The Not Unhappy Pills

Today is repeat prescription day. Hurrah! I will dutifully call into the village chemist to collect the little white pills which have become part of my daily routine these last four years. When all else has been in turmoil around me, they have been my constant. 20mg of Escitaloprem a day. One pill in the palm of my hand, pop it into mouth, slug of Diet Coke (naturally), swallow and we are done for another day. So easy. So simple. So necessary. 

This summer has been a regular pill party for me due to illness and injury. Various painkillers, two different antibiotics (neither of which worked), hay fever allergy medication (for my wonky ear), various multivitamins and last, but not least, a folic acid supplement to balance a deficiency picked up in my blood tests. Yes it has been a veritable riot. Pick me up and shake me. I would probably rattle like a child’s toy.

When I was first prescribed Escitaloprem for OCD and depression all those years ago I was a bit bemused. Yes I was relieved that the voice in my head had finally been identified. I realised I was normal in a completely not normal way. I was amazed that I was not alone. I was not evil. I was not insane. Instead I was ill. As ill as the thousands of other people who had been through, and were going through, what I had endured. I now had hope that I could live my life free from the twin demons who had reigned unopposed in my head for the best part of three decades.


I was more bemused that I found myself on anti-depressants. To me they had always been the preserve of ‘moody teenagers’, ‘hysterical women’ and men who wore black and walked unannounced into their former places of employment with a chip on one shoulder and an assault rifle slung over the other. I was having problems yes but I did not write bad poetry, listen to Leonard Cohen or wear baggy, threadbare sweaters and berets. By agreeing to take them was I not accepting defeat and confirming what I had accepted all along? That I was a failure. 

I was a middle aged man with a wife, three kids and a border terrier. I had a good job and was rising through the ranks. I enjoyed a few (dozen) drinks at the weekend but I worked hard all week so thought I deserved them. Any time I was feeling down, twelve tins of Stella Artois usually did the trick. The bills were always paid and on the face of it I was a model of middle class respectability. I was happy in an unhappy kind of way. Most of the time. Wasn’t that enough?

But when the depression descended slowly upon me like a mouldy, damp blanket it wreaked havoc. I drank, I tweeted and I drank some more. I sat on my throne, the Twirly Chair, oblivious to the carnage I was creating. I was snug and tight in the eye of the storm as Hurricane Stephen raged all around me, uprooting relationships and hurling them into the abyss. I lived a twilight existence, wandering aimlessly or so I thought. Because with each shuffling step I was another one nearer the brink where I would face my final destination.

As Road to Damascus experiences go mine was decidedly a low key and drab affair. No shining light, no moment of dazzling revelation. Instead it was a series of humiliating and debilitating episodes that culminated in me sitting in a doctor’s surgery being told that I was officially one of them. I was a failure. A hopeless husband, father and son. No friends and no real future bar work, taxes and death. I was even slightly disappointed I hadn’t been diagnosed Prozac as wasn’t it the must have accessory drug these days. I even sucked at being depressed.

So I took my happy pills. Except they didn’t make me happy. Overnight I didn’t become a little ray of sunshine. My world did not become one of unicorns and pixies. Give me orcs and zombies any day of the week. But slowly, ever so slowly, the cloud lifted to the point where I was only miserable if something happened which caused me to be miserable. So I woke up with a stinking cold and felt miserable. Or Manchester United got thumped by Chelsea and I felt miserable.

I stopped being miserable,however, when I had no reason to be miserable. The OCD did not go away either but there were positive signs there as well. I always visualised it as an ancient, 1930’s radio sitting in the study of some retired army major. With a volume knob that you had to physically get up and twiddle with instead of zap with a remote control from across the room. OCD FM was still on the airways but had been turned down to a barely discernible background hum; as opposed to the deafening symphony that used to dictate my every waking hour. 

They were the tiniest of pills. And the tiniest of steps. But all in the right direction, away from the brink, and back into the arms of my family. I began to feel safe and purposeful. There was a future and a world out there where I could make a difference. I discovered running and rediscovered my faith. Yes, I still had bad days and I still had relapses; I still messed up and I still had a few car crashes to walk away from. But it became one step backwards and two steps forward as opposed to the other way around.

I embraced normality. For it is there that you find the miraculous. Normality feeds the soul, it is there that you will find the hidden gems. Right before your eyes. My son crashing over the line to score in a cup final; my daughter singing until I thought her lungs would burst on stage in front of hundreds of people; my other daughter laughing at my silly jokes and wearing her Manchester United shirt with pride; my wife saying she loved me and me knowing that she truly meant it and that I loved her back just as much in return.

Normal is magical. And if it means taking a happy pill every day then so be it. I am no longer ashamed of being on antidepressants. And nor should you. They are not a crutch, rather they allow you to throw away the crutches of addiction and depression. They allow you to walk free and with your head held high. They are your badge of honour, evidence that you faced your demons and are now fighting back. You are a survivor and your life is precious. 

The battle will never be over. But at least I have a fighting chance now. I am proud that I am where I am today. Escitaloprem is a weapon in my armoury, a tool in my belt. One of many. Calling it a happy pill is misleading; rather it stops me from feeling unhappy. Which then allows my everyday life to fill the void with the natural happiness which I have craved all my life. And if I can do it then so can you. You can and you will.

Three cheers for the Not Unhappy Pill.

Proverbs 8:11 – ‘For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.’ (NKJV) 

Have you ever been on, are on you currently on, antidepressants? Do they make you feel happy, not unhappy or just plain numb?

Have you OCD? Depression? Anxiety? How do you visualise them?

What makes you happy?

ReVamp 

Fionnuala, the brains (and lets face it beauty also) behind AFracturedFaith has given the site a bit of a revamp which hopefully will make it easier for you to navigate round, access previous posts and check out some of our favourite bloggers. It also provides links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

We hope you enjoy the new look. Feel free to let us know what you think but please direct all IT related questions to Fionnuala. I just writes the words. 

Keep the faith – Stephen & Fionnuala 🙏🏻❤️😊

That Back To School Feeling

The hatchlings return to school this week and you can feel the autumnal crackle in the air as another soggy Irish summer drips to an end. This summer has been one of illness, chaos and upheaval for us. We have struggled to make sense of it all and at times have felt adrift, spinning helplessly from one crisis to the next. The lack of control as to what disaster life can gleefully throw at you next has been disconcerting and downright frightening at times.

The kids have suffered as much as anyone as their summer has mostly consisted of trips to visits sick family members. I can just see the classic first day back at school question now being directed towards them. ‘Where did you go on your summer holidays?’ Answer – the hospital. We have had some fun day trips but, truth be told, the holiday period has been a bit of a damp squib for them. Fionnuala and I both feel bad about this but it really has beyond our control.

It came as no surprise then that all three of them are looking forward to going back. Adam is excited about starting at a new class, Hannah can’t wait to see all her friends again and Rebecca is buzzing at experiencing life as a Year 7 ‘big girl.’ In fact the only person more looking forward to seeing them return is their mother who has been cheerfully counting down the days to their return. We love them dearly but the three of them have been at each other’s throats of late due to the cabin fever which has been enforced upon them.

Looking forward to going back to school is an utterly alien experience to me. I used to dread it and the smell of fresh leather or a crisp, white shirt can trigger dire memories even now. If Christmas Eve was heaven then this other ‘night before’ was distinctly hellish. You see I was bullied at school and painfully shy. If you were not a rugby star at the grammar school I attended then frankly you didn’t exist. I loved rugby but was rubbish at it; which makes it even more bizarre that Adam shows such potential. No, I was more at home throwing a twenty sided dice in the Dungeons & Dragons Society than a rugby ball on the playing fields. 


It gladdens me that the hatchlings do not have to go through the ‘night before’ misery that I endured year after year. And I am proud that we have raised such confident, outgoing and self assured little people. They are an incredible blessing to us and, no matter how grim life might appear, they put it all into a more positive light. It is one less thing to worry about as, believe me, we have enough on our plates at the moment. With room for seconds. 

Fionnuala and I face our own ‘back to school’ experience this coming weekend. After eight months without a church we are dipping our toes back into the waters and returning this Sunday. We left our original church for a variety of reasons which I won’t go into as I don’t wish for this post to turn into a mud slinging exercise. We thought we had found a wonderful replacement but it then closed unexpectedly leaving us confused and more than a little lost.

Did God not want us to be church goers? Had we plans for us which went beyond the traditional Sunday morning experience. In the intervening months, if anything, we have felt closer to God than ever before. If we hadn’t left church then this blog would probably have never been born. And we have certainly leaned heavily on Him to get us through the annus horriblis that has been 2017. 

But we have both felt that something has been missing. Having a faith involves a 24/7 relationship with God. It is not just rocking up to a building every Sunday morning and pretending to everyone that your life is wonderful while they pretend back to you that their life is even more wonderful. It goes beyond pretending to pray and mumbling your way half heartedly through a few songs. It is not standing afterwards bitching about ‘so and so’ and complaining about how you got nothing out of the sermon. 

Churches are more than buildings and churches are more than the people who inhabit them. Church is life and truth and freedom. It is about helping others and putting total strangers in need before yourself. It is about willing yourself to forgive when every fibre in your body screams ‘NO’. It is about loving people who you don’t particularly like. Church is not boring, it is truly revolutionary. To follow Jesus is to rip up the rule book of life and go completely against the earthly grain.

These are some of the truths Fionnuala and I have learnt during our enforced sabbatical. And sometimes God removed us from the unhealthy church environment we were in, in order to allow us to grow as individuals, as couples and as a family. Because otherwise we would not have made it through this year. God has some pretty ‘out there’ thinking but it all falls into place eventually if you just keep plugging along, living life according to His will.

Why are we bothering to go back then? Why endure the social awkwardness of being the new kids on the block again? Given that we feel we have been spiritually bolstered and refreshed during the intervening period. Well, to be honest I’m not exactly sure. It could be another unmitigated disaster. I could be blogging next week about what a horrendous mistake we made.

But something had been nagging at the both of us to try again. Maybe we were simply not in the right church community last time. Or maybe we were not in the right mindset and God had to bench us for a quarter and give us a good talking to before throwing us out onto the field of play again. But whether church was not ready for us or we were not church here we are again. Ready to set foot back on the merrygoround again.

You might love your church. You might never be out of the place and sit on every sub-committee there is to sit on. You may feel totally at home there surrounded by incredible people. Or you might hate church. You may be at home now reading this, licking your wounds and vowing never to darken the doors again of a community where image and self were more important than humility and compassion. You may have never been to a church but be curious. You may have never been to a church and wild horses could never get you to set foot in one.

Whatever your preference church is there. And always will be. Because it is a manifestation of God. He is always there, whatever your view of Him. I have loved Him and I have cursed Him. It matters not a jot. Nothing can change His being just like nothing can change his love for you. So we go back to church this Sunday with a mixture of hope and trepidation. But secure in the knowledge that He is with us whatever happens.

Proverbs 3:5-6 ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.’

What are your memories of that ‘back to school’ feeling?

Do you do good church? Or have you had bad experiences there? Maybe you have never set foot in one. What are your views on the church today?

The Balloon Boys

We attended a family christening on Sunday and I was given a VERY important job. After the service I was to go to a nearby shop to collect the helium balloons that had been pre-ordered to decorate the tables at the post-christening party. Not one balloon, not two. But TWENTY FOUR huge blue and silver balloons. I could barely contain myself such was my excitement.


My initial delight at having been chosen for such a momentous and responsible task was dampened somewhat when Fionnuala informed me that our son, Adam, was to accompany me in order to assist. And by assist, I think she actually meant supervise. In the event that it all got too much for me and I was last seen drifting out high above Belfast Lough towards Scotland. I mean, really. Me and twenty hour giant helium balloons. What could possibly go wrong?

We arrived at the shop bang on time in order to make the pick-up. Unfortunately nobody seemed to have informed the largely disinterested (and I suspect hungover) staff who were still in the process of inflating the balloons at the back of the store. Adam and I were forced to endure the indignity of standing awkwardly while the balloons were passed out to us in dribs and drabs. Fellow shoppers looked on in bemusement at the sight of the two of us slowly becoming entombed in a barrage of balloons.

Fortunately each one came attached to a decorative weight but nonetheless I hung on like grim death to the ribbons attaching them to the balloon. We floated out of the shop whereupon a little girl standing outside asked if she could have one. As we were operating to a tight deadline I didn’t have time to stop and explain that they were not for sale. I can still hear her heart shattering into a thousand tiny pieces as we strode on out of the shopping centre.

If there is one sight more surreal than two embarrassed men walking across a car park with a billion gaudy balloons marked ‘Happy Christening’ then it is two even more embarrassed men trying to cram said balloons into the back of a people carrier. It was initially like trying to herd the wind. But via a combination of dogged determination and frantic grappling we managed to get the doors closed and were on our way; flaunting every traffic regulation in the book about having a clear, unobstructed rear view mirror whilst driving. 

We eventually arrived at the venue to be met with a small problem. During the course of the wrestling match en route the balloon ribbons had become horribly tangled up, creating a veritable Gordian knot. Fionnuala and another woman pushed us aside to begin the painstaking process of unraveling the mass of knots. But try as they might, progress was minimal and the situation appeared bleak as the guests began to filter into the function room.

Fearing that patience was running out and tempers might fray, wise heads accepted defeat and a knife was produced from somewhere in order to cut through the chaos. This allow the balloons and ribbons to be separated from each other before being tied back around each weight. Balloons were placed on tables in the nick of time and disaster was averted. My nerves were in tatters however and it took several large Diet Cokes and my own body weight in fried chicken at the all you can eat buffet in order to bring my heartbeat back down to a steady rate again. 

How many times in life have we allowed our focus to drift skywards as we chase the many dreams and aspirations that clutter our minds? Dreams that for the majority of us are unrealistic and unattainable. Yes it is good to have ambition and targets. But they have to be grounded in reality in order to be constructive. There needs to be a ribbon of realism attaching them to the stability and order of our everyday lives.

Without that solid foundation we cannot hope to reach for the stars. We will lose our balance and topple over. And if we spend too long gazing dreamily upwards with our heads in the clouds then we allow our real lives to become neglected. Neglect that, in turn, will lead to an inextricable tangle of broken relationships and damaged emotions. Which at the end of the day may result in major reconstructive surgery in order to salvage anything from the ruins.

For many years I chased unhealthy and misleading dreams. Dreams that achieved nothing more than broken hearts and oceans of tears. I lost track of what mattered and it took a juggernaut of a reality check to bring me to my senses. To open my eyes that the miraculous is in the everyday. Life is lived in the present, not the future. It is all around you, not floating in the ether. I encourage you today to stop, look around you and appreciate the glory of the everyday, the routine, the humdrum. For it is here where dreams are made. 

Have you ever been on the wrong end of a helium horror show?

Have you ever chased a dream only to realise your real world was crumbling all around you?

What miracles do you see in the everyday?

Battle Of The Biscuit Tin

I once consumed an entire packet of ginger snap biscuits in the space of a few minutes because the voice in my head told me to. It is one of my most distinctive OCD memories. I didn’t want to eat them. I don’t particularly like ginger snap biscuits. But I had to eat them. Either that or be consumed with overwhelming waves of anxiety for the remainder of the evening. When OCD is master of your mind you learn quickly to bend the knee. Or it will destroy you. 


You see OCD is a sly and slippery adversary. Just when you think you have it pinned down in one respect, it will seamlessly reshape and attack you from a different angle, effortlessly sliding its rapier blade beyond your defences. Cutting deep and drawing blood. It is a relentless opponent. It never tires and it never grows bored. It will grind you into the ground. It knows no mercy.

On this occasion (many, many years ago before I met Fionnuala) it was preying on my obsession with my weight. I have always worried over this and, as such, have often had an unhealthy relationship with food. Before I discovered running I would indulge in crash diets interspersed with sporadic outbreaks of binge eating where I would comfort eat in order to allay the feelings of despair threatening to submerge me.

Just as much of my OCD is numerically triggered so it was with my binge eating. On this occasion I had set my latest diet a wholly unrealistic target of 1500 calories a day. I meticulously maintained a record of how many I was consuming and if it were to go even 10 calories over the prescribed amount the day would be constituted a failure and I would have to face the consequences. In this instance not one but two days of chaotic binge eating, where I would literally wolf down everything within sight.

It had to be two days. And if at the end of those I had failed again then the next punishment would be four days. And so on. Odd numbers would not suffice which I found wryly ironic as so many of my other obsessions focused around the numbers three and five. But OCD is not a rational adversary its unpredictably making it an even more formidable foe. How do you defeat an enemy who penned the rule book and who can rip it up and start again at the slightest whim.

To make the challenge even more fun, at the end of the two days (or four or maybe eight if it were feeling particularly mischievous) the OCD would make me follow a bewildering series of routines in order to kill the obsession to binge. This is where the compulsion bit comes in. I would have to eat two biscuits before I went to bed so that I could go to sleep with a clear head and wake up the next morning ready to climb back on the crash diet wagon again.

The biscuits would have to be from the same packet. I had to memorise the brand of the biscuit and the company that made them; right down to the exact spelling and any punctuation on the packaging. If I forgot or the fog of OCD tricked me into thinking I had forgotten I would have to start again with another two biscuits. Do not pass go. Do not collect ÂŁ200.

I would have to hold the biscuit a certain way before I placed it in my mouth. My feet would have to be positioned in a certain manner with all my toes in constant contact with the ground. I was not allowed to spill crumbs. Nor leave the room until the entire biscuit was consumed. I was not allowed to perform the routine seated. Nor talk to anyone while performing it. If I fell prey to any of these rigid regulations I would have to start again. 

The routine was mentally exhausting. Every time I thought I had nailed it the voice would rhyme off some petty misdemeanour and coldly order me to start all over again. There was no margin for error nor appeal process. Before I knew it, minutes would have become hours and I would find myself surrounded by dozens of biscuit wrappers. I ate until I felt physically nauseous while on the inside my soul curled into a tight foetal ball and weeped silently for it all to end.

That was then and this is now. Thanks to prayer, the support of loved ones and medication the OCD (not my OCD as I disown it) rarely flares up now. Like alcoholism though or drug abuse I do not believe you can be totally cured of it. It is still there, lurking, just waiting for a chink in your armour where it can burst through and wreak havoc. It is dormant but not dead. It fights a guerilla war now, sniping from the fringes of my consciousness.

Even to this day I don’t like ginger snap biscuits. The memories repulse me. It was a type of self harm. I performed the compulsive rituals in order to gain temporary release from the unrelenting pain that this mental illness brings. And like any form of self harming it has left scars. Scars heal but they never truly go away. Which is good because I don’t want them to. I need them. 

I need the memories. I need every last excruciating one in microscopic detail. So that I never go back from whence I came, so that I never allow the passage of time to dilute or gloss over the horrors of those evenings standing by the biscuit tin. I won that battle but it was a pyrrhic one. Because this is one war that will never end and one enemy who will never surrender.

What are your thoughts on this post? Please comment below as I would love to hear them.

The Twinge

Last night I was ready to rock in front of the television in my Washington Redskins t-shirt and Peppa Pig pyjama bottoms (I know I’m quite the catch) when Fionnuala received a text. We had recently treated ourselves to a super comfy leather sofa and I have been working hard developing a new ‘butt groove’ following the sad recent departure of the Twirly Chair (RIP).

It was our son Adam who, applying the wisdom and logic that only a 15 year old boy can, decided (without telling us) to go to a friend’s house and race quad bikes around a muddy field. In a pair of shorts. Now resembling a swamp monster he was expecting one of his long suffering parents to come and collect him. And as in one of them, I mean me.

It was akin to snatching a glass of ice cold water from the cracked, parched lips of a man dying of thirst. My dreams of an evening in front of a box set were dashed, snatched away from me at the 11th hour. I reacted as any nature, intelligent forty seven year old man would. I threw a massive tantrum. 

I pouted. I snarled. I winged to Fionnuala about how selfish Adam was to expect me to put my hard earned Saturday night on hold in order to provide a taxi service for him. Fionnuala was as understanding and sympathetic as ever ‘Wait until he’s eighteen. Then he will be phoning you at 2am to pick him up from outside some club.’ Harrumphing (is that even a word?) and muttering I changed (I did consider keeping the whole Peppa Pig thang going but what would the neighbours think), got into the car and headed off into the dead of night.

By dead of night I exaggerate ever so slightly as it was only 9pm and still daylight. But I reserve the right to exaggerate when in mid-flounce. As I crouched over the steering wheel, griping to myself in true Dick Dastardly style, I rehearsed the piece of my mind that I was going to serve up to my errant son upon collecting him. We were going to have a serious father-son conversation where I was going to lay down a few home truths about boundaries and responsibility.

Then I felt a twinge. All week I had been experiencing a niggle in my right knee as I have upped my running distances. 95% of the time it would be fine then a sharp pain would shoot into my kneecap before disappearing just as suddenly again. It was more annoying than anything but it was always lurking at the back of my mind when I set out an a run. It was a hindrance, a niggle; a twinge.

This twinge, however, was in my heart and not my knee. A twinge of the conscience. That undefinable quality that sets us apart from all the other species on the planet. The ability to differentiate between right and wrong. I realised that I over reacted (just a tad) when Adam had asked for a lift home. Who was being the selfish one really? Him for wanting to harmlessly hang out with his friends on a Saturday night? Or me for neglecting my parental duties which involved putting on a pair of jeans and driving the grand total of two miles to pick him up?

Thank God for twinges. Be they physical or spiritual. They are a warning sign. That there might be a bigger problem brewing if we do not deal promptly with the matter at hand. With regards my knee it might involve easing back on my mileage or a visit to my doctor. With regards my conscience it entailed biting my lip and displaying a grateful and willing heart as I drove to collect Adam. Children are a blessing. To be celebrated and not winged about. 

What is your favourite item of loungewear that should never see the light of day?

When was the last time you had a twinge of conscience? How did you respond to it?

Who Is Jesus?

It’s Pay Day and the Black family are hitting Belfast to celebrate. Adam wants a haircut (he’s sooooooo fussy about his hair), Hannah wants to get her eyebrows threaded (I don’t even know what this entails but I hear it’s very painful) and Rebecca (who I have just asked) needs stationary for going back to school. She has also informed me that she wants to find ÂŁ1,000,000. She doesn’t want much.

I write quite a bit about my faith on this blog and, whilst my style is not to ram it down people’s throats, at the heart of it is putting across a message as to how it has changed my life and rescued me from addiction, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). The blog has given me the confidence to write more and I am now at the point where I am plotting my first novel which will feature the above themes.

The ultimate pay day was when Jesus paid for the sins of mankind on the Cross. My thoughts on Jesus and what he has done for me are clear for all to see but in this mini-blog I wanted to hear your thoughts. What does Jesus mean to you. Is he the Son of God? Your Lord and Saviour? A great prophet? A holy man? An inspirational teacher? A fraud? Or a make believe character created to control the masses? Did he even exist? 

What does Jesus mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.


1000 Followers 

In just over three months we have hit the 1000 follower mark. We are not doing this to gain followers, rather get a message across. We, as a family, just wanted to thank you all for supporting the blog.


Stephen & Fionnuala 🙏🏻😊❤️

The 26 Hour Day

I posted the other day about the hectic schedules we commit ourselves to and wouldn’t it be great if there were 26 hours in a day. This got me wondering what I would do if this were indeed the case and God suddenly decided to shoehorn another 120 minutes into our daily cycles. Would it magically resolve our time management issues or would we simply fill the additional space with more irrelevant and stressful clutter.

On the surface it seems like a great concept. Imagine an extra two hours in bed for a start? I could write more as well. At the minute I struggle to post on a daily basis but this would allow me time to post more often and in greater detail. I could also read more of my fellow bloggers’ posts and interact with the good people of WordPress. There is also the small matter of a novel  which I am currently mulling over.


I could run more, get to grips with my bottomless in tray and possibly even start doing some of the many jobs that need attended to around our house. I have so many books to read and Netflix shows to binge watch. The more I thought about it the more excited I got about the idea of a 26 hour day. It literally would be the solution to all my problems. Dear God please get it sorted. Thanks – Stephen.

Then I stopped dead in my tracks. I realised that every activity I had dreamt up had a common theme running through it. That theme was selfish old me. I was planning to exclusively fill the extra time with projects that related to myself and not others. It was all about me, myself and I. Once again  the world was revolving around Stephen.

I hadn’t once thought about using the time to help others; be it my family, friends or complete strangers. What about devoting the time to community work or simply spending it with Fionnuala and the kids. And er…..don’t forget about God. Shouldn’t you be spending more time praying, studying your Bible and trying to live out the teachings of Jesus in a consistent and loving manner? 

We are taught to love yet I struggle to display love for 26 minutes, let alone 26 hours. Yet God is love. He is love 24/7, 365 days a year (and 366 on a leap year). I fall so embarrassingly short of that basic requirement. Why? Because I am so preoccupied with my own selfish needs instead of the needs of others. I fail consistently to live a selfless life. And in doing so I am wasting my remaining days on this planet. 

When Jesus called his first disciples he chose four gruff fishermen who, no doubt, had a million and one other things to be getting on with rather than abandoning their livelihoods and following him. Yet they did it, without thinking about it. They decided (for Jesus did not force them) of their own free will to turn their backs on their earthly lives (the self) in order to devote their lives to Jesus and a life focused on the needs of others.

They killed the ‘self’ in order to’fish’. Self < fish. Jesus > Stephen. In order to follow the teachings of Jesus you need to kill the self. This is of course easier said than done. It involves a total rewriting of our default setting which is to look after numero uno. That is our ‘go to’ position, it is ingrained in our DNA. We are instinctively selfish creatures and look to protect and promote our own interests. We know no other way.

At the root of every sin is our own selfish thinking. We turn our backs on what God wants us to do and instead focus on what we want to do. In order to turn off the ‘me’ switch requires a conscious act of will. Day after day. Year after year. We need to train our minds to operate that way. It is difficult but it is possible. There are good habits and bad habits. 

I have made a career out of bad habits. I have kicked most of them bar my excessive Diet Coke consumption and nail biting (not connected by the way). We are so good at developing bad habits but less so at adopting good ones. We need to work at the latter and turn selflessness into a good habit. From that will flow love, compassion and generosity. 26 hours a day.

Matthew 4:19 – ‘Come, follow me’, Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’

What would you do with an extra two hours a day?

How do you overcome your selfish instincts?

What bad habits are you will to admit?

The Lightning Strike

We experienced a crazy thunderstorm by Northern Ireland standards last night. There were reports of torrential rain, mud slides and extensive flooding across the country. It hit our village at around 11:00 pm, starting with heavy rain. A little while later the thunder and lightning arrived, lighting up the night sky like a fireworks display and setting off every dog and car alarm in the vicinity.

At one point two lightning bolts struck simultaneously in fields either side of our house. Pandemonium reigned. The girls were in tears, Charlie the border terrier was going berserk and Adam was running around gleefully singing the ‘Thunderbuddies’ song from ‘Ted’. Fionnuala managed to capture the entire episode on her phone before posting it on Facebook. It went viral! Well she had over 200 views which is more a slight head cold than a virus but still good right?

Eventually the storm passed and order was restored. The girls settled down and everyone went back to their respective beds. I had never been as close to a lightning strike and was amazed by the power of its impact on the surrounding area. The force, the light and the accompanying noise. It was a spectacle I will never forget. I also thought to myself that I couldn’t wait until the following morning to blog about it.

I have been humbled and encouraged by the growth of this blog and the positive feedback we have received regarding it. I thank God every day for giving me the inspiration and motivation to write. And I hope that somewhere it is making a difference in the lives of people. Whenever I used to write online I did so for attention. It was all about how clever I was. When the lightning bolt struck I wanted it to illuminate Stephen. I wanted the world to acknowledge me for the great person I was.

I still want lightning to strike now when I write but for different reasons. I want it to leave a lasting impression in the lives of others. I want it to turn their darkness into light and show them the way out of whatever hole they have fallen into. I want it to open their eyes and ears to hope and a future free from whatever demons have crept into their hearts. And I want to reveal the truth and allow them to see beyond the lies of this world. To reveal how precious and unique they are.

You may be trapped in a storm in your life right now. You may see no way out. You may be terrified by the lightning and soaked to the bone. You may be on the point of giving up. But storms pass. They do not last forever. And one day you will wake up and it will be over. The air will be crisp and clean. The sun will be shining and your world will be different. Changed. The storm will have changed you. You will be stronger and wiser. For in the heart of every storm there is light. And where there is light there is truth. And hope. 

John 8:12 – ‘When Jesus spoke again to the people he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

Please feel free to share your thoughts about this post.

What is the nearest you have ever been to a lightning strike?

Have you ever found light in the midst of a storm?

Death by Password 

I am contracted to work a 37 hour week. This is fine with me. However if a time and motion study were to be commissioned of my working day I predict that roughly 35 hours of said week would be taken up with internal security procedures. The work I carry out is of a fairly sensitive nature so I understand that robust security procedures have to be in place. But really….my average working day can be summarised as follows. 

Use swipe card to gain access to lift. Use same swipe card ten seconds later to access corridor. Dig around my painfully cool man bag for five minutes to find key for cabinet where I have to store my mobile phone as they are not permitted in the main office. Upon being unable to find key, phone Fionnuala in a panic. She suggests I check my coat pockets. Check coat pockets and locate the key within two seconds. Apologise profusely to my wife and proceed to next stage.

Use swipe card to access main office. Use separate key to access filing cabinet which contains keys to my desk drawers. Open desk drawers and spend the next fifteen minutes arranging my in tray, stationary, family photos, cuddly toys etc because of recent draconian clear desk policy initiative. Have a think about it and reposition in tray (already filling up) due to feng shui issues. Look at watch. Realise that it has been thirty minutes since I entered the building. Start to panic about the amount of work I have to do.

Decide it’s all too much and go to office fridge to get a Diet Coke. Aaaaaaaand relax. Return to desk and turn on computer. Read the complete works of Shakespeare in the time it takes our antiquated IT system to load up. However, computers  have to be shut down every evening for health & safety and security reasons. Naturally. Weep silently at the injustice of it all. 

When computer eventually loads realise that I have forgotten my password which I have written down in my Filofax. Which is in my locked again filing cabinet. Relocate Filofax and enter password. Receive an on screen notification that the password needs to be changed as it is now over a month old. Am given a choice of three randomly generated passwords that I have no hope of ever memorising as we cannot be trusted to come up with our own. Which would invariably be ‘PASSWORD’ or (ingeniously) ‘PASSWORD1’.

Write down randomly generated password which I will never remember it and return Filofax to filing cabinet. It is by now nearing lunchtime. Repeat same procedure to change password to second computer database I use because of course it would be ridiculous to have them all on the one system. Eat a biscuit. Realise that I am meant to be off biscuits since I have started marathon training again. Feel bad about this. Decide to manage gnawing shame by gnawing on another biscuit. 

It is now lunchtime. Allowing me to blog about the unfairness of my current plight. Upon returning to office am informed that the IT network is down for ‘urgent refurbishment.’ Throw hands in air and have a cup of tea. And another biscuit. A chocolate one this time. Am informed that I have to attend an unscheduled briefing the following morning. On the new internal security procedures. Curse the day I was promoted to the dizzying ranks of middle management which condemns me to attendance at these meetings. 

Realise that I have to go home in an hour but have yet to do anything remotely constructive today. Make a two minute phone call to confirm I will be at the unscheduled briefing followed by fifty eight minutes repeating the above procedures. Except back to front. My OCD also dictates that when in the lift I doubt whether my filing cabinet is actually locked or not. I am 99% certain that it is but, as ever, the 1% wins out. It always does. When I go back and check the cabinet is locked. Of course it is. Get back in lift. Halfway down realise that I have forgotten my mobile phone.

I may have exaggerated my daily routine ever so slightly to make a point but we do live in an increasingly security conscious world. Whether fearing terrorist attack, cyber crime or home intruders most of us are spending an increasing proportion of our day checking and rechecking. Protect. Guard. Secure. These are the buzzwords regularly in use in our neighbourhoods, schools and workplaces. Some of it is a politically correct and risk averse world gone mad but, as the recent attacks in Manchester, London and Barcelona have demonstrated, much of it is sadly necessary. 

My question is how much attention do you direct towards the security of your heart? Others use the word soul. The relationships we keep, the people who we know deep down are not right for us yet can’t seem to say no to; the books we read, the movies we watch, the sites we access when we are online; the envy, unforgiveness and hatred that we allow to take seed within us and eat away at our morals and values.  How often do you leave the password of your heart lying around this allowing anyone or anything inside to wreak havoc?

I have left mine wide open many times and have the deep scars to prove it. If we protect our hearts and only allow the ‘good stuff’ to enter them, then it naturally follows that when we open our mouths ‘good stuff’ is more likely to flow out. How many people live in secure homes yet are irreparably damaged because they have neglected the same diligence with regards their hearts. Broken people in a broken world. An epidemic of mental health issues and a civilisation teetering on the edge of collapse. Don’t believe me. Just watch your local news channel this evening. 

You only have one heart. Guard it. You only have one life. Use it.

Proverbs 4:23 – ‘Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.’

How much of your life is dictated by security and passwords?

What mechanisms have you in place to protect your heart?

What is the most ridiculous password you have ever used?

The Brink

A lot of the blogs I follow are written by people struggling with mental health issues.  These are raw and highly upsetting narratives often written from the brink. If you have never stood on the brink I pray that you will never have to. It is the loneliest place on earth. Beyond it lies nothingness. It is the place people come when there is nowhere else to go and nothing else to say. It is the end of the line, the final chapter. 

What brings people to the brink? Well there are a plethora of reasons and they differ from person to person. They are often complex and concealed within layer upon layer of scar tissue. These can include bereavement, abuse of all forms, addiction, eating disorders and mental illness to name but a few. They ferment and fester over long periods of time before finally bursting like a pus filled boil. 

You do not arrive at the brink overnight. For some this may have been a journey that has taken years, if not decades. It is a long and winding road with many detours and distractions. I say road but there are many highways that one can take which will eventually bring you there. Every visitor is unique as is their journey. But they all arrive at the same point eventually. The point of no return. 


Let’s not beat about the bush here. The brink equates to suicide. I am no expert on the subject. I am not well read on it. But I have experienced suicidal thoughts. I have had suicidal idealisations and I believe this equips me as much as anybody else to talk about it. For I have walked the path. I have stood on the brink. And I have looked down into the chasm beyond.

While those there may have arrived by any number of routes and for any number of reasons they all share the one same feeling – hopelessness. They have twisted and turned with their own individual demons. They have used up every last ounce of resolve and resistance in their beings. They have fought until they are at a standstill, out on their feet. People who consider suicide are not cowards which is a commonly held misconception. They have performed heroically in battles that many could not even begin to imagine. 

Just as people with suicidal thoughts are not cowards it is also unfair to condemn them as selfish. Yes at face value to take one’s own life is a selfish act. What about those left behind? The parents, the children, the wives and husbands. For the person who takes their own life, the pain ends but for those left behind it has only just begun.

But who among us is not selfish? We are at our base nature selfish creatures. I may behave selfishly given a certain set of circumstances but if you were placed in the exact same situation you would not. Our reaction to external factors is defined by a myriad of criteria – personality traits, belief systems and socio-economic background to name but a few. But at some stage in our lives all of us will be confronted with a bespoke scenario that will trigger the ‘self’ button in us.

For some it is suicide. For others it is infidelity, criminality or just being a crappy father or daughter. Selfish is selfish whatever way you try to dress it up. We are all stained by it so none of us can take the higher moral ground on the subject. Is the abused and damaged teenager standing at the brink more selfish than the ‘respectable’ business person who adds 10% to their expenses claims but tells nobody? I think not.

We have discussed pain and selfishness so far but I want to return to the brink now to consider the mirage of hopelessness; for with that I take issue. There is always hope. It may appear there is none but who are we to know what tomorrow brings, or the next day or the one after that. An escape route, a way out of the present moment and the specific emotions you are experiencing at that time.

Nobody can tell what the next day brings. So yes your past and present may appear without hope but in order to definitively declare hopelessness you have to consider it in the round and holistically. And this incorporates the future which you cannot confidently predict. Hopelessness is a transitional experience. All emotions are temporal. You cannot live your entire life 100% hopeless just like you cannot live your life 100% euphoric. ‘Happy Clappy’ Christians do not exist. Those that proclaim to be so are liars.

The human being consists of a body, a mind and a soul. Emotions invade the mind and trick it into commissioning the body into performing actions that cause harm and distress to oneself and others. Emotions lie.

I’m a useless human being and nobody loves me. LIE!

I’m fat and ugly and I’ll never get a partner? LIE!

I will never conquer this addiction? LIE

Everybody would be a lot better off if I just disappeared? LIE

Hope exists whether you like it or not. It could be five years away or it could be just around the corner. But it is there and it is real. The torment and suffering which drive people to the brink is equally real.  But the voice that talks to them as they waver there considering taking that final step is a liar.

Believe me. I have stood on the brink. And there is nothing beyond it. Don’t listen to the lies being whispered seductively in your ear. Turn around and walk back. Let hope lead you back. For hope leads to life and life is love. 

What are your experiences of the brink? Have you been there or know someone who has?

Are you standing on the brink now and need help?

Psalm 31:24 – ‘Be strong and take heart, all of you who hope in the Lord.’


The Unemployed Juggler

As my writing and this blog have taken off I have increasingly found myself hunched over the keyboard trying to ensure I am delivering a high quality product to all you good people out there. I have discovered that the more I write the more I want to write. And hopefully the old adage ‘practice makes perfect’ is true and I am improving with each post.

At the same time I am trying to be a good husband, father, son and employee. Oh and the little matter of focusing on my faith and study of it. If I neglect the latter I know from bitter experience that the whole house of cards will come tumbling down on top of me. And did I tell you that I’m training for a marathon? Seriously if someone could point me in the direction of a 26 hour day then I would be eternally grateful.

Is is an exciting, but challenging, period of my life and I am blessed that after decades of drifting along I believe that God has set me on a path which I hope will allow me to make a difference in the lives of others and leave behind a lasting legacy. On paper all is well and everything is progressing seamlessly. Oh, but if only life were that simple. It reminds me of that image of the swan. Serene and graceful on the surface but paddling like a lunatic underneath the water.

As a child it was always a huge deal  when the circus came to town. We would oooooh and aaaaaah at all manner of exciting acts – clowns, trapeze artists and fire eaters to name but a few. But clowns scare me to this day. Do NOT get me started on clowns. However, the act I always remembered the most was the juggler and how I could never really settle and enjoy the act because I was worried he would drop a ball or baton and be humiliated in front of a packed Big Top. Even then I was an anxious Alex.

I have felt a bit like a juggler of late. Keeping all of my responsibilities up in the air is hard work and every time I feel like I am in control and can relax it feels like an extra ball is thrown into the mix for me to deal with. They are all important so require my attention. And if I drop one then the whole act is ruined. Juggling takes co-ordination and concentration.

It also requires practice and a sound technique. Every ball needs to be in the air in the right location at exactly the right time. If two balls are in the same place at the same time then ‘BANG’ its game over as far as the juggler is concerned. A juggler who cannot juggle is nothing. He is like a broken pencil. Pointless. Similarly a husband and father who does not spend sufficient time with his wife and kids is not fulfilling his role within the family. 


By the way I really dislike the phrases ‘family time’ or ‘quality time’. Time is time. And it is all precious Period. People who brag about spending ‘quality time’ with their family are kind of missing the point. What are they trying to say? That the other 23 hours of the day are not quality? You shouldn’t need to blow your trumpet about spending time with your father. It should go without saying. No need for a two page advert in the local newspaper.

Ok rant over sorry.  Earlier this week Fionnuala remarked to me that every time she phoned the office I was never at my desk. I immediately went on the defensive and said this wasn’t true. ‘Well nine times out of ten’ she countered. I didn’t really have a comeback for that. She was right. She usually is. So where was I? We are not allowed mobiles at our desks for security reasons which somewhat cramps my style as I write up most of my posts on my I Phone. Therefore I have found myself nipping outside into the corridor or taking a five minute break in the square outside in order to write. The same has applied to my lunch break. Two minutes eating my sandwiches, thirty three working on the blog.

This has meant I have been getting behind so have found myself playing catch up by conducting work related open source research at home in the evening. I have been blogging when I should have been working and working when I should have been focusing on Fionnuala and the kids. Spending time with them. Not quality time. Just time. Quite frankly there have been too many balls in the air and they have been colliding with one another. 

A juggler should never juggle beyond his skill limit. Otherwise he very quickly becomes unemployed. A six ball juggler who expertly juggles six balls wins the plaudits of the crowd. A six ball juggler who tries to juggle eight balls ends out on his ear when the circus moves on to the next town.

He ends up with egg on his face, looking like a clown. So from now on I will be juggling within my limitations. Because if there’s one thing I hate it’s clowns. 

1 Corinthians 10:31 – ‘But whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

What did you make of this post? I would be interested in your feedback?

Do clowns leave you deeply disturbed like me? Or are they the funniest thing since….er….clowns?

How are your juggling skills? Have you too many balls in the air or could you manage a few more?

I’m Stephen The Sailorman

As I have mentioned once or twice (oh alright then incessantly) in previous posts I have been struggling all summer with a viral infection which had effectively knocked me for six. In addition to chest and ear problems I was also living under a cloud of fatigue which refused to budge no matter what antibiotic or multivitamin I was prescribed. At one point I was popping so many pills that if you had shaken me I would have rattled like a baby’s toy.

This resulted in a number of visits to my doctor’s surgery where I was poked, prodded and eventually pierced. Blood samples were taken (I was a brave little soldier when the needle went in) and I was told to contact them the following week to get the results. As I was by this stage starting to feel better and back at work I promptly forgot all about it until I received a phone call at work earlier this week from a concerned sounding Fionnuala. ‘The surgery called. Your blood results are back. They want you to phone them.’

Having diagnosed myself as fit and well again my over active imagination of course went in hyperdrive conjuring up the worst possible case scenario as I nervously punched the numbers of the surgery into my mobile phone. By the time I got through to the results line I had convinced myself that I had the Ebola virus or, at the bare minimum, a rare blood disorder that would ensure I never saw Christmas. I was relieved therefore to hear the receptionist assure me at the very outset that the results were in but it was nothing to worry about.

She informed me that my folic acid levels were low and I was being prescribed a four month supplement to bring them back up to normal. I was slightly bemused by this as my only awareness of folic acid prior to that had been that women trying for a baby took it in order to minimise the child being born with certain physical disabilities. My ignorance of the subject was such that I did not know that the human body (and in particular the male body) even produced it. Every day is a learning day.

Upon terminating the call I fell back upon good old Dr. Google to learn a bit more about folic acid. Apparently it was naturally present in a whole host of foodstuffs – rice (check), pasta (yup I eat loads of that), bread (oh this is so easy) and dark green, leafy vegetables. Hang on, run that last one past me again? My eyes scanned down the list in question. Broccoli (manageable), Brussel Sprouts (I would rather eat hot coals) and spinach. Spinach? What like Popeye the Sailorman. Is that even a real food? 


Apparently it was. I glumly accepted the inevitable like a condemned man on his final walk to the gallows. My immediate future was going to contain lots of unsexy food. Lots and lots of unsexy green food. My spirits lifted somewhat when I realised that (a) you did not have to eat the spinach raw, (b) it did not involve squeezing it out of a can and guzzling it all in one go whilst laughing maniacally and (c) the aforementioned guzzling did not have to take place while dressed in dodgy nautical attire and smoking a pipe.

When it comes to cartoon characters I had always modelled myself more on Homer Simpson tbsp Popeye. And I most definitely would rather be consuming donuts as opposed to spinach. Why is it that all the tasty food is bad for you yet all the healthy stuff tastes like soggy seaweed. But needs must and I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that those pesky folic acid levels soared again. I never wanted to revisit the summer that was; one of phlegmy coughs, aching ears and levels of fatigue that had driven me to the end of my tether.  

The spinach analogy can be applied to my life in general. All the activities that I revelled in were ultimately bad for me physically, mentally and spiritually. Alcohol, social media and unhealthy relationships to name but a few. I craved them like Homer craves a box of chocolate frosted donuts. So satisfying at the time but long term they only lead to ridiculous cholesterol levels and ever expanding waistlines. I was heading in that direction with regards to my family and faith. It took several harsh wake up calls to bring me to my senses again.

Spinach sounds boring. It sounds tasteless and hard to stomach. Just like some mornings when I get up and I can’t be bothered with the kid’s petty arguments; or I stumble out of bed dreading the prospect of spending another eight hours chained to my desk at work. These seemingly mundane chores may seem a pain  when there are so many other ‘fun’ activities we could be participating in. But at the end of the day they are the bread and butter of our lives. They will form the backbone of who we are and the legacy that we want to leave behind us. It might not be appear the most glamorous of lifestyles but the long term benefits far outweigh the short term pain. 

Sometimes you just have to suck it up. All that glitters is not gold. The real miracles are in the everyday grind. So I pray. I pick up my Bible and study. That might not rock your boat but you do need some kind of anchor in order to keep your ship on an even keel. All I can say is that after forty years of  running aground that my faith works for me. Whatever tools you decide upon I encourage you to do your utmost to remain rooted to the key values and morals that define your being. Because whatever your belief system the demons are real and are never far away, waiting to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

Seek out what  you need not what you desire. And always remember to eat your greens.

What are your thoughts on this post?

What everyday things keep you focused and on an even keel?

Do you love your greens? Or do they turn you green?

The Forty Seven Year Old Foetus

Back in my days of drinking yore I used to keep a mental note of my Top 10 worst hangovers. As I got older my hangovers got worse. In the end this meant that if I drank on the Saturday evening it would be the following Thursday before I began to feel remotely human again. Despite headaches, nausea and general roughness, however, I was rarely physically sick and only then when I had mixed my drinks. When I did though the results were normally explosive (as in literally) and invariably merited a spot in the Top 10. 

One such occasion was when Fionnuala and I attended the wedding of a friend in the north-east of England. Having risen ridiculously early to catch a flight from Belfast to Newcastle we found ourselves with several hours to kill before the service. In my ultimate wisdom I decided to hit the hotel bar and downed several pints of strong lager before we caught a taxi to the wedding venue. Fionnuala knew what lay ahead but said nothing fearing I would start an argument and accuse her of being a party pooper.

Upon arrival complimentary glasses of sparkling wine were being handed out. As it would have been rude not  to avail of this hospitality I got stuck in meaning that even before the nuptials had been agreed I was well oiled. The situation deteriorated at the reception where several glasses of white wine over dinner combined with numerous more pints led to me cutting a sorry figure on the dancefloor later in the evening. In my drunken stupor I thought I was John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’. In reality I was more akin to him in ‘Pulp Fiction’. On my own. Without Uma Thurman.

The evening ended with me asleep in the corner as the party raged on around me. Fionnuala somehow carried me back to our hotel room where I awoke the next morning  with the mother of all hangovers. We had treated ourselves to room service and a full cooked breakfast with all the trimmings. All was well as I consumed this from a largely horizontal position. I began to feel decidedly queasy, however, as we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for our taxi to take us back to the airport. The ensuing thirty minute journey felt more  like thirty years as the contents of my stomach merrily performed cartwheels. This was only going to end one way.

To my eternal shame I made a dash for the toilets upon our arrival at the airport, barely making it into a cubicle before my breakfast from earlier and I became reacquainted again in devastating fashion. Afterwards I curled up in the foetal position on the cubicle floor mulling over the errors of my excesses from the night before whilst simultaneously breaking out into a clammy, cold sweat. This one, I concluded, was definitely Top 10 material.


Fast forward to last Christmas and I found myself in a similar position. This time, however, I was stone cold sober. I did not have intoxication to fall back upon as an excuse for my misdemeanours. And rather than face a tongue lashing from Fionnuala for another drunken debacle I was facing something much worse. Silence. From my wife and kids. A silence more terrifying than the most volcanic argument. Silence as I tearfully begged for another chance. Silence as I curled up in a ball on the floor of a friend who had reluctantly taken me in because otherwise I would have been out on the streets.

It is eight months later and, by the grace of God, I am back on the right path. I know, however, that I cannot rest on my laurels for a single second because, given my addictive personality and OCD, chaos lurks just around the corner. So I think about incidents like the two I have described above. Curled up in the foetal position. Crying out for the warmth and security of the womb; the sustenance of the umbilical cord; the reassuring thud of my mother’s heartbeat. And then I recall the horror of being ripped out of that environment as a result of my own disastrous choices.

There is nothing more effective in bringing you back from the brink of temptation than having a few ‘foetal position’ moments stored away in your mind for future reference if required. It is okay to be tempted. It happens to all of us. The problems start when we act upon emotions triggered by temptation. Because emotions lie. They are temporary and not grounded in the permanence of truth. The bedrock of right and wrong. It is our conscience that sets us apart from the animals, that defines who we are. The conscience cannot be defeated by emotions if we have the mechanisms in place to repel temptation when it comes calling.

The word ‘foetus’ relates to life and new beginning. It conjures up images of peace and love. Yet many of us, when we hit rock bottom in our lives, find ourselves curled up in the same position. Utterly exposed and alone. Stricken with pain and surrounded by heartbreak and devastation. There is nothing comforting about that. In order to move forward into the beauty of the light and remain there we must never forget the horrors of the past from whence we came. Because the former cannot exist without the latter.

It is our guardian, our wise counsel, our tap on the shoulder when we think that nobody else is looking. Scars heal but they never completely disappear for a reason. For there is beauty in scars. They remind us of the past and we will never make the future a better one unless we understand and learn from our past. Never forget those foetal moments for they are your friend. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 – ‘No temptation has overcome you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’.

Have you ever found yourself in the foetal position? What was it like?

What mechanisms do you have in place to resist temptation?

Thank You 

This blogging business is a right hoot isn’t it. The site has been up and running now for three months and we have 900 followers and are fast approaching our 10,000th view. According to my more geographically aware wife we have had views from 50% of the countries in the world. Mind blown. I just want to thank everybody who has taken the time to read the blog, write such positive and encouraging feedback and put up with my daily musings on honey comb ice cream, running and Jesus stuff.


It took me the best part of fifteen years to discover WordPress which I now regard as my online home. I regard YOU ,my fellow bloggers, as my community, my people, my tribe. Down the years I have dabbled with (and spectacularly failed at) a number of other social media platforms. Initially back in the day it was Facebook where Fionnuala first painstakingly introduced me to the internet. It was akin to a caveman stumbling upon fire. ‘Yes Stephen this is called a mouse and when you move it around and click it strange and wonderful things start to happen on that screen in front of you.’

I soon grew bored with that. Addictive personalities can never settle on one obsession for long. The buzz soon wears off and they have to push the boundary and take it to the next level. Facebook was full of people who I knew in real life (Euuuuuughhhh!) and I became increasingly frustrated with their real life dramas of ‘who said what to who’, endless pictures of their adorable kids (because none of the rest of us had kids right?) and drunken photographs of the night before which were invariably deleted the morning after.

Above all else I had to be careful what I said on there. The virtual walls had ears so to speak. Big Brother (and sister and dozens of cousins) were watching. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, be who I wanted to be. And by that I meant say anything and be anyone as long as it wasn’t my dull, real persona who got up every morning, changed dirty nappies while semi hungover and then trudged into work in ill fitting clothes where my genius and sparkling personality were universally overlooked.

Helllooooooo Twitter! Now this was more like it. I’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with the little blue bird in previous posts so won’t bore you with the details again. But it was love at first sight. I did not know 99% of the people on it so could say whatever I wanted to. Any old nonsense and the more outrageous the better. Waving goodbye to my morals and parking my conscience at the front door I proceeded to create an online persona which resembled me in no way whatsoever. Before I knew it I was utterly addicted and had nearly 10,000 followers who I needed (from my slanted perspective) to entertain on a daily basis. They were my public. 

This gradually deteriorated to the extent where my online activities took precedence over trifling matters such as my faith, family and job. I began to live an increasingly secretive and duplicitous life which led to all sorts of carnage in the real world. Spiralling depression and anxiety led to me increasingly hiding from these problems in my alcohol fuelled online life. Where everybody recognised me as the witty bon vivant I was born to be. Alcohol and Twitter equated to  real life misery which could only be alleviated by more alcohol and  Twitter. A vicious and ever decreasing circle. About four years ago it all collapsed around me in an explosion of shame and regret. You can read about this episode of my life The ‘Twirly Chair’ posts.

Since then there have been lapses most notably of catastrophic proportions on Instagram last year. I had badgered a despairing Fionnuala into accepting it as a half way house between the monotony of Facebook and the madness of Twitter. I had promised to moderate both the time I spent ,and what I got up to, on it. Of course I spectacularly failed on both scores and ended up in a situation which made my Twitter excesses pale into comparison. If Facebook had been my marijuana and Twitter my cocaine, then Instagram was the crystal meth and GHB cocktail from hell.

The Instagram days are for another day and another post. Three months into my online recovery I am relishing the WordPress experiment. There is probably an argument that I should go ‘cold turkey’ and avoid social media in its entirety. But then how would I express myself creatively and share my experiences in order to help others going through similar situations. Which is why Fionnuala and I found this safe place. Where I can lick my wounds and write my words. A place of healing and hope.

As I indicated at the start of this post I have been amazed by the growth of the blog and the support and feedback I have received from the WordPress community. It has been truly inspiring. So much so that I have decided to take it further and start work on my first novel. I have an idea. I hope and pray that is original and quirky enough to capture people’s imaginations. I hope I have the talent and determination to follow it through. But as a first time author I need a shedload of help and encouragement. If you would like to know more then add a comment and welcome aboard. Let the games begin.

What has your WordPress experience been like to date?

What advice can you offer a novice author? Structure? Resources? Forums? Personal triumphs and struggles? I would love to hear from you.

The Power Cut

The world stopped turning today in our office as we were struck with a power cut. The lifts ground to a halt (thankfully nobody was in them at the time), the computer systems crashed (snigger) and (horrors of horrors) the phones cut out mid conversation. Seasoned professionals looked desperately at one other. How would we cope? What were we supposed to do in order to survive this post-apocalyptic environment.

As senior management entered talks about talks regarding what was to be done, the workers congregated in huddles muttering about the third world conditions they were being forced to endure. The lighting had gone out in the corridors leading to many a hilarious ‘who goes there?’ exchange. The lighting had also gone in the toilets on my floor and traumatised survivors staggered from them with horror stories that they would take to the grave.

Thankfully the kitchen was still operational allowing my colleagues to settle their frayed nerves with copious amounts of tea and toast. And the odd sausage roll. Others sat at their desks scratching their heads as they looked at their blank computer screens. ‘What are we supposed to do?’ they whined. ‘We can’t do any work. The computers are down.’ No spreadsheets, no e-mail, no case handling system. Civilisation teetered on the brink.


Then something incredible happened. We looked over to see a colleague produce a notepad from a drawer. Next thing, he was holding a slim, cylindrical object in his hand. We looked on in amazement as he started to press the object (I believe they call it a pen) to the notepad and make bizarre, circular motions. Swirls and squiggles began to materialise on the paper. Letters became words which became sentences. I swear I even saw a semi colon at one point but may have been mistaken.

Yes he was writing. Like they used to back in the 90’s. Before keyboards took over our lives. However this was not the end of the madness. I watched, mouth hanging open, as a colleague got up from their desk, crossed the expanse of our open plan office and started a conversation with a co-worker on the other side of it. No e-mail, no phone call, no lengthy memo in triplicate via the internal post. They were actually talking to each other. Eye contact and everything. 

The next two hours were perhaps some of the most productive in the history of the organisation. At one point I even swear a decision was made but don’t quote me on that. There was an alleged sighting of ‘The Big Boss’ going up a flight of stairs and (even more unlikely) reports of our Directot of Finance smiling and chatting to members of his staff. We relished the freedom and ran amok. The shackles which chained us to our desks were shattered. The hypnotic spells keeping us glued to our computer screens were broken. Today was a good day.

Of course normal service will be resumed again tomorrow. The bunker mentality will be firmly back in place and colleagues based on different floors will not see each other again until the next awkward team building event. Phones will ring and e-mails will fly. Sub committees will meet and decide that a sub sub committee is required. Action plans will result in no action being taken and working groups will do everything but actually work. All will be well in the world again. 

Where would we be without technology? It has made our lives so much easier and, I for one, would crumple in a teary heap without my I Phone 6 and Kindle Fire. Life without Netflix would be intolerable and blogging by courier pigeon? No thanks. Advances in medicine, engineering and computer science have undoubtedly made the world we live in a safer and more hospitable place. 

We should not, however, neglect the basic skills that lie beneath the surface of 21st Century living. Take our eyes off our 500 Twitter friends (496 of whom we have never actually met) and focus instead on the three friends in real life who would happily lay down their lives for us and give us their last penny. Visit an elderly relative instead of e-mailing them a generic Christmas card. Because nobody posts Christmas cards any more. Write a heartfelt letter to someone you care about instead of a hurried ‘CU L8R M8’ text. Or rather, WhatsApp. Texting is soooooooo 2010.

Jesus, in the space of a three year earthly ministry within a fairly limited geographical area, (so megachurch jet on standby unfortunately) instigated a revolutionary way of life and thinking that within a few hundred years had swept away the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. With not a Blackberry, I Pad or Instagram account to be seen. He walked everywhere. Looked people in the eye. Spoke to and listened to them. Loved them. It is hard to love hiding behind a keyboard. I try to but it is hard. The only power he requires was the Holy Spirit.

If he arrived back on earth tomorrow I don’t think his style would have markedly changed. Yes, he probably would stop for the occasional selfie with a follower or now and again indulge himself in a caramel latte with mini marshmallows. But he would still very much be a people person. And as followers of him we are expected to do the same. Technology can spread the message, yes. But hearts are softened and wounds healed, conversation by conversation. I encourage you today to put your tablet down, look up and walk across the room. The person on the other side may need you more desperately than you will ever know.

Because power cuts can empower.

When did you last experience a power cut? How on earth did you survive?

Do bloggers still write? With pens and pencils? On paper??

When did you last ‘cross the room?’

Out Of Bounds 

Yesterday I was reading an book which referred to an area having been made ‘out of bounds’ following a serious crime having taken place; meaning that the police who attended the scene in the aftermath of the incident had secured and cordoned off the area. Only authorised persons were allowed beyond this point so that the scene would neither become contaminated nor important evidence destroyed. The area had been marked ‘out of bounds’ in order to ensure the integrity of the investigation. It was being protected interference and harm.

As a young boy I often went on adventures in the countryside surrounding my home. There wasn’t an inch of ground that I did not know during long and invariably wet Northern Irish summers. There were areas I was forbidden from entering however by my parents. One such place was a boggy stream that ran past the bottom of our estate. Nobody quite knew its depth and all efforts to measure this with tree branches had proven futile.


We constructed the myth that it was a bottomless quagmire and any poor soul unfortunate enough to fall into it would be sucked under never to be seen again. Nobody had the courage or stupidity to challenge this myth so the stream remained uncharted territory for my friends and I. Had my parents known I went anywhere near it I would undoubtedly have been grounded for the rest of the holidays; or worse felt the wrath of the dreaded ‘wooden spoon’ across the back of my legs.

The area was strictly ‘out of bounds’. But unlike the crime scene this was for a different reason; as opposed to protecting the area itself from intruders this was in order to protect hapless intruders like me from the scene itself. Just like elsewhere dangerous quarries, beaches and other sites are normally surrounded by such signage warning curious kids or lost ramblers from stumbling into hazardous terrain.

Our lives are littered with ‘out of bounds’ areas. For some, like the crime scene, it is in order to protect their hearts from external factors. Perhaps you have been badly hurt in a relationship and to avoid a repeat scenario you have ‘shut up shop’ so to speak. You have decided to not make that mistake again and have raised the drawbridge. You will never allow anyone to get that close to you again. Your emotions are forever a closed book; a book with no hope of a happy ending. 

Such people allow their hearts to fester and stagnate. Love, hope and joy are firmly barred. Resentment, bitterness and fear take hold and flourish. The light is extinguished and the darkness reigns. And as any child knows the darkness multiplies any exitsting fears a hundred fold. For it is in the darkness that the demons lurk; under your bed, in your wardrobe or scratching at your bedroom window. Eventually they will overwhelm you and before you know it the ‘out of bounds’ area that you thought would protect you has in fact become your private prison of pain.

For other people certain areas of their own lives scream danger. Once they ‘step over the line’ into these areas they can easily become entrapped. And like setting foot in a boggy stream they become stuck and slowly sink beneath the surface. In these instances the human heart, in the form of our feelings and emotions, is the villain of the piece. And instead of needing to protect it from harm it is the instrument of harm, leading us inexorably towards our undoing. Emotions cloud our conscience when it tries to tell us the difference between right and wrong. Emotions deceive and lead to wrong decisions. Which, in turn, to lead to sinful actions. 

How many times have you had that ‘out of body experience’ where you look down upon yourself indulging your heart’s desire.  Cringing as you say things you never dreamed you would ever say; shuddering at actions you never thought you would carry out. It is so easy to become a slave to our emotions, to allow them to take control of the rudder and steer us into increasingly choppy waters and ultimately onto the rocks of ruin.

What can we do then? How do we stay in bounds? How do we balance reining in our impulsive desires while at the same time not completely shutting down emotionally? Because fire and ice both burn given the opportunity. Well there are numerous strategies. Surrounding yourself with trustworthy and mature friends who you can hold yourself accountable to; doing everything you can to remain mentally healthy and aware of your own weaknesses; striving to put strategies and barriers in place to protect yourself from all of the curve balls that life can throw at us.

I have fallen foul of both declaring my heart ‘out of bounds’ and following it into ‘out of bounds’ areas. I have tasted fire and ice. They both have left scars. I have been terribly hurt and hurt terribly. A double edged sword that cuts deep either way. Two meandering paths that eventually join on your journey to the grave. I have teetered on the brink and stared into the abyss, a step away from oblivion. 

Each time, however, something has made me turn back. The lies in front of my eyes twist and distort, tantalisingly out of my reach. They are wrapped in mists and shadows. I crave a solid foundation. A toehold in reality. So I surround myself with my family. I strengthen my faith through study and prayer. I write and I run. My keyboard and the road. I pound both on a daily basis. I exist. I survive. And I choose to live. 

Proverbs 2:18 – ‘Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.’

Have you ever declared your heart an ‘out of bounds’ area?

Or allowed your emotions to lead you astray?

What strategies do you employ to keep ‘in bounds’?


Spoiler Alert

Manchester United kicked off their new season yesterday and Adam and I eagerly sat down together to watch the match on television. Unfortunately the kick off coincided with our Sunday dinner (appalling timing by Fionnuala I know) so we paused the live feed of the match to allow us to eat. This meant that when we finally sat down to resume our viewing we were 15 minutes behind the actual live action.

‘Whatever you do don’t check your phone’ I sagely warned Adam knowing full well that any goals would be plastered all over social media in an instance. He nodded in agreement and we shut ourselves off from the outside world in order to enjoy the first half. About 30 minutes later Adam’s phone pinged. Before I had any opportunity to shout ‘Noooooooooo’ and leap across the room in slow motion stylee he had picked it up and glanced at the screen.

The realisation of what he had done slowly dawned and he sheepishly looked over at me. ‘There’s been a goal hasn’t there?’ I sighed. ‘Yeah’ he replied. ‘Well is it good news or bad news?’ I ventured nervously. A smile crossed his face. ‘Oh good news’ he cheerily responded. Sure enough 15 minutes later United scored paving the way for a comfortable 4-0 victory. For the remainder of the game his phone was resolutely ignored. 

I thought nothing more of the episode until I was on the train this morning on my daily commute to Belfast. Upon boarding at my stop I saw only one empty seat in the carriage so made a beeline for it pushing out of my way any old ladies who had the misfortune to be in my path. Okay I made up that last bit. I planted myself in the vacant berth paying no attention to who sitting beside me.

About five minutes into the journey I did happen to look over and instantly regretted it. Next to me sat a man with earphones plugged in watching a show on his tablet. And not just any old show but my favourite series ‘Game of Thrones’. I immediately looked straight ahead as the next episode did not air in the United Kingdom until later tonight. Was he one of those diehards who has downloaded the episode overnight when it was aired in the United States? Aaaaaaarrrrrghhh! Spoiler Alert!


Must not look. Must not look I muttered to myself; a cold sweat broke out on my forehead as the train neared its destination. To look again would be disastrous as it would ruin the episode for me when I watched it later tonight. But try as I might I found my line of vision inching inexorably to my left and towards the screen of the tablet. I had no control over my body. It had rebelled and given in to the overwhelming urge to find out what the inhabitants of Westeros were up to.

And there here was. The heroic Jon Snow standing alone, broadsword raised shoulder high, as an attachment of enemy cavalry galloped towards him. I looked on in horror, unable to avert my gaze as my Monday night TV treat evaporated before my eyes. A second later hope was restored. This scene looked very familiar. In fact it looked just like a battle scene from the previous season. Maybe, my subconscious gently prompted me, that’s because it was a battle scene from the previous season. I was watching a rerun. Disaster had narrowly been avoided and Ser Stephen of Belfasteros lived to watch television another day. Or tonight at least. 

I survived both the Manchester United and Game of Thrones ‘spoiler alerts’. This is the term that is used with increased frequency nowadays to warn us that something we are about to read/watch/listen is imminent which may ruin a future visual or audio event. It is particularly prevalent as we record so much now as opposed to watching it in real time. We spend much of our days avoiding social media and friends in the event that they may let the cat out of the bag and forewarn us of an important sports score or the plot of that movie we have been meaning to watch for weeks.

We literally live our lives with our hands over our ears running around  shouting ‘La La La don’t tell me’ with our eyes tightly shut. It is ironic that we are part of a society with unlimited access to,and an insatiable desire for, information. Yet in the same breath we spend so much of our time actively avoiding it in the event that it spoils our viewing pleasure. We want it filtered through to us in a fashion that fits in with our schedules and not those of the rest of the planet. Because it’s all about us after all right?

One of the (many) good things about being a Christian is that you do not need to worry about ‘spoiler alerts’. Because it is impossible to be one for even five minutes without knowing what God has mapped out for mankind. One day it will all come to a crescendo and the teachings of Jesus clearly indicate there will be a time of judgement for believers and non believers alike. And on that day there will be no point sticking your head in the sand as the time for excuses will be over. 

On that day the truth will be revealed. Everyone will be judged. Fairly and without favouritism. There will be no wriggle room or extenuating circumstances. It will be too late. We will all have been given enough chances. For the just just and righteous the reward is eternity with God. To the rest eternal separation from God. Also known as Hell. It’s not a very palatable truth and many people (Christians included) tend to avoid talking about it.

There is no ‘spoiler alert’ as far as Jesus is concerned. It is all set out in black and white in the Bible. For anyone to see. Choose to follow him and adhere to his teachings. Love people. Help the needy. Care for the hopeless and helpless. Fight evil in all its many forms. Speak and live the truth whatever the consequences. Do whatever you can wherever you can to make the world a better place. 

Make each day count. For it could be your last. And then it will be too late. No point shouting ‘spoiler alert’ and covering your ears for that day is coming for us all whether we are prepared or not.

Now feel free to comment on this post but whatever you do, DO NOT tell me what happened on Game of Thrones last night.

1 John 4:17 – ‘By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgement; because as he is, so also are we in this world.’

Do you ever find yourself watching other people’s tablets on public transport?

Have you ever fallen foul of the dreaded ‘spoiler alert’?

Do you live each day as if it is your last? If you knew it was what would you change?


Santa’s Last Summer 

Our youngest daughter, Rebecca, has had a very busy summer. There have been cinema outings, trips to the seaside and lots of visits to her grandparents. She has covered countless miles playing football and riding her bike. And she has eaten superhuman quantities of Haribo, bubble gum ice cream and other sugary treats. She has been a very busy young lady indeed.

One activity, however, has formed a consistent theme throughout her holiday break. Her letter to Santa Claus. Because one can never start soon enough and why wait until the last moment (say mid-September) when you can have it all done and dusted now. The ‘Big Man’ will be busy enough come December so best to get your order in early.

And what an order. The Normandy beach landings required less planning and preparations. There have been drafts and redrafts as she has waded through a forest of paper in order to pen the perfect letter. Parental advice and approval has been sought at all stages of the editing process. Accompanied by drawings, screenshots and countless WhatsApp conversations she has studiously chiselled away at her Christmas list which unfortunately weighed in at ÂŁ150 over budget first time round. 

I anticipate Rebecca will be a qualified accountant by the time she is 12. She is a financial mastermind. Constantly conjuring money out of nowhere in order to finance her jet set lifestyle. If there is money to find down the back of a sofa she will find it. She cleaned her bomb site of a room the other day and emerged triumphantly with ÂŁ8 in various coinage. She is our village shop’s best customer. It won’t be long before she has shares in the place.

The Santa letter has not been a totally smooth experience however. There have been tears and tantrums along the way. And I’m just talking about the parents here. Sample replies to her myriad of questions have included ‘How much?’, ‘Leave me alone’ and ‘For the 45th time no you cannot get Grand Theft Auto for your PS4.’

It has been a long and winding road but the finished product now sits on our fireplace awaiting collection. Santa may still be lounging on the beach in the Maldives but he had better get his sleigh charged up soon  and recall the reindeers from pasture as there is work to be done. There are no excuses. The weather outside is most definitely not frightening. It’s 17 degrees centigrade for goodness sake. That’s a heatwave by Irish standards.

I have wanted to write about Rebecca for a number of reasons. Firstly I have already written about our other two hatchlings, Adam and Hannah, so she was long overdue a mention. She is the firecracker of the family, full of fun, energy and laughter. There is never a dull moment when she is around and for that we are blessed. She loves her Bible stories and has a huge heart for others. 

Secondly this will most likely be her last year writing to Santa. And so will end a magical period of our lives as parents. The other two stopped believing years ago so we have clung on to Rebecca and her love of all things Claus. The way she has jumped full length into this year’s festivities makes me think that she too realises that this is the last hurrah. We will make the very most of this last Christmas and then hope we are blessed with grandchildren in years to come so that we can relive it all over again. 

Thirdly her excitement over the letter made me think. She has written it so expectantly, truly believing with all her heart that when she charges down the stairs on Christmas morning the gifts she has asked for will be sitting waiting for her. There is no doubt in her mind. Her childlike faith is both humbling and inspirational.

I envy her faith. When we pray, part of that process is asking God to provide for ourselves and others. It is not a selfish act as God is delighted that we are approaching him with our needs. And if they are in accordance with his will they will be provided. How many times, however, do we approach prayer with a lukewarm mentality? We hope that God listens to and answers our prayers but do we believe he will with a rock solid confidence?

Being honest I know that I do not. Often my prayers are half hearted. I have prayed for family members and friends to be healed while at the same time doubting that it will ever happen. By doing so I am doubting myself and in the process doubting my God.  That is an insult to a God who created the universe and knows me inside out and back to front. To a God who has answered my prayers before on countless occasions and performed daily miracles before my very eyes.

So today I pray for Rebecca. I thank God for giving us such an amazing girl. And I also pray for her faith. That when I next place my requests humbly before God I do so with the faith and confidence with which she writes her Santa letter. He might not truly exist and you might read this thinking that God does not either. But I do and pray that you will one day as well.

Take a chance. What’s to lose. Believe. In the true Christmas miracle. Over 2000 years ago. In a stable at Bethlehem.

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

*SPOILER ALERT* When did you stop believing in Santa?

Are there still Santa believers in your house? When do they write their letters?

Do you ever read the Christmas story during the summer?

The 80/20 Rule 

Today was my first run in three weeks. I have struggled with injury and illness all summer. It has been very frustrating as I had been running five times a week as I trained towards my target of a 3:30:00 marathon in Dublin this October. The training had been going to plan and my weekly long run had reached the 16 mile marker. I was averaging 40 miles a week and was confident of getting the time I had set my heart on.

All that came to a shuddering halt in late May when I sustained a foot injury that put me out of action for two weeks. I returned to training to run the Lisburn Half Marathon in just under 1:45:00. This was at my marathon pace but I found it a real battle to keep to that speed. At the time I put it down to the heat that evening combined with my foot still not being quite 100%.

It took me longer than usual to recover from the race. I felt utterly drained for days afterwards and could not take on board enough fluids. I recall telling people that the race had taken more out of me than any of the six marathons I had run to date. I kept to my training schedule but felt lethargic and permanently tired. I had also picked up an annoying dry cough that would not go away no matter what cough medicine or lozenges I took.

Being a typical man I ignored the advice of Fionnuala and other people to take a break from running. My times got worse and I grew more frustrated. Tbe cough persisted and I now found myself bringing up phlegm. The tiredness would not lift and I felt as if weights were pressing down on my chest and legs. I eventually visited my doctor who diagnosed a chest infection and put me on a course of antibiotics for five days. I may as well have been taking M&M’s for all the good they did.

At the start of July I had to go on a business trip to England. I felt rotten throughout it and on the return flight endured painful earache during the descent back into Belfast. Over the coming days my ears resolutely refused to ‘pop’ with the left one in particular causing me real problems. It felt as if something was lodged inside it and I could barely hear out of it. I went back to my doctor who prescribed a second, stronger antibiotics.

I stopped running for a week in mid July hoping a total break combined with the new antibiotics would do the trick. They didn’t but I stupidly ran the Dark Hedges Half Marathon in the second half of July. This was a mistake as I was still ill and plodded round in a poor time. My male pride insisted, however, that I run the race. It finished me and exacerbated the illness leading to me taking a total break from running for three weeks and some time off work.

I hate taking sick leave from work as, by and large, I enjoy my job and feel like I am letting down my colleagues. I manage a team of civilian investigators who conduct ‘cold case’ reviews of murders committed in Northern Ireland between 1969-1998 where there have been allegations of police collusion. It is important and fascinating work and I feel blessed to be part of it.  The job also involves liaising with bereaved families which is a massive responsibility. I honestly believe God put me in this job for a reason and I always endeavour to conduct high quality investigations in a respectful and empathetic manner.

Those three weeks dragged by. The second course of antibiotics failed to work and a third doctor concluded that my inner ear tube had deflated as part of a viral infection. She prescribed a month long course of hay fever medication and total rest. For once I did what I was told and barely moved from the sofa for a week. I binge watched Netflix and ate waaaaaaay too much ice cream. I put on weight which annoyed me but I refrained from running. And very, very gradually improvement came.

The first ailment to clear was the cough. To the point where I only coughed when someone asked how was my cough! How weird is that? My strength also gradually began to return and my right ear cleared. The left one still continued to cause me problems. It felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton wool so that the only way I could clear it was to tip it to one side in order to allow the air pressure in my inner ear to normalise. I began to do this without even thinking resulting in some very strange looks from passers by.

I made the decision to return to work last Monday. I felt some trepidation as I was still far from 100% but felt I had to take action or I would spend the rest of days growing a beard and eating ice cream straight from the tub. No bowl required. Classy I know. The first couple of days surprised me. I felt light years better than I had been at home. Yes, I think the third doctor had finally diagnosed me correctly and prescribed effective medication; but tbe very fact I was easing back into my normal routine was in itself healing.

My recovery came full circle with my first run in three weeks earlier today. It was slow and tough. Afterwards my legs ached as if I had run thirty miles as opposed to three. But I did it, something that I would have been incapable of even a week ago. It is another small step forward. I am not even thinking about marathons at the minute, just small steps forward. This illness had been difficult and I have thrown many a ‘pity party’ over the last few months. I feel, however, that God has taught me some important truths during this season of recovery. 

1. Patience – this has been very hard for me. I always think I know best when it comes to me and I selfishly soldiered on through the illness determined that it would not interfere with my training schedule. In the end I had to raise the white flag and recognise defeat. Rest and recovery were essential. During my sofa time I felt useless and hopeless. God was in control and Stephen didn’t like it. As usual, however, he knew best. I was still. And only then did he heal me. In his time and not mine. 

Psalm 46:10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

2. Listen – God loves humour and I regard it as no coincidence that I had to experience temporary deafness in one ear in order to start to listen to him again. During my enforced down time I spent more time studying my Bible and meditating on his Word. Suddenly my head became inundated with blog ideas and the words flew off the keyboard. This time with God has taught me that he wants to use my imagination and writing to glorify him. Tbe running is a worthy sideline but I now know he is not impressed by the strength of  a3:30:00 marathon. If I run it then great but if I do not then it is no big deal. 3:30:00 marathons are Stephen projects and not Kingdom projects. He sees strength instead in my writing where I write of my weaknesses and failures and how he has used them to bring glory to his name.

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

3. Normal is the new Rock n Roll – I once heard a pastor preach about the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’ He said if you ever felt like that then you had better pay more attention to watering your own garden. He added that we will never be 100% satisfied in this life. We need to focus on the 80% we have as opposed to foolishly chasing the other 20%. Because in doing the latter we can end up with nothing.

Yes I’m not a millionaire. Yes I don’t have an executive box at Manchester United. Yes I haven’t run a 3:30:00 marathon…..yet. But on the other hand I do have a loving and supportive family. Yes I do have a good job and a secure income. And yes today I do have clear ears and lungs. I do have strong legs and I can run in the outdoors. Sometimes God temporarily takes away the 80% you take for granted in order to force you to refocus on it and not the 20% you (a) will probably never obtain and (b) will probably never need. What he provides is enough. Stop chasing daydreams. 

Have an 80% day people. 

Philippians 4:12-13 – ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’

Has God ever taken something away from you in order to appreciate its true value?

Are you an 80% or 20% person?

Have you ever had a negative experience chasing the 20%.

The Twirly Chair – Part Three

In Parts One and Two of this series I talked about my struggles with alcohol and social media. Amplified by my obsessive and addictive personality these twin demons brought me to the bottom of a deep, dark pit four years ago. To a stage in my life where I thought I had lost everything and considered suicide.  I was faced with the stark reality of losing my wife and children. It was them or the demons. My choice.


My first decision was to give up alcohol. Completely. When I drank it was for no other reason than to get drunk. I drank to numb the pain and escape reality for a handful of blissful hours. One drink was never enough. I drank until I blacked out only to wake up the next morning gripped by ‘the fear’ followed by desperately trying to piece together my shattered memories of the night before. This was usually followed by a horrendous physical hangover that lasted days accompanied by titanic feelings of guilt and despair.

If this sounds flippant I apologise but I found giving up alcohol surprisingly easy. I rarely missed it although it did necessitate me losing touch with several ‘beer buddies’ who I had formerly thought myself close to. There was no way, however, that I could accompany them to a bar and buy soft drinks. Even today I feel incredibly uncomfortable in bars, the proverbial fish out of water. It’s not that I’m tempted to drink because I’m not. It’s just my shyness and social awkwardness intimidate me and I feel I don’t fit in without the crutch of alcohol. 

Tbe final nail in the coffin was just over three years ago when I started running. I took to it immediately, lost three stone in weight and within a year was training for my first marathon (I’ve now run six). I had found a new drug called endorphins. Tbe thought of running with a hangover made my skin crawl and my stomach heave. Running and drinking just didn’t go hand in hand as far as I was concerned.

For me tbe tougher battle was always going to be with social media. Even to this day I still regard it as a daily battle. Kicking alcohol was a pussy cat compared to this prowling lion. I packed in Twitter and (surprise, surprise) discovered that it didn’t shut down overnight due to my absence. I didn’t miss my Twitter friends, more the attention and ego enhancement I obtained through them. My desire to be popular was pathetic but irresistible. This led to several lapses where I maintained secret accounts unbeknownst to Fionnuala trying to feed the lion while on the surface leading a guilt ridden, hypocritical existence.

Fionnuala always found out and my dishonesty and deceit were exposed to the daylight. I honestly believe that this ‘sixth sense’ she had came from God. She always seemed one step ahead of me and no matter how hard I connived or contrived the truth would always bubble to the surface. Be it in the form of dreams or ‘feelings’ she read me like a book every time and saw through my lies. I was continually outmanoeuvred on all fronts. But every time after several months of abstinence my resolve would crumble and I would succumb to the online urge.

I tried to go cold turkey and failed. I tried to wean myself off it gradually and failed. I agreed to only have a Facebook account and steer clear of Twitter. It was like prescribing methadrone to a heroin addict. It just didn’t give me the same kick. I tried the middle ground of Instagram. Surely just posting pictures couldn’t hurt? But I failed again in spectacular fashion and by the end of 2016 hit a new low. I was beaten all ends up.

Eight months later I am ‘social media sober’. It has meant total accountability to Fionnuala. She knows all my passwords and has complete access to my phone. Some  grown men might regard this as humiliating. I regard it as essential. I cannot trust myself when it comes to social media so I can hardly expect others to trust me fully. I accept that as a hard, but palatable, truth. It has to be this way and it needs to be this way. Social media will chew me up and spit me out every single time. It is my arch nemesis, my Achilles heel, the itch I cannot scratch.

So now I write. A lot. It calms me and reassures me. I have my family, my job and my running. Simplifying my life has enriched it beyond comparison. I am at peace now but can never become cocky. Fionnuala can see the warning signs and always has to be on her guard. It is far from ideal. She trusts our three kids more online than she does me. I am not proud as I type these words but I type them anyway as they are words of truth.

Through this whole story I firmly believe God has been at work. Both before and after I became a Christian. These three posts have given just a taste of the last seven years. Without his grace and love I would not be sitting here today with my marriage and family still intact. His message of hope and forgiveness has overcome the mess I had made. He has dragged me kicking and screaming to where I am today. He allowed me to be broken and then put me back together again. Without him I am nothing.

My name is Stephen and I am an idiot. My name is Stephen and I am an addict. My name is Stephen and I am here to help. I am here to talk to you. Pray for you. Listen to you. I have been where you are and came through the other side. Never give up. I slay the dragons every day. And so can you. 

Thank you for reading this series and all the positive and encouraging feedback you have given me – Stephen.

The Twirly Chair – Part Two

Yesterday I wrote about the aftermath of my father’s death seven years  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/the-twirly-chair-part-one/ ago when I allowed myself to slip slowly into a self perpetuating cycle of depression and destructive behaviour. This was no rock n roll mid life crisis involving high living and fast cars. Instead it was the tale of a sad middle aged man drinking himself into oblivion every weekend as he drifted further and further away from his loving family. All the while sitting on his throne of misery, the ‘Twirly Chair’.


While yesterday I wrote about my battle with alcohol today I want to focus on another facet of the multi headed dragon that was my addictive, needy, fragile personality. And it’s a topic that might be close to your own hearts. Ladies and gentlemen of WordPress I give you……social media.

I was a reluctant recruit to this world. I was dragged kicking and screaming by Fionnuala into the 21st Century when she set up my first Facebook account. I was a total technophobe at that point and viewed it with a mixture of fear and mistrust. It was harmless enough, however, as it still clung to the real world in that all my Facebook friends were ‘real people’. This allowed me to interact online but at the end of the day I knew them and they knew me. There were boundaries. And all was well.

I was aware, however, that I was spending more and more time on it. Mostly at the weekends and rarely without a cold tin of beer in my hand. This worsened when I acquired my first smart phone (I told you I was a Luddite). Suddenly the online world was at my fingertips – morning, noon and night. I discovered apps. They were a revelation to me. I was fascinated by the choice, the colours, the accessibility. I was becoming hooked.

Tbe thrill of Facebook began to dull. I was becoming sick of real people bemoaning their real life problems online. I wanted to escape from them, hence the reason I was on there. Invariably drunk. I hated the real me and I hated that they knew the real me. I was still fastened to the ground by a rope. I needed to be cut loose and allowed to float away – from them and, more importantly, from myself.

It was then that I discovered Twitter. It was like a marijuana user taking heroin for the first time. That first rush was magical. I was free. I could be whoever I wanted to be because 99% of the people on there were not known to me in real life. I could create a whole new personality for myself. With a dry wit and a way with words I was no longer the shy, socially awkward loser that I despised. Instead I was carefree, eloquent and dare I say it cool. In tweets of 160 characters or less I waxed lyrical on anything that took my fancy. 

Before I knew it I was hopelessly hooked, constantly updating my notifications screen to see how many likes, retweets and new followers I had. I found myself carefully drafting and editing my tweets and then strategically posting them at key moments during football matches and TV shows to ensure they made the maximum impact. Celebrity replies to tweeted questions earned extra points and I honestly thought I had died and gone to Twitter heaven the day Sophie Turner from Game Of Thrones retweeted a photograph of me and her taken in Belfast. I thrived in my fifteen minutes of fame as her army of admirers asked me ‘what was she like?’ and gushed over how lucky I was. I was in #HashtagHeaven.

It was then that I entered the murky underworld of Direct Messaging; that is, talking to people privately online as opposed to publicly on my timeline. I have often wondered why I took this next step. I was fully aware of the risks and connotations associated with this decision. I knew it was potentially dangerous but I stumbled on anyway, convincing myself that I knew where to draw the line. It was another step down into the pit, another step nearer the edge of the cliff, another step nearer the grave.

But I craved it. I needed it. That next thrill, that craving for the rush. To escape reality and responsibility. My inhibitions loosened by alcohol I forged ahead into the unknown. I needed to fill the gaping wound inside me, to dull the depression that frequently swamped me; to make my mind off the excessive OCD thoughts which blighted every waking hour. My father referred to this negativity as ‘stinking thinking’. I sought escape and release but instead my conscience became more weighed down and trapped.

I want to be as open and honest as I can be about my direct messaging days. But there are some topics I still cannot bring myself to talk about. The shame is too much, the wounds still too raw. Needless to say I got involved with people I should have steered well clear of and engaged in inappropriate and sinful behaviour. I knew it was wrong and I knew I would be exposed. But just as I could not put down the beer I also could not put down the phone. Chug Chug Tweet Tweet. I continued my downward dance with my devil.

I became increasingly secretive and paranoid. The more I tweeted the more guilty I felt; so I would drink to alleviate this. The more I drank the less inhibitive I was; so I chased the DM dragon. And on it went in ever decreasing circles. It was only a matter of time before Fionnuala, her suspicions already raised, picked up my jealously guarded phone as I lay in a drunken stupor.

I broke her heart and I killed the trust we had. I was adrift. The ‘Twirly Chair’ had spun for the last time. One bullet. Six chambers. The game was over and I had lost. And there I was. Drunk. Ashamed. Dirty. Despairing. Suicidal.

And there it was. The word I never thought I would utter. The mirror I never thought I would look into. But as I took the last step onto the floor of the pit there it was staring me in the face. The solution. An end to the pain. 

Tomorrow I will be talking about my first tentative steps out of the pit. A long but worthy journey. Thank you for sticking with me this far.

KcSsshhhh

As I read Stephens blog about his twirly chair days it made me think of how I felt as I lay in bed those nights listening to what was going on downstairs so we thought it might be a good idea that I blog about it. Before I start I want you to know that I love Stephen with all my heart he is my soul mate, my best friend and we are very happy together. I am writing this about when things were not good and we were both in dark places.
As Stephen has mentioned in previous blogs about our life before kids  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/05/25/the-bank-of-dad/ we had an amazing social life which involved going to work (which was were we met), pub after work and if it was pay day a half day was booked shops were hit then off to the pub. We had loads of friends and done practically everything together.  
When Adam came along I realised I had another little human being to look after and the things that Stephen and I had loved to do before hadn’t the same appeal to me and I wasn’t interested in them anymore I had grown up and although it took Stephen a little longer to realise he caught up with me eventually.

Fast forward a few years we were married and Hannah had came along and any social life that we had left was long and truly gone along with some of our friends and so we looked forward to a Saturday night to get the kids to bed and then we would relax. I would get a bottle of wine and Stephen a few beers and we would watch a movie this all sounded good in theory but not how it played out. By the time the kids got bathed and went to bed I was shattered and the last thing I wanted to do was to sit and have a drink which resulted in Stephen sulking as he didn’t want to sit and drink on his own so we both ended up going to bed in bad mood.  

As Stephen mentioned in yesterday’s blog  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/09/the-twirly-chair-part-one/ about the day his dad died when he said that he wanted to be on his own to have a drink that night this really took me by surprise and shocked me I offered to sit with him and have one too but no he wanted me to go to bed and so that was the beginning.  
At this time Rebecca had come along and our finances weren’t great we were on a very tight budget and each week I had to make sure that when I done the weekly shop there was enough to get Stephen his beers as well.

As I said before I used to lay in bed listening to the sounds going on downstairs and I could judge how drunk Stephen was by the length of time it took him to get from the chair to the kitchen and back to the chair again. When he got up from the chair the swivel base made a sound and the chair banged against the radiator, next the door was opened and I could hear him make his way up the hall to the kitchen, depending on how many beers were consumed I would hear him stagger into the wall or knock into something, next the fridge would open and the sound that haunts me KcSsshhhh the next beer can is opened and it’s back to the chair again. To this day that sound makes my stomach churn and it’s not even beer it’s only Diet Coke.  

Next morning I would go downstairs and stephen would be sprawled out on the twirly chair sleeping, the kitchen counter would be full of empty beer cans and before I’d wake him I’d sneakily check his phone to see who he was chatting with on twitter or texting then Sunday began with fights and arguments oh how I don’t miss those days.

Back then Stephen and I weren’t Christians and I know now that it was and could only have been God that carried us through that part of our lives to get us to where we are now. I believe that God uses our bad times and experiences to help others and it’s now that Stephen and I feel strong enough in our faith to reach out and help people in any way we can be it through our personal testimony or prayer. 

If you do require private prayer I can be contacted via email fionnualablack@hotmail.co.uk 

God Bless

The Twirly Chair – Part One

Today was a sad day in our house as a new armchair was delivered. This meant the end of the previous incumbent which had served loyally under me (quite literally) for seven years. It was big, it was round and it was comfortable. It also had wheels fitted to its base which meant that the kids (and occasionally adult males who shall not be named) could spin round and round on it. For this reason it was christened the ‘Twirly Chair.’


The ‘Twirly Chair’ was my silent companion through countless movies, box sets and sporting events. It bore my unmistakable ‘butt groove’ like a badge of honour and was my sanctuary from the trials and tribulations of ‘grown up’ living. When I was on the ‘Twirly Chair’ such pressures seemed a universe away. We were inseparable. It was my man cave. It was my panic room. It was my Narnia.

Ahhhhhhh. Good times.

Unfortunately the ‘Twirly Chair’ also witnessed some not so good times. If I could visualise my anxiety, depression and addictive personality in one image I would probably plump for the ‘Twirly Chair’. And over the next two days I intend to write a little about those not so good times. This is raw but it is honest. This is not easy. But the whole purpose of the blog is to offer people in the same place as I once was a glimmer of hope. And before you shine a light into any gloomy place you must first understand the darkness that it seeks to extinguish.

My father died seven years ago from prostate cancer. At the time I never really grieved for him. Yes, I cried at his bedside in his final moments but grieve, no. Following his death I was too busy organising funeral arrangements and looking after my mother to have any time for myself. I almost got a buzz at his funeral from the responsibility enforced upon me and the accompanying adrenaline surge. As the eldest child and only son I found myself  in the spotlight. As a damaged person who craved attention this was heaven. A dangerous slice of heaven. I was disgusted with myself. Perversely almost enjoying what was supposed to be the worst day of my life.

I vividly remember the night my father died buying beer on the way home. I then proceeded to drink this alone in our living room after Fionnuala and the kids had gone to bed. It was, in my mind, a much needed release after an incredibly stressful day. I thought nothing of it at the time. But Fionnuala was later to tell me that this was the first time I had done this. Unfortunately It wouldn’t be the last. Rather it was my first step on a slippery slope towards oblivion.

Initially my ‘Twirly Chair’ parties were restricted to a six pack of beer on a Saturday night. After a hectic week at work I felt I had earned this weekend treat. And I was harming nobody right? Fionnuala knew where I was and I was the perfect comedy father to the kids. Whenever Fionnuala gently suggested that I didn’t have to drink every weekend I reacted badly. She was the party pooper as opposed to the voice of wisdom.

The six pack soon progressed to a twelve pack. And the stronger the better. I would not go to bed until it was all gone. Sitting up on my own into the early hours of the morning before stumbling up the stairs. And sometimes I never made it that far, falling asleep in the ‘Twirly Chair’ and waking up the next morning surrounded by empty beer tins. Fionnuala told me later that she used to lie awake upstairs listening to the fridge door opening and the unmistakable sound of another tin being opened. She is even today still haunted by that sound. https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/08/10/kcssshhhh/

Before long Saturday night was starting earlier and ending later until eventually it began on Friday evening and finished on Sunday afternoon. With the occasional midweek top-up. I was rarely a nasty drunk more a boring, selfish drunk. I didn’t want to do anything with Fionnuala and the kids. My family were my tins of beer. My horizon did not stretch beyond the fridge freezer. My safe place was becoming a self imposed prison. I was spiralling towards dependency.

I always suffered bad hangovers but the more I drank the worse they became. If I drank Friday through Sunday it was only by the following Wednesday that I began to feel vaguely human again. Meaning that my most (and only) productive day was Thursday before the alcohol fuelled cycle began afresh on Friday. My behaviour became more and more secretive and irrational. I was permanently grouchy. I was in the same house as my family but in reality a million miles from them.

The ‘Twirly Chair’ was my only friend. As I drunkenly spun round and round I did not realise that my future was also spinning aimlessly by a thread. My moral compass was hopelessly askew. I was adrift and floating towards nothingness. I poured increasing quantities of beer down my throat in a vain attempt to fill the gaping chasm in my soul. Addiction hovered just over my shoulder, whispering in my ear, telling me that alcohol was the only solution to the ever increasing waves of depression that washed over me, threatening to overwhelm me.

Alcohol erased whatever rational thought processes I possessed. It was the key to the door of self destruction. I drunkenly fell through it eager to see what was on the other side. I left the little common sense I had behind me and sought to embrace the new demons in me who so enticingly welcomed me. Darker, more dangerous demons.

For this was only the beginning. The ‘Twirly  Chair’ was to witness so much more. Much more and much worse.

Part 2 follows tomorrow. Thank you for reading. 

Charlie vs The Hedgehog 

I was rudely awakened the other night by the sound of Charlie, our six year old Border Terrier, whining and whimpering from his cage in the kitchen. Thinking he must have needed to go outside to relieve himself I stumbled downstairs, still half asleep, and opened the back door. Out he shot like a greyhound from the traps. Give him a minute, I thought, and then I could lock him up again and go back to bed myself. 

How wrong I was. World War Three suddenly erupted outside with Charlie barking like a lunatic. I ran outside not knowing what to expect. Was it a burglar? Casper the Friendly Ghost? Dr. Who materialising out of thin air in his Tardis to do battle with a Dalek army?

Thankfully none of the above, given I was dressed in a scruffy t-shirt and pair of Manchester United pyjama bottoms. No instead I found our heroic hound pawing and barking furiously at something rather less frightening. Our nocturnal visitor was none other than a hapless hedgehog.


As I neared the pair I saw the hedgehog curled up in a tight ball in the middle of our rear yard while Charlie continued to notify anyone within a three mile radius of his discovery. Growing increasingly brave he then proceeded to pick our prickly friend up in his mouth and shake him furiously from side to side. This was becoming a duel to the death.

As the battle continued I had no other option but to grab our terrier by the scruff of his neck and attempt to pull him off Mr. H Hog. Charlie had other ideas though and hung on for dear life, determined to defend his territory at all costs. The harder he dug in, the more tightly the hedgehog hung in there. In the end it took a few firm smacks to Charlie’s flank by me to force him to release his grip and be dragged back inside. 

I locked him back in his cage and made my way back to bed. As I turned the outside light off I took one last glance to find the hedgehog still resolutely refusing to budge. I hoped he had not been hurt but couldn’t think of anything else to do to help him. With heavy heart I retired for the second time that night.

The next morning he was gone. Vanished. Disappeared. With no sign that he had ever been there. No blood. No quills. Not a trace. Had it all been a dream? Charlie’s intensive patrolling of the yard and frenetic sniffing when later let outside suggested otherwise. Mr. Hedgehog had survived his sharp incisors and lived to fight another day. Or night in this case.

When attacked or threatened the automatic defence mechanism for hedgehogs is to curl into tight ball and contract muscles in their spines causing quills to shoot outwards protecting their head, feet and underbelly. It doesn’t attack and it doesn’t run as to to do so would be hopeless and invite disaster.

This survival strategy of doing nothing more often than not is effective. This strategy of ‘doing nothing’ is one often adopted in sport. Muhammad Ali famously defeated George Foreman in 1974 in the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ by his rope-a-dope tactic of defending himself on the ropes and little else thus allowing his opponent to exhaust himself before launching a vicious counter-attack that won him the fight.

Likewise many a struggling team has had to adopt a ‘backs to the wall’ approach against opponents who have the upper hand. Sometimes you can do little else but just ‘tough it out’, ‘take it on the chin’ and wait for the storm to blow itself out. I have watched many teams defend like crazy for 95% of a match before a sole counter-attack snatches the victory for them.

In recent months it has felt like our family has been under the cosh on several fronts. Illness has hit several family members and we have also had to fight a number of other battles that have been physically and emotionally draining. And like the little hedgehog I met the other night we have had no other option but to curl up in a ball and hope we would come out the other side.

We have had to put our faith in God and trust him to bring us through the crisis. He has been our only defence. Throughout the Bible he is described in this protective language. He is our refuge, our fortress, our stronghold. And I believe it is no coincidence that when Paul refers to tbe armour of God in Ephesians Chapter 6 that he includes more defensive than offensive equipment.

So next time your back is against the wall and you feel overwhelmed stand firm in your faith. But instead of prickly quills instead take up the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith and the helmet of salvation. And trust God to deliver you lovingly to the other side.

Psalm 46:1 – ‘God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.’

What nocturnal creatures visit your garden at night?

Have you had to ‘curl up into a ball’ recently and ‘take it on the chin?’

When did God last rescue you from the jaws of defeat?

The Wrong Trousers

Today was my first day back at work following the plague like virus I have had in recent weeks. I haven’t been running, in fact I have rarely ventured off the sofa in days. The exception has been regular visits to the kitchen for crisps, biscuits, chocolate and my particular Achilles heel….ice cream!

I am a comfort eater. And as I have been feeling sorry for myself of late I have slid off the healthy lifestyle wagon with a resounding thump. My marathon dreams have meandered on down the track as I have sat at the roadside, alone apart from a spoon and a litre tub of honeycomb ice cream.

I had been dreading today’s return for a variety of reasons. The mountain of paperwork that would undoubtedly be awaiting me; the hundreds of e-mails cluttering my inbox; and the 212 times I would have to rhyme off my symptoms and treatment to concerned (translation – nosy) work colleagues. 

My greatest fear, however, was would my work clothes fit me after a week in fashionable loungewear. (this year’s must have accessory for the trend setting father is a pair of Buzz Lightyear pyjama bottoms) I had gone full blown Honey Boo Boo on the clothing front. If it didn’t involve an elasticated waistline then I didn’t want to know. 

So it was with some trepidation that I eyed up my work trousers as they hung in the wardrobe. This trepidation grew as I pulled them on to discover with horror that they barely pulled up over my thighs. I had gained 165 pounds. In a week! How was that even possible?! I was a broken man as I hopped out of our bedroom clutching my trousers (pants for our North American readers) and despairingly wailed ‘FIONNUALA!!!’ down the stairs.

My long suffering wife responded quickly, concerned no doubt that my appendix had burst or some other calamity had befallen me. This initial sympathy, wavered somewhat, when she realised the true nature of my #firstworldproblem. For as she looked up towards the pitiful manchild tottering at the top of the stairs clutching a pair of trousers round his knees she uttered the following words of wisdom.

‘You idiot! You are wearing Adam’s school trousers!!’ Oh….

Humiliated (but mostly relieved) I beat a tactical retreat back into the bedroom where I located the correct trousers. Thankfully they were only slightly tighter than when I last had worn them. Disaster had been narrowly averted and I was able to negotiate dressing myself and catch the train to work. Behind every mildly successful middle manager is an exasperated wife. 


How many times have we adapted our personalities, values and beliefs in order to fit in with others? This peer pressure is thrust upon us from an early age and many crack under the strain in order to attain popularity and status. And while on the exterior all might appear well on the inside we feel awkward, uncomfortable and compromised. Like an ill fitting dress or pair of trousers.

Trying to be somebody who we are patently not usually ends in a car crash. We distance ourselves from our real friends and invariably end up with egg on our face. I have been down this path, the wrong path, many times. Mixing with people who I knew were not good for me and indulging in behaviour which was completely alien to the real me. It was akin to an out of body experience as I watched myself stagger from one disaster to the next. That path led only to sin, shame and guilt.

God created you to be you. Not someone else but YOU! He created you for a reason and placed you where you are today with the skill set you possess for a Kingdom purpose. It might not be apparent to you just yet what that purpose is but we must trust He who knows us intimately. To try and be someone who you are not is being disobedient to his will. As well as being ungrateful to a God who loves you and views you as perfect in his eyes.

You might look in the mirror today and hate what you see and hear. That mirror and your perception of what you see in it are barriers to God’s purpose for your life. If you want to make an impact and leave behind you a legacy then you have to learn to love yourself before you can learn to love others. And if that means ice cream over self esteem then go for it. 

Trust God and be yourself. Warts and all. Rather that than a vain man bleating to his wife with his trousers round his ankles.

Because that is not a good look….

Psalm 139:13-14 – ‘For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;’

What has been your biggest wardrobe malfunction?

What is your ‘go to’ loungewear ensemble?

How do you deal with peer pressure?

Burnt Offerings 

With Fionnuala away for a good part of last week visiting her mother in hospital she had little option but to leave me in charge of the kids. Or hatchlings as I ‘lovingly’ like to refer to them. And as they are bottomless pits when it comes to food this included culinary duties in tbe kitchen. I am a 21st century father after all.

Now my kitchen skills are let’s say basic. Knowing this Fionnuala had left strict instructions as to how to heat up a couple of chicken and bacon pies in the oven. Turn it on, set the temperature to 200 degrees celsius and leave for 35-40 minutes. Et voila! Even someone with my information retention issues could crack this meal. Plus the cooking instructions were even printed on the packaging. Easy peasy! What could possibly go wrong? Errrrrrr….

After a strenuous afternoon on the sofa binge watching ’13 Reasons Why’ I strode into the kitchen like a gladiator poised for combat. The kids, still recovering from previous cooking debacles, muttered sarcastic asides which hardly filled me with confidence. But as the hunter-gatherer of the household nothing would stop me from bringing home the bacon. Or chicken and bacon in this instance.

Setting the oven temperature with forensic precision I confidently awaited the taste sensation which was to follow. After 20 minutes, however, I opened the oven door to be faced with a dilemma. The pastry on the pies was cooked. As in overcooked. And when I say overcooked I actually mean it was starting to turn black.

I sought the advice of my son, Adam. ‘Looks cooked to me’ he shrugged. So, ignoring the cooking instructions, I removed the pies only slightly burning my fingers in the process. Seriously?! No wonder Gordon Ramsey always gets so grouchy. This cooking business is a logistical nightmare. I bet Jamie Oliver pays people to burn their fingers on his behalf!


I tentatively cut into one of the pies and was initially reassured as a waft of heat emerged from it. Upon closer inspection, however, I discovered the middle of the pie was stone cold. After a frantic telephone call to Fionnuala I was left with no option but to place the pies back in the oven for the allotted remaining time. I was literally stuck between a rock and a hard place. Undercooked pies = food poisoning fun for all. Overcooked pies = no hospital visits but a largely inedible meal.

As it was the latter was served up to the kids some 15 minutes later. With a side of oven chips and muttered apologies on my part. The kids made the most of it, hacking through the charcoal pastry to at least find the chicken and bacon were palatable. And the oven chips were a triumph even if I do say so myself. Charlie the border terrier made short work of the leftovers so in the end I viewed the meal as a win-win for all concerned.

What heartened me most was the attitude of the kids. Joking aside I was embarsssed and annoyed at myself. I had messed up the most basic of parental tasks. But they did their best to make me feel better with comments such as ‘It doesn’t taste that bad’ and ‘The chips are great.’ They realised that I had been out of my comfort zone but had did my best to provide for them. And they had lovingly overlooked my attempts to poison them. 

In tbe Old Testament the Israelites spent about half their lives disobeying God and the other half offering up sacrifices to him seeking forgiveness from said misdemeanours. I think I would have fitted in well on both scores. Especially when it came to the burnt offerings. God must have tired of this (in the most holy of ways) neverending cycle which is why he provided the ultimate sacrifice when he sent his son to the Cross.

No matter how hard we try to impress God or live according to his will we will invariably fall short. But thanks to what Jesus accomplished on the Cross we can be presented to God unblemished and pure; he is enough irrespective of our sinful lives. Just as my kids lovingly overlooked my cooking catastrophe so God overlooks the burnt offerings of our pasts. Just like my kids graciously forgave my failings so God will forgive us no matter how big a hole we have dug ourselves into. 

Isn’t it amazing how God can teach us through our kids. Now can anyone teach me the difference between celsius and fahrenheit settings on an oven?

Hebrews 10:14 – ‘For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.’

Tell me about your greatest culinary disaster?

Are you willing to hand the ‘burnt offerings’ of your past up to God and start afresh? 

If you require prayer in respect of issues raised in this post then please let us know. We would be honoured to pray for you.

Respect Your Juniors

Yesterday I had words with my 15 year old son. I won’t go into the gory details but it all boiled down to a lack of respect on his part towards me. Or so I perceived. He then proceeded to give his reasons for said attitude. Which, I have to admit, took me aback and caused me to walk away without saying another word.

We tiptoed around each other for a few hours after that and eventually drew an unspoken line in the sand regarding the incident. Men don’t apologise to each other; rather they watch sports together. So tonight we will be settling down together to watch our team, Manchester United play Real Madrid in the European Super Cup Final. 

My son gave as good as he got in our verbal exchange. He has his mother’s talent for getting the last word. He is also now taller than me so at one point I was aware that I must have looked vaguely ridiculous looking up to him as I berated him. Coming out with cringe worthy ‘Dad speak’ that I had sworn I would never utter to my own kids. We are all walking, talking cliches and will inherit at least some of our own parents traits, no matter how hard we try not to.


I thought about our exchange long and hard though. And, while I still believed my son should not have spoken to me in the manner that he did, I had to reluctantly concede that he had a point. As his father I demanded his respect. But respect has to be earned, and in my case re-earned. I have hurt my son’s feelings in the past and it has taken time for him to heal. He has forgiven me for the hurt but he hasn’t forgotten and, in the heat of our argument, it had raised its ugly head again.

While it hurt me at the time, his perceived lack of respect towards me acted as a timely reminder. I can never rest on my laurels. Billions of men have become fathers down through the ages but what percentage of them continued to be loving, supportive, wise ‘Dads’?

It is probably the toughest and most important responsibility us men can take on during our time on this planet. It is a tremendous honour and a blessing, not something that we should take for granted. As one indiscretion, one bad decision, one harsh word and the father-child relationship can be damaged, sometimes irrevocably.

This was brought home to me this morning when a delivery man called to our door to deliver some goods Fionnuala had ordered on line. As he was leaving I thanked him and asked what time he was working to today. ‘About 6:30pm’ he replied. ‘And then I start my second job at 9pm in a bar. I worked nineteen hours yesterday.’ 

Wow I thought. ‘You mustn’t need much sleep’ I replied. He looked down and smiled ruefully before speaking again. ‘I have spent ÂŁ8000 in legal fees so far trying to win access to my six year old son.’ He needed the money desperately. And with that he was off leaving me standing at the front door of my home feeling five inches tall. And up in his room my son buzzed about excitedly at the prospect of watching his favourite football team with his Dad later in the day.

I believe that delivery man was sent to my front door for a specific reason. And the conversation we had was no coincidence. As I sit down to watch the match later I will thank God again that I have such an amazing son. And two amazing daughters. And realise that I have to earn and retain their respect as much as they do mine. 

I am a work in progress. As a man; as a father, husband, son and brother. I will always be a work in progress. And I will never be the finished article. All I can do is be the best I can and set the best example I can. Make the right decisions, choose the right paths and stick to them. Shine a light for my son and daughters so that they will never repeat the mistakes that I have made.

Because the sins of the father never need be repeated if the fathers of today stand firm.

Proverbs 23:24 – ‘The father of a righteous man has great joy; a man who fathers a wise son rejoices in him.’

When was the last time you argued with one of your kids and then realised they had a point?

What shared activities do you enjoy doing with them?

Who is going to win tonight? Manchester United or Real Madrid? 

Acceleration 

In previous posts I have spoken about my prophetic leanings. I will get a picture or words in my head that do not tie in with my normal thought processes. They stand out as a little askew or ‘not of me.’ An example is given in my previous post ‘Blog Of Welcome’. I tend to write about them as (a) they are few and far between and (b) I want to document them so I can look back on them later in order to ascertain whether or not they were accurate.

This is a raw ability, if I can even use that word. I have had no formal mentoring or teaching in this area so take everything I say with a large pinch of salt. It is totally untested. So please don’t put your life savings on anything I ever say on this blog.

Some months ago I got a word that September was going to be a month of acceleration. I have only told Fionnuala and a couple of wise friends about this message as I do not know what or who it applies to; but I strongly believe that it relates to this September and as we enter August the significance of the word continues to grow within me. Leading to me sharing it on here with you all today.

The word acceleration means ‘the rate of change of velocity of an object with respect to time.’ This tallies with Newton’s Second Law of Motion which states ‘that the rate of change of momentum of a body is directly proportional to the force applied, and this change in momentum takes place in the direction of the applied force.’

The above paragraph may make me sound like a boffin but I must fess up that I ‘borrowed’ it from good old Wikipedia. Physics was my worst subject at school. I once scored 14% in a multiple choice exam. Afterwards my Physics teacher, in front of all my peers, derisively informed me that even a trained monkey should have averaged at least 20%. His words forever killed off whatever little love I had for the science.


My scientific knowledge is therefore decidedly suspect. But I can drive a car. Just about. Which has allowed me to make the following observations.

1. Cars need drivers – the fastest Formula One car in the world will just sit in the garage and rust unless it has a Lewis Hamilton to press the accelerator, change the gears and steer it round the track. It takes two to tango. And the same applies to any Christian. God may be nudging you in a certain direction but he needs you to step out in faith and start the ball rolling. Be it an awkward conversation or seemingly risky decision you have to ‘step out of the boat’ and move forward. Leave the rest to him.

2. God doesn’t do speed limits – the six points I have currently accumulated on my driving licence (I mean 38 miles per hour (mph) in a 30 mph zone come on!) testify that accelaerating beyond what is the legal limit has grim circumstances. God, however, doesn’t work that way. You might dither, doubt and delay but if his desire means you slipping into the fast lane of life then so be it. Just ask Moses. Backwater shepherd one day, leader of a nation the next. God’s timetable for your life operates at his pace, not ours. All he requires from us is obedience.

3. Acceleration doesn’t mean reckless – two drivers take an hour to drive between adjacent towns. They are then asked to drive back. The first driver takes 30 minutes, the second takes 55 minutes. What have they in common? They have both accelerated. Following God’s plan for your life doesn’t necessarily mean ripping up trees and relocating to the other side of the country. Not all of us are going to be global evangelists or megachurch pastors. Instead it can be something as ‘insignificant’ as befriending a new neighbour or volunteering for the tea & coffee rota at church. Again we operate at his pace, not our own. For some that will be jet propulsion; for others a much more sedate pace. But still progression, still acceleration.

I encourage you to be open to God’s voice in your life at all times. Tune in your God radar via prayer, worship and study. Until you are receiving God FM loud and crystal clear. And if he prompts you to put the pedal to the metal do so with a willing heart and without fear. You are in safe and loving hands. 

For September is only just around the corner.

How many times have you fallen foul of the speed camera?

What is your dream car?

Are there areas of your life where God is asking you to accelerate? What are you doing about this?

Everyday Superhero 

I was never a superhero fan. The likes of Spider-Man, Superman, Batman et al largely left me cold during my teenage years. When it came to comic books I was a 2000A.D. fan. The heroic exploits of Judge Dredd and Judge Anderson were what captivated me during my formative years. Although the Sylvester Stallone movie version was a travesty that I have yet to fully recover from.

Even with the recent upsurge in DC and Marvel superhero movies I have been largely nonplussed. Give me Bilbo Baggins over Batman any day of the week. Why watch the Green Goblin when you can have real goblins. And orcs with the odd dragon thrown in for good measure.

The other week though we watched, as a family, the new Wonder Woman movie. I was less than enthusiastic as the opening credits rolled, thinking back to the dreadful American TV series of the same name featuring Lynda Carter. I sat back and braced myself for two hours of bad acting, dodgy plotlines and even dodgier costumes. In family parlance I was taking one for the team.

Two hours later I was left pleasantly surprised. I actually enjoyed it thanks to a strong story, fantastic special effects and an excellent performance from Gal Gadot in the lead role. And not a hobbit to be seen. Maybe, I thought, I was going to become a superhero fan after all.


Which leads me to Jessica Jones. Sick of hearing me moan about my neverending virus, Fionnuala ordered me to remain on the sofa today, get caught up on my box sets and rest. She didn’t have to tell me twice. No sooner had she left the house than I had my feet up with a glass of Diet Coke and the Netflix original series ‘Jessica Jones.’

Jessica Jones is probably the darkest superhero you could meet. It begins with her eking out a living as a private investigator and trying to recover from a traumatic past with the help of copious amounts of alcohol. She is grumpy, sarcastic and permanently hungover. She lives in her office and doesn’t pay her bills. In fact you couldn’t meet a less super superhero. 

All that changes as we learn more of her backstory.  We are told of her traumatic childhood years following the death of her parents and brother in a car crash for which she feels responsible. She was then adopted as a publicity stunt by the fame crazy mother of TV childhood star, Patsy Walker. And finally her latter years of physical and psychological abuse at the hands of the sociopathic Kilgrave (played brilliantly by David Tennent) who misuses his superpower of mind control for all sorts of evil purposes.

It is dark, edgy, violent and not for everyone. But I found it to be must watch TV. I only have one more episode to watch of Season One and was delighted to hear it has been renewed for a second season. The one theme that shone throughout the darkness of the episodes was the way in which Jones and Kilgrave use their respective superpowers.

Both suffered traumatic upbringings which largely shaped their approach to their superpowers in later life. Kilgrave decides to use his solely for evil; Jones largely neglects hers, preferring to live a life drifting towards mediocrity and alcoholism. Until events in her life convince her to use her powers for good. It is through this process that she learns to love others and loathe herself a little bit less.

None of us are superheroes. But we are all born with powers, or gifts, that we can choose to utilise good, ignore or misuse. And I’m not talking about leaping over tall buildings or flying at the speed of sound….or any speed for that matter. It doesn’t necessarily mean achieving top grades in your class or being a sporting success. 

Your gift can be of much humbler origin, but just as impressive, if not more so. Maybe you are a good listener so can be there for a friend going through a rough time; or you are observant and notice an elderly neighbour has been struggling with their groceries in recent weeks. It is a matter of looking around your sphere of influence and seeing where you can make a positive difference. It is about doing and not just thinking about doing.

The greatest superpower of all is love. And we all have the capacity to love. Love is not a mushy feeling reserved for Valentines Day. It is an act of the will that we can turn into a daily habit. We can teach ourselves to love without thinking about it, even if it is through gritted teeth towards people who we don’t particularly like.

Love is free and doesn’t necessitate a fear of kryponite. It doesn’t involve wearing your underwear outside your clothes or being forced to scan radio channels in the dead of night and respond to crimes in progress. Don’t be a Kilgrave and misuse your gift. Don’t be a Jessica Jones and ignore it. Be a Wonder Woman (or man) and use the gift God blessed you with. 

Who knows. They might even make a movie about you one day.

Who is your favourite superhero?

Do you prefer hobbits or heroes?

What gifts can you lovingly display today towards others?

Barbed Wire Beard

Today I had to face daylight again after three days in the house resting from the virus that has struck me down of late. I had to attend my local health centre to give some blood samples for further tests. Thankfully the nurse found a vein first time, the blood was reassuringly red and I will know the results next Tuesday.

During my self-imposed hibernation I had not shaved meaning that I had some impressive stubble this morning when I arose from my pit. While I think this adds to my rugged good looks (I like to see myself as a slightly younger George Clooney) Fionnuala views it somewhat differently. ‘It’s disgusting’, ‘You look like a tramp’ and ‘Don’t come anywhere near me with that thing’ are three of the printable comments she has made about my face furniture in the past.

I once didn’t shave for a month for a cancer charity and it almost resulted in divorce proceedings. I ended up looking like a cross between Desperate Dan and that creepy guy who you never want to sit beside on public transport. Worse still it was the month when the five of us were baptised together as a family. The resulting photos, which should take pride of place in our home, are hidden away as Fionnuala and the kids smile in the baptism pool beside a comedy Mexican bandit. 

So I decided it was time to shave this morning. While Fionnuala had taken pity on me given I was ill I didn’t want to scare the staff or patients at the health centre when I walked in. ‘Honestly this isn’t a hold up. I’m just here to give a blood sample. I don’t want your wristwatch.’

Now I hate shaving at the best of times. It just seems such a waste of time when I could be doing something much more useful such as an extra five minutes in bed. No wonder so many men sport beards now. 5 minutes x 365 = 1825 minutes. That’s just over 76 hours a year. 3 days! Imagine how many blogs I could write in that time. And money I would save on shaving foam and razor blades.

Yes shaving makes no sense practically or economically. We have central heating now God. Why the requirement for facial hair still? Jesus never felt the need. Oh well, I suppose you know best being omniscient and all that. So as an act of humble worship and obedience (e.g. fear of my wife) I stomped into the bathroom and started going through the routine of applying the shaving foam to my face, wetting the razor, lifting it to my face and….

AAAAARRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!

It was agony. Due to the length and thickness of the stubble, the blade scraped across my skin like a cat’s claws across a blackboard. The next five minutes became a masterclass in grimacing, gurning and general muttering. Through the eye-watering pain I could only think that this is how Wolverine must feel when he goes to the barber’s for his annual trim.


Eventually a clean shaven Stephen staggered back out of the bathroom looking like a million dollars. All green and crumpled *ta ditsch*. My shaving experience had been akin to an Old Testament story, such had been the wailing and gnashing of teeth. Why oh why hadn’t I shaved yesterday or, even better, the day before that rather than endure this ordeal? Why leave it to the last minute and accordingly enter a world of chin trauma?

Decision inertia? Analysis paralysis? Whatever fancy corporate training speak you come up, it is unwise to delay a difficult decision when the answer is staring you in the face. Stephen – you have a medical appointment on Wednesday. You can either (a) shave comfortably on Monday and Tuesday and keep your stubble in order or (b) wait until Wednesday morning when it has the consistency and texture of rusty barbed wire ensuring you a hellish bathroom experience. It’s a no brainer right?

I found myself in the same position at various stages of my life. I felt God calling me to him but rather than take that final step I held back unable to let go of my old worldly existence and all it’s accompanying baggage. And the longer I delayed the more I dug a hole for myself. A hole of lies, addictive behaviour and self-loathing. Increasing the pain for my loved ones and myself.

So instead of gritting my teeth and pulling the sticking plaster off I dithered over the biggest decision of my life. And the longer I put it off the more difficult it became. Until eventually the day came when I looked myself in the mirror, winced a little and started to shave off my toxic stubble. Decades of sinful living and selfish thinking. All gone. It was a much more painful experience than it could have been had I made the decision earlier. But in the end it was done. I made the decision to become a Christian.

If you feel at rock bottom and sense God tugging at your heart my advice is to give in to him today. Don’t delay. Make that decision now. Hand over all the dirt and junk of your past life to him and start again. Unburdened and truly alive. Yes it may involve temporary pain. You may lose friendships and have to make radical lifestyle changes. But believe me it will be more painful if you hold back. Find a church. Buy a Bible. Speak to that Christian friend you have always had a million questions for but have been afraid to ask. Or just talk to God and invite him into your life. What have you to lose?

Who else shares my hatred of shaving? Ladies – feel free to join in the debate 😂

Is someone in your life who you could lovingly lead towards God? What steps are you taking?

Or are you that person? Are you curious about the Christian faith. If you have any questions then please ask us.


Conor McGregor And The One Shot Wonder 

I have felt led in recent days to read the story of David and Goliath in 1 Samuel. There cannot be many people, whatever their beliefs or backgrounds, who do not know the tale. How the poor shepherd boy came out of nowhere to defeat the Philistine giant armed only with a sling and a handful of pebbles. We all know it inside out. What possible extra learning could be gleaned from a story that I knew like the back of my hand?

Well, as usual when it comes to God stuff, I was wrong. To the extent where I think I will probably write a few posts about it. The first thing that surprised me was the length of the story. 1 Samuel Chapter 17 is a whopping 58 verses, the longest chapter in the book. Yet the actual battle scene itself lasts only two verses, beginning at verse 48. It is literally over in a second. Blink and you have missed it. A one shot wonder. Imagine your disappointment if you had paid big bucks for ringside seats to this one. 

The above analogy is not far from the truth regarding this biblical bust-up. It was akin to a heavyweight world championship bout in Las Vegas. The build-up, the hype, the trash talking, the huge audience. David and Goliath had all that. Goliath had bad mouthed the Israelite army for forty days in a row while Saul and his generals trembled in their tents. He was the bad boy of the Philistine army. Think Conor McGregor except without the ginger beard and Irish accent. 

The two most powerful armies in the world stared across the Valley of Elah waiting to ‘unleash hell’ on each other. It must have been an epic spectacle. You would  have been able to cut the atmosphere with a knife as over 100,000 heavily armed men, horses and chariots just waited for the one word that would change the world and their lives forever – Attack.

But that word never came. Day after day of inaction. Nothing. Bar Goliath’s daily taunting of the Israelite troops. Nobody fancied their chances against a guy who must have made ‘The Rock’ look like Papa Smurf. This guy had muscles on his muscles. If Game Of Thrones had been auditioning for extras back then he would have been an absolute shoe-in. 

Well, almost nobody. David fancied his chances. In fact he couldn’t wait. And to tbe amazement of everyone, including an incredulous Goliath, ‘David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him.’ He ran! Towards a nine foot plus killing machine. Armed with a sling! No sword, no spear, no armour, nada! And with one slingshot killed him stone dead. If you pardon the pun.

Imagine having that confidence. That faith in our God that we feared nothing and nobody; but instead charged headlong towards our biggest demons knowing that we would emerge victorious on the other side. David knew God was by his side as he ran towards Goliath. He described him earlier as ‘the living God.’ 

His God was not a distant, grumpy old man with a beard and white robes who sat on a cloud surrounded by cherubs playing harps. His God was not a once a week experience where you mouth a few hymns and pretend to pray to in order to keep your parents off your back. His God was not an invisible entity who you only turned to in a crisis when all your other more solid options had been exhausted.

David’s God was real. His relationship with him was real. As real as the relationship you have with your closest friends or family members. And like any genuine friendship it was built on trust. God had never let him down on the mountainside battling lions and bears and he wasn’t going to let him down now. He was 100% certain he was going to win as he ran towards his destiny.

He had stated earlier in the chapter that God was going to deliver Goliath into his hands. It was God who provided him with the strength to hurl the pebble across the valley towards his enemy. It was God who graced him with the laser precision accuracy to strike Goliath straight between the eyes. It was a golden shot. That once in a lifetime pitch that was destined to change history, bring David to the throne and eatablish a bloodline that would ultimately lead to a stable in Bethlehem. 

God is with you too when you face your greatest battle. That battle might be today, it might be tomorrow. It might be ten years away. But it will come. And you must be prepared. Like David was, honing his fighting skills and relationship with God during those long, hard years tending his father’s flocks in the remote countryside. He was ready when his greatest battle faced him. Ready physically, mentally and spiritually.

And when that moment comes you must recognise it and act upon it. David trusted and believed in God. To the extent that when his opportunity came he seized it with both hands. His brothers wouldn’t stop him. His king wouldn’t stop him. And a nine foot tall, swaggering bully wouldn’t stop him. He acted confidently when all around him was indecision and inaction. 

This has been a long post. Thanks for bearing with me. But the message from it is simple. Trust God. Believe that he will give you whatever you require to face, and overcome, your biggest battle. And when that moment comes don’t hesitate. Instead be the man or woman that our living God created you to be and run confidently towards the battle line.

1 Samuel 17:48-49 – ‘As the Philistine moved closer to attack him, David ran quickly towards the battle line to meet him. Reaching into his bag and taking out a stone, he slung it and struck the Philistine on the forehead. The stone sank into his forehead, and he fell face down on the ground.’

When did you first learn tbe story of David and Goliath?

What battle lines face you today?

Are you prepared to run confidently towards them?


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