The Waiting Room 

Today was Round 3 at the doctor’s surgery in what is fast becoming Stephen’s Summer Of Sickness. My latest diagnosis is that I have a deflated Eustachian tube in my left ear and am also suffering from post viral fatigue. I have to go for blood tests on Wednesday. And I’ve very reluctantly told my work that I need to take a few days off to rest. I can blog, however, from a horizontal position so worry not my blogging friends.

I was sitting in the surgery waiting to be seen this morning when the gentleman seated to my right was called into his appointment. I thought nothing of this and returned to my phone as I was replying to a few blog comments I had received overnight. I then heard a familiar voice to my right (yes it’s my good ear) say my name. I looked over to see a friend of Fionnuala and mine seated two seats over.

He had walked into the surgery after me and we had not seen each other. He had then sat down with our view of each other obscured by the gentleman seated between us. We got talking and were soon caught up on recent events in each other’s lives. This man is one of the most godly people I know and has provided wise and much needed counsel to Fionnuala and myself in recent months. Yet I had sat in the same room with him for a good twenty minutes completely unaware of his presence.


How many times have we been completely oblivious to real, genuine friendships due to barriers that we allow to come between us? I know I have many times. Sometimes the circumstances are beyond our control but often we put the barriers in place ourselves, either wittingly or unwittingly. The barriers can be anything; from an unhealthy friendship to an ungodly pastime; or from emotions such as jealousy, greed or unforgiveness.

Sometimes the barrier can be resentment. Resentment at your friend speaking the truth over your life. Telling us that what we are thinking, saying or doing is just plain wrong. The truth will set us free but only if we accept it as such. If it doesn’t fit in with our prevailing lifestyle then we tend to cover our ears and close our eyes. Such friends we view as spoilsports and party poopers when they are, in fact, acting in our best interests.

The truth is grounded in love. True friends love hard. Even if it causes both them and us temporary pain. Necessary pain that acts as a warning klaxon, alerting our brains and souls that we are edging towards the precipice. A path where only fools tread. A path that leads directly to tbe realms of the dead.

So we construct barriers. We fill our ears with cotton wool and place blinkers over our eyes. We deplore the truth so we ignore the truth. And real friends become invisible to us. Even though they are seated just across the room screaming words of knowledge and wisdom at us. They scream the truth. They scream life. They scream love.

Are you in that position today? Is there an area of your life that you know is spiritually unhealthy but you cannot let go of? Have you a friend who you have shut out of your life even though you know deep down that they have spoken life and truth over you? Have you turned your back on a deep and lasting friendship for a temporary, earthly fix. The truth does hurt but, ultimately, it heals.

My advice, as I have been there, is to turn back. Turn around and run back to them with open arms. Tear down the barriers. Take a hard reality check and rip the nails from the wood with your bare hands. Even if it causes you to bleed. For these friends are like rare jewels. They have been placed by God in your life for a reason. Just as you have been placed in theirs.

The only wood you need is the wood of the Cross. The only nails, those that hung Jesus Christ to it. The only blood, that which he shed for us. Because like true friends he will always be in the room with us. He will never leave our side even when we don’t want him there. Tear down the barrier. Choose true friends. And there is no truer friend than Jesus.

Proverbs 18:24 – ‘One who has unreliable friends soon comes to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.’

Have you ever been on the wrong side of a barrier with a true friend?

Who constructed the barrier? You or them?

If it is still there would you consider a reconciliation with them?

Shark Attack 

I walked into the living room this evening to find Fionnuala and Adam watching a movie called ‘Sharknado’. You may have heard of it but not during Oscars week. The plot basically surrounds a series of freak tornadoes hitting Los Angeles and depositing a shedload of man eating sharks on the unsuspecting public. Shark + Tornado = Sharknado. Get it?

It ‘stars’ (for want of a better word) Tara Reid from ‘American Pie’ and that annoying bloke out of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ with the curly blonde hair. Steve, I think. Or was it Dylan? Anyway I doubt that the movie was a career highlight for any of them but I suppose it paid a few bills.

If the acting is bad, wait until you hear the storyline. At one point an actress is plucked from a helicopter high above the city by a ravenous, airborne Jaws lookalike. She’s a goner for sure right? Wrong! Ten minutes later our hero, Steve, dives headlong into a shark as it plummets towards earth in order to push his teenage daughter out of the way. Double trouble!

But rest assured as the next scene shows him cutting his way out of the shark’s belly with a chainsaw that he just happened to pick up along the way. And clambering out behind him, covered in shark intestines, is the girl who had, seemingly a lifetime ago, been grabbed from the helicopter. Sharktastic!!


All this caused great hilarity in the Black household. The special effects looked like they cost around £5.50 and a few rolls of duct tape. It was Z-list made for TV celluloid trash. And how we loved it! Adam was delighted to hear that ‘Sharknado’ is now a five movie franchise. There is obviously a market for this trash. The mind boggles. 

It really was one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ movies which we have all secretly enjoyed while admitting  nothing of the sort to our movie afficiando friends. A guilty pleasure which we will take to our graves rather than fess up to the ridicule of our peers. And where is  the harm in that? Nobody gets hurt and in the event of a real life airborne great white invasion we are streets ahead of our neighbours when it comes to chances of survival.

Guilty pleasures. That extra helping of dessert. That new dress you have been eyeing up in the sales for weeks. That new must have gadget that you just have to get your hands on. Again, no great drama as long as you hit the gym the following day or make sure your credit bill is paid at the end of the month. 

Where guilty pleasures do become a problem though is when they take our eyes off God and the path he has laid out in front of us. When they create barriers between Him and us and become idols that we covet and worship. When they replace God at the centre of our lives. That extra glass of wine after dinner every night that eventually becomes a bottle. Then two.

Or that harmless online friendship that over time slides into inappropriate, sinful behaviour. It is then that the guilt outweighs the pleasure and your moral compass starts to go into serious freefall. Before you know it you are lifted off your feet and blown away into your own personal tornado of shame and despair. 

Don’t go there. It’s not a nice place. And believe me I know as I’ve been there. Who knows how many times King David admired Bathsheba from his palace rooftop before he invited her over for dinner. It was his guilty pleasure. Nobody else knew about it. What harm was a little peek?

But the seed had been sown and before he knew it David was an adulterer and a murderer. His moral compass was doing loop the loops and the more he tried to dig his way out of it, the worse it got for him. It cost him his son. And almost his very soul. Check out Psalm 51 if you don’t believe me.

If it can happen to the mighty King David, a man after God’s own heart, then it can certainly happen to you or me. Subtly, gradually, almost without us being aware of it. Then BAM!! Satan has his hooks well and truly lodged in our hearts and it’s game over. 

So enjoy that extra slice of pizza now and again. But when it comes to the bigger issues, know your limits. Know when to say no. And have Christian friends around you who you can be accountable to. Identify your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and prepare strategies to counter enemy attacks. Because that’s where he will be coming at you from. Trust God to guide you through the trials and temptations. For he sees into the deepest recesses of your heart.

Now does anybody know where I can rent ‘Sharknado 2’?

2 Samuel 11:2 -3 ‘One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful and David sent someone to find out about her.’

What is your ‘so bad it’s good’ movie?

Have you any other guilty pleasure?

How do you focus on God every day?

Sick 

I’m so sick of being sick. It’s been five weeks now. I have tried everything. Two courses of antibiotics and various other forms of medication. But nothing has shifted the fatigue and exhaustion that weighs down upon my arms, legs and chest. The phlegmy cough has eased slightly but my left ear is getting worse if anything. I can’t run and even climbing the stairs leaves me feeling as if I have run a marathon. I feel my fitness fading, I sense the weight creeping back on. Yes I’m sick of being sick.


I hate writing these words. I know that it is a pity party, a self-centred whine; and, in the greater scheme of things, this #firstworldproblem pales into insignificance against the real horrors and injustices taking place in the world today. Grenfell Tower, Syria, famine in Africa, the list goes on. But all I can write about is how I feel. And I’m sick of writing about how sick I am of being sick.

I was lying in bed the other morning, wallowing in the me-mire and venting at God in full on Psalm 13 mode – ‘How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?’ I bombarded him with questions. Why am I sick? Why are you not listening to me? Why am I not healed? What are you trying to teach me because I’m stumped?

As God tends to do, he answered my question with a pointed but loving question – ‘Stephen, where is your Bible?’ Er….it’s downstairs, why? Silence. Then more silence. I took the hint. He hears me and he wants to heal me. But I have to allow him to heal me. And I can’t do that unless I listen to him, live in his Word and obediently keep to the path he has pre-ordained for me. It’s a team game. He doesn’t expect a lot from me but he does expect me to take that first step. He will do the rest. He will move the mountain.

We live in a fallen, broken world. Sickness was not part of the original plan. We brought it on ourselves. We are all sick. Spiritually sick. And no doctor or emergency department can cure you of that. Only Jesus, the Great Physician can. He will heal you if you believe in him and trust him. And part of the trust process is to follow him and his teachings. To learn them, by reading his Word, and then apply them consistently to our lives. Until we do it as second nature without even thinking.

Sin is like quicksand. The more we try to extricate ourselves from it the more it will suck us down. We cannot escape it by our own means. We require a lifeline. And that lifeline is the Word. And the Word is Jesus. We need to allow him to help us. I truly believe my physical sickness is a by-product of spiritual sickness. Earthly medication has not worked to date. God is trying to teach me that in order to be physically healed I need to avail of the spiritual medicine that he is offering me. His living Word. The Bible. The ultimate pain killer.

I am going to take the hint, God. I am going to grab the lifeline you threw me. I am going to pick up my Bible and read it. Read it with a fresh hunger for your wisdom. I am going to put my total trust in you and pray you deliver me from this sickness. Revive me and refresh me. Heal me of this physical virus, yes. But also heal me from selfish, sinful thinking. Heal me from unhealthy, obsessive thinking. Heal me from my old self. Create a new me. A healthy vessel able to step out and work for the glory of your Kingdom. Be that blogging, running or whatever.

When did God last speak clearly to you? 

Do you believe that physical well being is linked to spiritual well being?

Are you sick of being sick? Talk to us if you require prayer. 

Mr Mop

Fionnuala returns home today from two days away in London at a family wedding. I dutifully stayed behind to mind the kids while she swanned off to enjoy herself in the big smoke. She had better bring me back a good present.

Saying that we have had a good time. Yesterday the four of us went to a Family Day at the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast where we met the Ulster Rugby squad. The kids got loads of photos and autographs with the players and there were loads of other other things to do including face painting, bouncy castles and of course food.

Lots of food. Chocolate and marshmallow crepes, ice cream and then burgers & chips when we got home. It was party central but I woke up this morning knowing that the boss lady was on her way home. And I didn’t want to feel the wrath of her tongue if she walked in tbe front door with the house looking like a bomb had hit it.

So this morning was a flurry of activity on my part. Washing dishes, sweeping floors and emptying bins to name but a few chores. The washing machine has been constantly on and the clothes horses are fully loaded. And all the while chasing after the kids who have the uncanny ability to trash a room within five minutes of entering it. I haven’t stopped. Do I get a medal ladies?


I know that I am a man and, as such, my standards of  cleanliness and tidiness are well beneath those of my wife. No matter how much I mop and polish she will always find something. An overlooked dusty shelf, a grimy plate or a dirty t-shirt. I do my best, I try really hard but I will never reach the level that Fionnuala sets. But I know that she will appreciate the thought and the effort. And that she still loves me despite my amateur housework.

Our Christian lives are a bit like that. We try to keep our houses in order. We love others, we give generously and show mercy and grace wherever we go. We study, pray and worship and place God at the centre of our lives. We follow Jesus and his teachings and aspire to be beacons of light and hope in a dark, scary world. We forgive others, turn our cheeks and pray for our enemies. 

But no matter how hard we try we will never attain the standards set by God. We fall woefully short and, as vigilant as we might be, will allow sinful thoughts and acts to stain our minds and our hearts. Every one of us has a dirty little corner of our lives that no spiritual spring clean can ever reach.

God knows this. He accepts it. Which is why he sent his only son, Jesus, to earth to die on the Cross as a sacrifice for our sins. And with that one act, the slate was wiped clean. We were made holy and pure before God, cleansed by the blood shed by Jesus. Our sins forgiven and forgotten. 

All that God asks is that we do our best once we accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. We can never attain perfection but we can aspire towards it. We can love and care for others. Help the needy and desperate. Live a life where we make a difference and leave a legacy. So when the day comes and we stand before his throne we can do so with confidence. Confident that we did our very best and the ultimate prize awaits, that of eternal life.

Isaiah 1:18 – ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like snow.’

Ladies – do the men in your life fall short when it comes to household duties?

Men – do the woman in your life ask too much? We do our best, right?

The Demon Part 2

In my previous blog post  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-demon/ I wrote about my lifelong struggle with mental health issues and, primarily. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It has been a harrowing journey at times. A daily war of attrition between my logical, rational thought processes and the inner voice, which I described as a demon, urging me to fully embrace the madness that is OCD. A deadly, seductive voice that every fibre of my being resisted. And yet so many times I have succumbed to its lies.

I hope that this follow-up post is more positive. I am a survivor, a pretty beat up survivor, but one nonetheless. I have a loving family and a secure income. 99% of the time I function perfectly well and keep the demon chained up in a corner in the deepest recesses of my psyche. But I can never grow complacent. For he is always watching, lurking; waiting for the tiniest mental scrap that he can pounce upon and manipulate until it spawns into an uncontrollable wrecking ball of poisonous negativity. 

Listed below are some coping mechanisms that I deploy to combat my ever present enemy. As a Christian they work for me. They might not work you. OCD is forever shifting, changing and evolving. It varies from one victim to the next and is as slippery as an eel and as elusive as smoke on a windy day. All I can do is talk about my experiences and pray that they emit a beacon of hope to at least one person out there who is adrift and unable to cope.

1. Get properly diagnosed.

For years I thought I was a freak, an oddball, a deviant. Who else would have the horrific, obscene thoughts that plagued my every waking hour? Perform ridiculous, convoluted routines countless times until I dropped to my knees in abject surrender? I was quite simply insane and a lost cause, doomed to endure this inner torment for the rest of my days.

That was until my wife, Fionnuala, conducted some online research and suggested I might have OCD. I was initially sceptical, as to me OCD revolved around cleaning routines and people who constantly washed their hands. I displayed neither of these obsessive behaviours. It was only when I began to delve deeper into the illness  that I realised I ticked so many of the relevant boxes that this is what it had to be.

The relief was immense. Just the knowledge that I was not a raving lunatic but instead had a recognised  illness that could be treated. As important was knowing that I was not alone but could now tap into the experiences of thousands of others who were walking the same road as me. Before I was miserable and isolated. Now I was part of a community where I could learn and share.

2. Talk to someone

For many years I hid the illness. I was ashamed of it, convinced that nobody would understand and I would be ostracised because of it. Added to that was how to put into words the maelstrom of disgusting thinking that polluted my mind every day. How do you explain to your wife that there is a voice in your head telling you that you are a threat to your kids? 

Fionnuala knew something was badly wrong. But little by little I began to confide in her, opening the lid on the thoughts that circled my conciousness like a bird of prey. To my amazement she didn’t turn her back but listened and stood by me. She has been a rock ever since. She might not understand it all but her love and empathy have dragged me through many a dark day. Talking helps. It lances the boil. It release the pressure. Talk to a loved one.

3. Seek help

When I was diagnosed I was prescribed 20mg of an anti-depressant which stimulates the release of serotonin, a chemical which acts as a neurotransmitter within the body. Persons with OCD are known to have reduced levels of serotonin in their systems. Regulating levels via prescribed medication can prove an effective tool in tbe battle that is raging within. It has worked for me. The screaming voice of OCD is now a faint whisper which I can normally contain and control.

Many other people diagnosed with the disorder have benefited from counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT) has proven to be especially effective; here the patient is gradually exposed to the thought or situation that is making them anxious. This gradual exposure to your unwanted thoughts teaches you other methods of overcoming them as opposed to falling back into repetitive rituals. Registered charities such as OCD Action and OCD-UK also offer incredible support networks.

4. My faith 

Not everyone who is reading this will be a Christian but my faith and belief that there is a supernatural higher power has been a great comfort to me these last four years. Sometimes when the obsessive thinking has become overwhelming I have prayed and handed it over to God. Nothing overwhelms him. On many occasions praying quietly or studying the Bible has given me the strength to carry on and face another day. 

This belief reassures me that there is a life beyond OCD. And that hope keeps me going through the dark times. The Bible is littered with stories of ordinary people who were used by God to achieve superhuman feats despite histories of depression and anxiety. Moses the original worry wart; David wallowing in despair when he wrote the Psalms; and Peter driven to the edge of madness when he denied Jesus three times. 

God used them. He pulled them out of their respective mental mires and infused them with a spiritual belief that allowed them to overcome their inner demons. And he can use me and you in exactly the same way today. All we have to do is admit our weaknesses, accept that we are powerless to conquer them and hand them over to him. And he will. For him, nothing is impossible.

Please let me know your thoughts about this post. I pray that it has been of some help to somebody. 

Psalm 40:2 – ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’

The Demon 

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder more commonly known as OCD. It is a recognised mental illness often diagnosed alongside anxiety and depression. I call them the Unholy Trinity. Looking back I have had it, in some form or another, for most of my life although it was at its worst in my mid to late twenties. I am largely on top of it now thanks to medication, self-education and family support but I can never let my guard down as it can flare up again at any time.

What is OCD? It is incredibly difficult to explain and is intensely personal and unique to anyone who suffers from it. If you want the textbook definition then google it. As for me it is unwanted, intrusive thoughts that enter my head and then remain there on a constant loop. No matter how hard I try to ignore or dispel them, thet fester and grow to the point where they occupy every waking second of your day. Imagine a broken record playing full volume in your head over and over again. 24/7. That is OCD. It will not stop until it has broken you. It is a demon of the mind.


The thought can be anything. When I was younger it was more physical. Household items had to be positioned in a certain way, daily routines had to be performed a certain number of times and so on. I developed various physical ticks and movements that had to be performed even to the point where they caused me embarrassment, discomfort or actual physical pain. They had to be carried out ‘just right’ to ease the rising tide of anxiety building up inside of me.

In later life the obsessions became more mental as opposed to physical. This is known as Pure OCD. Dark, disturbing images would explode uninvited into my head. You are a paedophile. You don’t love your family. You are a homosexual. And unless I performed certain complicated mental routines a certain number of times (usually three or five) the thought would rage unabatee through my increasingly fragile mind. To the extent where I could not perform any other activity. Could not work, could not hold a conversation, could not think. I was held captive in a prison without walls. Everywhere I went the thoughts went with me. 

The obsession (be it physical or mental) and accompanying anxiety could only be eased it I performed a pre-determined routine a set number of times. This was the compulsive response to the obsessive thought. In my case this usually involved a tortuous series of mental gymnastics that would leave me exhausted and questioning my own sanity.

For example if the unwanted voice in my head told me that I was, say, a terrible father I would have to state five ‘facts’ to disprove this statement. No I am not a bad father because….And unless I said these facts in exactly the right order, using exactly the right words I would have to start all over again. Until it felt just right.

This would take up huge amounts of my time. The concentration and focus required were enormous. At work I would have to hide in the toilets for lengthy periods of time in order to perform routines. At home I would drift off in the middle of conversations in order to deal with routines. This made me come across as rude and disinterested. I wasn’t. I was just battling the obsession in the only way I knew. 

And all the while the voice in my head was there. Telling me I had slipped up. That I had missed a word. Start again. That, yes, I had performed the routine accurately but it didn’t feel quite right. Start again. For every time I performed a routine the voice would have a million and one reasons why I had to start again. It had a total grip of me. I was powerless. It broke me day after day. The only respites I had were sleep or alcohol. But they were only temporary. And every time I woke up or the hangover cleared the voice would be waiting for me, ready to pick up again from where we had left off. Start again. Start again. Start again.

The reason I am writing this today is to educate others who have been misinformed about the illness and to offer hope to those currently battling this demon of the mind. I still have bad days and I still struggle. I doubt that you can ever be ‘cured’ but there are ways to fight back. For it is a battle. But a battle you can win. If you enter it with the proper weapons, armour and tactics. In my next blog I’m going to talk about how I did just that and how you can too.

Until next time. Don’t be a victim. Slay the demon.

Have you OCD or know somebody with it? If so please talk to me. I want to help.

Need 

Tomorrow is pay day. I get paid on a monthly basis so the final few days leading up to the grand event are always full of anticipation as I count down the hours, minutes and seconds until the money finally lands in my bank account. It’s like Christmas Eve for adults. Without the mince pies, tinsel and big fat guy in the red suit. And it happens 12 times a year!

The money is electronically transferred so that it appears in my account at one minute past midnight. I have known colleagues to be strategically positioned at ATM machines at this exact moment, such is their enthusiasm to spend their hard earned wages. In the nearest bar. I, of course, have never sunk to such depths. Ahem. 

When Fionnuala and I were younger pay day meant three things: spend, spend and then spend some more. We lived for the moment and well beyond our means. Designer clothes, holidays and nights out were the priorities. Never worry about saving for the future. That could wait. We needed the good stuff now!

Fast forward twenty five years or so and we still look forward to pay day. But for very different reasons. New school uniforms need to be purchased, bills need paid, in fact there always seems to be something or someone draining our resources. Pay day for me used to be a night (or preferably weekend) on the town living the dream. Now I’m content if I have enough to buy a new book on my Kindle. 

I still look forward to pay day now but for different reasons. Back in the day it was all about myself. Treating myself and making sure I enjoyed myself. Fast forward to the present and I have responsibilities – three kids, a mortgage and a border terrier to provide for. I now consciously choose to put them first even though ,at times, I still want to look after numero uno.

This is partly due to greater maturity on my part but also out of necessity. Our kids rely on us to provide for their needs. Much as I would like to splash the cash on myself I realise that there are others who need it more than me. The word ‘need’ itself has a varied etymology but one translation traces it back to the old German word ‘nud’ meaning ‘hardship, distress or danger.’

Danger? I need a new laptop. I need a new car. I need a new house. Hardly life or death situations. More want than need. But contextualise it differently and the word makes perfect sense with regards its Germanic roots. I need a drink of water. I need food for my family. I need this vaccination for my child or he will die. Those needs encapsulate the true meaning of the word. Need is desperate. Need is now. Need is the difference between life and death.

I am sure none of you reading this are millionaires. And if you are a millionaire then surely you have better things to be doing than reading this blog! I am equally sure that you all have pressing financial demands that need to be covered. We all have bills to pay; equally we are all entitled to the occasional treat. I am not suggesting for a moment you adopt the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ approach. God put us on this planet to enjoy our time here and the last thing the world needs is another sanctimonious party pooper.

But it is true that the best things in life come free. Health, Family & Friends. The rest is mere detail. Like chasing the wind. It will never truly satisfy you. So when you contemplate your next payday purchase because you really need it, stop a second and think about the meaning of the word. Will I be placing myself in danger or distress if I don’t buy that new pair of jeans or video game? And when you have answered that question perhaps consider giving the money you would have spent to those whose needs, if not taken care of, can place them in real danger. 

Africa. Aleppo. It doesn’t really matter. It can be a headline cause on the other side of the world. Or it can be the family living on the breadline in your neighbourhood. Their needs are greater than yours. Remove them from distress and danger.

You need to….

Ecclesiastes 5:10 – ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.’

What has been your craziest payday purchase?

What need can you meet in your community today?

Ear We Go Again

It has been three weeks now since I wrote Aches On A Plane the account of my harrowing flight home to Northern Ireland from a business trip in England. To those of you fortunate enough to have erased it from your minds I apologise in advance. For I am going to talk again about the harrowing saga that is my left ear.


It remains blocked. As in muffled. As in somebody has stuffed it full of cotton wool. As in ‘Sorry what was that you said?’. I have tried decongestant nasal sprays, ear wax removal sprays and two courses of antibiotics. All to no avail. It still sounds the same as when you pick up a seashell at the beach and listen to it. I have even tried prayer. Yes I’m that desperate. 

I thought the blocked ear was part of this mutant alien virus I have been struggling with for the past month. I have not helped matters by running when I shouldn’t have but, slowly oh so slowly, the symptoms had been easing. The dull headache had gone, the tiredness and heaviness waslifting and I only cough now when somebody mentions coughing. Coughs.

I have decided I am not running again until I am totally better. Otherwise this bug will never clear up. This then triggers all sorts of other Stephen madness. Am I putting on weight? A little probably but so what? Will I ever get my fitness back? Yes of course you will? If I eat badly today does that mean I have to eat badly tomorrow in order to placate the OCD voice in my head insisting that I comply with the ‘even number’ rule. This only applies to eating. Other compulsions involve ‘odd number’ rules. Which of course makes perfect sense.

I have written about the (not my) OCD a little in previous posts. At its peak it raged unabated but I largely have it under control now thanks to prayer, medication and a very understanding wife who talks me through a lot of brain baloney when I am having a bad day. I never say this enough but thank you Fionnuala for keeping me sane and off ‘the roundabout’.

When I started the second course of antibiotics, however, my doctor said I had to stop taking the OCD medication until I had completed the course. Tbe two did not mix well apparently. Well my brain does not mix well with life either when I am not taking my little white pills. So while I thought I was managing fine without it, Fionnuala had noticed me slipping in a few areas that needed nipped in the bud. This involved a short, sharp shock on Saturday evening after one such episode.

I pray that I am back on track this week. But just as my actual hearing has been muffled of late, so has my spiritual hearing. I have blocked out the wise counsel of Fionnuala and others, convinced that ‘Stephen knows best’. I have neglected my prayer and study regime, allowing the small, still voice of God to be drowned out by an earthly cacophony. I have allowed the Enemy inside my head where he has gleefully taken up residence.

It is time for him to leave. This blog is part of that process. ‘Satan you have been evicted from the Big Stephen house. Please leave immediately.’ I need light and truth to course through my brain, living waters to cleanse my ears and rid me of the lies and tricks that are so desperate to set up shop between my ears. I need to remove any barriers between God and myself. I need Jesus and only Jesus.

Writing this had helped me spiritually. I need to write out my thought processes in order to make sense of them. And yesterday I found that tilting my head slightly seems to dislodge something in the ear and allow the air pressure to stabilise and the hearing to return. It could be wax loosened by tbe ear spray. Or it could be the antibiotics finally kicking in.

Either way slightly realigning the position of my head is making a massive difference. Just like slightly realigning my thinking and priorities since Saturday has made a massive difference to my mental health and the relationships which truly matter. This slight realignment, this tiny tweak of the ‘God Radar’ is sometimes all you need to dislodge the selfish and deluded worldly patterns that lead us off the straight path.

Listen. Learn. Get off the roundabout and reposition your life. 

Matthew 15:10 – ‘After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them ‘Hear and Understand.’

Dedicated to Fionnuala xxx 

Have you any remedies for muffled hearing?

How do you keep your communication pathways with God clear?

A Tall Tale

A dark day in the Black household. My son is now officially taller than me. Having turned 15 years old earlier this month he now stands at 182 centimetres. Or just over 6 foot tall. I trail in at a mere 178 centimetres. The days of Adam looking up to me are no more. In the physical sense anyway. I dread to think what size he will be when he finally reaches manhood in three years time. I may require a stepladder to communicate with him.

Adam is a bit of a rugby star. He starts at a new school in September and will be playing Schools Cup standard rugby from this point onwards. To the uninitiated, rugby is a bit like American Football without the shoulder pads and helmets. It’s a big deal in Ireland. And almost overnight our little boy has grown a foot and become very good at it. Throw him a rugby ball and he becomes a different creature. And very difficult to stop at that. I tried once on the beach last summer. I failed. Miserably.


Last season I spent most Saturday mornings freezing my extremities off standing on muddy touchlines cheering Adam and his team to Under 14 Eastern Division glory. I was invariably more nervous than him as he took each game in his stride and improved from week to week. The scary thing was that he does not realise how good he is. While I gush to other parents about his burgeoning talent he has remained humble and modest; invariably embarrassed as his father waxes lyrical about his latest performance.

Prior to starting at his new school Adam has already been forwarded his rugby training schedule for the coming year. As I read it my jaw dropped. He will be training five days a week with a match at the weekend. Tactical analysis, Strength & Conditioning, Weights Training, Lineouts Training, Circuits Training. Training, Training, Training. At the end of this his muscles will have muscles. He will be huge. I will have to get a second job in order to feed him.

The training has already started. Two months before the first match of the new season. You all know the training cliches. Practice makes perfect! Train hard, Win Easy!! Train Insane or Remain The Same!!! But beneath all the testosterone and bravado is the truth that for any sportsperson to be successful, long hours on the training pitch are first required. Adam is learning this and reaping the benefits. 

Every week his stamina, strength, speed and skill levels are increasing. He is growing both physically and mentally. I am proud of my son and seek to encourage and support him to fulfill the talents that he has been blessed with. The raw ability is there. But it takes training, perseverance and a strong work ethic to sculpt and hone the finished masterpiece out of the unformed block of stone you begin with. He is getting there. And we will be there to support him every step of the way.

In tbe same way our Heavenly Father is with us every step of the way during our journey through life. I often find myself wondering why my Christian growth is so stop-start at times. My prayers so ineffective; my worship so lukewarm; my study so piecemeal and shallow. I plod along while others around me recount the most intense experiences with God. I want to be like them. I want to serve. I want to grow. I want to inspire. 

But, to quote another cliche, in order to inspire you first have to perspire. Just like building physical muscle, creating spiritual muscle requires discipline and determination. But instead of spending hours in the gym, we must devote our days to more godly disciplines – applying ourselves to prayer, study and worship. Only then can we reach the levels required to do the work that God has put us on this planet for.

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

1 Timothy 4:8 – ‘For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both tbe present life and the life to come.’

Have you any up and coming sporting stars in your family?

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

The Return Of Goldfish Boy

Yesterday I ran the Dark Hedges Half Marathon, starting and finishing in the small rural town of Dervock, County Antrim. This was not a big or clever idea on my part as I have been struggling with a viral infection for the best part of a month. I had not run a great deal in the lead up to tbe event and when I had, my times had been much slower than normal. 

Fionnuala and others had advised me to either give the event a miss or run the shorter 10K version. But when have us men ever listened to our wives despite them invariably being right? I wasn’t going to lose any sleep over the £22 entry fee. No, what Stubborn Stephen didn’t want to miss out on was an official race photo of him running through the iconic Dark Hedges stretch of road, made famous as a set in Game of Thrones and other TV shows/movies.

Being a massive GOT fan this was one race I was determined to take part in, whether I ran, walked or crawled over the finish line. So I found myself at the start, far from 100% but determined to stay the distance. I set off at a modest pace swallowing my pride as runners I would normally be well ahead of overtook me in the early stages. I felt okay so picked up the pace a little but reined myself in over a hilly section after the half way point.


This took me to the top of the road where the Dark Hedges themselves  stretched out beneath me. Startled tourists refocuses their camera lenses as two hundred half marathoners hurtled down the road towards them. I felt like a film star and picked up my pace accordingly. This would turn out afterwards to have been my fastest mile of the race. I was Jon Snow. In a pair of beat up Nike trainers and without the broadsword.

And then up ahead I saw him up ahead. Tbe official race photographer on bended knee in the middle of the road poised to capture me in all my glory bounding towards me. I sped up so as to pass the runner in front of me and ensure my athletic physique alone would fill the photographer’s frame. This was why moment. The once in a lifetime shot that would encapsulate my running career.

I have been known to pull strange faces when in mid flight. In a past life I once posted a blog entitled ‘Goldfish Boy’ about the unfortunate open mouthed expression I adopted in my early races. Think ‘Finding Dory’ in his-visibility clothing. Not this time. No goldfish impersonations, no stupid waves; in fact I was going to keep my mouth firmly shut and keep my eyes focused straight ahead. I would be captured for all eternity as unstoppable, impenetrable and impossibly cool.

And with that I was past him. Five miles later I crossed the finishing line in a heap. By far one of my slowest times but I was proud I had completed the course without stopping giving the circumstances. I picked up my race medal, fluorescent orange t shirt and complimentary Mars Bars and drove home in excited anticipation of the race photos being posted online later on.

It was this morning that Fionnuala started scrolling down the photos….and down….and down. I told you it wasn’t my fastest time. But finally we reached the moment I had been waiting for. MY Dark Hedges photograph. The steely eyed, chisel jawed action hero shot that I had already allotted wall space to. Was this the image to make the 13.1 mile slog with a chest infection worthwhile?

Er….no. So hard had I been trying to look straight ahead and keep my mouth shut that I now resembled a constipated chipmunk, my face contorted in a mixture of exhaustion and agony. ‘How come everyone else looks normal compared to you?’ asked my ever sympathetic wife. ‘It’s terrible’ I replied ‘Don’t even bother sending it to me?’. My heroics had been in vain.

How many times in life have you tried ‘putting on a face’ to the outside world to the extent where the real you has been masked beyond recognition? Where you have been so desperate to impress others or adapt to a certain scenario that you have been quite happy to abandon your core values and beliefs? Where the beauty of your pure essence has been diluted and poisoned by your desperate need to follow to the ways of the world?

We have all been there. Crumbling to peer pressure, conforming to materialism, buckling under the weight of sinful desires. The need to be popular, to be desired, to be loved consumes us to the extent that we become irrevocably uprooted from our very foundations. We will slaughter our very souls rather than risk walking out of step with the world. We value empty, temporary pleasures over eternal peace and salvation. 

I want to stop living life this way. I want to be me. The me who is accepted and loved by the handful of people who matter. The real me. Not the vain, shallow, self obsessed man who regularly takes control of my body. I want to love others more and hate myself less. I want to give my life to Jesus and follow him to the ends of the earth. Or the end of my street. Whatever the will of God is.

Philippians 2:3 – ‘Do nothing out of selfish ambition and vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.’

What is the worst photograph you have ever seen of yourself?

How often do you wear the mask of conformity?

When did you last ignore Jesus?

The One Where Belinda Carlisle Spat On Me

As a teenager my first serious crush was the 80’s pop singer, Belinda Carlisle. And by crush I mean obsession. She occupied every waking moment of my day. My bedroom was plastered in posters of her. ‘Heaven Is A Place On Earth’, her massive hit, was played on a constant loop. 

I swooned and daydreamed over her videos and dreamt of a day when I would enter her life, effortlessly capture her heart and live happily ever after in the Hollywood Hills. The fact that she was already married to a millionaire film producer was a mere detail. This from a teenager who, if a girl had spoken to him then, would have clammed up, broken into a cold sweat and bolted to be sick in the nearest toilet. 


The one and only time I ran away from home was when my parents would not allow me to go to a Belinda Carlisle concert in England. I made it as far as the town limits on foot before my father pulled alongside me, told me to stop behaving like a spoilt child and get in the car. I got in the car without a whimper.

Tbe next year tbe crush (read unhealthy fascination) was still raging when she announced she would be playing Belfast on her upcoming tour. No doubt weary of a repeat of the previous year’s histrionics my mother and father agreed to drive my sister, my best friend at the time and me to the venue, some seventy miles away. I was finally going to meet the love of my life.

The next few months dragged as I awaited the fateful day. When it arrived I was chauffeured to the venue, a bundle of excitement and nerves. We pushed our way up to the front and awaited her arrival. When she did I was gobsmacked as my brain struggled to process the fact that my idol was right there in front of me in tbe flesh. Heaven indeed was a place on earth called the King’s Hall, Belfast.

The next ninety minutes passed into a blur. When she sang she was singing to me. When she looked into the 7000 fans she was looking at me. At one point I was so close I was convinced that a sliver of saliva left her mouth whilst she was singing and struck my outstretched arm. I would never wash that arm again. It was a covenant of my unending love for her. A holy relic.

For months afterwards I lived in her tour t-shirt and endlessly replayed concert memories in my mind. But as the year passed and I left home and started at university the light in my heart for her dimmed a little, day by day. I adopted new heroes such as Kurt Cobain (RIP) and Eric Cantona, the Manchester United legend.

The posters began to come down to be replaced by posters of Nirvana, Metallica and later, Oasis. I listened to her music less and less. It was unimaginable for a metal/rock fanatic like myself to be caught listening to 80’s sugary pop. I even started talking to real girls. Usually with disastrous results but, hey, I was trying.

All these years later I still have a fondness for all things Belinda. When I hear her songs on the radio I think good thoughts and relive happy memories. Bar the leaving home episode. It was a harmless teenage crush. I imagine we all have been there. She was my goddess. My idol. My obsession. I was addicted to her. 

As I progressed through my adult years other less harmless idols and obsessions emerged. Alcohol, social media, unhealthy and inappropriate relationships. They all sought and failed to fill the gaping void in my soul. The need to fill it overwhelmed the little common sense I had. I knew what I was doing was wrong. I knew it was hurting my loved ones. I tried a million times to stop. But I couldn’t. Not on my own.

When I became a Christian four years ago I handed that all over to God. I had already stopped drinking and taken up running. I stopped swearing literally overnight. But I won’t lie and say it has all been a walk in the park. I have still struggled. I have still succumbed to temptation and messed up. I have still needed to go back to basics over and over. But I am getting there. Slowly.

My tastes have not changed that much. I still love heavy rock music and Manchester United. But I have new idols now. Biblical ones like Abraham, Moses, David and Peter. All deeply flawed individuals who were used by God to change the face of human history. All paving the way for the ultimate superhero. Jesus Christ. Who I aim to serve in anyway I can. 

Thanks to him I am seeking to create my own little piece of heaven on earth.

Mark 1:16-18 – ‘As He was going along by the Sea of Galilee, He saw Simon and Andrew, the brother of Simon, casting a net in the sea; for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you become fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.’

Who was your teenage crush?

What was your first concert?

How are you creating heaven on earth within your own sphere of influence?

Blog Of Welcome 

I don’t profess to be hugely prophetic but I have the odd flash which I think is God inspired. It’s a gifting that I would like to study and develop but that blog post is for another day.

Yesterday during a family crisis I had such a flash. Fionnuala and I were helping out some relations who had come to us in a time of need. We did what we could which involved a meal and some advice which we hoped would encourage them.

As they were leaving our house I saw the words ‘House of Welcome’ above their heads. The more I thought about that the more I believed that God wants us to use our house as place of refuge, fellowship and prayer. ‘Refuge’ is a word I have been highlighting of late as I read the Psalms.


The word ‘refuge’ has Latin roots. It literally translates as ‘to flee back’. Likewise the word ‘welcome’ comes from the Old English word ‘wilcuma’ meaning ‘a person whose coming is pleasing’. As Christians we should welcome those who flee to us in times of distress. We are obliged to serve and provide for them. Especially those who perhaps had turned their backs upon us in the past and then, for whatever reason, come back with their tails between their legs.

We want our house to be place where those in crisis can be welcomed and cared for. We have a duty to open our doors to them. It is an honour that they have come to us in their darkest hour. It is our duty to respond to that in a loving and practical manner. Without love our words and actions mean nothing. Love must underpin everything we do.

I also want this blog to be a place of welcome; where the broken hearted, depressed and desperate can visit, if only for a few moments, and experience the love  and wisdom of Jesus Christ. With a generous dollop of fun and silliness on top. An online sanctuary, a place of hope.

Welcome to our blog. We love you.

1 Corinthians 13:1 – ‘If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.’

Do you require prayer? Please let us know how we can serve you?

Is your home a place of welcome.

Yemeni Fish With A Side Of Sprouts

I returned to work today and, without thinking, put two slices of bread in the toaster as part of my morning routine. I love toast. In fact I love all things bread. I could live off bread. And cheese. And er….Diet Coke.

Maybe it is because I am Northern Irish but I prefer plain food. I am not a fussy eater and will eat most things set down in front of me. Apart from Brussel Sprouts. Euuuurggghhhh! I hate Brussel Sprouts. They are the one food I cannot have on my Christmas dinner plate. And people who eat them the other 364 days of the year are just plain weird.

No the plainer the better as far as I’m concerned. Take me to an Italian restaurant and I will order pasta. Take me to an Indian or Thai restaurant and I will flee. African eateries are also a firm no-no after an unfortunate episode in Djbouti involving some Yemeni fish which I care not to dwell on. Other than to say the aftermath has scarred me for life.


It is a running joke in our household that if we order a Chinese takeaway I will order a bag of chips. Or at my most adventurous the most basic of curries. And a bag of chips. I buy running magazines that advocate all kinds of super food based pre-race meals which boost your stamina and strength. I invariably have some toast with a side of jelly babies. And hope for the best.

I have always been this way. It is just me. Fionnuala is a fantastic, creative cook. But she knows my culinary limitations. I am not a foodie. She is teaching me to cook (yes I know I owe you a dinner!) but again they are the most basic of recipes. It is no coincidence that one of Hannah’s earliest memories is of me almost burning the house down while trying to cook for the kids. An episode which still embarrasses and shames me.

I often wonder then why I could never be satisfied with plain living. Taking pleasure in the simple things. Being happy with my lot in life. Loving wife, three great kids and a decent job that affords us a comfortable lifestyle. Reading my books, watching my teams and running my runs. But, no, I was never satisfied and always searching for more to feed my ravenous ego. More followers on Twitter, more crazy and unsuitable friends, more alcohol fuelled evenings. The plain life was never enough.

I know that eating foods you are unaccustomed to can lead to all sorts of digestive issues. I refer you back to the Djbouti affair. But living the  lifestyle I was only temporarily fixed the deep insecurities within me. And ultimately led to deeper depression, appalling life choices and a seemingly bottomless pit that try as I might I could not scramble out of.

Jesus advocated the simple things in life. He loved his food and hanging out with his closest friends. He was no prude and enjoyed a party as much as the next man. But he was content leading a humble, prayerful life despite the pandemonium that surrounded him during his ministry. He expounded mind blowing, revolutionary thinking in simple parables that the people could understand. He broke down his message to the simplest components parts. Love God, love your fellow man and, in doing so, learn to love yourself. 

I crave the simpler life as a follower of Jesus. I crave a life of prayer, study, worship and service. It is tantalisingly close at times but at other times a universe away. But I am trying. Always trying.

I do not however crave Yemeni fish and Brussel Sprouts.

Mark 12:30-31 – ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.’

What food can you not stomach?

Have you ever had the ‘Yemeni fish’ experience?

Do you seek to live a simpler life. If so, how?

The New World 

We visited the Ulster-American Folk Park this week which is just outside my home town of Omagh, County Tyrone. It is a largely outdoor living museum which tells the story of Irish emigrants who left Ireland during the Great Famine of the 1840’s to seek a better life in America. This was right up my street, history buff that I am.

The tour starts off in the ‘Old World’ of Ireland showing tbe harsh conditions that people lived in which led to them to risk everything to cross the Atlantic Ocean. We walked round authentic Irish cottages, schools and churches which had been painstakingly relocated brick by brick to the park and returned to their former conditions.


It is estimated that around one million people died during the famine years when a series of potato crops failed leading to an unprecedented human tragedy, this having been the dietary staple of the Irish people. Hundreds of thousands of others chose to emigrate to England, Scotland, Australia and North America. The overall population of Ireland was estimated to fall by 20-25% during the famine years as a result of starvation, disease and emigration.

The centre piece of the museum is a replica clipper which emigrants would have boarded to make the perilous journey from Ireland to the colonies. The cramped conditions below deck, where up to 200 people shared bunks 3-4 apiece and lived off basic rations created an environment ripe for disease. Not for nothing were they referred to as ‘coffin ships’ with a mortality rate of 5-30% depending on the length of the journey.

The second part of the tour takes you into the ‘New World’ of 19th century America, resplendent with Pennsylvanian farmhouses and outbuildings. The tour told of the many emigrants who from humble origins rose, through hard work and ingenuity, to positions of great prominence in American politics, banking and industry. The Irish were to become the backbone of this newly formed country and play a major role to its rise to superpower status.

We really enjoyed the tour, despite getting caught in the traditional Irish downpour towards the end. As a Christian it made me think of the transition from our old lives which are often defined by depression, guilt and self loathing. This ‘Old World’ represents a life where we were spiritually dead, shuffling along the conveyor belt of life wondering about the ultimate futility of existence.

To believe (to have faith) that there is an afterlife is more than a flimsy fantasy invented by the establishment millennia ago to placate the great unwashed. History shows that Jesus did exist and the historical accuracy of the Gospels has been proven over and over again by archaeological finds and parallel historical research. The Bible is generally accepted by academics to be the most credible and consistent historical document of its times. 

So while I cannot see the ‘New World’ of the afterlife I can unearth many clues in the present world as to its existence. To get there, however, is no walk in the park. I don’t buy into the whole ‘happy clappy’ Christian worldview that everything is wonderful once you are saved. Any Christian who tells you as such is not being entirely truthful.

Yes, following Jesus will inevitably lead to a better earthly existence but it can also lead to being ostracised by former friends, ridiculed by cynical friends and family and in certain countries brutal persecution. Christian martyrs are not a past phenomenon. Every day Christians are imprisoned, tortured and executed for their faith. The journey from the ‘Old World’ to the ‘New’ can be just as dangerous as the voyage the first emigrants took many years ago.

But whatever your journey if you persevere and stick to tbe straight path with your eyes firmly fixed on the teachings of Jesus I believe you will reach the Promised Land and win tbe prize of eternal life. Before believers were given the nickname of ‘Christians’ they were known as followers of ‘The Way.’ Much of the Bible describes this process as a journey, a path, a race. A hard journey at times but one paved by love, joy and hope.

Choose Life. Choose Hope. Choose The Way.

John 14:6 – ‘Jesus answered ‘I am the way and the truth and tbe life. No one comes to tbe Father except through me.’

Have you Irish descendants?

What is your favourite museum?

Do you view the Gospels as historically accurate? Or a fanciful fairytale?

Voice of Living Waters

This blog is not about promoting other sites but I would like to briefly tell you about a ministry which has really benefited Fionnuala and myself these last six months. I see a lot of people on WordPress who are struggling with various inner demons. Others are striving for a closer relationship with God wanting to do nothing more than serve others and establish his Kingdom here on earth.

Jeanette Dale is an Australian lady who bases her http://voiceoflivingwaters.com ministry out of New Zealand. From here she reaches out across the islands and nations seeking to spread the living Word of God via her prophetic, prayer and counselling giftings. Jeanette has offered us invaluable guidance in recent months that can always be practically applied but is 100% Spirit led.

Jeanette cuts through the man made distractions that organised religion often impose upon us. She is Christ focused and aspires to guide fellow Christians into a Kingdom oriented life set to revolutionise both their own and those of the people around them. Added to her wisdom is a deep love for life and people combined with a ready wit and an infectious laugh. She lives her life entirely on faith, living entirely off donations to her ministry; a brave and frankly scary decision that terrifies me at times. However, God continually provides for all her needs.

The http://voiceoflivingwaters.com website has recently been given a facelift so I would encourage you all to click the link and check out the services provided. These include bespoke 1-to-1 Kingdom Alignment coaching where she is currently offering FREE 15 minute trial coaching sessions. Jeanette has incredible life experience and knows all about the trials and tribulations of life. The beauty of her ministry is that she has lived through and overcome many of the issues she coaches about.

So check out the site. Sign up to the free newsletter. Or take the plunge and connect with Jeanette for a FREE 15 minute coaching session. You won’t be disappointed. And, if nothing else, pray for Jeanette and her ministry as I predict it will explode across the globe at an accelerated rate from this September onwards. Beat the expected stampede and hook up with the ministry NOW.

Thank you – Stephen

Throw Away Your Crutches

So I’m just back from the doctor’s surgery, unable to shake off this chest infection that I have been boring regular readers about over the last three weeks. I was initially prescribed a five day course of antibiotics but I may as well have been given peanut M&M’s for all the good they did.

The dry cough has persisted and it is still Phlegm City as far as my lungs are concerned. Sorry too much information I know. My left ear has still not popped from tbe flight back from England two weeks ago and I have a headache between my eyes that was creeping down into my nose last night. Oh and I’m permanently tired, can’t run and am consoling myself with any junk food I can lay my hands on.

Apart from that I’m fine….

The doctor has prescribed me with a different, stronger antibiotic this time as well as a nasal decongestant spray. I am to take these for a week and, if no better then, I will be sent for a chest x ray. The other instruction he gave was that I was to stop taking my antidepressant while I was on the antibiotic as the two do not go together. And running is out of the question as well at present. Even the short walk to the surgery this morning left me exhausted.

I gave up alcohol just over four years ago and became a Christian about a year later. While my faith has ebbed and flowed during that period, the two things I have ‘religiously’ stuck to have been running regularly and taking my medication on a daily basis. And now I am being told I can do neither.

Which scared me initially. A whole list of worries have stomped through my brain. What if I go crazy off my meds? How will Fionnuala and the kids put up with me? And the running? Will I lose all my hard earned fitness? Am I putting on weight again? Will I never run another marathon?

I know this is just my mind playing games with me and such ‘stinking thinking’ is self-defeating and unnecessary. But it is hard to repel such thoughts when you are feeling physically and mentally low. They can so easily overpower you like an invading army storming over the ramparts of a besieged castle. Once that happens and they open the drawbridge from within the city is doomed.

Tbe silver lining to this morning’s melancholic cloud was, as ever, God. They say an untested faith is a useless faith so here I am. Dropping my twin crutches of running and medication and stumbling forward hoping that he will catch me before I fall flat on my face. Because that’s what he does a lot where I’m concerned.

Sometimes we are over reliant on our ‘earthly crutches’ when we should be throwing them away, stepping out in faith and trusting in God. Trust is at the heart of any thriving relationship. I have found that if I consistently hand my worries and problems to God then he takes care of them. In his own time and his own way. But he does. Every time.


When this happens and we see that God has our backs 24/7 we can trust him more and more in every aspect of our lives. And as we grow and develop in our relationship with him we discover something else. We begin to trust ourselves. I’m not going to pick up that cigarette. I’m not going to click onto that website. I am going to walk away from this unhealthy relationship.

If you are clinging on to an earthly crutch today my advice to you is to throw it away. Be it alcohol, food, drugs, money, sex or whatever. Just throw it away and ask God to take the steering wheel. Believer or non-believer what’s the worst that can happen? You stumble and fall? Possibly. But if you trust in him you might just be surprised with what happens. Miracles happen every day to ordinary people. Today could be the day it happens for you.

Psalm 25:1 – ‘In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.’

Do you rely on an earthly crutch more than you should?

If you would like prayer or to talk about it with someone who knows the pain of OCD, depression and addictive behaviour then drop us a line. We are here to help. 

Making Sense Of The Words

Fionnuala and I started a house group about a year ago. It didn’t really work out for reasons I won’t go into and we have since moved on from the church in question. But it did give me an opportunity to study the Bible and look at it more thematically and holistically, as opposed to on a story by story or book by book basis.

What fascinates me is here we have a book written over a space of thousands of years by dozens of people, many of whom didn’t know each other, yet there is a consistency and continuity throughout that allows it to flow seamlessly from start to finish. There are themes in Genesis that can be cross referenced to Revelation. Psalms and Isaiah are constantly hinting at what is to come as well as what has passed. 

I began to pick themes from tbe Scriptures and trace them throughout the Bible, digging away for the meaning and message. The symbolism and strands, the diversity and depth are mind blowing at times. It is like a billion piece jigsaw that fits together verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book.


Within The Word there are words that jump out at me. Words repeated over and over like a drum pounding out a powerful message over the millennia. So over the coming months I am going to periodically study words and their biblical meaning and interpretation. The first word I’m going to consider is ‘Fire’. The series will be titled ‘The Words Of God.’

Fionnuala gave me a similar prompt when I asked her for some blogging ideas earlier today. ‘What does Heaven smell like?’ she hit me with. Whooooaaahhh! Heavy stuff! But it all emanates from a verse in Revelation about the prayers of God’s people rising up to Heaven like incense. The Bible is not a dusty old book. It is the living, breathing Word Of God. It is Jesus; vibrant, colourful, deafening at times. It is an assault on our senses. We can touch it, taste it, see it, feel it, hear it. 

Which gave me an idea for another thematic study which I have cleverly titled ‘Making Senses Of The Bible.’ I’m not sure how this will pan out but it will encourage me to spend more time studying and probing at Scripture. I will keep my regular blogging going but this is just another strand to my bow so to speak.

Revelation 8:4 – ‘The smoke of the incense, along with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand.’

Have you favourite words or themes in the Bible?

What is your favourite smell? 

Life Is Like A Tube Of Toothpaste 

This morning I wandered into the bathroom to brush my teeth (I may be 47 years old but I still posses an almost full set) to be faced with a dilemma. There was no toothpaste. Hold on. That last sentence wasn’t strictly accurate. There were (because I counted them) a total of ten tubes of toothpaste in the bathroom drawer. However all ten had been opened, used and then deposited back in the drawer without the cap having been put back on them.


And no matter how much I frantically squeezed each tube it’s contents had hardened to the extent  that I could not extract a pea sized amount. This is all the more bewildering when you consider our three beloved hatchlings appear to have a shared allergy to all things hygienic – soap, shampoo, toothpaste. Their expressions when faced with any of the above are akin to serving up a plate of garlic bread to Dracula.

After much muttering and digging into the deepest depths of the drawer I managed to find an unmolested 11th tube so my much needed beauty regimen was allowed to proceed to the tooth cleaning stage. Tempted as I was to calculate how much ten tubes of Colgate toothpaste cost (nice product placement Stephen) and then deduct it from their pocket money (used in the loosest possible term as they invariably have more money than me) I bit my tongue, sighed and put it down to another joyful episode in my parenting journey.

I have blogged a little of late about how many friendships I have lost in the last year due to various matters. Some have ended amicably  due to people moving on for one reason or another; others have been due to failings on my part; but some have left me feeling bitter and resentful. I know this is behaviour unbecoming of an aspiring Christian blogger but that’s how I have felt. Bruised, battered and betrayed.

The one thing you can trust on in life is that some people cannot be trusted. They abuse friendship. It is a one-way arrangement. They are the people who never text first, who rarely return your calls and tend to keep you on the long arm. Sometimes it is unintentional but, if anything, that hurts even more. They just don’t care that much. On tbe radar of their lives you are a distant blip, while on yours they beat a constant rhythm in the middle of your screen.

True friendships are loving, mutually inclusive and life affirming. False friendships are toxic, imbalanced and built on foundations of indifference and self. Too many times, one party gets what they need to feed their ravenous ego and then moves on without a backward glance. Leaving the other one in their wake to pick up the pieces. 

Just like an opened tube of toothpaste where the contents have been squeezed out and the cap not placed back on. Violated and empty inside. All that remains of the soft interior has been hardened by anger, resentment and unforgiveness. Utterly useless. Lying in a dark drawer somewhere waiting for the inevitable consignment to tbe rubbish bin.

People let you down. Fact. If you feel that you are currently on the thin wedge of such a relationship my prayer is that you take care of yourself first and foremost to ensure that you do not end up squeezed out all over the bathroom floor of life. And if that means snapping the cap of your heart closed and taking a step back from that friendship then so be it. Sometimes you have take a step back in order to ultimately move forward.

I’m leaning on God to steer me through this ‘friendless’ season of my life. I hope that he will place new friends in my life to inspire me and propel me forward. He has great plans for me. And any great plan involves other people. God wants us to live our lives in community and not in isolation. Jesus surrounded himself with his disciples. David surrounded himself with his mighty men. And Paul has a supporting cast of hundreds. 

Fellowship is at the heart of the Christian life. We cannot, nor are we expected to, do it on our own. God always provides whatever our needs – and that includes true friends. So don’t sell yourself short or allow yourself to be drained dry by unhealthy friendships. Take your time and pray into these matters until you are certain you can pop the cap open on your life and allow others access to it. People who will enrich your heart, not harden or poison it. 

Isaiah 2:22 – ‘Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?’

Have you had toothpaste issues recently?

Have you had to walk away from friendships where you have felt used and abused?

How did this make you feel and how did you deal with it? 

It’s The End Of The World

We have all watched that scene in every disaster movie when social order starts to break down; mass traffic jams on the interstate as the asteroid plummets towards earth; chaos in the streets as thousands flee from the onrushing tidal wave; grown men fighting over the last bottles of water in the supermarket as the zombie virus starts to rage through the city.


Well that scene visited our household this morning. We were down to our last phone/tablet charger. Devices were down to their last few %. Hannah couldn’t face an hour without her favourite You Tubers. Rebecca couldn’t access her games. I couldn’t check how many blog views I had had overnight. Adam was dug into his man cave jealously guarding the sole functioning charger. We were teetering on the very edge of Armageddon itself.

Thankfully calm was restored without the need to call in the National Guard. Fionnuala, sensing the imminent bedlam, had wisely ordered two new chargers which thankfully arrived later in the day. All was well in the world again. Mankind had survived another day. We were connected again to our beloved internet.

I get the train to work most mornings on the way to my supposedly paperless office. But I now travel largely on a paperless train. Newspapers and books seem a remnant from the Dark Ages of the twentieth century. Nowadays we are glued to our electronic devices, shuffling through the day with our eyes down; trapped in the soul sapping universe of social media. The modern idol that we all bow down and worship at some stage of the day.

I have struggled with social media for many years. I had a major Twitter addiction (10,000 followers can’t be wrong) which evolved into a major Instagram addiction. I became obsessed with followers and likes. Retweets were my lifeblood. I began to care more about the opinions of online strangers as opposed to my family and friends. The people who mattered.

I began to delve into the murky world of private messaging. I won’t go into the details because they are not important. What mattered were the consequences. As a result of my online activities I lost most of my ‘real life’ friends and almost lost my family and sanity. It scarred me and broke me. Which maybe is what God wanted. 

Six months on from my own online meltdown I’m trying to rebuild. Trust is a hard earned value. You can lose it in the blink of an eye what took decades to build. I struggle with real life now. I feel safe at home with Fionnuala and the kids (even in a home without chargers). I go to work and am grateful for having an interesting and rewarding job. 

But I struggle outside of these two environments. I have hurt a lot of people and been hurt by others. I don’t attend church or my running group anymore. As such I have lost a lot of friends, some really good ones and some not so good. I don’t trust people in general anymore. Most of all I don’t trust myself. Or particularly like myself a lot of the time.

I cling onto Fionnuala and the kids as they are my life now and are all I have and need. I’m trying to develop my love of writing in this safer, online community and I’ve been touched by the encouraging support I have received from people on here these last two months. 

And just like my online connection was on its last legs earlier today so I have often thought that of my heavenly connection with God as well. I have been angry with him. I have been impatient with him. I want him to use me to glorify him but I have no idea when or how he will. I believe in him but struggle to believe in myself. I need him more than ever yet my prayer and study life are so erratic. 

I need to connect with him. I need to trust him and hand everything over to him. Everything. The negative thinking, the addictive behaviour, the destructive cycles. I give up Lord. You are in control. Connect me.

Proverbs 3:5-6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.’

Do you struggle with social media? How does it impact upon your life?

Does blogging help you with depression and anxiety?

What is your favourite disaster movie?

The Dark Hedges 

Sometimes even bloggers need a day off. Fionnuala and I took the kids on a Game Of Thrones tour today. She looks like Daenyrs Targaryen. I don’t look like Jon Snow.



Are you a Game Of Thrones fan? 

Who is your favourite character?

Books or TV series?

Mullet Man

I need a hair cut. It’s been over two months since my last one and I’m starting to resemble an Afghan hound. I’m developing this annoying fringe and at the back it’s starting to curl. I am turning into a redneck. I am Mullet Man. Business at the front, party at the back. I am evolving into Eugene from The Walking Dead.


I have had countless opportunities to get said hair cut. I have walked past my barbers every day on the way to work. And now that I am on holiday there is nothing stopping me from getting my locks shorn at any time. It’s getting incredibly annoying when I run. Sweaty, itchy hair flopping into my eyes after 13 miles yesterday was not a good look. This is why Mo Farah shaves his head I suspect 

I run the Dark Hedges Half Marathon in just over a week so I need it sorted by then. I am Mr lastminute.com. Why be prepared well in advance when it can wait until the very last second? Why sit back and relax, content in the knowledge that all is in hand when you can experience the joy of running around like a headless chicken on acid?

When it comes to my work I am fairly organised. Fionnuala says I am two different people – ‘Work Stephen’ who is mature, confident and scarily unlike the man she married and ‘Home Stephen’ who is effectively her fourth child. ‘Work Stephen’ would have had this growing haircut crisis nipped in the bud at an early stage. It would have been diarised and a planning meeting would have been scheduled. The report on how my visit to the barbers went would already be in my manager’s in tray. In triplicate. 

‘Work Stephen’ doesn’t meet deadlines, he beats them. ‘Home Stephen’ views them as dreadlines. He whistles to himself, buries his head in the sand and hopes they go away of their own accord or that someone else takes care of them. It is the worst kind of delegation. More abdication really.

Jesus was a here and now kind of guy. If someone needed healed he didn’t tell them to come back next Tuesday as he was kind of busy. No he healed them there and then. If a point needed to be made he made it. Sometimes bluntly, but always out of love. You see he was working to a tight schedule. His earthly ministry lasted three years and every step he took was another one nearer the Cross. Another appointment he met head on knowing he had to sacrifice his life for the sake of humanity.

We need to get better at taking care of life when it needs to be taken care of. Not just the mundanities like getting a haircut or paying the bills on time. But also the important stuff. Telling our loved ones we love them. Today. Now. Forgiving those who have wronged us rather than letting resentment and bitterness lay down roots in our hearts. Giving grace to those who need it today. The heartbroken. The bereft. The forgotten ones. 

Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. You might not be here tomorrow. The world needs you today. To shine your light into the darkness. To show that you care.

Matthew 5:14-16 – ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it in its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’

What’s the worst haircut you have ever had?

Are you a fully signed up member of lastminute.com?

What are you going to do today that you would otherwise have put off until tomorrow?

Bonfire Night 

It is 6:44 a.m. on 12th July. A public holiday in Northern Ireland. Why am I awake this early on a holiday? I do not know. It’s not out of excitement anyway as we do not plan to stray far from home today. Because for those of you who do not know today is a big day for our little country. Well a big day for half of our community. The other half tend to dread it and wish it was all over for another year.

On 12 July 1690 the Protestant army of King William of Orange defeated the Catholic army of King James on the banks of the Boyne River near Drogheda. Ever since Northern Ireland loyalists have celebrated this victory over their age old enemy by holding band parades across the country. They view these as a celebration of their culture and their fundamental human right to mark a significant historic and religious event.

Nationalists, however, view the parades as naked triumphalism. A deliberate attempt to provoke the other side of the community via an antiquated event that celebrates sectarianism and bigotry as opposed to history and culture. Whatever way you look at it this is always a tense time of year and in the past has been marked by large scale public disorder which has stretched our forces of law and order to the limit. 

I can see both sides of the coin. I was born a Presbyterian, a member of the Protestant community. I went to a Protestant church, attended a Protestant school and had only Protestant friends. My grandfather and father were both members of the Orange Order. This did not make them bad people as the majority of ‘Orangemen’ are decent, law abiding citizens. 

I was not truly exposed to the ‘other side’ until I left home and went to university, aged eighteen. There I was given the freedom to make my own mind up. I discovered that Catholics were not the enemy, rather ordinary human beings just like me. At college most of my friends were Catholics and this continued into my working career. I married a Catholic girl who is probably the most open minded person I have ever known. She hasn’t a bigoted bone in her body. 

So I can see the good and bad in both communities. The large majority on either side want to live in harmony and peace. They want to move on from the legacies of hatred and violence that scarred our country during ‘The Troubles’ of 1969-1988 which left over 3,600 dead and many more physically and emotionally damaged.

The loyalist side of the community, as part of their celebrations, light bonfires across the country on the eve of the parades. These ’11th Night’ bonfires seem to get larger each year as rival loyalist areas attempt to outdo each other. To the extent this year that residents are genuinely worried for their safety should one collapse and fire fighters traditionally prepare for their busiest night of the year.

I see little to celebrate about these bonfires. They are usually accompanied by loud music, drunkenness and anti social behaviour. Fire crews and police are attacked as they try to keep the peace. The flag of the Republic of Ireland is set alight along with images of nationalist politicians and religious leaders. They are bonfires of hate.

As a historian the 12th celebrations intrigue me. As a spectacle they are colourful and vibrant. The Orange Order has done much to turn them into a family event and a tourist attraction. But the bonfires and the behaviour around them show what lies just beneath the surface. They are bonfires of hate whose purpose is to antagonise and divide. 

My prayer on this holiday is that these bonfires of hate are replaced by bonfires of love across our still divided land. Not towering, physical monstrosities but fires that spark and alight in people’s hearts. Fires that spread through families and communities. Fires that rage with an intensity that wipes out every trace of our bloody past. Fires that burn down the barriers of suspicion and misinformation that still keep the two communities apart.

Catholic? Protestant? Many masquerade under these religious titles in order to promote their most definitely non Christian agendas. But many more are genuine followers of Jesus who do not want their children to live through the horrors that they endured growing up. When Christianity first burst outwards from Jerusalem two millennia ago it spread like an uncontrollable wildfire through the then civilised world. This Holy Spirit fuelled explosion could not be extinguished. And at its core burned a white hot love.

I pray that this fire rages across Northern Ireland today on a tidal wave of love. And I pray that God uses you as a conduit to spread that same fire throughout your sphere of influence.

1 John 4:18 – ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.’

What do you know about the 12 July tradition in Northern Ireland?

What is the largest bonfire you have ever seen?

What can you do today in your community to spread the white hot love of Jesus?’

Just Shut Up And Drive

I was driving earlier today and praying (yes I am a man but I can do two things at the same time). Fionnuala and I often pray together for direction from God since we left organised church earlier this year. We know God knows best and will reveal his plans for us in HIS time but sometimes it is hard to remain patient and not get frustrated. So we pray. A lot.

Today was no exception. ‘God if you’re there….(stupid start I know considering he is omnipresent)….send us a sign. Let us know that you are listening. Send us something.’ I waited. Nothing. Drove a little. Waited some more. Still nothing. Then I passed a roadside billboard advertising I know not what. No, what grabbed my attention were the three words which stood out from the rest of the billboard.

HERE FOR YOU.

Oh. That’s interesting I thought. I pray for God to reveal himself and the next thing I see are those words. Coincidence? Possibly. But any doubts I had were washed away as I saw tbe next billboard looming up in front of me. It was advertising an employment scheme for young people. Jumping out of the poster were the following numbers:

18-25 YEAR OLDS.

Whenever I get hit with numbers like that and the ‘feeling’ that they might be nudges from God I invariably fall back on Proverbs and Psalms for a quick cross reference check. Proverbs 18:25 does not exist (it has 24 verses. Close but no cigar) but Psalm 18:25 threw up the following verse:

Psalm 18:25 – ‘To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless.’

Hmmmmm. So let’s recap. Stephen is driving along having a pity party and a moaning (sorry worship) session with the boss man upstairs. Oh woe is me God. You are never here when I need you. Are you even listening right now? Why do I bother?

Cue God who has got this timing lark down to a fine art after countless millennia of practice. Stephen I AM here for you. And if you show a little faith (like believe I am going to sort all your little worries and concerns) I will act when the time is right.You’re not Job and you’re not David. But I listened to them when they had a grumble and I’m going to listen to you as well.


Here’s the deal. Show a little faith in me. Not a whole heap. Just a smidgeon. Mountains? Mustard seeds? Ring any bells doofus? (OK maybe God wouldn’t refer to me as a doofus but you get my drift). Because I have faith in you. Despite the catalogue of screw-ups that have paved your life to date. I have faith in you. You’re not blameless but I know you are trying.

With that I shut up and drove. God has a knack of showing up in the little things, the everyday things. For that is where the miracles flow from; the incredible, jaw dropping occurrences that can only be him. He is in the humdrum. He is in the minutiae of everyday life. And is he is visible and audible. If you just look a little closer. If you just listen a little more attentively.

Now shut up and drive Stephen….

Do you pray and drive?

Has God ever spoken to you through an everyday occurrence?

Where is the strangest place you have prayed.

Diary of A Wimpy Dad

As I write this I am sitting under duress in a packed cinema watching the new Diary Of A Wimpy Kid movie. Beside me our youngest, Rebecca, is happily munching through her body weight in chocolate buttons and popcorn. Sat around her are other kids doing exactly the same thing. They are in heaven. Sat around me are a handful of equally bored and despairing parents. We are in hell.

Our agony is exacerbated by the fact that in the next auditorium Fionnuala and our other two kids are watching the new Transformers movie. The kids are revelling in two hours of massive explosions and epic fights. Fionnuala is revelling in two hours of drooling over Mark Wahlberg. The best is I can hope for is deeply unfunny slapstick ‘comedy’ featuring a load of annoying American child actors. Oh and Alicia Silverstone. Who I’ve never liked. Not even in ‘Clueless.’ Where oh where is Emily Blunt when you need her.

Wonderful husband and all-round good guy that I am I had said to Fionnuala that she could accompany Adam and Hannah while I drew the short straw with Rebecca. Consoled slightly by a bucket of Diet Coke and grab bag of Peanut M&M’s I prepare myself for the horrors that lie ahead. I have made the ultimate sacrifice. I have truly taken one for the team.


Relationships are all about sacrifice though. Especially marriage. Any relationship that is disproportionately focused on the needs of one party over the other is not a healthy, functional relationship. It is give and take. It is compromise and negotiation; and sometimes having to suck it up and do stuff that you don’t really want to do. Like watch Diary of a Flipping Wimpy Kid.

Fionnuala has sacrificed more for me and our kids than I have ever given back in return. She has given up her career, her independence and (three kids later) her health to ensure that when the brown, smelly stuff hits the fan in our house she is always there to pick up the pieces and clean up the mess. She is our rock, our anchor, our constant. And for that I am truly grateful. Every day she makes the hundreds of little sacrifices that come with being a mother. 

The ultimate sacrifice was made over 2000 years ago on a hillside outside Jerusalem. Jesus knew what had to be done. If there had been any other way he would have taken it. He sweated blood in Gethsemane the night before as he contemplated the horrific death that awaited him. Beaten unrecognisable, humiliated in front of an entire city and then nailed to a Roman instrument of torture to die a slow, brutal death in front of his mother. While the majority of his closest friends ran for the hills.

It happened. Saying it didn’t is like saying Julius Caesar didn’t happen. It’s a historical fact. Where the debate begins is why it happened and what happened afterwards. I believe it happened in order to redeem mankind from the horrible mess he was making of life. And I believe he overcame the grave by walking out of a tomb. But don’t just take my word for it. Read the Gospels instead which document the hundreds of people who witnessed him in the flesh in the days and the weeks after the crucifixion.

If it happened today it probably would have gone viral online. The equivalent in the 1st Century Middle East was an explosion in Christianity which was unstoppable even in the face of unprecedented opposition and persecution. Which led to the collapse of the Roman Empire, the world power of its time. Imagine an itinerant carpenter from Hicksville, Nowhere, launching an ideology today that revolutionised the modern world we live in. Unlikely? Yes. Impossible? No. Because that’s exactly what Jesus achieved in a three year ministry.

We are about an hour into the film now. The vomit, farting and pee jokes are coming thick and fast. Rebecca is loving it. And I’m enduring it. Because that’s what parents do on school holidays. I’m taking one for the team. It’s a small price to pay, however. Compared to what happened on that hillside outside Jerusalem many years ago.

Luke 24:6 – ‘He is not here; he has risen!’

What is the worst kids film you have ever sat through?

Sweet or salted popcorn? You decide.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

Stones

I haven’t run in five days because of a chest infection but took to the roads again this morning for a slow seven miles. It went as well as could be expected and, upon my return, I took off my trainers and placed them outside to ‘air.’ Sweaty running shoes are a ‘no no’ in chez Black as their unique aroma has the ability to strip paint.

I wear Nike Zoom trainers. Their soles have deep treads which afford me greater grip on the road in addition to cushioning the impact of the tarmac on my feet. Given this the soles tend to pick up gravel and stones during the run which I then have to prise out upon my return to the house.

This is a laborious and time consuming process but necessary as to run again with them still embedded in the sole could lead to all sorts of problems. Imagine an elephant on roller skates. The reduced grip would impact detrimentally upon my pace, stride and control. I would cut a sorry figure with no hope of a personal best.

This most curious aspect of it all is that I don’t even know that I am accumulating these unwanted passengers during my run. It is only afterwards when I closely examine the soles that I see them there and need to prise them free. And yet unbeknownst to me during the run they are slowing me down and knocking me off my stride.


Stones feature throughout the Bible. David slayed Goliath with a tiny one. Joshua and Samson utilised supernatural powers to bring walls and buildings crashing to the ground. And Jesus rolled away a huge one to claim victory over the grave. The greatest victory of all. 

We accumulate stones of various shapes and sizes throughout our time on this planet. Others describe it as emotional baggage. Some carry them lightly, to others they are an insurmountable burden. Guilt, unforgiveness, addiction, mental illness, bereavement and a multitude of other emotional problems which can knock us off the path God intended for us, slow us to a standstill and bring us to our knees in despair. 

How do we deal with these burdens? Well we hand them over to God. We let him take care of them. Just as I examine the soles of my running shoes on a regular basis so we must allow God to examine our eternal souls. Exposes ourselves to him through worship, study and prayer. Allow him to lovingly pry tbe pain and the anger out and replace it with love, faith and hope. 

If we swallow our earthly pride and accept we cannot run this race called life on our own then he will tend to us. He is the ultimate training coach and will prepare and enable us to run the best possible race we can. All for his glory. So don’t give up. You may feel laden down today, battered and bruised. But with his help we can shed all of our earthly worries and sprint confidently along the track towards the finish line. And beyond.

What are the stones weighing you down today?

Have you considered handing them over to God?

Have you an old, smelly pair of trainers/sneakers that you can’t bear to be parted from?

The Armchair That Just Kept on Giving

We are in the process of buying a new suite of furniture so earlier today Adam and I performed the sad duty of conveying our old armchair to the council dump after many years of loyal service to the family. This was a sombre occasion as I said goodbye to both it and the ‘butt groove’ that I had lovingly moulded into it during its time with us.

As we lifted it, however, to carry it outside on the first leg of its final journey we heard an unmistakable jingling sound coming from its base. There was money inside it. Never one to miss out on an unexpected financial windfall I grabbed a sharp knife and began to cut away the fabric from the armchair’s base. Who knew what treasures lay within? I was like a male Lara Croft, diving into the murky depths of a subterranean cavern. Without the semi automatic weapons, tight shorts and backward somersaults.

Much excavating later, I gleefully emerged with the toils of my labour; which amounted to seventeen empty crisp packets, three pencils, a ruler and the grand sum of £4:71 in loose change. I had been vindicated in my expedition and finished the loading of the armchair into the back of our van a happy man.

Upon arriving at the council dump we unloaded the armchair and as we did so more treasures tumbled from its exterior. Another 39 pence to be precise. That’s over £5 now. Which equated to 18 tins of Diet Coke on ‘special offer’ in our local shop. I was on top of the world, Ma!


I had recovered a few dirty coins. But as well as fuelling my ongoing Diet Coke dependency it also made me think of my Bible which, it pains me to say, I continue to neglect. My favourite Bible is the C.S. Lewis version that Fionnuala bought for me several years ago. But I love it so much that I am almost scared to touch it in case I damage the pages.

The Bible I normally pick up is a New International Version (NIV) Bible which again was a gift from Fionnuala several years ago. It has the standard black cover and is now a bit dog eared. It is also covered in my handwritten notes with favourite passages marked in fluorescent orange highlighter. To be honest it is a bit tatty. And if it wasn’t a Bible I could easily toss it into tbe bin given its sorry condition.

It looks like nothing on the surface. But open it up, dive inside and what treasures lie waiting for us. And not just a handful of coins. No it is the living Word of God which has guided and reassured me so many times since I became a Christian four years ago. Words of truth, freedom and life. Precious words. More precious than any ruby or emerald that the most intrepid adventurer could unearth. 

You may read your Bible. You may not own one or have any intention of owning one. Or you may have one which lies on a shelf in your bookcase, rarely opened and gathering dust. But whatever your inclination, I urge you (even if it’s just once) to pick one up and spend some time leafing through its pages. What have you got to lose?

And maybe, just maybe, you too will discover hidden gems of knowledge and wisdom which speak to your heart and mind and which you can apply in a manner which will instil love, hope and peace into your life and the life of others. It can and will change your life if you open yourself to the possibility that there is more to your life than the monotony of the rat race, the inevitability of taxes and the grace.

Go on I dare you. Pick it up, delve into it and see what you find. And if I’m wrong I owe you £5.10. Which I found down the back of an armchair. Because it’s the book which just keeps on giving.

Hebrews 4:12 – ‘For the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword.’

Do you have a favourite Bible? Or not own one? Or have one but rarely open it?

What is the strangest thing you have ever found down the back of an armchair?

The Underbelly 

Mental health issues are at epidemic levels in the modern world today. Life is lived at a frenetic pace. The noise surrounding us is deafening. The distractions and pitfalls are endless. We rarely allow ourselves to switch off. The pressure is crushing and unrelenting. It is little wonder, therefore, that many of us crack and crumble under the strain of it all. 


When we started this account back in May I ‘tagged’ a number of blogging categories to focus on. I have struggled with depression, anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) for most of my life. I have been plagued by intrusive, negative and obsessive thought patterns. It is only through my faith and my family that I have muddled through. Just.

When I started to read other blog posts under headings such as ‘depression’, ‘addiction’ and ‘suicide’ I was staggered by the number of damaged and hurting people on WordPress. For some it is the only place where they can pour out the extent of their pain and desperation. Many blog anonymously unable to reveal their scars to the real world. For others, writing is therapy. They literally write to survive.

They are the underbelly of social media. Beyond the selfies and the perfect lives are the sick, the broken and the helpless. Writing about cutting, purging and so much worse. We need to reach out to them. To show them we care. To show them a ray of love in a bloated, ugly world. 

So today I challenge you to add one of the following tags, find someone and engage with them. Even if it is only a ❤️ or 🙏🏻 emoji. Talk to them. Pray for them. Just show them they matter and that someone cares:

Suicide, Depression, OCD, Anxiety, Bulimia, Addiction, Alcoholism, Sobriety, Anorexia 

Thank you

Stephen 

The Duty Call

I finish my on call week in two hours and two minutes time. That’s 122 minutes. Or 7,320 seconds. Not that I’m counting. Once every seven weeks, with heavy heart, I perform this duty in order that the organisation I work for can provide a 24/7 response to any critical incidents which require an immediate response anywhere in the country.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s quite an honour and responsibility to perform the role. I’ve had years of training and not just anybody gets to hold the on call phone. In order to be placed in that position of trust by my managers I have had to demonstrate I had the  necessary knowledge, experience and skills to do so. It is a high pressure responsibility and requires strong decision making, problem solving and communication skills. I have had to prove myself.

I won’t go into details about my job but the phone call we all dread is the one at three a.m in the morning. You are lurched like a bungee jumper out of the sanctuary of sleep into the raw realisation that the phone is ringing. You gather your senses and in that split second attempt to don the cloak of calm professionalism that the caller will expect to hear when you hit the answer button.

Your stomach is churning. Ninety nine times out of hundred it’s not ‘that call’. Rather it’s something that can be dealt with over the phone. Or can wait until the morning. Allowing you to slip back under the covers and forget about the world for a few more hours. 


You answer the phone and wait with bated breath as the person on the other end begins to brief you regarding the incident. Get to the point, get to the point you want to scream at them. Your nerves are rattling. Your palms are sweating. Then they say it. And everything changes with the dreaded words….’We have had a fatality. We are holding the scene for you. What do you want us to do?’

There is that second of horror before the years of training kick in and your brain clicks into automatic pilot in order to process the million and one issues that you now need to address. The issues that will be your life for the foreseeable future. The issues that will mean you waving goodbye to your warm bed and family as you head out into the dead of night to drive God knows where. 

That second of horror can seem like forever. And your mind can plant all sorts of nasty seeds in that second. Lobbing hand grenades of self-doubt at you as you gather yourself to deal with the call. You’re not good enough. You’ve been over promoted. You’re going to make a mess of it and lose your job.

But that voice is a lie. The adrenaline kicks in and the nerves dissipate. Experience and training overcome worry and fear. The voice of reason drowns out the voice of inadequacy. You muddle through. You get the job done. By hook or by crook. You manage. And when it’s all over you look back and worry what all the fuss was about.

How many times in your life have you allowed the lies to make you feel small and worthless? How many times have you turned our back on a challenge as it seems insurmountable? Viewed a challenge as a minefield rather than an experience to be relished and savoured. And before we know it, that opportunity is gone. And we curl up in our comfort zones, unwilling to develop, to grow. To live, to dream, to thrive.

My challenge to you today is to live your life as if you are permanently on call. 24/7. 365. For the rest of your life. And when that phone rings pick it up. Don’t hide under the duvet. Because you are good enough. You are brave enough. You are smart enough. Don’t ever give up. Don’t ever let up. Nothing is impossible. Live the impossible. Make it your reality today.

‘Every morning I see another miracle. I can’t believe I’m living the impossible.’ – Lacey Sturm

Have you ever worked on call? How did you find it?

How often does the liar in your mind tell you that you are not good enough?

How do you overcome that voice? 

Happy Hannah 

As you may have read in previous posts we have been fighting a largely uphill battle for over six months now with our local health trust. The reason? To obtain a new wheelchair for our 13 year old daughter, Hannah. To the point where we had given up all hope of getting one.

Given this we decided to raise the funds ourselves. I had planned to run a series of marathons and half marathons over the next six months and Fionnuala was organising several events including a sponsored walk and ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ night. We have also set up a Just Giving page online and kind people had already donated in excess of £500.

Today we attended a meeting where we were told that the health trust has reversed its decision and Hannah will be provided with the motorised wheelchair she requires. We were flabbergasted at the u-turn which he have put down to our local political representative becoming involved. And a shedload of prayer. 


When we had recovered from the shock we were faced with a dilemma, however. As Hannah now has what she needs what do we do regarding the funds already raised and future planned events. We were left with two choices. Either cancel the events and return the money to those who had already donated. Or press on and go ahead with them.

We have opted for the latter option. While we are going to allow people who have already donated the money to have it returned if they wish, all funds raised from this point onwards will go to SHINE Charity which supports individuals and families affected by Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus.

 This charity has supported us since Hannah’s birth and we feel is the only choice we had when we learnt that God had answered our prayers. As his grace shone on us now we want to ‘pay it forward’ and shine a light on this worthy organisation who do so much important work in respect of disabled people. 

We have been blessed. Now we intend to bless others.

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

Aches On A Plane

I flew back to Northern Ireland last night from England where I have been working these last two days. It was great to get home but the journey itself was not the most pleasurable experience. I have had an annoying cough for the last two weeks and, as per usual, have ignored Fionnuala’s repeated urgings that I visit the doctor as I probably have a chest infection. ‘Don’t be ridiculous’ I scoffed derisively. *UPDATE – I finally went to the doctor this morning who predictably confirmed that I have a chest infection. DOH!! 

So I coughed and spluttered my way over the Irish Sea. My misery was compounded as the plane started its descent into Belfast International wheb the change in air pressure led to my left ear starting to hurt. Initially a dull ache it gradually built to a stabbing pain which had me hunched over in my seat praying for a rapid landing. Which never came….

Eventually we touched down. However no matter how much I swallowed, jiggled my ear, held my nose and blew my cheeks out the ear would not pop. To the extent that by the time I got home I could barely hear out of the orifice. And even as I type this almost 24 hours later the situation has still not returned to normal. Cue violin strings….

If I had listened to my much wiser wife a week ago I would today most likely be infection free and pain free. Instead I cut a sorry sight. Clogged up lungs and clogged up ear. Tired beyond belief and unable to run for at least the next few days. Oh woe is me….


Solomon had the right idea when he described ‘Wisdom’ as a woman in the Book of Proverbs. My wife is a very wise woman. This occasionally involves her expressing her loving wisdom to me in a raised voice. Repeatedly. But as Proverbs 8:1 testifies this is sometimes necessary in order for the wise women in our lives to get through our stubborn male skulls.

It is important for men (and I suppose ladies too) to have wise people around them who they can rely on for advice and be accountable to. When faced with a decision or problem these are the people who we need to turn  to at an early stage. Sensible choices can be made and worries and concerns nipped in the bud. 

Failure to do only results in mounting pressure followed by discomfort and pain. A little like my earache. And before you know it you are faced with an avalanche of trouble which so easily could have been avoided.

Now excuse me now while I take my antibiotics…. 😒

Proverbs 8:1 – ‘Does not wisdom call out? Does not understanding raise her voice?’

What has been your worst airplane experience?

Who are the wise people you turn to in times of need?

What is your favourite proverb?

The Upturned Hull

I am in England at present with my work. Last night I stayed over in the seaside resort of Southend in the south east of the country. I had a long day yesterday and was tired this morning but dragged myself out of bed as the sun was shining and I wanted to run along Southend Pier, one of the most famous in the U.K.

So off I plodded. The first mile was a struggle as I was running into a headwind, had tired legs and still haven’t shaken off the phlegmy cough I have had for nearly two weeks. Note to self and Fionnuala – I will phone the doctors in the morning and make an appointment. 

My confidence increased slightly as I glided past a couple of pensioners on the approach to the pier. Imagine my disappointment 1/2 mile later then when I reached my destination to find it closed. I ‘piered’ (sorry) forlornly at the locked entrance before turning with heavy heart and trudged back the way I had come. The pensioners looked at me empathetically. They had seen this many times before.

My spirits picked up slightly on the way back as, with the wind at my back, my pace improved slightly. I began to look forward to my breakfast and looked out over the sea to my right as the sun shimmered on its surface. I was approaching a number of rowing boats, their hulls upturned on the shingle beach.


As I drew nearer I saw one of them had the word ‘King’ written on it in bold, red letters. And as he often does when I’m running and he has my undivided attention God spoke to me in that instance. How often in our Christian journeys have we been stranded high on a beach, unable or unwilling to step out in faith into the water? Peter took a few tentative steps onto the Sea of Galilee but then floundered and began to sink. The other disciples remained rooted to their seats in the boat, paralysed by fear.

God wants us to set sail and boldly cross the ocean of life, safe in the knowledge that Jesus is with us. The waters may be choppy at times, due to any manner of troubles, or we may be stuck in the doldrums to the point where we feel we are going nowhere and life is passing us by. Great dangers may lurk in the deep as Satan tries to pull us out of the boat and drag us down into his murky depths.

But if we steady our spiritual rudders and allow God to fill our sails with his incomparable grace we will sail into  uncharted waters and accomplish great things in his name. With Jesus guiding us, our King painted large on our souls in the bright red he shed for us on the Cross.

He can turn your life around. He wants to rescue you from the beach of failure and apathy and join him on the voyage of a lifetime. Just trust in him. Life will be plain sailing after that.

What is your favourite seaside resort?

Do you feel stranded on the beach? Or are you sailing into the unknown?

Stephen

I haven’t blogged in a while and before you say but you posted a blog this morning it’s not Stephen this time it’s Fionnuala. As you know Stephen is away from home right now with work and I know he doesn’t like being away from us for long periods of time so we thought we would write a blog about him as he is always writing about us.

Stephen always says that I never comment on when he does something good that I only comment on when he does something which I think is wrong so I’m going to shock him here and tell you all how amazing he really is.

I’ve blogged before that our marriage has been far from perfect we’ve had a tsunami of problems but no matter what we are dealt with we manage to face it, deal with it and get back on track again. I once saw a picture of an old man and woman holding hands and the words said “Our marriage is strong because we are from a time where if something is broken we fix it, not throw it away” and when Stephen and I are going through hard times I think of that picture and those words which are so simple yet so true and I believe that that will be Stephen and I one day celebrating “Yes we did it” maybe we will create our own picture.

19756093_1899934340262333_368756168_nStephen and I will be together 21 years in exactly one month and we will be married 15 years in December I will have spent half my life with him in it and I don’t think I could imagine him never being in it. He is my best friend and my soul mate no matter what I or the kids need he provides it for us no matter what it takes. Our house is quiet today and nobody wants to do anything we really miss Stephen when he goes away but know it has to be done it’s his job and Adam’s new school uniform is costing us the price of a small house so this trip will provide for that – Adam says “thank you Daddy”.

I asked the kids what do they love the most about Daddy and what’s the nicest thing they could think of that he has ever done for them so here goes:

The most thoughtful thing Adam could think of was over the last year Stephen gave up running races on a Saturday so that he could take Adam to all his rugby training and matches which he did every Saturday again Adam says “thank you Daddy”. Up next was Rebecca and her million answers so I will give you a shortened version “Daddy helped me get all my spellings and tables right for my test and he came to my football match at school and supported me and that helped me score a goal” Rebecca says “thank you Daddy”. Last but by no means least was Hannah “I love Daddy’s hugs he gives the best and I find his overprotection of me about boys is really funny” Hannah says “thank you Daddy”.

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Whilst writing this I have discovered we don’t tell Stephen how much we love him and thank him enough for all he does for us which is something that I scream and shout at everybody that they don’t appreciate me unknowingly doing it myself to my husband Fionnuala says “sorry Stephen” at this stage I think he may have fallen over because those are two words I don’t say very often.

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Our lives have changed dramatically over the last 21 years and everything that we have went through we know was for us to be on the part of our journey we are on now and we could not have done that without the love and forgiveness of our Heavenly Father.

Colossians 3:13
“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you”

Thank you God for Stephen my husband my friend and my love

I Love Coffee….Except I Don’t

I love coffee shops. It’s the whole relaxed, bohemian ambience. Where you can temporarily escape the helter shelter of life. Flick through the Sunday papers, get caught up with friends or just sit back and watch the world go by. The comfy chairs, the free wifi. Yes I love coffee shops.

What’s more I love the smell of coffee, the look and texture of the coffee beans. I am fascinated by the various metal devices the baristas operate so effortlessly. I love the look of coffee. The way it swirls in the cup, the effect that the various creams and marshmallows have when piled on top. It is an artform. Some of them look almost too good to drink. And the exotic names – cappuccino, macchiato, mocha. The more convoluted the better as far as I’m concerned. ‘Can I have a venti iced skinny espresso triple whipped cream with caramel drizzle please?’.

There’s just one slight problem when it comes to my love affair with all things coffee. The taste. Nope, can’t stand the stuff. You name it I hate it. Coffee cake, coffee sweets, coffee anything has me retching and diving for the nearest basin. I can gag for Ireland when it comes to the taste of coffee. I am a coffee shop fraud, an imposter. I am that 15 year old in the Nirvana t shirt who has never heard of Kurt Cobain.

Yet how I’ve tried when out with work colleagues (Fionnuala hates coffee too so we are rarely in coffee shops together). I’ve tried to stomach the taste for the greater good. I’ve winced and gurned in vain as I’ve battled  to keep down the weakest latte that you can buy. I’ve attempted to mask the taste with various syrups, creams and flavourings. But all to no avail. Coffee is my frenemy. Or Frappuchenemy….

So I sit in the coffee shop with all the beautiful people weighed down with the guilt and shame that I am not one of them. Green with envy as they sip and slurp their favourite beverages. As I fraudulently pretend that my gingerbread flavoured steamed milk is in fact a skinny latte. I am an outsider. I do not fit in. They are Rachel and Ross. I want to be Chandler but I’m not even Joey. I am Gunther.


Have you ever sat in a church and felt the same. Surrounded by happy, smiley people whose lives are going exactly as they planned them. Perfect families, perfect lives, perfect everything. While you feel broken, useless and irredeemable. You haven’t read your Bible in nearly a month. You screamed at the kids earlier today. You are jealous of the new car that your upwardly mobile neighbour has just purchased. 

You are no good. You will never be like these people. You are a joke. May as well get up and leave now. Before they find out what you are really like. A hopeless, pathetic mess. 

That’s the lie. That’s what Satan wants you to believe. He’s not called The Deceiver for nothing. He’s a master at it. Dragging you down and beating you up. But the truth is that you do belong there. Look a little closer. Look beneath the surface. Those beautiful, perfect people sitting all around you are quite the opposite. They are just as broken and hopeless as you feel. Beneath the veneer we are all struggling. All looking for that one thing that will fill the gaping hole inside us.

People spend their entire lives trying to fill it. With money, with sex, with power. They are doomed to fail. Because only God can fill a God-sized hole. So when you stand before Him weighed down with your past then know that you are in exactly the right place. And you have just as much right to be there as anybody else. You are not a fraud. You are just a real person. As beat up and confused as the rest of us are by life.

God sees the real you. He knows where you need help and healing. While your local coffee shop offers you a plethora of choice, Christianity offers you just the one. Jesus. Because his way leads to truth and life.

My name is Stephen and I hate coffee. But I love Jesus.

Matthew 11:30 – ‘For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

What is your favourite coffee? Or are you a coffee fraud like me?

Have you ever sat in a church and felt like you didn’t belong there?

Who is your favourite character from friends?

The Road Trip 

Tomorrow I head to England for two days because of work commitments. I am looking forward to the trip as it is a challenging and important task I have to carry out when I get there. But I’m also anxious. Not really about what I have to do because it’s what I’m trained to do and paid to do.

Rather because I will miss my wife and three kids. Isn’t it funny how you only truly appreciate your loved ones when you are separated from them? Earlier this year I had to spend several nights away from them and my heart ached the entire time. I felt broken and useless. I was nothing without them.

For all my big dreams and talk I am a home bird at heart. I am at my happiest on the sofa with Fionnuala binging on Netflix and ice cream; standing on the touchline watching my son, Adam, play rugby; sitting in the audience watching my daughter, Hannah, dance and sing on stage; or just talking nonsense with my other daughter, Rebecca. And not forgetting curling up with Charlie the border terrier on a cold night.


In this life we are always striving for more. And in doing so we often neglect what we already have. For it is what we have, not what we want, that defines who we are. They are my legacy. When my body is dust and my soul has departed I will live on in the minds of my children and (hopefully) grandchildren.

Yes they can drive me crazy with their million and one demands; the endless financial drain for school trips and new rugby kit; the drama, the histrionics and the diva tantrums. But that is family. It is warts and all. It is raw and it is real. It is life and when these days are gone and Fionnuala and I are sitting in an empty house we will look back and wish we could turn back time. But not too far back. No need to revisit the nappy years.

Family and friends are a blessing. Do not take them for granted. Look around you today and be grateful for them. Surround yourself with memories, not regrets. Never stray far from them. Never lose contact with them. Bury hatchets. Forget past wrongs. Forgive and move on. Love them today as if it is your last day on earth.

Now time to start packing….

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