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?

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?

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?


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?

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 ❤️🙏🏻😊

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?

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?

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?

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’?

ReVamp 

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

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

Keep the faith – Stephen & Fionnuala 🙏🏻❤️😊

That Back To School Feeling

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Balloon Boys

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What miracles do you see in the everyday?

Battle Of The Biscuit Tin

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


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

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

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

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

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

The biscuits would have to be from the same packet. I had to memorise the brand of the biscuit and the company that made them; right down to the exact spelling and any punctuation on the packaging. If I forgot or the fog of OCD tricked me into thinking I had forgotten I would have to start again with another two biscuits. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twinge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who Is Jesus?

It’s Pay Day and the Black family are hitting Belfast to celebrate. Adam wants a haircut (he’s sooooooo fussy about his hair), Hannah wants to get her eyebrows threaded (I don’t even know what this entails but I hear it’s very painful) and Rebecca (who I have just asked) needs stationary for going back to school. She has also informed me that she wants to find £1,000,000. She doesn’t want much.

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

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

What does Jesus mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.


1000 Followers 

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


Stephen & Fionnuala 🙏🏻😊❤️

The Lightning Strike

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Please feel free to share your thoughts about this post.

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

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

Death by Password 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What mechanisms have you in place to protect your heart?

What is the most ridiculous password you have ever used?

The Forty Seven Year Old Foetus

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What mechanisms do you have in place to resist temptation?

Thank You 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has your WordPress experience been like to date?

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

The Power Cut

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because power cuts can empower.

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

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

When did you last ‘cross the room?’

Out Of Bounds 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or allowed your emotions to lead you astray?

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


The Twirly Chair – Part Three

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Barbed Wire Beard

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

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

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

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

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

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

AAAAARRRRGGGHHHHHHH!!!

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Conor McGregor And The One Shot Wonder 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What battle lines face you today?

Are you prepared to run confidently towards them?


The Waiting Room 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who constructed the barrier? You or them?

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

Sick 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

When did God last speak clearly to you? 

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

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

Mr Mop

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tall Tale

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

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

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

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

The Return Of Goldfish Boy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How often do you wear the mask of conformity?

When did you last ignore Jesus?

Blog Of Welcome 

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

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

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


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

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

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

Welcome to our blog. We love you.

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

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

Is your home a place of welcome.

Voice of Living Waters

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you – Stephen

Life Is Like A Tube Of Toothpaste 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you had toothpaste issues recently?

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

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

It’s The End Of The World

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Does blogging help you with depression and anxiety?

What is your favourite disaster movie?

Mullet Man

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s the worst haircut you have ever had?

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

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

Diary of A Wimpy Dad

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sweet or salted popcorn? You decide.

Do you believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead?

Stones

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What are the stones weighing you down today?

Have you considered handing them over to God?

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

The Armchair That Just Kept on Giving

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Underbelly 

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you

Stephen 

The Duty Call

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you overcome that voice? 

Aches On A Plane

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

What has been your worst airplane experience?

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

What is your favourite proverb?

Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Love Coffee….Except I Don’t

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is your favourite character from friends?

Maggie’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Psalm 112:1

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

One book. One verse. One way to live.

When did you last read the Bible?

What verse spoke to you?

What is your favourite Psalm?

Just Giving

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

We need to live to give. 

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


D.N.F.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Don’t be a DNF….

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

What is your favourite drink?

Have you ever been badly hydrated?

How do you spiritually refuel?

Bin There Done That

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How many bins do you have?

When did you last empty your emotional bin?

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

Touch 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

So today. Don’t jump. Touch….

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

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

Where is your sphere of influence?

How has God touched your life lately?

The Man With No Brain 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Following your feelings has deceived you.

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

True love is not a wind that deceives and disappears.

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

When did you last love someone through gritted teeth?

What was their response?

How did you feel afterwards?



Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fionnuala

Can you remember your first experience with the Holy Spirit?

Does God speak to you through dreams?

Do you want to get to know Jesus?

PATIENCE/PATIENT

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

Over to Hannah –

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

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

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

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

Hannah

mummy and hannah

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

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

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

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

Fionnuala

 

When a Friendship Turns Sour

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Friends_know_all_about_you_quote_85_1

 

 Warning signals of a controlling or unhealthy friendship:

 

·         Your friend is not familiar with word NO

 

·         Your friend must always get things done their way

 

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

 

·         Your friend interferes in your relationships

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

Fionnuala

 

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