You Decide 

I had a creative growth spurt over the weekend (if such a thing exists) which resulted in me coming up with numerous blog ideas. But little old indecisive me hasn’t a clue which one to write first. Which means that they are all currently languishing in the dank dungeon that is my drafts folder.

Sooooooo….I’m going to let you lot decide as to which one I publish first. Below is a brief synopsis of each one so as you can decide which you would like to read first. It will then be tomorrow’s post. Don’t all rush at once now….


1 – Long Hair, Don’t Care – the sorry saga of my doomed to fail efforts to grow my hair back in the day when I thought I was the next Kurt Cobain. Without the talent and the baggy sweater because my mother wouldn’t let me wear clothes like that.

2 – I’m Walking On The Air – did I tell you that I’m running a marathon in 26 days time? Well my new running shoes have arrived. Join me on my first training run in them as I pretend I’m the next Mo Farah. Then wake up and smell the coffee.

3 – Witches Road – a darker post regarding my thoughts on a murder that took place along a road that I regularly run. I share my thoughts and emotions on the scene itself and the parties involved. 

4 – Foetus – another cheery tale about crippling hangovers, some of the darker days of my life and the faith that dragged me kicking and screaming through them.

Please comment below with your choice and I’ll announce the winning post later today.

Thank you!

Fuel 

Two nights ago I woke up at 2:45 a.m. And that was me wide awake. No matter how much I tossed and turned I could not get back to sleep. Why? I have no idea. There was nothing particular on my mind and everything I tried to return to the land of nod was doomed to failure. I read, I got up for a while, I even blogged (my blogs have sent many to sleep these last few months but it didn’t work on me) but all to no avail.


In the end I gave up and drove into work early. I was in the office for 07:00 a.m. My colleagues gave me strange looks as they drifted in but thankfully none of the usual hilarious quips that accompany such an early morning premonition; for example ‘Has she finally seen sense and kicked you out?’ or ‘Did someone wet the bed last night?’ Oh my aching sides….

The rest of the day passed in a drowsy fog. No amount of Diet Coke could shake it. I was The Walking Dead. By 09:30 I was ready for my lunch (thankfully not brains) and I struggled to focus on my computer screen and the words on it. A lunchtime run helped lift my slumber a little but by 3:30 p.m. I was ready for home. My working day had been a bit of a non event. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my Friday. I was tired, grouchy and wide open to any negative, intrusive thought that happened to drift across my consciousness.

When I hit the sack last night I don’t think I managed five pages of the book I am currently reading. I normally need a good twenty pages before drifting off. I must have been asleep by 10:30 p.m. I slept, largely uninterrupted, until 08:00 a.m. I woke up a new man. Fresher, more alert and feeling less sorry for myself. When Fionnuala, who was heading out for the day with the girls, asked me what I had planned I even mentioned the words ‘gardening’ and ‘cleaning’ in the one sentence. Unheard of!

I had caught up on my sleep. I need it just like I need water and food. Without it I struggle to function at the level required of me. Physically and mentally. Deprivation leads to disintegration. The same applies to my spiritual life. These last few weeks I haven’t been at church, haven’t been reading my Bible and haven’t been praying. I have struggled as a result. I have been less patient with people and more likely to get annoyed with them. I have been bearing grudges and unwilling to forgive. I have felt sorry for myself and resentful of others. I have set a poor example to those around me.

I want my writing to inspire and provoke thought. I want to offer hope to those without hope. I want to bring light into the lives of those who currently are surrounded by darkness. I want this blog to be the launch pad for my book. I have a story and I want to share it with others. But without God getting involved none of that is going to happen. Even the most expensive sports car isn’t going to move an inch without fuel in it. I need spiritual fuel just as much as I need sleep. I need it more so. Without it I grind to a halt.

Today is a new day. I will run. I will garden. I will clean. Fuelled by a proper sleep. But I’m also going to make a point of picking up my Bible and talking to God. For without that my soul dries up and the words cease to flow from my keyboard. I just ask that you take care of your own needs today. Physical, emotional and spiritual. Whatever your belief system do what you have to do in order to be properly fuelled to face the challenges of the day ahead.

None of us can do it on our own. You may feel utterly lost and alone as you reading this. Broken and worthless. Running on empty. Let me tell you that you are not. You just need the proper fuel to get going again and back into the race. You are special, unique and precious. We need you to be whole again. Don’t give up. Ever.

Are you running on empty today? I hope these words have been of some comfort to you. Please feel free to leave a comment.

Funderland 

Today is Pay Day which, for a limited time only, makes me the most popular member of the Black household. This will of course not last and normal service will no doubt be resumed before the end of the weekend. It is also the start of the half term holidays and Funderland is opening in Belfast. Funderland is an annual, outdoor carnival and the kids have been chomping at the bit to visit it this year and spend Daddy’s hard earned money. I mean, what else would I be doing with it.

So tonight after work I am taking Adam, Rebecca and two of their friends to the greatest show in town. Unfortunately Hannah is a little under the weather so is staying at home with Fionnuala. At face value I cannot say I am jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect. Carnivals combine many of my pet hates. Rollercoaster rides (terrified of them), possible clown sightings (even more terrified of them) and unhealthy food coming at me from all angles.


The kids are excited, though, and that is all that matters. This is another positive memory that Fionnuala and I, as parents, are creating for them. These memories are the building blocks of a happy childhood; they are laying foundations for their lives ahead where they may face tough times but can always fall back upon a  strong, solid upbringing that taught them right from wrong. Amongst the candy floss and toffee apples tonight we hope that bonds are strengthened and relationships deepened. 

Our children are a blessing to us. They are our legacy. As parents we too often find ourselves screaming at them to wash the dishes (our washing up rota is a literal war zone most evenings) and bring their dirty school uniforms down for washing. Homeworks, constant demands for money and sibling warfare are a drain on the most patient parent. And our house is no exception. There are times when we are both driven to despair by their antics. Surely we didn’t behave this badly when we were kids? 

I’m pretty sure God blessed me with kids for reasons other than keeping the Black family line intact. They continue our education as human beings long after we have left school. They are little professors who reside in our homes and teach us values that we have either  forgotten over the course of time or never quite figured out in the first place. They help untangle the roots of selfishness that take hold in our hearts and chip away at the layers of bitterness and resentment that calcify our souls.

I look at our son and learn about patience and humility. I look at our eldest daughter and see courage and determination. And then I look at our youngest daughter and experience humour and fun. Fun – a word that I somehow lost from my adult vocabulary many years ago. Don’t get me wrong they are no angels and there are days when we want to string them up but would we have it any other way? No, I don’t believe we would.

Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said ‘Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter at all.’ As we grow up into adults we all too easily slip into a life of complacency and mediocracy. We pick up bad habits and stumble along, oblivious to the warning signs all around us. As we grow more physically mature, we become more spiritually immature. Instead of progression there is regression. Little teachers are placed in our lives for a purpose.

We need to ensure that the inner child within us all lives on. We need to ensure that the daily grind does not destroy the values we were born with; the purity, faith and unconditional love of a child. We need to remember that life is to be lived and not merely endured. For it is only when we reconnect with the inner child that the outer adult can mature into the person God created us to be; and fulfil the plans he has set out for us.

We need to remember that Funderland can be every day and not just a once a year experience.

When did you last have fun?

What do you learn from children?

Who washes the dishes in your household?

Hotdogs For Breakfast 

We have an important appointment to attend this morning. Which means an early start for all. Thankfully Fionnuala is as super organised as ever. As I write this she is making hot dogs for breakfast. What a woman!

I am a born worrier and when it comes to appointments I make no exceptions. What if it doesn’t go to plan? What if I say the wrong thing? What if the other person doesn’t like me? The list of ‘what if’ scenarios is endless and very few of them have a happy ending. 

Worry is the most pointless emotion. Yet so many of us fall back upon it as our default position whenever an important appointment is looming on the horizon. I don’t know about you but 9 times out of ten that appointment is never as bad as we imagine it is going to be. In fact it’s usually a whole lot better.


Jesus tells us not to worry and yet I still do, as opposed to handing it all over to him in prayer. This is something I know I need to work on; along with doubt and negativity. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you perfect overnight. It’s not as if a magic wand is waved and all your problems disappear in a puff of smoke. In fact, if anything, they increase. 

But following and studying Jesus will make you a better person, little by little. Which in turn will make the world a better place if you apply yourself to leading a life adhering to the values he taught. It is rocky, less travelled road. But it does lead to your ultimate appointment. The one with the pearly gates and the fluffy clouds. 

If you have decided to follow Jesus and lived your life the best you could then you have nothing to fear or worry about at this appointment. For He will welcome you with open arms. You will be home and your worries will all be behind you.

I wonder if they serve hotdogs for breakfast in Heaven?

Revelation 21:4 – ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’

Are you a worrier?

What appointments do you have today?

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Cloudy With A Chance of Grace 

I cannot remember the last day I went for a run when it didn’t rain. Ireland is renowned for its beautiful green countryside but I mean really? Could we have one day when I can go out for a run and not come back looking like a drowned rat? At this rate I will turn green myself. Or at the very least develop webbed feet. Which is not a good look for a middle aged man training for a marathon in just under five weeks. 

I keep telling myself that this will benefit me long term as come race day I have to be prepared to go out and perform, whatever the weather conditions. I doubt the race organisers would take kindly to me asking them to reschedule were the heavens to open. Wet weather does have its benefits. It cools you down but try telling that to the bespectacled man setting out to run 26.2 miles without windscreen wipers. How I haven’t ended up in a ditch yet I do not know. 

So when the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon comes around on 25 November I will have no excuses if I awaken to wet roads and grey skies. I will have to don my wet weather gear and dodge the puddles the best that I can. Failing that I will probably end up in the lough but I will give it my best shot anyway and will have no excuses.

Recently I have felt that it has been Fionnuala and I against the world. I won’t bore you with the details (as I’m seeking to be positive here) but it sometimes feels like once we overcome one obstacle there is another larger one in our path. It has been disheartening and frustrating. I pray about it but, at times, feel as distant from God as I have ever been. I ask him for wisdom and guidance but often feel as if we are fighting a losing battle.

I’ve lost a lot of friends this last year. This has been largely my own fault but I do feel let down all the same. I have trust issues and am struggling to make friends. Which is hugely hypocritical given the trusts I have betrayed in the past. I cling to God, Fionnuala and the kids as they are really I have. This initially deflated but then I realised that they are really all I need. All the more so as I so nearly lost them.

I am making a big effort to feel less sorry for myself in both my writing and thinking. Before I adopted this new approach a Taylor Swift song constantly resonated round my brain – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me. Except I added an extra line – I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….especially myself. I’m trying to move past that now because, otherwise, I am no good to my family. And I will never open up again to the possibility of new friendships.

I used to walk through life with a permanent rain cloud over my head. I truly was Mr. Doom and Gloom. The pity party was permanently raging in my head. And, just has been the case with my recent training runs, I was regularly soaked to the bone in sadness. I try to think of it differently now. I am still getting soaked but this time it is by the grace of God. Who drenches me on a daily basis. He has given me a loving family, a home, a job and a healthy body and mind allowing me to write and run.

I have a lot to be grateful for. Thank you God for raining on my parade. The grass is always greener or His Side.

Psalm 72:6 – ‘May He come down like rain upon the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.’

How was your day on a scale of 1-10?

Where are you today and what is the weather like?

Did God shower you with grace today?

Every Team Needs A Kicker

Greetings from London. My brother in law and I flew in yesterday from Belfast to watch the Los Angeles Rams – Arizona Cardinals NFL game at Twickenham along with 72,000 other fans. I’ve been an NFL fan since I was sixteen when it was first aired in the U.K. Since then I’ve had a love/hate (mostly hate) relationship with the Washington Redskins; three time Super Bowl champions but, nowadays, perennial underachievers.

The match itself was a birthday present from Fionnuala and the kids and I had been looking forward to the day for almost six months. When it came I wasn’t disappointed. The NFL certainly knows how to put on a show. There were pyrotechnics, cheerleaders and marching bands, and that was all before a ball was kicked or thrown. In the end the Rams won comfortably in a very one sided match up but that didn’t deflect from our enjoyment of the day. 

I particularly enjoyed watching the teams warming up before the match started. The first players out to do so were the kickers. I wondered at this as their participation in the game is minimal. They don’t tackle, run or throw the ball. They just come on the field occasionally to try and kick a field goal or extra point after a touchdown. You could even argue that they are not even real American football players as their jersies never seem to get dirty. All they have to do is kick the ball through the posts. How hard can that be?

The kicker for the Rams was warming up at our end of the pitch. His preparation was meticulous, taking kick after kick from various distances and fine tuning his technique with every attempt. His accuracy was unerring and the strength of his kicking leg was incredible. At one point he converted a 70 yard kick. And that was him just warming up. As the warm up ended I remarked to my brother in law that the Rams kicker would not miss a kick during the match itself, such was his preparation.


And I was right, he didn’t. Five times the Rams offense got within scoring distance but were unable to score a touchdown. Five times the kicker came on and BAM, the ball went sailing between the post for another three points. The same went for the extra point attempts after the Rams scored a touchdown. In the end he scored 18 of the Rams total of 33 points. There are 50 players on a team yet he scored over half of their points. I left the stadium with a new found respect for a position I had once mocked as not being a ‘real’ American football player. 

American football teams, like all teams, are made up of people with different skills and abilities. They all have a role to play and, no matter how minor or insignificant that role might seem, without them doing so the team itself cannot effectively function. An American football team needs high profile players like the quarterback who regularly grab the spotlight and headlines. But they also need guys like the kickers who you might rarely see but who can win or lose the game with just a single kick. Their role within the team is just as important.

The same goes for life. We all have a role to play. You might be reading this now feeling insignificant and undervalued. You might feel inadequate and useless. That’s not true. You have an important job to perform in this game called life. You might not know what that is yet, you might be doing it now and not even realise it. Without it however, and without you, the world is a lesser place. You are needed and your time will come, like the kicker in the big game. So never undervalue yourself and your skills and talents. For without them the world is a duller place.

Be prepared. Stay focused and keep practicing. For your moment will come. God put you on this planet for a reason and has a plan for you. Never lose hope for the day is fast approaching when you are called off the sideline and thrown into the game. Your actions and your words could change someone’s life. Forever and for the better. You could be their lifeline. You just have to be patient and, like the kicker, hone your talent day after day so that when you are called upon the ball goes sailing between the uprights.

Every team needs a kicker. The team called humanity needs you.

What’s the biggest sporting event you’ve ever attended?

Are you a NFL fan?

Do you feel part of a team? Or are you sitting on the sidelines feeling lost and lonely?

Be A Zero

My OCD has flared up a bit this week and I think it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of OCD related books for the novel that I am supposedly researching. So I’ve decided to take a break from all that and am currently reading a fantasy novel about a post apocalyptic world where the remnants of society are governed by an all knowing, all seeing computer.

Your position within this world is determined by a wristband which gives you a digital reading of between 0-10 based upon your attitude and loyalty to the ruling regime. The more you adhere to the rules and regulations of the regime and ‘tow the line’ the higher your rating will be. In order to scale the social ladder you need to conform. Show the slightest sign of independent thinking or emotion not in accordance with accepted values and your rating will plummet.

Hence those with ’10’ ratings are viwed as almost god like; perfect and flawless in every respect. They are effectively automatons devoid of feelings; living a dull, zombie like existence in their ivory towers oblivious to the myriad of possibilities that life holds if they would only open their eyes and ears to what lies beyond. Theirs is a miserable existence yet they lack tbe self awareness to recognise this. Their perfection is an ugly one. Their success is their downfall.


The large majority of the population aspire to be a ’10’ and live a life of luxury. Their sole purpose in life is to improve their scores. A ‘7’ will do whatever it takes to become an ‘8’ even if it means eradicating every last trace of the personality they were born with. It is a bitter rat race. At the other end of the scene become a ‘3’ and you are referred for medication in order to correct your independent behaviour; a ‘2’ and you are institutionaled for ‘behavioural reprogramming’. Think lobotomies here. And if you drop to a ‘1’ you tend to disappear, never to be seen again.

It is a bleak picture of a future world where creativity and innovation are frowned upon. Emotions are abhorred and shows of affection are almost non existent. Free thinking is despised and harshly punished. Thank God we don’t live in a world like that right? Thank God we are free to be ourselves and don’t have to conform to such crushing peer pressure. Hmmmmm….

How many of you have buried your own opinions and thoughts in order to fit in? How many of you have said ‘yes’ when you wanted to say ‘no’ just so that you weren’t the odd one out? How many of you are currently unhappy living your life a certain way in order to please your family and friends? We become boxed in and trapped. In our relationships, in our schools and workplaces, even dare I say it in our churches. On the surface we smile and nod when deep inside all we want to do is scream and run as far away as we can.

Our lives become performances. We play a role and lock our real selves in darkened dungeons within our souls which never see the light. We use money, drugs, alcohol, power, exercise, sex, anything really in order to construct these false creations for the outside world to marvel at. While inside we slowly rot away. Anything to become a ’10’. Don’t believe me? Just scan down your social media feeds or look at all the ‘perfect’ people parading around your office, your school, your church. 

Jesus wasn’t interested in ’10’s. He came to earth to rip up the rule book. He realised that man made systems were irrevocably flawed. He sought to transform lives and encouraged people to think outside of the box and turn their backs on the rules and regulations which were suffocating them. He wanted people to step off the ‘hamster wheel’ of life, to show a little faith and follow him instead. People who were willing to walk away from the trappings of social status and give it all up for him.

I’ve spent the large majority of my life aspiring to conform and become a ’10’. This resulted in years of misery for myself and others. Since becoming a Christian I have been taught a few hard lessons. God has had to break me down in order to restore me. It has been a painful process removing layer and layer of arrogance and selfish behaviour. I’m a work in progress, still far from the finished article. But I’m slowly learning that true freedom is not being an earthly ’10’ but instead working in the opposite direction.

By killing your self and rejecting societal norms you can do this. Think of others first. Give don’t take. Learn to forgive. Love don’t loathe. Become selfless and not selfish. Here lies the key to becoming a better person and acquiring spiritual riches, real treasure. Money and power won’t get you there. Neither will looks or the number of followers you have on Instagram. It’s all a dirty lie. The truth is right before your eyes. All you have to do is walk away from your present life. Give it all to to God. The addiction, the temptation, the anger, the depression. Surrender it all to him as you’ll never do it on your own.

Let go of the greasy pole of success and freefall. Fall towards your destiny. One where you can start all over again. Free from guilt and anguish. Start again. Become a zero.

Romans 12:2 – ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’

Where do you lie on the 10-0 scale?

Do you feel trapped in your current life? Are you living a lie? Performing a rule?

What do you need to do in order to break free?

Real Running

The ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon is five weeks today and, this morning, I set out on a 20 mile training run. The next 2-3 weeks are the toughest part of the training plan before I cut back the mileage in the final fortnight before the big day itself. This final period of the training is known as tapering. All the hard work is done and it is just a matter of keeping ticking over, eating and resting properly and avoiding injury.

I was quite nervous before I set off today as this was my longest run in well over a year. I was anxious that my legs would give out on me. Facing a 20 mile run is a daunting prospect and the doubting voices in my head were having a field day. They did their best to convince me that I would flop spectacularly but I set off anyway, more hopeful than confident. I am training for a sub four hour marathon so need to average 9:09 minute miles or better in order to hit my target.

The first four miles or so went well as I headed out a long stretch towards Lough Neagh. I felt strong and was averaging decent mile splits. Then the heavens opened. A light drizzle at first which gradually intensified. By Mile 6 I was well and truly drenched but thankfully there was no wind to accompany it. As a runner I can live with rain; when it’s combined with a headwind, however, it can play havoc with a pacing strategy. There is nothing worse than slipping off your pace and watching all your race dreams disappear in a puff of smoke.

I stopped at the house at Mile 10 for a quick drink and towelling off, then it was off again. From then on it was just a matter of counting off the miles and trying to ignore the mounting pain in my thighs. I play games with myself, picking out landmarks in the distance and trying to guess how far away they are. I check my Garmin watch every 0.05 of a mile, try to work out how much more I have to run as a percentage, estimate what my mile split will be every 1/4 of a mile; anything really rather than listen to the voice telling me to give up and stop.

By Mile 15 I was about four minutes inside my target time so could afford to relax a little. Having a few minutes in the bank is very reassuring. I prayed periodically throughout, thanking Jesus for allowing my body to be able to do this and asking him to give me the strength and focus to keep going. I’m not fast but I do have stamina. My final two miles were roughly at the same pace as my first two. I finished wet, cold and aching all over. But five minutes inside my target pace. Now all I have to do is repeat that in five weeks time. And then run another 10K on top of that. 


I’m sore but pleased. The old me would have wanted to brag about this run all over social media and posted lots of photos of yours truly looking pleased with himself. I thought twice about not writing about the run at all but decided to in the end. Running helps me physically and mentally. It is part of who I am so if I were not to refer to it then you would only see part of the real Stephen. And that’s what I want to be. Real. I want to show you the good, the bad and the ugly.

The old me only portrayed a false and misleading persona. I craved attention, was vain and obsessed over running faster and faster every race. In five weeks time I won’t set a personal best and I won’t be bombarding you all with selfies. But I will plod round, hopefully avoid injury and raise some money for charity along the way. I’m just grateful at the end of every run I have a loving family to return to afterwards. For without them, I am a gibbering wreck. They inspire me to be the best possible person I can be. Without them I am nothing. I’m running the race of life with them and for them. With God to guide me.

Psalm 119:32 – ‘I shall run the way of your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.’

Care & Love 

A rare theological discussion broke out in the office yesterday. Delighted as I initially was it soon degenerated into the usual nonsense as the youngest member of our team innocently enquired ‘Did they have bicycles in the Bible?’ Amidst howls of derision from my co-workers I wracked my memory banks for all of a miilsecond before sagely replying ‘No. But they did have donkeys….and the occasional camel.’

Not to be discouraged she persevered with her line of questioning. ‘Well what about wheelchairs then? There were lots of disabled people in the Bible. How did they get about?’ I rolled my eyes and patiently replied ‘No. 1st Century Israeli roads were not really conducive to wheelchairs even if they had existed back then. Mats. People were carried about on mats….at least until Jesus healed them.’

The conversation meandered on then to how many humps Biblicals camels had and I surveyed the shattered remnahts of another evangelical opportunity gone awry. I’m sure Paul didn’t have these kind of problems when he preached to the Gentiles. But it switched on a lightbulb in my head. Jesus was telling people to get up from their mats and walk all the time but how did they get to him in the first place anyway? I’ve heard of flying carpets but motorised mats? Surely not?

Our 13 year daughter, Hannah, is a wheelchair user. She was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. Hannah is fiercely independent but is presently waiting for an all singing, all dancing motorised wheelchair. This will make a massive difference to her life because, at present, she is making do with a chunky manual wheelchair which she has difficulties operating. She is fine getting around the house but, outdoors, often needs help. We do this unhesitatingly without even thinking about it.


She is our daughter and we would do anything for her; including pushing her to the ends of the earth if need be. In legal terms we are her carers. And yes, we care deeply for her, but it goes beyond that. We do it because we love her. Had we lived in Biblical times and heard of this guy called Jesus who has healing people at will then we would have got her to him by hook or by crook. Hannah’s faith would have done the rest.

People carried their relatives and friends to Jesus on the mats. It would have been backbreaking work on rocky, uneven roads. They would have stumbled often and there might have been the odd expletive along the way. But they did it anyway. Out of love for the person they were carrying, underpinned by a faith and hope that Jesus could achieve the impossible and make their wildest dreams come true. They pushed through crowds, dismantled roofs and roared for people to move but they got their nearest and dearest to Jesus. 

The mats were carried by aching limbs and throbbing feet. But they were powered with love. And I know as the disabled friend or relative rose unaided from their mat Jesus would have smiled at the amazed, yet joyous, expressions of their carers. Because as well as changing the lives of their loved ones through physical healing he was also bringing spiritual and emotional healing to those who had given up their lives for others who needed them. 

Jesus generated extreme emotions in people wherever he went. He was the eye of a three year ministerial storm that went on to change the world beyond recognition. He was love but, in the end, he was surrounded by anger, bitterness and hatred. During those three years, however, he shone like a beacon to the desperate and disenfranchised. They came to him. Even if it meant being carried. 

Please pray today for the disabled but also for those who care for them. They are the unsung heroes within our communities working quietly yet tirelessly out of a spirit of love. Jesus loved their love. And so must we.

Mark 2:4 – ‘Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on.’

What are your thoughts on this post? We would love your feedback.

All Aboard 

I do a lot of my blogging during my daily train commute to and from work. In recent weeks, however, this has been more of a struggle. The schools are back which means I have to battle through legions of orcish hordes (schoolchildren) every morning at my stop in order to board the express train to Belfast.

Often it is standing room only as the forty seats in each carriage (yes I’ve counted them) are already occupied by the time the train reaches my platform. As many people again then squeeze into the carriage as the conductor cheerily ignores every health and safety regulation in the book. This means that my travel experience usually involves staring at somebody’s armpit or trying to keep myself from being pitched headlong onto an unsuspecting fellow passenger’s lap.

I fully expect some morning to be asked to clamber onto the carriage roof or hang perilously from its side for the al fresco journey of a lifetime. No doubt Northern Ireland Railways will charge me extra for this unique travel experience. Until then I mutter to myself and endure the daily rat race in and out of the city centre. The sooner they invent teleportation the better I say.


On the rare occasion when there is a spare seat on the carriage it is usually a fight to the death between the two nearest standing passengers. I’ve seen some brutal standoffs along with equally impressive turns of foot in order to secure that much sought after vacant berth. The exception is where an elderly person is in the vicinity. On these occasions people generally do the decent thing and offer up the seat to the more senior traveller.

I always freeze in these situations. It’s a bit like holding a door open for a female colleague at work. Will they regard me as a chivalrous gentleman or an out of date sexist pig? At what age do you merit being offered a seat? 60? 70? Will they be grateful or offended? I personally dread the day when somebody offers me a seat on the train. It will be equivalent of the day I discovered my first grey hair or when I make a cultural reference in the office to be met with blank expressions from my younger co-workers. 

These are the trials and tribulations that I face every morning. I always get on the train, however. And I always reach my final destination. Sometimes the journey is more pleasurable than others but the end result is the same. Just like life. Sometimes we sail through life in luxurious comfort without a care in the world. At other times it is a mundane, uncomfortable slog. And occasionally you are literally hanging on by your fingertips as you hurtle down the track. 

Whatever lies ahead never be afraid to get on board. Whatever lies ahead. As a Christian I’ve had some hairy rides but on these occasions I just shut my eyes and ask God to get me through it. And he does. It just involves a little courage and a little faith. Don’t be left standing on the platform of life as your future flashes past you. You only get one shot at it. Even if it does involve the occasional elbow in the ribs or umbrella in the face.

What are your thoughts on this post?

Are you a commuter? What is your daily commute like?

Where are you on your journey through life?

Grateful 

What with Storm Ophelia, school closures and other daily dramas I haven’t had much of a chance to write these last few days. Hopefully normal service will be resumed again soon. In the meantime I just wanted to drop a line to thank you all as we passed 20,000 views yesterday.


Since the blog started back in May we have been thrilled by the support and encouragement we have been shown in opening up our lives and sharing our story. I’m still not quite sure why anyone would want to read my nonsense but I am none the less very grateful for your comments and feedback.

As ever none of this would be possible without Fionnuala. While I do most of the writing she is truly the power behind the throne. The blog was initially her idea, she provides much of the inspiration for my writing and is constantly guiding and supporting me. She is also the technical brains behind the blog and runs our associated Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts which I would encourage you to check out.

Thank you all again ❤️🙏🏻😊

The Morning After 

Just a quick line to update you all that we survived Storm Ophelia which has now passed Ireland. Thank you for everyone who sent thoughts and prayers our way. They were most appreciated and we feel much loved by our WordPress community. Please say a prayer for the families of the three people who lost their lives yesterday in the storm – Stephen & Fionnuala ❤️🙏🏻😊

Storm Warning 

Storm Ophelia is about to hit Northern Ireland later today and we are bracing ourselves for 80mph winds, heavy rain and major disruption. I know this might sound like ‘small fry’ to readers in other parts of the world who have experienced much harsher weather conditions in recent months; but this is predicted to be the worst storm to hit Ireland in thirty years and a ‘red’ weather warning has been announced, the highest possible. 

It was announced late last night that all schools are to be closed today so the kids, of course, are delighted. I have spent the morning outdoors storing away the garden furniture, plant pots and any other objects that might take off when the winds take hold. Fionnuala is currently at the supermarket so that we are stocked up with  everything we need for the next 24 hours. Then it is just a matter of sitting tight and hoping for the best.

The Northern Irish are not very good when it comes to extreme weather. The lightest of snow coverings and the country seemingly grinds to a halt; heavy rain seems to cause flooding no matter how prepared the authorities tell us they are this time; and once the temperature dips below zero we become gibbering wrecks. This is all the stranger given that one of the most popular topics of conversation is the weather. In fact if it wasn’t for the weather I would struggle to hold a conversation with some people. 


When all else fails we can ramble on about what a bad summer we are having; when the conversation hits a lull there is always the latest forecast to fill in the gaps. We are a country obsessed with the weather yet we are totally unprepared when Mother Nature flexes her muscles and ups the ante a notch or two. The first snowfall of the year in this country evokes scenes straight out of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’. We are a strange breed and Storm Ophelia has done nothing to convince me otherwise.

This time around I have been most surprised by the nonchalance and naivety of a considerable proportion of the population. Many people have commented that the authorities are overreacting by closing the schools and we have gone ‘health and safety’ mad. This baffles me. Are you seriously saying you don’t have an issue sending your child to school knowing that later in the day they are going to have to make their way home in hurricane force winds? Personally we won’t take that risk with our kids.

People can be so arrogant and full of their own self importance. It annoys me and I pray for the patience to deal with such folk. This ‘it will never happen to me’ attitude is prevalent in our society today. Yet when it does it becomes a case of blaming anyone except the person who should shoulder the responsibility – ourselves. We blunder through our lives too proud or ignorant to ignore the numerous storm warnings that flash before our eyes. That person is bad for you? Nah, I know better. Maybe you should cut down on the alcohol/cigarettes/whatever your vice is?Nah I know better. 

And when it all comes crumbling down we come running looking for sympathy and babbling excuses. But by then it is too late. We ignore the voice on our head advising us otherwise. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. Call it your conscience, call it your inner voice, call it (as I do) a nudge from God we ignore it. And walk into the latest storm to envelop our lives utterly exposed and unprepared for what lies ahead. We don’t learn from our mistakes. We live in circles of sorrow, our own personal Groundhog Days of grief.

I screwed up yesterday. I let bitterness and unforgiveness get the better of me. I ignored the warning signs and thought I knew best. Afterwards I talked it through with Fionnuala, acknowledged my failings and resolved I would be better prepared the next time I was placed in such a situation. I hope today that you can learn from your past mistakes and when the next potential storm barrels into your life you are ready and willing to hear and act upon the warning signs.

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

Have you ever ignored a storm warning and paid the price?

How do you deal with the storms of life?

The Unlikely Angel

As we have now reached mid-October it makes perfect sense that the Christmas movie channel is now showing at chez Black on a 24 hour loop. Personally I’ve always been a ‘Christmas begins on 1st December’ kind of guy but, as with most matters in our house, I am heavily outnumbered. Yes, Christmas has officially begun.

Heavy hints have already been dropped that I am due a visit to the attic to bring down the Christmas decorations; Santa lists have been drawn up with FIFA 18 featuring heavily; and I’m convinced I saw a packet of mince pies in the cupboard the other day. Fionnuala is already plotting and planning the highlight of her year and has brainwashed (I mean) encouraged the girls to join her in loving all things festive.


99% of the aforementioned Christmas movies are American produced. In fact it strikes me that somewhere in the United States a Christmas movie is always being filmed. They always feature actors I have never heard of who appear to make a perfectly good living starring in movies that nobody has ever heard of. They invariably are romantic comedies set in small town mid-America. Everybody has good teeth. They always have happy endings and Santa never gets stuck up the chimney.

Today was a little different. I was ‘treated’ to ‘An Unlikely Angel’ starring Dolly Parton, one of Fionnuala’s childhood heroes. My wife was in Heaven which, oddly enough, is where Dolly ends up in the movie after a car crash featuring a deer and some decidedly dodgy stunt work. Next scene she’s walking through the pearly gates which just about accommodate her NFL-esque shoulder pads and a hairstyle which must have taken scaffolding and a gallon of hairspray to construct.

Dolly hooks up with a rather odd looking man in a white suit who may have been St. Peter or, at the very least, a pretty senior angel. Michael. Or possibly Gabriel. He basically rips up millennia of theological doctrines by explaining to an understandably bewildered Dolly that in order to remain a permanent fixture amongst the clouds she needed to make amends for her decidedly unsaintly existence by returning to earth as a trainee angel in order to perform good deeds and earn her season ticket to the afterlife.

It was at this point that I gave up and decided to go for my morning run. But the title got me thinking. Some of you may believe in angels and are convinced that they walk unseen amongst us; that they are permanently engaged in spiritual warfare against demonic forces in the battle between good and evil. Others might think this the stuff of fairy tales and place angels in the same box along with leprechauns and The Abominable Snowman.

Whatever your beliefs there is nothing stopping you displaying angelic qualities today to someone in need of help. It can be the smallest of acts. A little kindness goes a long way. Just open your eyes and look around. There is someone right now close to you who will benefit from your angelic intervention. It will brighten up their day and, guess what, you will feel a whole lot better about yourself afterwards as well. It might not get you into Heaven but it is sprinkling a little heavenly love on the life of someone desperately in need of a little love and grace. 

The best bit is that doing the above doesn’t require any specialist training. You don’t need qualifications in low level flying or advanced harp playing. Allergy to feathers? No problem. White isn’t your colour? We can work around that. Feel you’re not good enough and that your chequered past doesn’t make you eligible for the position? Worry not. God isn’t bothered so why should you? No matter what your past you can turn your back on it and do good today. 

Become an unlikely angel today. Backcombed hair, huge shoulder pads and rhinestone sequins entirely optional.

When does Christmas officially start in your house?

What are the best/worst Christmas movies you have ever watched?

Do you believe in angels?

Pace Yourself 

I’m currently training hard for my seventh marathon at the end of November. I’m running it for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus) and my target is to complete the race in under four hours. I’m a bit nervous as it will be my first marathon in eighteen months but training has been going well. I’ve been gradually increasing my weekly long runs which are the bedrock of any marathon training plan.

Last Saturday was my longest run yet. Eighteen miles from our house to my mother-in-laws in Belfast. I realise that most married men would run that distance to get away from their mother-in-law but I have always liked being different. I had been thinking of taking on this challenge for some time but when the day itself came it was drizzly and dank. Well I do live in Northern Ireland after all!

I knew the route I was taking was hilly. It is an initially undulating route that then climbs gradually from Miles 7 to 14. The final four miles are then all downhill into Belfast itself. In order to complete a sub four hour marathon I need to average 9:09 minute miles. Sounds pretty straightforward when you type it out but try telling that to your legs after 20 miles. I’m not fast but I am strong when it comes to pacing and race tactics. Plus I’m determined and will plod along all day in order to finish the race on schedule.


The first seven miles went largely to plan and I built up a handy two minute cushion which I knew I would need for the hilly middle section. And hilly it was. How come these routes never appear so steep when you drive them. The gradual ascent was exacerbated as the weather closed in around me. I was wet, cold and tiring with only a few bemused looking sheep for company as I trudged along the most isolated section of the route. I kept telling myself it was character building and would stand me in good stead come race day. My aching legs begged to differ.

My mile splits began to slow down mile after miserable mile. I didn’t panic, however, as I knew I could make up the lost time during the final descent. As I hit the top of the mountain I was thirteen seconds behind my target time. I kicked on, my tired limbs welcoming the skyline of Belfast to my right as I descended. Miles 15-17 were my fastest three miles of the race. I was now comfortably back inside my target time. I could afford to relax during the last mile although my legs were starting to turn to jelly as I reached my final destination. 

Fionnuala and the kids welcomed me with warm, dry clothes and multiple glasses of water. I finished well within my target time, sore but happy. A great confidence booster and another challenge scored off my bucket list. As well as that it taught me to believe in myself. Even though I fell off the pace during the tough section of the race I knew that if I persevered I would get through it and things would improve on the other side. A little faith goes a long way. Eighteen miles to be precise. 

Life can be like that. A dull, painful trudge that never seems to end and never seems to get any easier. But you have to keep going, if not for yourself then for those around you who need you and rely upon you. There will be horrible times, times where there seems little hope. In those tImes all you can do is plod on and stick to the plan. As a Christian I trust God to get me through the hard times. I know from past experiences that He will. Just as I know, as a runner, that my body and strategy will get me through the tough parts of race.

Find something to believe in. Hang on to it through the tough times. Then sit back and enjoy the thrill of the descent on the other side.

James 1:12 – ‘Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.’

What’s on your bucket list?

How do you get through the tough times?

Deadline Day

I made a rookie error at work last week. A schoolboy error. A fatal error. I spoke at a management meeting. What’s worse I made a suggestion. And horror of horrors it was a suggestion that the head of our organisation agreed with. He pricked up his ears and I could almost see the imaginary lightbulb above his head spark into life. He was going to run with this. And I was to be his baton carrier.

The next management meeting is less than a week away. And I have been lumbered (I mean honoured) with tabling a report outlining my amazing plan for the future of the organisation. Me and my big mouth. That split second of being ‘golden boy’ has rapidly dissolved to be replaced by gnawing fear and growing panic. My eyes flicker between my blank computer screen and the three foot high in tray which threatens at any moment to entomb me beneath it. 

I have a deadline to meet.


All week, therefore, I have been prioritising the report to the exclusion of all other tasks. ‘Can you have a read of this?’ – ‘Put it in the tray and I’ll look at it later’ – ‘Would you mind signing this?’ – ‘Put it in the tray and I’ll look at it later’ – ‘You haven’t made the tea all week’ – ‘Put it in the tray and I’ll….well, maybe not, but you get my drift. The report is everything. Everything else has paled into significance. It has to be completed on schedule.

I don’t like pressure. Outside of work I invariably crumble when it comes to it. Within the working environment, however, it tends to focus me and provide clarity of thought. I often look back on completed pieces of work and think ‘Wow did I really do that?’ I tend to rise to the challenge and deliver the goods. Fionnuala often refers to professional, calm, confident ‘Work Stephen’ as opposed to disorganised, nervous ‘All Other Times’ Stephen. At home I can’t make a decision or solve a problem to save my life. At work though it’s a piece of cake.

I know that I will meet this latest deadline. Just as I know the finished report will be the best piece of work I can possibly deliver. I do not fear the wrath of the ‘Big Boss’ on ‘Deadline Day.’ I am in control and all is well. As a Christian too I am confident that when I face Jesus on Judgement Day (the ultimate ‘Deadline Day’) I can do so with confidence; safe in the knowledge that as I have accepted him as my Lord And Saviour I will be accepted by him into Heaven.

There the similarities end. When it comes to delivering the report on time the buck stops with me. It is through my own actions as to whether or not I still have a job next week. With regards Heaven, however, I can do nothing in order to gain admission on my own merit. I fall woefully short of the standard required. Which is why Jesus hung from a wooden cross and endured a brutal death.  To take the weight of my sins and allow me to appear before God as righteous and pure.

The other difference is the deadline date. With regards my report it is an immovable object set in stone. Next Thursday! Next Thursday!! Next Thursday!!! With regards our celestial appointments with destiny we are less sure. It could be fifty years away in my sleep surrounded by my grandchildren and great grandchildren. Or it could be later today as I step in front of an oncoming truck as I try to finish this blog on myyyydbuiorgji…..

Just kidding. I’m still here. 😊

My point is if you are thinking there might be something to this whole Jesus business it’s best to make your mind up soon. As in now. For tomorrow might be too late. If you are ready to commit then tell him. It’s called a prayer. Then tell a friend. Then live your life for him the best you can. If you are not or think it’s a huge pile of nonsense then I wish you luck. You are probably going to need it at some point.

Anyway gotta go. I’ve got a deadline to meet.

Are you facing any tight deadlines today?

How are you sitting when it comes to the whole Jesus business?

The Wardrobe Malfunction 

As a barely functioning adult I rely heavily on my surrounding support network to drag me kicking and screaming through everyday life. And by support network I mean Fionnuala. She is the fuel powering the juggernaut that is Team Black. She is the power behind this (ahem) blogging empire.

Without her I shudder to think what shape we would go out to work and school each day. Packed lunches, clean clothes and knowing where we have mislaid keys, wallets, shoes etc all fall within her daily remit. In the whirlwind that is chez Black every morning she is the (mostly) calm eye of the storm. 

Take this morning for example. Adam stumbled down the stairs doing his best teenage boy ‘Walking Dead’ impersonation to mumble that he had no clean white shirts for school. Extracting dirty clothing from his room for washing is akin to getting people out of 1960’s East Germany. The only clean white shirt in the house was the one that I had just put on barely five minutes before his announcement.


All eyes fixed on me and I had little choice but to take off my crisp, white shirt and hand it over to him. I trooped back up the stairs and perused the contents of my wardrobe. I was left with the stark choice of pink or black shirts. As I had worn a pink shirt the previous day and didn’t want allegations raging round the office that I had worn the same shirt two days running I had little choice but to opt for the little black number.

I managed to find a matching black tie so all was well. True, it did look like I was going to a funeral but this seemed strangely appropriate given the avalanche of paperwork awaiting in my in tray. I braced myself for both this and the 236 times I would have to answer the ‘So who’s dead then?’ question from my  ‘hilarious’ colleagues.

Quicker than a Katy Perry wardrobe change I had transformed from white to black. From one extreme to the other. When you make the decision to become a Christian it’s as immediate a transformation, except the other way around. Beforehand our hearts are stained with sin. We can’t help it. There is no means of avoiding it given our default settings and the broken world we live in. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying. 

We are dirty rags unfit to stand in the holy, pure presence of God. For no matter how hard we try we will never attain the standard required. Blame Adam and Eve for that one. God realised this which is why he sent Jesus to the Cross to atone for the mess us humans were making of things. He loved us that much he provided our get out clause. He took the ultimate hit for #TeamHumanity. So that today anyone who accepts him as their Lord and Saviour can discard their soiled, sinful past and stand unblemished as a new creation.

That’s not to say it won’t be a walk in the park after that. It is only the beginning of the journey. All sorts of pitfalls and temptations lie ahead. Many will stumble and some will be led astray. Jesus, however, will live within the believer through the Holy Spirit providing strength and guidance as required. He is truth, light and bottomless grace. We need him because, otherwise, we will never be rid of the ‘black shirt’.

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

What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

Do you believe Jesus is the solution to your problems? Or are you uncertain? Reluctant? We would love to hear your comments? 

Carpe Diem?

‘Carpe Diem’ is a frequently used Latin expression and, translated means ‘seize the day.’ A lot of people adopt it as their maxim for life. It encapsulates a positive attitude, that indefatigable, ‘never say die’ mentality that we attribute to our sporting heroes. Never give up! Up and at them! To the victor the spoils.

It is good to wake up with a positive attitude and adhere to it throughout the day. There are many benefits to adopting this mindset. I have written in recent posts about focusing more on the present and future rather than looking back on my sinful past. I need to accept where I came from, yes, but regularly revisiting the dark places leaves me more vulnerable to emotions and thoughts I no longer want to experience.

It is a balancing act, a happy medium. One can also take it too far. This succeed at all costs outlook can lead to selfishness, injustice and anger. Like any path we walk in life it is so easy to veer off track as our moral compasses spin out of control and lead us off in the wrong direction. If there is one thing that’s worse than a bad loser, it’s a bad winner. We have all encountered them so I won’t labour the point.

Seizing the day as a Christian is as much about quiet, selfless acts that largely go unnoticed as it is about preaching in front of thousands or being a New York Times bestseller. It is praying for someone who doesn’t know you are praying for them; it is making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause; it is buying a cup of tea for a shivering homeless person who you might never see again. 

Too many people seeking to seize the day end up suffocating in their own self importance and insecurities. They are so pre-occupied with attending to their worldly needs that they neglect their much more important spiritual ones. The world is broken and we, as Christians, have a responsibility to slap a bandaid on it whenever we can. But it is dying. 

The good news? I believe a day will come when Jesus will intervene; when enough will be enough. When he will descend and establish a new Kingdom. One where there will be no more wars, famine or disease. Where he will put death to the sword and reward the faithful few who stuck to the path and ran the race well. For the selfish, the unforgiving, the disbelieving, there is also a future. But not quite as pleasant a one.

Seize the day? Yes, there are many positive traits to that philosophy. But beware the pitfalls associated with it too. Take responsibility for your destiny but do it with the right motives and with a good heart. Don’t leave it too late. As Jesus is coming on the ultimate day. To seize the world. 

Luke 21:27 – At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’

How do you intend to seize today?

The Loose Screw 

Our pastor at Journey Community Church gave a fantastic sermon this morning on the difference between becoming a Christian and consistently being a follower of Jesus. He spoke about how Jesus came to earth to make disciples and not Christians. It is so easy to say you are a Christian but a lot more tricky to take up your cross and imitate Christ every day. 

Church really inspired me today. It was our fifth week attending (not that I’m counting) and this was the first Sunday I’ve felt comfortable and at ease there. I went and asked for prayer after the service which really calmed me as well. This is Church as it should be. We were made to feel welcome and at home. Plus there was lots of food….which always helps.

Upon getting home we started tidying up the back yard for the winter. I was on sweeping duties but my task was made all the more difficult due to a loose screw. Now before you all start I was not the one with the aforementioned problem although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of having a screw loose.


No, the faulty screw connected (or at least was meant to connect) the brush itself to the brush handle. And no matter how hard I tried it made it nigh on impossible to sweep up the fallen leaves adorning out patio. I pushed the handle one way, the brush swivelled in the opposite direction and the leaves went in every direction. Stephen 1 Mother Nature 0.

Matters deteriorated from there as I was reduced to crawling about on my hands and knees trying to corral the errant leaves into a dustpan via a combination of a short handled brush and my bare hands. ‘Perhaps you should go and buy a new brush?’ a bewildered Fionnuala suggested from across the yard. I accepted defeat like any mature, adult male and skulked off to the village shop with my tail well and truly between my legs.

The comedy that was attaching the new brush to its handle is another story which may require a three blog series all of its own. Suffice to say with a properly functioning brush my task was made a lot easier. Before you could say ‘Stephen is a walking DIY disaster’ the yard had been cleared and looking a lot tidier than it had an hour earlier. If I had persisted with the wonky brush I would probably still be at it come Christmas.

Our pastor challenged us today about who, if anyone, we are discipling within our sphere of influence. After much soul searching I came up with nothing. I profess I’m a Christian but, of late, I have done little to evidence to others that I am following in the footsteps of Jesus. If he is the brush handle then I’m the wobbly brush, careering ineffectively in the opposite direction from where He wants me to go. And the people (leaves) in my life who I should be having a positive impact on are being overlooked and left to their own devices.

All because of a little screw. About the size of a mustard seed. My faith. Without it the whole show grinds to a halt. Unless I believe I can be more like Jesus then I never will. I will always be shackled to sin, death and self-doubt. I need to fuel and feed my faith, tighten that tiny screw of faith until it cannot be budged whatever the world throws against it. Without I will never be able to confidently sweep through my friends and family with the message that Jesus brought to the world. 

It’s time to start sweeping….

Matthew 19:21 – ‘Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’

Do you believe there is a difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus?

Are you doing enough to sweep up disciples in your community?

Quietly Excited 

It is 6:37 am in balmy Northern Ireland and I can’t sleep. The reason why? Adam’s big rugby match is less than four hours away and I’m excited about it. I never sleep well the night before one of his matches and tonight has been no exception. I kept wakening up, had weird dreams and then dozing off again. I won’t get back to sleep now so thought I might as well squeeze a blog post out of it.

It is good to feel excited. I’m excited about being excited again as it’s an emotion I haven’t experienced much lately. I have been in a rut this last week or so and a lot of my writing has been negative and about my past. I have revisited a lot of dark places from there and this has taken its toll. Some of that darkness has seeped back into my present life and that has not been healthy. It has sucked the life out of my bones and left me feeling agitated and irritable.

I read a blog post the other day about a mental health illness where the sufferer is unable to derive pleasure from anything. They are incapable of feeling excited about anything. I know this does not relate to me because I am different. I have chosen not to feel excited about anything. I have allowed the darkness to suffocate my light. That has to change. Starting now.


I have a lot to be excited about. There is a lot happening in our busy lives and I’m grateful to God for everything He has done for us this year. The Bible is full of excitement. Imagine how Moses must have felt when he parted the Red Sea? David after he slew Goliath? Daniel as he walked unscathed out of the lion’s dead? The disciples on a daily basis as they watched and listened to Jesus? Never let it be said that the Bible is a dull book. It overflows with excitement.

My heart needs to overflow with excitement. Overflow into other people’s lives and drown their own fears and inadequacies. It is time to crush depression and anxiety. But that excitement has to be genuine. Not the once a week ‘happy clappy Christianity’ that some try to portray at church on a Sunday. Parading their perfect families and fake smiles while in their hearts there is nothingness. I want my excitement to be real and genuine. 

I am not that type of person. My default setting is ‘glass half empty’. I don’t run round church with my hands in the air singing ‘Praise Jesus’. I am a quiet worshipper. I read, I write and I think. A lot. Possibly too much. But I want to be a quietly excited worshipper. And that means immersing myself in more positive environments. The people I spend time with, the books I read, the music I listen to.

It will soon be time to get up and face the day. I am excited about today. And not just because of the rugby match. I am excited to be alive and well. I am excited to be married to a wonderful woman and to have three fantastic children. I am excited to be writing these words to you. In fact I am excited for you and the plan that God has mapped out for your life. I won’t shout. I won’t roar. But I am excited. Quietly excited.

2 Samuel 6:14 – ‘And David danced before the Lord with all his might.’

What plans have you for the weekend? Are you excited about them?

What is your emotional ‘default setting’?

Role Models 

Adam is playing for his school in a big rugby match tomorrow. He is operating in a new position this season (tight head prop) which has required some mental and physical readjustment on his part. Tonight we are going to watch the Ulster-Connacht match on television and focus for the entire game on the tight head props to try and better understand the tactics and requirements of the position.

I used to spend my Friday nights drinking beer and largely ignoring my family. So this, in itself, is progress. I am hoping that showing an interest in Adam’s blossoming rugby career will help erase the pain I have caused him in the past. I hope to devote time to all my family in this respect. But it just so happens that tonight it will be spent with my son watching a rugby match.

We can learn so much from watching others who are better than us at something which we aspire to become better at. That was a long sentence so I hope you are still with me. Just like Adam seeks to improve his rugby skills by watching professional players so I seek to become a better person by spending time in the company of positive role models. 


As far as displaying Christian values to those around me I have fared pretty abysmally this week. At work I have been moody, bitter and unforgiving. I have tried not to bring this home but Fionnuala has picked up on it. She can read me like a book. A book that nobody else would want to read at the moment. As far as being a light of the world of late I’m afraid my flame has been largely extinguished. And I have only myself to blame for that.

I have been a hypocrite. I blog daily about spreading love, light and hope to others yet in practice I have been a miserable frump. I am painfully aware of this situation but have been powerless to rectify it. I know I’m letting myself and others down when I behave like this but appear incapable of applying the brakes to the runaway train that is my malicious mouth. I can’t love others when I don’t particularly love myself. 

It is because of this that I am particularly grateful that we have got back into the habit of regularly attending church again. I need that structure, routine and sense of community. I need to belong. This coming Sunday Fionnuala and I are going to sign up to a house group. The church we have been attending is launching six this month and is encouraging people to sign up to one.

I think it will be good for both Fionnuala and myself to join a group. Within the smaller setting it will be easier to forge new friendships and thus begin to feel more at home within the larger church community. From a personal perspective it will allow me to hopefully be around people who I can learn from. People who consistently exhibit positive traits as opposed to the negative characteristics I have been displaying of late.

You can always learn. Just as you can always grow and change. It is never too late and you are never beyond help. I get a lot of positive comments about the honesty of my writing. It is not pretty. The only pretty I know is pretty ugly. But it is me and it is real. After a decade of pretending to be someone who I am not on social media I am finally unveiling the real Stephen Black. He is broken. He is inadequate.

But he is trying.

How would you rate your behaviour this week?

What can you do to improve as a person?

When you blog do your readers see the real you?


Thoughts And Prayers 

The news, as ever, has made pretty depressing viewing of late. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks and now the horrific events in Las Vegas. Some days I don’t want to step out of my front door. I just want to stay at home with Fionnuala and the kids close to me. Heartache and despair seem to be lurking behind every corner, waiting to sink their claws into your heart and tear you apart. 

At times like this I feel helpless. There seems little I can do to protect my loved ones from the world as it is today. I watch the news and hear the responses of world leaders to each breaking nightmare. A commonly used phrase is ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families’. I hear it so often that the words mean nothing to me. Trite. Glib. Empty. Another day. Another meaningless soundbite.

Or is it? We are surrounded by these devastating tragedies. They dominate our social media timelines and work conversations. They are everywhere we go, constantly reminding us of the broken, bleeding world we inhabit. They occupy our every waking moment. Our thoughts are full of sorrow, pity and, dare I say it, relief that it didn’t impact upon our cosy bubble of life. This time.

Thoughts are just that however. Thoughts. It requires an act of will to turn them into actions. Something tangible and concrete. I can think about writing a blog all day long but until I take action and actually start writing then that blog is going to be nothing more than a fanciful idea in my head. Without action thoughts are nothing. And given the scale of the horrors we face doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option anymore. 

Some might say the same about prayers. They are pointless and achieve nothing. What more is a prayer than a wistful wish to a God who, even if he does exist, appears indifferent and distant to the needs of a desperate world. A God who allows famine and fear to reign unabated. Who allows disease and death to break bodies and hearts. Who allows bad men to do bad things. 

Prayer to a Christian, however, is more than just a whimsical desire. It is a positive act that can make a difference, which can effect change. It can move mountains….and molehills. There is nothing too insignificant or too insurmountable which cannot be addressed by prayer. It is communication in its purest form. And I can vouch that it attains results. For our prayers are heard by a loving God who cares for each and every one of us. Prayer works.

If you are feeling helpless today as the world self destructs then I encourage you to stop thinking and start acting. Prayer is action. It is the concrete that God uses to construct miracles with. It is the glue that holds our crushed communities together. It is the fuel that drives us forward towards a better life; for ourselves and others. It is spiritual oxygen and it is sorely needed across our lands as the world threatens to be suffocated by enveloping evil.

Stop thinking. Start praying. Please.

Mark 11:24 – ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’

If anyone requires prayer today then please ask us. We would be happy to pray for you and your loved ones.

Modern Life Is Rubbish

It doesn’t take much to annoy me and I got very annoyed at work yesterday. I felt left down and undermined by the actions of a colleague who had taken an issue to our boss rather than first discuss it with me and find a way to resolve the problem. I’m even getting annoyed as I type this now. So much for writing being a cathartic experience.

I lost a lot of respect for the person in question and, as for ever trusting them again, well don’t get me started. It was the trigger for me to look back over the last year or so and reflect on a number of people who I perceive to have let me down. People who I thought were friends but have subsequently been revealed to have been indifferent and uncaring. Others have attempted to dictate to me; throw my past in my face at every available opportunity.

I have very few friends now. I have massive trust issues given the events I have described above. The thought of establishing new friendships now fills me with dread. Why go to all that effort when ultimately it will all end in ruin. At this stage of life people have formed their inner circle of friends. They don’t want any more. I feel like an intruder and an interloper. Unwanted and excluded. 

My pity party was promptly ended by God. He has a habit of doing that. And I realised I was being a massive hypocrite. How can I be expected to trust others when I don’t trust God. When I don’t trust myself. What about the number of times I have betrayed the trust of my family down the years. Ripped it up and thrown it in their faces. Lived in the shadows and hid from the truth of who I really was.

Yesterday I told Fionnuala what was the point forgiving others when they just let you down time and time again. Why bother? Yet Fionnuala persisted with me when I didn’t deserve it and I hope that it was worthwhile in the end. Her love and courage dragged us through the mess I had created. She didn’t have to but she did. Just like Jesus dragged mankind out of its self inflicted mess at the Cross.

Recent world events do nothing but reinforce the mess we are still in. But God has not given up on us just like Fionnuala has not given up on me. She displays more Christ like attributes in her little finger than I do in my entire body. I do most of the writing for the blog and, as such, receive a lot of positive comments. But really they should be reserved for her. Without her I am nothing. I see Jesus in her every day and that keeps me going.

It is 6:00 am as I write this. Today is a new day. I hope and pray that my frustration and resentment do not get the better of me today. I hope and pray that I can rise above petty office politics and be the better man. I hope and pray that I can focus on those who choose to love me despite my many inadequacies. I hope and pray that I can be more like Jesus and less like Stephen. 

I hope and pray….

John 14:1 – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’

Have you woken up feeling frustrated and resentful?

Do you have trust issues? Have you been let down recently?

How do you feel now after reading this post?

Invest 

The Disciples weren’t the sharpest tools in the box. They chose Peter as their spokesman. The case for the prosecution rests. Which is why Jesus, he of ultimate patience, had to painfully spell out his message to them in parables; simple, everyday messages which they could relate to and, therefore, attempt to understand the deeper truth hidden within them.

One of these concerned a rich ruler who was preparing for a journey so entrusted his money with his servants, asking that they invest it for him. Upon returning the first servant proudly informed him that his investment had doubled the ruler’s money. The ruler was delighted and rewarded him accordingly. The same applied to the second servant who had returned a 50% profit. So far, so good.

The third servant must have been shifting from foot to foot a bit uneasily by this point. He sheepishly told his boss that, as he was afraid of screwing things up, he had buried the money instead of invested it. Well, at least he hadn’t made a loss so no harm done right? Unfortunately the ruler didn’t agree and gave his employee a right earful.

When I first read this story my initial thoughts were that the ruler had been a tad harsh with his servant. I mean sure he was cautious but wouldn’t it have been worse if he had blown the lot on wine, women and song? And, after all, it’s only money right? It wasn’t as if the ruler was down to his last bag of gold. So what was Jesus trying to communicate via the parable? 

The key to understanding the parable is understanding that it is just that; a parable. Jesus is not literally talking about bags of gold. He is talking about grace. Grace is basically being given something that you have done nothing to deserve. Four years ago my life was a mess. I was on the brink of losing everything. Yet here I am today with a loving family, secure job and a million other blessings that I have done very little to deserve.

I’m still the same shallow, selfish Stephen. Struggling to become a better person. I’m embarrassed by how my life has turned around for the better, yet overjoyed at the same time. I can only put it down to the grace of God. I don’t deserve any of it. Yet here we are. God has given me umpteen bags of grace. 

The parable makes more sense now when viewed within this context. And Jesus, when summing up the parable, gets to the key issue with crystal clarity when he says:

Luke 19:28 – ‘He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of: Play it safe and end up holding the bag.’

God has blessed each of us with bag upon bag of golden grace. So the very least we can do is try and pay that forward. Because we are loved undeservedly we need to love unreservedly in return. And that involves taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zones. There’s no point accepting God into your life, with all the added perks, if you are then unwilling to demonstrate it within your own sphere of influence. 

That involves reinvesting the love he has shown you by displaying it to, and sharing it with, others. Don’t bury your head (or gold) in a hole in the ground. Take a chance. Be kind to strangers. Forgive those who don’t deserve your forgiveness. Love those on the fringes of society and show them that they matter. Be who you were created to be. 

Even the shyest introvert can pray and be kind to the needy. Jesus doesn’t want ego fuelled exhibitionists. But he does want people willing to make a difference by displaying to the world the love he displayed to them on the Cross. We need to start living life thinking more of others and not ourselves. I know I do. 

Invest in others. Today. Now. Then let me know how you got on.

Be A Painkiller

I rarely get headaches but since my return on Friday from a work trip to England I have had a persistent one just above my right eyebrow. It niggled away at me for most of Saturday before flaring up again in church this morning. Was the sermon that bad? Well it wasn’t great to be honest but I doubt very much if it was the reason for my discomfort.

It was so bad that by the end of the service I had my eyes clenched shut and a pained expression on my face. To the casual observer it looked as if I was immersed in earnest prayer. Or constipated. Or both. On the journey home afterwards we stopped off at the supermarket to get some supplies and I consoled myself with two paracetamol and a giant honeycomb cookie. Fionnuala suggested my recent decision to cut back on my Diet Coke intake might be the cause. I felt like Renton in that ‘bucket scene’ in the first Trainspotting movie.

As the day has unfolded the pain has receded quite a bit but I can still feel it lurking just beneath the surface of my forehead, waiting to erupt again when I least expect it. It is an unwelcome guest and I wish it gone. I had always marked headache sufferers down as slightly theatrical attention seekers who were invariably struck down when asked to do something they didn’t want to do. I now realised that headaches were neither big nor clever. They sucked.

How many headaches have we caused down the years? How many tears have we created? How many hearts have we broken? It’s not so great being on the receiving end is it? For many years I was a constant headache for our family. A one man wrecking ball. Back when Miley Cyrus was still Hannah Montana and Billy Ray was singing about achy breaky hearts. Back then I was the sorry source of many such a heart. 


Every morning I wake up now and try to repair the damage that I have caused. It is a slow, arduous process. It only takes a second to say sorry but it takes a lot longer to prove to your loved ones that you mean it. Headaches are hard to shift. But not as hard as mending broken hearts and erasing painful memories. You can’t just pop a couple of painkillers and hey presto. Love is the ultimate painkiller. But true love isn’t flowers and chocolates. It is turning up day in, day out and being there for the people you care about.

It is doing the little things, the mundane and the routine, over and over and over again. To the point where trust is re-established. Where healing can begin. Where forgiveness can be allowed to wash away the hurt and the pain. Where fresh roots can be put down and new foundations laid. Our actions will never make our victims forget what we have done to them. But they will cause them to remember less often. 

I encourage you to be a painkiller today. Think of the one person you have been a headache to; it could have been yesterday or it could have been years ago; it could have been one act or it could have been decades of hurt. Then do something to ease that pain. Talk to them. Show them that you care. Love them through your actions. Create new memories with them and, in doing so, allow the old ones to fade away.

The world has enough headaches without us adding to them. Kill the pain today. Inside of yourself and inside of others. With love.

What is the worst headache you have ever had?

How are you going to be a painkiller today?

Poo Patrol 

This week I’ve been asking God for inspiration and ideas in order to drive the blog forward. And he has, as ever, delivered; sometimes in the most unlikely of ways. Today has been no exception. I got home last night from a three day work trip to England. The flight home was delayed by over two hours meaning I didn’t walk through our front door until after midnight.  Then I was up early this morning to take Adam to a rugby match.

As a result I was feeling tired and had a nasty headache developing over my right eyebrow by the time lunchtime swung round. A six mile run perked me up a bit so I decided to maintain my momentum by tidying up the back yard a bit. Part of this chore involves scooping up several ‘presents’ Charlie the Border Terrier had lovingly deposited awaiting his master’s return. I affectionately call this part of my week ‘Poo Patrol’.

Charlie obviously produces invisible poo as it is apparently invisible to our kids. Perhaps he is part unicorn or has faerie blood or something. Whatever the cause they remain blissfully oblivious to this most unenjoyable of tasks. Leaving me with the dubious pleasure of several days worth of doggy doo doo to clear up. They are also incapable of walking, feeding and bathing Charlie, but when it comes to petting or playing with him they are oddly always available.


Armed with several plastic bags I gingerly began to remove the offending items. Charlie beat a hasty retreat, no doubt wired off by the muttering and face pulling of his master that now was not a good time to ask for a belly scratch. Several circuits of the yard later my work was done and all was well with the world again. Charlie returned to gnawing on his prized bone and the yard no longer resembled the messiest of minefields.

As parents Fionnuala and I (but mostly Fionnuala 😬) spend a lot of our time clearing up the mess of others. Our kids have the uncanny knack of turning the tidiest of rooms upside down within minutes. And why on earth use a perfectly good rubbish bin when you can just throw the chocolate/crisp/sweet (delete where applicable) wrapper wherever you desire. Like on the floor. Or down the back of the sofa.

It drives us to despair and, at times, I’m convinced our roars can be heard in the next village. Why should we spend our weekend cleaning up after chaotic children and a destructive dog? It’s just not fair is it? But then I thought of Jesus. Who came to earth to clean up the biggest mess ever made. By mankind. Who was obedient to the will of his Father despite the cruel and lingering death he knew that obedience entailed. 

He didn’t mutter. He didn’t complain. He went to the Cross full of love and compassion. To clean up our messes past, present and future. His blood is the greatest detergent of them all. It means we can approach the throne of God one day sparkling clean and with nothing to fear. He has cleansed and purified us. All we can do is be grateful and try each day to be more like Him. 

A few years ago I would have laughed at the words I am typing today. I would have regarded myself as naive and deluded. But today I see with 20/20 vision. I see my shameful past and I realise there is no way I would be where I am today without the Cross. God has a sense of humour. Today he spoke to me through a piece of dog poo. But when it comes down to the business of salvaging broken lives he is deadly serious. 

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

What is your most dreaded cleaning chore?

Has God cleaned up your life? Or are you in need of it?

The Paper Umbrella 

I love books. I have hundreds of them and Fionnuala is constantly encouraging me to have ‘book culls’ in order to free up some space in our already packed to the gills abode. A few years ago she bought me a Kindle which rarely leaves my side. I probably have another hundred or so books on it. Logical, rational minds would therefore conclude that the problems with book storage are a thing of the past. No more need for overladen book shelves when your library can be held on a pocket sized device. Right?

Er….wrong. Much as I try I cannot resist the lure of the second hand book store just around the corner from my work. It is a treasure cove of hidden literary gems where I spend many of my lunch breaks, wandering studiously up and down its aisles. Invariably I leave with a purchase much to the dismay of my long suffering wife. I am indeed a hopeless case.

Much as I love my Kindle and the many bonuses it brings to my reading experience (LED screen means I can read in the dark, new releases are usually cheaper than the hard copy version, highlighting option as opposed to underlining with pen) I can never totally sever my ties with holding an actual book in my hand; the feel of it, the smell of it, the taste of it. Ok I made that last bit up before you call the psychiatrist.

The same applies to my Bible. Or should I say Bibles as I have four different translations. I also have a Bible app but I never feel comfortable reading the Word off a screen. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s like having to settle for a Diet Pepsi when you asked for a Diet Coke. It will never hit the spot in quite the same way. Maybe it is the whole ‘tablets of stone and scrolls’ thing. I just can’t visualise Jesus standing up and reading from his I-Phone 8. Which of course he wouldn’t have anyway as that’s vain and materialistic.

I picked up my Bible this morning and, before I started reading, asked God to speak to me through his Word today. Before I had even read a word I got a picture of an open, upturned Bible. Over my head like an umbrella. The leather cover faced outwards and upwards shielding and protecting my head from the outside world. From temptation and the way the world wants me to lead my life. I felt safe there, protected from the pressures and distractions of everyday life.


Meanwhile the open pages of the Bible were showering words down onto my head. Words like love, hope and faith. God was refreshing my mind and my body with truth and light. I was underneath an umbrella but was being soaked by his grace. And it didn’t bother me in the slightest. God was speaking to, and refreshing me, before I had even looked at a page. I had benefited from his Word without reading a word of it.

I had to write about this immediately. God doesn’t send me many pictures so this was an event that I wanted to share with you all. And I hope it makes sense to you. The Word can be whatever you need it to be at any given moment. One day a shield of protection, the next a waterfall of grace. Or both simultaneously! All you have to do is pick it up and ask God to speak to you through it. For when you are picking up a Bible, you are picking up life itself. 

I would encourage you today to pick up a Bible and read it. You might do this every day anyway; you might have lapsed of late and feel a need to re-engage with the Word; or you might never have done so before. Pick it up, open it and read it. Even if it’s just for five minutes. What have you got to lose? Nobody needs to know. Just you and Him. Today. Now. I hope and pray it is a worthwhile exercise.

Hebrews 4:12 – ‘For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to even dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’

What happened today when you picked up your Bible?

And if you didn’t pick one up how was your day anyway?

A Few Lines

I will write a ‘proper’ post later today but just wanted to write a few lines from sunny Southend (where I am working for a few days) to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. We hit 1500 followers overnight which is amazing given that the blog only started four months ago.


We hope that the blog continues to demonstrate that no situation is irretrievable no matter how bleak things might appear. The light will always vanquish the darkness. Hope and faith will always triumph. Love will always overcome evil. There is always a way out. Never give up. Trust God and hand it over to Him when it all gets too much for you.

Stephen & Fionnuala ❤️🙏🏻😊

For The Shire

Today is the second in a series of ramblings about Bible verses which have spoken to me in recent weeks. Don’t worry, it will all be over soon and I will revert to the normal programming schedule of average running reports and griping about life in general. Just humour me. And who knows you might even get something from it.

Today’s verse is from the Message translation which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee). But it jumped off the page and hit me over the head repeatedly. Which Jesus has a habit of doing. In a loving, non-violent way of course. 

‘But if you’re content to simply become yourself, you will become more than yourself.’

As with yesterday’s verse, at first glance, it appears that Jesus is contradicting himself again. I mean, isn’t being a Christian all about changing? About becoming a better person? A new creation? I certainly thought this to be the case when the ‘God penny’ dropped with me just over four years ago. I had already stopped drinking but sought to change every aspect of my life which was not of God.

I wanted to preach. I wanted to talk God with everyone. I wanted to lead house groups, youth cells and basically anything else I could muscle myself in on. At the time I thought my enthusiasm was fuelled by the Holy Spirit; when, in fact, it was driven by a selfish desire to grab the limelight at every available opportunity. Had that much changed from my days of drinking and social media addiction. Had I really changed? Not really. 

In time I became a bigger hypocrite than I had been before I took the leap of faith. I was standing up at the front of church on a Sunday talking about how Jesus had changed my life when in reality I was bad as ever, if not worse Monday through to Saturday. I was a total fraud. I hadn’t changed one iota. Whatever an iota is….

God of course realised this and allowed the light of truth to flood into the murky corners of my heart. A humiliating and painful cauterisation of my soul, but a necessary and life saving intervention. I began to realise that the world did not revolve around Stephen, something which Fionnuala regularly reminds me of. I began to take more of a back seat. I am, by nature, a shy and studious type. Call me a geek. I plead guilty.

I realised that I had not changed at all. I was still the vain, attention seeking, needy individual I had always been. I thought I was transforming when I was really just reverting to type. Living a lie instead of facing the truth. God had to step in again and bring to my knees. He broke me in order to rebuild me. Like resetting a bone. Nasty work. But it had to be done.

God does want us to change. But to change back into the human beings that he created us to be when he placed us on the earth in the first place. We are bespoke beings, unique creations; custom built to carry out important missions in a spiritual war against forces of darkness. We are Frodo Baggins. We are Luke Skywalker. We are all heroes in training. 


You don’t have to fake it. You don’t need to put on a performance or wear a mask. Just be yourself. As God meant you to be. It is then, and only then, that God will use you and refine the natural talents that he has graced you with. Talents that he will develop and refine if you are obedient to his will. Talents which can be used to achieve more than you could ever possibly imagine.

So Jesus was right after all. He does want us to change. But change as in revert back to our original selves, not conform to our earthly desires. It is only then that the magic will happen. It is only then that obstacles will be overcome, that ground will be gained, that bottles will be won.

Change. By not changing.

Do you put on a performance every day?

How can you change back into the real you?

Pure 

A few Bible verses have been rattling around my head in recent weeks, to the extent where I felt the need to write about them. They will probably provide the source material for my posts over the next three days so for those of you who don’t do the whole Jesus thang…..

WARNING – This post may contain material of a Biblical nature!!!

There is something deeply satisfying about the combination of bold type, capital letters and exclamation marks. It’s the blogging equivalent of running down the street with no clothes on. Which, in my case, nobody wants to see. 

Anyways. I digress. Today’s verse…. 

Matthew 5:8 – ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’


Now I’m no theological genius and I’m not going to dive into the Greek or Hebrew translations. People have written books about the Sermon on the Mount, of which this is just one verse. I’m not going to contextualise or cross reference it, I’m just going to briefly write what it meant to me when I read it the other week.

I rarely feel pure in heart. Let me rephrase that. I never feel pure in heart. Regular readers of the blog (all four of them) will know that I regularly fall back on my dodgy past for inspiration. My heart is about as impure as they come. Steeped in selfishness. Stained by my sinful nature. As black as my name. Which is er…..Black.

I still struggle. Every day I am not generous enough, not forgiving enough, not loving enough. I regularly feel utterly inadequate and out of my depth when it comes to being a Christian. My mixed experiences with organised churches have done little to allay these doubts. I try every day to be a better person. And I invariably fail every day.

So I’m doomed right? Jesus said it himself. Only the pure in heart will see God. Which means no Stephen come the big party in the sky. But hang on then, doesn’t that mean it will be a pretty sparsely populated party? Didn’t Paul say something about us all having fallen short of the standard required to stride through the pearly gates?

So what was Jesus trying to say then? Was he condemning us all to an eternity in a rather hotter environment than heaven? Well no I don’t think so. However I believe he was issuing a stark reality check to his assembled audience, which no included a few self righteous Pharisees and other pompous do gooders.

Tbe reality is that there is only one way to access eternal life. And that is through Jesus. None of us have pure hearts. We can attend church seven days a week. Give all our money away to charitable causes. Help old ladies cross the street and adopt stray kittens. Doesn’t matter a jot. We all fall hopelessly short of the standard required. Our minds are runaway trains fuelled by jealousy, lust and every petty little thought in between. We are hurtling down the track full tilt and the brakes aren’t working.

Jesus knew all this. What he was doing was pointing out the problem and the solution. Namely him. Accept you can’t do it alone. Surrender to him. Fly the white flag. Only then can we accept him as the only means by which we can dig ourselves out of the mud and mess of our sinful existences.

Jesus knew all this. He knew he had to come to earth and die a brutal, humiliating death on a Roman cross. Only by the shedding of his blood, via nails, thorns, boots, fists and spears, could we be saved. He shed buckets of it. For us. To wash away our sin and allow us to approach the throne of God unblemished and white as a fresh snowfall.

Only through Jesus can we become pure in heart. Only through Jesus. 

Here endeth the sermon….

What are your thoughts on this verse and my interpretation of it?

The HellHound 

Dogs hate me. That’s just a given. Or rather dogs hate me when I’m running. I don’t know if I give off an unpleasant, sweaty odour or it’s my garish collection of ‘hi vis’ running tops. Either way when I go hurtling (plodding) past them they invariably go boogaloo and appear hellbent on having my running shorts for lunch. And, believe me, that would not be a pleasant experience for all concerned.

Horses are utterly unimpressed by my marathon training. Cows are more interested in grass consumption. And cats are well….just cats. But dogs give me their undivided and ferocious attention. Big or small, pedigree or mongrel once one sets eyes on me approaching he alerts his canine neighbours that the afternoon’s entertainment is approaching. All I can do is pray that they are locked up in their yards. Barking I can take. It’s when they run loose that problems occur.

My arch nemesis is a black Labrador who resides half way round a 2.5 mile loop round our village that I regularly run. I don’t know his real name but I affectionately refer to him as HellHound. He has eyes that glow red like the fires of Hades itself. His claws are like daggers and when he barks and announces his presence the ground itself shakes. He is evil personified and hates me with a cruel intelligence that borders on the unnatural. 


We are sworn enemies. He is Moriarty to my Holmes. He is Dr. Evil to my Austin Powers. He is Homer Simpson to my Ned Flanders. I always pick up my pace and cross the road as I near the laneway to his house. Often he is locked up but, by his frantic howls, I know he smells my fear. On those days I scuttle past, nervously looking over my shoulder until I am out of harm’s way.

On other occasions I am too far past the laneway when he careers out of it in hot pursuit. He will only go a certain distance past his laneway and then stop, snarling and seething as I live to run another day. Sometimes it is a close run thing. I can sense him closing with every step and have only escaped from the danger zone by the skin of my Nike Airs as he screeches to a halt, mere inches away from sinking his fangs into my calf.

He had never caught me despite a few hairy moments and I grew increasingly confident that he never would. The loop was my favourite run and I wasn’t going to let some psychotic pooch get the better of me. Until last December. I misjudged my run past the laneway. Thinking I was out of danger I relaxed. The next thing I knew his claws were raking down the back of my trailing leg as he simultaneously sunk his teeth into the juiciest part of my thigh.

I think the shock outweighed the pain. Anger overcame my fear and I turned on my heels and ran screaming at my assailant who promptly tucked his tail between his legs and scarpered back up the laneway. There followed words with his largely unimpressed owner (who suggested I must have provoked the family pet who wouldn’t hurt a fly) before I limped off with my pride and right hamstring in tatters. 

Now for the twist….

That afternoon I had post run plans. I’ll not go into the details but suffice to say it was wrong and sinful. I had told myself for days I wasn’t going but had been backed into a corner where I felt I had no other option. I convinced myself it was the lesser of two evils and concocted a web of deceit and lies from which there appeared no escape.

HellHound put an end to that. He had never caught me before and he has never caught me since. But on that chilly December afternoon he was a dog on a mission. A mission not from Hell, but from Heaven. Call me naive but I honestly believe he was sent to save me from myself. I had to cancel my plans given I had only one good leg. Because no matter how dire your circumstances might appear, no matter how deep a hole you have dug for yourself, God can and will intervene. If you will only allow him to.

He afforded me an opportunity that day, an escape route that I took. It still didn’t stop me from screwing up at a later date but that was my choice. He has given us the gift of freewill. Otherwise we would just be mindless automatons. He provides us with an alternative route. It is up to us as to whether or not we take that path.  But never say He is not real. Or that we don’t have a choice. He is all around us every minute of every day.

We just need to tune into his wavelength and notice his signs and promptings. Some are ever so subtle. A whisper on the breeze. Others are less so; like a rabid Labrador with a serious chip on its shoulder. But He is there.

God works in mysterious ways after all….

Proverbs 15:3 – ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.’

Are there any psychotic pets in your neighbourhood?

What’s the strangest way God has ever caught your attention?

Ten Hours Straight

Fionnuala suggested we go to bed at 8 pm last night. And before you all start nudging one another and sniggering we are three and out when it comes to kids thank you very much. No we thought we would make the most of our tidy new bedroom (see previous post) by actually spending some time in it. Awake.

I decided to read a little on my Kindle while Fionnuala got caught up on one of her TV shows which she had started watching without me. Which is basically all her TV shows. I often hurry home excitedly to tell her about a new show I had heard about at work which we could watch together to be met with the standard response ‘Oh….I’m actually half way through the second season of that.’

All seemed well. I was reading. The television was on. I remember Fionnuala saying she was going to phone her mum (they had only spoken 27 times that day so it was well overdue) when next thing I heard her remarking ‘He’s fallen asleep already.’ I opened my eyes (which I had been merely resting momentarily) to challenge this scurrilous allegation before….promptly falling asleep again.


One thing led to another and next I knew it was 7 am tbe following morning. I had pretty much slept 10 hours straight. The last time I slept ten hours straight was after I had drank 10 pints of Budweiser straight. I don’t recall being quite as I refreshed when I woke up on that occasion but you live and you learn. I felt great! Lured downstairs by the aroma of sausages cooking I asked Fionnuala how long she had watched TV for. ‘Not long’ she replied ‘I couldn’t hear it over the sound of your snoring.’

I chose to overlook this blatant mistruth (it is well known that I do not snore. Just like I don’t fart. Or never, ever annoy my wonderful wife) and instead tried to fathom what had caused me to conk out in such spectacular fashion. It had been the usual busy week in the Black household but I couldn’t put my finger on any specific reason. I concluded it was just old age. Ten years ago I would have just been heading out for the night at 8 pm. Nowadays I head for Sleepyville, Population Me.

The world is a crazy, crazy place. Your average CNN weather forecast resembles a scene out of ‘The Day After Tomorrow.’ The United States and North Korean leaders are calling each other out like two punchdrunk heavyweight boxers trying to drum up interest in their next box office bout. And that’s besides the usual genocide, wars and famines that trundle along in the background.

As a human being this concerns me. Just like the homeless people I see in my daily walk to the office concerns me. My Bible tells me that I need to be seen as a light of the world, to set a positive example to others via my words and actions. But there I am on a Saturday night. Not helping out at a local homeless shelter. Not fundraising for the starving in Africa. Not even praying for my homeless buddies on an evening where the temperature threatens to dip below zero. No I’m snoring my head off in my comfortable, warm bed. Oblivious to it all.

The world was meant to have ended last night. If it had I doubt if I would have noticed. Yes I was physically tired which is understandable. But I need to shake out of the spiritual slumber I have been enveloped in of late. Zombie Christianity is pandemic throughout many churches. The happy, clappy types who talk a good fight on a Sunday morning but are nowhere to be seen when the chips are down. I don’t want to be like that. 

Better an angry, depressed, grumpy Christian than one who flaunts it like a designer label along with their Armani jeans or BMW car, yet is dead inside.  It is time to wake up and smell the coffee people. I hate coffee but the world still needs us.

Ephesians 5:14 – ‘Awake, you who sleep, Arise from the dead, And Christ will give you light.’

Do you ever feel like you are shuffling through life like a zombie?

What are your tips for shaking off spiritual slumber?

When was the last time you slept ten hours straight?

Clutter 

We have been spending Saturday afternoon having a bedroom clearout. My wife (who has more shoes than Imelda Marcos) has found dresses she forgot she had. Never worn! With the price tag still on them!! Likewise the amount of loose change that we have recovered has been akin to getting paid to tidy up. There is no greater incentive for a lazy husband the weekend before pay day.

The end result is that we can now make it to our actual bed without having to negotiate an assault course which would challenge your average Navy Seal or SAS unit. When I step out of bed tomorrow morning my feet will actually make contact with a wooden floor as opposed to a two inch layer of odd running socks. 

It has been hard work but necessary work. The room was getting far too cluttered and we had to brutally address our innate hoarding instincts. As a result we have a much more streamlined and tidy living space. It reminded me a bit of my head these last few days. I haven’t blogged and haven’t felt like blogging, making me feel that I have been to the creative well once too often.


I have felt flat and a bit listless, devoid of ideas. I realised that I had fallen foul of the subject I have recently written and warned about – spiritual dehydration. Practice what you preach indeed Stephen. This has made me feel like a hypocrite and I have reacted by throwing a bit of a pity party inside my head. It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to.

Fionnuala has been asking me all week what has been wrong with me and I honestly haven’t been unable to put my finger on it. She then suggested that perhaps my blog material in recent weeks hasn’t helped. I have written a lot about my past and revisited a lot of dark areas. I believed that writing about my experiences would be cathartic and help others. And they have, but at a cost.

The feedback from our blogging community has been fantastic but facing old adversaries has been draining and unsettling. Instead of clearing the cobwebs from the corners of my mind it has allowed unwanted memories and vulnerabilities to take hold and begin to clutter up the channels of light and positivity I have been working hard at maintaining. They have been unwanted tenants.

There is merit in flagging up the pitfalls of your past for fellow travellers on the same road. But I need to take better care of myself as well. You need to understand your past in order to plan for your future but not to the extent that your present self becomes bogged down and helpless. 

I will blog about my past again. I feel it is important and if I can act as a beacon for those in similar peril then all the better. But there is so much more around me in the here and now that I can also write about. It is time to open my eyes and look around me and in front of myself. If you always look back you will invariably stumble over the baggage of the past. 

All the more reason for a clearout.

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

When was the last time you had a spring clean? What forgotten treasures did you re-discover?

Do you think revisiting your past is a healthy pastime? Or can it clutter up your present?

What do you do when your blogging mojo is absent?

The Butterfly

Im a very proud mummy tonight our Hannah sang in Belfast City Hall for her school’s 60th Anniversary in front of Royalty and it really got me thinking about everything that we were told she would never be able to do or achieve. 

When we first started this blog I wrote a bit of testimony about our experience then and I thought I would reblog because we are busting with pride for Hannah tonight.

Well done Hannah don’t let anything dull your sparkle.

Fractured Faith Blog

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

In March 2003 we discovered I was pregnant. We were really excited we had already ason Adamwho was 8 months old. We were looking forward to our two children being really close together and good company for each other as they grew up. My pregnancy was progressing really well. I was healthy and had gone back to work after my maternity leave with Adam. Lifewas good and our baby was due on Christmas Eve. We were really looking forward to our big…

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Dehydration 

Since finishing the Belfast Half Marathon two days ago I have felt lousy. Tired, shivery and a headache that just won’t shift. I’ve self diagnosed (as ever) and concluded that I must be suffering the effects of post race dehydration. I took on board water and energy drinks at regular intervals during the race itself but must confess that I neglected myself after the event. 

You see, my numero uno vice is Diet Coke. I drink gallons of the stuff. And yes, I know it isn’t good in such amounts. And yes, I equally know that it’s not going to remotely hydrate you like H2O would after running 13.1 miles. Never forget the .1. That’s the most important bit. So after I collected my medal and t-shirt upon crossing the finish line on Sunday I celebrated by cracking open a DC as opposed to water. 

And then another. And then another. By the end of the day I had polished off a six pack. I woke up the next morning feeling awful. It was akin to a hangover from my drinking days. A horrible, groggy feeling that I thought I would never experience again after I stopped drinking alcohol four years ago. I spent most of yesterday feeling sorry for myself. Why me? Instead of basking in sporting glory I was wallowing in self pity. I felt dire.


Today has been better. I have forced copious amounts of water into me and am gradually feeling more human. Diet Coke is evil. I don’t need this grief. A dehydrated Stephen is a grumpy Stephen. It’s a mistake that I won’t make again. Future race days will be fuelled by water and nothing else. I don’t want to repeat this listless sensation ever again.

There are days too where I feel spiritually dehydrated. Flat. Empty. Devoid of anything even remotely resembling the Christian spirit. These days usually follow periods where I have neglected my Bible study, prayer life and church attendance. It’s so easy to lose your spiritual discipline. There are so many earthly distractions which are capable of dragging us off in any number of directions except the one that matters. Towards God.

Spiritual dehydration can be fatal. A parched, arid soul will eventually transform into a hellish scenario. A desert wasteland of broken dreams and ruined hopes. Where anger, frustration and unforgiveness reign unopposed. But freely available prayer, study and worship can unleash floods of living waters and torrents of unlimited grace.

The choice is yours. All I know is that it works for me. I need to remain spiritually hydrated. My sanity and quality of life depend on it. Literally. Without it I wilt quickly. I lose my focus and find myself lapsing into old patterns of sinful behaviour. I choose hydration. I choose life. I choose Jesus.

John 4:14 – ‘but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I give him will become in him a well of water springing up in eternal life’.

Have you ever been physically hydrated?

How do you stay spiritually hydrated?

Needs 

It’s Monday morning. Or at least it is here in Northern Ireland. I’m about to get up. I’m not so sure about seizing the day but I’ll at least try to face it. I’m on call (boo) but all my sports teams won at the weekend (yay). Even the Redskins which proves there must be a God. It may be cold, dark and miserable out there but I have a lot to be thankful for. It promises to be a good week.

I felt pretty rough at church last night where the visiting speaker, Jason Vallotton from Bethel Church in Redding, California, spoke about needs and gifts. In hindsight I think I was dehydrated after yesterday’s half marathon. I drink waaaaaay too much Diet Coke and hardly any water. This meant I was feeling tired and had a headache by the time of the evening service. 

I needed water. When I arrived home later I drank some and immediately felt a bit better. It was that simple. We all have needs in life. They can be simple or they can be complex. And by needs I’m not talking about a new sports car or clothes wardrobe. I’m talking about real needs. Hydration of the soul. Failure to do so leaves us alone and miserable. For seeds of love and hope to take root and grow there we need spiritual sustenance.


The first step is to recognise our needs. We need to swallow our pride and humbly accept that we need help, that we cannot go it alone. Only then can we hope to develop and flourish as the people we were created to be. Failure to do so equates to failing at life. Turning our backs on our needs or thinking we can muddle through on our own is damaging to both ourselves and those who love us.

I see people every day in desperate need of spiritual sustenance. Yet when help is available they turn their backs on it, preferring instead to wallow in self pity, anger and unforgiveness. They allow the lying voice in their head to warp their thinking. They let down the drawbridge and allow the enemy inside. To do what he does best. Wreak havoc and destroy everything that is pure and good.

We all have giftings. Somewhere today there is a person with a need which is perfectly matched by your gifting. You are the missing piece in their jigsaw. But just as we need to open our eyes and realise our needs we must also identify and nurture our giftings. Be it baking, running or writing they can all be used to help others in need. As long as they are underpinned with love.

We need to love more. Love ourselves more by recognising our needs and reaching out for help. And loving others more by sharing our giftings with them. We need to use our earthly bodies to make an impact on this broken planet. When all around us the world is falling apart we need to dig in and start building. Before it is too late.

We need love. We are gifted to love. So love.

Romans 12:9 – ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’

Are you ignoring your needs?

What are your giftings and how can you use them for good today?

Running Scared

I ran the Belfast Half Marathon this morning in 1:56:29. My target was to complete the course in under 2 hours. The time was 21 minutes slower than last year but given the summer of illness and injury I have had I was just happy to get home in under my target time. 

My confidence was very low going into the race. I knew the virus had taken its toll and I’ve been slowly increasing my distances over the last month, ever cautious of a fresh relapse. I had ran for four years with hardly any problems until this summer. It has taught me that being healthy and able to run is a gift that I will never take for granted again.

I try not to refer to OCD as ‘my OCD’. Whenever I do, Fionnuala quickly corrects me. To do so is to define who I am in respect of it. OCD is not part of me. It is the enemy, an alien invader which I have battled against for years. I do not own it nor do I want it. It is the outsider seeking to creep into my mind on a daily basis and lay siege to my every waking thought. It scares me silly.


I take 20mg of Escitaloprem a day which has helped massively in blocking the intrusive thoughts. Combined with prayer and being more open about my mental health has allowed me to lead a relatively normal life. I also believe that running regularly has helped. After a run I am too exhausted to humour such thoughts. Running has replaced alcohol as my numero uno OCD buster.

It is never far away, however, and I have felt it prodding at my defences over the last week or so. I have been eating badly and food is something I would obsess over. I count every calorie I consume. My daily limit is 2500 calories. If I have run that day and my Garmin says I have burned 1000 calories then I’m allowed 3500. With me so far?

If I go one calorie over the target figure then I regard the day as a ‘fail’. I cannot ‘fail’ an odd number of days. To do so leads to mounting anxiety and never ending thoughts about food and my weight. This is the ‘obsession’ part of OCD. It is an endless loop in my head that plays at a deafening volume, drowning out the rational voice in my head which tells me I am being ridiculous.

Let’s say I go 500 calories over my target on Day 1. 1 is an odd number which is bad. So I need to binge eat the following day and deliberately go over my target in order to end the ritual on an even number of days. Screw up Day 3 and the ritual trundles on to Day 4 and so on. It sounds insane because it is insane. But unless I finish my eating binge on an even numbered day I feel so unsettled and anxious that I struggle to function. This is the ‘compulsion’ I must perform in order to ease the anxiety.

There are few worse feelings than forcing yourself to eat in order to accumulate calories as part of a ritual. You don’t enjoy the food. You just chew, swallow and repeat. This process is accompanied by guilt, shame and self loathing. I cannot look myself in the mirror after such an episode. I used to binge eat in secret so as to not raise suspicions. Buying extra chocolate bars when I was at the shop, snacking continuously at work.

Waking up the ‘morning after’ with a food hangover is horrendous. If the previous day was an odd numbered one then I face another day of eating food I don’t want to eat. If it was even numbered then I face a day of feeling fugly while struggling to stay within my daily target. My stomach is unsettled, I feel groggy and have a headache. The only means of allaying this misery is comfort eating. Which brings me back to where I started. Catch 22.

This week has been a bad one. I have had five consecutive ‘fail’ days. Which meant when I woke up this morning I felt compelled to go over my daily target. And as I was running a half marathon this equated at over 4200 calories. The thought of having to eat that much sickened me. I got out of bed with a feeling of imminent dread as opposed to looking forward to the race which I should have been.

The old me would have suffered in silence and succumbed to the obsessive thinking. I would have taken the beating and said nothing to anyone. Today, however, I am a different man. I talked it through with Fionnuala and realised it no longer has the power over me that it once did. I rebuke it and I hand it over to God. Who loves me just the way I am, warts and all.

I’m not going to binge eat today. Tomorrow might be different but that’s another tale for another day. Today I might not have run a personal best. But I bested OCD. And that’s good enough for me.

1 Peter 5:7 – ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’

Do you struggle with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour?

What is your understanding of OCD?

How do you vanquish feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing?

Can you spot me in the photo?

15000 Views

We passed 15000 views yesterday. This blog was not created for views and followers but instead to get a message across that we hope will help others. It has been four months since the blog was set up and we have been amazed by the support and feedback we have received. Thank you everyone and here’s to the next 15000.

Sirens 

I had to travel to England for my job yesterday. This ended up being an eighteen hour working day. The silver lining was that my boarding pass afforded me access to the business lounge on the way home. This carrot had dangled in front of me all day making the 4:30am start and the (thankfully not too) sore ears on the flight over from Belfast all the more worthwhile.

Back in the (not so good) old days when I was drinking the business lounge was a veritable Aladdin’s Cave for me. Never mind the comfortable chairs, tasty nibbles and widescreen televisions. For me the allure was the complimentary alcohol. Fridges stacked to the gills with ice cold bottles of beer. Upon entering the lounge I would always throw my bag down at the nearest seat and make an immediate beeline for them.

Budweiser. Tiger. Carlsberg. Stella Artois. All my favourites just waiting to be consumed. I was like a child in a sweet shop. A very greedy child. Most business commuters relaxed with a glass of wine. Possible even two if it was the end of the week. During my allotted time in the lounge I was a man on a mission. The mission being to drink as much of the good stuff as I possibly could before I boarded my flight. Irrespective of whether or not I had to work the next day. When the beer goggles were on all rational thought was out the window.


I think my record was six. Or possibly eight. I tended to lose count after four. I fine tuned my time management skills to perfection, leaving boarding to the last possible moment so that I could glug down an extra bottle. I took it even further by emptying the fridge and cramming my carry on bag with extra bottles for later on. It was all included in my ticket price I reaaonee and I work hard. I’m entitled to this. I deserve it. At the time I justified these actions as totally normal and reasonable behaviour.

Looking back now I realise how utterly unreasonable my actions were. I was a binge drinker. I could not drink responsibly. Moderation meant nothing to me. Once that first sip passed my lips there was no turning back. I drank to get drunk. To escape from the endless, intrusive OCD thoughts. To forget about the burdens of being a husband, father and son. It was a cowardly existence but it was all I knew at the time. And I was right. This was me. The others didn’t understand. Nobody understood. Only Mr. Budweiser. He was my best friend and was always there when I needed him.

The next day would bring new friends to the party. Mr. Hangover, Miss Shame and a host of other negative emotions which plunged me back under the waters of depression and guilt. It was never worth it. And next time it would be different. It never was however. Circles are vicious by the very fact that they are circles. They never end. You always end up back where you started.

Yesterday all the above hit me like a brick in the face when I walked into the lounge. There it was sitting invitingly before me. The fridge. The colourful bottles with their delicious contents. Ice cold rivulets of water trickling  enticingly down their graceful necks, luring me onto the rocks. Seductive sirens that my old self could never have resisted. And do you know what? For a moment I was tempted. What harm was one beer? I could control it, I deserved one, teensy weensy bottle. Right?

I quickly recovered my senses and crash landed back to reality. I was flying home to Fionnuala and the kids. No more greedy. No more needy. I had changed and was never going back to that dark place I once inhabited before. Different sirens began to sound. Alarm klaxons blaring, reminding me of the crushing consequences of having ‘just one beer’. I gathered my resolve and consoled myself with a glass of Diet Coke and some crisps. I stared gloomily at the two businessmen sitting opposite me enjoying a beer and a laugh.

Why couldn’t I be like them? I mused. Why couldn’t I be normal? And then it hit me. I was being normal. Going home sober to my wife and kids after a long day working was normal. Pouring myself off the plane barely able to string two words together was not. I had the weekend to look forward to. Watching my son play rugby on Saturday morning. Having relations visit later that day. Normal stuff. Alcohol, like all drugs, distorts your perception of normality.

We are all tempted. Many times every day. There is nothing wrong in that. To be tempted is to be human. Temptation is not a sin. Succumbing to temptation can be, however; at the very instance the thought becomes a conscious action. Temptations swirl through our brains like dry autumn leaves on a windy day. The seasonal wind squeals like a banshee as it effortlessly carries them through the air. Just waiting for a suitable target to land upon.

I heard the squealing wind yesterday. I heard sirens. But, through the grace of God, I did not succumb.

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

How do you deal with temptation?

Forgive and Forget

Fionnuala here today not sure if Stephen will be blogging as he is away with work so thought I would write about something I feel God has been nudging me about over the summer. 

Over the summer both of my parents became ill at the same time which resulted in me spending a lot of time waiting around hospitals and then at my mums house when she got home.  This resulted in me thinking about forgiveness and holding grudges 

I grew up with my parents arguing and fighting most of my life even both sets of my grandparents argued and fought with each other and one of them didn’t even share the same bedroom so to me this was normal life and how grown ups behaved.  When Stephen and I had an argument we both had different ideas of how things would go.  Stephen drove me insane by wanting to talk it out and try to resolve the argument where my idea of normal was going into a sulk and giving each other the silent treatment for not hours or days but weeks or months nobody saying sorry because they were right and the other was wrong and so this resulted in us arguing about arguing- total madness!

If holding a grudge was an Olympic sport I’d win gold every time.  I would mentally take note of anything that somebody said or did to me and bring it up months or years later just to prove that I was right and they were wrong.  

Eventually Stephen’s logic of “you should never go to bed on an argument” got through to me and I started to see that what I grew up with wasn’t normal it was time for that chain to be broken time to get off that roundabout so that it wouldn’t be the normal for our children.

I have now learnt that it is so much easier to love and forgive somebody than to take note of their wrongs and throw it up in their faces when they are at a low point in their lives this is what I did just to make me feel better but it never really  did if anything it just made me feel horrible.

Bearing grudges on others is like having a cancer inside of you it spreads rapidly throughout your body strangling all the goodness until you are left with nothing but hatred and bitterness.


Matthew 18:21-22

Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy times seven.

When stephen was at his lowest I didn’t like that version of him and it would have been very easy for me to turn my back and walk away from him but by showing him love, faith and hope, because he didn’t have any of this for himself, and putting all my trust in God I was able to forgive him.

So the question now is how do you forget?  By handing it all over to God he can take that hurt and pain and channel it into something beautiful.  Before I became a Christian there was a song that I could never listen to because it took me back to a time and place that I did not want to be reminded of then one day it came on the radio in the car and as I reached out to turn it off God gently nudged me and told me to listen to it I ended up laughing and since that day that song has no affect on me anymore. 

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Football Crazy

A miraculous occurrence took place in our house earlier this evening. Manchester United were due to play in their first UEFA Champions League match and I was just settling down to watch it on my phone, resplendent in my MUFC hooded top. I have supported United since I was six years old, through thick and thin. They will always have a special place in my heart and some of my best trips have been to their stadium, Old Trafford, to watch them play.

Adam and Rebecca have followed in their father’s footsteps and are both United fans; Hannah is ambivalent but if she had to choose would also say she was a Red. I am also convinced that Charlie the Border Terrier has a soft spot for them. If only he could speak. Which leaves us with my long suffering wife, Fionnuala, who has endured my life long love of all things United since we first met twenty one years ago.

She hates sport. She hates football. She tolerates Manchester United through gritted teeth. They are just another infuriating aspect of my character, along with countless other flaws too numerous to mention here. I am not nearly as bad as I used to be but she is resigned to the fact that if a United match is on television she loses her husband for ninety minutes. Plus injury time.


Imagine my shock therefore this evening when I saw her donning my United anorak to head out to the supermarket. Yes it was raining cats and dogs outside. Yes it was the only anorak to hand. But to anyone who later passed her in the shopping aisles, she was a fully fledged, 100% Red Devil. Liverpool fans would have looked away from her in disgust; Arsenal supporters turned the other cheek. But for tonight I was proud of my better half. She was finally one of us.

It’s so easy to put on a false front to the world. And just as Fionnuala was able to pass herself off as someone she was most definitely not, so many of us do the same every time we step out of our front door. Take me for instance. For years I passed myself off as the respectable, hard working family man. Always cracking a joke, always well thought off. When inside I was an emotional mess, unable to grieve for my father, living a fake online life and teetering on the brink of alcoholism. 

It was frighteningly easy to pull off. I did it for years. In the end it all came crashing down around me but I had a good run for my money. How many of us are the same? Donning a mask of convenience whenever and wherever it suits us. Living a lie in the shadows. Unwilling and unable to face reality and step out into the light. It is oh so easy to hide scars and wounds. But wounds need to be exposed to the fresh air in order to heal.

Are you ‘keeping up appearances’ today? Putting on a brave face? Playing to your audience while inside you are crumpling under the weight of anxiety and despair? Portraying yourself to the world as Mr. or Mrs. Respectability when in reality you are consumed by sin and self loathing? If you are, the good news is that you are not alone. The even better news is that there is a way out.

God sees us for who we really are. We can pull the wool over everybody else’s eyes but not His. He knows us better than we know ourselves. And He wants us to be the people He created us to be. Some of you may be reading this nodding your heads in agreement. Others may be snorting derisively thinking what a load of nonsense. But don’t take my word for it. There are millions of us walking this earth today who would not be had we not accepted that we could not do it alone and realised we were sinking fast under the twin burdens of addiction and mental illness. Millions of us who were living a lie. Fronting up to the world while all the while dying on the inside. 

You can change. You can start again. You can be honest with yourself and others. Just give God a chance. After all he has given you countless chances. On the verge of giving up? Hand it over to him in a simple prayer and see what happens. Live the life you were born to live. What have you got to lose? Oh and by the way, United won 3-0. Thanks to my lucky mascot of a wife.

1 Samuel 16:7 – ‘For God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’

What colours do you sport when your favourite team are playing?

Does the world see the real you? Or just what you want it to see?

When did you last open your heart to God?

The HedgeHunter 

The rear of our house backs onto a farmer’s field, separated by a huge briar hedge. After the triumph of finally clearing out our garage the other week I finally decided yesterday to tackle our side of the hedge which was now growing over the one storey extension at the back of chez Black which houses Hannah’s bedroom.

Having acquired ladders from some friends and made my way up onto the roof (a three part blog series in itself) I took to attacking the thorny branches with crazed enthusiasm. I was armed with razor sharp clippers (with Go Go Gadget telescopic arms no less) so imagined myself as Aragon (contractual Lord of The Rings reference) defending Middle Earth from the hordes of Mordor). If only….

More middle aged than Middle Earth. And less Mordor, more morbidly embarsssing. I no doubt cut a bizarre figure to our neighbours as I hacked and flailed until my aching arms cried no more. I sat on the ridge of the roof and took in the carnage around me as down below Charlie the border terrier looked up at his master with a mixture of bemusement and a dawning fear that I had finally lost my mind.


It was a messy job. A seemingly endless task. And a painful one as I repeatedly impaled myself upon thorny branches. But eventually my work was done. I dusted myself off and called down to Fionnuala to come out and hold the ladder so I could return to terra firma. Silence. Rather than be on standby to assist her heroic husband she had retired to the front of the house and was hence oblivious to my increasingly high pitched, but no less manly, cries for help.

Eventually after much trial and error and a few near death experiences I managed to gingerly make my way back down via a combination of the garden fence and the ladders. It was not a pretty sight and antybody unfortunate enough to have witnessed my descent will have been permanently scarred with an image that they shall take to their grave. I, however, felt much as Neil Armstrong must have done when he took his first steps on the Moon. Heroic, handsome, humble. I was none of these. But I had survived.

We are all experts at putting off the unpleasant tasks in life that require our attention. I am a world leader in making excuses especially when it comes to areas of home improvement where I struggle and always feels inadequate. However when I finally take to the task, as I have done with the garage and hedge in recent weeks, I have ended up getting satisfaction for stepping out of my comfort zone and having a go. I have also been pleasantly surprised (and Fionnuala and the kids staggered) by what I have been able to achieve.

Don’t put off until tomorrow what can be done today. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. I have damaged many friendships irreparably due to holding grudges when instead I should have been reaching out the hand of reconciliation and forgiveness. Likewise I have allowed saplings of sin to take root within me and grow out of control until my very soul was suffocating within their grip, their thorns digging deep into my very essence.

If you recognise a problem or issue gnawing away at your conscience then don’t hesitate. Deal with it today. Now. Before it is too late. Comical as my tale may have been you don’t want to find yourself alone and helpless on the roof. For it might be too late. The thorns of life are vicious. They can cut your soul to shreds. And the soul is the most precious commodity you have. Protect it at all costs.

Matthew 16:26 – ‘What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’

What home improvement tasks do you most dread?

What affairs of the heart have you been putting off that you could remedy today?

Surrounded 

We have been watching the news over the weekend as Hurricane Irma has battered Florida. As I wrote about in an earlier post we have been praying for the people in the affected areas and hope that the damage to life and property is kept to an absolute minimum. What has amazed me has been the indiscriminatory nature of the storm in addition to its unpredictability. 

The hurricane has shown no favour, irrespective of wealth or social status. It has  been as merciless in the affluent city of Naples as it has been in the poorer islands of the Caribbean. The healthiest bank balance means nothing to Irma. It will still destroy your home and uproot your dreams. It brings everyone it touches to the same base level, where survival is all that matters.

As disturbing as its power has been its unpredictability. It changes direction at a whim and the most gifted meteorologists have been left scratching their heads, their predictions and projections hopelessly inaccurate. They can estimate where Irma will strike next but never with 100% accuracy. The slightest ‘wobble’ can answer the prayers of one community but bring another into the destructive path of the storm. Miami ‘dodged the bullet’ whereas the west coast of Florida was exposed to a brutal assault.


I am reminded of my own addictive nature in the characteristics that Irma displays. Like a storm, addiction is indiscriminate. It will wreak havoc with your life no matter what your upbringing, education or job. It doesn’t care if you have 10 dollars or 10,000 dollars in your savings account. As long as there enough for that next drink, that next hit, that next high. It will take it all and leave you with nothing. 

Addiction is equally unpredictable. It can strike at any time. Life can be going just great moment and then BAM something happens and you are hooked and powerless in its grasp. Scrabbling for a grip as it drags you inexorably over the brink and down into the abyss. It can overwhelm the strongest of defences as if they were made of matchsticks . You will be tossed about in the wind like a scrap of paper.

My addictive tendencies towards alcohol and social media led to poor decision making and sinful actions. Behind them were a history of OCD and depression. I hid at the bottom of a beer glass or behind my online personality like a helpless Floridian takes refuge in a storm shelter. I viewed my addictions as my sanctuary from the storms of life. How wrong I was. The storms were instead being fuelled and fattened by my vices. I was helpless in the face of their strength and erratic nature. My enemy was within my defensive walls unbeknownst to me all along. An enemy within is the most dangerous enemy of all.

We went to church yesterday for the first time in several months and in the space of an hour God hit me with three ideas for blog posts. This is the first of them. During one of the songs the worship leader sang the following words over the congregation repeatedly as the music rose steadily to a crescendo – ‘When I feel like I am surrounded I am surrounded by you.’ Over and over in a loop. As if it were meant for my ears alone.

Today you might feel as if you are in the path of a raging storm. Helpless in the face of your own Irma. It could be addiction or mental health like I have struggled with. It could be physical, financial or a relationship issue. My message to you is that there is a way out. There is always hope where there is love. And love will overcome any storm. You just have to show an ounce of faith. And believe. 

All storms pass. When you are being battered surround yourself with hope. Love can overcome any storm. God is bigger than any storm.

Psalm 18:2 – ‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’

I hope that this post has helped you in some way. I truly believe that I was meant to write it for someone today who is hurting. Please feel free to share your thoughts on it below. 


The Silent Treatment 

When I drank I messed up. A lot. Two things would happen the following morning. I would wake up with a monstrous hangover and, after a few seconds regaining my bearings, be hit with waves of shame and guilt as memories of the previous night seeped back into my consciousness like a slick, black poison. 

Or I would wake up with no recollection as to what had happened beyond a certain point in the evening. Towards the end of my drinking career I was a blackout drunk. If anything this was worse than recalling what had happened the previous night. I would lie in bed sick with worry as to what had went on. A vague uneasiness gripped me as I frantically tried to recall the events of the night before. If anything, not knowing was worse than knowing. I felt utterly alone and adrift. Just me and ‘the fear’.

On those occasions I relied upon family and friends to fill in the gaps, to piece together the jigsaw of a fun night out that invariably ended in disaster. I heard hard truths. And was revisited by fragments of recollection which revealed my darker, sinful side. I was mortified and left broken by my appalling behaviour. I cursed alcohol. I cursed those I perceived to have led me down the wrong path. But most of all I cursed myself and the deplorable decisions I had made. I cursed my weakness and naivety. I hated myself with an unrivalled passion.

There was one thing worse, however, than the physical symptoms of the hangover and the guilt and self-loathing that accompanied it. This was knowing that I had hurt and let down loved ones. I died a little every time I looked in their faces and saw the anger and repulsion that I had generated in them. I shattered friendships and broke hearts with effortless ease. I destroyed relationships that had taken years to build in the space of a few alcohol sodden hours. 


I didn’t drink to forget. I forgot when I drank. I forgot all about my responsibilities. My moral compass spun out of control like a roulette wheel which always landed on the wrong number. I was a loud drunk. The life and soul of the party. Bolstered by a few drinks my ingrained shyness and social awkwardness would melt away. I wanted to talk to everyone, to be everyone’s friend. I was the big man, the I am. When I drank I was surrounded by noise, people and laughter. I thought they were laughing with me, the great bon viveur. I realise now that they were often laughing at me.

The following day there was a different type of noise. Raised voices. Recrimination. Angry words driven by hurt and neglect. There is no noise louder than that of the heart of a loved one breaking right before your eyes. There is no sight more devastating than your rock giving up on you. Taking a knife and cutting you loose onto a sea of torment and despair. Alone and adrift. With only the silence and your own bitter thoughts to keep you company.

I hated this silence. When loved ones stopped talking to me. When they had said everything there was to say. When they brought down the shutters on their own hearts to save themselves from further pain. This silent treatment could last for hours, days, months and beyond. Occasionally it was permanent. Friendships were damaged beyond repair. Relationships were ravaged to the point of no return. The silence was deafening. 

Thankfully the four most important people in my life who I hurt the most forgave me. Fionnuala and the kids stood by me. They will not forget the bad times nor should they. They are an important reminder of what I am capable of. They are a destination that I never want to return to. The silence from them was the most excruciating of all. I never want to go back to those dark, desperate days. The days when I stood on the brink and wondered was this the end. 

Sin loves to talk. She is never silent, always whispering seductively in your ear that this time it will be different, this time you will not be caught. Sin is enchanting and beautiful. But it is a beauty that will rot. Sin is a liar. Her words drip with honey. Poisoned honey that will pollute your soul and expose you to a long and painful demise. A demise that inevitably leads to eternal silence.

I write this today surrounded by love and grace again. I am never complacent and walk out to battle afresh every day now. I always have to be on my guard against temptation and the darkness. I make the conscious decision every day to choose life and freedom. I choose the noisy babble of living waters as opposed to the never ending silence of the abyss. I talk to my loved ones every day. I talk to God every day. And I listen every day when they talk to me. I never want to return to the days of the silent treatment.

My advice to you today if you are embroiled in silence with a loved one is this. Make amends. Whatever it takes. Swallow your pride. Forgive them. Give them the opportunity and means to forgive you. Knock that door. Make that call. Before it is too late. Replace the silence of resentment and bitterness with the soothing sounds of healing and restoration. Raise your voice above the lies and deceit. Grasp the truth with both hands.

Scream it from the rooftops.

1 Peter 5:8 – ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring line looking for someone to devour.’

Have you ever woken up with no recollection of the night before? You are not alone. Talk to me.

Have you ever been a ‘victim’ of the silent treatment? Or been the person broken by the actions of a loved one?

Are you willing to end the silence with a loved one today?

Out Of Position

Adam has his first rugby match for his new school tomorrow. I don’t know who is more excited. Me or him. I was an incredibly average grammar school player back in the day so any allegations that I am reliving my school years through my son are sadly very accurate. The fact that he has more skill, strength and stamina in his little finger than I had in my entire pudgy teenage body is also sadly accurate.

He has been training hard with his new coaches since mid-August but was disappointed earlier this week when the team was announced. He had been selected to play but not in his favoured position of Number Eight. Instead he is to play at tight head prop; an equally important position but not the one he had been hoping for. His coach explained that as it was the first match they were still experimenting with positions and it would only be a temporary measure.

Since then Adam has knuckled down to his new role with great determination in order to learn his new position in time for the big kick off. He has displayed great adaptability and has sacrificed his own personal preference for the sake of the team. He hasn’t sulked. He hasn’t thrown a temper tantrum. He has just put his head down and got on with it. 


It has made me think back to the many years I spent putting myself in front of my family. When I sulked if the Saturday shopping list did not include a case of beer even when money was tight and Fionnuala was struggling to make ends meet. When I was too hungover on a Sunday to spend any time with the kids, snapping at their reasonable requests. When I was more interested in my Twitter followers than the people who truly mattered.

I rarely wanted to adapt to the needs of others. My own selfish desires always dominated the agenda. I had to be the centre of attention and woe betide anyone who thought otherwise. I could sulk for Ireland. If there were medals to be given out for self-centredness then my trophy cabinet would haven been overflowing. I was wired to put Stephen first. Every time.

I have walked a long, hard road since those days. Many rough edges have been knocked off me. I have been left battered and bruised. I have looked in the mirror of truth and seen the weak, selfish man I had become. And I am trying so hard now to put things right, to make amends, to repair and rebuild. I seek to learn from my faith. I seek to learn from my wife and my kids. I want to be a better person more than anything else.

And if that means playing out of position now and again then so be it. The least I can do is put the people I love first given the many times they did so for me even when I deserved to be kicked to the kerb. Win, lose or draw tomorrow I will be proud of Adam as I watch from the touchline. He might be playing me out of position but he, as do all my family, has pole position in my thankful heart.

How do you control your selfish urges?

Are you willing to ‘play out of position for your loved one?

Hurricane Irma 

Fionnuala and I feel we have a connection with Florida. We had a wonderful two week holiday there some years ago and used to be connected to a church in Jacksonville. We have been watching in horror as Hurricane Irma has wreaked its destructive path across the Caribbean towards South Florida.


Today we offer up our prayers for the islands which have been hit already and for the people of Florida and the Southern states. I was at a loss for words this morning as I started this post so turned to my Bible and The Psalms. I opened them at the following Scripture.

Psalm 46:1-3 – God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.’

Please pray today and throughout the weekend for the victims of Hurricane Irma.

❤️🙏🏻😊

Responsibility

Rebecca is now a Year 7 in her primary school meaning that she is officially a ‘big girl’. On their first day back after the summer holidays their new teacher gave them a talk on the duties that this high office now held. They had to act responsibly and set an example to the younger children. Tasks included litter collection, mentoring the Year 1 pupils, distribution of break time fruit and so on. I was exhausted just reading it.

When she came home that day Rebecca stressed to us the importance of her new position and how responsible she had to behave from now on. We christened her ‘Little Miss Responsibility’ and queried did this new found vigour extend to keeping her room tidy, adhering to the washing up rota and not bickering with her brother and sister. She wasn’t so sure about these but 100% about the school stuff. She would figure the rest out later. 

The kids get the responsibility message rammed down their throats at home, school and pretty much everywhere else from an early age. But do we, as supposed adults, practice what we preach? I, for one, know that I have been a massive hypocrite in this respect. I shout at the children for not completing their household chores but how many times, in recent years, have I neglected my responsibilities as a father and husband? I know it would be a long list.

The word ‘hypocrite’ has its origins in the Greek word ‘hupokrites’ meaning actor. How much of our adult lives are an act? Putting on a performance in order to fool the world that we are great people and that everything is just fine and dandy. When in reality it is just a facade, a front, a futile attempt to hide our inadequacies from ourselves and our loved ones. I am guilty of this on so many fronts. How about you?


I believe our first responsibility as ‘grown ups’ is to be honest to ourselves about these flaws and imperfections. It is only when we do so that we can identify weaknesses and vulnerable areas of our lives where we need to improve. We need to expose the murky corners of our hearts to the light. This may be a painful experience initially but in the long-term it will lead to recovery and healing. It will lead to a better quality of life. 

Life is not a performance. It is real. There are no dress rehearsals. You only get one shot at it. If you want to make a difference in your time on this planet your first responsibility must be to be honest with yourself. Brutally honest. By becoming better people we can then start to focus on our responsibilities to our families, our friends and most importantly to God. For, no matter how good an act we put on, he sees the real us. Our ultimate responsibility is to Him.

How hypocritical do you feel today?

How do you think you can become a more responsible ‘grown up’?

Declutter Your Heart

For several years now (or has it been decades?) Fionnuala has been gently encouraging (but most definitely not nagging) me to clear out our garage. Now by clear out I do not mean a quick tidy up and maybe the odd item for the rubbish (garbage) dump. Oh no. My initial objective was being able to clear enough space to be able to actually get into said place in order to confront the four foot wall of junk that covered every available inch of it.

‘Dictionary definition of a garage – ‘A building for storing a motor vehicle or vehicles.’

Yeah right. The last time one of our cars was in the garage was about 2012. In a land before Donald Trump, Brexit and Leicester City winning the English Premiership. Our current vehicle has never experienced the warm glow of the interior of a garage. No, it sits on the driveway and stares wistfully at the building that could have been its home. Now home to the biggest collection of junk this side of the Irish Sea.

It was with some trepidation therefore that I faced this Herculean task. I had taken the week off work so at least appreciated it was no quick fix. My strategy was a simple, yet I hoped, effective one. This had to be progressed one step at a time. In bite sized chunks. Interspersed with regular breaks for Diet Coke and much head scratching. Slow and steady wins the race was the philosophy I hoped would guide me through this ordeal. I mean delightful domestic chore.

Once I had actually gained access to it (hurdling bags of fertiliser and a disembodied gazebo in the process) initial momentum was painfully slow. There were a few high pitched squeals on my part when I thought I saw a mouse but thankfully they were false alarms. Otherwise you wouldn’t have seen me for dust. Inch by inch I cleared sufficient space in order to swing a very small cat. Which I supposed would at least have come in useful if Mr. Mouse did show up.

If I had been hoping for an Aladdin’s Cave of hidden treasures I was to be sorely disappointed. Bag after bag of discarded debris was gathered up, loaded into the back of our van and conveyed to the council dump. By the end of it I was on first name terms with the workers there. There were no long lost family heirlooms that would secure us financially for the rest of our days. I retrieved a grand total of 13 pence and a couple of dirty euros. They earned more on the gulags.

What did I discover then that has merited this post? Well, firstly memories. My two days of hard labour were a trip down memory lane as I unearthed endless blasts from the past. There were good ones (I relived many a Christmas of old as I discovered dozens of toys that the kids had long outgrown), not so good ones (the number of empty beer bottles I found was embarrassingly high) and bizarre ones (too many dodgy CD’s to mention. 

Secondly the sense of achievement. I know I will never be DIY Dad of the Year, and that this was the most unskilled of unskilled labour, but I did feel pleased with myself when I gazed upon the clear floor space of afterwards. Rebecca now has somewhere safe and dry to store her bicycle. Adam is going to turn part of it into a gym. There is even talk of converting it into a study for me. Sorry faithful van but it looks like you’re staying on the driveway.

And finally I think I learnt something. How often do we allow our hearts to become cluttered with junk. Perceived wrongs, pain and anger that we just cannot let go of, long standing grudges where we can no longer even recall their origin. We are unable to navigate them as our arteries become clogged with unforgiveness, bitterness and hatred. And just like my garage was unable to perform the role for which it was originally built (to store a motor vehicle) so our hearts cannot do what God originally created them for – to care for, to give without thinking. To love. 


I know my heart is long overdue a spring clean. I need to spend time taking stock of what is inside it and throw out the hurtful junk that prevents me from becoming a better person. A person who can make a difference and leave a lasting legacy. The person I was created to be. What about you?

Matthew 5:8 – ‘Blessed are the pure in heart. For they shall will God.’

What do you store in your garage or shed? Garden tools? Endless tonnes of junk? Or heaven forbid a motor vehicle?

What is the most bizarre or valuable item you have found during a spring clean?

When did you last declutter your heart?

#WISD?

When I run I like to have something on my person that drives me on and inspires me. However, as it is difficult to navigate a half marathon with a framed photo of Fionnuala and the kids or a litre tub of honeycomb ice cream (it would melt anyway) I have to make do with something smaller. Usually this involves a plastic wristband of some sort with a motivational message on it.

I have built up quite a collection of these over the last few years but have a terrible record of hanging onto them. No matter how much I treasure them, at some point I will take the wristband off, set it down somewhere and promptly forget about it. In the time/space anomaly that is our house it will be subsumed into a parallel universe where all lost things go (along with about 3468 odd socks belonging to me) never to be seen again. 

So it was with extra trepidation and care that I purchased my latest wristband last Friday. I planned to buy a plain, non descript band that I could wear all the time irrespective of where I was or what I was doing. That way I would be less inclined to remove it and misplace it. It had to be understated yet meaningful. I eventually opted for a slim, black one with a Bible verse embossed on it, also in black:

1 John 2:6 – ‘Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did’. 

Having paid the grand sum of 99 pence for it (hey big spender) I slipped it on and went about my business for the remainder of the day. It was only later when I was having another nosey at the band that I noticed there was other writing embossed on it; the letters WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? Thinking about it, I realised that this tied in perfectly with the accompanying Bible verse. There is little point being a follower of Jesus and admiring his teachings and actions if you fail to replicate them in your own life.


What did Jesus do? Well, he did a lot in his thirty odd years on the planet and especially in the final three as part of his earthly ministry. He taught, he healed but most of all, he loved. He loved. Family, friends, enemies, the people who eventually killed him. It didn’t matter. He loved them all equally and unreservedly. But he afforded a special place for those that felt most undeserving of that love. I call them the broken. The outcasts, the thieves, the debt collectors, the prostitutes. They were the people he most loved to have around him. They were the people he most loved to love.

When was the last time you loved one of the broken? That drunk guy you see every morning on your daily commute to work? The woman at the grocery store who isn’t very good at hiding her bruises? The little kid in the playground who always seems to be on their own? Because we all know what Jesus would do. But what are you going to do?

I challenge us all today to step outside of our comfort zone and love one of the broken people. Because I truly believe that we are currently in a place in our personal journeys to help someone who needs us. Jesus lives through us. Instead of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ I should instead be thinking along the lines of ‘What Is Stephen doing?’ For in a world of Texas floods, terrorist attacks and missile tests we all need love more than ever before. Be a part of that today.

Do you have a favourite wristband?

How do you intend to love like Jesus today?

The Blood Results 

I have only recently returned to running having spent most of the summer struggling with injury and illness. The latter was caused by a mystery virus which manifested itself in a persistent dry cough, ear ache and severe fatigue. I could barely run a bath, let alone a half marathon, as a result of it and found the entire experience frustrating and demoralising. Thankfully it has finally resolved itself allowing me to train again and I’m gradually building up my distance as I prepare for the Belfast Half Marathon in two weeks time.

During one of my (many) visits to the doctor’s surgery blood samples were taken to determine if there were any underlying causes for my general malaise. I thought nothing of it and even forgot to contact the surgery when the results came back. It was only when a slightly concerned Fionnuala called me at work to say that the surgery wanted to contact me about the results that I took the plunge and picked up the phone.


It transpired that I had a folic acid deficiency and now have to take a supplement for four months in order to redress the imbalance which explained the tiredness I had been experiencing. I was slightly bemused by this as my only knowledge of folic acid was that it was taken by pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant in order to reduce the odds of their baby being born with certain disabilities.

Now the last time checked I was neither pregnant nor contemplating getting pregnant. The thoughts of morning sickness, swollen ankles and constant back pain did not appeal to me. And as for the ‘joy’ of childbirth itself. Errrrr….no thanks. Watching Fionnuala go through three pregnancies had scarred me for life. While admittedly she was a little ray of sunshine throughout each one (I am contractually obliged to say this) I think I’ll just leave the whole issue of baby production to the stronger sex.

Folic acid is a form of folate which is one of the B vitamins our body needs. The recommended dietary intake is 400 micrograms per day. A deficiency in folic acid can result in a type of anaemia where the body has a lower count of large red blood cells. Wikipedia told me all this so blame them if any of that is inaccurate. But as an old boss of mine once said never let the facts get in the way of a good story.

This caused the fatigue that I had been struggling with. Hopefully now that I am popping my supplement every morning this problem will not rear its head again. I already feel much stronger and my energy levels have returned to their previous levels. Fionnuala may argue that they were never were very high to start with when it came to domestic chores but let’s not go there shall we.

Looking back on my summer of sickness it amazed me that I had been stumbling around oblivious to what was causing me to feel so rough. There was a deficiency inside me which was invisible to both myself and the outside world. Thankfully as it was a physical ailment the wonders of medical science were able to identify and rectify the problem. I was healed and no long term damage resulted. 

How many of us are walking about today, however, oblivious to a spiritual deficiency inside of us? When I say oblivious that is not strictly true. We have an inkling that something is not quite right. We are uneasy, unsettled, disenfranchised. There is something missing but we know not what. The cause is invisible to us but the symptoms are plain for all to see. We are frustrated, angry, filled with negativity and disillusionment. These emotions can only lead to destructive behaviour.

The word ‘deficiency’ has its etymological roots in the Latin word ‘deficere’ meaning to revolt, desert or fail. This makes sense physically. When my folic acid levels fell (they had deserted or failed me) I felt ill. A supplement was prescribed to replace the scurrilous defectors. Likewise when we are spiritually bereft we often seek to ‘fill the gap’ with anything that can ensure a quick fix – food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, starvation, cutting; whatever it takes to numb the pain even if only for a few hours.

We all have our quick fixes. The one common feature that all the spiritually redundant share however is that none of them work for any length of time. We end up in a darker place than where we started. For some that path leads to madness and death. I was walking that path. I was doing a fantastic job at developing an alcohol dependency while simultaneously succumbing to OCD, social media addiction and all the dangers associated with that. I was sinking fast. 

I had been brought up to believe in God. I knew all my Bible stories and had a wary respect for him. But he was always on the fringes of my life and if I’m honest looked a bit grumpy for my liking. Jesus seemed like a cool guy but, again, my relationship with him was tenuous to say the least. It was only when I hit rock bottom and got dragged to church by a friend that I began to open my eyes and my mind. I accepted my many failings and realised I was powerless to get out of the mess I had gotten myself into. I know it sounds a cliche but I decided to hand it over to God. I had tried everything else and failed. What was there to lose?

The weird thing was that this time it worked. It made sense. The more I studied the Bible the more I got it. God was not grumpy, he was love. Christianity was not dull and conforming. It was exciting, edgy and revolutionary. I stopped drinking. Got to grips with the OCD demon. And after many doomed attempts kicked Twitter & Instagram. I’m far from perfect (just ask Fionnuala) but I feel I’ve got my life and family back. I enjoy my job and I love to run and write.

You don’t have to feel deficient. Just like when you are physically ill you visit a doctor when you’re spiritually deficient you visit Jesus. He’s open 24/7, 365. You don’t even need an appointment. He will never turn you away. For He is sufficient when you are deficient. He will heal you. What have you to lose?

Luke 5:31 – ‘Jesus answered them, ‘It not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’

Hands up who knew you could develop a folic acid deficiency?

Are there any areas of your life where you feel spiritually deficient?

Or have you story of how your faith brought healing and restoration?

Five Is The Magic Number

Warning – This post talks about OCD in graphic detail and may cause victims/survivors to trigger.

When it comes to my faith I need constant reminders. It is so easy for me to stray ‘off message’ in all areas of my life. I make bad decisions and act selfishly, putting my own needs and interests before those of my loved ones. I am a poor judge of character and can easily fall into bad company. I am easily influenced and vulnerable to addictive behaviour and unhealthy relationships. Due to my low self-esteem my default setting is to crave attention and affirmation. No matter what the consequences. How did I come to be like this. Let me introduce you to my not so good friend, OCD.

I was formally diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) just over four years ago. I have had it, however, since I was a child. There are various strands of it. The type I have is called Pure OCD. I have intrusive, negative thoughts that enter my head and remain there in a constant loop. This is the ‘O’ in OCD. Thoughts like ‘You don’t love your family’, ‘You are a paedophile and a threat to children’ or ‘You are a homosexual and your marriage is a sham’.

These are just three examples of any number of obsessive thoughts that used to enter my head on a daily basis.  They led to increased levels of anxiety. I can only describe it as akin to a radio playing with the volume turned up repeating the same thought deafeningly over and over again. Imagine trying to hold a conversation or concentrate at work with that message screaming in your head every second of your waking day.


It inevitably leads to increased levels of anxiety. I can best describe it as a weight pressing down on my chest and legs. A growing sense of panic that threatens to overwhelm me like a tsunami of terror. This is where the ‘C’ in OCD comes in. In order to dispel the intrusive thought I develop a routine in my head that I am compelled to complete successfully in order to dispel the compulsive thinking.

So the voice is telling me I am a paedophile. This is,of course, ridiculous. My logical mind tells me that I obviously am not. I am a loving father and would never hurt a hair on any child’s head. Yet the voice insists that I would and the only way I can combat it is to develop an effective strategy which I can then deploy in order to defeat the thought.

This usually meant me coming up with five reasons why I was not what the intrusive thought suggested I was. Why five? Because five is my number. OCD thrives on numbers and repetitive actions. Every victim has them. Mine are five and three. It varies from person to person. 

Let’s act it out. The voice tells me that I am a paedophile, scum, the lowest of the low for the 574th time that day. And it’s not even lunchtime. I have spent all day preparing five reasons why I am not a child molestor. They must all be valid and approved in advance. I must then find a quiet place and focus on an object. Let’s say a picture on a wall. I will think out the five reasons in my head. ‘I am not a paedophile because….’. I’m not going to talk about the actual reasons I used in this post in case I trigger myself or other OCD victims reading this.

The five reasons I rhyme off must be word perfect. The slightest slip, hesitation or memory lapse and its back to the beginning. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. I then have to choose a different object to focus on as the same one cannot be used twice. If I the phone rings I must start again. If somebody talks to me in mid routine I must start again. If I deviate in the slightest from my prepared script I must start again. Because that’s just the way it has to be.

When you are in the routine nothing else matters. I’m late for an important meeting. Doesn’t matter finish the routine. I’ve been in the bathroom for 20 minutes and people are starting to talk. Doesn’t matter finish the routine. I am coming across as disinterested or rude towards Fionnuala. Doesn’t matter Finish the routine. OCD is a selfish and spiteful mistress. It demands your total attention. Everything else is irrelevant until the routine is quashed.

It can takes hours, days even to finally run through the routine word perfectly in order to kill the obsessive thought once and for all. Until the next one trundles over the horizon, five minutes later. A different thought but equally brutal. OCD is a mental wrecking ball. It will relentlessly hammer you into submission. It knows no mercy or compassion. Every time you get back up off the canvas it knocks you down again. It wants to break you, destroy you, tear your soul into a million pieces. 

It is hard to put into words the accompanying mental anguish or the devastating impact that it can have on relationships with loved ones. It permeates every aspect of your reality. It knows no barriers. It is there, an ever present, whether you are at work or at home with your family. It demands your total, undivided attention. I would secure a temporary reprieve each time I successfully performed a routine but it would just laugh at me. I had won a battle. It would win the war.

Worry. Anxiety. Depression. OCD makes you feel worthless. I escaped it through sleep, alcohol and social media. But every morning I woke up it was there. Every time I sobered up it was there. Every night when I logged out it was there. The deepest slumber, the strongest drinks, the thousands of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. They mattered not a jot. It was always hungry for more and would not be satisfied until I was broken beyond repair.

And it almost succeeded. It almost stole my family, my job, my very life. Yet I survived thanks to medication, a loving family and the grace of God. I read so many blogs written by people who feel utterly defeated by the demons of mental health. My advice? Don’t ever give up hope. Talk to someone about it. Get help. Pray about it and ask God to take over because you cannot do it on your own anymore. But don’t give up. Because, no matter how dark it may seem, the light will come and it IS stronger. Good will always overcome evil. OCD can be defeated. 

Romans 12:21 – ‘Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’

Are you an OCD victim/survivor? How have you fought it?

Or have you only limited knowledge of it? How has this post changed your thinking on OCD?

Freedom 

I write a fair bit on the blog about freedom.

  • Freedom from self-loathing.
  • Freedom from addictive behaviour.
  • Freedom from secrets and lies. 
  • Freedom from unhealthy relations.
  • Freedom from doubt and fear.

It can be pretty heavy reading at times so I believe it is important to add a sprinkle of humour to the posts. My sense of humour I would call quirky (others have preferred terminology such as ‘juvenile’ or ‘deeply embarrassing.’) Each to their own I suppose.

But I’m not afraid to laugh at myself because, if we didn’t laugh, then the world truly would be a much bleaker place than it currently is. My wife, Fionnuala, also has a sense of humour. Well she did marry me after all. I have caused her heartbreak many times but she has bafflingly always stood by me.

She does get her own back occasionally, however. And this morning was one of those days. I had just completed my first 10 mile run since returning from injury and illness. I felt strong during the run and could have kept going at the end. I was bang on my target pace as well for my next race, the Belfast Half Marathon on 17 September.

So there I was feeling on top of the world. Freedom from illness. Freedom from injury. I thought I was Mo Farah. Thankfully Fionnuala brought me down to earth with this photo of my heroic return.


Mo Farah? Er…..I don’t think so. Not a pretty sight but hey ho. I was a happy man. Now for the best part of distance running. 

The refuelling!

2 Corinthians 3:17 – ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord of the Spirit is, there is freedom.’

What is your most embarrassing photo?

What is your next target for 2017?

What are you grateful to be free from today?

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 £200.

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 £1,000,000. 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 £150 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 £8 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.

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 £8000 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?


The Waiting Room 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who constructed the barrier? You or them?

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

Shark Attack 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you any other guilty pleasure?

How do you focus on God every day?

Sick 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

When did God last speak clearly to you? 

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

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

Mr Mop

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Demon Part 2

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

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

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

1. Get properly diagnosed.

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

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

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

2. Talk to someone

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

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

3. Seek help

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

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

4. My faith 

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

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

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

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

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

Need 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You need to….

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

What has been your craziest payday purchase?

What need can you meet in your community today?

Ear We Go Again

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to Fionnuala xxx 

Have you any remedies for muffled hearing?

How do you keep your communication pathways with God clear?

A Tall Tale

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

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

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

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

The Return Of Goldfish Boy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How often do you wear the mask of conformity?

When did you last ignore Jesus?

The One Where Belinda Carlisle Spat On Me

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who was your teenage crush?

What was your first concert?

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

Blog Of Welcome 

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

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

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


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

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

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

Welcome to our blog. We love you.

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

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

Is your home a place of welcome.

Yemeni Fish With A Side Of Sprouts

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

I do not however crave Yemeni fish and Brussel Sprouts.

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

What food can you not stomach?

Have you ever had the ‘Yemeni fish’ experience?

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

The New World 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Choose Life. Choose Hope. Choose The Way.

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

Have you Irish descendants?

What is your favourite museum?

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

Voice of Living Waters

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you – Stephen

Throw Away Your Crutches

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

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

Apart from that I’m fine….

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Making Sense Of The Words

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Have you favourite words or themes in the Bible?

What is your favourite smell? 

Life Is Like A Tube Of Toothpaste 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you had toothpaste issues recently?

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

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

It’s The End Of The World

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does blogging help you with depression and anxiety?

What is your favourite disaster movie?

The Dark Hedges 

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



Are you a Game Of Thrones fan? 

Who is your favourite character?

Books or TV series?

Mullet Man

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the worst haircut you have ever had?

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

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

Bonfire Night 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the largest bonfire you have ever seen?

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

Just Shut Up And Drive

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

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

HERE FOR YOU.

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

18-25 YEAR OLDS.

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

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

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

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


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

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

Now shut up and drive Stephen….

Do you pray and drive?

Has God ever spoken to you through an everyday occurrence?

Where is the strangest place you have prayed.

Diary of A Wimpy Dad

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet or salted popcorn? You decide.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

Stones

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What are the stones weighing you down today?

Have you considered handing them over to God?

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

The Armchair That Just Kept on Giving

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Underbelly 

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you

Stephen 

The Duty Call

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you overcome that voice? 

Happy Hannah 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Aches On A Plane

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What has been your worst airplane experience?

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

What is your favourite proverb?

The Upturned Hull

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is your favourite seaside resort?

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

Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love Coffee….Except I Don’t

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is your favourite character from friends?

The Road Trip 

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

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

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


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

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

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

Now time to start packing….

The Writer

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does God speak to you through music?

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

When did you last receive a prophetic word?

Maggie’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 112:1

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

One book. One verse. One way to live.

When did you last read the Bible?

What verse spoke to you?

What is your favourite Psalm?

Dawn Of The Dead

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

When do you spend your quiet time with God?

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

The Extra Mile

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Or even better. Two miles.

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

How far have you ever driven for your favourite treat?

How could you go the extra mile for someone today?

Just Giving

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We need to live to give. 

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


Don’t Give Up 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

D.N.F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Don’t be a DNF….

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

What is your favourite drink?

Have you ever been badly hydrated?

How do you spiritually refuel?

The Day I Met The Stark Sisters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you last see Jesus in somebody else.

Bin There Done That

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many bins do you have?

When did you last empty your emotional bin?

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

Life Without Diet Coke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What items would be on your Desert Island list?

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

When did you last talk to God?

Calcification Of The Soul

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

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

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

The foot wasn’t broken.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Touch 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

So today. Don’t jump. Touch….

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

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

Where is your sphere of influence?

How has God touched your life lately?

Yawn Of The Dead

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As for your wife however….

When is your favourite time to pray?

When did you last have prayer answered ?

What is your most embarrassing prayer experience ?

The Persistent Widow 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

How can we pray for you today?

The Man With No Brain 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Following your feelings has deceived you.

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

True love is not a wind that deceives and disappears.

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

When did you last love someone through gritted teeth?

What was their response?

How did you feel afterwards?



The French Lady

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Merci mes amis….


Do you know somebody who needs your help today?

What could you do to help them?

How many languages can you converse in?

Feeding Time At The Zoo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now that’s worth working up an appetite for.

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

How has the grace of God changed your life?

Are you hungry to serve God?

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

Be Still 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Just be still.

What are you chasing in your life at the moment?

When were you last truly still before God?

How did you achieve this stillness?

The Geek On The Train 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you living today being tortured by your past?

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

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

PATIENCE/PATIENT

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

Over to Hannah –

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

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

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

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

Hannah

mummy and hannah

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

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

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

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

Fionnuala

 

The Butterfly

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 139 v13-14

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

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

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Fractured Faith Meets Fractured Ankle 

I promised my wife (the brains behind this blog and related social media accounts) that my posts would always be about my faith and not my running. But sometimes the two inevitably overlap. So this post is about both of them; although you will be delighted to hear it might be the last one about the latter for quite some time.

I have been running for just over three years now and have been largely blessed by injury free progress to date. I started running in my forties so aches and pains are unavoidable but on the other side of the coin I have relatively few miles on the clock unlike some guys my age whose bodies have given up on them after decades of pounding the roads.

All that changed this morning when I leaped (stumbled) out of bed and, upon planting my left foot on the bedroom floor, felt a sharp pain which grew increasingly worse over the course of the next few hours. To the extent that later that morning I found myself lying on the floor of my office curled up in a ball as waves of nausea and juddering pain took turns in bulldozing through my body. 

Yes I had driven to work like an idiot. And I felt equally idiotic as my wife and youngest daughter had to rescue me and deliver me to the Accident & Emergency Department. A rapid x-ray confirmed my worst fears. A rather impressive torn ATF ligament and avulsion fracture of the cuboid bone. Or in layman’s terms a busted ankle.

Which led to my first ever experience with crutches. Feeling quite the rock star as I initially hopped out of the hospital I soon realised that they were hard work. I was soon sweating like I had run a half marathon. And it was to get worse when I got home.


Otherwise mundane tasks such as visiting the fridge, going upstairs or (sorry people) using the bathroom turned into Herculean endurance events. Give me 26.2 miles any day of the week I whined as the crutch slipped again from my grasp and another bolt of pain shot through my poor foot. Aren’t these things meant to be a help rather than a hindrance?

At which point my son quietly informed me that I was holding them the wrong way round. 180 degrees later and I was off again like Lewis Hamilton surging round the streets of Monte Carlo. Much better. I now had the necessary support I needed get where I needed to be.

Which got me thinking. God knows a bit about support. In fact he is the greatest and only support we need in our lives if we just accept that fact and discard all the other crutches that we feel we need to get from A to B in life. Why depend on alcohol, food, money, image or status when all we have to do is accept him into our lives. Then the other things will take care of themselves.

But how often do we rebel against him and hold tight onto our earthly idols to the point where we end up in a worse state than we started out. Going nowhere fast or falling flat on our face. Because we know best. Or at least think we do. 

So next time you hit a brick wall in life and are in need of a leg up don’t be afraid to reach for the greatest crutch of all. And let him carry you to your ultimate destination. Or it could be a long road ahead….

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

What’s been your grisliest sporting injury?

What do you turn to when life deals you a bad hand?

What’s the longest you have ever had to wait in an Accident and Emergency Department?

Noah’s Big Night In 

The Old Testament is jammed full of jaw dropping stories of valour and bravery. But it also contains some stuff which is well…..downright weird. I know that all Scripture is God inspired and included for a reason but really? Talking donkeys? Incest in caves? Over sensitive balding prophets who summon bears to massacre roaming gangs of teenage youths? Really?? Am I missing a trick here Lord?

Well either God has a pretty weird sense of humour or there have to be gems of wisdom buried deep within these stories. As in really deep. JCB digger excavation deep.

And so begins a (very) occasional series on the blog focusing on the more obscure and barking mad corners of Scripture. We start with one of the less memorable mornings in the 950 year long life of a Biblical giant….Noah.

Yes Noah. Every kid learns the story of him and his ark during their formative years. And stop your average person in the street and, church goer or not, nine times out of ten they will be able to recite the tale.

Noah. A righteous man. He was blameless and walked faithfully with God at a time when the earth was riddled with evil and corruption. So corrupt that God scratched his head, threw up his hands in holy exasperation and decided it was time to wipe the slate clean and start again. A new world order which required a superhuman work of nautical engineering.

He chose Noah for this gargantuan task. And faced with the ridicule of pretty much every other human being on the planet, boy did he deliver. We all know the rest. The animals two by two, the rising waters, the dove and the olive leaf. And around a year later Noah and his family emerged to a new world, a new life, a new covenant with God.

And they all lived happily ever after right? Er no….While Sunday School teachers now move swiftly on to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob few pause to burst the ‘Noah Bubble’ with the contents of Genesis 9:20-27.

Noah, 600 years young, and now with with a lot of spare time on his hands does what any self respecting real man would do after such a massive DIY task. He kicks back and has a drink. And as a man who doesn’t do things by half I’m not talking about a cheeky glass of vino rouge after dinner. No he plants an entire vineyard and then proceeds to drink the contents of it.

So after the largest boat in history and then possibly the largest vineyard this man of excess wakes up with the largest hangover in history. And not a paracetamol to be had.


It must have been an epic night. So epic in fact that he appears not to have made it to bed. Or for that matter slipped into his jim jams. 

I must admit even in my drinking heyday I usually made it to bed in appropriate nightwear. But then he was 600 years at the time. And maybe not able to take on board as much booze as he had at his peak. Say when he was 550. 

And how did this epic man of faith react to this shameful episode. Contrite apologies to his God and family? Admitting it was all his own fault and promising never to touch the hard stuff again? 

No he got cranky, shouted at his son and dished out a generational curse on his unsuspecting grandson who had probably been tucked up in bed oblivious to it all the previous night as his grandfather had staggered round the tents slurring ‘Show Me The Way To Go Home’.

Noah lived another 350 years after this episode. Maybe he never touched another drop. 950 years in total he lived. But my Bible devotes a mere four pages to his life. And two incidents in total. An epic high on Mount Ararat. And a monumental low face down in a tatty tent.

Yet God used him to rewrite history. Just as he can use us too. Even if we have the odd blip along the way.

Were you taught the WHOLE Noah story at Sunday school?

What has been your most embarrassing ‘morning after’ moment? Go on we won’t tell anyone. Honest.

How is God using you in this season of your life?

The Bank Of Dad

In days of yore (BC – Before Children) pay day used to be the adult equivalent of Christmas for my wife (then girlfriend) and I. Designer clothes, loooooooong liquid lunches and the occasional minimum payment off the credit card bill ensured our twenties were a blur of partying and carefree carousing.

Pay day was the highlight of the month. Normally penniless a good week before then I existed primarily on a diet of toast and economy brand cola, counting the days, hours and minutes until my bumper (yeah right) wage landed in the bank account. While never quite desperate enough to queue at the cash machine at midnight it was definitely my first port of call the following morning.

Pay days that fell on a Friday were even more spectacular. A half day was invariably booked off work as the shopkeepers, publicans and bookmakers of Belfast welcomed me and my wallet with open arms. A king for a day I was until reality hit the following morning invariably courtesy of a thumping hangover. Good times. Er….I think.

Fast forward 20 years and I write this blog on the eve of another pay day. Three hours and nine minutes to be exact. 189 minutes. 11,340 seconds. No make that 11,335. But whereas I earn considerably more than I did back then (thanks to an outrageously lucky career path with a smattering of diligence and ability) the anticipation is just not the same.

One of the most fearful moments in any parents day is when the hatchlings arrive home from school, dump the contents of their school bags randomly around the house and then hand you the ‘permission slip’ for the latest school trip, after school activity or charity event. And this month has been no exception.

A summer camp deposit here. A day trip to Scotland there. And as summer holidays approach the diary goes into overdrive with school fetes, cinema trips and touring theatrical groups. Yes the days of partying for us are a distant memory. Nowadays lost weekends have been replaced by a Chinese takeaway and a box set on the sofa. If we are lucky. In between parenting taxi duties.


It’s a small price to pay however. We are blessed with three incredible children. And while they empty our bank accounts on a seemingly daily basis they fill our hearts with joy, love and priceless memories. Be it on the sports field, the stage or in the classroom they give us back infinitely more than they take.

God blessed us with them. Speaking personally I stumbled into fatherhood utterly clueless and unprepared. Undeserving but still blessed by him. Just like he blessed us by sending his Son to earth to cancel out the debt of sin that I was to steadily accumulate two millennia later in every sphere of my life.

So next time my son or daughters comes to the Bank of Dad for yet another handout I won’t mutter as I reach for my wallet. Well maybe mutter a bit less. Instead I’ll thank God for the loving grace he deposits into our lives through our kids on a daily basis. Even as the bank account haemorrhages into their eager hands.

And I’ll think of the greatest handout in history. When Jesus paid the ultimate price and wiped out the debt of sin once and for all. For us. A pay day that doesn’t come once a month for Christians. But every second of every day.

5,346, 5,345….

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. JOHN 3:16.

Tell me about your pay day memories?

Who are you regularly handing out money to?

How does the debt that Jesus paid impact on your daily life? 

The Bag Lady

Having decided some months ago not to ‘do church’ anymore we as a family have found ourselves facing the previously alien concept of free time on a Sunday morning. This has opened up endless opportunities for us which, up until then, had been denied by the traditional 11:00 a.m. service – actually resting on the Sabbath as opposed to running about from one religious appointment to the next; spending time with God (normally a hit and miss experience at Sunday services this last year or so); and dare I say it enjoying ourselves (definitely a 100% miss).

Today was no exception. I am a keen runner (regular followers of this blog will grow to hate these words). And in an effort to spend some ‘quality family time’ (three of the most patronising words in the English language when arranged in that order) I encouraged (dragged) our son and youngest daughter to a junior running event in our local park. My wife and eldest daughter knew better and wisely stayed at home.

Once the lycra fest was over we stopped at the supermarket on our way home to pick up some groceries. And armed with the necessities of life (Diet Coke, sausages and toilet paper – in that order) I stood in the queue waiting my turn to pay. In front of me a dear old lady battled to gather up various purchases in her arms. As I gallantly stood by and did nothing the shop assistant helpfully enquired ‘Would you like to put them in a bag?’

Quick as a flash the plucky pensioner shot back ‘I need a bag but I’m not willing to pay for one’. In Northern Ireland (where we live) legislation was introduced in 2014 placing a five pence charge on plastic shopping bags. To help save the environment….or something like that.


Many (myself included) have struggled with this outrageous and draconian dictat ever since. I mean five pence!  That’s like 1/20th of a pound. I’ll happily fork out £4.95 for a running magazine and £24 for a gallon tub of honeycomb ice cream. But five pence? For a plastic bag?! It’s a bridge too far. I’d much rather flounce out of the shop tripping over dropped milk cartons and smashed eggs than suffer the ignominy of such an ridiculous surcharge.

Which is exactly what this heroic old lady did….

Thankfully the assistance of my daughter (four arms good, two arms bad) meant I didn’t have to face the question that invariably causes me to break out in a cold sweat – ‘Would you like a bag sir?’

On the drive home the morning got even more eventful when we passed the scene of a road traffic collision. We stopped to offer assistance but thankfully nobody was badly hurt. My son got to pretend to be a police officer for a while directing traffic until the real police officers arrived.

It got me thinking though. About the man who thankfully crawled away unscathed from his overturned car. And the old lady back at the shop. Life is so fragile. One minute we can be happily sauntering along with not a worry for the future. And the next that future could be gone. A road traffic collision. A terminal illness. Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The variables are incalculable. The one constant is that death awaits us all one day. And it might be a lot sooner than we think.

That’s the grim news. The good news is that we do have an input. Not usually as to when it will happen but rather what will happen afterwards. To the Christian, death is just the beginning. Life is just the aperitif before the main course. The warm up before the race begins in earnest.

We have a choice. And that choice is Jesus. Who came to earth and died a violent death on a wooden torture instrument reserved for the basest criminal. An agonising, humiliating, dirty death. For us. To cleanse us of our past, present and future sins in order to allow us access to the greatest gift of all. Eternal life.

And the price? Five million pounds? Five hundred pounds? Five pence? No it costs us nothing. All we have to do is say yes and embrace him as our Lord and Saviour.

Yet so many of us still say no. We need it but are still not willing to give up our material, sinful lives. And like the bag lady we stagger along, laden down with our false idols, our guilt and our secrets.

My prayer as I write this is that if you haven’t already done so say yes. To Jesus. To a new life. And if you do I’ll happily give you five pence the next time I see you….

I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. JOHN 10:28.

How did you spend your Sunday?

Do you still ‘do church’ on a Sunday? Or worship in a different way?

Have you said yes to Jesus? Tell us about your experiences. 

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