Welcome to Mulberry Square

Just thought I’d share some images of Bank Street, off Belfast City Centre, I took yesterday. This is my inspiration for the fictional location of Mulberry Square which is the backdrop for several of the key scenes in the novel I am currently working on – tentatively titled ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles: Part One – Skelly’s Square.’ I walk through this part of the city most days on my way to and from work.

It is a vibrant, thriving part of the city full of colour and laughter. It is steeped in history and includes an eclectic range of businesses and buildings – chapels next to bookmakers, traditional Irish pubs next to modern wine bars; fish and chip shops beside gourmet restaurants. It has a little bit of everything, including a darker side that features heavily in the novel.

Such locations continue to inspire me on this insane writing journey I have embarked upon. As do the people who inhabit them. I only hope my writing can do justice to the beautiful, brutal Belfast that is my second home. I’ll blog again later. A ‘flash fiction’ writing challenge for you all no less but, for now, apologies for the dodgy photography. Let’s hope the writing that follows isn’t quite so dodgy.

What parts of your local town or city inspire you to write?

Where is your ‘second home’?

What do you think ‘goes down’ in Mulberry Square?

I Do Good Foot Rubs. But Very Little Else.

I often ask Fionnuala if I’m the most irritating person she has ever met to which she unerringly replies….yes. It’s a gift, I guess, but my long suffering wife has many buttons of which I know how to press every one. Repeatedly. If there is a new, innovative way to drive her nuts yours truly will somehow manage to unearth it; and serve it up with fries and a side salad. Et voila.

I know what a pain I am. I’m beyond socially awkward and if there is an illogical, baffling way to carry out an activity then I will find it. I’m impractical beyond belief, frequently live with my head in the clouds and invariably oblivious to the bedlam in our home as Fionnuala battles to raise three kids, a man child and keep the house in some semblance of order.

She is utterly selfless and without fail puts the needs of others before herself. She has that rarest of combinations; streetwise yet with a heart of gold. She would do anything for her friends and family and has made umpteen sacrifices down the years that I could fill a thousand blogs with. I have no idea why she puts up with me and yet she still does. For that I will never be able to repay her.

She is one of the main reasons I believe there is a God up there. A God who obviously rolled his eyes, took pity on me and sent Fionnuala to sort out my various messes. From my excruciating dad rapping to my bewildering shirt ironing technique; from my inability to operate the oven properly to my endless whining about my work, my running and ‘the book’. She sighs, she swears, she tears out her hair. But she puts up with me.

Tonight I gave my wife a foot rub on the sofa as she binged on one of her favourite U.S. drama series. Fionnuala has to take extra care of her feet following a diagnosis of Type 2 Diabetes. That aside, she is a busy mummy who spends most of the day on her feet. She deserves a little pampering now and again; in fact, forget that, she deserves a lot more pampering than I provide her with. But tonight I put down the laptop, set aside Kirkwood Scott for half an hour and exercised my magic fingers.

I don’t know much but what I do know, I do well. And I do know I give foot rubs. It’s not a five course dinner, it’s not cleaning the house from top to bottom, but it was my practical way of thanking my wife for all she does for me and showing that I love her very much. It’s all very well telling someone you love them but that’s not enough. You have to show it. Love is more than an emotion. It is an act of will, it is persevering with your loved one through the bad times as well as the good.

Before the night is over, before you have even read this I will no doubt have put my foot in it again and committed some calamitous act that will have Fionnuala crawling up the walls. I will bow my head and start the walk of shame back to the dog kennel where I spend a good part of my week. Charlie the border terrier will look at it me with some disdain before reluctantly moving over to let me join him for the night.

Do you drive your loved ones insane?

How do you show people you love them?

What Do You Wish You Had Written About Today?

People often compliment me on my honest writing style. They ask me how do I do it as they could never be that open and upfront about their lives. They use words like ‘refreshing’ which I like as honesty is a refreshing attribute in today’s world. I’m not talking about liars here but, rather, people who don’t speak the truth as it might damage the persona they portray to the world. They would rather hide behind a facade than be that rarest of creatures…..their true selves.

I’ve already written at length about this epidemic of evasiveness in previous posts. It is insidious and permeates all aspects of life. We simply refuse to be honest as to who we are. We flinch from the truth as it’s ugliness scares us. But ugliness, much like beauty, is only skin deep. Cut away the scar tissue and expose the miracle within. The real you. With a voice begging be heard, with words and songs and images bursting to be released into this arid wasteland we inhabit.

I fled to WordPress a year ago to practice talking the truth. I had been suffocated by the real world, too ashamed to explore the many flaws and failings I had kept bottled up for way too long. A gangrenous genie that, when released, threatened to turn my fairytale ‘perfect’ life into a living nightmare. Yet, it had to breathe, it had to be. I had no church or friends to turn to so, encouraged by Fionnuala, I turned to blogging. It saved my life as I knew it then.

It was a revelation, a revolution within my soul which had the old Stephen reaching for the white flag while simultaneously throwing the towel into the ring. I write prodigiously and truthfully. I wielded words and practice every day until they surged from my keyboard at will. I needed to write. I had so much to say and the clock keeps ticking. I constantly feel as if I am running out of time. Words can be weapons of mass destruction. They are more valuable than precious stones, than the very air we breathe.

Words are life. They strip away the veneer, the plastic and the false. They are white hot, they cleanse and purge like no other potion or pill known to man. Then why do we shy away from them? Increasingly on WordPress I see fellow bloggers testify that they are unable to write about what they want to. Some are worried about what others might think, some believe they are not eloquent enough to accurately express themselves, others say it would be too painful a process.

More painful than keeping the words unspoken or unwritten? Meandering along a river of regret until they become stuck in the shallows never to be emerge again. So we fall into the same old trap. We say what we think others want to hear, we dilute our diction and side step the stories that are our legacy and our right to tell. They fester and ferment within us, dripping poison into our veins and clogging our arteries, blocking the hopes and dreams that will never see the light of day.

What have you written about today? What are you thinking of writing today? Reflect upon it. Is it really what you want to say, what you need to say? Or is there something else, curled in a ball, buried deep within, that craves to be unfurled like a battlefield banner. A banner which announces to your enemies and antagonists that enough is enough and you are making a stand. Look up and read the words on that banner as it flaps and flutters in the breeze.

Commit those words to memory. For that is your anthem and they are your story. Share them and feel that cloak of secrecy and shame slip from your shoulders. They are words forged in the depths of your being, unspeakably strong. They cannot be broken for they were written with the ink of your blood and your tears. They are your rebirth from the banality and boredom of what you once were. You are whole again. Now tell your story and live to tell many more.

Do you want to write about certain subjects and experiences but hold back? Why?

Is your writing as honest as you would like it to be?

What has this post inspired you to write about?

Would You Write A Letter To A Fellow Blogger?

Yesterday I posted about emojis and the death of the written word. It generated quite a dialogue and one of the themes that emerged was how much people miss receiving, and sending, letters. You know, in the post. Stamps? Envelopes? Am I ringing any bells here people? It brought back to me the excitement and anticipation of receiving mail from penpals. There is something in the care and attention of writing and posting a letter that cannot be replicated into today’s ‘junk food’ society of e-mail, text and social media messaging.

So today’s post is a challenge to you all. Whether or not you choose my metaphorical gauntlet throwing is entirely up to you. It’s a challenge to write a letter and post it to a fellow blogger. Or bloggers if you are feeling particularly inspired. It can be anything. A few lines or your life story. It can include art, poetry, photographs, whatever rocks your boat. The central message here is reaching out across the online abyss and physically connecting with a fellow human being.

There are a few rules. The letter has to be handwritten. No typing you lazy, lazy people. The other person has to have agreed to co-operate. Although, otherwise how would you have obtained their address. Duh Stephen! And although I hate to even have to say this but I’m afraid I must – please refrain from any abusive and offensive material. That would make me cross. And nobody wants to see that.

If you are up for the challenge then simply comment below, telling us who you are hoping to write to and why. Feel free to share this blog and let’s spread this message throughout the blogging community. Or maybe you want to blog yourself about your letter writing process? Include photos of your lavishly decorated envelopes, journey to the mail box or exquisite handwriting. Let’s get writing

Are you willing to accept the letter writing challenge?

Who would you like to write to and why?

What are you going to include in your letter?

Feel free to reblog if you think this is a good idea.

Thank You

This is not intended as a self indulgent or ‘look at me’ post. But we reached 6000 followers yesterday on the blog and wanted to say thank you to everyone who has contributed towards us reaching this milestone. Fionnuala and I are very grateful for the continued support, encouragement and love that you send our way on a daily basis. We just hope that we make half of the impact upon you all as you continue to do upon our lives. Thank you.

Unreality Television

A reality TV show called ‘Love Island’ has taken over U.K. television this summer. A dozen muscle bound hunks and bikini clad models are lumped together in a villa on a Mediterranean island where their every move is filmed for our viewing entertainment. Romance blossoms and hearts are broken. Everyone has perfect bodies, perfect tans and perfect teeth. There are villains, heroes and catfights galore.

Reality TV is a sure fire ratings winner. It’s relatively cheap to make and the viewing public can’t get enough of it. Maybe it’s because the sight of the often intellectually challenged contestants make us feel a little bit better about ourselves; or maybe it’s just some lightweight escapism from our own dreary lives at the end of another gruelling day at the coalface. Either way, reality TV is here to stay.

The irony of it is that there is nothing remotely real about reality TV. The contestants are carefully chosen and moulded to play the roles that the producers want them to perform. Conversations are scripted and emotions exploited and exaggerated. The footage is carefully edited in order to ensure that every last drop of drama is squeezed from what is essentially a dozen bored twenty somethings lounging around a pool.

We lap it up all the same. Will Jack and Dani stay together despite the former’s ex girlfriend arriving at the villa with her sights set on winning him back? Will nice guy Alex ever get a girl after a string of doomed dates? And is man eater Meghan really the most horrible woman in Britain? Tune in after the break and all will be revealed. Or possibly not depending on what evil tricks the producers have up their sleeves for our hapless heroes.

We love reality TV for its sheer lack of reality. It is fantasy fluff. It is unreality TV. We mock the contestants but it begs the question – how real are we as we go about living our own lives? How genuine are we in our interactions with the people who matter in our lives? And how much of it is inane, meaningless small talk? Do we tell them we love them or is it all bottled up and glossed over because that’s ‘not our thing’?

I used to live my life in a bubble. I drifted along in a world of my own, refusing to deal with my own grief, addictive behaviour and deteriorating mental health. I refused to acknowledge the damage it was causing both myself and my family. Reality took a back seat to selfish, immature behaviour and an inability to face up to the responsibilities screaming at me to be dealt with. I chose to turn my back on reality and live a lie. It was car crash television.

Does any of this ring a bell? Does your life at present currently resemble an unreality TV show? Are you burying your head in the sand and burying your hopes and plans in the process? As in six foot under. Here’s a suggestion. Stop digging. Look up and take what life has to offer you on the chin. It might not be pretty but it’s your life and only you can turn it into a thing of beauty. You only have one chance.

Unreality television is harmless fun. Unreality living is not. It’s a killer. Living a superficial life might give the appearance that all is rosy in the garden but those roses have thorns that will pierce your skin and bleed you dry. Unreality living leads to dissatisfaction, dead ends and disaster. Be real and learn to feel. With those who matter and need the real you in their lives. Who deserve better than a gameshow contestant.

What are your views on reality TV?

Are you living a real or unreal life?

Why Do Christian Bookshops Not Sell The Books I Want To Read?

The Faith Mission Bookshop in Belfast city centre is huge. It stocks thousands upon thousands of Bibles, books, journals, DVD’s, CD’s and so on. The list is endless. You think you are at the back of the store but then see that it opens up into another massive section at the rear. You could spend days in there. And by the looks of some of the customers, it appears as if several of them have.

I have spent many an hour wandering round it but, by and large, I invariably leave it empty handed and frustrated. I only visit when I am looking for a specific title. It’s not as if I’m seeking out some obscure first edition that was printed in 1846 and there are only 12 surviving copies still in existence. The books I’m looking for are new releases by established or up and coming young authors.

Sarah Bessey, Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans, Jamie Wright, Lacey Sturm. All powerful women who write from the heart with a wit and intelligence sadly missing in a lot of the Christian literature on the market at present. They write passionately about their faith, their flaws and their frustrations. They tackle difficult issues that a lot of Christians bury their heads in the sand about. They broach difficult truths. They write from the edge.

Homosexuality and same sex marriage. Equality and the role of women within the organised church. Religion v following Jesus. Sexism. Bigotry. Intolerance. Hypocrisy. The value and merit of short term mission trips. They swear. They complain. They have tattoos and drink too much wine. Yet they speak the truth of the Gospel more powerfully and purely than many of the preachers I have listened to in recent years.

Yet try to get a copy of one of their books in a Northern Irish Christian book store and you are likely to be disappointed. Thank God for Amazon. And I mean that literally and am not taking the Lord’s name in vain. Thank you God! I’m currently reading Sturm’s ‘The Return’ and the opening two chapters have reignited an urge within me to pick up my Bible which has been sadly lacking in me for several months now.

Wright’s ‘The Very Worst Missionary’ is a searing expose of a misspent youth that was plucked from destruction by faith. Her experiences on the missionary field are brutally honest. Bessey’s ‘Jesus Feminist’ is a must for anyone wanting to look beyond the rampant sexism within many churches to how Jesus treated the women within his inner circle. These women do not shoot from the hip and miss.

Whenever I mentioned one of these authors to other churchgoers I was normally met with blank stares and indifference. I almost felt that people switched off when they realised the author was a young women who wrote with a verve and honesty that many lifelong Christians find uncomfortable. Is it because they are unwilling to open their eyes to the possibility that their lifetime of safe, staid beliefs are not what Jesus taught and expected of us.? WWJD? Possibly the opposite of what you are currently.

So there you are. I’m putting it out there. I’m not saying I know it all for I know less than most people. I’m currently not in a church. My faith flickers like a candle in a hurricane. But it’s still there. And it’s quirky, unorthodox, left field Christian authors like the above that are keeping it alive. It might feel battered and bruised but at least I feel. Now where did I set that Bible?

What are your thoughts on this post? I’d be interested to hear them. Please comment below.

On The Cusp

For years I was a closed book, lying on a shelf gathering dust and regret. My pages were tinged with poison; dare to leaf through them and you would have been contaminated with my anger and grief. So I hid my pain, burying it deep down a well wherein I dwelled. For I was unwell, enduring a daily hell where I was suckled by demons dispatched from my past to distort my present. I was off kilter, adrift, unhinged.

The hinges are back are the door now. I was healed by a man from ancient times who worked with wood. He would have known a bit about making doors. Wood was his life and his Word became my life. A wooden construction killed him in the end. Yet wood could not destroy him just as Roman steel and Palestinian rock could not contain him. He walked free just as I also would from intrusive thinking and addictive behaviour. I am free to be be.

I am an open book now. I pour myself out onto the pages of this blog. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I see, I believe, I breathe. By helping myself I seek to help others who are stumbling along similar paths. I am purged from the urge to hit the self destruct button as I did in days gone by. Days of shame and sin, self loathing and pain: where I lashed out at those who loved me most and deserved it least.

I have been saved from an early grave. Therefore why do I still doubt? I sought and found the truth, the door is unlocked and open. Yet why do I hesitate from walking through it, why do I find myself turning my back on it and walking away? Have people damaged me that much? That I have succumbed to the humdrum numbness of hypocrisy and indifference. The inane laughter and empty words of so called pillars of society.

Why do I care that they do not care? I stand on the edge of the forest now. I can see the wood for the trees. I see them for what they are and for what they were turning me into. I walked away from them but I do not want to walk away from Him. I lurched from church to church but He was waiting patiently beside me all along. I only need take that step. Not towards their doors but through His door. Silently and without fanfare. For this is a private performance on my part.

Thoughts become words and words become actions. Actions write my story. Just as I lift my foot to take that step He lifts a pen to write my story. It is not one of glory for it has been gory, a story of fear and failure. Yet still I stand poised to take that step. Not through the doors of a church for I desire not the false smiles and fake bon homie of people I barely know. People who have no desire to know me beyond ninety minutes on a Sunday. Routine. Rota. Religion. Ruin.

They are Christians. He was not. They are not the way. He was and is. I do not need them yet I need Him. And all the more incredible, he still desires to know me. Broken, discarded me. When everyone else walked away and shut their doors he flung his wide open and welcomed me inside. I stand on the other side. Hesitant, suspicious. When I walk now I do so with a limp. I leave in my wake a trail of tears. My wisdom has been won at a price.

I am an open book and this is today’s page. I sweat these words out of me like a runner sweats as he churns out the miles. It is a painful purity yet I know no other way. To run is to suffer as is to write. Yet I still do both. For I know no other way anymore nor do I wish to. This is the path I have chosen today. Will I choose it tomorrow? I do not know. For all I know is here and now. Staring at a page. Standing at a door. On the cusp.

Thoughts On Death

Our family has been touched by death these last few weeks. It has sparked a flurry of emotions in us all – emotions so deep and diverse that I could blog about them until the end of the year and still not have covered everything. Yet none of them matter an iota when it comes to the finality of death. We can scream and shout, cry and call all we want. Death is death and it’s not going to bring that person back.

A death inevitably leaves so many unanswered questions. Why? How? But what if? Could we have done more? Did we do too much? The list stretches over the horizon. Death is as cruel as it is arbitrary. It makes no sense. But it falls upon the living to try and pick up the pieces and attempt to carry on as best they can. Pick up the pieces of the life that has just been extinguished. And pick up the pieces of the lives still being lived.

Death changes the living. Some for the better, some for the worse. It necessitates change and some are better at that than others. It can end lives, effectively turning the bereaved into walking corpses themselves. They can walk, talk and their chests rise and fall. Yet they are as bereft of life as those they buried or burned. Death is a callous thief and if you allow it to, it can steal your life away from right under your nose.

It can inspire and motivate. Those left behind can go on to greater things, reach heights and attain goals they never thought possible. It can be in order to emulate the dead person, to become more like them. Or it can be in order to avoid becoming like them. Death is neutral, passive and final. Yet it is a kick start, a jolt, a new beginning for so many. Death begets death or life; it offers despair or hope. The choice is yours.

The dead have no voice yet they speak to us every second of every day. They continue to live on in our minds and memories. Some are more impactive than when they were alive. They participate in every conversation we have, they are involved in every decision we make. You don’t need a crystal ball to communicate with them. Just stop and listen; for they are here, there and everywhere.

Where do the dead go? Heaven or Hell? Paradise or Purgatory? Do they party or perish? Are they judged for their crimes and misdemeanours or do they drift away scot free into the ether? We want them to suffer. We want them to be at peace. Yet are we suffering? Are we at peace? If only we could devote the same attention to ourselves as we do to those who have moved on beyond our grasp. Death is too slippery, too cunning, too complex for our feeble minds. A Gordian knot of grief that we will never unravel.

Death breaks hearts. It shatters dreams. It burns bridges. It scorches the soul. It is fire and it is ice but either way it burns deep. There was never enough time while they were with us yet, now that they are gone, the weeks, months and years stretch before many like an unending desert of despair. To some death is freedom while it condemns others to a life sentence. Death rips up roots and tears down hopes. It cares not.

We queue to shuffle past the dead and mumble meaningless words to those they left behind. We are sorry. Sorry for their loss, sorry for their pain. But mostly we are sorry for ourselves. Sorry that when we stare at their remains we are staring at our own futures. We are death waiting to happen. It may be sudden and merciful. It may be drawn out and agonising. But it will come as surely as dawn follows dusk.

What are your thoughts on death?

I’m A Christian Blogger But I’ve Stopped Writing Christian Blogs

When we started this blog in May 2017 the large majority of my posts were overtly Christian. They were quite popular and the blog grew quickly with a predominantly Christian following. A lot of those folk still support the blog and this post is primarily written for them. I feel I owe them an explanation for I’ve pretty much stopped posting Christian blogs. There are reasons for that which I hope will make sense to you.

I still see myself as a Christian. I haven’t set foot in a church, however, in over six months and it’s been quite a while since I picked up my Bible. To be honest, I’ve been quite angry with God for a number of reasons that I won’t bore you with here. My prayer life is somewhat hit and miss as well. So, for me, to keep up the pretence of running a Christian blog would be disingenuous and hypocritical on my part.

I could quite easily have maintained the charade. I know the Bible well and could have carried on knocking out daily studies and devotionals. But that would be wrong. Many people have commented on the honesty of my writing and I want to maintain that honesty. My relationship with you guys is very important to my continued recovery from a chequered online past. I want to be as transparent and accountable online as I am to my family in the ‘real world.’

I want to reassure you that I am not backsliding or slipping back into my own ways. I believe I retain higher standards and morals now than I did when I was within a church environment and ‘pretending’ to lead a perfect life. I also saw a lot within the church that made me question if it was the right place for myself and my family to be. Following Jesus is essentially about freedom, forgiveness and redemption. I believe that can be achieved without regular church attendance.

This post is not intended as an exercise in Christian bashing. I could rant and rave but that would be counter productive. Yes, a number of supposed Christians who I would have regarded as friends or acquaintances have disappointed and, on occasion, shocked me as to their behaviour since I made the decision to walk away from the church. But this post is not about them. They are my past and to dwell on such grievances is both draining and toxic.

I am alright. I am okay. In fact I’m better than ok. My marriage is strong and I am loved and supported by a wonderful woman. I truly believe we are raising our kids the best we can. We have taught them manners and the difference between right and wrong. I am excited as to their futures for I believe they are on the cusp of amazing lives. We are a happy family. A happy, functioning unit.

I have my running and writing. Fionnuala has her crafts business. We are content. My book is not a ‘Christian’ book although it does lean strongly on Christian themes of love, hope and redemption. I still believe in God but I don’t believe in a lot of the people who claim to speak in his name. I follow Jesus but I’m not so keen on many of his followers. There are many wolves out there in sheep’s clothing. I have felt their claws and teeth. Once bitten, twice shy.

I hope this post has not come across as negative. That was not my intention. I just wanted to explain my current thinking as I’ve become aware that a number of Christians who regularly commented on my posts no longer do so. I am sorry if my content is no longer to your liking and hope you find other bloggers who meet your needs. I’m not saying that I won’t revert to more overt Christian posts on an occasional or regular basis in the future. I am saying that it’s not for me at present.

I hope the above has made some sort of sense as it has largely been written off the cuff. If I want to fulfil my dream of blogging and writing for a living then this post had to be written. I’d rather take one honest step back than two not so honest steps forward. I hope also that my writing continues to encourage and entertain those of you who still drop by, be that on a regular or occasional basis. Thank you for your continued support.

Well Done Rebecca!

Fionnuala and I endured….I mean enjoyed Rebecca’s final primary sports day this morning before she heads off to junior high in September. The Black Family have never fared well at these bar my own glorious victory in the parents water balloon throwing event many years ago. My price was a massive chocolate bar. It was, as ever, a team effort. I won the chocolate but Fionnuala helped me eat it.

Adam never won anything until he was handed a rugby ball in junior high. And now he is being scouted by a professional team. The same applied to Rebecca. Every year she tried her hardest but always fell short of winning a medal. This year she put in extra sprint training in the week leading up to the big day. I have been coaching her the best I can although sprinting is not my forte. It takes me about three miles to get going.

It all paid off today though. She qualified from her heat to line up in the Year 7 Girls Final where she finished like a train to clinch the bronze medal. She gets it at a special school assembly tomorrow. Fionnuala and I were both so proud of her. Perseverance and hard work pay off no matter what your skill set. It has been a hard year for Rebecca at the school and, to be honest, we are glad that she is leaving it.

The junior high was the making of Adam and we hope it will be for Rebecca as well. She deserves a fresh start at a good school away from playground gossip and lies. She can hold her head up proud tomorrow when she gets her medal. It made sitting through 40 (yes you read that right) chaotic races before her event, standing in the heat for two hours and being blanked by former so called Christian friends all the more worthwhile. Well done Rebecca!

Why Are Some Friends So Unfriendly?

Fionnuala has been visited this week by an American friend who she has not seen in over 30 years. They have kept in touch, most recently on Facebook, but this is the first time they have actually physically met since then. And you know what? It was as if it was yesterday. They started chatting right off and there were no awkward silences or stilted conversations whatsoever. This got me thinking about the subject of friendship.

To me, this was a sign of true friendship, a bond that distance nor time can diminish. Fionnuala and Elaine have always been friends and will always be friends. They are there for each other, no matter what. A friend of mine died suddenly last week. I had not seen him in a number of years as he had been working in Canada. I have recently been informed that he stipulated in his will that he did not want flowers at his funeral; instead people have been asked to make donations to SHINE, the charity for spina bifida and hydrocephalus.

Our daughter, Hannah, has both of the above and some years ago my friend, John, took part in a charity cycle round the circumference of Northern Ireland to raise funds for the charity. He still remembered us despite his high powered, globe trotting career. I was truly humbled when I became aware that he had asked for this in his will. Again, it was a true act of friendship despite not having seen him in years.

Elaine and John didn’t forget their friends despite the passage of time. We remained a constant fixture in their hearts and minds even when we were thousands of miles apart. They cared and made that effort to maintain the relationship. And we made the effort as well because friendship is a two way process. There is give and take on either side. Both parties have to work at the relationship in order to make it succeed.

If only all friendships could be like that. I know people who would never stay in touch with me unless I made the effort to do so with them. There are people I talk to every week. I tell them about my life; my family, my running, my writing. They nod and they smile in all the right places but you can tell they have no interest. I know people who only contact me when they want something. People who don’t return calls or reply to messages. If you asked them they would state we were friends. But I know in my heart that they’re not.

Why are people like that? Are they oblivious to the pain they cause with their slights and silences? Are they that emotionally switched off that these not so subtle snubs fail to register with them? Or are their hearts so hard that they simply don’t care? It saddens, frustrates and angers me. I see it happening to my kids as well which is even harder to stomach. I see it in the office, the church, everywhere. People no longer seem to be willing to go that extra mile for others.

What is the answer? Do we persevere with these friendships in the hope that the situation will improve? Do we love them even harder in an effort to thaw them out? To lead by example and show them what true friendship is? Are we willing to endure these false relationships because we are afraid of losing the little connection that we have with these people? Our need for company leads us to sacrifice our integrity and ethics at the altar of ‘popularity’.

Or do we cut the cord and walk away? Accept that they are unwilling or unable to take the friendship beyond it’s current status? Would they even notice if we stopped phoning or messaging them? It’s a tough one and I’m not sure I have the answer. But it worries me. Society is becoming more superficial by the day. People crave friends and likes and followers on social media. Is that what we have become?

Do you have ‘unfriendly’ friends? How do you deal with them?

What Conversations Have You Had With Yourself Today?

Has anyone else noticed the increasing number of people who seem to be talking to themselves in public places? They always cause me to take a double look before I realise, with some relief, that they are actually in the middle of a conversation via an earpiece attached to their mobile phone. Well, thank goodness for that. I was just about to notify the men in white coats to come and whisk them away.

My mobile phone rarely rings these days. And I kind of like it that way. I prefer to communicate via the written word now. Around eighteen months ago I had a massive cull of my contacts list that brought my social diary to a juddering halt. I changed my ringtone a few months ago and then realised what a waste of money it had been as I rarely ever hear it. It’s ‘Easy Street’ by The Collapsible Heart Club by the way for anyone who’s interested. Walking Dead fans will get the reference.

So my phone rarely rings. But like the earpiece aficionados I observe on public transport I often hold conversations with myself. We all do. Mine used to be pretty brutal. An unceasing barrage of criticism and abuse. Past indiscretions and mistakes played on a never ending loop in my head. Welcome folks to the wacky world of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and depressive thinking. It’s a veritable hoot.

The thoughts are still there but are less extreme now. I wouldn’t say life with myself is a constant lovefest but at least we tolerate one another now. It’s an uneasy stand off, a shaky truce at best. But my wife and kids keep me grounded. My running and writing also help to purge me of the feelings of self loathing, guilt and shame which are lurking beneath the surface of my psyche just biding their time and waiting for the right moment to renew hostilities.

It’s important that we take better care of ourselves mentally. And that means trying to cut down on the internal conversations where we end up battered and bruised on the ropes. I find it incredibly hard to take compliments from people. I usually brush them off with a sarcastic aside while thinking to myself ‘Well you wouldn’t be saying that if you knew what I was really like.’

This is part of the reason I’m so honest in my writing both on the blog and in the novel I’m currently editing. I address some unpleasant topics and make no apologies for that. I’m talking to you, my audience, but I’m also speaking to myself. Constantly trying to remind myself that beneath all the negativity is a decent person trying to break out, trying to move on and leave his past behind.

It’s an uphill struggle at times but a necessary one. If we can’t live with ourselves then what hope do we have of a harmonious life with those around us? Being involved in a constant battle with me, myself and I leaves little time for others. We leave ourselves exhausted and dead to the lives that we were born to live. We need to climb out of the trenches and raise the white flag. The war is over.

Unless we find peace of mind then we will find our minds in pieces. There is truth in this truce. Surrender is the the first step towards victory and not defeat. There is power in compromise and understanding. Take a moment today and have a quiet word with yourself. Hold out the hand of friendship and then grasp it as hard as you can. You have just made the best friend you will ever have.

What conversations have you had with yourself today?

Morior Invictus

The paths of the dead

Are where we must tread

To vanquish the demons

Who reign in our head

Death itches and twitches

Denying us riches

Our God given right

Morior Invictus

Yet I fear it not

For X marks the spot

New treasures revealed

And an end to the rot.

Happy Birthday To Us

Fractured Faith is a year old today and what a year it has been. Fionnuala and I would like to thank you again, our fellow bloggers, for the support and encouragement you have provided along the way. Here’s to the next year.

I’m A Christian But I Still Worry

I am a natural born worrier. Ever since I can remember I have fretted and frowned my way through life. I can turn the slightest molehill into Mount Everest and the most innocuous issue into the mother of all dramas. Every week I look at my diary and am appalled by the appointments and commitments I have to navigate in order to make it through to the following weekend. If I wasn’t worrying about something then I’d be worried that I wasn’t worrying.

I worry about areas of my life that I suppose it is socially acceptable to worry about. My family, my work, paying the bills, all the normal stresses and strains of everyday life. But I also worry about upcoming events where I should be feeling a sense of anticipation and excitement as opposed to anxiety and edginess. I worry about my next run, my next writing session, my next day off.

Why am I worrying about events which should be reducing my stress levels as opposed to increasing them? Why do I place myself under this intense pressure? A lot of it comes down to my sense of worth and value. I beat myself up a lot about my past. I don’t like myself a lot of the time and I feel I have let a lot of people down, not least myself. So I try to be a better husband, a better father, a better person. Then worry myself sick when I sense I’m not quite at the level I believe I should be at.

I’m also trying to prove people wrong. Again myself included. That I’m not a failure, that I’m not a waste of time and space. That they were wrong to judge me and conclude I was a walking disaster. That I can succeed. So I set the bar so very high then worry as to how I am going to attain all the targets and goals I have set. And every time I reach one the sense of satisfaction is fleeting as I immediately focus on the next one.

As a Christian the Bible tells me not to worry. It’s chock full of verses to that effect. If you google ‘Bible verses worry’ you will be inundated. Jesus devotes a good chunk of Matthew 6 to the subject. Which, of course, makes me even worse when I worry. I’m worrying because Jesus told me not to worry. I’m not following his teaching, therefore I’m being disobedient, therefore I’m sinning. Oh woe is me.

But hang on a minute. Isn’t the Bible full of worriers? Great men of God who instead of glibly trusting the Almighty hummed and haahed with the best of them. Wouldn’t Noah have fretted when he sent the dove from the ark and then sat all those days waiting? What about David when Nathan told him God knew all about his little dalliance with Bathsheba? Or Paul (The Artist Formerly Known As Saul) when he was struck blind on his way to Damascus?

I reckon they all worked themselves into a right lather. Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Peter the list goes on. Jesus was without sin but he also experienced the same emotions as you and I. When he had his ‘moment’ in Gethsemane the night before the crucifixion did he experience dread and uncertainty? Was he worried about what was to come? He was God but he was also human and susceptible to human frailties. He got tired, he got hungry, he got angry. He worried?

The lesson I believe is how he and the others dealt with it. Yes, they worried but instead of succumbing to it they forged on ahead and overcame their fears in order to accomplish what God wanted them to. Paul became the greatest missionary ever known, Peter founded the Church we know today, Jesus went to the Cross and saved mankind. Their worries were temporary states of mind yet their achievements when they pressed on through are permanent and can never be taken away from them.

I’m a worrier. I was born one and I’ll probably die one. It’s the way I am. I can’t change that. But I can change how I handle my anxiety. Instead of crumbling under the strain and giving up I can persevere and get through it. I can pray for God not to remove the worry but to get me through it to the other side. Having faith means trusting God to guide you along the rocky paths, not removing them altogether. For the journey equips you with the attributes you require for when you get to where you are meant to be. And that’s where the real work starts.

What do you worry about?

How do you cope with worry?

Is it a sin to be a Christian and worry?

Why Do You Write?

Why do I bother?

Why do I write?

Why do I struggle with words every night?

To convince all the wronged

The despised and forlorn

That they’re not alone and can survive the scorn.

So I’m penning a story

Of hope and redemption

I’m screaming it loud so I’ll get your attention.

You click and you like and you comment and follow

But have you considered why you feel so hollow?

So empty inside, so frayed at the seams.

Consumed by dark nightmares which once were bright dreams.

Your plight has been sanctioned

Left bitter and vanquished

And try as you might you’re all out of lost chances.

Friendships, romances all of them dead

You made this mess so best lie in your bed.

Your soul is in tatters

You’ve lost all that matters.

Dragged down rabbit holes, you’re the maddest of hatters.

But I’ve been where you are

I will show you my scars

I was dead in the gutter

But could still taste the stars.

Stripped bare but He cared

He reached down to me there

Grace cloaked my disgrace

From the whispers and stares.

So that’s why I write

I’ve recovered my sight

Scales fallen from eyes

To reveal truth and might.

Better times lie ahead

For the damned and the dead

Turn your back to the lies and embrace truth instead.

Why do you write?

I’m Stephen. I’m Sober And Socially Awkward

My anxiety levels were fairly high yesterday morning as we set off to attend the wedding of Fionnuala’s brother, Gearard, to his fiancée, Emma. Ever since I gave up drinking five years ago I have struggled at social events, especially those where I have to interact with people I don’t know. Alcohol was my crutch to get through these occasions. I was always the first person to get drunk and usually ended up sleeping in the corner just as the party was getting going.

My strategy yesterday was to keep busy and ensure Fionnuala and the kids had a great day. Hannah had to be a bridesmaid and the other three all had roles during the church service. All I had to do was turn up in a suit and not embarrass my daughters with my ‘dad dancing.’ I had been well warned beforehand. The second I started busting out my moves was the second I would be forcibly evicted from the venue.

I spent the morning performing taxi duties ferrying Fionnuala, the girls and my beloved mother in law to and from various hair and beauty salons. I also paid a visit to the florists to collect button holes as well as ferrying the worryingly relaxed groom from his house to where the car would be coming to convey him to the chapel. Some of the men had a beer beforehand but I stuck to the Diet Coke.

The service ran smoothly. The bride turned up five minutes early. Hannah looked amazing and performed her role perfectly while a bird flew around the rafters of the chapel for the entire service leading the priest to comment that the Holy Spirit was well and truly in the building. The weather was mild and dry which is basically all you can ask for in the land of driving rain and bitter cold.

When we arrived at the reception venue there was iced beer and sparkling wine on the patio overlooking the lawns. This would have been the beginning of the end for the old Stephen as I would have enthusiastically launched myself into the complimentary alcohol. I would have been drunk well before the meal and speeches and no doubt making a total fool of myself in the process. Weddings were always a disaster for me in that respect.

I had no internal shut-off mechanism when I drank. I was a binge drinker and would consume as much beer as I could as quickly as I could. My sole objective was to get inebriated as this killed my innate shyness and social awkwardness. I thought I was the life and soul of the party when in reality I was the talk of the party. And for all the wrong reasons. It wasn’t a pretty sight. Even worse was the sight of me the next day. Horribly hungover and gripped by self pity and a fear as to what I had said or done the previous day.

Today, however, I woke with a clear head. Tired, yes, but still able to run 10K, my final training run before the Belfast Marathon. I was out of my comfort zone yesterday. I’m not very good at small talk and feel uncomfortable around people drinking alcohol. The temptation is no longer there but it brings back a lot of bad memories. I did my best, however, to get into the party mood and, most of all, ensure that Fionnuala and the kids had a great day.

In the end they did. And so did I. The meal was great and the speeches entertaining. I even got a mention in the groom’s speech. Afterwards there was cake, a magician and Star Wars figures. Well it was May the Fourth after all. Hannah even allowed me on the dance floor to shake my thang towards the end of the night. There is video evidence of my shape throwing somewhere on Facebook apparently. We didn’t get home until almost two in the morning. A great day.

Who needs alcohol?

Are you socially awkward? How do you deal with it?

Hobbits, Dinosaurs And Gnashing Of Teeth – My Study Of The Book Of Job

A while back I posted a blog about my struggles with the Bible entitled I’m A Christian But I Don’t Read The Bible. It engendered an amazing response and it was a great comfort to learn that I was not the only person with difficulties in this spiritual area. What it also did was encourage me to pick up my dusty Bible and try again. Obviously I needed to break myself in gently again so I chose a book that would allow me to ease back in to scriptural life.

So I started on Job….

Oh Job, where do I begin. Not only is it one of the longest books in the Bible, it’s also one of the most frustrating and impenetrable. For those of you who haven’t endured (I mean basked in its glory) here’s a potted synopsis.

So Job is the richest man in the Old Testament. He has it all. A large, loving family who appear to all get on with each other. Unheard of I know! More livestock than a Texan rancher. Plus he’s Gods main man. Wise, faithful and apparently without blemish. He has it all. Until one day Satan (hiss! boo!) challenges God. Let me have a pop at Job and we’ll see what a goody two shoes he is. I’ll have him cursing your name faster than you can saddle a camel.

I’m not sure how long it takes to saddle a camel but just go with me on this one.

God agrees, like obviously, and before long Job is beset with all sorts of tragedies. His family and livestock are all wiped out in a series of highly suspicious enemy raids and natural disasters. Except for his nagging wife. Hmmmm. Is she in on the act? Job reacts like any Old Testament character having a bad day would. Teeth are gnashed, robes are torn and the wailing commences. Pretty standard really.

Job’s three best mates then roll into town. One of them is called Bildad which sounds a bit like Bilbo so I’ve always imagined him as a hobbit. Smoking a pipe and with big, hairy feet. At first they do nothing. Literally nothing. For a week they all sit around and do nothing but watch Job wailing and gnashing. It must have been totally awkward. Have they never heard of small talk to break the ice. Funny weather we’re having? Err…maybe not. How are the kids? Nope….not that one either.

Anyway…..

Eventually they do. Start talking that it is. And how we wish they hadn’t. There then follows thirty odd chapters of them berating poor old Job. As if he hasn’t enough to deal with he also has the worst friends. Ever. The gist of it is that God wouldn’t have allowed this for no reason. Mr. Perfect Pants Job must have some pretty sordid skeletons lurking in his closet, some grisly secrets that have led to him getting his comeuppance. They’re kind of gloating and how Job resisted slapping them in the face I’ll never know.

That’s the patience of Job I guess.

To be fair he gives as good as he gets. It’s handbags at dawn as he argues his case and bemoans how God could have treated such an all round good guy like him in such an unfair fashion. It’s a pity party par excellence. Seriously this guy would have given David a run for his money in the complaining stakes. If God had allowed Job to write the psalms I reckon the Bible would have ended up twice as long.

That’s the impatience of Job I guess.

Another bloke turns up whose name I can’t remember off the top of my head. It begins with an ‘E’. But he’s definitely not a hobbit. He has a pop at Job as well until eventually God gets fed up with the lot of them and intervenes. Finally! This is when Job is reminded who the boss is and how clueless he really is about life, the universe and everything. The Almighty gives him a large piece of his omnipotent and omniscient mind. Job and his buddies are well and truly put in their respective boxes.

God takes them on a crash course of creation, reminding them that they haven’t a leg to stand on when it comes to questioning his authority and plans for the cosmos. He basically tells them to zip it, concluding with incredible accounts of Behemoth and Leviathan, fantastic creatures which he brought into existence. There has been much debate as to what these creatures may have been. Hippos? Crocodiles?

When I read it all I could think of was a brontosaurus (behemoth) and fire breathing dragon (leviathan). The Book of Job had moved from Middle Earth to Westeros in my mind….via Jurassic Park. In the end Job holds his hands up to God and concludes You’re right God. I’ve no right to question you. You know best and I’m just going to have to trust you on this one’. For his resilience God rewards him by doubling what he had before with regards his by doubling children and livestock.

And they all lived happily ever after….

Job left me bewildered and baffled at times but it also reignited my love of interpreting Bible stories. It has also inspired me to write a series of posts over the next few weeks focusing on themes I have touched upon in the above paragraphs; themes such as friendship, forgiveness and suffering. Not to mention the hobbits and dinosaurs. I hope, believer or not, you get something from the series. It might make you think, I might make you smile or it might annoy you so much you never read another post of mine. Let’s find out shall we?

What do you think the Behemoth and Leviathan were?

Have you ever had friends as useless as Job?

I’m A Christian But I Don’t Do Hugs

Every night before the girls go to bed we perform the same routine where they kiss us and tell Fionnuala and myself ‘Night Night. Love you. See you in the morning’. We hug them and repeat the same words back to them. It’s a nightly tradition that I hope never ends. We are lucky if we get a grunt out of Adam but he’s a fifteen year old boy who doesn’t ‘do’ emotion. Unless it involves a rugby ball.

Fionnuala and I are not a touchy feely couple. You know the cringeworthy types who invoke eye rolling and ‘get a room’ asides from us as they stick their tongues down each other’s throats at the first available opportunity in public displays of their undying love for one another. Until they split up three months later in the messiest manner possible on Facebook allowing the rest of us to feel very smug and shoot one another ‘I told you so’ looks.

We love each other and are secure in the knowledge of that. We don’t need to ram it down other people’s throats (pardon the pun) every time we step out the front door. Neither of us come from ‘hugging’ backgrounds. Unless hugging our siblings by the throat counts. Our families just don’t do open displays of affection. It doesn’t mean we love each other any less than families that do. It’s just not us.

Imagine our horror then when we became Christians and realised that many of said community loved nothing more than hugging it out at the drop of a hat. It didn’t matter if they had known you for thirty seconds or thirty years you were enveloped in a totally unreciprocated bear hug that always seemed to last an eternity. I would stand there awkwardly, both arms the same length, saying my first, heartfelt prayer of the day.

Please God. Make it stop. Now.

I have been known to enter churches by the side entrance to avoid roaming welcome teams hellbent on refusing you admission unless you get your hug on. I’ve felt like a NFL running back trying to jink through a gap in their defensive line and high step it down the aisle to the end zone that is our regular seat. The service itself offers a blessed reprieve but the mayhem commences again afterwards over tea and coffee. They are everywhere and they will stop at nothing. Nothing I tell you.

Only to be outdone by high fiving, guitar wielding youth leaders the hugging mafia know nothing of social boundaries or awkwardness. Because God loves hugging. The Old Testament is full of it right? My anxiety levels rise. If (and it’s a big if) I get to heaven and stand before Jesus will he be offended if I offer him a firm handshake as opposed to a WWE stylee rib crusher that will have me tapping out within seconds.

I break out in a cold sweat when I think of an eternity of unnecessary physical contact and really average worship music. Will there be a separate heaven for Flyleaf and Nirvana fans where we can all nod at each other and avoid eye contact where possible? Where it’s okay to feel a bit fed up now and again and not have to walk around with a permanently plastered on rictus grin a la The Joker.

I hope Jesus can accommodate me. I love him and I want nothing more than to learn his ways and become more like him. But I’m me and that unfortunately involves sarcasm, grumpiness and the very occasional expletive. I blame him. He made me like this but I’m certain he did so for a perfectly valid reason. Im not sure why but hope one day he will sit me down and explain it all in words of three syllables or less.

So that when he does and the recognition finally dawns on my face I can smile and realise that he was right all along. Who knows….I might even give him a hug 😉

Are you a hugger? Or do you squirm from their grasps and run screaming for the exit?

Will Heaven be a hug free zone for you?

What’s Been Your Best/Worst Wedding Experience?

Good Morning from a sunny (yes, you heard that right) sunny Northern Ireland. This is a big week for the Black Family. As well as the usual work and school madness Fionnuala’s brother is getting married on Friday. Hannah will be a bridesmaid and Fionnuala, Adam and Rebecca all have roles to perform during the service as well. All I have to do is shave and turn up on time in a suit and tie. I think even I can manage that.

My question for you this morning is what is your best and/or worst wedding experience. You are not allowed to include your own as I don’t want to be the instigator of multiple divorce proceedings here. The funnier or weirder the better. I’ll post another blog post later as I have more exciting news for you all. Bet you just can’t wait!

What’s been your best/worst wedding experience?

List your comments below.

Don’t Be A Parachute Pal

I am writing staff performance reviews at present where I assess whether or not the members of the team I manage have met their objectives for the previous year. Thankfully as I am such a fantastic manager and they are such a fantastic team I can hand on heart write that they all have. No need for bribes, inducements or back handers. It’s the truth!

One of the key performance areas are strong communication skills; with other members of the team, the wider organisation and external stakeholders. This relates to both verbal and written communications. Active listening skills are always essential as effective communication is a two way street. Ha! You would almost think I was copying this out of a leadership manual. Which of course I’m not.

Solid communication skills also form the base of any successful relationship. Let me give you an example. Fionnuala shouts at me when I do something wrong. I listen (actively), apologise (profusely) and make amends (hurriedly). Sorted! Everyone’s a winner. Twenty two years together and the old methods are still the best methods. She’s right. I’m wrong. The end.

But seriously….

Every relationship or friendship requires give and take on both sides. The best friendships should be equal and centred upon mutual respect and selflessness. The best friends are those who would drop everything for you at the most inconvenient moment. They are there for you no matter what. They are a consistent and immovable part of your life. They stick around.

Over the last few years Fionnuala and I have come to realise this. Real friends are there no matter how stormy the waters are. They put your needs before their own. They hang around after the party is over and it’s time to clean up the mess. We have realised another thing as well – there are not many of these people in today’s self centred world.

We have lost countless fair weather friends over the last couple of years. We have been snubbed, rejected and ignored. The last kind is particularly hard to stomach. Calls aren’t returned, WhatsApp messages are read (two blue ticks! two blue ticks!!) but not replied to and efforts to resurrect relationships fall on deaf ears and dry ground.

Then there are those who want the friendship to continue but on their terms. So they will ignore you for six months and then parachute into your life like visiting nobility, honouring you with their presence. There is always an ulterior motive for these unannounced arrivals. You may never discover what that agenda is but you can be certain that your interests are not at its heart.

Be grateful for the real friends, the true friends. They are more precious than rubies. Identify them and cherish them. Work hard at protecting and nourishing them. For one day they might be all you have. You will cling to them for all you are worth. Just like they might cling to you. Reflect that mirror of love and trust right back at them.

They need you just as much as you need them. So don’t be a fair weather friend, a parachute pal. Stand up and be counted. On the rainy days as well as the sunny ones. Such friendships are few and far between and when they are gone they are gone forever. I realise that with a heavy heart. Loneliness is a constant threat. Don’t fall prey to its icy embrace.

Have you ever been frozen out of a friendship?

What are your experiences of fair weather friends and parachute pals?

What’s Your Favourite Bible Story?

Normal service will be resumed on the blog tomorrow. Or as normal as this blog will ever be. My last question this weekend is for everyone; believers and non believers alike. I’ve been struggling to read my Bible of late yet I like to think I have a fairly good knowledge of it. From a very early age I attended Sunday School and was taught the stories of the Old and New Testaments. In Northern Ireland most kids from my background go through this process. Meaning that when they grow up most people, even if they haven’t a spiritual bone in their body, will know their Bible stories.

Fionnuala’s is the story of Pentecost, where the Holy Spirit descended on The Apostles, while Rebecca’s is Daniel in the Lion’s Den. Adam had to rack his brains for a bit but eventually plumped for the adulterous woman who Jesus saved from being stoned. Interesting choice for a fifteen year old boy. Hannah chose the story of the disabled man who Jesus healed after his friends lowered him through a hole in the roof. I didn’t ask Charlie because he’s a dog. And dogs can’t talk. I tend to focus more on characters than stories but I’ve always been drawn to the stories of David and his Mighty Men. They kicked serious backside.

I’m slowly coming round to Bible study and prayer again. I love to study the history, culture and politics of the period. I’m also interested in other faiths. Some are interesting while others I view with concern and trepidation. Where I struggle is with man made religion and misinterpretation of the ancient truths which he has taken and distorted to meet his own needs. I don’t have a problem with Jesus who taught love, faith and hope. My problem is with so many of his followers and the churches who fail to practice what he preached. I’m a work in progress. I guess we all are.

What’s your favourite Bible story and why?

What Bloggers Would You Invite To Dinner And Why?

I’ve posted some heavy duty stuff in recent days so thought I would lighten matters up somewhat. The weekend is just around the corner and sometimes us bloggers take life just a little too seriously. I know I’m the worst offender. So to kick off ‘Fun Friday’ *cringe* I thought I’d pose you a few questions.

I’ll probably be Mr. Miserable again by Monday so make the most of it 😂

If you were to host a dinner party what three bloggers would you invite and why?

Feel free to post the links to their blogs in the comments section below.

For It Was Written Long Before You

I wear my heart upon my sleeve. Pick at the stitches, watch it bleed. I thought it contained all my needs. Yet I was wrong, so wrong and now. I watch the scarlet droplets one by one. Communion wine upon my tongue. The acrid fumes they fill my lungs. And I am done.

I’m done with all the hollow words. I’m done with following the herd. The vacuous nothingness I yearned. The chances spurned, the bridges burned. Scorched earth and ashes fill my urn. Fresh lashes tear my skin and burn. Hard lessons learned.

I spurned fresh opportunities galore. So I could gorge myself on more. The score was settled long ago. But on I forged, ablaze with sin. Oblivious to the deafening din. Of voices old and voices new. Imploring me to start afresh. To step out of my stinking mess.

I wore my heart upon my sleeve. You watched me grieve in silence though. I started high yet finished low. The perfect storm, I can’t conform. I am the eye, the sickening still. Imploring you to heed my will. You watched me from that bloody hill.

I was a sick man, not a slick man. A blinded patient with no patience. Demented by fermented juices, hanging over, dry and useless. Dreaming of those silken nooses. Choking on my wordless mucus. Intervention, not attention saved me; days too dark to mention.

The light it came, I sought it not. I’m standing at a desolate plot. You can be proud of me again. I kicked my habits to the flames. They burn and squirm and beg for mercy. Silently I take their curses. Turn my eyes to ancient verses. Holy words from empty churches.

I tear my heart from off my sleeve. I empty it of fear and greed. And fill it with these words of glory. Dripping from that Cross so gory. Wisdom etched in ancient stories. For it was written long before you. Words of love sent to restore you.

The Day I Woke Up

Fionnuala here sorry I’ve been very quiet lately I have been really busy with a new business venture I’ve started doing.

As most of you know I am a stay at home mum I spend my days making sure washing is done, clothes are ironed, tummy’s are full, cupboards, fridges and freezers are fully stocked for my hungry husband and children and everyday has it’s new drama for me to resolve.

The last few months have been very tough for me for different reasons and I could feel myself falling deeper and deeper into a darkness of depression. I knew there was two things I could do either sit on the sofa and let the darkness take over or fight get up off my butt and do something about it. I had a good talk with Stephen and a good cry (which always helps me) and I felt a little brighter.

Then about 6 weeks ago I woke up early on the Sunday and had this amazing idea to start making craft items and sell them at Craft Fairs I love making things so this made so much sense I couldn’t believe I’d never thought of it before. When Stephen came downstairs I was buzzing with excitement and told him my plans only for him to pipe up “I’ve been telling you to do this for years” – I must not have been listening! That afternoon I headed up to Belfast with the girls and we bought lots of stuff to get me started. Stephen came up with my business name Rehanna Crafts which is a mix of our two daughters names Rebecca and Hannah’s.

That morning as I woke up from my sleep I felt as if a light switch was turned on flooding the darkness in my head with light and I could think and see things more clearer. In life it’s so easy to let things take over and distract you from what you could be doing. For me it was letting other people’s behaviour and problems overshadow me and my family’s needs.

If you feel like you are surrounded by darkness like there is no way out then please go and talk to someone, do something, anything that will get you outside of your head.

What did you use to love to do that you haven’t done in a long time?

Today is a new day a new beginning.

Today you are going to let your light shine.

This blog post has went off in a different direction I hadn’t planned to share that with you I had planned to post some of my Crafts with you all but looks like someone else is controlling my thoughts this morning 😊

Below are some of my Crafts I have made if you would like to see some more have a look at my Facebook page Rehanna Crafts

I’m A Christian But I Intensely Dislike (But Don’t Hate) People

Sorry about the cumbersome title but I know ‘us lot’ aren’t allowed to hate people because Jesus says we shouldn’t; even though God spent most of the Old Testament laying down fire from above on anyone who looked at the Israelites the wrong way. Jesus is right of course but then Jesus is always right. So us Christians must turn the other cheek (ouch), love our neighbour (have you met my neighbour?!?!) and carpet forgive even the most heinous of acts. Hands up who does that on a 24/7/365 basis?

Hmmmmm….thought not.

Of course there will be a smattering of raised arms from the ‘Stepford Wives & Husbands’ Brigade who you see glamming it up with their perfect 2.4 children (boy named after obscure Old Testament minor prophet, girl called Grace, not sure about the .4) at a evangelical ‘super’ church near you every Sunday. They love everyone and will tell you that while nodding enthusiastically; fixed, rictus grins plastered to their faces. Until they ignore you in the supermarket the following Wednesday or when they cut you up in their Audi at the school gates without a second thought.

The rest of us will shuffle uneasily and stare at the ground, myself included. Which annoys me because I truly get forgiveness. I like liking people. I don’t want to have enemies just as much as I don’t want my head full of these negative thoughts towards certain individuals. Feeling angry, resentful and vindictive all the time is just so exhausting. It genuinely eats you up and casts a dank cloud over your days which relentlessly follows you around and refuses to budge. I hate blazing arguments and cold, unending silences. I’m the one who apologises even when I know I was in the right just so as to make the peace again.

All very good in theory but then why can’t I practice what I preach. I ran a half marathon yesterday where 3,500 people took part. How many did I speak to during the event? None. That’s right zero, nada, zilch. I skulked in my car before the start and then scuttled off as fast as my aching legs would allow me once I’d lurched over the finish line. In previous years I would have been part of a group who would have travelled down, ran together and then taken lots of selfies afterwards which I would have plastered over Instagram. Just to let people know what a great, popular guy I was.

Those days are long gone. I’m a lone wolf runner now. And not in the enigmatic, Forrest Gump stylee. More in the socially awkward, avoid fellow runners at all costs stylee. If such a stylee exists. While hiding in my car yesterday before the start I messaged Fionnuala to say I had never felt as out of place. Her reply was typically to the point. ‘You’re a runner. You’re about to race. How can you feel out of place? You’ve as much right to be there as anyone else. Stop beating yourself up.’ She’s good like that and it was just what I needed to get my sorry backside out of the car and to the start line.

Saying that I still hid behind a tree right up until the starters klaxon sounded before slipping anonymously into the shuffling herd as they commenced their 13.1 mile odyssey. This post was meant to be about said odyssey but nobody wants to read another running post. They even bore me at times. Runners are geeks. A modern day phenomenon who, if they had been around in the 1980’s, would probably have been playing Dungeons Dragons, spending their weekends rolling 20 sided dice and pretending to be Level 12 paladin knights called Lucius the Avenger.

Rumours that I was in my school’s Dungeons & Dragons Society are totally unfounded and will be strongly contested….

The one observation I will make about the race is that after about a mile a guy I used to be very friendly with passed me. He didn’t see me but I certainly saw him. We ended our friendship on bad terms and as he passed I could feel the waves of anger, resentment and intense dislike (but not hatred) rolling off me towards him. He probably hadn’t spared a thought towards me since we parted company over a year ago yet I still allow myself to be affected so adversely. By him and others. Which filters throughout so many other areas of my life. Outside of my immediate family I trust nobody, I struggle massively to make new friends, I haven’t been to church in over four months and am highly demotivated at my work. What gives God?

I get the theory so please don’t bombard me with lots of well meaning Scripture. I just want to hear from others about their experiences. Christians and non-Christians alike. I’ll even accept comments from the ‘Stepford’ community although of course nobody will own up to membership and they’re probably tied up with Sunday School or a cake sale in any event. Do these feelings bubble up within you? How do you deal with them? Are there particular people who press your button no matter how hard you fight the red mist? How do you move past these feelings? For I’m a bit stuck on this one if I’m honest.

Today I Was Snubbed

Today I was snubbed. By someone who not so long ago I regarded as my best friend. I’m not going to disclose the reasons we stopped talking. Suffice to say our paths went in separate directions. We live in the same village, however, and are both runners so it was only a matter of time before we bumped into each other again. Today was that day.

I was around 10 miles into a 20 mile training run. This will be one of my last long runs before the Belfast Marathon on 7th May. I’ll write about that separately but it so happened I was running one way through the village and he was coming in the opposite direction. We were both wearing luminous yellow running tops so it wasn’t as if we could avoid each other. I had been dreading this moment for months but resolved to pass myself and be polite.

We said hello to each other (I’ll give him that) about ten feet away from one another. As we neared I slowed to a halt, expecting him to do likewise. It would be an awkward minute or so of small talk but at least we could walk (or run) away afterwards with our heads held high. At least we could be adults about what had happened. Our daughters play together at school and our wives still talk occasionally so it wasn’t much to ask, was it?

Imagine my shock then when, having seen me slow, he just kept on running. I stood there, my two arms the same length feeling about two inches tall. After a few seconds I gathered myself and continued my run, muttering a few choice expletives under my breath as I did so. I hardly ever swear so, yeah, to say I was annoyed and upset was a massive understatement. Is this what our friendship had come to? That we couldn’t even exchange a few meaningless pleasantries in the street?

I’ve written in the past about how much my social circle has shrunk over the last year or so. There are many reasons for this and much of it has been self-inflicted. I’ve often thought I don’t need anyone except Fionnuala and the kids and that is largely true. Many of the people in my life I had to walk away from. I was in a very unhealthy place and needed space to recover and rebuild my life. In time, I became used to running on my own. I became used to having an empty social calendar.

This solitude has allowed me to focus on my family and my writing. There are benefits. But sometimes I wonder what if? What if I had a church I could regularly attend every week without feeling like a social pariah? What if I didn’t have to endure 20 mile runs on my own and had friends to keep me company? What if my mobile phone rang occasionally and it was a friend just calling up for a chat? Then I shake my head and gather my thoughts up again. Those days are in the past, a place where I cannot return.

It was sad that on Easter Sunday a person who portrays himself as a ‘big Christian’ and pillar of his local megachurch chose to snub an ex friend who left his social circle under a cloud. Yes, I sinned. Yes, I’m not perfect. But does that give you the right to do what you did to me today? I should have expected no less but I naively did and ended up shaken and upset. It’s hard to move on when people don’t allow you to move on. It’s hard to forgive when others refuse to forgive you.

I won’t be at church tomorrow but he no doubt will. Hands in the air and singing aloud. Worshipping God. But I know that God will be with me as well as I sit at home processing the hurt and pain I have inflicted on others and experienced myself. For Jesus died for me just as much as he died for him and all the other Christians who have chosen to turn their backs on us. Jesus won’t turn his back and, for this fact, this Easter I am grateful.

Have you ever been snubbed by someone you used to be close to?

How do you handle hurt and rejection?

What’s So Good About Friday?

What’s so good about Friday?

What’s so good about life?

What’s so good about lying, hatred, violence and strife?

What’s so good about suffering?

What’s so good about greed?

Never learning our lessons

Never realising our needs

What’s so good about trying?

What’s so good about loss?

What’s so good about Jesus?

Beaten and nailed to a Cross?

Well he’s the reason I’m still here

Trying my best to survive

He’s the reason my family

Every day flourish and thrive

That’s what’s good about Friday

That’s why he took the pain

That’s why he endured nails and a sword

Piercing his skin like a flame

So next time you moan on a Friday

Or mutter or mumble or mope

Think back to that darkest of all days

And thank Him for giving us hope.

I Wonder

I wonder. If there was a rapture would I be taken or left forsaken, alone on my throne in a world of broken bones and bleeding souls. Tortured by thoughts of what if and maybe. Come back and save me. My loved ones gone in an angelic throng while I wriggle and squirm, a pitiful worm.

I wonder. If there was a rapture who would God capture. That nice couple next door or the man down the road. Would churches be emptied or would they be full of embarrassed Christians and blustering pastors. Stripped to the bone by their all seeing master.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would we even notice who was gone for they’d be so few. One in a thousand or possibly two. We’ll list them as missing and contact the police. We’ll worry and cry and we’ll pray with our priest. Then we’ll quietly move on hand in hand with the beast.

I wonder. If there was a rapture who would we blame. For blaming and shaming is part of the game which we’ve played all our lives. We’ve schemed and we’ve skived, we’ve cheated and lied. We’ve bleated and nurtured this will to survive. To kill all that’s good in us, let darkness thrive.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would there be a panic. A manic breakdown of societal norms. Or would shoulders be shrugged and the experts wheeled out. To fill our dead minds with theories and doubts. It’s the Russians, the Chinese, some alien disease. God forbid that the truth would bring us to our knees.

I wonder. If there was a rapture would anything change. Would we rant, spit and scream, so incensed and inflamed. Then after a while just dust ourselves down, return to our phones with a shrug and a frown. For God’s overrated and Satan’s a riot. If there’s wifi in Hell I might as well try it.

I wonder a lot. These unwelcome thoughts. That I have to get out before my brain clots. This dirge is a purge of a tangled up mind. I’m writing it blind but I urge you to think. If the heavens swung open and angels descended. Would you still remain when the trumpets relented?

I’m A Christian But I’m Not Reading The Bible

Whenever I’ve asked people to describe my writing style the most frequent word I hear is ‘honesty’. For someone who had led such a dishonest existence for many years this is music to my years. So, in continuing my tradition of transparency and accountability, here’s another truth bomb for you all to chew on.

I’m a Christian and I haven’t read my Bible in weeks….

I know, I know. An outrageous admission. And here’s the thing. I love reading. My Kindle Fire is like an extra limb to me. I’ve always got a book on the go, sometimes two. I can’t sleep at night unless I’ve read at least a few pages. I’m a self confessed bookworm. Loud and proud. Yet when it comes to the most important book of them all, I’ve been left cold of late.

Even stranger is that for all the years I’ve been a Christian (five in May fact fans) I’ve always had a very healthy relationship with the Bible. I’ve read it regularly and thrived on the vivid story telling, imagery and themes within its pages. At our last church I led a youth group and house group where I regularly led Bible related discussions. I was even asked by the pastor to deliver sermons at the Sunday service. People said I had a gift of interpretation, of analysing the text and drawing fresh learning from it that others could not see.

But of late there’s been nothing. Nada. Zilch. My Bibles (for I have several) have sat on the bookshelf gathering dust. NIV, The Message, NKJV, I’ve tried them all but there hasn’t been a spark. I’ve tried The Gospels, Proverbs, Psalms and even Job. Yes Job! That’s how desperate I am! But all to no avail. They’ve just been words. Words that I’ve read a hundred times before. No passion, no startling revelations, no Charlton Hestonesque bolts of lightning from above. It’s as if the Holy Spirit has upped sticks and gone on an early Easter vacation.

Initially I thought I just needed a break. Was it burnout? Or perhaps the novel I am working on was draining my creative juices? Was it because I’m not a member of a church anymore? Was God punishing me for turning my back on ‘the church’? I haven’t a clue but whatever the reason it’s certainly been effective. And do you know what’s worst of all? I don’t feel particularly guilty, ashamed or bothered. I still regard myself as a Christian, I still believe in God, I still try to lead a good life, I still pray. Check, Check and double Check.

Is that enough? Can you still continue to function as a card carrying Christian without a church and without a Bible? Is Saint Peter presently scribbling furiously in the ‘negatives’ column of his big book as I type this. Is Satan (for I also still believe in him) rubbing his hands gleefully and notifying Hell Airlines to book me a one way ticket with immediate effect? I honestly don’t know (there’s that word again). But I woke up this morning with an urge to write about it and share it with you all. So here I am.

We pride ourselves on the fact that Christians, Muslims and people of many other faiths read this blog. We even have a healthy smattering of agnostics and atheists. We welcome them all. This is not an exclusively Christian blog. It is a blog written by Christians who have doubts and concerns about their faith; hence its name. We are not perfect and we tell it how it is. The Christian life is not all happy clappy (more snappy crappy) ever after as many would want you to believe. It is frustrating, infuriating and full of pain and rejection. Don’t believe me. Just ask Jesus about his three year ministry on the planet.

So I am where I am. Honest but hanging on to my fractured faith for all I’m worth. I hope this is just a blip and I will fall in love with my Bible again in the not too distant future. Maybe God is giving me a mini vacation before the real work begins, just over the horizon. I’m sure I will find out soon enough. Until then I’ll stare at my Bibles on the bookshelf and they will stare back at me. A war of attrition with no end in sight at present. But I won’t throw them out or hide them away in a drawer. And at least that’s something. They are part of me and I am part of them. We’re just having a break from each other.

How often do you read the Bible?

Or have you never picked one up before?

Do you read other books of faith?

Whatever your thoughts I’d be interested to hear them?

Our Next Blog – You Decide

It’s a wet, grey day in Belfast and my brain cells feel equally overcast. Maybe it’s because I’m diverting all my creative juices into the novel at the minute but the ‘ideas well’ is well and truly dry on the blogging front. Which got me thinking. Why do I have to do all the hard work when our wonderful WordPress family can get their thinking caps on as well.

So as a one off I’m opening it up to the floor and asking the question – What would you like us to write about? It can be as obscure or bizarre as you want. But please keep it clean. We will pick the best two suggestions and then post on the topic over the next few weeks. Current affairs, Fiction, Biography. You suggest it and I’ll give it a rattle if it rocks my boat. Extra bonus points for the most innovative and imaginative comments.

What Are You Up To This Weekend?

Storm Emma has now arrived in Northern Ireland and we woke up to strong winds and drifting snow. The road out of the village is impassable and the police have been telling motorists to turn round and go back home. There was no chance of me making it into work today and the schools are shut again. So the five of us (six of you include Charlie the border terrier) are holed up in the house for another day. Given the weekend forecast I don’t think we will be going very far this weekend.

I doubt if I’ll stray very far from the sofa. We will just focus on keeping warm and look out at the chilly conditions from the comfort of our home. I’ll be making the most of this unexpected down time and will spend some time working on the book which is flowing quite easily at present. I have a plentiful supply of Diet Coke and various nibbles. And later on Fionnuala and I will no doubt get caught up with our shows on Netflix and Showbox. I’m also working my way through ‘The Bell Jar’ by Sylvia Plath. Not the cheeriest reading material I know but beautifully written.

So an abbreviated blog today. We are stranded so want to know what your plans are for the weekend. Where are you going and who with? What will you be up to? Are you looking forward to it? Or a little anxious? What are you reading? Watching? Eating and drinking? Let us know by commenting below.

Persecute & Perish

The third in my series of ‘Peter Posts’ focuses on the persecution of the early Christian Church in the Book of Acts. Being a Christian back then was a high risk occupation. Jesus had been crucified and then his body had ‘disappeared’ from the tomb. Crazy rumours were spreading like wildfire around Palestine that he had risen from the dead and would return to overthrow the Roman occupation. Jerusalem was a tinder box of emotions and it would only have taken the slightest spark to throw the city into open rebellion.

The local religious leaders needed to reaffirm their authority. The crucifixion of the rabbi who claimed he was the son of God had backfired spectacularly. Thousands were flocking to the teachings of Jesus under the leadership of Peter (the Galilean fisherman formerly known as Simon) and his rag bag collection of disciples. Someone had to be made an example of and that someone was my namesake Stephen who was brutally stoned to death after eloquently and passionately professing his faith before the religious leaders of the Sanhedrin.

Before this Peter had also experienced a taste of the ruthless persecution of the early church which was to follow. In Acts 4 John and him were brought before the Sandhedrin and warned to keep their mouths shut and desist from preaching in Jerusalem. In the following chapter they were again warned about their conduct whereupon Peter replied:

We must obey our God rather than human beings. The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead – whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. (Acts 5 29-30)

Blimey! How to win friends and influence people. Probably not the wisest thing to come out with to a group of religious zealots looking for an excuse to kill you. It was only the intervention of a Pharisee named Gamiel which saved his neck. Peter, the same Peter who denied he knew Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion and then skulked off weeping bitterly, was now putting his life on the line to publicly declare that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah, the Son of God as prophesied throughout the Old Testament. This was incredible, revolutionary talk. Delivered with style and passion by a man who spent most of the Gospels with his foot well and truly wedged in his mouth.

Here was a man who had been transformed, who was on fire. The Holy Spirit was roaring through his veins and he could not be silenced, no matter what persecution he faced. And do you know why? Because he was no longer afraid. In his darkest days between the death of Jesus and the resurrection he must have beaten himself up, his weaknesses and flaws horribly exposed for all to see. He was a coward, a failure and a fraud. Would we have been surprised if he had fled to the hills never to be seen again? Or chosen a more permanent exit like Judas after his ultimate betrayal?

Yet he didn’t. He came back a changed man, a better man. Yes he was forgiven by Jesus but he also chose to forgive himself and make amends. He faced decades of persecution by choosing not to persecute himself over his past. He chose to move on, to move forwards and become one of the most influential figures in the history of civilisation. The Bible is full of such stories; of people who messed up but were used by God for great things. Because they chose to suck it up and make a fresh start.

Have you messed up? Do you beat yourself up day after, month after month, year after year over it? I would encourage you to take a leaf out of Peter’s book. Forgive yourself. It’s not easy (believe me I know) but it is possible. Peter faced enough external persecution in his life without having to deal with the internal variety as well. Don’t listen to the internal voice trying to drown out your hopes and dreams. Fight for your future because nobody else will for you.

In order to conquer your world you must first conquer your fears. Peter did. And so can you. Today. Now.

Have you persecuted yourself in the past? Are you still your own worst enemy? Pleas comment below and share your experiences with our community.

Who Needs You Today?

Earlier in the week I wrote about how Peter, the most unlikely of leaders, became head of the early Christian church in Jerusalem following the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. The church grew at an incredible rate during this period as many thousands were converted after hearing the testimonies of Peter and the other disciples and witnessing the many signs and wonders they performed which are sprinkled throughout the early chapters of the Book of Acts.

It must have been a period of great excitement. People were being healed, speaking in foreign languages and the Holy Spirit was running amok. Believers genuinely expected the return of Jesus any day and the coming of the Kingdom of God. Local religious leaders were on edge and the occupying Romans were itching to brutally subdue the first suggestion of revolt. It was a dangerous, intoxicating time and life was lived on the edge as the early believers never knew what was around the next corner. Yet for all the excitement it is the following verses that always stop me in my tracks:

‘All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.’ Acts 4:32-35 (NIV)

Wow!

I’ll just say that again for effect.

Wow!

To me this is the purest description of community imaginable. Never mind preaching in front of huge crowds, outarguing the supposed greatest theologians of their time and performing miracles at the drop of a hat; it meant nothing unless it was underpinned by love for others. Loving people so much that you were willing to sell all your belongings, even your own house, in order to provide for them. Nobody went without. Everything was shared equally. There were no distinctions made. They were all in this together. They lived and loved out of each other’s pockets.

This to me was and is church. Church is not a building you go to once a week where you exchange small talk with people you don’t really know or care to know and vice versa. Church isn’t singing a few songs and wearing your best clothes so that you look good in front of those you want to impress. Church isn’t fake smiles and ‘I’m fine’ and ‘I’m so sorry to hear that I’ll pray for you’ but then don’t because you didn’t really mean it and, hey, they aren’t going to know anyway. Church is so, so much more than that. Church is love. Selfless, humble love.

Church is praying privately for someone you don’t particularly like without them knowing you are; church is helping out a needy neighbour or a homeless person and then not bragging about it to all and sundry. Church is keeping in touch with people seven days a week instead of just putting on a performance on a Sunday morning. Church is every second of every day you have. Church is Jesus and Jesus is Church. It’s not about rules and regulations and ‘keeping up with the Joneses’. It’s about the freedom of loving and expecting nothing in return.

The early Church had it spot on. Because it’s leaders experienced it first hand with Jesus for three years during his ministry on earth. They saw and they got it. I’m not so sure what Jesus would think of many of our churches today. I see more love on the streets, often being carried out by people who have never crossed the threshold of a church building. These are the people who inspire me to try harder and to do better. These are the people who truly get what Jesus taught two millennia ago.

You shouldn’t be ashamed to love others. We can all learn from the early Church. People who gave up their livelihoods, their reputations and often their lives for a cause which they knew was right. People of honour and integrity. People like Peter and Stephen and Paul. There is power in humility; there is strength in revealing your weaknesses and flaws to others. We need to work towards building these communities again. To let the lonely, the broken and the desperate know that they need never be lonely, broken and desperate again.

I would encourage you today to look around within your own community and identify someone in need. Then take the revolutionary step of doing something to address that need. It could be as simple as buying a cup of coffee or sending a text message. There is someone within your sphere of influence today who needs help, who needs your help. Be bold and take that first step, make that first move. Identify and address their need. They need you and you need to act. Be their community and make a difference today. Thank you.

What is church to you?

Who needs your help today?

A Few Lines

Just a few lines today you will all be glad to hear. It is my last day off work before going on call for a week so today I’m going to focus on the novel I am supposedly writing. Life has got in the way of late as it tends to do and other stuff has taken priority. If there is a secret to novel writing whilst juggling family and work commitments then I would be delighted to learn your secrets.

Hopefully normal service will be resumed tomorrow. Or as normal as this blog will ever be. I’ll be continuing the study of Peter with posts about community and persecution. Again Fionnuala and I would like to thank you all for your continued support of the blog. We are nearing 4000 followers so must be doing something right. Feel free to comment below even if it’s just to say hello. Talk soon.

Feeling Useless? Worthless? Hopeless? Then Read This….

I read a lot. Too much probably. But the book that I probably don’t read enough is the Bible. I try to pick it up every day, even if it’s only to study a few lines. I know it is not for everyone and is probably the most controversial book ever written but, personally, I always feel better when I leaf through it. I’ve learnt so much from it and, when properly and consistently applied to your life, you really can reap the benefits. I know I have.

If nothing else the Bible is full of great stories of er…..biblical proportions. It is bursting with heroes and villains, incredible battles, natural disasters, miraculous happenings, epic family dramas and breathtaking love stories. It really has it all. Even a talking donkey millennia before Shrek was released. What’s not to like about that!

The Bible offers a consistent message that rings true to me – no matter how hopeless your situation might seem or how worthless you might feel there is hope. The Greatest Story Of Them All is bursting with tales of how God used walking disaster zones to perform great deeds. Zeroes to heroes. Don’t agree? Well then I suggest you check out the stories of Moses, Gideon, Samson, David, Jonah, Matthew, Paul and so on and on and on.

My favourite though has to be Peter. The Fisherman Formerly Known As Simon who Jesus plucked from the relative obscurity of the shores of Galillee to spearhead the greatest revolutionary movement ever to sweep the earth. He was hand picked by Jesus to lead the early Christian church against seemingly insurmountable odds. Yet, throughout the Gospels, he comes across as the most infuriating of characters. And the most unlikely of leaders. Peter who saw Jesus raise the dead and heal countless people, including his own mother in law, yet still had doubts. Maybe he didn’t want Jesus to heal his mother in law. Like many other men. Not me I might add. I get on very well with mine. I’m not scared of her. More a healthy respect 😳

Peter, whose faith failed him when he attempted to walk on the waters. Peter, whose nerve failed him during the transfiguration causing him to start babbling about building tents for Jesus and the prophets. Peter, whose temperament failed him when he struck out in anger in the Garden of Gethsemane. Peter, whose nerve failed him when he denied knowing Jesus three times the night before the crucifixion. What on earth did Jesus see in him that led him to declare that Peter would be the rock on which he would build his Church following the Ascension?

He saw something. He saw beyond the many flaws to see the innate inner strength and courage. The courage that meant he was the first to race into the tomb that Easter Sunday. The courage to speak to thousands on the day of Pentecost. The courage to establish the churches in Antioch and Rome in the face of barbaric persecution. The courage to die a martyrs death in the latter city yet still have the humility to ask to be crucified upside down as he didn’t view himself worthy enough to die the same death as the Messiah.

I don’t believe in natural leaders. Peter certainly wasn’t one. I believe we all have the ability to lead and influence others. We all have the ability to set a positive example and bring out the best in others. I also don’t believe in lost causes. None of us are worthless, hopeless or beyond redemption. It is never too late to turn your life around. No hole is too deep, no mess too messy. Everyone has good in them, everyone has the potential to be a better person and change the world. We just have to rise above the shame, the guilt and the despair. Peter did and so can you.

I can be shy about my faith and there’s no bigger turn off to me than having Christianity rammed down your throat. But I should talk about it more on this blog. So over the next few days I’m going to write a bit more about ‘useless, worthless, hopeless’ Peter and the rabble of murderers, thieves, political extremists and social outcasts who Jesus entrusted with spreading his message. People who changed the world. And it all started in an upper room in Jerusalem where they gathered frightened and confused awaiting a sign from Heaven.

Until next time. Never give up. Just like Peter never gave up.

Matthew 16:18 – ‘And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’

This blog post is in conjunction with a series being written by Littlemissbearpaw at http://sistersbyfaith.wordpress.com over the coming days. I’d encourage you to check out and follow her blog.

Story Time with Rebecca

Hello there, my name is Rebecca and you might know me from my other blogs. Every Sunday from now on I will be picking a story from the Bible and put the story into my own words I’m calling it Story Time with Rebecca.

Daniel has a Sleepover with the Lions
Daniel loved God and always obeyed him and done what he told him to do and listened to him as well Daniel was one of Gods people.
There has been terrible news I heard Gods people have been brought far away from their home land. They are now slaves in Babylon but God didn’t leave them. Babylon’s king loved how clever David was so he put him as his most important helper of all and put him in charge of lots of other helpers. The other helpers wanted to be the kings favourite and get rid of him.

So, they went to the king they were really pleased with themselves and they said to the king that there should be a new law that your only allowed to pray to him and no one else and if you did break that law you would be given to the lions for their dinner. Daniel heard it all he was worried but when he was walking back to his room God was talking to him and was saying not to listen to them you keep praying to me.

When the other slaves saw Daniel praying to God they went to the king and told him everything. The king got angry and threw Daniel in the lion’s cave. Daniel was afraid but the lions were really kind to him and did not eat him nothing at all and they had a nice sleep together.

The first thing the king done the next morning was go to the lion’s cave and he saw that Daniel was still alive so he helped him out and asked how he was still alive and Daniel said because God was with him and the king was surprised and changed the law. The new law was that you can only pray to one God and never pray to anyone else only the real God. That is the end of Daniel has a Sleepover with the Lions.

Thank you for reading my blog and hope you all have a brilliant Sunday.

by Rebecca

New Blog Features

FracturedFaithBlog is a bit like an elegant swan. I cruise serenely above the surface taking all the plaudits while, below the waters, Fionnuala paddles furiously to keep us afloat. She does the majority of the unseen work necessary in order to keep the blog going. I just ramble on about stuff.

This week has been no exception. In addition to running a busy household she has redesigned the blog site interface to include ‘comments’ and ‘prayer’ tabs. We also now have our own domain which means the blog can expand in lots more interesting directions. And she has been upgrading our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Venturing into any of those areas would have me breaking out in a nasty rash.

We have set up a dedicated prayer team so if you have any specific prayer requests then please utilise the ‘prayer’ tab to communicate them to us. We will treat them with the ultimate respect and sensitivity. Your prayer will be anonymised before it is circulated to the prayer team. Likewise if there is something that you would like to discuss with either of us privately and in greater depth then please avail of the ‘comments’ tab. Sometimes it is difficult to have a meaningful conversation via timeline and there may be issues that you do not want to air publicly.

We are here to help. Don’t suffer in silence.

Repackage Your Heart

First World Problems have once more raised their ugly head at chez Black this last week or so. Having struggled through various sicknesses and other crises during the month of January we thought we were due a turn of fortunes. A reprieve from the trials and tribulations of modern life. But oh no for much, much worse was to befall us. The final nail in the coffin. The coup de grace to end all coup de graces. Whatever that means. It sounds a bit like cut the grass but I think I might be wrong on that one.

Yes the unthinkable happened. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke! Yes you read that right. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke. Well alright I’m exaggerating slightly when I say that. Blame it on my withdrawal symptoms. The shop didn’t exactly run out of Diet Coke, rather it ran out of the 1.75 litre twin packs (£2:50 = bargain) which I largely survive on in lieu of healthier drinks such as say lighter fluid or cod liver oil.

I drove to the next shop. They had none either. And then the next. Not a drop. I drove back home to break the sad news to Fionnuala. She took it reasonably well but I think she was just putting on a brave face for me. I’m pretty certain I saw her lower lip trembling at one point. As the Alpha Male and hunter/gatherer of the household I felt I was left with no option but to venture out again in search of sustenance. I returned to the scene of the original crime determined to use my finely tuned investigative skills to find an answer.

Alan the shopkeeper listened patiently to my impassioned pleas as I gesticulated frantically at the empty shelves where the elixir of life used to reside in plentiful supply. He nodded and smiled as the grown man in front of him whimpered and whined at the injustice of it all. He was empathetic and his active listening skills and positive body language were beyond reproach. I’m sure he has been on a ‘Challenging Customers’ course although I’m not sure there was a module on ‘Hysterical Aspartame Addicts’. If there had been he would have passed with flying colours no doubt.

‘Coca Cola have recalled the product’ he explained calmly when afforded the opportunity to respond to my tiresome tirade. ‘The packaging is being redesigned. It should be back in the shops soon enough.’ And with that he was off down the canned food aisle leaving me with a sliver of hope. We could tough this out. It wasn’t the end of the world. The United Nations would not be required to send a peace keeping force in and Donald Trump would not be tweeting about it in the morning.

We would survive and life would go on. I clutched at the lifeline that was 18 tins for £5 (even though Fionnuala complains it doesn’t taste the same) and trudged out of the shop; muttering about Coca Cola and their amateur marketing strategies. Redesigning the packaging indeed. What nonsense. The packaging wasn’t the reason I bought it in bulk. It was what was inside the bottle that mattered. That taste, that kick, the fizzy bubbles exploding on my fuzzy tongue. How vain and shallow these faceless marketing clowns were.

The second the above thought settled on my mind I was also bowled over by the hypocrisy of my thinking. For years I was obsessed with my appearance. At school I was the tubby, spotty kid. I was bullied and as for girls?! Well I don’t think I spoke to one until I was nineteen. Thankfully Fionnuala took pity on me and turned a walking, talking social pariah into an almost functioning member of the human race. Otherwise I’d still be a single Pringle failing abysmally to impress the opposite sex.

To combat this I have always sought to repackage my geeky, awkward inner psyche with all manner of disguises. Diets, gyms, tattoos (three and counting), personal trainers, Twitter wannabe z-lister, Instagram embarrassment, designer clothes, church youth leader, marathon running, terrible Taekwondo student, and now fledgling author and blogger. The list is endless. Everything aimed at covering up the fraud and failure I have always, rightly or wrongly, regarded myself as.

I was a chaotic chameleon for many years. Living a lie beneath various disguises and personas. But deep down I knew it was all a facade. You cannot repackage your heart. No matter how desperately we try we are still the same person beneath the various layers of deception we clothe ourselves in. I am still the same shy, insecure boy I was all those years ago. Clever with written words but a gibbering wreck when asked to socially interact in a room full of strangers.

I’m slowly learning to consistently be myself and live comfortably in my own skin. I want people to like me for who I am not who I think they want me to be. This has cost me a lot of friendships over the last year or so but it has also brought me closer to the people who matter. It has bolstered my flagging faith and brought me nearer to God. He knows me inside out and upside down; he created me and you like this for a reason, warts and all. We don’t need to be recalled from the shelves. No amount of redesigning ourselves can take away from who we really are.

We are spiritual beings. Our souls are ethereal and eternal. They are our very essence and when we break it down no amount of earthly transition can change that. We are who we are. There’s no need to change for anyone no matter how tempting that might be. Don’t repackage yourself for anyone or anything. For it is what’s inside that counts. Look beyond the packaged lies. Believe in who you are. You can never be taken off the shelves of life for that.

Have you repackaged your heart in the past?

How do you intend to live a life consistent with the real you?

The Atheist Angel

Going waaaaay back some of you might remember a post I wrote called ‘Maggie’s Story’ (not her real name) about a young, homeless girl I befriended in Belfast last year. If not, you might want to check it out before reading on as it provides context for today’s post https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/maggies-story/

I hadn’t spoken to ‘Maggie’ in some weeks but wasn’t particularly concerned. As is the nature of life on the streets she lived an unpredictable and chaotic existence. Some weeks she would be everywhere I looked whereas at other times she would literally vanish into thin air. I would never ask her where she had been. That was none of my business. She told me what she wanted to tell me.

I was always relieved, however, to see her after such absences. Yesterday was no exception. I was walking across the city centre from the office to the train station. My normal route involves cutting through a shopping centre (mall) which brings you out onto the most eclectic of squares where modern cocktail bars and restaurants sit alongside centuries old chapels and more traditional watering holes.

The square itself is approached from all sides by a series of cobbled, twisted alleyways where you often find city street dwellers. And it was here that I discovered Maggie sitting shivering beneath a worryingly thin blanket. She was as pale as an anaemic ghost, entombed in her regulation street uniform of hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. She looked cold and miserable but her blue eyes were startlingly clear. I knew immediately that she wasn’t using. I can always tell by her eyes.

When she saw me, those eyes lit up and her face broke out into a smile. A smile which made my day. ‘Where have you been?’ she enquired, totally oblivious to the fact that I walked this route every day and she was the one who had been missing in action. We engaged in conversation for a few moments, the details of which are irrelevant to this post. Needless to say her January had been a tough one. But she was alive and clean for which I was grateful.

As I crouched beside her I became aware of a young woman kneeling beside me. It was her flaming, red hair that first caught my eye. She started to talk to ‘Maggie’, her face etched with concern and worry. She told us that she had only recently moved to Northern Ireland from the United States and had lived on the streets in Los Angeles as a teenager. She then did the most remarkable of things, removing her coat and handing it to ‘Maggie’. ‘You’re freezing and you need this more than me’ she explained.

I don’t know who was more shocked, ‘Maggie’ or myself but there then followed a bizarre reverse tug of war between the two girls. ‘Maggie’ is fiercely proud when lucid and very reluctant to accept charity. She will never say no to a hot cup of tea and I have also persuaded her, after much effort on my part, to allow me to buy her food and cigarettes. ‘But only the cheapest brand. You do enough for me as it is’ she would holler after me as I entered the shop.

In all the time I have known her, however, I have never once considered giving her an item of my clothing. I was instantly shamed and humbled by this staggering act of kindness. The American girl, let’s call her ‘Abby’, looked cold herself and I could almost count the goosebumps popping up on her pale arms as she struggled to get ‘Maggie’ to accept her coat. Belfast is hardly Sunset Boulevard in deepest January I reflected, cosy in my heavy coat, cap, scarf and gloves. Yet here she was offering up her coat to a complete stranger who she knew needed it more than her.

The tug of war continued and I assisted where I could in translating West Belfast slang with Southern California drawl as best I could. They were both speaking English but struggling to understand each other. In the end ‘Maggie’ triumphed (she normally does) although she allowed ‘Abby’ to buy a cup of tea for her. I thanked the American girl afterwards and we talked a little as I filled her in as to what I knew about ‘Maggie’.

She screamed ‘Young Christian’ in her language, actions and dare I say it appearance. She looked as if she had just walked off the set of a Bethel worship music video. I’m not sure how but our brief conversation led to her asking what place of worship I attended. ‘I’m kind of between churches’ I mumbled, a bit embarrassed to admit as much to such a paragon of virtue. ‘What about you?’ I replied, bracing myself for a Christian CV as long as your arm. No doubt the daughter of a pastor, worship leader aged ten and veteran of countless global missions and city soup kitchens.

‘Oh I’m an atheist’ she cheerfully replied before saying her farewells and veering off into a nearby cafe in search of ‘Maggie’s’ tea. I stood there, my jaw scraping off the ground, in stunned silence. Here was a non-Christian performing perhaps the most ‘Christian’ act I had ever witnessed. A modern day Good Samaritan. In the space of five minutes she had shown more love and compassion than I had seen many devoted church goers display in five years.

Christianity is just a word, a tag, a label. It means nothing really. It is actions that make the person, not memorising Bible verses or rolling up to church every Sunday. The word ‘Christian’ was nothing more than a nickname given to the first followers of Jesus by the Romans. It was intended as derogatory, mocking term. The early followers referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. The three year ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for the early church to explode onto the global scene and bring the mightiest civilisation known to man to its knees within a few centuries.

Atheist, Agnostic, Christian at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They are nothing but labels. What defines us is love. Do we love those around us? Not just our family or friends but also those on the fringes of society? We need to radically rethink the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices which colour our view of the world. We need to stop judging others and shoving them into neat little compartments which tally with our outlook life. We need to value and include the ‘Maggie’s’ and ‘Abby’s’ of our lives. We need to love the homeless and the atheists (but we also need to love like the homeless and the atheists. Actually love as opposed to just talking about it.

Who are you going to love today?

Lists

I love lists. I am a listophiliac. I’m sure this is not the correct terminology for a lover of lists; no doubt one of you good WordPress people will forward me the correct word. Or even better a list of such words. My love of lists is born out of fear; a fear of forgetting important information and appointments due to my appalling memory. It keeps letting me down and I keep letting people down. Which I hate. So I compile lists, which I love.

Lists of things to do. Lists of places to be. Lists of people to talk to. My lust for lists knows no bounds. I maintain a list of all my son’s rugby results. I keep lists of all my training runs. Including pace, elevation and calories burnt no less. And I have started a list of Netflix shows that Fionnuala and I intend to watch this year. We’ve just finished Manhunt:Unabomber by the way which was excellent. Just thought I’d share that with you all. You’re welcome.

I’ve started reminding Fionnuala of upcoming events, a previously unheard of phenomenon. This pleases me no end but probably just adds to her (ahem) list of annoying features about her husband. There is nothing more satisfying than scoring a completed task off a list. My future is scheduled and organised. I know what I have to do every day both inside and outside of work. I have become a more effective and efficient member of society as a result. I hope it has made me a better husband and father. God loves a trier and I am trying. Very trying at times.

None of us know what the future holds but at least with lists we can be better prepared. It’s akin to a gladiator entering the arena without his shield or his net. I’ve never quite worked out the whole gladiator net thing. If I was about to face my almost certain horrific death in front of a baying, bloodthirsty crowd my ‘go to’ weapon would in all likelihood not be a net. Nets are for fishing. Swords and axes are for fighting. Or at the very least a decent spear. But anyway what do I know. Stevius Blackius I am most certainly not.

On my command unleash lists. Did you see what I did there movie fans? My problem is I also keep lists of past events as well as future ones. Lists of people who have offended me, lists of past transgressions, lists of events which remind me of what an abject human being I am. Lists of shame and blame. Lists about lists. Lists which bog me down and tangle me up as opposed to bring structure and focus. Lists are like ladders. They can carry you to the summit of where you need to be but miss a rung and you come clattering back to earth with an almighty thump.

My lists from the past are like that rickety old ladder. They cannot be trusted and often leave me battered and bruised, sitting on my backside staring up at the sky. They are negative and self-defeating. They needed crumpled up and chucked in the garbage heap. They chain me down from where I need to be. The present. For it is the passport to our better futures. Unless we deal with what is around us now we will never unlock the doorway to tomorrow. It’s not called the present for nothing. It is a gift, a blessing. Just sitting patiently in front of us waiting to be unwrapped.

We need to maintain a presence in our present. We need to look up from our personal organisers and diaries and take stock of the here and now. Just for one second resist the lure of the list. Desist and consider your immediate surroundings. Now what do you see? A friend or work colleague who is struggling and in need of a helping hand. A relative out on their feet through sickness or exhaustion who needs you to be with them. Instead of sitting with your nose buried in a list, plotting your future or ruminating over the past.

Yes, lists can be a saving grace but you really should be saving your grace for today. Right now. Lists are a double edged sword that can inflict paper cuts to our current relationships. They can suck you out of your present where you are needed into a past where you no longer belong. You are prolonging unwanted and unnecessary pain. A past that needs to be buried once and for all. Not exhumed and picked over like the rotting, decaying corpse that it is. There is a reason the past is the past. In fact there are many. We need to remember that. Write them down if necessary. Even if that involves starting another list.

Are you a list maker? Are they a help or a hindrance to you?

What do you like or dislike about AFracturedFaith? Send us a list. We are always seeking to improve and your comments are always welcome.

The Past Is In Tatters

When I wonder I blunder. My dreams are ripped asunder and I’m dragged six feet under. Kicking and screaming, no longer dreaming. I was a dope to have hoped but now I am choked by the lies and the guilt and the shame. You see, I’m to blame. For the pain and the words flung at me today. The shrapnel of my past still torments me as it chafes and it grates underneath the old scar tissue. Remnants of my past exploding in my present.

Should I wilt beneath the guilt? Raise the white flag? Throw in the towel? Be defined and refined by emotions and oceans of glaring despair. I’m adrift and I’m sick of this shift in my thinking. It’s stinking so unblinking I face down my fears and I ignore the sneers. For I’m better than this. I will not allow this to happen. I will not become a casualty of my own doing. A living, walking, breathing suicide. My life does not end here. There is hope beneath the veneer. Death to death. I’ll reinvent.

Jesus arose from the depths of hell for a reason. He cast aside the shroud and the angels sang aloud ‘Hallelujah. Sin is no more.’ He settled my score. And yours and yours and yours as well. It is finished. Beyond diminished. Over and done. My disgrace obliterated by His face. His face. Beaten beyond recognition by Roman thugs not fit to kiss his feet. He took it all. For me. Broken, useless, abject me. I deserve nothing and yet here I am with everything. Yet still I wallow.

No more. It’s time to transcend the pain. I will not allow myself to become a casualty of unseen wars. I was everything that you had allowed me to become. Well, not today. Not now, not never. Like Moses and David, like Peter and Paul. I’ll not be choked by the gall of those days of deceit and despair. I was dazed by the glare of false idols who sidled alongside me. Promising me the world yet delivering nothing but fire and death. Well no more. I’ve been reborn and reformed. Transformed.

The fiercest enemy I ever fought was myself. He left me bereft. Your closest friend can become the deadliest of foes. I was that foe for I knew every chink, every weakness in my armour. I knew when to parry, when to counter and when to lunge. To plunge the blade deep and true, striking home and drawing blood. Sucking the hope from my very marrow. Watching the life ebb away as I looked down upon my own corpse and dropped the now redundant blade into a pool of my own bloody doing.

Well no more. I’ll rise from the depths which have swept me away like a shipwrecked wretch. I’ll stretch and reach and teach myself new ways. Better ways. I’ll pluck out the shrapnel and no longer grapple with screaming demons who without reason defile this new season. Intrusive thoughts can rot and burn for I have turned and now I spurn that way. I’ll learn a new way. A way that quashes the affliction of addiction. I’ll leer at fear and grope for the hope that the Cross offered up. The dirtiest and vilest of deaths. The backdrop to the most glorious of days.

So I’ll wonder no more. Wash away the filth and the blood of your past. Wash away the filth and the blood of Golgotha. The place of skulls. That most beautiful of graveyards. For my past was nailed to the wood as sure as his flesh and bones were. I’m walking down the hill away from the carnage of Cavalry. Never forgetting but never looking back. Striding forwards towards the city. A new creation fuelled by elation. You will not win, you cannot win. I will survive and I will thrive. My past is in tatters, it’s the present that matters.

I Want To Read Your Blog

A shorter blog today you will all be glad to hear. They say that in order to improve as a writer you should read, read and then read some more. So today I’m going to follow that advice. I want to read your posts. I want to find out more about you and, in doing so, learn from you. I’m putting my feet up and taking the day off.

So……

If you have any current or archived posts that you would like me to read and/or comment upon then let me know and I will. Have you had a good day? A rubbish day? Has one of our posts reminded you of something we wrote about once in the past? Do you need feedback? Advice? Prayers? Or just a little golden star to brighten up your timeline. If so, then comment below.

Yours

Lazy Stephen 🙂

We Dare You To Comment On This

I got asked the other day by a fellow blogger how AFracturedFaith had grown so much in such a comparatively short period of time. The blog was only launched in May 2017 and we have been heartened by its growth since. We don’t define success by the number of followers or likes we receive but it is a not unpleasant by product of the blog getting its message across. People seem to like what we do and for that we are very grateful.

We would love to see this growth continue into 2018. We want to grow bigger but also deeper. We want to connect with fellow bloggers in a meaningful, substantive way. We view you all as real people and not just numbers. You have real lives, real problems, real hopes and dreams. We want to help you achieve everything you were put on this planet to accomplish. We are all on a journey. Some of you are flying at present, others are limping along or at a complete standstill. Wherever you are we are with you.

We have ideas for developing and expanding the blog and its associated social media platforms. At present these are just ideas that Fionnuala and I are discussing but we hope that at least some of these will come to fruition as the year progresses. I want to grow as a writer and hope that one day it will provide an income that will, at the very least, allow me to scale down the 9-5 slog. It is a dream at present but dreams have a habit of becoming reality if properly nurtured. We cannot do this without your input, however. We need your prayers, well wishes, positive vibes whatever you want to call them. But we also need your feedback.

What do you like about the blog in respect of content and format? What would you like to read more about? Or what do you want me to stop droning on about? Am I too angry, silly, serious? Is there anything regarding the blog’s layout or structure that can be tweaked or improved upon? Do we engage enough with you? Would you like to collaborate with us on projects? Where else would you like to see our product? Would you like to engage in deeper, one to one discussions regarding thoughts and projects. Prayer or study groups? Hear more from other family members? Can we pray for you more, talk to you more, help you more?

A lot of questions there and normal blogging service will be resumed with the next post. But for now it’s over to you. The ball is in your court. Don’t hold back. Don’t be shy. If you have never commented before then please do now. I promise not to cry.

Please comment below. Thank you.

Straight Outta Aghalee

I am many things. I am a father, a husband, a son and a brother. I tackle all of these responsibilities with varying degrees of success. I am an exceedingly average distance runner and wannabe blogger and author. I like so see myself as a good friend but all the good and not so good friends I have lost down the years may beg to differ. I am good at a few things but not so good at a lot more things.

I’m a mass of contradictions, a warren of dead ends, a mansion house full of locked doors and dusty attics. We all are really. We excel at some pursuits and are repelled by others. I am many things. But there is one thing I am not. I am not a rapper. I am a 47 year old, married father of three living in rural Northern Ireland with a reasonably important job and an equally reasonable mortgage. On the surface I am the epitomy of respectability. But I wanna be a rapper….

This drives Fionnuala insane of course. When it comes to pet hates of mine, she has many. She could probably write several dozen blogs on the subject but, thankfully, chooses not to. I break out into an embarrassing mish mash of shape throwing and guttural grunts at the slightest opportunity. I drop the mic (usually on my big toe) and spit out lyrics so toe curlingly bad that Tupac must be turning in his grave.

South Central Aghalee is my crib. This consists of quiet residential housing and sleepy farmland. The nearest we get to excitement is when a passing tractor backfires. There was once an attempted robbery at the village shop but the wannabe gang banger ran off empty handed when the owner hurdled the counter and threw a charity collection box at him. We prefer hot tea to Ice-T and M&M’s to Eminem.

The kids are mortified when I break out a la NWA. They want me straight outta the room as opposed to Straight Outta Compton. I have three stock phrases that I periodically repeat over any backing track I care to follow. These are ‘Yeh’ ‘C’mon’ and ‘Awhhh’; all delivered in the poorest of American rapper accents. I gesticulate wildly while doing so, flailing my arms like an out of control windmill in a hurricane. My audience don’t know where to look. You could hear a penny drop. I live in Awkwardsville – Population Me.

I know I’m an embarrassment to my wife and kids but I hope that I’m an entertaining embarrassment. Amidst the eye rolling and pleas to stop there is also the occasional poorly concealed smirk. I have a propensity for melancholy so it’s important that I allow my silly side to emerge now and again. I’ve been the architect of many bad memories down the years so I am relieved when I can lay down funnier foundations. I am using my comedic wrecking ball to smash through the walls of pain and disappointment that have hemmed me in for most of my life.

Silliness is an escape valve that releases the pressures of everyday life which constantly build up inside of us. I was once told I have a dry wit but often that is not enough. You need to throw yourself off the cliffs of conformity and immerse yourself fully beneath the waters of humour and irreverence. There is freedom in fun and farce. I don’t do it enough. They say writers thrive on anguish and despair but if it’s that all I have to feed on then I fear my art will be starved and ultimately snuffed out.

So I will continue to hip and hop and annoy….a lot. I will revel in my rhyming and off beat timing. My raps will be crap and I ain’t all that. But at least our hatchlings will grow up and look back fondly on years of daft antics. I might only be papering over the cracks but at least I’m trying. It’s never too late to start afresh and do your best to make amends. Bad memories can never be erased but if the good ones outnumber them then they lose some of their sting.

I’m trying. My rapping is very trying. But God loves a trier. For now that’s all I can do.

What are your embarrassing ‘talents’?

Melancholy v Mirth? How do you balance them?

I’m An Angry Christian…. I’d be an Angrier Atheist

I get angry with God sometimes. Quite a lot if I’m honest. I sometimes try and convince myself that there is no God. Because then life would be a whole less complicated. And I would be a whole less angry. Which would declutter my mind and leave space for other emotions to take root. More positive emotions. Happiness for example. Or at least less unhappy. Is less unhappy even an emotion?

I have struggled with OCD for a large part of my life. It seeps into many areas of my existence but one it has never trespassed upon is my belief in a God. Sometimes I wish it would. That the voice in my head would tell me there is no God like it used to tell me all other sorts of nonsense on a daily basis. And instead of wrestling with this intrusive thought for days on end I would just shrug my shoulders and say ‘You know what OCD? I’m going to give you this one. You’re right. There is no God.’

It never did though. That’s the thing about OCD. It doesn’t exist to make your life easier. Shame that. Atheism leaves even more unanswered questions than believing does. And if I’m an angry Christian I dread to think what sort of atheist I would be. The Hulk? So I’m left with God and his all-powerful, all-knowing existence. And all the parts of the Bible that frustrate me and I don’t understand. I like to understand. I suppose it’s the OCD again. I need certainty and fact. Doubt is a killer for me. I will ask the same question over and over again until I get a rock solid, definitive answer. All this faith and ‘handing it over to God’ malarkey drives me nuts.

Trust God and he will protect you. Okaaaaay. But when? And where? And how? And a million other questions. Why does he have to be so mysterious and shadowy when going about his business. Why can’t I have a road to Damascus experience like Paul? All these people that boldly stand up in church and proclaim that ‘God spoke to me clearly this morning’. Why can’t that be me? Do you think they might be making stuff up? People lying in church???! Whatever next!

I know all the theological arguments. I read. A lot. So no comments please about free will or original sin or final judgement because I understand all that. But that doesn’t stop me feeling less cranky now. Because bad things are happening to good people at a lickety split rate. Our countries are still governed by imbeciles, babies are still dying from cancer and planes are still going down in the oceans. Why? Why? Why?

I pray and I pray and I pray yet my son still gets bullied at school. I pray and I pray and I pray yet my daughter still can’t walk. I pray and I pray and I pray and evil people still get away with murder and openly gloat in my face. Then I go to church and lots of happy, smiley faces tell me that life is wonderful and God is good. Something doesn’t add up here. Am I the odd one out here? Am I even a Christian? Do I want to be a Christian if this is what it boils down to? Turning the other cheek. Smiling through the insanity of life.

I wish I had their faith. I’ve tried to be that smiling, robotic face on a Sunday morning. But I can’t do it and nor can Fionnuala. She is many things but most certainly not a Stepford Church Wife. We always feel the odd ones out, the outsiders, the black sheep of the church family. I know our surname is Black but that’s just plain ridiculous. What are we missing out on? What part of the Christian life is not clicking with me? Why am I angry with God? Why do I ask so many question? Oh hang on that’s another question! Gahhhhhhh!

For all it’s infuriating sections the Bible has given me what I have needed of late to placate my frustration and anger – rubbish role models and hopeless heroes. Some of the angriest and most useless men in the history of the world. Job, Moses, David, Gideon, Samson, Peter, Paul. I could go on. And when I read their stories (I’m ploughing through the laugh-a-minute-a-thon that is Job presently) I see a glimmer of hope. Washed up nobodies at various points of their lives that God used to rewrite history. The world we live in today was shaped by anger and disillusionment just as much as it was shaped by Bethel music videos and stadium mega churches.

They were driven by anger and despair. All their lives. David lost a son. Job lost ten children. Moses lost the privilege and power of Egypt. Paul lost everything, including his head in the end. Some of the angriest, most bitter men you could hope to meet. The common denominator? God allowed them to be angry. He allowed them to rant and sulk and shake their fists at the heavens. He allowed them to bombard him with questions and let off steam. He could have struck them down mid tirade with fire from heaven but he didn’t.

He allowed them to get it out of their system. Without that many of the Psalms wouldn’t have been written. Job? Ecclesiastes? Lamentations? Forget about it. The Bible would have been a much slimmer read. God allowed anger because it’s part of the communication process. Anger can be healthy. It’s when you bottle it all up that it starts to fester and pollute your thoughts and actions. God doesn’t expect us to be happy, smiley drones 24/7 and pretend life is wonderful. Because *newsflash* it’s not.

So I’m heartened and somewhat reassured. I’ll never work God out. But I need him because otherwise what’s the point? I get angry and fed up with life whilst accepting that there is a God. Think how much more bleak and desolate the world would look if I didn’t believe. I’m an angry Christian. I’d be a much angrier atheist. He’s all I’ve got so I’ll rant and I’ll sulk but above all else I’ll hope. That when I get it all out of my system there are better times ahead. I’ll hope and I’ll pray. It’s all I’ve got.

Do you get angry with God? Or are you an angry atheist?

Can anger be healthy and productive?

I’m Hangry

I am permanently hungry. I wake up hungry, I go to work hungry, I come home hungry, I go to bed hungry. I am the Hunger Games. Although I haven’t had to resort to using a bow & arrow or killing any teenagers. Yet. Catniss Everdeen watch out. If it comes down to it I will fight you to the death if it involves a sausage sandwich or multi pack of Double Decker chocolate bars.

This, of course, is as a result of my marathon training. Big mileage equates to big appetite. As I’m burning a lot of calories during the course of the week I need to replace them at more regular intervals. And by regular I mean all the time. In many ways I resemble a hobbit in my love of around nineteen meals a day. Although I’m considerably taller with slightly less hairy feet. Plus I’ve a soft spot for orcs.

I read somewhere that during a marathon training programme some runners actually put on weight, such are the constant hunger pangs that envelop them. I can relate to that. Thankfully I haven’t piled on the pounds but I can see how that can happen. I’ve witnessed fellow runners gorge themselves after long runs. It was akin to a zombie feeding frenzy. I can’t comment on their table manners because these guys didn’t even wait for the food to be placed on a table. Truly nasty.

I don’t like being hungry. Of course I have no concept of what real hunger is and don’t wish to devalue that but bear with me. When I am hungry I become tetchy and irritable. Or, as Fionnuala might suggest, more tetchy and irritable than normal. There is a word for this that has entered the English vocabulary in recent years. It’s right up there with ‘selfie’ and ‘Brexit’. That word is…. hangry.

Hungry + Angry = Hangry. Alternatively I have heard ‘rungry’ used but that’s just the 26.2 mile brigade trying to over complicate matters. Let’s stick with ‘hangry’ for now. When I need to eat nothing else matters bar the search for sustenance. I can’t focus on anything else until my stomach is full. And God help anyone who gets in my way. It becomes my Number One priority; everything else takes a back seat until my face is being fed. End of.

We all need to eat. Some of us have bigger appetites than others. My mother could live off a slice of toast and twenty four cups of tea a day. People like me need more. I’m fortunate in that I can pretty much eat what I want. Others, like Fionnuala, need to be more careful given her diabetes. Others again choose not to eat and to restrict their calorie intake. This can be voluntarily through a healthy diet plan or a result of an eating disorder which, sadly, seem to be increasingly prevalent in society today.

Hunger takes many forms. Some crave the control and power it brings. Others fear it as they never know where the next meal is coming from for them and their family. Hunger can be a dark, relentless foe. My own pangs pale into insignificance when compared against true, raw hunger where lives are on the line. Again I don’t mean to belittle a subject that still traumatises large swathes of our planet. We take so much for granted and that includes not having to worry about where our next mouthful is coming from.

Hunger can be a life or death matter. Or it can be a trivial gripe of a spoilt, middle aged Northern Irish runner. It affects all of us, however. Everybody gets hungry at some stage. And I’m not just talking about our stomachs here. We all have dreams, goals, ambitions. We all hunger after something. It can be a new physique, a new job or that ‘must have’ accessory. We want as oppose to need. We never seem to be satisfied with what we have. We hunger for more, more, more.

Hunger is a dangerous beast to tame. It can wreak havoc when that need relates to addictive patterns and destructive behaviours. Alcohol, drugs, sex, and power are but a few of the glittering gems we desire. We ache for them, the insatiable urge to fill the void within us. Yes, be hungry. Have dreams and hopes. But hunger after what is noble. Use you hunger to change your street, town or country. Hunger for love. Hunger for justice. Hunger for all that is good.

Make your hunger known.

What do you hunger for?

Stay At Home Christian

I’m heading out on a loooooong run tomorrow morning instead of going to church. Does that make me a bad Christian? I hope not. It’s just I’m not feeling the whole church experience once more. It has been a year now since we left the small church we had been attending for over four years. Since then we have drifted like nomads in the desert from oasis to oasis in search of a new spiritual home.

The churches we sampled during 2017 just haven’t felt right for one reason or another. At times we have felt close to making a decision but on each occasion we chosen to move on. They have been too big, too impersonal, too ambitious or too closed down. Yes you want your local church closed down? Easy? Just invite us along. I guarantee they will have folded by the end of the month. If not earlier.

We have tried home church, online church, churcity church church. But still we have nada. It’s got to the point now that I don’t really want to even be around Christians. They all seem no nice and happy and smiley. Everything is perfect and wonderful and ‘nice’. They have no concept of personal space and will hug you like their long lost brother the first time they meet you. Then ignore you the following day in the high street or not reply to your mid week text message, desperate for a little support and fellowship. Then hug you the following Sunday again like some sort of holy Groundhog Day.

That’s just a personal experience of mine and the purpose of this post is not to bash church going folk. That would be petty and bitter. I’m a bit better than that I hope. Let’s just say that Fionnuala and I have had a few negative church experiences which leave us wondering will we ever find somewhere. We keep telling ourselves that we need to be part of a church, that we need the structure and discipline of the Sunday environment. It’s what people like us do right? We go to church. It’s all quite bewildering and depressing to be honest.

Our son, Adam, has no interest in church. He finds it boring and his idea of hell is being dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning to be subjected to worship music and lengthy sermons. Even at the hip, happening churches we went to where the worship was like a rock concert and the pastor had ripped jeans and designer stubble. So we don’t force him to go. Which hasn’t been an issue of late as we haven’t been going ourselves. Adam describes himself as a ‘stay at home Christian’.

Ask him to recount a Bible story and he will deliver it in an engaging, witty manner. He once explained the Christian themes and symbolism behind ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ better than C.S. Lewis himself could. He gets it and understands it as clear as day. He has a relationship with God I’m certain of that. He just does it his own way. And the way in which he leads his life regularly puts me to shame. He is the total opposite of me when I was his age. He is athletic, cool, funny, and popular. I was none of these things.

So tomorrow I am taking a leaf out of my son’s book and being a ‘stay at home Christian.’ I’m going to run along quiet country roads. I’m running away from church but I hope I’m running towards God. I will think and pray. I will declutter and detoxify, flush out the bitter negativity and cynicism along with the sweat from my pores. Church and Christians seem like barriers between myself and God at the moment. They bring out the most decidedly un Christian attributes in me.

I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone. I know our followers are a mix of believers and non believers. I always seek to be honest but never to upset. I see myself as a writer who happens to be a Christian as opposed to a Christian writer. I will never ram my faith down people’s throats but I will talk about it. It is fractured and church is partially responsible for that. Not as much as I am though. I’m not a church basher. There are many wonderful churches out there. And there are many wonderful Christian people. WordPress has reaffirmed that for me.

At present WordPress is my church. And you people, whatever your belief system, are my congregation. I’ll be thinking of you all out on the road tomorrow morning.

Tell me about your church experiences?

Good? Bad? Indifferent? Non existent?

What does church mean to you?

CSI: You

Crime scenes can be fascinating but grisly locations. My work occasionally involves me attending them and experiencing the other side of the cordon. I’ve even had to wear those silly forensic oversuits, masks and gloves on occasion. It wasn’t my best fashion moment let me tell you. I resembled a giant, white Teletubby. My Tinky Winky was decidedly un rinky dinky! Here’s a tip as well should you ever find yourself in one (well you never know). If you bend over make sure you are wearing an undergarment. They tend to rip quite easily. You’re very welcome.

Crime scenes are frenetic, highly pressurised environments. Scientists, photographers, mappers and scenes of crime officers buzz around carrying out their various duties. They have to be painstakingly meticulous. The tiniest oversight can result in crucial evidence being overlooked. A hair, a speck of blood, a fingerprint. Attention to detail is paramount. Clues can be concealed anywhere and only the most highly trained mind can identify and decipher them. I tend to find myself at the eye of this storm. I direct, advise and consult. But when it comes to the technical, scientific stuff I take a step back and leave it to the boffins and geeks. For I am neither. Cos I am the coolest of albino Teletubbies.

You might pore over a crime scene for hours and see nothing. A highly qualified specialist can spend just a few moments working the scene and report back with observations and findings which will leave you standing slack jawed in astonishment. Piecing together what happened at any scene is a team effort. It requires a cast of many. I cannot be expected to do it on my own. I don’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and skills. I rely on others to paint a picture for me. I delegate and I listen. Failure to do so can be career suicide.

When all the pieces of the jigsaw are presented to me I can then begin to slot them together. This is where my analytical and interpretive skills come to the fore. I provide a strategic overview like a general surveying a battlefield far below him. I’m nowhere near as important as a general but you get my drift. Jigsaws can be frustrating and time consuming. But there is no better feeling than fixing those last few pieces into place and the picture finally merging into focus. It makes all the hard work beforehand worthwhile.

Life can be a bit like working a crime scene. Baffling and bloody in equal measure. Attempt to decipher it alone and you will soon find yourself in hot water. You will quickly become swamped and end up hopelessly out of your depth. You need others around you, people who you can rely upon. Experts who will guide you through the pitfalls and lead you to the truth which is often staring you right in the face. You cannot rush life’s trials just like you cannot rush a crime scene. It takes time and it requires teamwork.

I spent a good chunk of my life trying to do it on my own. Attempting to unlock the riddle locked inside a conundrum wrapped inside an enigma that was me. I never got very far and invariably blundered past the subtle signposts and discreet directions set out along the path I travelled. I have been clueless to the clues and oblivious to the obvious. Unable to make any sense of the evidence spread out before my weary eyes. Blinded by my own selfish and sinful needs. Unable to see the wood for the trees. Bogged down in a quagmire of self pity and negativity. Going nowhere fast. When the answers were staring me right in the face all along. My faith and my family. They were my solution. They were the magnifying glass that this Sherlock Holmes needed.

Crime scenes cannot be held forever. Eventually the cordon will be taken down and the various agencies will pack up their bags and head home. The cleaning agencies will scrub the streets clean and it will be as if nothing ever happened. Nothing to see here folks. Move along now people. You only get one chance at at crime scene. Time is precious. You need to process it as a team before the opportunity is lost forever. They call it the golden hour. One chance, don’t mess it up. No pressure. Just like life really. You get one chance.

Your life is like a crime scene. It is a living, breathing, messy puzzle and you are the detective called to unravel its secrets and decode its mysteries. You only get one shot at it so tread carefully. Examine every inch of it and from every possible angle. In minute, fine grain detail. Every crime scene examination is a search for the truth. The truth you have been searching for your entire life. Your purpose. Your meaning. Your calling. The tiniest grain of information could unlock the door to worlds and universes that you never knew existed before. The key to your life.

But don’t do it alone. Use the resources available to you. Those who know you better than you know yourself. I can’t tell you who these people are. They are your tribe, your inner circle. Allow them underneath the cordon tape and into your confidence. Show them the beautiful mess that you are. Allow them to sift through the debris and help you piece together the jigsaw that reveals your purpose and destiny. Let them help you for you cannot do it alone. You must not do it alone. For before you know it the scene will be lost and the secret treasures of your being will be blown away into the night never to return. You will be unable to find the message in your mess.

Standing alone and confused on a dark, damp street. In an ill fitting Teletubby costume. Not knowing who you are nor why you are here. Now that would be a crime.

How are you getting on at working your crime scene?

Who are your tribe? Do you allow them under the cordon?

Is there a message hidden in your mess?

The Ugly Truth

I used to lie all the time. In fact I became rather good at it. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. I lied to my mother and sister. I lied to my friends and work colleagues. I lied to anyone who I was engaged in conversation with for any length of time. I lied face to face. I lied on the phone. I lied via text message. I lied online. I liked to lie. I was a walking, talking lie-ability.

I even lied to myself. And I was such an accomplished liar that even I began to believe myself. I still continued to believe that I was a more or less honest, upstanding husband, father, son, brother and so on. Like any addict I was delusional. I thought I could stop lying at any time and return to the real world. Every lie, however, took me a step further away from where I needed to be. My lies accumulated and created a sticky, tangled web from which there was no escape.

Why do we lie? Why are some of us seemingly allergic to telling the truth. Well at the heart of it is self preservation. Lying is fundamentally a selfish act. The liar seeks to preserve their reputation and prevent others from seeing what lurks beneath the lies – the ugly, sinful truth. Why confront that when you can be mesmerised by beautiful, glittering lies. Lies are fluffy, soft and shiny. The truth, on the other hand, is all sharp edges and hard surfaces. Lies are beautiful. The truth is no oil painting.

The truth regarding me was not a pretty sight. And eventually it was exposed for all to marvel at it in its malignant magnificence. They say the truth will set you free but it didn’t feel like that every time it happened to me. And it always did. I wasn’t as good a liar as I thought I was for I was always found out. That moment when you realised you were exposed and cornered; when your blood turned to ice and your heart lurched into the pit of your stomach. There is no more sickening feeling.

It was then and only then that I saw the lies for that they really were. I saw the pain and distress I caused my loved ones. I saw that beneath the cocky, swaggering exterior I was nothing but a lilywhite coward. My legs turned to jelly and I struggled to breathe. I was overcome with nausea and self pity. I became nothing. Without my protective cloak of lies the cruel, ugly truth burned me to a crisp. It left me naked and bleeding, ashamed to look at myself in a mirror. I still struggle with that even to this day.

Learning to tell the truth again is hard work. When your default setting is to lie it takes a conscious act to do anything but that. The truth is clunky and cumbersome. It trips you up and slows you down. The truth is sitting in a huge traffic tailback as Liar Airlines zooms past overhead. Learning to tell the truth again is like learning to walk again; one painful, uncertain step at a time. It is so tempting to fall back into old habits and tell a little, white one just to oil the wheel the oils of life.

But one lie is never enough just like one drink is never enough for an alcoholic. Every landslide starts with one tiny stone rolling. And I must never be swallowed up again by an avalanche of my own creation. My lies are the smokescreen I create in order to hide sinful secrets. Secrets that have broken me time and time again. I cannot and will not allow that to happen again. I must fight the urge to lie and avoid the liars who have led me down dark paths before.

Every addict is an accomplished liar. Strip away the lies and you see the addiction for what it truly is. The truth to an addict is like kryptonite to Superman. It brings the strongest miscreant to their knees. It obliterates them and it is only then that they can start to rebuild. From scratch. The truth is a wrecking ball in the cosy life of a liar. It is radical and violent. There is nothing cuddly about it. Every avenging angel comes with fire and fury, not fluffy clouds and heavenly choirs.

I cling to the truth. It burns and cuts me. I slip and stumble but I cling on for dear life. An ugly truth for a battered, dirty soul.

Do you struggle with telling the truth?

How have lies impacted on your life?

Sick Of Being Sick

Chez Black has been struck with all kinds of sickness and illness over the last few weeks. Fionnuala has been particularly unfortunate and has been struggling with all sorts of ailments. Once she overcomes one bug another one has appeared over the horizon to blight her. It has been a very exhausting and debilitating period for her.

Hannah and Rebecca have both been off school this week with various sniffles and coughs. Hannah also had a nasty stomach bug after Christmas. Even our eldest, ‘IronMan’ Adam, came home from school today feeling under the weather. And as for yours truly? Well I’ve been manfully battling manflu these last three days. But I’m not one to complain right?

We’ve had to miss various trips and appointments. We haven’t been to church in over a month and have effectively quarantined ourselves off from the rest of civilisation bar essential journeys. We are well and truly sick of being sick. It seems that we have picked up every lurgy going. You name it, we have it. I know we have been hit by nothing really serious but it’s still been a frustrating start to 2018.

If only everything was so infectious. Why can’t I be struck down with excessive kindness, tolerance or generosity? Wouldn’t it be great if you woke up one morning and couldn’t stop smiling? Or caught a nasty dose of neighbourly love? Nope. These characteristics seem to come much harder to most of us. They are not an automatic action like sneezing or coughing. They require an actual effort on our part. An effort that is often lacking on the part of many.

Fionnuala and I watch the regional, national and international news but see nothing but hatred and bigotry. We turn on mainstream television and see traditional values and morals being relentlessly attacked by the ‘politically correct’ police. You are scared to open your mouth today for fear of offending someone. Our skins are becoming thinner as our hearts become harder.

The same applies to all aspects of society. People don’t seem to care any more about nobody but numero uno. Indifference and apathy are reaching epidemic proportions. If you dare to have an opinion contrary to the accepted norm you are ostracised and ridiculed. It’s a mad, mad world. Or rather it’s a sad, sad world.

I’m embarrassed by our elected representatives. I’m appalled by many of our so called celebrities. I’m disappointed by supposed role models. I’m let down by family and supposed friends. It’s little wonder we often as a family do not want to mix and mingle. Be it attending the workplace, church or social events. Everywhere we look we see shallowness and hypocrisy.

We will soldier on through this period of illness just as we will soldier on through life. We will love where we can and hold our heads high. We are proud of our home and our kids even though our throats are sore and our noses are blocked. We care and because we care we won’t give up. We remain optimistic even though the world doesn’t offer much in the way of optimism.

We are sick. But the world is sicker.

Who Do You Trust?

Last year I made an unusual New Years Resolution. I decided to give up having friends. That’s right. I was going solo. All I needed were Fionnuala and the kids. The reason? Well largely it was forced upon me. I had self destructed in such spectacular fashion that some people no longer wanted anything to do with me. Others did but only if I adhered to a number of pre-conditions. After some consideration I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t. And others again I had to cut adrift myself as they simply were not good for me.

Within a relatively short period of time I went from having a reasonably busy social life to well….nothing. We left the church we had been actively involved in and are still struggling to find a new spiritual home. I cut off all my ties with various running groups I had been linked to. I left all formats of social media and deleted a swathe of contact numbers from my mobile phone. I don’t have a big family. I have one sister who I don’t see very often and I lost my father in 2010 to prostate cancer. Since then my mother has become something of a recluse and, although we talk every day on the phone, I maybe see her once every couple of months.

It was Fionnuala and the kids. I got up, went to work and came home. I run on my own. I go and watch my son play rugby but don’t really mix with all the other parents. I keep my head down wherever I go and usually wear a cap. People walk past as if I don’t exist and that’s just fine by me. I used to seek out the limelight whereas now I shun it. Plus I can no longer fall back on alcohol to combat my social awkwardness. I’m a weirdo, a geek, an oddball. As long as I have my Kindle Fire and Netflix then I’m as happy as a pig in you know what.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m anti-social. I’m shy and awkward but I would love to have friends. The written medium is my strongest communication format. I feel very at home when I am writing. Put me in a room full of strangers, however, and ask me to engage in small talk and I would crumple in an embarrassed heap. I’d be like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. ‘I’m mellllllttttiiiiiiinnngggggg!!!!’ Flying monkeys optional. They really freak me out by the way.

I want to have friends but I just can’t get my thang together on this front. I’m just me and not a lot of people get thar. I like hobbits and zombies and running 26.2 miles for ‘fun’. These icebreakers tend to be greeted by a lot of blank stares whenever I drop them into the conversation. I’ve been trying to explain my rationale regarding this situation for five paragraphs now but I guess the ever so eloquent Taylor Swift sums it up best.

I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….

The Social Media Wannabe Formerly Known as Stephen Black has inflicted and sustained considerable damage over the last few years. Thank God I’m now back on the straight and narrow. I have massive trust issues, however. I trust very few people. I’ll take that a step further. I don’t even trust myself most of the time. It can take years to establish trust but you can destroy it in a few seconds. Fionnuala dragged me very reluctantly back onto social media via this blog and I am slowly starting to find my feet again. I am learning to trust others and myself again. I hope others are learning to trust me as well.

It’s a constant battle though. I want to help people through this blog but I’m ever alert and wary. Am I coming across as too arrogant? Pretentious? Am I disclosing too much about myself? Too little? How do I come across? Am I doing enough? The questions keep coming. And it all boils down to one little word – trust. Trust rusts. It needs constant attention like one of those massive road bridges that are constantly being painted to combat corrosion. Once the painters get to the far end of the bridge they have to start all over because the near end has started to rust again.

I want to thank WordPress. For allowing me to be myself. For allowing me to lower my defences and display my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For allowing me to trust people again. For allowing others to trust me. For allowing me to learn to trust myself again.

I am everything you are allowing me to become. I trust this community, this tribe. I think I’ve finally found my people. Thank you.

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Where do you stand on the issue of trust?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part Two

Due to unprecedented popular demand (well, three of you) I’ve decided to post a photo of my attempts to grow a beard. This was taken earlier today. It’s been twelve days now since my chin last saw a razor blade and what a journey it has been. I’ve pouted, I’ve preened and I’ve scratched but I can finally score this enterprise off my bucket list.

I’m back to work on Friday after the Christmas break so I’ve decided to bid farewell to the face furniture and return to the clean shaven look safe in the knowledge that I am a proper man’s man. No patchy spots and not a ginger hair to be seen. What’s not to like about that? As tomorrow is my final day of follicular freedom I might experiment. Perhaps with a goatee? Or by rocking the Mexican gringo look?

I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Fionnuala and the kids who have had to endure this abomination over the last two weeks. Fionnuala has been wisely keeping me at arms length but I’ve saved us a small fortune in razor blades and shaving foam. If any of you hear distant screams later tonight, fear not. It will probably just be me hacking at my face while trying to avoid my jugular.

Yours in beardiness

Stephen

Beardy McBeardFace – Part One

I don’t have a bucket list but if I ever compiled one I reckon that growing a beard would have been on it. I’ve never had a beard, stubble yes, but never a full one. I’ve always wondered what it would look and feel like. Would I resemble a mighty warrior from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? Or a sad, middle aged man who should really know better.

Fionnuala hates all things face furniture and has always been strongly against the idea of me growing one; anything beyond a two day stubble and she looks at me disapprovingly. She thinks they are dirty but finally relented a week ago and said I could grow one over the Christmas holidays. So it was with much excitement that I banished my razor and shaving foam to the back of the bathroom cabinet. Operation Beardy McBeardyFace was go go go!

There was little to report over the first few days but, as we now reach the week mark, I have become fixated by my facial hair. I have been caught examining it in the mirror. This is bizarre as I normally hate looking at my own reflection and avoid doing so whenever I can. Yet the beard has an eerily hypnotic pull and keeps drawing me back. I find myself stroking it without realising that I am. I even shampooed it the other evening. If this were to continue beard oils and combing may enter the equation. I am like a child with a new plaything.

There are pros and cons to growing a beard. I considered working out how much I would save in toiletries over the course of a year but then decided this was a step in sadness too far. The same goes for the 3.475 days a year I now have to spend on other activities. Like staring in the mirror at myself. Or shopping for beard oils and other related products. The beard is saving me time and money. All I have to do is sit back and do nothing. What’s not to love about that?

The experiment has also reassured me that I do not possess a ginger gene. Being Irish this has always been a concern of mine. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against redheads. Belinda Carlisle was the first love of my life. I used to stalk Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones around Belfast city centre. And Ed Sheerin and Prince Harry have made it cool to be ginger again; no, this all comes from the darkest recesses of my school days when to be a ginger was akin to having social leprosy; you were a pariah, an outcast to be mercilessly mocked for all the days of your life. Duracell Head, Carrot Top, Ginger Ninja and so on and so forth.

I was tubby, shy and wore glasses but at least I wasn’t ginger. Or was I? Thankfully the beard has allayed any concerns I might have had. Not even a hint of copper. It has sprouted up reassuringly dark apart from a grey section around my chin which I think makes me look most distinguished. George Clooney eat your heart out. Why didn’t I think of this years ago. I could have been modelling for Armani. Not only does the beard turn me into a Holywood sensation but it also covers the many parts of my face that I am not so enamoured with. Everyone’s a winner.

Yes a week in and everything is going swimmingly. When I started writing this post I never envisaged it developing into a two parter. Yet it has. You see the beard is taking over. It has developed a life of its own. It is like an alien life form that has attached itself to my face and taken over my mind. And for all the advantages I have listed above there are as many, if not more, disadvantages. The beard is most definitely not beardier on the other side. Part Two will cover all that so try to contain yourselves.

And no before you ask I’m not posting a photo of my bearded self. Some of you may be of a nervous disposition and I don’t want to scare you.

Men – do you have a beard? What have been your experiences with facial hair?

Women – are you a fan of face furniture? Beards? Moustaches? Hipster goatees?

Stinking Thinking – Part Two

Follow me He said. So I did and it led me to them. I was hungry and needed fed, my starving soul craved sustenance like an addict craves the needle and the relief of release. I gorged on their manna but the more I think back, it wasn’t from heaven. This desire to please was like a disease. So I smiled and I nodded as they queried and prodded. I listened and learned but the sin it still burned. I yearned to be better and free and unfettered. Love me, like me, tolerate me, anything me. Mesmerised and traumatised. I stumbled on regardless, deaf to your screams as I destroyed our dreams.

Sober as a judge but as drunk as a skunk as I slithered and slid back down into the pit. And this time it’s worse so I curse the day I blamed the drink. No excuses this time, no rhyme or reason for this new season of shame and pain. I stand oblique to your clique and it reeks of the world not the word. Judge, jury and executioner. They strike the gavel as I unravel.

We’d travelled so far but I’m sliding back and there’s no slack as I scrabble, babble, fall back into the rabble. Hands digging in the rubble. A muddle of troubled thoughts and all for naught. The same old mistakes as still I rake over the ashes of my past. I’m second class and second best. Small groups for small thoughts. I talk the talk and walk the walk but my path is down, down, down. There is no crown where I go, just dirt and grime and endless time. Sleepwalking all the way to the grave. Going six feet under to be torn asunder.

I found God or rather he found me. And what a sorry acquisition I was. Preaching and teaching my way to Hell. Oh well. There goes the bell. Handshakes and smiles all round. Another sermon and yet I’m left squirming at the staggering hypocrisy of it all. Practice what you preach you leach. I grit my teeth and spit the grief in their faces, telling them exactly what they want to hear. And not a second over twenty minutes mind because that wouldn’t do as there are biscuits to eat. The sheep bleat and I beat my retreat to my fantasy world. My life is absurd as I vomit the Word. I gag on my sin, the demons within. They feed me, they need me unlike those on the outside. I see through the facade. I tear down the veil and behind it there is nothing.

Going through the motions. Drink the magic potion. For then everything will be well and this Hell where I dwell will dispel. Ain’t life swell? He’s a leader in making if it weren’t for the faking. My life is just fine so where do I sign? You want sweat, blood and tears? Here’s the sum of my fears. I want freedom yet I’m bleeding and everyone’s leaving. My blood turns to ice and I’m back where I started, my loved ones departed. The truth set me free but now I’m adrift and the rift I’ve created cannot be broached. I’m a roach needing squished. I wish.

Blinded by the lies that mesmerised, now watch me die. These soul ties I despise are the death of me. Please rescue me from myself. My muddy, befuddled soul has seen better days and all I want is a friend to lend me hope; but nope – they smile and nod as I scream in their faces, then scurry home to their 2.4. They want nothing more of me and my sordid world. Until next Sunday anyway. When normal service will be resumed. Big hugs and how they’ve missed us. Not as much as I missed you on the darkest of nights when I poured out the festering, rancid slops of my soul. Still waiting for that reply. Might wait till I die. Sure we’ll all meet in glory. Run along now. Don’t bore me.

So I lurch to the next church and it’s more of the same. It’s all a holy game.We want you, we need you. No time for your ranting cos we’re too busy planting. The biggest in Ireland we’ll be, you’ll see. So holy and pure yet they offer no cure. With their beards and their beanies, those skinny jeaned meanies. They’re safe in their huddle as I struggle to cope. I’m flat broke. Out of hope. Just you tithe and stay alive. That’s all we ask. For we are perfect and you are not.

If this is love then keep your drug. I read the seeds and want to sow but how can I grow when all I see is hypocrisy over cups of tea. The devil wears many masks. You find him in the most unlikely of places. He is a beautiful creation, whispering words of sedation that soothe me and move me. My eyes see their lies and I learn to despise those Sunday mornings. Mourning what could have been, what should have been. The funniest part is that you didn’t even notice. And even if you had would you have cared, wrapped up in your own world of point scoring your way to eternal glory. Tick that box and move on. Those happy, clappy Christians with their perfect lives and their perfect wives. They could be in for a big surprise. I stay at home and stare at my phone. Tapping my way to death.

Sanity Scissors

On Christmas Eve I said enough was enough and decided to get a haircut. I was starting to resemble a cross between Boris Johnson and Wurzel Gummidge (I suggest a quick Google search if you don’t know who either of them are). When I woke up in the mornings I looked like I had been electrocuted. Whenever I entered the office and took off my cap my colleagues shot me the strangest of looks. I’m not a pretty sight at the best of times first thing in the morning but this was a bridge too far.

As I settled into the barbers chair the young Polish barber asked me what I would like. ‘A number four all over please’ I confidently declared trying to avoid looking at my myself in the full length mirror. ‘Are you sure? That’s very short’ he dubiously replied before spending the next five minutes attempting to talk me out of it. But to no avail. The bit was well and truly between my teeth. It had to go. Hair today, gone tomorrow.

I now know what a sheep feels like when it is being sheared. Locks of dark hair tumbled past my shoulders on their way to the shop floor. It was raining hair, my hair! As I’d had to take my glasses off before he started I hadn’t a clue what my head looked like but at one point I was pretty convinced that I had a Mohican. Then it was gone as well. Thanks to a generous gene pool I will never go bald but this was the nearest comparable experience. When he had finished I put my glasses back on and marvelled at the transformation. I resembled a fuzzy pool ball.

When I got home the girls were fascinated. ‘It’s so soft Daddy’ they whispered in awe as I lowered my chrome dome for them to stroke my head stubble. Fionnuala observed it was a vast improvement and even Adam, who isn’t impressed by anything, looked marginally impressed. I was a new man. I felt revived, reinvigorated….anything really that you can put the letters ‘re’ in front of. It literally was a massive weight off my mind.

Wouldn’t it be great if a trip to the barbers could rid us of all the worries and concerns that rattle round our heads? If a snip here and a clip here could send them floating to the shop floor never to bother us again? We wouldn’t have a care in the world? Unfortunately I don’t know of a hairdresser who provides such a service. We are left with a head full of anxiety and stress which, if left untended, will grow and grow until it consumes us. It grows and grows until nothing else matters. It becomes us.

Don’t let that happen. Don’t become another victim or statistic. If you had a broken arm you would go the hospital right? There would be no shame in that. Well the same applies to a broken heart or mind. You can’t do it alone. Seek help. Talk to someone, be it a friend, your doctor or a counsellor. Suffering in silence is insufferable. You need to seek out voices in the real world in order to dispel the voices in your head for they will not stop on their own.

They want to destroy you. They will not go away. They will haunt you and taunt you until you lie shattered in a million pieces. Only then will their work be done. Don’t let that happen. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. It worked for me. I sought the help I needed for my OCD and life is so much better now. Not perfect but better. You can’t cure OCD but you can control it. I needed a brain barber to work their magic with the sanity scissors. The intrusive thoughts and overwhelming compulsions are less frequent now. I am in control now.

I’m not a big fan of New Year resolutions but if you do make one this year make one that will count and that you can keep. Get the help you need and become the person you were born to be. Get ahead by sorting out your head. You were only given one brain so look after it. We devote inordinate time to the rest of our bodies with visits to the gym and beauty salon. Let’s start to take care of our most vital organ. For without it, nothing else really matters.

What’s the most daring haircut you have ever got? Did you love it or live to regret it?

Is your mind weighed down today? What are you going to do about it?

I Haven’t Been Through Hell

You hear it all the time. On public transport, in your workplace, on the television news your social media timelines. You may even have uttered the immortal words yourself.

I’ve been through hell….

Hell. The Underworld. Hades. Sheol. Whatever people call it, for those who believe in it, it is a place of unimaginable, unremitting torment. But what is hell? Where is hell? There are various theories. Some view it as the traditional lake of fire populated by grinning ghouls with pitchforks. Others picture it as a lonely, desolate chasm of darkness where tortured souls suffer the ultimate horror of eternal separation from God. To these people it is an actual, physical location. It exists. Somewhere.

Whatever their interpretation, all these folk are agreed on one thing. It’s not the sort of place where you would want to spend your summer holidays. Or any holiday for that matter. It is a place of perpetual punishment and pain. A place of no return. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Or dollars or euros. There is no glowing ‘exit’ sign to guide you out the other side after your visit is complete. Hell is the end of the road. And it’s not a yellow brick one with a fairytale ending.

I’ve been through hell….

As a Christian I believe in an afterlife which contains a heaven and a hell. I haven’t quite got my head around what the latter looks like but I’m pretty certain I don’t want to end up there. Many people view Jesus as some loved up hippy who wandered around 1st Century Palestine waffling vaguely about peace and forgiveness. Yes he did talk about these topics but the one he talked about most was hell. He was pretty blunt on the subject as well. This was one pill that wasn’t sugar coated. Hell was real and hell was permanent. He came to warn us. Hell was….well….hell.

I’ve been through hell.

You don’t go through hell in the theological sense. You remain there. It’s a one way ticket. The big, red guy with the pitchfork kind of expects you to hang around. Permanently. Life can be hellish. Excruciatingly painful. But it’s not hell. Because life eventually ends. The curtain comes down and, whatever your circumstances, they end. No more need to worry about debt, despair or death itself. You don’t have that sense finality in hell. You don’t die in hell as you’re already dead when you get there. You don’t get the relief and release of death.

Real life is hellish. But it’s not hell.

Real life can be horrific. It’s crushing. Nothing I can write here can do justice to what you have been through or are presently experiencing. An individual’s pain is personal and unique. It is often indescribable. It is many things. But it’s not hell. Because hell is a place without hope. And as long as we have breath in our bodies, then we still have hope, no matter how tiny a scrap that is. Hope that we will overcome our private and public struggles. Hope that we will lurch out of the darkness and into the light.

I’m not devaluing anybody’s pain here. I see devastation and anguish on my timeline and in the real world every single day. Broken people surveying the debris of their broken lives. They deserve so much better, so much more. I want to tell you that there is more, and that that more is hope. No matter how dire your circumstances are there is a way out. There is a way through. All storms can be navigated. There is safe passage and harbour.

Your hellish state might be addiction. It could be alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs. It might be physical. Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis or any other number of debilitating and agonising illnesses. It might be mental. Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia, Bulimia or, my own personal bugbear, OCD. It can be financial, sexual or relationship based. It can be bereavement. It can be anything really, a billion and one different situations or experiences. Everyone’s ‘hell’ is unique to them.

There is a way out, a way through. If you have hope, you have a lifeline; one that you have to grab with all your strength and cling to with all your might. Hope is life itself. It is the oxygen that fills your lungs and allows you to scream your defiance. It is the blood that pumps through your veins and drives you onwards, forwards, upwards. It is the oil that lubricates our dreams and prayers.

Hope won’t get you through Hell. It will be too late then. But it will get you through everything else.

Do you believe in an actual Hell?

Do you feel hopeful or hopeless today?

Hell v Hellish? What are your thoughts on this post?

Slam

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

I hope you are all looking forward to spending the holiday period with family and friends. AFracturedFaithBlog will be taking Christmas Day off as there is much present unwrapping and food consumption ahead of us. I’m particularly excited about that little pest Elfie the Elf returning to the North Pole. I’ll be writing Santa a strongly worded e-mail about his antics in our house these last few weeks.

Fionnuala, the kids and myself will also be thinking about those less fortunate than ourselves this Christmas. It can be a sad and lonely time for many and our thoughts and prayers will be with those who need them most. Amidst the excitement and merriment we will also be remembering the first Christmas over 2000 years ago when a scared, heavily pregnant teenage girl and a tired, penniless young man trudged into Bethlehem desperate for a roof over their heads for the night.

The village was packed to the seams, however, given the upcoming census. The scene must have been chaotic with people and animals scurrying through the packed streets. Joseph had many doors slammed in his face that night and eventually had to desperately accept a smelly, dirty stable. Beggars can’t be choosers right? At least it was dry and Mary had somewhere to rest and recover from the arduous journey they had undertaken from Nazareth. No such luck. There followed a painful and uncomfortable night which culminated in the birth of their first son.

They called him Jesus. He would grow up to change the world.

He had every right to grow up with a chip on his shoulder. Born into squalor and poverty his formative years were lived as an immigrant on the run from a bloodthirsty Herod before the family could return from Egypt to Nazareth. He worked hard learning his trade as a carpenter but when he launched his ministry around the age of thirty he faced three years of verbal and physical abuse, betrayal, rejection and endless mocking. All the way to the Cross. He knew a bit about doors being slammed in his face. Not to mention hearts and minds.

His response to a lifetime of this was as follows:

John 14:2-3: ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.’

Jesus and his family deserved better that night in Bethlehem. SLAM.

He deserved better than the life he led culminating in a brutal, humiliating death on the Cross. SLAM.

We lie. We cheat. We covet. We mock. We steal. We sin again and again and again. We laugh in his face. We don’t deserve better.

He opens his door and welcomes us with open arms.

Matthew 11:28-30 – ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

He turned his back on nobody, even though this was all he knew his entire life. A turned back is a lost opportunity. A slammed door is a full stop on relationships and friendships that do not have to end. If he can do it then so can you. So can I.

My hope and prayer this Christmas is that you fling open your doors, hearts and minds to the world. To a broken world that sorely needs you.

Happy Christmas from Stephen, Fionnuala and the kids.

Death By Cupcake

The Black Family hit Belfast’s Christmas Market yesterday afternoon. As you can see this involved food, food and more food. I took some pictures but, ever since, have barely been able to move given the ginormous burger and cupcake I consumed. I am currently lying in a darkened room and normal blogging duties will be resumed shortly.

Fionnuala created this wonderful collage. She’s the talented one in case you hadn’t worked that out yet. There’s also a few of our wedding photos from 15 years ago.

Steps Lead To Shelter

Last night I woke up at 04:00 am and the following words hit me like a bolt between the eyes.

Steps lead to shelter….

We are all on a journey. And every journey requires forward motion. Change is daunting and many of us fear and avoid it. But it is necessary in order for us to evolve into who we are meant to be. We need to embrace new situations, relationships and experiences as opposed to recoiling from them.

Change involves transition. Transitions require decisions.

Are you at a crossroads in your life? Have you a significant decision to make that will change your life irrevocably? If you have it’s a frightening time. You may feel that you are exposed and vulnerable; that the next step may only take a second but could lead you into a life of regrets; that you are leaving your safe, comfortable existence behind and are entering a dangerous, new world.

My advice?

Take the step.

Be honest with yourself. The decision was taken days, months, years ago even. All that is required now is the actual transition. You need to turn that thought into a concrete action. Take the step. And then another one. And then another one. Don’t look back in anger the song goes. I say don’t look back at all. When you have made your decision stick by it.

Your comfort zone is a war zone. You might feel safe there but you are in fact engaged in a fight to the death. The death of your dreams and hopes. The death of your future. The death of who you were created to be. Suffocated by the smog of your present circumstances. The comfort zone is a dank, dark, cold environment.

I see little comfort in that.

The future might seem frightening but throw back the veil and you will see for the first time that it is in fact quite the opposite. It is a place of opportunity; of revelation and restoration. Where you are going is a place of construction. Where you are coming from is a place of obstruction and destruction.

What are you constructing? A new world. A world you deserve and are entitled to live in. It is your birthright; it is your inheritance. It is also a place of sanctuary. You have moved forward in order to find your retreat. You can build strong, thick walls behind which yourself and others can heal and flourish. It is a place of genuine comfort.

A storm is coming. You can see it on the horizon. It is hypnotic and you can’t take your eyes off it as it edges ever closer. It is time to move on. It is time to take that first, faltering step in the opposite direction. You may take it alone or you may take it with others. That is their decision but do not be tied by it for you have already made yours.

Take the step.

Steps lead to shelter.

Burn The Masks

Somebody said something today about me which I felt was unfair and uncalled for. I won’t go into the details and it wasn’t a massive issue but for an instance I was tempted to give said person a piece of my mind. But only a small piece as I don’t have much to go round in the first place. How dare they speak to me like that. It wasn’t funny and as for the hypocrisy. Well don’t get me started.

It reminded me of a saying that my father used to quote when he recalled such scenarios.

So I said nothing and left him….lying there.

I’ve never thrown a punch in my life but if ever I was tempted to wipe the smug look of someone’s face today was an opportunity. But I said nothing, made my excuses and walked off.

I left him….standing there.

Much of our lives are spent hiding our true feelings. For many it is a full time occupation. We wear so many masks that sometimes it’s hard to remember who the real us is. We have more faces than Big Ben! Sometimes, like today, it was necessary to conceal what I really thought and zip my mouth shut when I wanted to let rip. Masks can act as shields, protecting us from the many arrows fired at us during this journey called life.

But what about the masks we wear online? I got into whole heaps of trouble online in a former life creating a misleading persona. I played a role and lived a fantasy life, with my head stuck in the sand like an ostrich as to what was going on in the real world. I hid online as opposed to facing up to my responsibilities. I let a lot of people down, including myself.

When this blog launched I made a promise that I would be myself. I would be brutally honest in my posts. Warts and all. No airbrushing. No sugar coated pills. When I assess the blog six months in I realise I have covered a lot of dark topics. I appreciate that these will not have been everybody’s cup of tea but I have kept to my word.

You have seen the real Stephen. The Good, The Bad and The Frequently Ugly. I have written about my faith and my issues regarding the organised church and some of its practices. I have written about my OCD and years of binge drinking. I have bored you all silly about my marathon training. And I have written about my family who, I am ashamed to say, didn’t really exist when I was on Twitter and Instagram.

I am me. This blog is a mask free zone. I have found WordPress an encouraging and supportive community where I can express myself and feel safe. I can breathe and walk, or rather type, with my head held high. No shame and no regrets. Sober words from a scarred, but honest, heart. WordPress has been an essential part in my recovery and renaissance. I have you all to thank for that.

Let’s build a funeral pyre and burn the many masks we wear. Let’s be ourselves and blog in freedom and in truth. Let our words shine like a beacon through the online darkness.

Do we see the real you online?

Love Is….Hard Work

Everybody wants to fall in love right? We all crave that ‘high as a kite’ feeling where our heart performs somersaults every time we see the object of our desire and they occupy our every waking thought. For many it is the single most important objective in their lives and they devote an inordinate amount of time, energy (and invariably money) towards achieving their goal.

But why do we fall in love? Why don’t we soar in love or, at the very least, hover? Falling suggests a loss of control. Which is correct because when a person falls in love they do, to an extent, lose a degree of objectivity. Often nobody or nothing else matters outside of the object of their affection. When it’s good it’s very good. But it can lead to harm, hurt and potential heartbreak. When we stampede blindly down the road to romance others can get trampled in the process.

Falling in love is both a selfless and a selfish act. Selfless in that you put the needs of the other person before yours and will often park your own ambitions, values and ethics to one side in order to conform to theirs and thus be accepted. Selfish in that, as they are now the centre of your universe, others previously in that position, are now shunted out into the outer cosmos. Somewhere between Neptune and Uranus I suspect.

Yes falling in love is a fantastic experience. Your stomach does somersaults and your head is at 49,000 feet. A fantastic experience but a temporary one. Every fall must come to an end. Often with a shuddering halt. And it is what you do then that truly matters. Falling in love is the easy part. It is a fickle, transient state of being. It requires little effort. It is a feeling, an emotion, an altered reality. But remaining in love? Well that’s an entirely different ball game.

Loving someone on a 24/7/365 basis is hard work. It is a wilful act as opposed to a fleeting fancy. It requires bottomless amounts of forgiveness and patience. Especially when it involves someone who doesn’t display particularly lovable traits; someone who doesn’t appear to reciprocate the love; or someone who you want to scream at and punch in the face rather than buy chocolates and roses. I know. For I have been loved at my most unlovable.

Loving someone likes this often involves telling them what they don’t want to hear. Delivering hard and unpleasant information otherwise known as ‘the truth’. Some of you may have heard of this term. To others it remains an alien concept. Falling in love is like standing under a tropical waterfall. Remaining in love often involves throwing ice cold buckets of water over your sleep walking, day dreaming partner. In order to smell the coffee you must first be woke up. That can be an unpleasant, but necessary, experience.

Loving someone like this is entirely selfless. You have to be entirely selfless in order to destroy the selfishness in the other person. In order to prick their conscience you have to first burst their bubble. And that can be a messy process. True love involves bursting that bubble but also remaining around afterwards to mop up the mess. Sacrifice is a dirty, disgusting business. In order to be truly purged we often have to be submerged in blood, sweat and tears.

Fall in love, yes. Enjoy the rush, the thrill, allow yourself to be swept off your feet. But when you return to terra firma be prepared to roll up your sleeves and knuckle down for a hard slog. Love is a war where many enemies, both internal and external, will attempt to grind you into the ground. True love will prevail but it will be a war of attrition. One day at a time. With its casualties but also with its heroes who are often unsung. For they understand the true meaning of love.

This post is dedicated to my wife, Fionnuala. ❤️

How do you define love?< strong>What are your experiences of falling, and remaining, in love?

Stinking Thinking -Part 1

Look at me and what do you see? A husband, a father, a runner, a blogger. I hope that I am all these things and more. But not so long ago I saw myself differently.

I saw a failure, a fraud, I worshipped false gods who gnawed at my flaws. Fixated on the din of sin, no quiet, still voice for me within. Rather, the insanity of vanity ravished me, ravaged me until I lay feeding on the bloated carcass of my future. I was deflated, my appetite for life abated. A vain, conceited man, whose veins ran red with others pain. Oh what a brain but no common sense. Dense with demons who would not relent. My world could not revolve until I evolved. Evolved from the mire and shed my desires. Not easy for a spineless liar who flinched at the fire. The fire of truth which lay at the root of everything I refused to stand for anymore.

On my knees for all the wrong reasons….

The truth stung like sea salt on a fresh cut. Like an open handed slap to the face on a bitter cold morning. I was someone too big for their boots. These boots were made for walking. I wanted to walk the paths of the righteous….you’re never right so shush…. but too often I strayed off the beaten path. Until I was beaten to a pulp. I could not travel but instead unraveled before an unseen God who looked on waiting. No shortage of trouble when you have your own shovel.

I had been diverted. Diversions leading to fresh perversions. I averted my shameful gaze from the sordid secrets on the screen to my journal where I wrote words of life day after day after desperate day. Yet day after day I lived a life of lies. A double life of double standards. Standing at my own gallows with the good book in my hand. They say I saw the light but they didn’t see my frostbitten heart. Black and dead like a gull on an oil slick. My words were slick yet I was sick, vomiting up my own hypocrisy to be gobbled back down time and time again by an adoring audience.

A dog always returns to its own vomit.

Losing weight yet so full of hate. Hating myself for what I had become. Numb. Personal bests on the road. Personal worsts off it. Home alone and on I droned on my twirly throne. With that hateful phone. Tweet Tweet I bleat, no end to my conceit. Empty words. I was running on empty. As the fat fell off me my soul became clotted with the cholesterol of a chaotic existence. A requiem for everything I once was now turned to dust and rust for I was broken. My lungs were choking. Suffocated on stuff I hated. Gasping for breath but there’s nothing left. Drunk on retweets and punch drunk on deceit.

Flatlining on my timeline. But every heart attack requires a heart. So life went on. Prolonged….

The sins of the father. Well my father sinned but even he would have shook his head and looked away from what I had become. Thank God they sealed the coffin lid. The dead mourned the living that February day. He had to leave yet I couldn’t grieve. Disbelief as I bluffed my way through his wake. Wide asleep. The emotional thief high on death. An endorphin rush from the grave. The big man holding the family together I was, yet falling apart inside. The tears wouldn’t come, frozen inside me and encasing my essence. Holding me together yet tearing them apart. This stinking thinking which was my inheritance. Was cancer the answer God? Really?

I had no will to kill the thoughts. They would not stop. You go on to bed. I’ll be right up. The fridge opens. Another drink. Don’t want to think. Just sink. Clink Clink.

Weakened every weekend they went to sleep leaving me downstairs to mourn the death of my former self. I dreamt drunken dreams where I was strong and not the mess causing so much stress. But I digress. Another beer. To kill the fear. The fear of what I had become. For even when the beer had run its course I still was hoarse; from the lies that lined my sandpaper throat. Saliva like acid burns as I slide back, backslide to where I came from and where I was going.

Alcohol was my crutch. It wasn’t much but was enough to snuff out what was left. I was bereft. I lost two parents that day and gained a child I did not want. You’ve lost your father? Doesn’t matter. You’ve still got your mother. Yet I smothered another, my lover, the mother of my children. I am ashamed and I was to blame. She deserved better and I hope these letters and these words are an end for her and a beginning for us. An end to sin. New life within.

Four years ago. Sober at last. But a sober drunk is a dangerous creature. For we still thirst. Which leads to worse.

To be continued…..

The above piece is part of a trilogy that I hope to post over the next week. Thank you for taking the time to read it. If you have any comments or questions then please leave them below – Stephen.

Decrease The Creases

We live near the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. It is home to a rich variety of wildlife including elegant geese who regularly fly over our house in a perfect arrowhead formation. It’s a wondrous sight but not quite as jaw dropping as the herd of pigs which flew over chez Black around lunchtime yesterday.

Okay. Okay. I made that last line up.

But there was an equally miraculous visage for Fionnuala and the kids to behold. Yours truly standing at the ironing board. As in actually ironing! With an iron!!

Fionnuala hasn’t been feeling that well this weekend and even I couldn’t avoid to see the mountain of ironing accumulating in the corner of our kitchen. Now my housekeeping skills leave a lot to be desired. I can burn water. But surely even I could manage a few shirts and school uniforms in order to take the pressure off my long suffering better half. Wee buns as we say in Northern Ireland.

Over the course of the next couple of hours I fine tuned my technique until a sizeable amount of freshly pressed clothes were folded up on the kitchen table. It was hard to imagine that they had previously been a crumpled heap in the wash basket. I must admit I felt quite pleased with my efforts. I can’t swim and I don’t own a bike so it will be the nearest I’ll ever come to being an Iron Man.

Sorry couldn’t resist….

How many of you feel like a crumpled shirt or pair of trousers? Dishevelled and unwanted. Covered in creases and wrinkles. The wrinkles can be literal, the result of unremitting pressure and stress. Wrinkles are bumps on the highways and byways of our lives. They need to be overcome and the iron creates the searing heat needed to eradicate them. A white hot heat that regenerates and purges. I needed a hot iron in order to remove the creases from the pile of clothes I tackled today.

Sometimes in order to remove the problems in our lives an external heat needs to be applied. It can be a concerned friend or a caring relative. We stumble around in a maze of mistakes and cannot see the bigger picture. We lose our perspective and become subjective. We require a blunt appraisal of our situation from an outside source. Warts and all. We might not like it but the best medicine never goes down easily.

We become blinded by bias and a friendly iron can be be a painful necessity in order to smooth out our predicament. Heat hurts but it also heals. It can lead to wide, flat plateaus of peace devoid of the cobbles of confusion and flagstones of fear. Why sidle on the sidewalk or ponder on the pavement when you can surge ahead on the straightest, narrowest road imaginable.

Chase your dreams on open highways. We all accumulate wrinkles and creases on our life journeys. Don’t allow them to force you down dark alleys that lead to dead ends and delay. Swallow your pride and share your problems with someone who you can be truly accountable to; allow them to bring the heat and drag you out of the trough you find yourself in.

You need never be alone. De-crease your problems and increase your hopes of a brighter future. Just reach out. We are here for you.

Are you an ironing geek? Or do you dread this chore?

Do you need help with a problem today?

Are there people out there who can iron out your creases?

Bad Head Day

Today was a Bad Hair Day. A very Bad Hair Day. I would post a photo but I don’t want to scare any of you good, good people. You all deserve better than that. I’m not sure if it was my now infamous cap, the windy conditions or that I’m in desperate need of a haircut but I resembled a 5′ 11′ Northern Irish troll when I finally reached the office this morning. Which is not a good look.

My arrival was greeted by a chorus of guffaws from my rarely sympathetic colleagues causing me to beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom to inspect the damage. I looked like I’d seen a ghost. It would have been a truly hair raising experience if it wasn’t for the fact that my hair was already raised. There followed a frenzied few minutes of wetting it down and trying to restore some semblance of sanity to my appearance. I looked like Albert Einstein after he stuck his finger in a power socket.

Makeover complete I returned to the office looking every inch the suave, sophisticated middle manager everyone knows and loves. Note to self – always keep a tube of hair gel in the office to avoid a repeat performance in the future. Or stop being so lazy and pay a visit to the barber’s to get it all whacked off. Hair today, gone tomorrow. I apologise. That was possibly the worst pun in the history of WordPress.

That’s the good thing about Bad Hair Days. They can easily be rectified, no matter how dire the reflection that greets you in the mirror. But what about those Bad Head Days? When no matter how hard you try and no matter what you do you can’t shift the smog of sadness which silently settles on your mind like volcanic ash. As it settles you become more unsettled. For you know what is about to follow.

Unsettled by depression and despair. Depression like a giant raven which sinks its talons into the meat of your mind and refuses to let go. It is relentless and seeps into every recess, polluting and contaminating your every waking thought and every restless dream. Dreams that make you scream. Screams that nobody hears because you are entombed in the solitary prison that is your consciousness.

Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Money. They offer only temporary release, a momentary relapse in the onslaught which rains down on you like meteor showers hitting the atmosphere of your soul. Souls full of holes which can never be mended. Irreparable damage to irreplaceable hopes and aspirations. You feel utterly alone and are utterly defeated. You fly the white flag of surrender against a backdrop of nightmarish proportions.

Bad Head Days have a habit of becoming Bad Head Weeks. Then months, then years and before you know it your life is slipping through your fingers and you are left staring at nothing. Why wash? Why eat? Why answer the phone? Why get out of bed? Why breathe another breath? Options decrease as the anguish increases. You are broken. And choking. Choking on the bitterness of empty promises and seductive lies.

Lies. Soul ties. Time flies and before you know it they are gone. The loved ones, the loyal ones, the people you felt would always be there to catch you when you fell. Fell into hell. You’re in freefall. But it’s not free. It has cost you everything you’ve ever held dear. Suicide is painless they say. Not for those you leave behind. They will die every day reliving the day of your death. There is no hope at the end of a rope. Hope is living. Even if living is little more than survival.

In order to thrive you first must survive. A minute at a time. A breath at at time. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat ad nauseum. Until you are sick. Until you vomit up the poison. Until you see that first chink of light on the horizon. That first hazy sunset which cuts through the smog and warms your frozen heart. Scream. Scream until your lungs burst. Scream until you are heard, until you get the help you need to visit tomorrow. And the tomorrow after that.

Are you having a Bad Head Day? Or know someone who is? Please don’t suffer in silence. Get help. Today. Now.

Raise your voice. Kill the noise.

❤️🙏🏻❤️🙏🏻

Elf Hath No Fury

I appreciate that some of my subject matter can be quite dark and depressing at times but today’s post marks a new low. I apologise in advance to the more fainted hearted of you but this story has to be told.

We have a thief in our midst.

When Rebecca told me she wanted to bring home an elf this Christmas I was initially excited. I was thinking Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler or Evangeline Lily.

But no I got Elfy the Elf….

Since then he has wreaked havoc. And I give you….

Day 1

Day 2

But much, much worse was to follow.

He had to take it a step too far. He drank all my Diet Coke. You don’t want to meet Stephen without Diet Coke. He’s like The Hulk. Except I’m not green. And don’t have his muscles. But apart from that. Literally identical.

Day 3

This means war on the elves. I shall be raising an army of orcs forthwith and descending from Mordor upon Elfy and his kin. They can expect no mercy when, on my command, hell is unleashed.

They shall not pass….

*Elf & Safety Footnote – No elves were harmed during the making of this blog post. So far *

Are you suffering an infestation of elves this Christmas?

What is your favourite LOTR race? Hobbits? Dwarves? Elves? Orcs? Ents?!?!

If The Cap Fits….

Last summer we holidayed as a family in County Kerry which is right down at the very bottom of the island of Ireland. And while there we did the whole tourist thang, battling through coach loads of American pensioners to visit various gift shops. These had all kinds of traditional ‘Oirish’ gifts including Star Wars themed t-shirts, Star Wars themed mugs and er…..Star Wars themed tea towels. Scenes for the latest Star Wars movie had been filmed in Kerry earlier that year.

My attention was drawn, however, to a 100% Irish cotton flat cap with optional, drop down ear flaps. Think Sherlock Holmes with dark hair and glasses and you have it. Despite the giggles and strange looks from my adoring wife and kids I was enamoured by it, thinking I cut quite the dashing figure. I swooped and the purchase was made. When we returned home I gave the cap one last, admiring glance before tucking it away in a drawer to await the colder weather.

Which promptly arrived about a week later. Summer time in Northern Ireland usually consists of a weekend in late June if you’re lucky. After that the winds pick up, the heavens open and the temperature plummets. Before I knew it my chilly ears demanded the return of the cap. Thankfully Mark Morrison was nowhere to be seen as I proudly donned it and ventured out to meet my adoring public.

Day 1 in the office produced the following devastating sartorial critiques. And I quote….

Are you wearing that for a bet?

You look like a sheep farmer.

Did your grandfather leave you that in his will?

That’s the most ridiculous piece of headwear I’ve ever seen.

And that’s just the printable comments. Jealousy is a terrible thing and it was obvious that my colleagues just couldn’t cope with my ground breaking head furniture. None of them could carry off this look I thought, rising above their petty jibes and ignoring their juvenile attempts at humour. The ear flaps helped on the latter score but, that aside, I rocked it like a hurricane. Me and my hat were the talking point of the office. Hats off to Stephen!

A notable feature of my life BC (Before Cap) was that my social awkwardness was seriously enhanced by being visible to the human eye. When I saw colleagues in the street I had to acknowledge them and there was always the fear of bumping into people I didn’t particularly want to meet. Not any longer. I walk unrecognised through the mean streets of Belfast. My own mother would walk past me when I’m wearing my cap. It’s like a cloak of invisibility. Except it’s a cap….and it’s not invisible.

I have worn many caps in my time. I tend to adapt my personality to fit in with a certain crowd. This stretches to my values, morals and ethics. I play a role. The problem is I’m a pretty rubbish actor and, before too long, the scenery comes crashing down around me. I didn’t like the real Stephen very much so was constantly endeavouring to reinvent myself and create exciting new personas; be they online from behind a keyboard or in the real world from behind a pint glass.

My various caps blinded me to the truth. Never mind a tissue of lies. I used up entire boxes of them. It got to the point that I became so wrapped up in my various personas I no longer grasped who I was. I was adrift and spiralling out of control. I was in freefall and it was only rock bottom that removed the cataracts of confusion from my eyes. The juddering impact also cleared my head. I looked in the mirror, really looked, for the first time in many years and saw the real me.

Not a pretty sight. Without my various pieces of headwear I was a bloodied and bruised mess. Stripped of my ego I lay exposed and broken. But I was real. And where there is reality there is recovery. Steps leading to a better place. A life without lies. Without secrets. Where I didn’t have to pretend any more. Where I could look my loved ones in the eyes and speak the truth. Warts and all.

I love my Kerry cap. I look like a clown in the office and I move like a ghost on the streets. But beneath it I am content. I am happy. I am me. No more Drunk Cap Stephen. No more OCD Cap Stephen. No more Liar Cap Stephen.

Just Stephen. In a silly cap….

Do you have a favourite piece of headwear?

Have you ever worn different ‘caps’ to fit in with others or avoid confronting the real you?

Words

What’s in a word?

All my life I’ve enjoyed playing with words. Juggling them, rearranging them, making them dance to my tune. I guess I’m a wordsmith. They have been with me in soaring to unimaginable heights and plummeting to indescribable depths. They have been my most loyal ally and my most bitter enemy.

What’s in a letter? 26 little squiggles make the world go round. Or at least the English speaking world. Oh look! Do you see what I did there. With one extra letter I’ve made word becomes world. Aren’t I clever? Words are like putty in my hands, I say jump and they say how high. Without words we are nothing. Our lives are fuelled by words. They shape our futures and cement our pasts.

Words can be weapons. They can hack, slice, pierce and gouge. Words can be swords. Look I did it again! Words can start wars and end lives. They can make good men do bad things. Words can unleash the most horrendous evil. It was words that fuelled the killing factories at Auschwitz and Belsen; it was words that sent tens of thousands of brave, young men over the top to their deaths at the Somme.

Words can break hearts and crush dreams. They can worm their way (three times! three times!) through the smallest gap and wreak havoc. They are permanent. You can’t take back a word. The tongue is the most dangerous part of the body. Actions speak louder than words? I’m not so sure about that. Words are just as capable of irrevocable damage. Words end lives.

The voice inside is just as dangerous as the voices around us. The voice that tells us we’re ugly, stupid, fat or just not good enough. The voice that drips words like poison into our muddled minds to be soaked up by our saturated souls. The voice that tells you to do something that you know is wrong over and over and over again. The voice that leads you to your grave. That seductive, hypnotic voice that drives you to distraction with its promises and lies.

The sweetest poisons are often the most deadly.

Withheld words can be just as devastating as spoken or written words. Silence is a weapon as well. The pain of silence deafens and disorientates. That question that goes unanswered, that cry for help that goes unnoticed. Phone calls that aren’t returned, text messages that are read but ignored. Cutting people out of lives cuts them to the bone. There is no pain like the pain of rejection. Loneliness is the slowest, cruellest of deaths.

Tomorrow I’m going to flip the coin and write about the beauty of words. They inspire and they motivate. Without words there can be no hope, no joy, no charity. Words are love. The Word is love. Your words today can heal. They can change lives. They can drive you onwards and upwards.

Your words are the greatest gift you can bequeath to the world. Choose them carefully.

Please feel free to let us know your thoughts on this post. We always appreciate your comments and feedback.

30K

We hit 30,000 views over the weekend and this is just a quick thank you to everyone from the WordPress community who has supported us since we started six months ago. We have been moved by your kindness and touched by an online harmony that we have never experienced on any other social media platforms.

Ours is a fractured faith. But it’s still a faith.

THANK YOU ❤️🙏🏻😊

Why Do We Have Scars?

Why do we have scars?

I mean really? If God is this all powerful being why does he allow them to exist? To blemish and defile the pinnacle of his creative powers. Mankind.

Broken bones heal. Why don’t all wounds?

The answer? Bones heal but scars reveal.

They reveal where he have come from and remind us what it has taken to get where we are now. We are ashamed of our scars but we should be proud of them. We have earned them. They are battle honours that we fought long and hard for. Your story is told in your scars. Each one is a chapter of your life and each one adds to the person you are today.

You are your scars.

Yes God could wave a magic wand every time you bleed and most times he does. The wound heals and the new skin grows back leaving no sign of the injury. But not every time. No matter how skilful the surgeon or how intensive the therapy.

Stitches are a railroad to our souls, jagged paths that we need to walk in order to grow into who we are destined to become. Some say they are ugly but I say they are beautiful and lead us to greater understanding, knowledge and wisdom of ourselves and others . The wise cherish their scars. They have survived to tell the tale. The tale is in their scars.

We must forgive but in order to do so we must never forget. Weapons aim to dismember but scars allow us to remember. How can you forgive if you can’t remember? For forgiveness is not a one off quick fix. It is a journey, a life long work in process. We may have to forgive a person every day for the rest of our lives. Seven times seventy times and more, Jesus taught. Scars allow us to remember. Scars allow us to forgive.

You may feel broken, unworthy, soiled. But you are beautiful. They say beauty is only skin deep but beauty is in our DNA. It permeates every organ, every tissue, every cell. And there is breathtaking beauty in our scars. They are what make us unique. The unblemished are the incomplete. Our scars make us who we are. Our marks are magnificent.

Scars allow us to love and be loved. They should not be hidden. Scars shouldn’t scare. Instead they should inspire. Inspire and encourage. Scars are for the living and not the dead. Life flows from our scars like the clearest, purest water from a mountain spring. Scars are a tapestry leading to the very essence of who we are.

We are our scars. They complete us. They define us.

Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this post.

The Devil Wears Grey

Are you one of those people who sees the world only in black and white? Or do you know someone like that? A person who knows right from wrong, has their life totally sorted and knows exactly where they are headed? Who is 100% happy with their life?

If you are one of those people then I doff my metaphorical hat to you.

For I’m nowhere near there. I live in a world of grey.

50,000 shades of grey. Without the kinky stuff you will be glad to hear 😂

We want to drink ice cold, clear water from Alpine streams. But the truth is, most of us splash around in a pretty muddy mire. Polluted by pride, guilt, self pity, loathing and a billion other contaminants that form like cataracts over our eyes and conceal the truth from us.

What is the truth? It’s who we truly are. It’s where we are meant to be heading in our lives. It’s that little voice inside of us screaming to heard above the vacuous words we spout every day that make us inwardly cringe and hates ourselves all the more. It is blindingly obvious yet we are so obviously blind to it. The truth will set you free. But we see the truth as confining, restrictive and conforming. We seek something else.

The blackness is all around us. It whispers in our ears. It comforts and seduces us. It tells us what we want to hear. It is a reassuring arm around the shoulder, that warm hug after a long day of rejection and failure. While the truth hurts, its lies soothe and console. And before you know it that blackness has taken up residency in your heart. It is your best friend. Yet it wants nothing more than your complete destruction.

We are all a work in progress. An unfinished masterpiece. We strive to be good people but find it so hard to expel the darkness from our lives. We live somewhere in between. Mix black and white and what do you get? Grey. Grey is indecision and confusion. It is ‘maybe’ and ‘I don’t know’ and ‘there’s always tomorrow.’ It is limbo and it is exactly where most of us are to some extent.

The Devil doesn’t wear Prada. He doesn’t have all the best tunes. They call him the Prince of Darkness but his favourite colour is grey. He knows he’s not going to turn you into the next Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler. His is a defensive war. He craves the status quo. He wants nothing more than nothingness. He wants you to drift through life in the most nondescript fashion possible. No plans, no decisions and no impact.

Seventy odd years on the planet without having even made the slightest dent. Then straight into his welcoming arms. He is a grey god. I turn my back on that. We fear and avoid the darkness but that’s not where he wants us. He wants us to exist in the murky half light of under achievement where all hope and ambition has been beaten out of us. He doesn’t want serial killers or corrupt politicians. That’s waaaaay to easy.

He wants mediocrity. He wants an army of sleepwalkers marching through the gloom to their drab destinies. He wants tired, lethargic hearts and minds. He wants to numb your very soul. He wants inaction and meh. He is the meh-vil and we are his target.

Let me tell you something. It might shock a few but here goes anyway. You’re never going to be perfect. You’re never going to live in the light on this world anyway. But you can acknowledge it and move towards it. Aspire to be perfect. It’s hard, frustrating work but perspiration leads to inspiration.

Step out of the grey. I know you can. I’m no Christian Grey (thankfully you shudder) but I also don’t want to be a grey Christian. And whatever your beliefs you don’t want to live a grey life. You are better than that. Step out of the murkiness and wear your real clothes with pride. You are technicolour today.

Do you live in the grey? How can you step out of it?

Why Do You Blog?

My social media profile used to be entirely self centred. All I was interested in was getting more likes, more followers and more retweets. I used to have almost 10,000 followers on Twitter. But that was never enough, I always wanted more.

I portrayed myself as the wittiest, cleverest person on the internet. I craved the spotlight like a sponge soaks up water. My online life became more important than my real life. I ignored the people who mattered as I was more interested in myself and my own ravenous ego. I was consumed by the self to the expense of my spiritual and mental health.

The wheels came off in spectacular fashion and, after that, I stayed off social media for a long time. I was ashamed of the person I had become. I was embarrassed by my online activities. I was a fraud, a liar and a joke. I never wanted to see another tweet or Instagram photo for as long as I lived. They epitomised everything I hated about myself. They were the blackest of mirrors reflecting a side of me I despised.

So why do I blog? Well…. Fionnuala encouraged me to come back as she felt I had a story to tell. And yes, it has been for partly selfish reasons. It has allowed me to write, to express my hopes and fears; to exercise my creative muscles; and to exorcise some demons from the past. Through the blog I have learnt more about myself and those I love. Blogging has become an important part of my life. But not the most important part.

This time round I have reflected on my past failings but moved the spotlight from myself onto others. My past online career thrived in the shadows but this blog is about shining a light that will cut through the darkness; to expose the demons and shine a path to restoration and healing. To offer a lifeline to others who are suffering and struggling in silence. Too damaged to reach out for help in the real world.

Too hurt. Too many confidences betrayed. Too many promises broken. Once bitten twice shy. I know, I’ve been there. But broken bones can mend. A fractured faith is still a faith. Belief can be restored and hope can grow back even on the most rocky, barren soil. Recovery is possible. Believe me I know.

I see such pain and loneliness online. I see people consumed by addiction, illness and abuse. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that there is life and freedom on the other side. I’m here to guide them there in any small way I can. I don’t have qualifications but I do have experience. I want to help. I need to help.

So I blog. And I pray for people who don’t even know I read their cries for help. That’s why I’m here. A passion needs a purpose. This is mine online.

Why do you blog?

Are You Okay?

Two little words that mask a multitude of emotions and experiences.

Two little words that paper over bottomless chasms of hurt and disappointment.

Two little words that cement the thickest, highest walls of denial and regret.

Two little words.

I’m okay.

How many times have you answered a heartfelt, caring question with these words. The question of a relative, a friend or perhaps a complete stranger. Words that stumble out of your mouth. When inside all you want to do is scream and scream until your lungs collapse. Two little words. One huge lie.

I see so much pain on WordPress. I see broken people. People who are too scared or proud or whatever to speak the truth out loud. So they write it here. And it saddens me.

I’m broken as well. I’m not okay. But that is the first step. Admitting it to yourself. Facing up to the facade that you have constructed because that is what society expects of you.

Let me tell you. It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to feel devastated and distraught be it through illness, addiction or bereavement. Or those million other demons that force us to our knees.

And why are you not okay? Because you are more than that. You are precious, unique and loved. You have a purpose and a plan. You are a message in a bottle. Adrift on a stormy sea for now but destined to settle one day on the beach of your destiny.

My name is Stephen and I’m not okay.

But I’m okay with that.

So let’s start again. How are you today?

Joy Through Suffering

I ran a marathon on Saturday. Regular readers may already be aware of this 😉

I completed a ridiculously hilly course in 3:54:55 coming in under my target time of 4 hours. I also raised in excess of £100 for SHINE Charity. And I finished 4th. Out of 40 runners. But still 4th!

I intended to post a race review but this is more a conversation review. At around the 3 mile mark in fell into the company of two fellow runners. We were all going at a similar pace and got talking. Or rather they got talking and I mostly listened. From the way they chatted I assumed they were old friends only to later discover that they had never met before that day.

One of them came from my home town of Omagh and worked with my cousin. Small world. The other was a psychiatric nurse which was also my father’s profession. Both, it quickly transpired, were recovering alcoholics and members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Except they weren’t very anonymous about it. In fact they were incredibly proud of this and totally open about their battles with alcohol and how the ’12 Steps’ had turned their lives around.

They both were passionate about both their sobriety and their running, stating that the latter very much contributed to the latter. One of them said running was the only time when he felt totally at peace. The other agreed, adding that he found a unique joy through the suffering of distance running. I could only listen on intently as they regaled each other with tales of their chaotic pasts and how they had fought back.

If I had to describe marathon running in two words then ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ are not the ones I would choose Most distance runners will, at some point, encounter ‘the wall’ in the latter stages of the race when their glycogen reserves run out and their bodies effectively begin to shut down. It is an indescribable feeling. The physical pain is only matched by the mental anguish. Loneliness is Mile 18 of a marathon when you have been running for three hours and realise you have still 8 miles to go.

<<<<<
is an old adage that the second half of a marathon only begins at Mile 20. That is when your mind and body rebel on you in equal measure. You want nothing more than to stop. Every rational part of you wants to give up, yet something irrational keeps the marathon runner going. They see beyond the pain of the wall. They see the glory of the finish line and neither hell nor high water is going to stop them from crossing it.

This was nothing to these men. They relished the pain. They sought and embraced the suffering. For it was nothing caused to the pain and suffering that addiction has wreaked upon their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Yet they had overcome the odds and fought through the horrors. They had conquered their demons. They both swore like troopers and were rough round the edges. They spoke of a Higher Power but I don't even know if they believed in God as I do.

For all that though they showed an appreciation of life and the spiritual world that put me to shame and made me believe that I was meant to be in their company and hear their stories. They provided me with inspiration during the perspiration. They were running the race of life for all it was worth. They knew true peace and joy. 26.2 miles was nothing to them. They had seen it all before and were making up for lost time.

By the end of the race I had lost contact with the two men, finishing ahead of them both. I had stronger legs and lungs than them. But they were streets ahead of me in terms of where their hearts and souls were. I hope one day to experience the peace and joy they talked about. They proved to me that there is hope no matter how dark your world becomes. The light will always overcome the darkness. Just like good will always vanquish evil.

Have you ever experienced joy through suffering?< strong>Do you believe in a Higher Power?

Marathon Finished

I’ll post a proper review tomorrow but just a few lines tonight to say that I completed the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon today in a time of 3:54:55 getting under my target time of 4 hours. I also raised some money for SHINE Charity in the process.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me on WordPress. I’m recovering now with a Chinese takeaway now and a hot bath. Although not at the same time….

Occam’s Razor v Dr Google

I was awakened this morning with a stabbing pain in my belly button. Want to become a doom mongering hypochondriac? Then sign up for a marathon. With the big race little over a day away every little ache or pain now sends me into a spiral of despair and scrambling for the medical dictionary. Or Dr. Google.

The worst thing you can do is try and self diagnose yourself online. Within a few moments I was convinced that I had appendicitis and would be in surgery within the hour. I ignored the dozens of other possible answers and immediately plumped for the worst case scenario. Dr. Google takes that little seed of worry and turns it into a mighty oak tree.

Dr. Google also suggested indigestion and I had eaten something before going to bed last night. It was, based upon the available evidence, the most likely answer to my dilemma. Did I consider it even for a nano second? Of course I didn’t. If an ambulance had turned up at the door I would have happily hopped into it, told Fionnuala to pack a bag and hooked up to the nearest morphine drip.

In my job as a civilian oversight investigator we are taught to consider the available evidence and, based upon that, draw up a list of theories, or hypotheses, as to what might have happened in a given situation. We then test each theory against the evidence to ascertain which theory fits best. We discount the most unlikely theories until we are left with the one which fits best. Nine times out of ten this is the simplest theory.

So who shot JFK? Consider the available evidence and you can come up with the most outlandish conspiracy theories but the simplest answer is that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. *please don’t come back at me with alternative arguments I’m just using this as an example* This technique is known as Occam’s Razor, named after the English philosopher, William of Ockham, who invented it. The simplest theory is the most likely solution.

Turns out that when I got up and had something to eat the pain subsided. I write this from the comfort of my own home, not a hospital bed. It was more than likely a touch of indigestion. My self diagnosis was miles off target and it looks like I’m going to live to run another day.

Why do we always think the worst? Of ourselves and of others? I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to this. Always putting myself down and overcomplicating of situations. Life can be as simple or as awkward as we want it to be. Humans tend to muddy the waters at every possible opportunity. Why look up at a clear, blue sky when you can spend your days walking about under a cloud of worry or through a fog of confusion.

Jesus got Occam’s Razor. The religious rulers of his time had turned God’s law into a huge, tangled knot of burdensome laws and procedures. A veritable Gordian knot that only they could navigate. Jesus cut through this with the sword of truth. He cut it back to the bare bones and boiled it down to a few basic lessons. Love God. Love others. Tell the truth. Follow me.

The simplest answer is the most likely answer. Leading a simple, honest life is the most likely way to avoid self inflicted dramas and theatrics. Strip away the lies and sin and see the truth for what it really is. Stop talking and start walking. Along the path that you were always destined to walk. William of Ockham 1 Wikipedia 0?

What are your views on Occam’s Razor?

Do you consult with Dr. Google?

The 26.2 Mile Turkey Trot

As I’m not the sharpest tool in the box (just ask Fionnuala) it only struck me this morning that the marathon I have been training for (and boring you about) these last few months falls during the Thankgiving Day weekend. This is not celebrated in Northern Ireland but as most of our followers live in the USA I thought it appropriate that I mention it.

So while most of you will be eating yourselves into a food induced coma I will be trudging 26.2 miles. It will more than likely be raining (it is Northern Ireland after all) and near freezing temperatures are forecast for this Saturday. I will be wet, cold and aching from every joint. And what’s more I’m paying the race organisers for the pleasure. So what is there to be thankful for about running a marathon on Thanksgiving weekend?

Well firstly is the fact that I can run at all. I struggled with injury and illness throughout the summer so the fact that I am participating at all is something I am grateful about. My training has been tough and it’s only over the last month or so that I’ve begun to regain a semblance of my former fitness and form. I’m thankful that my body has healed and that at this stage in life (I’m no spring chicken anymore) that I can even contemplate such a challenge.

I’m running the race for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus) and have been raising funds for the cause which is very close to our heart. Our daughter, Hannah, was born with both disabilities and is a wheelchair user. She can’t run….yet. I can. So this race is for her and all the other kids in wheelchairs. She hasn’t let her disabilities stop her from living life so why should I let a few strained ligaments and a virus stop me from running my race.

I’m thankful I will have my family on Saturday. I take them for granted too often. They have supported me at my very best and my very worst. I will be thinking of Fionnuala and the kids every step of the way. I’m thankful that, whatever happens during the race, I will be going home to a warm home with people who I love and who love me back. I don’t deserve what I have but I suppose that is what grace is all about. Undeserved favour.

I’m thankful that I have this forum to write. I’m thankful that people read the blog and take the time to comment. I’m thankful that I have a good job and have been blessed with a modicum of talent. I’m thankful that the crazy ideas that bounce about my head are solidifying into a novel. I’m thankful that I’m free from the demons of my past. I’m thankful that my eyes have been opened to past mistakes and poor decision making. I’m thankful for the friends I have and thankful that others are no longer part of my life.

No life is perfect but we still have much to be thankful for. I thank God I’ve been given a 473rd chance.

To all our American friends Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

What are you doing for Thanksgiving Day? Running a turkey trot? Or eating lots & lots?

What are you thankful for?

The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland

Back in the bad old days when I spent 97% of my life on Twitter I used to spend my daily commute tweeting about my fellow commuters. This series, imaginatively titled ‘Train Tweets’, used to cause my adoring (or so I thought) army of followers and myself no end of amusement as I by and large conducted character assassinations of complete strangers. It was cheap, nasty and attention seeking on my part.

I still make the same commute with the same people and while I no longer tweet about them I don’t really pay them any attention at all now. I’m sorry for what I tweeted about them before but as it was always anonymously and I used pseudonyms I’ve never felt the need to walk up to one of them and apologise. They would probably look at me as if I was a madman. I’ve figured out I spend approximately 7 hours of my week with these people and I’ve never spoken a word to any of them.

Despite feeling bad for my snide tweets I’ve never really moved on from viewing my fellow commuters as anything more than the one dimensional characters I created in my head for my own entertainment. When I look at them I still think of the imaginary back stories I created for them instead of seeing real human beings with lives and families of their own. People with fears, hopes and struggles who deserve a lot better from me than I have dished out to me over the years. I wonder what they see when they look at me every day on the train and feel ashamed.

Yesterday a man I have always known as ‘The Angriest Solicitor in Ireland’ was queuing to buy his train ticket. He is permanently attired in a business suit with his mobile phone permanently clamped to his ear talking loudly about legal matters that make little sense to me. He might as well be speaking Cantonese for all I can make out of it. His tone of voice is curt, cold and uncompromising and he always looks flustered, red faced and at odds with the world, as if spoiling for a fight. For this reason I tend to give him a wide berth.

Yesterday the woman in front of him in the queue wanted to pay for her ticket by debit card but was informed by the conductor that the relevant machine not working and they were taking cash payments only. She did not have any money on her and started to become agitated, thinking that she would not be able to get on the train. From behind her I heard a vaguely familiar voice offering to pay for her ticket. I looked up and saw that it was ‘The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland.’

In the end the conductor allowed the woman to get on the train and pay for the ticket at her final destination. But that didn’t take anything away from the fact that this man, who I had previously dismissed as grumpy and uncaring, had demonstrated a compassion and kindness that I had previously thought him incapable of; I had made up my mind about him, judged and stereotyped him based upon my own preconceptions and stereotypes. God knew the man’s heart whereas I most definitely had not. I had judged him when I had no right to, for he proved himself a better man than me on that occasion.

Never judge a book by its cover. Leave that to God. It made me think about all the other people I have judged inaccurately down the years. We know nothing of these people’s lives at the end of the day. Instead of deriding and ridiculing them we should pray for them or, Heaven forbid, try to find out a little more about them by engaging in conversation. Building real relationships and friendships. Instead of sniping and gossiping behind their backs. Every day is a learning day and yesterday was no exception.

Behind every caricature and facade is a real, living person. We don’t know their story or what is going on in their lives at any given moment. We need to show more understanding and give them the benefit of the doubt. So if you see that grumpy commuter, rude colleague or arrogant fellow student today bite your lip and don’t judge them. Smile at them, say hello to them, pray for them if you believe in prayer. For none of us are perfect and we all have off days.

Do you know a person who you have previously judged and stereotyped?

How are you going to treat them next time you see them?

Why Do You Get Out Of Bed In The Morning?

I couldn’t believe it this morning when the alarm went off. ‘Is that 6 o’clock?’ I asked Fionnuala in groggy disbelief. ‘Actually it’s 6:25’ she replied before leaping out of bed. We had slept in a little. Where had the night gone? It seemed only moments ago that I had placed my head on the pillow and settled down to sleep. Even worse we had gone to bed extra early last. I groaned inwardly and forced myself out of bed into the cold, dark day.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve become less of an early riser. Some mornings both the flesh and the spirit are unwilling when it comes to rising and facing the daily grind. It was once written that the only certainties we face in life are death and taxes. They weren’t far wrong. The commute to the office is a drag, the working day itself a monotonous chore; each day blends into the next and creates the interminable soundtrack to our life. The working week never seems to end yet those precious weekends are gone in the blink of an eye.

Some days you just want to switch the alarm off, pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep. The term ‘rat race’ is misleading as at least a race promises an end to the race and a possible prize at the finish. The rat race promises nothing but bills and responsibilities. Which begs the question why do we bother? What motivates us every day to get up and face the outside world when all we want to do is turn our backs on it all and drop out of society?

Well the obvious response is that we have to get up. We need to get out of bed and, yes it’s those pesky bills and responsibilities again. In order to have a bed in the first place and, indeed, a roof over that bed we need to pay the man. That means dragging our sorry backsides into our offices, shops and other places of employment across the land. The same goes for school and college. Fail that exam or flunk that test and future employment prospects become bleaker by the day.

With bills come responsibilities. It is expected of us. Fionnuala and I holler at the kids every morning to get up and get ready for school. We are expected to turn up at work, college and school (or home school!). If we don’t then we are letting down others; our families, friends and colleagues. We cannot live with the shame of letting others down. So we shut up and show up. We play the game because others are relying on us to play the game; just like we are relying upon them to also play the game. The game is the most selfish and selfless of activities. We play it because we need to play it; we have little choice in order to survive.

We need to play it but we do we want to play it? We have discussed why we have to get out of bed but do we want to get out of bed? It is a subtle yet very important difference. And there, I believe, lies the key to life. Do you want to get up the morning? What makes the difference between falling out of bed and leaping out of bed? The answer lies in both our dreams and our beliefs.

That might seem a contradiction but our dreams are founded on our beliefs. If our dreams are a majestic palace, then our beliefs are its sturdy foundations. If our dreams are a majestic oak tree then our beliefs are the strong roots that tether it in place. Without our beliefs, our dreams will collapse and crumble to nothing. I dream of running a sub four marathon this coming Saturday; I dream of having a first novel published; I dream of seeing my kids achieve great things in their lives; I dream of a happy retirement with my wife and seeing a little more of the world.

I believe that God will provide all of the above if it is part of his plan for my life. And if they don’t happen then they obviously weren’t. But I believe that is because he has even better plans that I am unaware of at this moment in time. I believe that, through my dreams, I can contribute towards making the world a better place. By running I raise money for worthy causes, by writing I hope to inspire and motivate others, through my family I hope to teach our kids the proper way to live and set an example to others.

I believe in an afterlife and that this life is only a tiny part of my overall journey. There are better times ahead. Both tomorrow and in eternity. Therefore while I acted like a grumpy old man this morning and had to get out of bed I also wanted to get out of bed. Now for a massive Diet Coke fix and the long trudge to the office. Have a great Tuesday everyone!

What gets you out of bed in the morning? Coffee? Screaming kids? Multiple alarm clocks?

Why do you have to get out of bed?

Why do you want to get out of bed?

Phone Moan

I have the most temperamental of mobile (cell) phones when it comes to charging. It will only charge if I use Fionnuala’s charger (I go through phone chargers like Donald Trump goes through aides) and place it at a certain angle until the charging icon comes on. A millimetre to the left or a millimetre to the right and it will switch itself off. I need the steady hand of a surgeon and the unblinking eye of a fighter pilot to complete my task.

I’m on my phone a lot as I use it for my blogging so half of my life is spent either charging the phone or thinking about charging my phone. This is particularly tricky at work where we are not allowed phones in the office for security reasons. While I am hardly ever on my phone at work as I am a model employee the corridor outside often resembles an obstacle course of texting colleagues and charger leads. It’s a wonder there is ever any work done in the place.

I know I spend too much time on my phone as many of us do if we are honest with ourselves. If our most valuable possession is our phone then our phone charger can’t be too far behind. We see them as our lifeline to civilisation and without them we feel naked. It is as if we are missing a limb. When I commute to work in the mornings nobody on the train reads a physical newspaper anymore. They obtain their news fix from their phones or tablets. Do people even talk anymore? We are the walking dead, shuffling along oblivious to what is going on right before our very eyes.

If we only we were as disciplined at checking our physical, mental and spiritual charges? How many of us are running on empty in respect of these areas. Running around at a million miles per hour attempting to stick to unrealistic schedules. We eat the wrong foods, neglect to exercise and become weighed down with stress and the worries of the world. We compensate by worshipping at the altars of money, sex, alcohol, bad food and a thousand other false deities. We are running on empty and desperately try to fill the aching chasms in our lives with activities guaranteed to damage our hearts, minds and souls even further.

We need to take more care of recharging ourselves and spend less time recharging our electronic devices. Take time for yourself and the people around you who truly matter. If you are a Christian spend time praying and reading your Bible. If you’re not find something, anything, that will help you switch off from the ratrace that is life and switch on to your own well being and state of mind. For otherwise one day your battery will run flat and no charger on earth will be able to blow life into it again.

This blog post was brought to you by my I Phone 6 which is currently sitting at 94%.

How much time do you spend on your phone or tablet every day?

Do you spend enough time tending to your own charging needs?

The 1% Is A Liar

Yesterday was my last long run before the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I am running for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus) around Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, next Saturday. The run went well and now it just a matter of keeping things ticking over and continuing my disciplined taper until the big day itself. The nerves are well and truly starting to kick in now for a number of reasons.

Although this will be my 7th marathon in total, it’s my first in over 18 months, and a sliver of icy self doubt remains lodged in my brain. Hard as I’ve tried I have been unable to budge it despite knowing deep down that I am capable of this. The target for my comeback at 26.2 miles is sub four hours and my training programme has been tailored specifically around this time. Everything has went exactly to plan. Yet still the sliver remains, burrowing deeper and deeper into my consciousness no matter how hard I try to ignore and repel it.

Doubt is the most sly and subtle of enemies. When all you want to do is build a wall of fact and certainty it drifts through the slightest of cracks like cannon smoke on a battlefield. You can be 99% certain of something and doubt will lob that 1% into the equation like a cluster grenade, exploding to create havoc and ruin within your carefully constructed defences. My OCD is fuelled by doubt; the ‘what ifs’ and ‘but maybes’ having a field day no matter how many times I attempt to drive them away. They thrive on uncertainty and relish hesitation. They sow the deepest of roots, so hard to dig out and destroy.

I fear the 1%. It batters me from all sides like the fiercest of hurricanes. I see it wherever I glance. The same applies to my writing. The 1% tells me I’m not good enough, I’m too old, it’s all a pipe dream and my chance is long gone. The more research I conduct into finding a literary agent and publishing a novel the more complicated and unlikely it seems. Even if I do complete it, even if it is half decent, the market is brutally competitive and the chances of being noticed seem remote. The 1% raises its battleaxe and screams in my face ready to cleave my hopes and dreams in two.

It is daunting but I cling to the shaky belief that the 1% is a liar. It whispers and it screams but I have to turn my back and walk away. The lies are a blizzard of darkness; jumbled memories, words, faces and images. Their timing is impeccable, their intent wholly malicious. But I choose different numbers. I choose the 500 plus training miles I have ground out since the summer. I choose the 30,000 words I have written to date. I choose the millions of words of love and encouragement from Fionnuala and the kids.

Freewill is a gift and I choose to wield it like a sword against my Goliath. To slay the dragon wrapped around my ambition, relentlessly squeezing the oxygen from my lungs. I choose the sword of truth, it’s blade so sharp that not even the toughest of armour or scales can withstand it. I stand on the ramparts of my mind and I watch my enemies flee, my defences strong and intact. The past will not overcome me, it will not sweep me away like it once used to. Believe in your own abilities. Believe in your inner circle.

Believe in the 99%.

How big a part does doubt play in your life?

How do you battle it?

What is your dream?

Happy Christmas Even Though It’s Still November

Like General Custer at the Little Big Horn I had fought long and heroically against overwhelming odds but had reached the point where I realised I was hopelessly outnumbered and defeat was inevitable. My only saving grace was that my opponents were slightly less bloodthirsty than Crazy Horse and his war braves. I raised the white flag and surrendered to Fionnuala and the girls. Yes I am going to get the Christmas decorations out of the attic later today.

Over the last few weeks they have gradually worn me down utilising a series of subtle and not so subtle psychological operations that would not have have looked out of place at CIA Headquarters. Pulling on my heartstrings one moment and then threatening to throttle me with them the next. These ladies could teach Jason Bourne a trick or two. The women of the Black household put the Black into Black Ops.

Our attic is akin to the Land that Time Forgot. Every time I reluctantly pop my head up there I fully expect to be dive bombed by a baby pterodactyl. Our step ladder is a step too short so in order to get into the attic I have to risk life and limb by teetering atop the top step and hauling myself up into the roof space itself. This involves contorting my body into positions that a man of my years was not designed to do. Before pulling down any Christmas decorations I invariably have to pull a few muscles first.

Gaining access to the attic is only Phase One of the operation however. I then have to battle through a minefield of bric-a-brac and discarded toys from years gone by in order to locate the boxes and bags containing the prized decorations themselves. With this bridgehead established I solider on, ignoring aching muscles I never knew I had, in order to haul the decorations down to the impatient little (and no so little ones) waiting below. Getting back down to terra firma is a whole blog post in itself but I’ll save that for another day.

With that my work is done as the more artistic and creative members of the family take over. If you were waiting for me to assemble and decorate a Christmas tree I would certainly have it ready for the big day; but by that I mean Easter as opposed to 25th December. Fionnuala loves all things Christmas and her enthusiasm has certainly rubbed off on Hannah and Rebecca. Before the end of the weekend we will have maintained our title of being the first house in the street with their decorations up. Bah Humbug I say to all our grinchy neighbours.

I want this Christmas to be a special time for us, as close to perfect as I can make it. A lot has happened since the decorations were put away last year. The same decorations may be coming out of the same attic this year but they are being put up within a different environment. This year they are being put up in a home as opposed to a house. This year we are going to celebrate Christmas as a family and look back on how far we have come these last twelve months. There have been ups and there have been downs; sometimes it has been one step forward, two steps back but we have made it. We are together and we are strong.

I wonder if Joseph and Mary felt the same as they looked down at their newborn baby boy all those years ago in that Bethlehem stable. They had just experienced a pretty crazy year (visitations from angels and miraculous pregnancies anyone?) and the birth itself was no exception. But, worried and exhausted as they no doubt were, they had battled through it and come out the other side, stronger than ever. A proper family. They trusted God and he guided them through the good times and the bad. He had a plan for both of them and they followed it to the letter, no matter what that entailed.

I hope I am following His plan too. The words have flowed this week and I am now 30000 words into my first novel. 30000 words that will require no end of polishing, trimming and reordering but I am excited by them and proud of them. I never realised I could run until I started running. Likewise I never realised I could write until I started writing. I have wasted so many years but I hope that period of my life is over. I want to follow His path now as nothing is impossible. We will enjoy this Christmas but if anything I’m more excited for what the year brings ahead for us as a family.

Now where did I put those stepladders?

When do your Christmas decorations go up?

Are you excited for 2018? What plans do you have?

The Burnt Pot

We all have that one favourite pot, well those of us that do the cooking that is. My favourite pot is the perfect size for boiling the right amount of potatoes, rice or pasta for all the family and it’s the first pot I go to when I’m about to prepare a culinary delight. Last night my pot was involved in a catastrophic incident. For a few minutes I had forgotten about it and it burnt the rice I was cooking for dinner.

Stephen and I were watching a game show called The Chase and it was coming up to a very good part of the game when Hannah said to me “Mummy what’s that funny smell” when alarm bells sounded in my head “THE RICE”. I jumped up off the sofa and tried to make a run for it to the kitchen but Hannah bless her was in front of me in the hall going at a top speed of 0.8mph and I couldn’t get past her. Everything was in slow motion I could see smoke pelting from the cooker and could smell the rice being cremated and now it was unfit for human consumption I even think Charlie would have screwed his nose up at it.

When I got to the cooker I lifted the pot threw it into the sink and it managed to melt the basin so not only had inside of the pot got an inch thick of charcoaled rice stuck to it the base of it was now covered with melted black plastic.

Stephen took one look at the pot and said “that’s the end of that pot” all I could think of was no that’s my go to pot, my favourite pot of pots I can save it.

I let the pot cool down and was then able to peel the plastic from the base and then squeezed washing up liquid inside the pot with warm water and left it to steep overnight.

This morning when I got the kids out to school I got stuck into cleaning it. I poured out the water and the rice that had been stuck to it last night which had loosened and was now clogging up the sink hole, now the base of the pot was rice free but still completely black. I got more washing up liquid and a scrubbing brush and scrubbed away at it – this had to be repeated a few times and each time I could see tiny bits of steel peeping through the blackness. I then filled it with water scrubbed some more by this stage the water was black. I poured the water out and there I could fully see the stainless steel bottom left with tiny black rice shaped scars.

Before we became Christians we came to God broken and in a dark place and through his Word, his love and his grace which he washed over us continually he transformed us into beautiful new creations. Nothing is too broken or too ugly for him to make beautiful and functional again.

I felt God speak to me during this cleaning process he has given us all a plan and a purpose for this life he has know it from before we were created in his eyes none of us are useless or beyond repair. We all go through storms and battles in life which leave scars on us, scars are a good reminder that we fought and made it through to the other side.

So tonight my pot scarred as it is will be back in use again boiling potatoes for the top of the Shepherds Pie for the Black family to enjoy.

1 Samuel 16:7

“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Dried Blood

The other day I was walking through the city centre when I saw before me on the footpath what looked like dried blood. There was little mistaking the dark red colouring or the tell tale splatter pattern of the droplets as they had struck the ground marking the grisly path that some unfortunate soul had taken down the street before they abruptly ended in an empty doorway.

Now I’m no Dexter Morgan, thankfully, but the absence of flashing lights, wailing sirens and yellow tape across the road assured me that I had not stumbled upon a crime scene. I had heard nothing on the morning news about a crazed axeman running through the streets of Belfast. So I was fairly satisfied that there had been no loss of life. But something had happened; so my mind went into overdrive trying to conjure up a likely scenario.

Had it been as innocent as one of the hundreds of schoolboys who take this route to the nearby grammar school every morning developing a nose bleed? Or was it something more sinister? A bar brawl which had spilled out onto the street or an altercation where a knife had been produced? Piercing skin, biting deep, striking home. Since starting this blog I have become acutely aware of the number of homeless people who populate the streets of Belfast. Young, vulnerable people with little hope in their eyes. Had one of them been the victim?

Our streets are caked in blood and grime. Some of it is visible to the eye, but not all. The homelessness, the violence, the drugs, the prostitution. Just like our homes are caked in grime. The grime of our sinful lives. Broken homes, broken relationships, broken families, broken hearts. What you don’t agree? Because behind every veneer of domestic bliss is a less than idyllic reality. Addiction, jealousy, depression, unforgiveness. It is everywhere. On our TV screens, on our social media and in our fickle hearts.

I wonder if on a morning almost two thousand years ago did any travellers on their way to Jerusalem pass a spot by the roadside where they saw a pool of dried blood. They were unfamiliar with the city but were later told that there had been three crucifixions there the previous day. Two common criminals and some madman who claimed he was the Son of God. Well he had been shown up for the charlatan he was and had died on the cross like the rest of them. Good riddance to him too; the last thing they needed was some rabble rouser riling the Romans. There was only going to be one winner there.

Saying that, there had been some strange things happening since then. Weird goings on up at the temple apparently. Some of his wacky hangers on had been running about shouting that he had risen from the dead. Was walking about with holes in his hands where they had driven the nails in. What nonsense. The travellers paid little attention to the tall tales, completed their business and departed the city to head home. Probably two drunks brawling. Or possibly bandits had robbed a less fortunate traveller.

Next time you pass a spot of dried blood on the pavement (or sidewalk as you crazy Americans insist on calling it) spare a thought for the person who shed it and the circumstances that led to them spilling it there. If you are a Christian pray for them. And spare a thought for the blood that Jesus spilled all those years ago. We normally associate spilt blood with danger and harm, but not His, which was willingly given in order to protect and purify.

He gave His blood in order to rid our lives of the guilt, shame and sinful living patterns that plague our every waking step. When it comes to His blood you can be certain as to the reasons for it forming in a pool at the foot of the Cross. There is no need for head scratching or speculation. He did it for me and for you. The decision is ours. Do we accept the sacrifice and follow Him or step over the blood he shed and carry on with our journey through life?

When did you last encounter blood on the street?

Do you believe there was a man called Jesus? Or it is just a fairytale?

Fionnuala’s Faith

Today’s blog is a showcase for the true talent at afracturedfaithblog, my wife Fionnuala. Here are some of the faith inspired images that she has created. I think they are amazing but then I’m bias You can see a lot more of Fionnuala’s work on our Instagram account. Just click the relevant link on our blog site and have a wonderful Wednesday.

A Sea Of Words

I hadn’t expected to blog a massive amount this week but I’m wide awake at 05:00 am so thought I would update you all on my first day of serious writing. I had been putting this day off for some time for a multitude of reasons; chief amongst these was a fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I would open the laptop and stare at a blank screen all day devoid of inspiration and unable to transfer my tangled thoughts into flowing prose.

Well I guess I slew that dragon yesterday. The words did flow, to the extent that at end of play yesterday evening I had passed the 5000 word mark. They could well be the worst 5000 words ever written but here’s the thing – they are written. My worry over writers block reminded me of my concerns about hitting the wall during my first marathon; in each case it never happened because I didn’t allow it to happen. Sometimes we forget the amount of control we have over our own destinies.

The other thing I learnt yesterday was the amount of time people talk and think about writing. When I first got the idea for the book I talked for months about writing it to anyone unfortunate enough to be within hearing range of me. I thought about writing almost as much as I thought up excuses not to write. I read books about writing which often seemed to advocate doing everything bar actually writing. They spoke of endless months of plot structuring and character development in order to create design documents that would eventually be crafted into the finished article.

I realised yesterday that whilst this approach might work for a lot of people it doesn’t work for me. I need to write. I need to get the words out of me that have been festering inside all these years. I need to be purged of them. Sometimes when you are ill and feeling nauseous the only way to get rid of that awful sensation is to actually be physically sick. I feel the same when it comes to my writing. I want my words to see the light as opposed to festering inside. For if they stagnate in the darkness for too long they become something else. Beauty will rot if unattended for any length of time.

I realised that I am a back to front and upside down writer. My first draft will be raw, manic and spontaneous. It is only at the end of the process that I will sit down and begin to smooth out the many rough edges. I will edit and redraft until the cows come home. And when the cows have come home and I have checked that they are fed and watered I will edit and redraft some more; until it is complete, whatever it is. Which leads me to the final (I promise) point I want to make in this post. What you sit down intending to write and what you actually end up writing are often very distant cousins.

Yesterday morning I sat down at my desk with every intention of birthing an introductory chapter which has been germinating in my grey matter for some time. I could almost recite it to you verbatim. All I had to do was transfer that mental screenplay onto a Word document and hit save. A gentle start to my writing career before the real work started in earnest. Did it work out that way? No of course it didn’t. Instead my main character demanded that I delve into his past and explore his past. Over the next few hours he taught me much about himself that I had not previously known. He explained to me how he had turned out the way he had. He educated me.

I had heard other writers talk about their characters writing the book for them once they started and maybe that will be the case with me. The 5000 words I wrote yesterday bore little semblance to the 5000 words I thought I was going to write. My main character asked me to let go of the steering wheel and trust him. That was kind of a liberating experience and took a lot of pressure of me. It was as if he sensed my trepidation and decided to show me the ropes on my first day at a new school. I hope all my characters are as kind to me as he was. Although I have my doubts as some of them are bad, bad people.

Did I say that was my last point. Sorry, I lied. My last observation is that no matter how wrapped up in your literary muse you become don’t lose an awareness and appreciation of your present surroundings. It is our here and now that fuels our pens and allows our creative juices to flow. Yesterday was a great day for the Black Family. Hannah got her new motorised wheelchair which Fionnuala wrote about in the last blog; and Adam and Rebecca both had encouraging days on their respective sports fields. I have been blessed with an ability to write but it is they who have turned that ability into a reality.

They are my lighthouse. I must never lose sight of them no matter how adrift I become on this sea of words in the months ahead.

How do you write?

What writing projects are you working at present?

Power

The day that we have been waiting for for a very long time has finally arrived and I don’t mean Stephen actually sitting at his desk to start writing his book more importantly Hannah got her new all singing and dancing power chair.

The regular readers of our blog will know about all the trials and tribulations we have had over the year regarding pressure sores and unsuitable wheelchairs and we want to thank all of you for your prayers and encouraging words and comments they have all been a massive blessing and support to us.

At church yesterday a lady approached us and told Hannah after speaking with her earlier she got a word for her “POWER” we just looked at each other and laughed and told her that Hannah was getting her power chair today and it was very appropriate Thank you God 😊

Today has been a very emotional day and I am so blessed to see how much this chair has brought comfort, independence and the biggest smile that I’ve ever seen on my amazing daughters face in quite some time. My heart feels like it could burst today Im that proud and happy for her.

At a top speed of 0.8MPH Hannah was treated by an extra proud Granny to a new handbag to match her chair and some lunch in Belfast before heading back home to show off her wheels to her Daddy.

Hannah is now watching the clock for Adam and Rebecca to come home so she can take Charlie Our dog out for a walk and this has really got me thinking about how much we take for granted and about the little things we grumble and moan about.

Today has most definitely been a #ProudMummyDay one which I will never ever forget.

‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well’ Psalm 139:14

You’re Just A Weirdo

After the service today we are going to a Newcomers lunch being hosted by the leadership for families who have only recently started attending the church. They have billed it as an opportunity to get to know other people and learn more about the history of the church, its values and vision for the future. Oh and there is free food. Lots of free food. What’s not to love about that?

When faced with social events and meeting people for the first time I revert to my default setting of social awkwardness which has failed to serve me so well all my life. I’m just not good around people I don’t know and invariably say or do the wrong thing. Once at a funeral I asked the clearly devastated son of the deceased at the graveside how he was keeping. The second the words left my lips I wanted to jump in the open grave and be done with.

The list goes on. I could write a book on such faux pas. When I was at university I attended a seminar where everyone sat in a circle to discuss a subject. I knew nobody there so didn’t utter a word during the entire hour we sat there. Unbeknownst to me one of my legs went dead during the next hour meaning that when I stood up to hurriedly leave at the end I had no feeling in it whatsoever. I flapped desperately in ever decreasing circles like a winged goose in front of my peers before collapsing in a heap of pins, needles and shuddering shame.

Needless to say I never went back to that seminar. In fact I spent the next three years studiously avoiding anyone who had been there that fateful day. I am a comedian, a klutz and a clown when it comes to such environments. I call it shy. Fionnuala is more direct in her analysis of the problem – ‘You’re just a weirdo’. ‘But I’m your weirdo’ I pathetically reply to be greeted with a withering stare or being told in no uncertain terms to ‘grow up’.

Alcohol was my social crutch for many years. Three pints of strong lager and I became the life and soul of the party. I was Mr. Personality, a social butterfly who was willing to talk to anyone about anything. I thought I was eloquent, witty and verbose. The Oscar Wilde of the bar. Two hours later and I was more often than not slumped in the corner fast asleep or being poured into a taxi just as the party was starting. The next morning I lay curled in a ball gripped by the fear. What did I say last night? Had I offended anybody? What if they never speak to me again?

Put me in my working environment and I can talk to anyone. Because it is my job I put on a mask of professionalism and competence. I can give a presentation in front of a hundred people. No problem. The ‘big boss’ needs a briefing in ten minutes. I’m all over it. The Prime Minister is on the phone? Put her through. Ok I made up the last one about the Prime Minister but you get the message. Fionnuala calls this persona ‘Work Stephen’. Confident, calm and decisive. If only I could be like that all the time.

I’m much more comfortable with the written, as opposed to the spoken, word. Which explains why I got hooked on social media so easily. I could be who I wanted to be and hide behind my keyboard when expressing myself. Which led to all sorts of problems which I have previously blogged about. Blogging is my happy medium, therefore. On here I can be myself and be honest. Without the dead legs, verbal howlers and sickening hangovers.

I’m sure today will be fine. I’m looking forward to it as I want to meet new people and hopefully make some friends. It is important for us as a family to find a spiritual home where we feel safe and welcome. We have been adrift for too long and sailed through too many storms. It is time to lay anchor in calmer waters and set foot on firm ground. I hope this is the beginning of a new leg of our journey. And I hope I don’t get a dead leg….

What are you like in social settings?

What’s the most embarrassing thing you have ever said or done at such an event?

Stick To The Programme

Race Day is now only two weeks away and today was my last long run before the marathon itself. As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks my times have improved considerably over the last month to the extent that this morning I was running a minute per mile faster than my projected race pace. I am of course delighted with this and can only put it down to having finally overcome the virus which struck me down during the summer.

With two weeks to go I now enter the stage of my training plan known as the taper. This is where you reduce your mileage and focus on rest and recovery so that you reach the start line refreshed, healthy and injury free. All the hard work has been done and it is now just a matter of keeping your body and mind ticking over until the big day itself. And having run over 130 miles during the last three weeks I should be looking forward to this enforced scaling down of my training schedule.

Marathon runners, however, have a love/hate relationship with the taper. It is difficult to adjust to a regime of lower mileage when you have been pounding the roads for the better part of three months. The mind starts to play tricks on you. Will I lose my fitness? Am I putting on weight? Have I peaked too soon? All these thoughts have assaulted me during previous tapers and I no doubt will entertain them all over again in the coming days.

Part of me wishes the race was tomorrow but the logical part of my brain reminds me that I need this period of winding down in order to be fully wound up come race day. The taper is just as important as the 20 mile long run. At this stage of the journey I have come too far only to blow it all by overtraining and arriving at the start line tired and jaded. For the next two weeks less is more. I need to relax, have faith in the plan and be patient.

Unfortunately relaxation and patience are not two of my strongest characteristics. So I’ll fret and I’ll worry over the next two weeks. Which I know is ridiculous as I have been through this six times before and on each occasion the taper worked and I arrived at the start line in the best shape I could possibly be in. It all comes down to a lack of faith. In myself and in the training plan which has never let me down before and won’t let me down this time either if I would only stop stressing and wise up.

I’m a bit like that when it comes to my spiritual training plan. I know that God has a plan for my life but I become restless and frustrated when things don’t go as I feel they should be going. I get angry, sulk or feel sorry for myself as I watch my life meander along. I want everything yesterday rather than accept that God knows best and allow the plan to be revealed in His time and not my own. My lack of faith unsettles me. It is selfish and disobedient. I should know better.

God has never let me down before and has dragged me out of some almighty self inflicted messes along the way. So I just have to bite my lip and accept that He knows best no matter how much it pains me at times. Just like I need to bite my lip and accept this taper period for what it is; all part of a bigger plan designed to benefit me in the long run. My short sightedness needs to see beyond the here and now and appreciate the bigger picture. Be it 26.2 miles in a fortnight or the rest of my life as a follower of Jesus I just need to stick to the programme.

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.’

Are you a patient person? Or do you struggle?

Are you good at sticking to plans?

Meet Mr Skelly 

I’m taking next week off work to write. As in work on the novel idea that has been rattling around my head these last few months. It has now got to the stage where I have to get the words out or I think my brain will explode. It is akin to mental birthing pains if that makes sense. It is time to stop talking and start writing. It could be literary gold dust or a big pile of steaming you know what. But it is time. 

I haven’t the first clue about writing a novel. I’ve read a lot about developing a structure, creating a design document and so on. But it’s got to the point now where I just have to write. I know in my head what the first few chapters will look like that and I have a fair idea of the overall story. I have fleshed out my main characters (all three of them – big exclusive there) in quite some detail and can see them in my head as clear as day. I just need now to bring them to life on the page.


I know the themes which will meander between the chapters, pages and words. I know the setting (Belfast – another exclusive) and I know the overall feel of the novel. Now I have to write. I reckon that by this time next week I will have a fair idea as to whether or not I can do this. I am excited but also nervous. It feels like the time I decided I wanted to run a marathon. The only way you can discover whether or not you are a marathoner is to run a marathon. The same applies to writing.

Who knows where this will lead? Can I make a living (or at least create a secondary income) through writing? Or will it just continue as an interest that I find both challenging and rewarding. Am I talented or just a deluded daydreamer? Only time will tell. But I know God has a plan for me and that somehow this is part of it. The growth of the blog is testament to that. He wants me to write and I need to write. That’s good enough for me.

Fionnuala is my driving force, my inspiration. She has encouraged me every step of the way and stuck by me as I have walked through many dark valleys. She has created a writing environment for me at home and it was her idea that led to this blog in the first place. The blog has been my testing ground. Without it having taken off in the way it has I doubt very much if I would be standing now on the cusp of this new adventure. The more I write, the more the words flow. I need to write in order to write. It is the least vicious of circles. 

The comments and feedback I have received from my fellow bloggers have also helped to seal the deal in my mind as well. It is such a loving, creative and supportive world to dip my literary toes into. They are not the prettiest of toes (especially after 20 mile training runs) but exposing them to fellow writers has been necessary in order to practice my craft and instil a self belief that has been lacking for many years. It is time write. It is time to live the impossible.

It is time to meet Mr. Skelly….

Have you written a novel? Do you ever plan to?

What advice can you offer a fledgling novelist?

Thank You

We passed 2000 followers at the weekend and I just wanted to thank everyone again for their support and encouragement. We never expected this when we started back in May. We hope our daily incursion into your lives is of benefit to you. Thank you again. 

A Racing Certainty

I was walking through the city centre yesterday on my way to the office when I saw an old man walk out of a bookmakers (betting office) in front of me. He was bent over, a bit unkempt looking and carrying a couple of shopping bags. He looked no different from any other Belfast pensioner who spent their day drifting round the pubs and bookies of the city.

I knew that particular bookies well from my gambling days. I had spent many a lunchtime in there studying the odds and watching the races. It is an entertainments business now with comfy seats, coffee machines and wide screen televisions. No longer are betting offices portrayed as dens of iniquity where the dregs of society gather to waste their ill gotten gains. Visiting a bookmakers now is on a par with going to the gym or the supermarket.

The new sparkling veneer, however, doesn’t hide the darker underbelly of the place. Men (for it is largely men) still fall prey to the bright lights and lure of the bookies, tempting them in to fritter away money that they can ill afford to lose. Whilst the buzz of a winner is hard to surpass, more commonly the experience is that of a losing bet and the gut wrenching awareness that your stake is gone forever; followed soon after by the overwhelming urge to ‘chase your losses’ and place another bet.


I have never met a poor bookmaker and the longer you spend in such an establishment the more likely it is that you will leave with less money than you entered with. You will lose and lose big. So I felt sorry for the old man as he shuffled down the street in front of me. From his modest attire he did not strike me as someone who could afford to lose what little money he probably had. He struck me as just another victim of the ravenous beast named addiction; down on his heels, down on his luck and probably down to his last few pennies.

Then something quite unexpected happened. The old man walked through the doors of the next building down the street; a church no less. I will never know why he crossed its threshold or how frequent a visitor he was. Was he praying for a sick friend or relative? Was he lonely and in need of a friendly face and and a comforting voice; or was he pleading for the Almighty God to whisper to him the winner of the 3:45 at Ascot?

What I did know was that this man had a faith. I did not know if it raged within him like a forest fire or was a flickering ember barely alight. But it was there. He believed. He believed that there was hope and that he had a future no matter how battered and bruised life had left him. I walked on with an added spring to my step, safe in the knowledge that God was at work in the life of this man. And confident that he was equally at work in mine.

Many men enter a bookmakers with everything (in financial terms at least) and leave with nothing; broken and adrift. They have gambled and they have lost. The same cannot be said of those who choose to follow Jesus. Instead they enter his House with nothing and leave with everything and more – eternal life. Why back a rank outsider when you can choose a racing certainty? Why gamble your soul away when the safest bet of your life is to give everything you have to Him?

Do you struggle with temptation?

What are you willing to gamble to secure happiness?

I’m Walking On The Air

The marathon is now only 18 days away and I had my final long run on Saturday. 21 miles on a dry, sunny and still morning. Ideal running conditions. I can handle rain but the wind is an enemy of the runner. It can wreak havoc with the best laid pacing plans. I set off in a hopeful frame of mind my intention, as ever, to remain under the 9:09 minute mile pace I need to average in order to run a sub 4 hour marathon.

The other week Fionnuala purchased me a brand new pair of Nike Air trainers to break in for the big day. I sadly had to retire my old pair at Nike which had served me well but were now on their last legs if you pardon the pun. They were literally falling apart and the soles were so worn down that it was akin to running on cardboard. They had to go so were consigned to the garage where they would live out their retirement along with the garden furniture and other odds and ends.

It is fair to say that the new Nike have been a revelation. I had a bad summer running wise due to illness and injury but was slowly building up my distance and times in preparation for the marathon. However I was nowhere near the levels I had run previously. With the arrival of the new trainers, however, I began to fly again. My times started to plummet. I felt fitter and faster. Coincidence or not, my confidence soared again and I put it all down to my new foot furniture.


The thick, cushioned soles made me feel as if I was running on air. Without the flying snowman and falsetto singing. I bounced along like an astronaut on the moon. It was like somebody had attached springs to the soles of my feet. I felt like Inspector Gadget. The 21 mile run went ridiculously well as a result. I finished with a 8:17 mile average, well within my target pace. Part of me wished the marathon was then as I truly believed I could have kept going and completed the distance well under my 4 hour target. 

All thanks to a new set of soles. Wouldn’t it be great if we could discard everything as easily as that. Unfortunately we only get one mind, one heart and one chance at life. And they can get battered and bruised beyond recognition. We can’t chuck them in the bin, though, and start over again. We have to make do with what we have and plod along often underachieving and missing out on the goals and targets we set ourselves along the way. Life has a nasty habit of chewing up dreams and spitting them out the other side.

Have I depressed you yet? Don’t worry the good news is that God does offer you a second chance. And a third chance and a seventeenth chance for that matter. He offers hope and a better life. All you have to do is reach out and accept the offer. He has an all singing, all dancing new set of running shoes for you. Just slip them on and you will feel like you never have before. Faster, stronger and ready to run the race of life like you never have before. Running forward into a future of Personal Bests.

We only get one shot at this race. So why turn down such an offer? Would Mo Farah line up for an Olympic final in a tatty old pair of running shoes when he could be sporting the finest that the boffins at Nike could offer? It’s a no brainer when you think of it that way. Which is kind of handy as many of us shuffle through life making decisions as if we don’t have one. A brain that is. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. I don’t like coffee but you get my drift.

I believe in the spiritual realms. I believe in angels and demons. Ghosts, ghouls, monsters call them what you like. And I believe in the Devil. He wants your soul and he will offer you all kinds of bright, shiny trinkets in order to attain it. We are incredibly naive and arrogant if we think we know everything there is to know about this universe. There is more than meets the eye. The eye deceives. Don’t be deceived by money, popularity or power. It’s a lie of the eye.

Why sell your soul to the Devil when Jesus is willing to upgrade the one you have. For free. And then you too can race towards the finish line instead of veering off track. For there lurk demons….

What is your favourite form of footwear?

Where is your soul at today?

Do you believe in angels and demons?

Riskbands

Have I told you that I’m running a marathon for SHINE Charity in just under three weeks time? Once or twice I suspect. Well last week the charity posted out my charity running vest for the big day. It’s a demure bright yellow which won’t win me any awards in the fashion stakes but will ensure that I’m visible from about a mile away for passing motorists. I will resemble a giant, fluorescent banana. I’ve had worse looks.

They also sent me out some sponsorship sheets and a charity wristband which I proudly slipped on. Wristbands may now be a fashion faux pas for all I know but I wear three. The aforementioned SHINE addition and one from my favourite singer/author Lacey Sturm saying ‘Living the Impossible’. I have kind of adopted this as my life slogan for if you had told me five years ago that I would be running marathons and writing a novel I would have snorted in derision.

The third one is a simple black band with a verse from the Bible embossed on it. 1 John 2:6 to be precise ‘Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.’ It kind of sums up how I am trying to live my life and the mindset I am attempting to adhere to. Our pastor talks a lot about the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. Anyone can make the decision to become a Christian. But attempting to live like he did day after day is a whole different ball game.

He also talks a lot about discipleship. It’s more than just turning up at church on a Sunday, mumbling along to a few worship songs and then shuffling off home again. It’s about how you live your life the rest of the week that matters. Displaying your faith on a consistent basis in a positive and loving manner. Being the light of the world, the city on a hill. Stepping out of your comfort zone armed with only a mustard seed of faith. Taking a risk.

In corporate management speak I am risk averse in such matters. Fionnuala calls me socially awkward which is probably the understatement of the year. Or any year for that matter. I am fairly hopeless around people I don’t know and not much better around those that I do. And I make no exception when it comes to my faith. I am much better writing about it than I am discussing it; which is one of the main reasons this blog was born. I had a story to tell but knew the written medium was the only way I could effectively express myself and do that story justice.

An example of this occurred last week. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a colleague asked me what was written on my wristbands. What a fantastic evangelical opportunity. But what did I do? Rather than openly and proudly talking about my faith I muttered something about the Lacey Sturm wristband being the title of a song I liked prior to quickly changing the subject. Epic fail!

I felt like Peter after he denied Jesus three times and the cockerel crowed. Talking about my faith in an open plan office in front of my colleagues was a risk I was not prepared to take. It was a bridge too far. I had turned my back on Jesus. I was willing to wear his name on his wrist but not declare it with my voice. I was left an embarrassed Christian as opposed to an unapologetic follower of Jesus. I had let him down and felt pretty rubbish.

The good news is that Jesus doesn’t turn his back on us even when we repeatedly turn our back on him. He’s got a thick skin that way. He is a bottomless ocean of patience and forgiveness, the ultimate grace generator. And when you stumble, or fall flat on your face like me, he’s there to reach out and help you back on your feet. To follow him. In your own time. But don’t leave it too late for you never know what’s round the next corner.

The next time I have an opportunity to demonstrate my faith I hope I don’t waver. I want to be a follower. I want to step out of the boat in faith. Christians wear wristbands. Followers wear riskbands. 

Do you wear a wristband? What does it stand for?

Are you a risk taker? Or risk averse?

I Believe In Unicorns 

Regular readers of the blog will have known that our youngest daughter, Rebecca, celebrated her 11th birthday a few days ago. The festivities have lasted the best part of a week culminating yesterday in a trip to the ‘Disney On Ice’ show in Belfast. There she was entertained by a flying Peter Pan, Ariel the Mermaid and Olaf the Snowman. And Fionnuala was horrified at paying £9 for a bucket of popcorn and a set of plastic Mickey Mouse ears. Let it go. Just let it go!

On Thursday night she had a pyjama/onesie party with her closest friends. And before anyone asks I don’t own a onesie and have no intention of ever owning one. What struck me at the party was the current unicorn craze amongst young girls. We have unicorn onesies, unicorn pillows, unicorn headphones. In fact anything you can think of. Unicorns are taking over the world. I had always thought it was going to be a zombie apocalypse that was going to end civilisation as we knew it. But I was wrong. It’s actually going to be unicorns.


I’m not sure if there were any unicorns on the Ark. But if there were then Noah’s journey on the waters would have undoubtedly been a much more enjoyable experience. Why? Because unicorns seem to bring joy and happiness wherever they appear. Just ask any little girl. Or perhaps the occasional boy. They are not just mythical flying horses with ice cream cones stuck to their foreheads. They symbolise hope and love and better times. They are a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world. 

Nobody knows who came up with the idea of unicorns. Just like nobody knows exactly who came up with Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. But they all play a central role in the lives of our little ones. We tell them the stories, perform the traditions and answer their million and one questions on the subjects. They are at the heart of many of our most treasured family memories. Until that terrible day when it stops. When they stop believing. And then all we can do is relive the memories until, hopefully, a few grandchildren appear and we can do it all over again. 

We place such emphasis on these mythical creatures. They bring joy to our homes. Yet do we place the same emphasis on God? Do we place Jesus at the centre of our homes?Is he pushed aside at Easter and Christmas in favour of six foot rabbits and men with white beards and dodgy fashion sense? For let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Jesus there would be no Easter or Christmas. And while some see him also as a make believe figure in this increasingly secular world, it is a recognised historical fact that a man called Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago. Can’t say that about the Tooth Fairy can you?

The next hurdle is was he just that, a man, or was he more than that? Was he the son of God? The explosion of Christianity to topple the Roman Empire literally overnight would strongly suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye. But at the end of the day it all boils down to faith. Believing in the unseen; believing that there is more to life. Because we all desperately want to believe in that. Just like an expectant child charges down the stairs on Christmas morning. They believe they will be gifts behind that door. They believe it more than anything else.

Jesus came to earth and gave us the greatest gift of all; his life. He died for us and by giving up his life offered us eternal life. All he asks for in return is that we believe in him. We can learn a lot from children and Jesus encouraged his followers to display a child like belief. Because there is a better life. There is a future no matter how dark our present might appear. We just need to take His hand and dare to believe.

I’m not sure I believe in unicorns. But I believe in everything they stand for. Hope, love and joy. For those words are Jesus. And I believe in him.

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

Do you believe in Jesus?

How would you describe your relationship with him?

What mythical creature did you love as a child?

Long Hair Don’t Care

When I was 20 back in the day I wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Without the heroin habit and suicidal tendencies of course. ‘Nevermind’ still remains my favourite album (does that give away my age?) of all time and I can tell you where I was the first time I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I can also tell you where I was when I heard of his death. That was a sad day and I recall reading the newspaper and shaking my head in disbelief. Such a talent. Such a waste.

I began to wear second hand ‘grunge’ clothing which, oddly enough, cost more than brand new gear. I wore this with pride around Belfast. I was a rebel who lived life on the edge. Of course I never wore it when I went home to visit my parents but every rock legend has to start somewhere. I bought a second hand acoustic guitar and started to play until about a week later when I realised I hadn’t a note in my head and flung it into the corner. 

Air guitar was more my thing and I spent many a happy hour throwing shapes and thrilling sold out auditoriums from the safety of my bedroom. Jumping off the drum riser (bed) and landing on my knees was my speciality move until I received complaints about the noise. Had to tone it down a bit after that as, metal god that I was, I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the neighbours.


I went to a motorcycle shop and bought a genuine biker jacket. The guy in the shop started to quiz me about crankshafts and the like and I nodded knowledgeably and muttered something about my bike being in the garage at the moment. I also wore skin tight black jeans which left little to imagination and took around half an hour to get on and off. Just think Ross Gellar and the episode of ‘Friends’ where he bought a pair of leather trousers. 

But most of all I wanted long hair. Long, straight hair. I resolved that I was growing it and painfully inspected it each day in the mirror to monitor progress. Initially all was well but disaster loomed once it crept over my collar. It started to grow upwards again. The back of my head resembled a ski slope. I was bereft and no matter how hard I tried to straighten and coax it, my follicles steadfastly defied the laws of gravity. I looked more like Kirk Douglas than Kurt Cobain and was inconsolable.

If you viewed any photographs of me taken during this era and you would have been convinced that I had no neck. Whenever a lens was pointed in my direction my default setting was to scrunch up both shoulders in a desperate attempt to convince people that my hair was longer than it actually was. The cringe factor was off the scale and, for the last 20 plus years, I have made it my life’s work to hunt down and destroy any visual image of me from that period of my life. 

No matter how hard I tried I was never going to be Kurt Cobain. I realised that it was much less expensive (and embarrassing) to just be myself. Externally at least. Throughout my adult life I have always tried to be someone who I am not in order to impress others and fit in. I have had more reincarnations than Dr. Who and they have all invariably ended in disaster. Hurting myself and my loved ones in the process. 

Being yourself is hard in this day and age. Peer pressure to behave in a certain way is huge and many buckle under the strain of it all. But accepting and beginning to like who you are is the first step towards maturity. My family love me for who I am even though I can try the patience of a saint. Being yourself is infinitely harder than playing a role and living a lie. But infinitely more rewarding. God created me this way for a reason. He has a plan for all of us and to act out of character is disobedient and self-defeating. 

Be brave. Be honest. Be yourself. 

R.I.P. Kurt.

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.’

How hard do you find it to be yourself?

Do you even know the real you?

Tell us about your worst ever hairstyle.

Attention To Detail

I work in an investigative environment. My job invokes asking lots of questions and finding stuff out. I analyse, assess and dissect. In forensic, minute detail. To miss a tiny piece of information can have serious repercussions. It is fascinating, but painstaking, work. But I’ve been doing it for seventeen years now so I guess I’ve picked up a bit of expertise along the way. 

I’ve been told I have a gift for drawing learning and teaching out of the Bible. I enjoy researching and studying it from different angles and presenting well known stories and passages from new and different perspectives. I’ve been fortunate enough also to have been given the opportunity to share my thoughts at house groups, youth cells and in church itself.

The same applies to any challenge I tackle. I am currently training for my seventh marathon and am sticking rigidly to a training plan. I do exactly what is required of me every day. The same applies to my writing. I blog every day and have started on the strucure for my first novel. My investigative background has been of great benefit to me. I’m determined and recognise that attention to detail is essential in order to reach my targets.


Yes, if you asked anyone who knew me they would probably place attention to detail near the top of my skills set. I wish the same could be said for my home life. You see, I have so much junk whirling about my head that I often neglect those I love the most who are right in front of my eyes. The kids ask me questions and I am miles away, thinking about something else. I am oblivious to basic household chores that require attention.

I would walk through a darkened room without the metaphorical light bulb in my head telling me that the literal one above my head needs replaced. The time went back last weekend and there are still clocks in the house that need adjusted. The list goes on. I am a nightmare and drive Fionnuala nuts; too busy brooding over my past and daydreaming about my future to focus on what really matters – the present, the here and now screaming in my face.

I am flawed and frustrating. I know that. I am a work in progress. I know that also. I want to become a better person and make up for decades of lost time. But I guess I need to learn to walk before I start running. Today I was going to write about the blog reaching 2000 followers but God has a way of bringing us back down to earth with a resounding thud. Yes, we can reach for Heaven. But only if we keep our feet well and truly on the ground. 

Pay attention to your loved ones. Never take them for granted. Or one day they might stop paying attention to you.

What is your biggest flaw?

Do you pay attention to your loved ones? Or is it an area of your life where you can improve?

💕 Our Big 11 Year Old Baby Unicorn 💕

Never have I ever seen a girl so excited for her birthday before.  Today is the day Rebecca has been counting down now for weeks.  She wants to thank everyone for their lovely comments on her blog she wrote yesterday and for those that wanted to know what her big brother’s present was it was a set of unicorn ear phones.

We are now counting down the hours and minutes until her Onesie/PJ Party starts at 5pm when Stephen and I will be sent to spend the evening in the kitchen so the living room can be taken over by eight 10/11 year old girls – all prayers for our sanity will be greatly appreciated 🙏

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.

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?

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