And this morning it was our eldest daughter, Hannah, who developed a nasty pressure sore on the sole of her foot which unfortunately broke down again necessitating urgent medical attention. 

Hannah is thirteen years old and was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. This means she needs a wheelchair to get about at present. She is, her disability aside, a healthy, loving, kind, funny teenage girl. And like all teenage girls she can be equally untidy, ungrateful and disobedient when the notion takes her. She can drive us nuts but we love her unconditionally. Not least for her courage, patience, sense of humour and the biggest heart this side of Heaven.

Because of her disability Hannah has little sensation in her legs. And limited circulation which makes her skin hyper sensitive and vulnerable to the slightest abrasion or cut. My wife does an incredible job monitoring her skin but even she can’t be there 24/7. Hannah has a life to lead and we can’t keep her wrapped in cotton wool. Not that the little madam would let us.

It’s been a very frustrating time for my wife and I. She has outgrown her current wheelchair and bed. She needs good quality upgrades to protect her skin from sores. If they break down badly and/or get infected there can be serious health consequences. We pray constantly for Hannah but it often seems one step forward, two steps back.


Trying to acquire what Hannah requires through our Health Service is a never ending bureaucratic nightmare. My wife does the large majority of this on a daily basis with physiotherapists, occupational therapists, nurses, doctors and consultant surgeons. She does everything and more to fight for Hannah’s rights. 

But we are now almost halfway through the year and Hannah does not have the bed and wheelchair she so desperately needs. And we find ourselves in A&E again, fretting over another pressure sore. As the tissue viability nurse examined the foot we explained how Hannah’s therapists had done everything they could to minimise the pressure on her feet when she was in her chair. From expensive padding to random bits of sponge you name it they had tried. But to no avail. 

When we mentioned this minimising of pressure the nurse frowned and shook her head. ‘No’ she replied. ‘Minimal pressure is no good. What she needs is zero pressure’. At which point I whispered to Hannah that maybe we should send her into space to take a break from gravity. Me and my wonky foot would keep her company. Cue immature giggling all round. 

But it got me thinking. Imagine going through life with zero pressure. Always sufficient funds in the bank to pay the bills. Waltzing through work effortlessly every day. A world free from war and sickness. And above all else….kids who didn’t argue about whose turn it was to do the dishes.

Zero pressure. It’s a nice idea. But when God dispatched us to Planet Earth he never said it was going to be easy. Or even slightly difficult for that matter. Being a Christian behind enemy lines requires pressure. Quite a bit of it to be honest. If you aspire to change and improve we have to push forward. And pushing involves resistance from the world. Which manifests itself as pressure.

The good news? If we persevere we WILL break through. Maybe not in the manner we wanted to, or how the world gauges ‘success’, but in the manner that falls within the remit of God’s master plan. 

If it meant getting Hannah the equipment she needs I’d run a hundred marathons. And relish the pressure of it. Just like I relish the pressures of running the Christian race in this fallen world.

No pressure. No thanks. 

What is the longest time you have spent in an Accident & Emergency Department?

In what areas of your Christian journey do you most experience pressure?

How do you deal with pressure? 

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