One of my favourite worship singers is Steffany Gretzinger and this song is just beautiful to wake up to and start your day to especially on a cold and frosty winter morning like it is in Northern Ireland today.
Have a Blessed Monday
One of my favourite worship singers is Steffany Gretzinger and this song is just beautiful to wake up to and start your day to especially on a cold and frosty winter morning like it is in Northern Ireland today.
Have a Blessed Monday
Hello there, my name is Rebecca and you might know me from my other blogs. Every Sunday from now on I will be picking a story from the Bible and put the story into my own words I’m calling it Story Time with Rebecca.
Daniel has a Sleepover with the Lions
Daniel loved God and always obeyed him and done what he told him to do and listened to him as well Daniel was one of Gods people.
There has been terrible news I heard Gods people have been brought far away from their home land. They are now slaves in Babylon but God didn’t leave them. Babylon’s king loved how clever David was so he put him as his most important helper of all and put him in charge of lots of other helpers. The other helpers wanted to be the kings favourite and get rid of him.
So, they went to the king they were really pleased with themselves and they said to the king that there should be a new law that your only allowed to pray to him and no one else and if you did break that law you would be given to the lions for their dinner. Daniel heard it all he was worried but when he was walking back to his room God was talking to him and was saying not to listen to them you keep praying to me.
When the other slaves saw Daniel praying to God they went to the king and told him everything. The king got angry and threw Daniel in the lion’s cave. Daniel was afraid but the lions were really kind to him and did not eat him nothing at all and they had a nice sleep together.
The first thing the king done the next morning was go to the lion’s cave and he saw that Daniel was still alive so he helped him out and asked how he was still alive and Daniel said because God was with him and the king was surprised and changed the law. The new law was that you can only pray to one God and never pray to anyone else only the real God. That is the end of Daniel has a Sleepover with the Lions.
Thank you for reading my blog and hope you all have a brilliant Sunday.
Throughout this week we have been springing little surprises on you all and so we have another one for you this evening. Our eldest daughter Hannah loves to sing and has dreams of being Worship Singer when she is older. As part of the changes to our blog we want the children to get more involved and so on a Saturday Hannah is going to upload a song that she has sang. We really hope you enjoy this change as Hannah is very excited about it.
This weeks song is Hannah’s favourite worship song it’s written by Hillsong Worship and is called Oceans.
We hope you enjoy Hannah’s version and please let us know your thoughts or even a request.
FracturedFaithBlog is a bit like an elegant swan. I cruise serenely above the surface taking all the plaudits while, below the waters, Fionnuala paddles furiously to keep us afloat. She does the majority of the unseen work necessary in order to keep the blog going. I just ramble on about stuff.
This week has been no exception. In addition to running a busy household she has redesigned the blog site interface to include ‘comments’ and ‘prayer’ tabs. We also now have our own domain which means the blog can expand in lots more interesting directions. And she has been upgrading our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Venturing into any of those areas would have me breaking out in a nasty rash.
We have set up a dedicated prayer team so if you have any specific prayer requests then please utilise the ‘prayer’ tab to communicate them to us. We will treat them with the ultimate respect and sensitivity. Your prayer will be anonymised before it is circulated to the prayer team. Likewise if there is something that you would like to discuss with either of us privately and in greater depth then please avail of the ‘comments’ tab. Sometimes it is difficult to have a meaningful conversation via timeline and there may be issues that you do not want to air publicly.
We are here to help. Don’t suffer in silence.
First World Problems have once more raised their ugly head at chez Black this last week or so. Having struggled through various sicknesses and other crises during the month of January we thought we were due a turn of fortunes. A reprieve from the trials and tribulations of modern life. But oh no for much, much worse was to befall us. The final nail in the coffin. The coup de grace to end all coup de graces. Whatever that means. It sounds a bit like cut the grass but I think I might be wrong on that one.
Yes the unthinkable happened. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke! Yes you read that right. The village shop ran out of Diet Coke. Well alright I’m exaggerating slightly when I say that. Blame it on my withdrawal symptoms. The shop didn’t exactly run out of Diet Coke, rather it ran out of the 1.75 litre twin packs (£2:50 = bargain) which I largely survive on in lieu of healthier drinks such as say lighter fluid or cod liver oil.
I drove to the next shop. They had none either. And then the next. Not a drop. I drove back home to break the sad news to Fionnuala. She took it reasonably well but I think she was just putting on a brave face for me. I’m pretty certain I saw her lower lip trembling at one point. As the Alpha Male and hunter/gatherer of the household I felt I was left with no option but to venture out again in search of sustenance. I returned to the scene of the original crime determined to use my finely tuned investigative skills to find an answer.
Alan the shopkeeper listened patiently to my impassioned pleas as I gesticulated frantically at the empty shelves where the elixir of life used to reside in plentiful supply. He nodded and smiled as the grown man in front of him whimpered and whined at the injustice of it all. He was empathetic and his active listening skills and positive body language were beyond reproach. I’m sure he has been on a ‘Challenging Customers’ course although I’m not sure there was a module on ‘Hysterical Aspartame Addicts’. If there had been he would have passed with flying colours no doubt.
‘Coca Cola have recalled the product’ he explained calmly when afforded the opportunity to respond to my tiresome tirade. ‘The packaging is being redesigned. It should be back in the shops soon enough.’ And with that he was off down the canned food aisle leaving me with a sliver of hope. We could tough this out. It wasn’t the end of the world. The United Nations would not be required to send a peace keeping force in and Donald Trump would not be tweeting about it in the morning.
We would survive and life would go on. I clutched at the lifeline that was 18 tins for £5 (even though Fionnuala complains it doesn’t taste the same) and trudged out of the shop; muttering about Coca Cola and their amateur marketing strategies. Redesigning the packaging indeed. What nonsense. The packaging wasn’t the reason I bought it in bulk. It was what was inside the bottle that mattered. That taste, that kick, the fizzy bubbles exploding on my fuzzy tongue. How vain and shallow these faceless marketing clowns were.
The second the above thought settled on my mind I was also bowled over by the hypocrisy of my thinking. For years I was obsessed with my appearance. At school I was the tubby, spotty kid. I was bullied and as for girls?! Well I don’t think I spoke to one until I was nineteen. Thankfully Fionnuala took pity on me and turned a walking, talking social pariah into an almost functioning member of the human race. Otherwise I’d still be a single Pringle failing abysmally to impress the opposite sex.
To combat this I have always sought to repackage my geeky, awkward inner psyche with all manner of disguises. Diets, gyms, tattoos (three and counting), personal trainers, Twitter wannabe z-lister, Instagram embarrassment, designer clothes, church youth leader, marathon running, terrible Taekwondo student, and now fledgling author and blogger. The list is endless. Everything aimed at covering up the fraud and failure I have always, rightly or wrongly, regarded myself as.
I was a chaotic chameleon for many years. Living a lie beneath various disguises and personas. But deep down I knew it was all a facade. You cannot repackage your heart. No matter how desperately we try we are still the same person beneath the various layers of deception we clothe ourselves in. I am still the same shy, insecure boy I was all those years ago. Clever with written words but a gibbering wreck when asked to socially interact in a room full of strangers.
I’m slowly learning to consistently be myself and live comfortably in my own skin. I want people to like me for who I am not who I think they want me to be. This has cost me a lot of friendships over the last year or so but it has also brought me closer to the people who matter. It has bolstered my flagging faith and brought me nearer to God. He knows me inside out and upside down; he created me and you like this for a reason, warts and all. We don’t need to be recalled from the shelves. No amount of redesigning ourselves can take away from who we really are.
We are spiritual beings. Our souls are ethereal and eternal. They are our very essence and when we break it down no amount of earthly transition can change that. We are who we are. There’s no need to change for anyone no matter how tempting that might be. Don’t repackage yourself for anyone or anything. For it is what’s inside that counts. Look beyond the packaged lies. Believe in who you are. You can never be taken off the shelves of life for that.
Have you repackaged your heart in the past?
How do you intend to live a life consistent with the real you?
For the seven of you out there who enjoy reading my running posts, I completed my online challenge yesterday to run 150 miles in the month of January. A day early no less but nobody likes a show off so I won’t brag about that. Oh hang on I just have. Anyways. It was an online challenge so all I have to do now is e-mail the organisers a screen shot from my Garmin app confirming the mileage and they will post me out a medal and compression top. To the victor the spoils. I had to pay £14.99 for this privilege (plus postage and packaging) but let’s not deflect from my glorious achievement here.
I’ll post a photo of them when they arrive. A photo minus me because I’m not a big fan of having my photograph taken. Plus those of a sensitive nature, with medical conditions, or eating might struggle with the sight of your truly in a compression top. It’s not a pretty sight let me assure you. I have battled low self esteem all my life and a desperate need for attention and acceptance. This, in turn, has gotten me into all sorts of trouble. I am a terrible judge of character and throughout my life have effortlessly fallen into the wrong company at the drop of a hat. In fact forget the hat, I’ll just do it anyway.
Running and writing used to be just two more tools I used to grasp the spotlight. It was all about me. The problem with being in the spotlight, though, is that you are exposed and blinded. Disoriented and unaware of what is going on around you. And in my case, inside of me. I was becoming a vain, selfish and thoroughly unlikeable person. Others could see it but not me. Or when I did during a rare moment of lucidity I didn’t care. I just shrugged my shoulders and carried on regardless. I was hopelessly hooked on the attention and forever chasing my next fix.
It was all about the next race or the next personal best. I joined a running club and had no shortage of running partners both at work and at home. I was Mr. Popularity or so I thought. My phone never stopped. My weekends were spent travelling around the country to race events instead of with Fionnuala and the kids. Then one day all that stopped. I run alone now. My phone can sit all day without anyone messaging me. And you know what? I’ve learnt to be okay with that. Because it’s no longer about me. It’s about others. It’s about YOU.
Running is now a means to an ends. I don’t run for the glory, I run because I need to. It cleanses and detoxifies me mentally. When I run I can dispose of all the negativity and unwanted junk rattling around my brain. I get most of my writing ideas when I run. Anxiety and dark, unwanted thoughts seep out of me along with the sweat from my pores. I used to use running to lose weight physically. Now I do it to unload excess mental and spiritual baggage. Running empties me and leaves me with a focus and clarity of vision which is laser sharp.
Running has taught me how to embrace and overcome pain. It has taught me patience. I prefer long distance running. My favourite race is the marathon. 26.2 miles is a daunting challenge but one thing I am not is a quitter. When I start a race or a challenge I will not stop until I have completed it. One of the few positive attributes of my obsessive nature. If I have to crawl to the finish line then I will. Defeat is simply not an option. I hate looking at myself in the mirror at the best of times but it would be doubly galling if i was looking at the face of a loser. I choose to overcome no matter what it takes.
So I will never stop. And I will never give up. And nor must you. No matter what. When I run I break every mile down into twenty sections. I run to the next bench, the next hedge, the next pothole in the road. I break a seemingly unassailable distance down into manageable bite sized chunks then count them off on my Garmin. Every 1/20th is a battle won and a step towards winning the war. I break it down in order to build myself up. I make the impossible possible. And so must YOU. I’ve written before about finding your grind. Become a pain sponge and suck it all up. Because, like me, YOU are not a quitter either.
Don’t look at the summit. Just focus on the next stretch, the next bend, the next step. Break it down and you will see the barriers fall and the milestones pass behind you. YOU are better than this. Never mind creeping death. Yours shall be a creeping glory. The enemy never feels threatened by an opponent who barely appears to be moving. He is oblivious to slow, almost imperceptible progress. His defences will fall and he will idle. And before he knows it YOU are past him and it’s game over. YOU are astride your Everest and the pain has been replaced by glory. The glory that is your story. Creeping Glory.
Take my hand and run with me ok? Together we will overcome.
What are your thoughts on this post. We would love to hear them. Please comment below and let’s get talking.
I love to listen to worship music. Stephen is a reader and a writer and I love to sing. Although I love to sing it doesn’t actually mean that I can sing and if I am really honest I couldn’t carry a note in a bucket but that doesn’t stop me. As part of the new changes to Fractured Faith Blog I want to share some of my favourite worship songs with you.
This song “What a Beautiful Name” is from Hillsong Australia and every time I listen to it I get goose bumps. It sings about the name of Jesus and tells us how powerful the name of Jesus is. No other name can break the power of darkness, no other name can save lives, no other name can heal illness or disease, no other name can break the chains of depression or addiction. Wow what other name can do that what a beautiful name indeed.
Thank you Jesus ♥️
Would love to know your thoughts.
Going waaaaay back some of you might remember a post I wrote called ‘Maggie’s Story’ (not her real name) about a young, homeless girl I befriended in Belfast last year. If not, you might want to check it out before reading on as it provides context for today’s post https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/06/29/maggies-story/
I hadn’t spoken to ‘Maggie’ in some weeks but wasn’t particularly concerned. As is the nature of life on the streets she lived an unpredictable and chaotic existence. Some weeks she would be everywhere I looked whereas at other times she would literally vanish into thin air. I would never ask her where she had been. That was none of my business. She told me what she wanted to tell me.
I was always relieved, however, to see her after such absences. Yesterday was no exception. I was walking across the city centre from the office to the train station. My normal route involves cutting through a shopping centre (mall) which brings you out onto the most eclectic of squares where modern cocktail bars and restaurants sit alongside centuries old chapels and more traditional watering holes.
The square itself is approached from all sides by a series of cobbled, twisted alleyways where you often find city street dwellers. And it was here that I discovered Maggie sitting shivering beneath a worryingly thin blanket. She was as pale as an anaemic ghost, entombed in her regulation street uniform of hoodie and tracksuit bottoms. She looked cold and miserable but her blue eyes were startlingly clear. I knew immediately that she wasn’t using. I can always tell by her eyes.
When she saw me, those eyes lit up and her face broke out into a smile. A smile which made my day. ‘Where have you been?’ she enquired, totally oblivious to the fact that I walked this route every day and she was the one who had been missing in action. We engaged in conversation for a few moments, the details of which are irrelevant to this post. Needless to say her January had been a tough one. But she was alive and clean for which I was grateful.
As I crouched beside her I became aware of a young woman kneeling beside me. It was her flaming, red hair that first caught my eye. She started to talk to ‘Maggie’, her face etched with concern and worry. She told us that she had only recently moved to Northern Ireland from the United States and had lived on the streets in Los Angeles as a teenager. She then did the most remarkable of things, removing her coat and handing it to ‘Maggie’. ‘You’re freezing and you need this more than me’ she explained.
I don’t know who was more shocked, ‘Maggie’ or myself but there then followed a bizarre reverse tug of war between the two girls. ‘Maggie’ is fiercely proud when lucid and very reluctant to accept charity. She will never say no to a hot cup of tea and I have also persuaded her, after much effort on my part, to allow me to buy her food and cigarettes. ‘But only the cheapest brand. You do enough for me as it is’ she would holler after me as I entered the shop.
In all the time I have known her, however, I have never once considered giving her an item of my clothing. I was instantly shamed and humbled by this staggering act of kindness. The American girl, let’s call her ‘Abby’, looked cold herself and I could almost count the goosebumps popping up on her pale arms as she struggled to get ‘Maggie’ to accept her coat. Belfast is hardly Sunset Boulevard in deepest January I reflected, cosy in my heavy coat, cap, scarf and gloves. Yet here she was offering up her coat to a complete stranger who she knew needed it more than her.
The tug of war continued and I assisted where I could in translating West Belfast slang with Southern California drawl as best I could. They were both speaking English but struggling to understand each other. In the end ‘Maggie’ triumphed (she normally does) although she allowed ‘Abby’ to buy a cup of tea for her. I thanked the American girl afterwards and we talked a little as I filled her in as to what I knew about ‘Maggie’.
She screamed ‘Young Christian’ in her language, actions and dare I say it appearance. She looked as if she had just walked off the set of a Bethel worship music video. I’m not sure how but our brief conversation led to her asking what place of worship I attended. ‘I’m kind of between churches’ I mumbled, a bit embarrassed to admit as much to such a paragon of virtue. ‘What about you?’ I replied, bracing myself for a Christian CV as long as your arm. No doubt the daughter of a pastor, worship leader aged ten and veteran of countless global missions and city soup kitchens.
‘Oh I’m an atheist’ she cheerfully replied before saying her farewells and veering off into a nearby cafe in search of ‘Maggie’s’ tea. I stood there, my jaw scraping off the ground, in stunned silence. Here was a non-Christian performing perhaps the most ‘Christian’ act I had ever witnessed. A modern day Good Samaritan. In the space of five minutes she had shown more love and compassion than I had seen many devoted church goers display in five years.
Christianity is just a word, a tag, a label. It means nothing really. It is actions that make the person, not memorising Bible verses or rolling up to church every Sunday. The word ‘Christian’ was nothing more than a nickname given to the first followers of Jesus by the Romans. It was intended as derogatory, mocking term. The early followers referred to themselves as ‘The Way’. The three year ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus paved the way for the early church to explode onto the global scene and bring the mightiest civilisation known to man to its knees within a few centuries.
Atheist, Agnostic, Christian at the end of the day it doesn’t matter. They are nothing but labels. What defines us is love. Do we love those around us? Not just our family or friends but also those on the fringes of society? We need to radically rethink the ingrained stereotypes and prejudices which colour our view of the world. We need to stop judging others and shoving them into neat little compartments which tally with our outlook life. We need to value and include the ‘Maggie’s’ and ‘Abby’s’ of our lives. We need to love the homeless and the atheists (but we also need to love like the homeless and the atheists. Actually love as opposed to just talking about it.
Who are you going to love today?
I love lists. I am a listophiliac. I’m sure this is not the correct terminology for a lover of lists; no doubt one of you good WordPress people will forward me the correct word. Or even better a list of such words. My love of lists is born out of fear; a fear of forgetting important information and appointments due to my appalling memory. It keeps letting me down and I keep letting people down. Which I hate. So I compile lists, which I love.
Lists of things to do. Lists of places to be. Lists of people to talk to. My lust for lists knows no bounds. I maintain a list of all my son’s rugby results. I keep lists of all my training runs. Including pace, elevation and calories burnt no less. And I have started a list of Netflix shows that Fionnuala and I intend to watch this year. We’ve just finished Manhunt:Unabomber by the way which was excellent. Just thought I’d share that with you all. You’re welcome.
I’ve started reminding Fionnuala of upcoming events, a previously unheard of phenomenon. This pleases me no end but probably just adds to her (ahem) list of annoying features about her husband. There is nothing more satisfying than scoring a completed task off a list. My future is scheduled and organised. I know what I have to do every day both inside and outside of work. I have become a more effective and efficient member of society as a result. I hope it has made me a better husband and father. God loves a trier and I am trying. Very trying at times.
None of us know what the future holds but at least with lists we can be better prepared. It’s akin to a gladiator entering the arena without his shield or his net. I’ve never quite worked out the whole gladiator net thing. If I was about to face my almost certain horrific death in front of a baying, bloodthirsty crowd my ‘go to’ weapon would in all likelihood not be a net. Nets are for fishing. Swords and axes are for fighting. Or at the very least a decent spear. But anyway what do I know. Stevius Blackius I am most certainly not.
On my command unleash lists. Did you see what I did there movie fans? My problem is I also keep lists of past events as well as future ones. Lists of people who have offended me, lists of past transgressions, lists of events which remind me of what an abject human being I am. Lists of shame and blame. Lists about lists. Lists which bog me down and tangle me up as opposed to bring structure and focus. Lists are like ladders. They can carry you to the summit of where you need to be but miss a rung and you come clattering back to earth with an almighty thump.
My lists from the past are like that rickety old ladder. They cannot be trusted and often leave me battered and bruised, sitting on my backside staring up at the sky. They are negative and self-defeating. They needed crumpled up and chucked in the garbage heap. They chain me down from where I need to be. The present. For it is the passport to our better futures. Unless we deal with what is around us now we will never unlock the doorway to tomorrow. It’s not called the present for nothing. It is a gift, a blessing. Just sitting patiently in front of us waiting to be unwrapped.
We need to maintain a presence in our present. We need to look up from our personal organisers and diaries and take stock of the here and now. Just for one second resist the lure of the list. Desist and consider your immediate surroundings. Now what do you see? A friend or work colleague who is struggling and in need of a helping hand. A relative out on their feet through sickness or exhaustion who needs you to be with them. Instead of sitting with your nose buried in a list, plotting your future or ruminating over the past.
Yes, lists can be a saving grace but you really should be saving your grace for today. Right now. Lists are a double edged sword that can inflict paper cuts to our current relationships. They can suck you out of your present where you are needed into a past where you no longer belong. You are prolonging unwanted and unnecessary pain. A past that needs to be buried once and for all. Not exhumed and picked over like the rotting, decaying corpse that it is. There is a reason the past is the past. In fact there are many. We need to remember that. Write them down if necessary. Even if that involves starting another list.
Are you a list maker? Are they a help or a hindrance to you?
What do you like or dislike about AFracturedFaith? Send us a list. We are always seeking to improve and your comments are always welcome.
When I wonder I blunder. My dreams are ripped asunder and I’m dragged six feet under. Kicking and screaming, no longer dreaming. I was a dope to have hoped but now I am choked by the lies and the guilt and the shame. You see, I’m to blame. For the pain and the words flung at me today. The shrapnel of my past still torments me as it chafes and it grates underneath the old scar tissue. Remnants of my past exploding in my present.
Should I wilt beneath the guilt? Raise the white flag? Throw in the towel? Be defined and refined by emotions and oceans of glaring despair. I’m adrift and I’m sick of this shift in my thinking. It’s stinking so unblinking I face down my fears and I ignore the sneers. For I’m better than this. I will not allow this to happen. I will not become a casualty of my own doing. A living, walking, breathing suicide. My life does not end here. There is hope beneath the veneer. Death to death. I’ll reinvent.
Jesus arose from the depths of hell for a reason. He cast aside the shroud and the angels sang aloud ‘Hallelujah. Sin is no more.’ He settled my score. And yours and yours and yours as well. It is finished. Beyond diminished. Over and done. My disgrace obliterated by His face. His face. Beaten beyond recognition by Roman thugs not fit to kiss his feet. He took it all. For me. Broken, useless, abject me. I deserve nothing and yet here I am with everything. Yet still I wallow.
No more. It’s time to transcend the pain. I will not allow myself to become a casualty of unseen wars. I was everything that you had allowed me to become. Well, not today. Not now, not never. Like Moses and David, like Peter and Paul. I’ll not be choked by the gall of those days of deceit and despair. I was dazed by the glare of false idols who sidled alongside me. Promising me the world yet delivering nothing but fire and death. Well no more. I’ve been reborn and reformed. Transformed.
The fiercest enemy I ever fought was myself. He left me bereft. Your closest friend can become the deadliest of foes. I was that foe for I knew every chink, every weakness in my armour. I knew when to parry, when to counter and when to lunge. To plunge the blade deep and true, striking home and drawing blood. Sucking the hope from my very marrow. Watching the life ebb away as I looked down upon my own corpse and dropped the now redundant blade into a pool of my own bloody doing.
Well no more. I’ll rise from the depths which have swept me away like a shipwrecked wretch. I’ll stretch and reach and teach myself new ways. Better ways. I’ll pluck out the shrapnel and no longer grapple with screaming demons who without reason defile this new season. Intrusive thoughts can rot and burn for I have turned and now I spurn that way. I’ll learn a new way. A way that quashes the affliction of addiction. I’ll leer at fear and grope for the hope that the Cross offered up. The dirtiest and vilest of deaths. The backdrop to the most glorious of days.
So I’ll wonder no more. Wash away the filth and the blood of your past. Wash away the filth and the blood of Golgotha. The place of skulls. That most beautiful of graveyards. For my past was nailed to the wood as sure as his flesh and bones were. I’m walking down the hill away from the carnage of Cavalry. Never forgetting but never looking back. Striding forwards towards the city. A new creation fuelled by elation. You will not win, you cannot win. I will survive and I will thrive. My past is in tatters, it’s the present that matters.
Sometimes you need to bite your lip. For the greater good. Today is one of those days. I’ve been worrying about today all week. Anxiety has been tapping on my chest like the first drops of rain tapping against a window, harbingers of the coming storm. For me that storm is avoidable today. But I will need to bite my lip. A lot.
Fionnuala won’t be with me today as she is away visiting her aunt and uncle in Dublin. I will be on my own. I feel exposed and inadequate but this is something I need to do, something I have to get through. Somehow. There is a bigger picture here, a longer game to be played. Today is only a skirmish. There are many more important battles after today. So I have to bite my lip.
I am passionate. I shoot my mouth off at times because I care. The old me didn’t really care about anything other than himself. I would trample over the needs of my nearest and dearest on a regular basis. Caring too little was my downfall. Today it could be because I care too much. Is that a sign of progress? Of a deepening maturity? Or is it merely a different side of the same coin?
I need to bite my lip until it hurts. Until I draw blood if necessary. Taste it, savour it, lick it from my dry lips but not a word, Stephen, not a word. Surround your thoughts and impulses with wisdom and patience today. I hate it, I hate it. I want to say it as I see it. I want to rant and rave at the injustice of it all. I want to kick and punch and scream until I’m blue in the face. But to do so would be selfish. And that boat has sailed. I’m different now.
So I’ll bite my lip. I will embrace the pain for the pain is my anchor. It will steady and focus me as events unfold. I’ll be the eye of the storm. I will smile and nod in all the right places and keep my thoughts to myself. I will not let the side down for if I do I might not be in the side come next time. It will hurt but that is nothing compared to the hurt and repercussions of speaking out today.
The truth will not be heard today. I will tuck it away for another time. It can wait. The weight of waiting increases my anxiety. The pitter patter on my window increases. And before you know it these isolated drops of anxiety have transformed into dark, unrelenting sheets of depression. I know the signs. I’ve been battered by this storm many times before. But not today. For today I’ll bite my lip.
The truth will set you free I’m told. Well that is true but today freeing the truth would be akin to unleashing a brontosaurus in a fine china boutique. So the truth must remain unspoken and in shackles. The truth is a double edged sword. It can be liberating but you have to pick your moment. Timing is everything. Today is not the time. So I’ll bite my lip and grimace through what needs to be grimaced through. That is what I must do.
Biting ones lip is often regarded as a seductive act. But today I cannot be seduced by the satisfaction of revenge and retribution. That would be too easy. I need to rise above it and survey the battlefield below. I want to be on that battlefield. I want to charge headlong into the enemy; screaming and slashing. Killing in the name of. Until they are no more and I am breathless and sated. Exhausted but exhilarated.
Revenge is so satisfying, it slides down your throat as smoothly as ice cream on a scorching summers day. But today I will feel as if I am swallowing razor blades as each pointless platitude is proffered. It will be the smallest of small talk but needs must and I need to muster the strength to get through this ordeal. Or deal with the consequences at my leisure. Today will be a hard day. My eyes will blaze and my heart will burn with white hot fury. But I’ll bite my lip. Because I’m better than them.
Have you ever had to bite your lip and say nothing for the greater good?
How did it feel? Was it worth it? Please comment below and share your experiences.
A shorter blog today you will all be glad to hear. They say that in order to improve as a writer you should read, read and then read some more. So today I’m going to follow that advice. I want to read your posts. I want to find out more about you and, in doing so, learn from you. I’m putting my feet up and taking the day off.
If you have any current or archived posts that you would like me to read and/or comment upon then let me know and I will. Have you had a good day? A rubbish day? Has one of our posts reminded you of something we wrote about once in the past? Do you need feedback? Advice? Prayers? Or just a little golden star to brighten up your timeline. If so, then comment below.
Lazy Stephen 🙂
Many moons ago Fionnuala and I got married. One morning shortly before the big day I woke up with a crick in my neck. I thought little of it, assuming I had slept in an awkward position. But it continued to ache and niggle in the coming days despite how much I stretched and manipulated it. I swallowed paracetamol but might as well have been taking M&M’s for all the good they did. Come our wedding day the crick was still there.
And so it was. Fionnuala married a pain in the neck….with a pain in the neck.
Have you ever cracked your neck? There are few more satisfying sensations in the known universe. Over the coming weeks and months I developed my neck cracking technique down to a fine art but to no avail. The pain persisted and months became years. I learned to cope with the pain. It was rarely agony, more annoying. It just became part of the ‘Being Stephen’ experience. OCD? Check. Binge drinking? Check. Always complaining about his sore neck but never doing anything about it? Yup that’s me.
On the grand scale of all things pain it was fairly low down the scale. It wasn’t chronic, debilitating or life changing. But it was my pain and therefore it was important to me. I lived with it, I knew it inside out and I bored anyone stupid enough to ask me about it to within an inch of their lives. You’ve heard of Becky with the good hair. I became Stephen with the sore neck. It defined me. Until it wasn’t there any more. One day it was gone just like that. Without any explanation. Those of you thinking it was all in my head are free to stop reading any time now.
Until this week. The pain is back. In exactly the same place. I’m popping and cracking like cray cray again. Fionnuala is delighted. I made that last sentence up. Go and see a doctor? Don’t be so ridiculous. What would I write about then. I have a sore neck and you are all just going to have to get used to that. Until it decides to go away again. Anybody with a sore neck feel free to enter into lengthy correspondence with me. For I get what you’re going through. We can set up an online support group. Perhaps get some counselling. For I know your pain.
I know your pain.
We hear that phrase a lot. It’s misleading of course. Everybody’s pain is individual and unique to them. I cannot fully understand your pain just like I cannot fully understand what it is like to be a pterodactyl. Although I’m fairly certain that would be a pretty cool experience swooping from cliff tops and all that. But anyway I digress. Back to the pain thang. I cannot fully relate to another person’s neck pain but I’m probably more qualified to do so than most. I don’t know what you are going through but I can empathise. Which is part of the reason this blog was started. I want to be your pain killer. Or at the very least your pain partner.
I’m a screw up, a walking disaster, a deeply flawed and feeble individual. I’ve spent most of my life making poor choices and inflicting pain on myself and others. But no more. This blog arose like a phoenix from the ashes of my messed up life. It was forged in my pain. I know that sounds a bit dramatic there but bear with me. I know what it’s like to mess up. Repeatedly. It has been largely self inflicted and I’ve learnt the hard way but I’m confident it was a reason. It was part of my apprenticeship, my on the job training. I was being prepared for this. I see that now. There was hope in my hopelessness.
The world needs more messed up people. People honest enough to stand up and be counted. People who are willing to expose their own inadequacies in order to help others in similar situations. People who don’t hide behind fake smiles and ‘I’m fine’ platitudes. I’m not fine but I’m fine with that. And I’m fine with helping others in any way that I can even if it’s just to let them know that they’re not alone. Pain can be restricting. Just watch me try to turn my head 45 degrees if you want proof of that. But it can also be liberating.
Pain can lead to freedom. It creates character, self awareness and fortitude. It opens doors to new experiences and new relationships. It strips back the layers of pride and selfishness and allows you to excavate your true personality. It allows you to discover who you are meant to be. It is revelatory and revolutionary. If it wasn’t for the pain of my past I wouldn’t be writing these words today. And you wouldn’t be reading them. We would never have known each other existed. And connecting with you is worth all the pain in the world.
I’m messed up and proud. Who’s with me?
I got asked the other day by a fellow blogger how AFracturedFaith had grown so much in such a comparatively short period of time. The blog was only launched in May 2017 and we have been heartened by its growth since. We don’t define success by the number of followers or likes we receive but it is a not unpleasant by product of the blog getting its message across. People seem to like what we do and for that we are very grateful.
We would love to see this growth continue into 2018. We want to grow bigger but also deeper. We want to connect with fellow bloggers in a meaningful, substantive way. We view you all as real people and not just numbers. You have real lives, real problems, real hopes and dreams. We want to help you achieve everything you were put on this planet to accomplish. We are all on a journey. Some of you are flying at present, others are limping along or at a complete standstill. Wherever you are we are with you.
We have ideas for developing and expanding the blog and its associated social media platforms. At present these are just ideas that Fionnuala and I are discussing but we hope that at least some of these will come to fruition as the year progresses. I want to grow as a writer and hope that one day it will provide an income that will, at the very least, allow me to scale down the 9-5 slog. It is a dream at present but dreams have a habit of becoming reality if properly nurtured. We cannot do this without your input, however. We need your prayers, well wishes, positive vibes whatever you want to call them. But we also need your feedback.
What do you like about the blog in respect of content and format? What would you like to read more about? Or what do you want me to stop droning on about? Am I too angry, silly, serious? Is there anything regarding the blog’s layout or structure that can be tweaked or improved upon? Do we engage enough with you? Would you like to collaborate with us on projects? Where else would you like to see our product? Would you like to engage in deeper, one to one discussions regarding thoughts and projects. Prayer or study groups? Hear more from other family members? Can we pray for you more, talk to you more, help you more?
A lot of questions there and normal blogging service will be resumed with the next post. But for now it’s over to you. The ball is in your court. Don’t hold back. Don’t be shy. If you have never commented before then please do now. I promise not to cry.
Please comment below. Thank you.
Yesterday epitomised Northern Ireland winter time at its finest. It was wet, cold, windy and grey. Come to think of it that fairly accurately epitomises Northern Ireland spring time as well. And summer. And autumn. Anyway it was miserable. I stared forlornly out of the window with a hangdog expression, willing the clouds to clear and the sun to emerge. But to no avail. This caused a problem for me. As yesterday was my scheduled weekly long run.
Fionnuala had suggested I do it the day before but why listen to a woman who is right 99.99% of the time and is obsessed with all things meteorological. That would be waaaaaay too sensible. Instead I clung to the hope that that the weather forecasters were all wrong and I would awake to blue skies and perfect running conditions. Instead I awoke to the sound of rain battering relentlessly against our bedroom window.
I hate running in the rain. Besides the whole unavoidable ‘getting wet’ business I also wear glasses; to run without them would be verging on suicidal. I would either end up face down in a ditch or careering blindly into oncoming traffic. Contact lenses are no good either. The slightest speck of dust blown into them and we are referring back to the aforementioned ditch or oncoming traffic scenarios. Either way I end up as fluorescent orange roadkill….in Nike running shoes.
I have yet to come across glasses equipped with windscreen wipers. I just know that one of you good WordPress people will now prove me wrong and inform us all that Archimedes or Galileo actually had blueprints for these many centuries ago. Show offs that they were. If they did then this invention has yet to reach my optometrist. Which is a shame as I would have been the first in the bespectacled queue to purchase such an innovation. In my mind this would be up there with man discovering fire or designing the first wheel. Were cavemen not short sighted like the rest of us?
By early afternoon I had no option but to put my running gear on and brave the stormy conditions. Within half a mile I was drenched and simultaneously attempting to dry my glasses in order to see where I was going. I was virtually brought to a standstill by a wind that seemed to blow in my face no matter what direction I was heading. Parts of the route resembled a steeplechase course as I navigated gargantuan puddles and hurdled fallen branches. I reckon that I spent at least 0.683 of the 12 mile route in mid air like a startled gazelle in lycra. Not a pretty sight let me assure you.
Normally at some point during a long run you find your rhythm and the endorphins kick in. You start to enjoy the running experience and the worries of your world are left far behind. You think good thoughts and make grand plans. This was not the case yesterday. I spent most of the run having imaginary mental arguments with various people and plotting their downfall. I prayed, as ever, but not for world peace and harmony. Instead I pleaded with God to remove the dull ache in my thighs and forget about the squelchy, swampy sensation in my Nikes. But I’m a stubborn soul and refused to admit defeat despite every fibre of my being screaming at me to stop.
And you know what? I did it. One mile became two, became seven. And before you knew it I was gritting my teeth and ploughing through the final mile. 12 miles in total. Bringing my total for the month to 110. Only 40 more to go to reach my January challenge target. Which is again just a small part of my overall winter training programme. The overall target? More marathons later in the year all being well. Somebody once said that the marathon itself is just the victory lap of the process. The real hard work is the months of thankless, grinding training runs at ungodly hours and in horrendous weather. That’s where you win the medal.
You might be experiencing the grind today. At work, at home, in the supermarket, on the school run. The grind is chafing and tedious. But it is here where we are transformed. Everest was scaled one step at a time. We all have dreams and goals but we only attain them via knuckling down and getting on with it. It is uncomfortable and uncompromising; but while it drains our resolve it also builds our character. And one day it will all be worthwhile. Be it crossing a finish line, watching your child graduate or celebrating that 50th wedding anniversary.
Find the grind. For there you find yourself.
What is your grind?
Where do you hope your grind will eventually lead you?
You never fully conquer OCD. It is a wily and resourceful enemy. It will choose not to face you on the open battlefield where the massed ranks of your respective armies can clash in combat in an honourable fight to the death. OCD is not interested in such forms of conflict. It will not look you in the eye and engage you in this manner. Such finite battles mean little to it for it is focused on the long game. It fights a war of attrition, a guerilla war. A war without end.
You can bombard it with medication and therapy and it will simply vanish into the shadows like the last wisps of mist on a crisp summer morning. You can unleash your finest cavalry regiments to hunt it down but to no avail; it will be as futile as trying to sweep up leaves on a blustery autumnal morning. OCD is the Scarlet Pimpernel of mental illness. It can lie dormant for a seeming eternity lulling you into a false sense of security before swooping to strike when you least expect it. It has a calculated cunning.
OCD is a slim rapier blade as opposed to a broadsword. It does not hack and bludgeon you into submission yet it is just as deadly at its murderous craft. It probes and pokes at your defences, infinitely patient, waiting for the moment when it spies a chink in your armour. Then, and only then, will it will lunge forward forcing its blade beyond the gap in your armour and striking home. Piercing skin and muscle, driving deep inside; causing untold internal damage which is invisible to all but it’s victim. When it withdraws its blade again the damage is done and it stands back to admire its handiwork. It’s blade slick with your dark, sticky blood.
OCD is the skilled sniper who penetrates your present from a mile away with a single bullet to the head. OCD is the silent assassin who sneaks unseen into your bedroom at night to hammer a dagger through your heart while it covers your mouth with its other hand so no one can hear your dying scream. OCD is the enemy who plants the land mine unbeknownst to you on the path you are travelling. One moment all is well and you are striding ahead with purpose. The next you hear the eerie click a micro second before your life is blown sky high.
OCD is the shrapnel that remains with you many years after you believe the war is over. It is the wound that aches and chafes, a constant reminder of its potential and its presence. For days, weeks, months it is nothing more than a dull ache, a nagging inconvenience that you somehow manage to live with. You cope, you manage, you survive. There is nothing else to do. But when it rears its head like a dormant dragon and breathes fire you are blown away by its power and penetration. It sears you to the bone with its white hot malice.
OCD is not interested in occupation. It will retreat and allow you the higher ground. It is the master strategist and its patience is boundless. It’s armies never tire but will launch wave after wave of assaults on your ravaged defences. It will grind you down into the dirt, it will crush your spirit as it will crush your bones. It will never stop, it will never give up. It is immovable, irresistible, unstoppable. It thrives on the counter attack. It’s fury is unrivalled. And when it comes it takes no prisoners. For war is hell and it is the devil come to take you for its own.
OCD is not interested in truces or white flags. It sneers at diplomacy and tact. It engages in total war and will not be satisfied until it has razed your world to the ground. It desires your total destruction and nothing less. There will be no prisoners, no negotiations and no backing down. It is a fight to the death. Your death. Olive branches will be tossed into the flames of what once was to burn with everything else you once held dear. It is a brutal, uncompromising siege that will never be lifted until your world lies all around you, broken and in ruins.
It can not be beaten. At best it can be driven back beyond your borders. And even then you must never lower your guard because it will prowl your perimeters like a ravenous lion waiting, watching. All it takes is one seemingly innocuous thought to drift lazily over your towering walls and settle at your feet. It can be anything and it can be nothing. But in that split second you realise it is too late. You raise your shield and dive for cover but it is too late. For the thought has exploded into a million fragments which riddle you from head to toe with intrusive thoughts and the irrational, destructive cycle of compulsive carnage begins again. A merry go round of mayhem, your life on hold again.
Trapped beneath the ice, your screams unheard and frozen in time. OCD is all of this and more. I am OCD and OCD is me. I must never lower my defences. Never. And so I write and I pray and I hope. This foe is forever.
What is your knowledge of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder? Are you a sufferer or have you never heard of it before?
Please comment below and let us know your thoughts on this post?
I am many things. I am a father, a husband, a son and a brother. I tackle all of these responsibilities with varying degrees of success. I am an exceedingly average distance runner and wannabe blogger and author. I like so see myself as a good friend but all the good and not so good friends I have lost down the years may beg to differ. I am good at a few things but not so good at a lot more things.
I’m a mass of contradictions, a warren of dead ends, a mansion house full of locked doors and dusty attics. We all are really. We excel at some pursuits and are repelled by others. I am many things. But there is one thing I am not. I am not a rapper. I am a 47 year old, married father of three living in rural Northern Ireland with a reasonably important job and an equally reasonable mortgage. On the surface I am the epitomy of respectability. But I wanna be a rapper….
This drives Fionnuala insane of course. When it comes to pet hates of mine, she has many. She could probably write several dozen blogs on the subject but, thankfully, chooses not to. I break out into an embarrassing mish mash of shape throwing and guttural grunts at the slightest opportunity. I drop the mic (usually on my big toe) and spit out lyrics so toe curlingly bad that Tupac must be turning in his grave.
South Central Aghalee is my crib. This consists of quiet residential housing and sleepy farmland. The nearest we get to excitement is when a passing tractor backfires. There was once an attempted robbery at the village shop but the wannabe gang banger ran off empty handed when the owner hurdled the counter and threw a charity collection box at him. We prefer hot tea to Ice-T and M&M’s to Eminem.
The kids are mortified when I break out a la NWA. They want me straight outta the room as opposed to Straight Outta Compton. I have three stock phrases that I periodically repeat over any backing track I care to follow. These are ‘Yeh’ ‘C’mon’ and ‘Awhhh’; all delivered in the poorest of American rapper accents. I gesticulate wildly while doing so, flailing my arms like an out of control windmill in a hurricane. My audience don’t know where to look. You could hear a penny drop. I live in Awkwardsville – Population Me.
I know I’m an embarrassment to my wife and kids but I hope that I’m an entertaining embarrassment. Amidst the eye rolling and pleas to stop there is also the occasional poorly concealed smirk. I have a propensity for melancholy so it’s important that I allow my silly side to emerge now and again. I’ve been the architect of many bad memories down the years so I am relieved when I can lay down funnier foundations. I am using my comedic wrecking ball to smash through the walls of pain and disappointment that have hemmed me in for most of my life.
Silliness is an escape valve that releases the pressures of everyday life which constantly build up inside of us. I was once told I have a dry wit but often that is not enough. You need to throw yourself off the cliffs of conformity and immerse yourself fully beneath the waters of humour and irreverence. There is freedom in fun and farce. I don’t do it enough. They say writers thrive on anguish and despair but if it’s that all I have to feed on then I fear my art will be starved and ultimately snuffed out.
So I will continue to hip and hop and annoy….a lot. I will revel in my rhyming and off beat timing. My raps will be crap and I ain’t all that. But at least our hatchlings will grow up and look back fondly on years of daft antics. I might only be papering over the cracks but at least I’m trying. It’s never too late to start afresh and do your best to make amends. Bad memories can never be erased but if the good ones outnumber them then they lose some of their sting.
I’m trying. My rapping is very trying. But God loves a trier. For now that’s all I can do.
What are your embarrassing ‘talents’?
Melancholy v Mirth? How do you balance them?
I get angry with God sometimes. Quite a lot if I’m honest. I sometimes try and convince myself that there is no God. Because then life would be a whole less complicated. And I would be a whole less angry. Which would declutter my mind and leave space for other emotions to take root. More positive emotions. Happiness for example. Or at least less unhappy. Is less unhappy even an emotion?
I have struggled with OCD for a large part of my life. It seeps into many areas of my existence but one it has never trespassed upon is my belief in a God. Sometimes I wish it would. That the voice in my head would tell me there is no God like it used to tell me all other sorts of nonsense on a daily basis. And instead of wrestling with this intrusive thought for days on end I would just shrug my shoulders and say ‘You know what OCD? I’m going to give you this one. You’re right. There is no God.’
It never did though. That’s the thing about OCD. It doesn’t exist to make your life easier. Shame that. Atheism leaves even more unanswered questions than believing does. And if I’m an angry Christian I dread to think what sort of atheist I would be. The Hulk? So I’m left with God and his all-powerful, all-knowing existence. And all the parts of the Bible that frustrate me and I don’t understand. I like to understand. I suppose it’s the OCD again. I need certainty and fact. Doubt is a killer for me. I will ask the same question over and over again until I get a rock solid, definitive answer. All this faith and ‘handing it over to God’ malarkey drives me nuts.
Trust God and he will protect you. Okaaaaay. But when? And where? And how? And a million other questions. Why does he have to be so mysterious and shadowy when going about his business. Why can’t I have a road to Damascus experience like Paul? All these people that boldly stand up in church and proclaim that ‘God spoke to me clearly this morning’. Why can’t that be me? Do you think they might be making stuff up? People lying in church???! Whatever next!
I know all the theological arguments. I read. A lot. So no comments please about free will or original sin or final judgement because I understand all that. But that doesn’t stop me feeling less cranky now. Because bad things are happening to good people at a lickety split rate. Our countries are still governed by imbeciles, babies are still dying from cancer and planes are still going down in the oceans. Why? Why? Why?
I pray and I pray and I pray yet my son still gets bullied at school. I pray and I pray and I pray yet my daughter still can’t walk. I pray and I pray and I pray and evil people still get away with murder and openly gloat in my face. Then I go to church and lots of happy, smiley faces tell me that life is wonderful and God is good. Something doesn’t add up here. Am I the odd one out here? Am I even a Christian? Do I want to be a Christian if this is what it boils down to? Turning the other cheek. Smiling through the insanity of life.
I wish I had their faith. I’ve tried to be that smiling, robotic face on a Sunday morning. But I can’t do it and nor can Fionnuala. She is many things but most certainly not a Stepford Church Wife. We always feel the odd ones out, the outsiders, the black sheep of the church family. I know our surname is Black but that’s just plain ridiculous. What are we missing out on? What part of the Christian life is not clicking with me? Why am I angry with God? Why do I ask so many question? Oh hang on that’s another question! Gahhhhhhh!
For all it’s infuriating sections the Bible has given me what I have needed of late to placate my frustration and anger – rubbish role models and hopeless heroes. Some of the angriest and most useless men in the history of the world. Job, Moses, David, Gideon, Samson, Peter, Paul. I could go on. And when I read their stories (I’m ploughing through the laugh-a-minute-a-thon that is Job presently) I see a glimmer of hope. Washed up nobodies at various points of their lives that God used to rewrite history. The world we live in today was shaped by anger and disillusionment just as much as it was shaped by Bethel music videos and stadium mega churches.
They were driven by anger and despair. All their lives. David lost a son. Job lost ten children. Moses lost the privilege and power of Egypt. Paul lost everything, including his head in the end. Some of the angriest, most bitter men you could hope to meet. The common denominator? God allowed them to be angry. He allowed them to rant and sulk and shake their fists at the heavens. He allowed them to bombard him with questions and let off steam. He could have struck them down mid tirade with fire from heaven but he didn’t.
He allowed them to get it out of their system. Without that many of the Psalms wouldn’t have been written. Job? Ecclesiastes? Lamentations? Forget about it. The Bible would have been a much slimmer read. God allowed anger because it’s part of the communication process. Anger can be healthy. It’s when you bottle it all up that it starts to fester and pollute your thoughts and actions. God doesn’t expect us to be happy, smiley drones 24/7 and pretend life is wonderful. Because *newsflash* it’s not.
So I’m heartened and somewhat reassured. I’ll never work God out. But I need him because otherwise what’s the point? I get angry and fed up with life whilst accepting that there is a God. Think how much more bleak and desolate the world would look if I didn’t believe. I’m an angry Christian. I’d be a much angrier atheist. He’s all I’ve got so I’ll rant and I’ll sulk but above all else I’ll hope. That when I get it all out of my system there are better times ahead. I’ll hope and I’ll pray. It’s all I’ve got.
Do you get angry with God? Or are you an angry atheist?
Can anger be healthy and productive?
There are people I avoid on the train. I always see them before they see me. I turn the other way. I pull my cap down over my face. I hurry along and hold my breath dreading my name being called out or a hand on my shoulder. Pulling me back to a place I don’t want to recall, to a place I have battled to escape and have no intention of returning to.
There are people I avoid on the train. Note I say people as opposed to person. Plural as opposed to singular. For when you add them up there are quite a few. In fact they seem to be everywhere. My daily commute is a minefield of potentially awkward and embarrassing encounters that I have no desire to resurrect. So I skulk and scurry. I dodge and duke. Catch me if you can cos I’m too quick and I’m too clever for you all. Aren’t I?
There are people I avoid on the train. I sometimes wonder what they would say to me if we spoke. Would it be inane small talk about the kids or the weather? Or would they cut to the chase and go straight for the jugular. Why? How? Where? When? Would there be polite chit chat or raised voices and recriminations? Would they offer a hand of reconciliation? Would it be a hot tongue or a cold shoulder? Good job I’m the Scarlet Pimpernel of public transport, right?
There are people I avoid on the train. But I can’t avoid them in my dreams. They visit them occasionally where I am forced to face the inevitable. You can’t run away in your dreams. Well you can and I’ve tried but you never seem to get very far. They always seem to catch up or be waiting for you just around the corner. Like Freddy Krueger. And their accusations cut just as deep as old Freddy’s claws. Last night they accused me of jealousy. But on another night it could be something else. Either way I can never get back to sleep. Wide awake. Thinking.
There are people I avoid on the train. I’m getting rather good at it. And then it hits me. Are they avoiding me? Are they seeing me a split second before I see them? Are they the one taking evasive action and diving for cover? I always thought they would want to talk, to engage, to build bridges and tear down barriers. Because it’s all about me and the hurt they have caused me. It’s all their fault and I’m the victim. I’ve done nothing wrong and I should be standing tall and proud beyond reproach. And yet I skulk through the carriages like a thief in the night.
There are people I avoid on the train. Or am I avoiding myself? Am I avoiding the inevitable? Is this a cowardly act or a necessary one of self preservation? I mean no offence with this self defence. I need to hide away in my fortress and pull up the drawbridge. It’s either that or be utterly exposed to the searing truth. The truth that burns away all the excuses and lies, that reveals me for who I really am. A broken man picking up the pieces the best way that he can. Broken yet functioning. Clinging on thanks to the grace of a God I don’t deserve.
There are people I avoid on the train. I’ll keep avoiding them. It’s best that way, But I can’t avoid God no matter how hard I try. He can be annoyingly persistent. He even bugs atheists and agnostics. He will nag and niggle with that small, still voice of his. A message here and a sign there. Chipping away at my scorched, scarred heart to reveal fresh, living tissue beneath. A new heart for a new man. Pumping with passion and purpose. Soaked in the blood of another. Beating to the rhythm of heavenly drums.
There are people I avoid on the train. But I can’t avoid myself. Every day I have to look in the mirror. I don’t like what I see but I see it anyway. For seeing is believing. And I believe again. I believe I’ve been given this twenty second chance for a reason. For this is my season and I’m grabbing it with both hands this time. This is my destiny, this is what I was called to do. One day there will be no more train and no more need to hide. For my story will be told bright and bold. You can’t avoid the void forever. One day you have to stop running and stare deep into the darkness.
For that is where you will find the light.
Are there people you avoid?
What are you running from?
A couple of inches of snow fell across Northern Ireland yesterday evening. Despite having had in excess of 24 hours prior notice the country responded in time honoured fashion….by grinding to a standstill. The lightest sprinkling of the white stuff on our fair land and chaos reigns. In scenes reminiscent of ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ the Black family battled home from school and work respectively.
The roads had not been gritted. Fionnuala ended up off the road on her way to pick me up from the train station. Thankfully a Good Samaritan stopped to help get her back on the road but when she phoned to let me know I told her to stay put due to the treacherous conditions. There then followed *cue stirring music* the heroic sight of yours truly battling through a blizzard to get to them.
I slipped and slid the mile to where they were stranded. I felt like Scott of the Antarctic although I more resembled Olaf from Frozen but I made it and was able to gingerly drive us back to the house. We then received a text from Adam that his school bus was stranded two miles from our village and not going anywhere. He had started walking home so I set off again to pick him up. As I headed out of the village I was greeted by the heartening sight of a car abandoned in a ditch. It had flattened a road sign in the process. Yikes!
I eventually located Adam trudging along the roadside along with around thirty other school kids. Meanwhile the road was gridlock with cars, vans and lorries. All we were missing was Godzilla in the background; or perhaps King Kong swatting at helicopters. I managed to collect Adan and a couple of his mates before somehow turning the car and crawling back home. It was with some relief that we closed the front door and settled down in our cosy living room to watch the snow continue to fall.
Any North Americans or Scandinavians reading this are probably shaking their heads in disbelief. Us Irish just cannot cope with snow. Every winter it happens and every winter we are caught out. We just don’t seem to have the organisation or infrastructure to handle any form of inclement weather. Planning and preparation? More like panic and prevarication? We go to pieces. Winter is coming. We know! We know!! But we continue to stick our heads in the sand (or snowdrift) and hope it will all go away and leave us alone.
We can’t cope when weather conditions slightly outside of the norm befall us. We cease to function. The wheels come off. We are left stranded high and dry because we are not prepared for such an eventuality. And the same applies to the storms of life we have to face. We cannot say when, where or what but we know they are inevitable at some juncture. They will hit and they will hit hard. Instead of being swept away or sucked up into the sky we can be a little more prepared. We can dig in and hang on for grim death. We might lose a few fingernails in the process but we will survive.
Look around. What are your coping mechanisms? Is it your family, your friends or your faith? Where are your snow shovels, the people who can dig you out of a hole when you most need it? We are not islands and we need support mechanisms. I know I need to practice what I preach as during 2017 I walked away from the church and a number of friendships which were harmful to me. I know I need to work on that and be in a better place for when the next life storm hits.
Today’s post is a call for action. A reminder to dig out your disaster or evacuation plan, dust it down and examine it in detail. Who are your ‘go to’ people? The people who will be there for you when the day from hell descends? The inner circle you can rely on when its ‘4th and inches’ and the game is on the line. Blizzards are confusing and disorientating phenomena. When they hit we need a safe place to retreat to, we need people who we can rely upon. They are our signposts, our landmarks and our way out of the crisis.
We need them. For winter is coming….
What is the worst snowstorm you have ever been in?
How do you cope when a life storm hits?
Who are your ‘4th and inches’ people?
I got a phrase in my head the other day. This happens from time to time. It’s hard to explain but it’s as if the phrase was not of me. I didn’t think it into existence, it came from elsewhere, as if someone or something else planted it in my mind. I’m not sure if it is a promise, a warning or just my admittedly overworked brain playing tricks on me. Whatever the reason the phrase was there and I had to deal with it. What was the phrase? Why, I’m so glad you asked.
It was this. 2018 is the Year Of Death.
On the face of it, not the most cheery or reassuring message. It’s hardly up there with ‘2018 is the Year of Winning the Lottery’ or ‘2018 is the Year of Manchester United Winning the Champions League.’ Was there going to be a death in the family? It was enough to send a serial worrier like me into a full blown panic. Yet I didn’t feel frightened by the message. Something told me that it had been sent to reassure and comfort me as opposed to dismay and alarm.
I began to see the flip side of the message and realised it was a message of hope and intention. It was a positive proclamation. Death should not be feared especially within this context. Death is just part of the journey. I have walked a long and winding road in recent years. I have been carrying a lot of baggage from my past which has weighed me down and distracted me at times. It has made the journey a longer and more cumbersome one than it needed to be.
I saw it as an old fashioned leather rucksack filled with stones. It’s straps were cutting into my shoulders and my back was aching from the weight of its contents. It was literally killing me. My past was playing havoc with my present and preventing me from reaching my future. The rucksack was overflowing with guilt, shame, embarrassment and a host of other negative emotions that needed flushed out of my system; a toxic stew that had to be purged from my contaminated soul.
This blog is part of that purging process. It has grown beyond our wildest dreams and we have big plans for it in the year ahead. It has reignited my love of writing and I have received amazing feedback and support which has spurred me on. I want to write, I need to write and I hope I’m reasonably good at it. The written word is my weapon against the past. I will use it to slay my demons. I will use it to cut the rucksack free from my weary shoulders and let it fall by the wayside.
With it no longer holding me back I can stride on with fresh vigour and purpose towards my destiny. So I say death to the past. Death to guilt and shame. Death to regret and remorse. Death to addictive behaviour. Death to obsessive, intrusive thinking. Death to fear and worry. Death to negativity. Death to jealousy and hate. Death to the self. Death to relationships and friendships which drag you down. Death to lies. Death to anything which prevents you from becoming the person you were born to be. Death to Death.
You were born to live. You were born to make an impact, to make a difference. You are a pebble thrown into a vast, still lake. The ripples you create spread out across its surface from shore to shore. You are an agent of change. You are an electrical current surging through the grid of creation. You are unstoppable. You are irresistible. You light up your environment like a firework on the 4th of July. You are precious and unique. You are loved. You are love.
2018 holds no fear for me for it is the Year of Death. I embrace it.
What are you ‘Death to’ in 2018?
I am permanently hungry. I wake up hungry, I go to work hungry, I come home hungry, I go to bed hungry. I am the Hunger Games. Although I haven’t had to resort to using a bow & arrow or killing any teenagers. Yet. Catniss Everdeen watch out. If it comes down to it I will fight you to the death if it involves a sausage sandwich or multi pack of Double Decker chocolate bars.
This, of course, is as a result of my marathon training. Big mileage equates to big appetite. As I’m burning a lot of calories during the course of the week I need to replace them at more regular intervals. And by regular I mean all the time. In many ways I resemble a hobbit in my love of around nineteen meals a day. Although I’m considerably taller with slightly less hairy feet. Plus I’ve a soft spot for orcs.
I read somewhere that during a marathon training programme some runners actually put on weight, such are the constant hunger pangs that envelop them. I can relate to that. Thankfully I haven’t piled on the pounds but I can see how that can happen. I’ve witnessed fellow runners gorge themselves after long runs. It was akin to a zombie feeding frenzy. I can’t comment on their table manners because these guys didn’t even wait for the food to be placed on a table. Truly nasty.
I don’t like being hungry. Of course I have no concept of what real hunger is and don’t wish to devalue that but bear with me. When I am hungry I become tetchy and irritable. Or, as Fionnuala might suggest, more tetchy and irritable than normal. There is a word for this that has entered the English vocabulary in recent years. It’s right up there with ‘selfie’ and ‘Brexit’. That word is…. hangry.
Hungry + Angry = Hangry. Alternatively I have heard ‘rungry’ used but that’s just the 26.2 mile brigade trying to over complicate matters. Let’s stick with ‘hangry’ for now. When I need to eat nothing else matters bar the search for sustenance. I can’t focus on anything else until my stomach is full. And God help anyone who gets in my way. It becomes my Number One priority; everything else takes a back seat until my face is being fed. End of.
We all need to eat. Some of us have bigger appetites than others. My mother could live off a slice of toast and twenty four cups of tea a day. People like me need more. I’m fortunate in that I can pretty much eat what I want. Others, like Fionnuala, need to be more careful given her diabetes. Others again choose not to eat and to restrict their calorie intake. This can be voluntarily through a healthy diet plan or a result of an eating disorder which, sadly, seem to be increasingly prevalent in society today.
Hunger takes many forms. Some crave the control and power it brings. Others fear it as they never know where the next meal is coming from for them and their family. Hunger can be a dark, relentless foe. My own pangs pale into insignificance when compared against true, raw hunger where lives are on the line. Again I don’t mean to belittle a subject that still traumatises large swathes of our planet. We take so much for granted and that includes not having to worry about where our next mouthful is coming from.
Hunger can be a life or death matter. Or it can be a trivial gripe of a spoilt, middle aged Northern Irish runner. It affects all of us, however. Everybody gets hungry at some stage. And I’m not just talking about our stomachs here. We all have dreams, goals, ambitions. We all hunger after something. It can be a new physique, a new job or that ‘must have’ accessory. We want as oppose to need. We never seem to be satisfied with what we have. We hunger for more, more, more.
Hunger is a dangerous beast to tame. It can wreak havoc when that need relates to addictive patterns and destructive behaviours. Alcohol, drugs, sex, and power are but a few of the glittering gems we desire. We ache for them, the insatiable urge to fill the void within us. Yes, be hungry. Have dreams and hopes. But hunger after what is noble. Use you hunger to change your street, town or country. Hunger for love. Hunger for justice. Hunger for all that is good.
Make your hunger known.
What do you hunger for?
I’m heading out on a loooooong run tomorrow morning instead of going to church. Does that make me a bad Christian? I hope not. It’s just I’m not feeling the whole church experience once more. It has been a year now since we left the small church we had been attending for over four years. Since then we have drifted like nomads in the desert from oasis to oasis in search of a new spiritual home.
The churches we sampled during 2017 just haven’t felt right for one reason or another. At times we have felt close to making a decision but on each occasion we chosen to move on. They have been too big, too impersonal, too ambitious or too closed down. Yes you want your local church closed down? Easy? Just invite us along. I guarantee they will have folded by the end of the month. If not earlier.
We have tried home church, online church, churcity church church. But still we have nada. It’s got to the point now that I don’t really want to even be around Christians. They all seem no nice and happy and smiley. Everything is perfect and wonderful and ‘nice’. They have no concept of personal space and will hug you like their long lost brother the first time they meet you. Then ignore you the following day in the high street or not reply to your mid week text message, desperate for a little support and fellowship. Then hug you the following Sunday again like some sort of holy Groundhog Day.
That’s just a personal experience of mine and the purpose of this post is not to bash church going folk. That would be petty and bitter. I’m a bit better than that I hope. Let’s just say that Fionnuala and I have had a few negative church experiences which leave us wondering will we ever find somewhere. We keep telling ourselves that we need to be part of a church, that we need the structure and discipline of the Sunday environment. It’s what people like us do right? We go to church. It’s all quite bewildering and depressing to be honest.
Our son, Adam, has no interest in church. He finds it boring and his idea of hell is being dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning to be subjected to worship music and lengthy sermons. Even at the hip, happening churches we went to where the worship was like a rock concert and the pastor had ripped jeans and designer stubble. So we don’t force him to go. Which hasn’t been an issue of late as we haven’t been going ourselves. Adam describes himself as a ‘stay at home Christian’.
Ask him to recount a Bible story and he will deliver it in an engaging, witty manner. He once explained the Christian themes and symbolism behind ‘The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe’ better than C.S. Lewis himself could. He gets it and understands it as clear as day. He has a relationship with God I’m certain of that. He just does it his own way. And the way in which he leads his life regularly puts me to shame. He is the total opposite of me when I was his age. He is athletic, cool, funny, and popular. I was none of these things.
So tomorrow I am taking a leaf out of my son’s book and being a ‘stay at home Christian.’ I’m going to run along quiet country roads. I’m running away from church but I hope I’m running towards God. I will think and pray. I will declutter and detoxify, flush out the bitter negativity and cynicism along with the sweat from my pores. Church and Christians seem like barriers between myself and God at the moment. They bring out the most decidedly un Christian attributes in me.
I hope this post hasn’t offended anyone. I know our followers are a mix of believers and non believers. I always seek to be honest but never to upset. I see myself as a writer who happens to be a Christian as opposed to a Christian writer. I will never ram my faith down people’s throats but I will talk about it. It is fractured and church is partially responsible for that. Not as much as I am though. I’m not a church basher. There are many wonderful churches out there. And there are many wonderful Christian people. WordPress has reaffirmed that for me.
At present WordPress is my church. And you people, whatever your belief system, are my congregation. I’ll be thinking of you all out on the road tomorrow morning.
Tell me about your church experiences?
Good? Bad? Indifferent? Non existent?
What does church mean to you?
Crime scenes can be fascinating but grisly locations. My work occasionally involves me attending them and experiencing the other side of the cordon. I’ve even had to wear those silly forensic oversuits, masks and gloves on occasion. It wasn’t my best fashion moment let me tell you. I resembled a giant, white Teletubby. My Tinky Winky was decidedly un rinky dinky! Here’s a tip as well should you ever find yourself in one (well you never know). If you bend over make sure you are wearing an undergarment. They tend to rip quite easily. You’re very welcome.
Crime scenes are frenetic, highly pressurised environments. Scientists, photographers, mappers and scenes of crime officers buzz around carrying out their various duties. They have to be painstakingly meticulous. The tiniest oversight can result in crucial evidence being overlooked. A hair, a speck of blood, a fingerprint. Attention to detail is paramount. Clues can be concealed anywhere and only the most highly trained mind can identify and decipher them. I tend to find myself at the eye of this storm. I direct, advise and consult. But when it comes to the technical, scientific stuff I take a step back and leave it to the boffins and geeks. For I am neither. Cos I am the coolest of albino Teletubbies.
You might pore over a crime scene for hours and see nothing. A highly qualified specialist can spend just a few moments working the scene and report back with observations and findings which will leave you standing slack jawed in astonishment. Piecing together what happened at any scene is a team effort. It requires a cast of many. I cannot be expected to do it on my own. I don’t have the necessary knowledge, experience and skills. I rely on others to paint a picture for me. I delegate and I listen. Failure to do so can be career suicide.
When all the pieces of the jigsaw are presented to me I can then begin to slot them together. This is where my analytical and interpretive skills come to the fore. I provide a strategic overview like a general surveying a battlefield far below him. I’m nowhere near as important as a general but you get my drift. Jigsaws can be frustrating and time consuming. But there is no better feeling than fixing those last few pieces into place and the picture finally merging into focus. It makes all the hard work beforehand worthwhile.
Life can be a bit like working a crime scene. Baffling and bloody in equal measure. Attempt to decipher it alone and you will soon find yourself in hot water. You will quickly become swamped and end up hopelessly out of your depth. You need others around you, people who you can rely upon. Experts who will guide you through the pitfalls and lead you to the truth which is often staring you right in the face. You cannot rush life’s trials just like you cannot rush a crime scene. It takes time and it requires teamwork.
I spent a good chunk of my life trying to do it on my own. Attempting to unlock the riddle locked inside a conundrum wrapped inside an enigma that was me. I never got very far and invariably blundered past the subtle signposts and discreet directions set out along the path I travelled. I have been clueless to the clues and oblivious to the obvious. Unable to make any sense of the evidence spread out before my weary eyes. Blinded by my own selfish and sinful needs. Unable to see the wood for the trees. Bogged down in a quagmire of self pity and negativity. Going nowhere fast. When the answers were staring me right in the face all along. My faith and my family. They were my solution. They were the magnifying glass that this Sherlock Holmes needed.
Crime scenes cannot be held forever. Eventually the cordon will be taken down and the various agencies will pack up their bags and head home. The cleaning agencies will scrub the streets clean and it will be as if nothing ever happened. Nothing to see here folks. Move along now people. You only get one chance at at crime scene. Time is precious. You need to process it as a team before the opportunity is lost forever. They call it the golden hour. One chance, don’t mess it up. No pressure. Just like life really. You get one chance.
Your life is like a crime scene. It is a living, breathing, messy puzzle and you are the detective called to unravel its secrets and decode its mysteries. You only get one shot at it so tread carefully. Examine every inch of it and from every possible angle. In minute, fine grain detail. Every crime scene examination is a search for the truth. The truth you have been searching for your entire life. Your purpose. Your meaning. Your calling. The tiniest grain of information could unlock the door to worlds and universes that you never knew existed before. The key to your life.
But don’t do it alone. Use the resources available to you. Those who know you better than you know yourself. I can’t tell you who these people are. They are your tribe, your inner circle. Allow them underneath the cordon tape and into your confidence. Show them the beautiful mess that you are. Allow them to sift through the debris and help you piece together the jigsaw that reveals your purpose and destiny. Let them help you for you cannot do it alone. You must not do it alone. For before you know it the scene will be lost and the secret treasures of your being will be blown away into the night never to return. You will be unable to find the message in your mess.
Standing alone and confused on a dark, damp street. In an ill fitting Teletubby costume. Not knowing who you are nor why you are here. Now that would be a crime.
How are you getting on at working your crime scene?
Who are your tribe? Do you allow them under the cordon?
Is there a message hidden in your mess?
I used to lie all the time. In fact I became rather good at it. I lied to my wife. I lied to my kids. I lied to my mother and sister. I lied to my friends and work colleagues. I lied to anyone who I was engaged in conversation with for any length of time. I lied face to face. I lied on the phone. I lied via text message. I lied online. I liked to lie. I was a walking, talking lie-ability.
I even lied to myself. And I was such an accomplished liar that even I began to believe myself. I still continued to believe that I was a more or less honest, upstanding husband, father, son, brother and so on. Like any addict I was delusional. I thought I could stop lying at any time and return to the real world. Every lie, however, took me a step further away from where I needed to be. My lies accumulated and created a sticky, tangled web from which there was no escape.
Why do we lie? Why are some of us seemingly allergic to telling the truth. Well at the heart of it is self preservation. Lying is fundamentally a selfish act. The liar seeks to preserve their reputation and prevent others from seeing what lurks beneath the lies – the ugly, sinful truth. Why confront that when you can be mesmerised by beautiful, glittering lies. Lies are fluffy, soft and shiny. The truth, on the other hand, is all sharp edges and hard surfaces. Lies are beautiful. The truth is no oil painting.
The truth regarding me was not a pretty sight. And eventually it was exposed for all to marvel at it in its malignant magnificence. They say the truth will set you free but it didn’t feel like that every time it happened to me. And it always did. I wasn’t as good a liar as I thought I was for I was always found out. That moment when you realised you were exposed and cornered; when your blood turned to ice and your heart lurched into the pit of your stomach. There is no more sickening feeling.
It was then and only then that I saw the lies for that they really were. I saw the pain and distress I caused my loved ones. I saw that beneath the cocky, swaggering exterior I was nothing but a lilywhite coward. My legs turned to jelly and I struggled to breathe. I was overcome with nausea and self pity. I became nothing. Without my protective cloak of lies the cruel, ugly truth burned me to a crisp. It left me naked and bleeding, ashamed to look at myself in a mirror. I still struggle with that even to this day.
Learning to tell the truth again is hard work. When your default setting is to lie it takes a conscious act to do anything but that. The truth is clunky and cumbersome. It trips you up and slows you down. The truth is sitting in a huge traffic tailback as Liar Airlines zooms past overhead. Learning to tell the truth again is like learning to walk again; one painful, uncertain step at a time. It is so tempting to fall back into old habits and tell a little, white one just to oil the wheel the oils of life.
But one lie is never enough just like one drink is never enough for an alcoholic. Every landslide starts with one tiny stone rolling. And I must never be swallowed up again by an avalanche of my own creation. My lies are the smokescreen I create in order to hide sinful secrets. Secrets that have broken me time and time again. I cannot and will not allow that to happen again. I must fight the urge to lie and avoid the liars who have led me down dark paths before.
Every addict is an accomplished liar. Strip away the lies and you see the addiction for what it truly is. The truth to an addict is like kryptonite to Superman. It brings the strongest miscreant to their knees. It obliterates them and it is only then that they can start to rebuild. From scratch. The truth is a wrecking ball in the cosy life of a liar. It is radical and violent. There is nothing cuddly about it. Every avenging angel comes with fire and fury, not fluffy clouds and heavenly choirs.
I cling to the truth. It burns and cuts me. I slip and stumble but I cling on for dear life. An ugly truth for a battered, dirty soul.
Do you struggle with telling the truth?
How have lies impacted on your life?
Chez Black has been struck with all kinds of sickness and illness over the last few weeks. Fionnuala has been particularly unfortunate and has been struggling with all sorts of ailments. Once she overcomes one bug another one has appeared over the horizon to blight her. It has been a very exhausting and debilitating period for her.
Hannah and Rebecca have both been off school this week with various sniffles and coughs. Hannah also had a nasty stomach bug after Christmas. Even our eldest, ‘IronMan’ Adam, came home from school today feeling under the weather. And as for yours truly? Well I’ve been manfully battling manflu these last three days. But I’m not one to complain right?
We’ve had to miss various trips and appointments. We haven’t been to church in over a month and have effectively quarantined ourselves off from the rest of civilisation bar essential journeys. We are well and truly sick of being sick. It seems that we have picked up every lurgy going. You name it, we have it. I know we have been hit by nothing really serious but it’s still been a frustrating start to 2018.
If only everything was so infectious. Why can’t I be struck down with excessive kindness, tolerance or generosity? Wouldn’t it be great if you woke up one morning and couldn’t stop smiling? Or caught a nasty dose of neighbourly love? Nope. These characteristics seem to come much harder to most of us. They are not an automatic action like sneezing or coughing. They require an actual effort on our part. An effort that is often lacking on the part of many.
Fionnuala and I watch the regional, national and international news but see nothing but hatred and bigotry. We turn on mainstream television and see traditional values and morals being relentlessly attacked by the ‘politically correct’ police. You are scared to open your mouth today for fear of offending someone. Our skins are becoming thinner as our hearts become harder.
The same applies to all aspects of society. People don’t seem to care any more about nobody but numero uno. Indifference and apathy are reaching epidemic proportions. If you dare to have an opinion contrary to the accepted norm you are ostracised and ridiculed. It’s a mad, mad world. Or rather it’s a sad, sad world.
I’m embarrassed by our elected representatives. I’m appalled by many of our so called celebrities. I’m disappointed by supposed role models. I’m let down by family and supposed friends. It’s little wonder we often as a family do not want to mix and mingle. Be it attending the workplace, church or social events. Everywhere we look we see shallowness and hypocrisy.
We will soldier on through this period of illness just as we will soldier on through life. We will love where we can and hold our heads high. We are proud of our home and our kids even though our throats are sore and our noses are blocked. We care and because we care we won’t give up. We remain optimistic even though the world doesn’t offer much in the way of optimism.
We are sick. But the world is sicker.
Silence is golden they say. In today’s hectic world it is almost impossible to escape the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life. With technological advances we are rarely totally alone nowadays. We crave anonymity and inaccessibility. We just want five minutes of peace and quiet. We need a break, a time out, a little ‘me time.’ The ‘must have’ holiday invariably involves a deserted beach with no internet.
Some people choose to drop out of society. They become hermits and recluses. They turn their backs on human interaction. There can be a plethora of reasons for this. Some say it is the only way they can sustain a meaningful relationship with God. The noise of the world creates too many barriers between them and their Creator. They argue that by turning their back on modern life they are discovering the true meaning of life.
Others are hounded into silence. They have given up. Life has knocked them to the canvas once too often and they cannot pick themselves up again. They have been abused, betrayed and hurt beyond repair. The pain of a lonely life is preferable to the horrors they have experienced. They retreat into their self made fortresses. They become ghosts, drifting through life like wraiths on the wind.
All of the above scenarios involve choice. Although all three originate from differing needs they all entail a decision being made in order to improve an individual’s set of circumstances. Be it for physical, mental, emotional or spiritual requirements the quest for silence is all-consuming. It may be for self preservation or self improvement but it is dictated by free will. We decide. We crave the silence. It is more precious than anything. It is the gold at the end of our rainbow.
What if we don’t have that choice however? What if the silence is forced upon us. I see so many relationships today that are empty shells containing nothing but silence. So many friendships derailed by miscommunication and misunderstanding. For some silence is a weapon in their armoury that they wield to devastating effect. It can cut deeper than the most refined steel, piercing dreams and shattering lives. Silence can be a killer.
The victims are left bewildered and broken. Their is no closure, no explanation for how things have turned out the way they have. Questions are unanswered, apologies are snubbed, olive branches are thrown into the fires of recrimination. They are left hanging in limbo, twisting in the wind, clutching at the noose which squeezes the last breath of hope from their screaming lungs.
Many say Hell is a place of eternal silence and darkness. I can think of nothing more horrific. Silence is golden they say. It can also be toxic, sickening and leave its victims broken and bleeding. A cold shoulder can burn as deeply as a white hot poker. It can brand people for life, scar them beyond recognition. There is much to be said for reconciliation and restoration. No relationship is beyond salvage if embraced with love and hope.
Swallow the bile and the pride. Find it in your heart to forgive. Expose yourself to the healing glow of forgiveness. It’s not easy but it can be done. Put down that stone you are about to throw. Look around and then look deep into your very being. Are you really any better? Taking the high moral ground means you only have farther to fall when the tables are turned and you find yourself in a similar situation.
For that time will come. As certain as night follows day. Shatter the silence. Let your voice be heard. It could save a life of today.
Have you been a victim of silence?
Have you used silence as a weapon before?
Can you forgive someone today and shatter the silence?
Last year I made an unusual New Years Resolution. I decided to give up having friends. That’s right. I was going solo. All I needed were Fionnuala and the kids. The reason? Well largely it was forced upon me. I had self destructed in such spectacular fashion that some people no longer wanted anything to do with me. Others did but only if I adhered to a number of pre-conditions. After some consideration I came to the conclusion that I couldn’t. And others again I had to cut adrift myself as they simply were not good for me.
Within a relatively short period of time I went from having a reasonably busy social life to well….nothing. We left the church we had been actively involved in and are still struggling to find a new spiritual home. I cut off all my ties with various running groups I had been linked to. I left all formats of social media and deleted a swathe of contact numbers from my mobile phone. I don’t have a big family. I have one sister who I don’t see very often and I lost my father in 2010 to prostate cancer. Since then my mother has become something of a recluse and, although we talk every day on the phone, I maybe see her once every couple of months.
It was Fionnuala and the kids. I got up, went to work and came home. I run on my own. I go and watch my son play rugby but don’t really mix with all the other parents. I keep my head down wherever I go and usually wear a cap. People walk past as if I don’t exist and that’s just fine by me. I used to seek out the limelight whereas now I shun it. Plus I can no longer fall back on alcohol to combat my social awkwardness. I’m a weirdo, a geek, an oddball. As long as I have my Kindle Fire and Netflix then I’m as happy as a pig in you know what.
I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’m anti-social. I’m shy and awkward but I would love to have friends. The written medium is my strongest communication format. I feel very at home when I am writing. Put me in a room full of strangers, however, and ask me to engage in small talk and I would crumple in an embarrassed heap. I’d be like the Wicked Witch from the Wizard of Oz. ‘I’m mellllllttttiiiiiiinnngggggg!!!!’ Flying monkeys optional. They really freak me out by the way.
I want to have friends but I just can’t get my thang together on this front. I’m just me and not a lot of people get thar. I like hobbits and zombies and running 26.2 miles for ‘fun’. These icebreakers tend to be greeted by a lot of blank stares whenever I drop them into the conversation. I’ve been trying to explain my rationale regarding this situation for five paragraphs now but I guess the ever so eloquent Taylor Swift sums it up best.
I don’t trust nobody and nobody trusts me….
The Social Media Wannabe Formerly Known as Stephen Black has inflicted and sustained considerable damage over the last few years. Thank God I’m now back on the straight and narrow. I have massive trust issues, however. I trust very few people. I’ll take that a step further. I don’t even trust myself most of the time. It can take years to establish trust but you can destroy it in a few seconds. Fionnuala dragged me very reluctantly back onto social media via this blog and I am slowly starting to find my feet again. I am learning to trust others and myself again. I hope others are learning to trust me as well.
It’s a constant battle though. I want to help people through this blog but I’m ever alert and wary. Am I coming across as too arrogant? Pretentious? Am I disclosing too much about myself? Too little? How do I come across? Am I doing enough? The questions keep coming. And it all boils down to one little word – trust. Trust rusts. It needs constant attention like one of those massive road bridges that are constantly being painted to combat corrosion. Once the painters get to the far end of the bridge they have to start all over because the near end has started to rust again.
I want to thank WordPress. For allowing me to be myself. For allowing me to lower my defences and display my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. For allowing me to trust people again. For allowing others to trust me. For allowing me to learn to trust myself again.
I am everything you are allowing me to become. I trust this community, this tribe. I think I’ve finally found my people. Thank you.
Are you an introvert or an extrovert?
Where do you stand on the issue of trust?
How many times this year already have you grumbled to yourself about a situation you have found yourself in? Bemoaned your circumstances and muttered ‘why me?’ under your breath? Shook your fist at the heavens and cursed your bad luck?
When it comes to feeling sorry for yourself I have it down to a fine art. Where there’s a pity party going down I’m invariably the first one there with a bottle and a tray of sandwiches. It’s as if I take a perverse pleasure out of any misfortune that befalls me. Because then I can focus totally on my favourite topic – myself.
There’s a problem at work. I invariably place it at the door of my senior management. I never blame a member of my team because I’m such a nice guy remember? But anyone a pay grade or more above me is fair game because that’s why they’re paid the big bucks right?
Or something goes wrong in the house. I’ll blame Fionnuala, the kids, Charlie the border terrier, the postman even; anyone but myself. I feel like Captain America at times as I must have the world’s most awesome shield to deflect all the blame heading in my direction. I must think I’m made of Teflon because as far as I’m concerned – nothing sticks.
Shifting the blame and shirking your responsibilities is no walk in the park let me tell you. It’s hard work. It involves lying and conniving and all other sorts of other disreputable behaviour. Your brain is constantly working in overdrive trying to keep ahead in the blame game. By the end of the day I’m invariably exhausted. Being this perfect and faultless doesn’t just happen.
And why do I slave so tirelessly at the blame game? Well let’s consider the alternative. Facing the uncomfortable truth. Looking in the mirror and realising, heaven forbid, that some of the messes I regularly find myself in might just be of my own doing. Some of the wounds I sustain might be self inflicted? Somebody call the Reality Police! There’s a man down over here.
If we are brutally honest (and that’s what this blogging business is all about after all) and take a good, long look at our circumstances we will find that, more often or not, we are least partially at fault for what has happened. Did we really have nothing to do with the latest office crisis? Are you 100% without fault for that argument you had with your friend last night? Is it really the kids fault that you lost your cool with them at the weekend?
Acknowledging and taking responsibility for your own failings and shortcomings takes guts. We tend to gloss over them and focus on our more positive characteristics when we are taking stock of our actions. It’s so easy to point the finger at others when, in fact, there are four more pointing back at ourselves. Oh alright then, three fingers and a thumb but you get my drift.
Take a moment and replay the last ‘disaster’ that took place in your life. Now conduct a mental inventory. What could you have done to have avoided or minimised what happened? Were your actions totally without blemish? And if so what can you do now to rectify the situation. That’s the great thing about the blame game. No matter how late in the day it might seem there is usually always time to make amends. Throw that Hail Mary pass. Score that injury time penalty kick.
Take the blame and ease the pain. In the long run everyone’s a winner that way.
What are your thoughts on The Blame Game? Are you a player?
Due to unprecedented popular demand (well, three of you) I’ve decided to post a photo of my attempts to grow a beard. This was taken earlier today. It’s been twelve days now since my chin last saw a razor blade and what a journey it has been. I’ve pouted, I’ve preened and I’ve scratched but I can finally score this enterprise off my bucket list.
I’m back to work on Friday after the Christmas break so I’ve decided to bid farewell to the face furniture and return to the clean shaven look safe in the knowledge that I am a proper man’s man. No patchy spots and not a ginger hair to be seen. What’s not to like about that? As tomorrow is my final day of follicular freedom I might experiment. Perhaps with a goatee? Or by rocking the Mexican gringo look?
I would just like to take this opportunity to thank Fionnuala and the kids who have had to endure this abomination over the last two weeks. Fionnuala has been wisely keeping me at arms length but I’ve saved us a small fortune in razor blades and shaving foam. If any of you hear distant screams later tonight, fear not. It will probably just be me hacking at my face while trying to avoid my jugular.
Yours in beardiness
I read a lot of blogs on here and try as much as I can to interact with, and encourage, you the good people of WordPress. Some posts are penned from places of hope and restoration by writers who have been through horrendous experiences but have emerged (battered yet triumphant) from the other side. Others are darker stories from people who are walking similar paths but are at different stages of their journeys. Their rawness and honesty is to be applauded as they stumble through the eye of the storm.
If AFracturedFaith has a mission statement it is to act as a beacon of light to those who are walking the same path as me but not quite as far along. I don’t see myself as a role model but if my words can help even one person then my work is done. Every day I read inspirational stories of courage and resilience. I see tales of tragedy and trauma. But through it all another theme emerges. I see talent amongst the trauma. Pain exposes potential. It unearths an energy and creativity that, otherwise, might never have seen the light of day.
It is akin to the myth of the phoenix rising from the ashes. Where there was once decay and destruction I can now see the first shoots of recovery emerging from the ruins. Your words are rising upwards and creating a latticework upon which you can construct new life. Not only for yourself but for the others who follow your blog. Every positive message is a step forward not just for you as an individual but also the wider recovery community. Your words move us; they turn us into a movement.
I see some of you question the value and validity of your posts. You wonder if anyone even reads them, what’s the point? My message to you is to keep writing and posting. Your words are both therapeutic and educational. They reveal as well as heal. They help others cut through chains of addictive behaviour and find a way through the mist of mental illness. They provide clarity and focus. Your mind may once have been in pieces but you now offer peace of mind. You are both a peacemaker and a pathfinder.
We need you. I need you. And I hope that some of you need me as well. I have spent too much of my life as a needy, attention seeking man. I now want to draw attention to your needs and your talent. Together we are strong and can change lives and worlds. Our former brokenness can lead to breakthrough in the lives of others. Our scars act as signposts for others travelling further down the road behind us. If we sow enough seeds some of them will fall on fertile ground and flourish. From tiny acorns mighty oak trees grow.
So keep sharing your story. The rough with the smooth. We want to hear your voice loud and clear. You are special as is your story. We can learn so much from you. There will be tears and there will be heartbreak. That is all part of the process. It is a necessary evil which will ultimately lead to a greater, sustainable good. You may feel worthless, useless and hopeless but you are not. You are not. Your perceived ‘lessness’ offers us more than you will ever realise. Don’t ever stop.
Where are you on your journey?
What does the blogging community mean to you?
I was in the shop today when I was forced to do an actual Scooby-Doo double take. Yikes! Shaaaaaagy! There before my very eyes was an Easter Egg display. On 2nd January. I don’t think the shop in question had even taken down its Christmas decorations yet. I’ve eaten enough chocolate this last week to merit a serious intervention of Willy Wonka-esque proportions so walked on by without making a purchase. Besides we still have 485 boxes of Celebrations and Miniature Heroes to plough through.
The thing is though other people obviously were making purchases. Otherwise why would the shop have Easter Eggs out on sale? It’s a demand driven market. Need and supply. Santa has barely landed back at the North Pole and the Easter Bunny is already dusting down his basket. These seasonal workers have a time of it. I feel sorry for the Tooth Fairy. She never gets a day off. Where’s the justice in that? People are already planning for Easter. No time to hang about. It’s less than four months away!
I shouldn’t have been surprised really. We live in a world that operates at a million miles an hour these days if not faster. After Easter it will be the summer holidays, then Halloween, Thanksgiving and, before you know it, Christmas is just around the corner again. We are so taken up in our planning and preparations that we forget the here and now. Never satisfied with our present and always looking forward to the next big event. Birthdays, weddings, anniversaries. It’s full speed ahead.
We are wishing our lives away when we should be living our lives today.
Instead of pining for these special days we need to recognise that every time we open our eyes and breathe is a special day. Every day has the same number of seconds, minutes and hours in it. Every day is an opportunity to love and be loved. Those big days down the road overshadow the big days we are living through every twenty four hours. By wishing our lives away we are devaluing ourselves and others. We are capable of so much more, there is so much more that we could and should be doing.
It is good that we look forward to, and celebrate, these special occasions. But life is so much more than that. It is about looking around as well as looking forward. Sorry to come across as the harbinger of doom but who is to say that you will even see Easter, Thanksgiving or next Christmas? None of us know when, or how, our circumstances might change. There but for the grace of God and all that. Who knows? We could all be speaking North Korean and have silly haircuts this time next year. Is North Korean even a language?
Let’s celebrate the ordinary days and make them extraordinary. You can make a difference today. Throw a pebble into your pool of influence and see where the ripples take you. Develop a presence in your present rather than sleepwalking to the next big day. Because when you get there it’s invariably an anti-climax anyway. And you find out the people you share these occasions with are virtual strangers as you have been ignoring them for the last six months anyway.
Don’t count the days. Make the days count. Starting today.
Have you seen your first Easter Egg yet?
How are you going to make today count?
Fionnuala suggested the other evening that I undertake an endurance challenge for January 2018. It involves running 150 miles during the month and logging them on my Garmin watch. At the end of the month I e-mail the challenge organisers a screen shot of my mileage and, in return, I get a medal and compression top. Not bad for £14. Plus, as ever, I will be running to raise funds for SHINE Charity, a cause very close to my heart.
I like challenges. No, let me rephrase that, I need challenges. Even in work I may moan about it at the time but I work well under pressure and to a deadline. A certain amount of pressure can be healthy. You need to be tested in order to examine your outer boundaries and then go beyond them. So I am grateful to Fionnuala for discovering this fresh challenge for me. She is always thinking of new ways of stretching me. Either that or this is her polite way of getting me out of the house more over the next four weeks.
I’m setting out on a ten mile run this morning as my first leg of the challenge. No time like the present right? The challenge is perfect training preparation for the marathons and half marathons I plan to run throughout the year. I used to experience a different type of alcohol related pain on New Years Day so it will be invigorating and liberating to start the year off in this fashion. I feel as if I will be on the front foot and ahead of the game.
I am also going to use the ‘me’ time alone on the road to think and pray. It is important that we all get this downtime whatever our belief systems. As ever I hope to leave a few of my demons out on the road and return home a more focused and decluttered individual. Running for me is like my writing. I use it to detoxify my soul and spirit, to unburden my heart of worries and fears. It is an act of cleansing and purification; a precious purging.
However you spend the first day of this new year I hope you find a little ‘me’ time to tend to your own mental and spiritual needs. I’ll see you on the road.
How did you spend the first day of 2018?
How do you intend to detoxify this year?
I don’t have a bucket list but if I ever compiled one I reckon that growing a beard would have been on it. I’ve never had a beard, stubble yes, but never a full one. I’ve always wondered what it would look and feel like. Would I resemble a mighty warrior from Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones? Or a sad, middle aged man who should really know better.
Fionnuala hates all things face furniture and has always been strongly against the idea of me growing one; anything beyond a two day stubble and she looks at me disapprovingly. She thinks they are dirty but finally relented a week ago and said I could grow one over the Christmas holidays. So it was with much excitement that I banished my razor and shaving foam to the back of the bathroom cabinet. Operation Beardy McBeardyFace was go go go!
There was little to report over the first few days but, as we now reach the week mark, I have become fixated by my facial hair. I have been caught examining it in the mirror. This is bizarre as I normally hate looking at my own reflection and avoid doing so whenever I can. Yet the beard has an eerily hypnotic pull and keeps drawing me back. I find myself stroking it without realising that I am. I even shampooed it the other evening. If this were to continue beard oils and combing may enter the equation. I am like a child with a new plaything.
There are pros and cons to growing a beard. I considered working out how much I would save in toiletries over the course of a year but then decided this was a step in sadness too far. The same goes for the 3.475 days a year I now have to spend on other activities. Like staring in the mirror at myself. Or shopping for beard oils and other related products. The beard is saving me time and money. All I have to do is sit back and do nothing. What’s not to love about that?
The experiment has also reassured me that I do not possess a ginger gene. Being Irish this has always been a concern of mine. Don’t get me wrong I have nothing against redheads. Belinda Carlisle was the first love of my life. I used to stalk Sophie Turner from Game of Thrones around Belfast city centre. And Ed Sheerin and Prince Harry have made it cool to be ginger again; no, this all comes from the darkest recesses of my school days when to be a ginger was akin to having social leprosy; you were a pariah, an outcast to be mercilessly mocked for all the days of your life. Duracell Head, Carrot Top, Ginger Ninja and so on and so forth.
I was tubby, shy and wore glasses but at least I wasn’t ginger. Or was I? Thankfully the beard has allayed any concerns I might have had. Not even a hint of copper. It has sprouted up reassuringly dark apart from a grey section around my chin which I think makes me look most distinguished. George Clooney eat your heart out. Why didn’t I think of this years ago. I could have been modelling for Armani. Not only does the beard turn me into a Holywood sensation but it also covers the many parts of my face that I am not so enamoured with. Everyone’s a winner.
Yes a week in and everything is going swimmingly. When I started writing this post I never envisaged it developing into a two parter. Yet it has. You see the beard is taking over. It has developed a life of its own. It is like an alien life form that has attached itself to my face and taken over my mind. And for all the advantages I have listed above there are as many, if not more, disadvantages. The beard is most definitely not beardier on the other side. Part Two will cover all that so try to contain yourselves.
And no before you ask I’m not posting a photo of my bearded self. Some of you may be of a nervous disposition and I don’t want to scare you.
Men – do you have a beard? What have been your experiences with facial hair?
Women – are you a fan of face furniture? Beards? Moustaches? Hipster goatees?
Follow me He said. So I did and it led me to them. I was hungry and needed fed, my starving soul craved sustenance like an addict craves the needle and the relief of release. I gorged on their manna but the more I think back, it wasn’t from heaven. This desire to please was like a disease. So I smiled and I nodded as they queried and prodded. I listened and learned but the sin it still burned. I yearned to be better and free and unfettered. Love me, like me, tolerate me, anything me. Mesmerised and traumatised. I stumbled on regardless, deaf to your screams as I destroyed our dreams.
Sober as a judge but as drunk as a skunk as I slithered and slid back down into the pit. And this time it’s worse so I curse the day I blamed the drink. No excuses this time, no rhyme or reason for this new season of shame and pain. I stand oblique to your clique and it reeks of the world not the word. Judge, jury and executioner. They strike the gavel as I unravel.
We’d travelled so far but I’m sliding back and there’s no slack as I scrabble, babble, fall back into the rabble. Hands digging in the rubble. A muddle of troubled thoughts and all for naught. The same old mistakes as still I rake over the ashes of my past. I’m second class and second best. Small groups for small thoughts. I talk the talk and walk the walk but my path is down, down, down. There is no crown where I go, just dirt and grime and endless time. Sleepwalking all the way to the grave. Going six feet under to be torn asunder.
I found God or rather he found me. And what a sorry acquisition I was. Preaching and teaching my way to Hell. Oh well. There goes the bell. Handshakes and smiles all round. Another sermon and yet I’m left squirming at the staggering hypocrisy of it all. Practice what you preach you leach. I grit my teeth and spit the grief in their faces, telling them exactly what they want to hear. And not a second over twenty minutes mind because that wouldn’t do as there are biscuits to eat. The sheep bleat and I beat my retreat to my fantasy world. My life is absurd as I vomit the Word. I gag on my sin, the demons within. They feed me, they need me unlike those on the outside. I see through the facade. I tear down the veil and behind it there is nothing.
Going through the motions. Drink the magic potion. For then everything will be well and this Hell where I dwell will dispel. Ain’t life swell? He’s a leader in making if it weren’t for the faking. My life is just fine so where do I sign? You want sweat, blood and tears? Here’s the sum of my fears. I want freedom yet I’m bleeding and everyone’s leaving. My blood turns to ice and I’m back where I started, my loved ones departed. The truth set me free but now I’m adrift and the rift I’ve created cannot be broached. I’m a roach needing squished. I wish.
Blinded by the lies that mesmerised, now watch me die. These soul ties I despise are the death of me. Please rescue me from myself. My muddy, befuddled soul has seen better days and all I want is a friend to lend me hope; but nope – they smile and nod as I scream in their faces, then scurry home to their 2.4. They want nothing more of me and my sordid world. Until next Sunday anyway. When normal service will be resumed. Big hugs and how they’ve missed us. Not as much as I missed you on the darkest of nights when I poured out the festering, rancid slops of my soul. Still waiting for that reply. Might wait till I die. Sure we’ll all meet in glory. Run along now. Don’t bore me.
So I lurch to the next church and it’s more of the same. It’s all a holy game.We want you, we need you. No time for your ranting cos we’re too busy planting. The biggest in Ireland we’ll be, you’ll see. So holy and pure yet they offer no cure. With their beards and their beanies, those skinny jeaned meanies. They’re safe in their huddle as I struggle to cope. I’m flat broke. Out of hope. Just you tithe and stay alive. That’s all we ask. For we are perfect and you are not.
If this is love then keep your drug. I read the seeds and want to sow but how can I grow when all I see is hypocrisy over cups of tea. The devil wears many masks. You find him in the most unlikely of places. He is a beautiful creation, whispering words of sedation that soothe me and move me. My eyes see their lies and I learn to despise those Sunday mornings. Mourning what could have been, what should have been. The funniest part is that you didn’t even notice. And even if you had would you have cared, wrapped up in your own world of point scoring your way to eternal glory. Tick that box and move on. Those happy, clappy Christians with their perfect lives and their perfect wives. They could be in for a big surprise. I stay at home and stare at my phone. Tapping my way to death.
On Christmas Eve I said enough was enough and decided to get a haircut. I was starting to resemble a cross between Boris Johnson and Wurzel Gummidge (I suggest a quick Google search if you don’t know who either of them are). When I woke up in the mornings I looked like I had been electrocuted. Whenever I entered the office and took off my cap my colleagues shot me the strangest of looks. I’m not a pretty sight at the best of times first thing in the morning but this was a bridge too far.
As I settled into the barbers chair the young Polish barber asked me what I would like. ‘A number four all over please’ I confidently declared trying to avoid looking at my myself in the full length mirror. ‘Are you sure? That’s very short’ he dubiously replied before spending the next five minutes attempting to talk me out of it. But to no avail. The bit was well and truly between my teeth. It had to go. Hair today, gone tomorrow.
I now know what a sheep feels like when it is being sheared. Locks of dark hair tumbled past my shoulders on their way to the shop floor. It was raining hair, my hair! As I’d had to take my glasses off before he started I hadn’t a clue what my head looked like but at one point I was pretty convinced that I had a Mohican. Then it was gone as well. Thanks to a generous gene pool I will never go bald but this was the nearest comparable experience. When he had finished I put my glasses back on and marvelled at the transformation. I resembled a fuzzy pool ball.
When I got home the girls were fascinated. ‘It’s so soft Daddy’ they whispered in awe as I lowered my chrome dome for them to stroke my head stubble. Fionnuala observed it was a vast improvement and even Adam, who isn’t impressed by anything, looked marginally impressed. I was a new man. I felt revived, reinvigorated….anything really that you can put the letters ‘re’ in front of. It literally was a massive weight off my mind.
Wouldn’t it be great if a trip to the barbers could rid us of all the worries and concerns that rattle round our heads? If a snip here and a clip here could send them floating to the shop floor never to bother us again? We wouldn’t have a care in the world? Unfortunately I don’t know of a hairdresser who provides such a service. We are left with a head full of anxiety and stress which, if left untended, will grow and grow until it consumes us. It grows and grows until nothing else matters. It becomes us.
Don’t let that happen. Don’t become another victim or statistic. If you had a broken arm you would go the hospital right? There would be no shame in that. Well the same applies to a broken heart or mind. You can’t do it alone. Seek help. Talk to someone, be it a friend, your doctor or a counsellor. Suffering in silence is insufferable. You need to seek out voices in the real world in order to dispel the voices in your head for they will not stop on their own.
They want to destroy you. They will not go away. They will haunt you and taunt you until you lie shattered in a million pieces. Only then will their work be done. Don’t let that happen. You are better than that. You deserve better than that. It worked for me. I sought the help I needed for my OCD and life is so much better now. Not perfect but better. You can’t cure OCD but you can control it. I needed a brain barber to work their magic with the sanity scissors. The intrusive thoughts and overwhelming compulsions are less frequent now. I am in control now.
I’m not a big fan of New Year resolutions but if you do make one this year make one that will count and that you can keep. Get the help you need and become the person you were born to be. Get ahead by sorting out your head. You were only given one brain so look after it. We devote inordinate time to the rest of our bodies with visits to the gym and beauty salon. Let’s start to take care of our most vital organ. For without it, nothing else really matters.
What’s the most daring haircut you have ever got? Did you love it or live to regret it?
Is your mind weighed down today? What are you going to do about it?
You hear it all the time. On public transport, in your workplace, on the television news your social media timelines. You may even have uttered the immortal words yourself.
I’ve been through hell….
Hell. The Underworld. Hades. Sheol. Whatever people call it, for those who believe in it, it is a place of unimaginable, unremitting torment. But what is hell? Where is hell? There are various theories. Some view it as the traditional lake of fire populated by grinning ghouls with pitchforks. Others picture it as a lonely, desolate chasm of darkness where tortured souls suffer the ultimate horror of eternal separation from God. To these people it is an actual, physical location. It exists. Somewhere.
Whatever their interpretation, all these folk are agreed on one thing. It’s not the sort of place where you would want to spend your summer holidays. Or any holiday for that matter. It is a place of perpetual punishment and pain. A place of no return. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. Or dollars or euros. There is no glowing ‘exit’ sign to guide you out the other side after your visit is complete. Hell is the end of the road. And it’s not a yellow brick one with a fairytale ending.
I’ve been through hell….
As a Christian I believe in an afterlife which contains a heaven and a hell. I haven’t quite got my head around what the latter looks like but I’m pretty certain I don’t want to end up there. Many people view Jesus as some loved up hippy who wandered around 1st Century Palestine waffling vaguely about peace and forgiveness. Yes he did talk about these topics but the one he talked about most was hell. He was pretty blunt on the subject as well. This was one pill that wasn’t sugar coated. Hell was real and hell was permanent. He came to warn us. Hell was….well….hell.
I’ve been through hell.
You don’t go through hell in the theological sense. You remain there. It’s a one way ticket. The big, red guy with the pitchfork kind of expects you to hang around. Permanently. Life can be hellish. Excruciatingly painful. But it’s not hell. Because life eventually ends. The curtain comes down and, whatever your circumstances, they end. No more need to worry about debt, despair or death itself. You don’t have that sense finality in hell. You don’t die in hell as you’re already dead when you get there. You don’t get the relief and release of death.
Real life is hellish. But it’s not hell.
Real life can be horrific. It’s crushing. Nothing I can write here can do justice to what you have been through or are presently experiencing. An individual’s pain is personal and unique. It is often indescribable. It is many things. But it’s not hell. Because hell is a place without hope. And as long as we have breath in our bodies, then we still have hope, no matter how tiny a scrap that is. Hope that we will overcome our private and public struggles. Hope that we will lurch out of the darkness and into the light.
I’m not devaluing anybody’s pain here. I see devastation and anguish on my timeline and in the real world every single day. Broken people surveying the debris of their broken lives. They deserve so much better, so much more. I want to tell you that there is more, and that that more is hope. No matter how dire your circumstances are there is a way out. There is a way through. All storms can be navigated. There is safe passage and harbour.
Your hellish state might be addiction. It could be alcohol, cocaine, heroin, prescription drugs. It might be physical. Cancer, Multiple Sclerosis or any other number of debilitating and agonising illnesses. It might be mental. Depression, Anxiety, Anorexia, Bulimia or, my own personal bugbear, OCD. It can be financial, sexual or relationship based. It can be bereavement. It can be anything really, a billion and one different situations or experiences. Everyone’s ‘hell’ is unique to them.
There is a way out, a way through. If you have hope, you have a lifeline; one that you have to grab with all your strength and cling to with all your might. Hope is life itself. It is the oxygen that fills your lungs and allows you to scream your defiance. It is the blood that pumps through your veins and drives you onwards, forwards, upwards. It is the oil that lubricates our dreams and prayers.
Hope won’t get you through Hell. It will be too late then. But it will get you through everything else.
Do you believe in an actual Hell?
Do you feel hopeful or hopeless today?
Hell v Hellish? What are your thoughts on this post?
I’ve felt an outsider for most of my life. At school I was bullied, mostly by fellow pupils but also some teachers, because I was chubby, quiet and shy. I was no good at sport, despite trying hard, which meant I was never part of the ‘in crowd.’ I didn’t go to our school formal and don’t think I spoke to a girl until I was eighteen. I had few friends and didn’t go out much. I was a loner; happy sitting in my room reading Stephen King novels and listening to heavy metal music.
My university years did not fare much better. These swayed between alcoholic excess in my first year to hermit like abstinence in my final one when I finally realised I needed to knuckle down and study in order to get a decent degree. It was during this final year that I began to exercise excessively and then secretly binge eat during all night study marathons. An unstable home life at the time also left me permanently anxious and worried. Looking back it was a deeply unhappy and lonely year of my life.
When I left university I gained a place on a post management graduate course where alcohol reared its ugly head again. I was now living in rented accommodation in Belfast. It was the social crutch that I leaned on heavily for the next twenty years or so. I secured a good job and worked my way up the corporate ladder. When I tell people what I do for a living now they look genuinely impressed. I met a wonderful woman who has stuck with me through thick and thin. I don’t deserve her but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for her.
We have three amazing kids and live in a lovely house in a quiet village. We are financially comfortable and on the face of it I epitomise what ‘fitting in’ to society should look like. Then why do I still feel such an outsider at times? Why am I still plagued by feelings of insecurity and low esteem? Why do I still periodically battle with OCD and the demons from my past? Why do I struggle to make friends and sabotage the few genuine friendships I have formed in my life? Why am I still so socially awkward? Why do I feel such a failure at times?
While people might look at it and think I’ve got it made, I still feel as if I am fighting a losing battle where time is not on my side. I desperately want to please people; the problem was that I always set out to please the wrong people, not the ones who mattered. I donned various personalities in order to curry favour but these all ended in disaster. I disliked myself so intensely that I would do whatever I could to be someone else. I still do at times but the purpose of this post is not to indulge in a pity party.
The purpose of this post is rather to celebrate where we have come as a family in 2017. It has been a long and often very rocky road. There have been slips and stumbles along the way. I am learning to live in my own skin. I am me. Glorious, imperfect, messed up, wonderful me. I am proud to be an outsider as I have finally realised that most of my problems in life have been when I have tried to be somebody I’m not in order to fit in.
I’m a square peg. I’ll never fit into that round hole. I’m learning not to look through the window and focus on what might have been but instead concentrate on what I have. On the outside. There is safety on the outside. There is safety in numbers. For we are many. This last year has taught me that in order to heal I need the clear, crisp air of the outside. I need to breathe in the truth and purge myself of the lies from the past. I need to take a step back in order to move forward.
Detoxification can be intoxicating on the outside. I want to be drunk on life. I want to run and write and love. I want to laugh more. People say I don’t laugh enough. Yes I’m a weirdo, an oddball and the most infuriating man in the world at times. But at least I am me, at least I can look at myself in the mirror and not have to avert my gaze in disgust.
And I have finally found my social media home with you – my fellow outsiders.
Viva la difference!
Do you feel like an outsider?
How have your efforts to fit in damaged others and yourself?
Happy Christmas Eve everyone!
I hope you are all looking forward to spending the holiday period with family and friends. AFracturedFaithBlog will be taking Christmas Day off as there is much present unwrapping and food consumption ahead of us. I’m particularly excited about that little pest Elfie the Elf returning to the North Pole. I’ll be writing Santa a strongly worded e-mail about his antics in our house these last few weeks.
Fionnuala, the kids and myself will also be thinking about those less fortunate than ourselves this Christmas. It can be a sad and lonely time for many and our thoughts and prayers will be with those who need them most. Amidst the excitement and merriment we will also be remembering the first Christmas over 2000 years ago when a scared, heavily pregnant teenage girl and a tired, penniless young man trudged into Bethlehem desperate for a roof over their heads for the night.
The village was packed to the seams, however, given the upcoming census. The scene must have been chaotic with people and animals scurrying through the packed streets. Joseph had many doors slammed in his face that night and eventually had to desperately accept a smelly, dirty stable. Beggars can’t be choosers right? At least it was dry and Mary had somewhere to rest and recover from the arduous journey they had undertaken from Nazareth. No such luck. There followed a painful and uncomfortable night which culminated in the birth of their first son.
They called him Jesus. He would grow up to change the world.
He had every right to grow up with a chip on his shoulder. Born into squalor and poverty his formative years were lived as an immigrant on the run from a bloodthirsty Herod before the family could return from Egypt to Nazareth. He worked hard learning his trade as a carpenter but when he launched his ministry around the age of thirty he faced three years of verbal and physical abuse, betrayal, rejection and endless mocking. All the way to the Cross. He knew a bit about doors being slammed in his face. Not to mention hearts and minds.
His response to a lifetime of this was as follows:
John 14:2-3: ‘My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you may also be where I am.’
Jesus and his family deserved better that night in Bethlehem. SLAM.
He deserved better than the life he led culminating in a brutal, humiliating death on the Cross. SLAM.
We lie. We cheat. We covet. We mock. We steal. We sin again and again and again. We laugh in his face. We don’t deserve better.
He opens his door and welcomes us with open arms.
Matthew 11:28-30 – ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’
He turned his back on nobody, even though this was all he knew his entire life. A turned back is a lost opportunity. A slammed door is a full stop on relationships and friendships that do not have to end. If he can do it then so can you. So can I.
My hope and prayer this Christmas is that you fling open your doors, hearts and minds to the world. To a broken world that sorely needs you.
Happy Christmas from Stephen, Fionnuala and the kids.
I’m a runner. I like to run. Preferably in a straight line at around 8:30 minute mile pace. I don’t like sprinting or being pressurised into running faster than I have to. I like long, steady paced runs. My favourite distance is the marathon. I don’t particularly enjoy hills but put one in front of me and I will run up it. I will not stop. Call me determined or call me stupid but I will not stop. I’ve ran seven marathons and I hope to run more in 2018. It’s what I do.
When I decided to get fit and lose some weight three and a half years ago I dabbled with all sorts of other physical activities before I plumped for distance running. It was all part of the mid life crisis. My fourth that particular year. I took up Taekwondo and pranced around the village hall in a pair of oversized white pyjamas. I reckon I could have been a black belt by now if it wasn’t for my startling lack of hand/eye coordination and flexibility.
I had a go at weight training but was intimidated by all the muscle bound hulks at the gym. I have quite strong leg muscles from running but as for my upper body, forget about it. I looked like a jerk at the clean and jerk. My kettle bell technique was the talk of the place. For all the wrong reasons. My arm curls were toe curlingly embarrassing and my squats were sqawful. I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.
Finally I tried spin class. I skulked at the back of the class and hoped that the instructor didn’t notice that I was pedalling at a lower resistance than the rest of the class. Everyone pumping furiously around me seemed so much leaner and younger. I was up and down out of the saddle but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Quite literally. Spin class depressed me. I didn’t like being shouted at and being told what to do. My heart wasn’t ‘spin’ it.
Spin class was like my grief. It hit me in waves but I never seemed to get anywhere with it. I worked harder and harder but there was never an inch of progress. All that pain for nothing. A day or a week or a month later and it would hit me anew as if for the first time. Grief is a thief. It slips up on you when you least expect it and brings your world to a jagged, juddering halt.
Spin class was like my drinking. Binge followed by hangover. Over and over again. Ad nauseum. I drank to forget but at some point forgot why I was drinking. It became a sickly cycle and the wheels had to come off eventually. They did so in spectacular fashion. Alcohol is no longer my favoured form of transport. Drinking and cycling are a definite no no. When I run my body and mind are cleansed. Alcohol poisoned me. I’m still detoxing I suppose. I always will be.
Spin class was like my OCD. An endless circle of obsessive, intrusive thoughts followed by baffling, heart breaking routines. It’s the most orderly of disorders. It will grind you into a pulp. As your routines become slicker so the thoughts become sicker. Always one step ahead of you. Pedalling furiously to keep up but never quite getting there. Hurtling through the fog not knowing what mental pothole lies just ahead waiting to throw you headlong over the handlebars.
Spin class was like my addiction to social media. Never learning. This time I would get it right. A new account, a new Stephen. A new creation doomed to slide into familiar patterns of behaviour. Ever so gradually until I was trapped again. Watching myself as if in a dream, an out of body experience. Wanting to stop but unable to. Always cracking, always relapsing. My soul spiralling downwards as my follower count spiralled upwards. A thousand likes as I despised myself.
Are you trapped in or on a cycle? Are you pedalling at breakneck speed but getting nowhere? Are you tired of the the same, endless, pointless routines? Take a health check. Are you physically, mentally, emotionally running on empty? Then step off the bike. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Breathe. Observe. Live. You are better than this. You deserve better.
Do it today. Now. Stop spinning. Start winning.
Is your life spinning out of control?
Are you trapped in an endless cycle?
What are you going to do about it?
The Black Family hit Belfast’s Christmas Market yesterday afternoon. As you can see this involved food, food and more food. I took some pictures but, ever since, have barely been able to move given the ginormous burger and cupcake I consumed. I am currently lying in a darkened room and normal blogging duties will be resumed shortly.
Fionnuala created this wonderful collage. She’s the talented one in case you hadn’t worked that out yet. There’s also a few of our wedding photos from 15 years ago.
Fionnuala and I celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary today. We have decided this year not to buy each other presents but instead are going later this afternoon as a family to the Christmas Market in Belfast. I’ll be blogging about that adventure later so stay tuned for photos of the Black family there. Probably eating. A lot.
Fionnuala loves to sing. I don’t particularly love to hear Fionnuala sing but that has never stopped her before. She also loves Christmas so the house has been rocking all month to her festive soundtracks. One of her party pieces is her variation of the Mariah Carey classic ‘All I Want For Christmas Is You’. Fionnuala, instead belts out ‘All I Want For Christmas Is Glueeeeeeee’. I’m not quite sure what this means but, anyway, the kids find it hilarious.
Fionnuala is our glue. She has held this family together for many years. She has fixed broken relationships and hearts. It has been sticky and messy at times but she has persevered and overcome every adversity thrown her path. When I was broken she could have shovelled up the pieces and thrown me in the bin. Instead she held me together until I mended. She fixed me. She healed me.
She is the unsung hero of the family. She deserves so much yet asks for so little. She has a heart the size of Ireland and would fight to the death for her family. She would give her last penny to someone in need. Whereas I talk and write she acts. She gets stuff done by hook or by crook. She organises, budgets, schedules, never stops. She brings her A-game 24/7 even when she is tired or sick. She always puts others needs before her own.
She is kind, wise and beautiful. The latter on the outside but, more importantly, on the inside. She puts up with the insanity of being married to me. Without her there would be no me. She is my best friend and is always there for me. Even though I drive her insane on a daily basis. She often tells me that she wanted a husband and not a fourth child. She also says that the world doesn’t revolve around me. I know that now. For the kids and I are mere planets. She is our sun.
She provides the light, heat and energy that we need to survive. We orbit her and rely upon her. She is indefatigable, indestructible and invincible. She never gives up on us and is the driving force behind all the stories and messages on this blog. She is as perfectly simple as I am imperfectly complicated. She loves God and she loves her family and friends. She is my gravity, keeping me firmly rooted to the ground whenever I start to drift off on flights of fancy.
I can’t give you expensive presents this year, Fionnuala, but I can give you my thanks and my heart. You are my wife and my best friend. You are my everything. I love you. Happy anniversary.
As I get older I find it harder to leap out of bed in the morning, full of the joys of spring. Or summer. Or autumn or winter for that matter. Especially winter. It’s cold and dark. And invariably wet. Why on earth would anyone throw back the duvet to embrace that? All I want to do is remain under the covers and hope that the world doesn’t notice my absence for the next 24 hours or so. I’m sure you could all cope.
Unfortunately I am expected to get up and do adult stuff. Like go to work. Communicate with other equally grumpy grown ups. Smile when I don’t particularly feel like smiling. There is so much to do. Kids to shout at, bills to pay. Elves to put on shelves or place in other equally ‘hilarious’ scenarios. Yes life is a veritable hoot I’m sure you will all agree.
Sooooooo. I crawl out of bed. Take a slug of Diet Coke. Wash. Shave (most days). Dress (every day). Eat toast. Get train to work. Arrive at work. Take many more slugs of Diet Coke. And so on and so forth. I commute to and from work on a train full of miserable looking people all trying their hardest not to look at each other. Noses stuck to their phones, glaring at the screens.
The other day I found myself on the train sitting beside two young woman who were facing each other across a table. One of them was reading a Bible and frenetically taking notes. She had a glint in her eye and was totally immersed in her studies. I had to admire her passion and energy. You don’t see many young people openly reading a Bible these days. Or anyone for that matter.
The other woman was lying slumped across the table with her head resting on her arms. She was out for the count. All I could make out was a mess of long hair. She must have had a heavy night I thought to myself. One (or ten) too many beverages I suspected. I was at my judgemental best and frowned at her. If only she could have been like the diligent, devoted girl sitting opposite her. Tut! Tut!
The train pulled in and passengers began to disembark. ‘Diligent Girl’ (for that’s what I had christened her) closed her Bible and began to pack away her notes. ‘Drunk Girl’ (boo hiss!) arose from her stupor and groggily looked around, uncertain as to her whereabouts. Belfast? Baltimore? Beirut? Who knew. She yawned and began to sleepily gather up her belongings.
It was then that the two girls started to talk. They obviously knew one another. Then I noticed that they were both wearing name badges indicating that they were members of a church organisation. Whatever your thoughts on their beliefs here were two young women who were about to venture out onto the mean streets of Belfast to do what they thought was the right thing to do. Sharing the love of God with others.
Yet I had already trialled and convicted one of them as being a useless waste of space. I felt guilty and shuffled off the train and onto the platform with the hundreds of other commuters. My fellow runners in this rat race we call life. All shuffling along, heads down and eyes fixed firmly on the ground. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.
We are the Walking Dead. We wake up dead. We go about our daily routines dead. We go to sleep dead.
Those two young woman had a purpose, a passion, a mission. For all I knew ‘Drunk Girl’ could have been exhausted because she was up all night praying for someone in need or helping a broken person find their way through the night. Or maybe not. Whatever her tiredness it was not for me to judge her. If only I had an ounce of her faith and conviction. If only we all did what a better place the world would be to live in.
Why do we get out of bed in the morning? Beyond the mundane, dreary necessities of life why do we do it? Are you driven and passionate? Are you pursuing your dream, the reason you were placed on this planet? Or are you just aimlessly drifting along from one day to the next with no real goals or ambitions?
We are nearing a New Year and with it come the traditional resolutions that rarely last a week. Why wait that long? Why not start today. I’ve spent most of my life in zombie mode, going through the motions. From one self inflicted disaster to the next. Trying to fill the gaping hole in my soul with trifling distractions. I’ve achieved a lot. I have Fionnuala and the kids. But there is so much more to do, so much more to achieve. And the clock is ticking.
I cannot waste a second. I need to push on. Forwards. Alway forwards. I might not leap out of bed but I get up now with vision and focus. It makes it all worthwhile.
I wake up tired. But alive.
Do you wake up dead every morning? Are you shuffling through your day like a zombie?
Or have you a plan? A target? A dream worth getting up for?
I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a mental illness whereby distressing, intrusive thoughts enter my head and refuse to leave. These are known as obsessions. The only temporary reprieve is to perform a physical or mental routine, the compulsion, in an attempt to force the intrusive thought from my mind. It invariably returns, however, often stronger than before. The compulsive act reinforces the impulsive thought. It is an ever decreasing circle, a cycle of despair.
One of my earliest OCD memories as a young boy revolved around the fireplace in our family home. It was a coal fire and my mother kept a metal poker on the fireplace in order to rake the ashes. It was nothing. Just an insignificant piece of metal, an inanimate object which served little purpose other than as I have described above.
It was to become the centre of my universe.
I don’t know how or when it started. But unless the poker was in a certain position on the fireplace I would be overcome by wave upon wave of anxiety and worry. Like a boulder sitting on my chest. I was consumed by it. I could think of nothing else and would wait until the living room was empty before scurrying over to the fireplace and setting the poker in exactly the position I needed it to be in. This would alleviate my distress.
Until the next time.
I was embarrassed at having to do this so did everything in my power to ensure that nobody became aware of my fixation. Because it was insane right? But my mother had been watching and one day asked me why I was doing it. I was mortified and had no real answer. Why was I doing it? I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the feelings of guilt and shame that followed.
I didn’t know what OCD was back then. I felt like I was a freak, a weirdo, an outsider. Something inside me was not right. I was broken and could not be fixed. My obsessions and the resulting compulsions dominated my life. They became my idols and I was brought to my knees time and time again at their altars. I was powerless to resist.
They made me the man I am today. The man I have been working so hard to change. This blog is part of that transformation. I am a work in progress but there has been progress. My OCD is largely under control now thanks to a combination of medication, education and a supportive and loving family. I still display OCD traits and have bad days but the good days outnumber them.
I have slain my idols.
Is your life being controlled by a false idol? It could be a toxic relationship, an addictive behaviour or a mental illness. It is the centre of your universe and try as you might you cannot kick it. To do so would cause your world to shatter into a million pieces. You are paralysed by fear, alone and confused. I see hundreds of posts a day about these false idols. Good people consumed by despair and depression.
You are not alone. I might not comment on your posts because sometimes I don’t know what to say. But I pray for you. There are thousands of us like you. Open your eyes. Be brave. Reach out and ask for help. Do not let your situation dictate the direction of your life. Grab the steering wheel now. Get off that road you are on. You can do this. If I can then so can you.
I believe in a God. You may or may not. But even if you do not share my beliefs do not allow false gods to ruin your life. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, people. They do not control your destiny. You do. Turn your back on their altars of anarchy. Walk away. I am walking with you. For we are many and this path is well travelled.
Walk away. I know you can.
Have you allowed false idols to enter your life?
How are you coping with this?
You haven’t the sense you were born with!
This critique of my decision making and problem solving skills has dogged me throughout most of my adult life. I am told that I am intelligent and I hold down a reasonably important job where I (shock horror) manage other adults and ‘do the grown up stuff’ without blinking an eyelid. I can deliver presentations to large audiences, brief senior management and function effectively within a high pressure working environment.
Fionnuala says there are two Stephens. ‘Work Stephen’ who is confident, assertive and strong; and ‘Home Stephen’ who can barely change a light bulb and who dithers over whether he wants pizza or Chinese from the takeaway.
I used to be indecisive but now I’m not so sure….
I cannot make a decision to save myself. My self esteem is low so my default setting is to please people. I want to be liked. It’s different in the working environment. I am representing an organisation and making decisions on their behalf. It’s not personal and if people don’t like the decision then they can blame the organisation and not me.
It’s different outside of work. The buck stops with me. When I am asked a question I’m immediately second guessing what the person who asked the question wants me to say in response. My brain goes into overdrive. If I say pizza will they be annoyed because they really wanted Chinese food. Or vice versa? I hmmmm and I haaaaa and then end up saying ‘Oh I’ll have whatever you’re having’. This drives Fionnuala nuts. ‘I wish you would make a decision’ she sighs.
This people pleasing disposition has got me in all sorts of bother down the years. I can’t say no. I hate confrontation and disagreements. I will agree with someone’s opinion or point of view even when every molecule in my body is screaming that they are wrong. This has led me down many wrong paths and before I know it I’m up to my neck in a whole world of pain.
I have worked hard this year on many aspects of my personality. This includes making decisions based on what sits best with my conscience as opposed to what the other person wants to hear. It also involves saying ‘no’ when I want to say ‘no’ and veering clear of people and situations which I know are not healthy for me. This has drastically wiped out a large chunk of my social calendar but I view it as a small price to pay.
Fionnuala has asked me in recent weeks what I want for Christmas and as usual I wasn’t able to give her a straight answer. Until now.
All I want for Christmas is wisdom and discretion.
I don’t want common sense. I want more. I want uncommon sense. I want the wisdom of Solomon. I want my yes to mean yes and my no to mean know. I want to make healthy, well informed decisions which I know are right for me and my family. I want to walk along the paths I was born to walk along. I want that piece of my mind that has always reneged at this to know true peace of mind.
Is that too much to ask Santa?
Would you say you have common sense?
What bad decisions in your past have influenced your present?
Last night I woke up at 04:00 am and the following words hit me like a bolt between the eyes.
Steps lead to shelter….
We are all on a journey. And every journey requires forward motion. Change is daunting and many of us fear and avoid it. But it is necessary in order for us to evolve into who we are meant to be. We need to embrace new situations, relationships and experiences as opposed to recoiling from them.
Change involves transition. Transitions require decisions.
Are you at a crossroads in your life? Have you a significant decision to make that will change your life irrevocably? If you have it’s a frightening time. You may feel that you are exposed and vulnerable; that the next step may only take a second but could lead you into a life of regrets; that you are leaving your safe, comfortable existence behind and are entering a dangerous, new world.
Take the step.
Be honest with yourself. The decision was taken days, months, years ago even. All that is required now is the actual transition. You need to turn that thought into a concrete action. Take the step. And then another one. And then another one. Don’t look back in anger the song goes. I say don’t look back at all. When you have made your decision stick by it.
Your comfort zone is a war zone. You might feel safe there but you are in fact engaged in a fight to the death. The death of your dreams and hopes. The death of your future. The death of who you were created to be. Suffocated by the smog of your present circumstances. The comfort zone is a dank, dark, cold environment.
I see little comfort in that.
The future might seem frightening but throw back the veil and you will see for the first time that it is in fact quite the opposite. It is a place of opportunity; of revelation and restoration. Where you are going is a place of construction. Where you are coming from is a place of obstruction and destruction.
What are you constructing? A new world. A world you deserve and are entitled to live in. It is your birthright; it is your inheritance. It is also a place of sanctuary. You have moved forward in order to find your retreat. You can build strong, thick walls behind which yourself and others can heal and flourish. It is a place of genuine comfort.
A storm is coming. You can see it on the horizon. It is hypnotic and you can’t take your eyes off it as it edges ever closer. It is time to move on. It is time to take that first, faltering step in the opposite direction. You may take it alone or you may take it with others. That is their decision but do not be tied by it for you have already made yours.
Take the step.
Steps lead to shelter.
Somebody said something today about me which I felt was unfair and uncalled for. I won’t go into the details and it wasn’t a massive issue but for an instance I was tempted to give said person a piece of my mind. But only a small piece as I don’t have much to go round in the first place. How dare they speak to me like that. It wasn’t funny and as for the hypocrisy. Well don’t get me started.
It reminded me of a saying that my father used to quote when he recalled such scenarios.
So I said nothing and left him….lying there.
I’ve never thrown a punch in my life but if ever I was tempted to wipe the smug look of someone’s face today was an opportunity. But I said nothing, made my excuses and walked off.
I left him….standing there.
Much of our lives are spent hiding our true feelings. For many it is a full time occupation. We wear so many masks that sometimes it’s hard to remember who the real us is. We have more faces than Big Ben! Sometimes, like today, it was necessary to conceal what I really thought and zip my mouth shut when I wanted to let rip. Masks can act as shields, protecting us from the many arrows fired at us during this journey called life.
But what about the masks we wear online? I got into whole heaps of trouble online in a former life creating a misleading persona. I played a role and lived a fantasy life, with my head stuck in the sand like an ostrich as to what was going on in the real world. I hid online as opposed to facing up to my responsibilities. I let a lot of people down, including myself.
When this blog launched I made a promise that I would be myself. I would be brutally honest in my posts. Warts and all. No airbrushing. No sugar coated pills. When I assess the blog six months in I realise I have covered a lot of dark topics. I appreciate that these will not have been everybody’s cup of tea but I have kept to my word.
You have seen the real Stephen. The Good, The Bad and The Frequently Ugly. I have written about my faith and my issues regarding the organised church and some of its practices. I have written about my OCD and years of binge drinking. I have bored you all silly about my marathon training. And I have written about my family who, I am ashamed to say, didn’t really exist when I was on Twitter and Instagram.
I am me. This blog is a mask free zone. I have found WordPress an encouraging and supportive community where I can express myself and feel safe. I can breathe and walk, or rather type, with my head held high. No shame and no regrets. Sober words from a scarred, but honest, heart. WordPress has been an essential part in my recovery and renaissance. I have you all to thank for that.
Let’s build a funeral pyre and burn the many masks we wear. Let’s be ourselves and blog in freedom and in truth. Let our words shine like a beacon through the online darkness.
Do we see the real you online?
As I mentioned yesterday this Christmas I’m trying to do more homemade gifts, decorations and scents and after the success of my Christmas Pot Pourri, which by the way, you can get a second day out of it just keep filling it up with water, today it was the gifts for teachers, class room assistants and therapists.
Normally I would buy tins of sweets or biscuits for these gifts which would cost us £60/£70 but not this year ‘Frugal Fionnuala’ is doing things differently and getting Hannah and Rebecca busy at making delicious shortbread. I was out shopping with my mum a few weeks ago and bought little jute sacks which I thought would be perfect for this task and they were a bargain at only £1.99 for three sacks. The girls finish school for Christmas break on Wednesday so the latest the baking could be done was today.
When the boys went to rugby this morning we got to work. The recipe for Short bread is as follows:
This should make 30 pieces of shortbread
250g plain flour
1/4 teaspoon of salt
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
100g caster sugar
When the shortbread had cooled down we placed 12 pieces in a clear sandwich bag and sealed it with some Christmas ribbon. We then but the bags in the jute sacks which Adam named ‘Little Sacks of Joy’
The girls really enjoyed making these for their teachers and can’t wait to go to school on Monday which also means there should be no mysterious illness or sickness come over them bedtime tomorrow night.
What gifts do you send into school for teachers?
At this time of the year children all around the world unite and traditionally engage in the damage limitation exercise known as ‘The Naughty Or Nice List’. Wherein they attempt to rectify eleven months of misbehaviour and disobedience by falling over themselves to perform household chores, which they had blissfully ignored for the rest of the year, and suck up to their parents in any way possible in the hope that, come Christmas morning, they won’t be waking up to a whole lot of nothing.
‘Santa has been watching and knows if you have been naughty or nice’ we proclaim sternly in the vain hope that it will spur them on to tidy their pits (I mean bedrooms), bring down their dirty washing (before it walks down the stairs itself) and solve the age old conundrum of where have all the cups gone (I believe Rebecca hold the current record of having five on her bedside table at the same time).
All I can say is that Father Christmas must be the most naive magical being alive as he falls for it every year. 360 days of utter chaos in the Black household are wiped off the slate by a few half hearted attempts to wash the dishes and put the bins out. Getting them to dry and put away the dishes or bring said bins back into the yard is a whole different blog. Despite all this gullible old Santa falls hook, line and sinker for this pre-pubescent ‘hearts and minds’ offensive every year and duly delivers the goods on Christmas Eve.
If only real life was like that. If only we could wave a magic wand and undo all the mistakes and bad choices we have made this year. If only we could turn back the clock and undo those harsh words we spoke, erase those impure thoughts we had or reverse the many selfish actions we undertook . If only we could be ‘nice’ for the next few days and forget about the many other ‘naughty’ days we have clocked up throughout our lives.
I intensely dislike the word nice. It’s a nothing word. My old English teacher said it was the laziest word in the English language. Naughty isn’t much better. But I suppose it’s only kids after all so doesn’t really apply to us larger humans who supposedly do the ‘adulting’ stuff. Why be naughty when you can be nasty, cruel, spiteful or just plain old mean. That’s more up our street isn’t it. And when you develop a mindset which regards these as second nature then it’s a long road back.
Unfortunately we don’t have Santa Claus to turn a blind eye to our faults and failings. Which placed me on a sticky wicket when I hit rock bottom a few years ago. He was nowhere to be seen. Not a reindeer or an elf in sight. I had no other option but to rely on my fractured faith which I had neglected for many years. I started reading my Bible and trying to practically follow the teachings of Jesus on a daily basis. I know not everyone who reads this blog believes in Jesus any more that they believe in Santa Claus; all I can say is that it worked for me.
I’m far from perfect. There have been many hiccups along the way. I screw up on a regular basis. I can do SO much better. But I hope that I’m getting there a step at a time. No disrespect to the Big Man with the red suit and beard but Jesus is the main event at Christmas for me this year. And no matter how ‘naughty’ you have been he can wipe the slate clean and offers you the same opportunity to start again on the ‘nice’ list. All you have to do in return?
Believe. Trust. Follow. The choice is yours.
Isaiah 9:6 – ‘For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’
Have you been naughty or nice this year?
Do you follow Jesus? Are you curious? Or do you think it’s just a festive myth? I’d be keen to hear your views. Comment below.
Everybody wants to fall in love right? We all crave that ‘high as a kite’ feeling where our heart performs somersaults every time we see the object of our desire and they occupy our every waking thought. For many it is the single most important objective in their lives and they devote an inordinate amount of time, energy (and invariably money) towards achieving their goal.
But why do we fall in love? Why don’t we soar in love or, at the very least, hover? Falling suggests a loss of control. Which is correct because when a person falls in love they do, to an extent, lose a degree of objectivity. Often nobody or nothing else matters outside of the object of their affection. When it’s good it’s very good. But it can lead to harm, hurt and potential heartbreak. When we stampede blindly down the road to romance others can get trampled in the process.
Falling in love is both a selfless and a selfish act. Selfless in that you put the needs of the other person before yours and will often park your own ambitions, values and ethics to one side in order to conform to theirs and thus be accepted. Selfish in that, as they are now the centre of your universe, others previously in that position, are now shunted out into the outer cosmos. Somewhere between Neptune and Uranus I suspect.
Yes falling in love is a fantastic experience. Your stomach does somersaults and your head is at 49,000 feet. A fantastic experience but a temporary one. Every fall must come to an end. Often with a shuddering halt. And it is what you do then that truly matters. Falling in love is the easy part. It is a fickle, transient state of being. It requires little effort. It is a feeling, an emotion, an altered reality. But remaining in love? Well that’s an entirely different ball game.
Loving someone on a 24/7/365 basis is hard work. It is a wilful act as opposed to a fleeting fancy. It requires bottomless amounts of forgiveness and patience. Especially when it involves someone who doesn’t display particularly lovable traits; someone who doesn’t appear to reciprocate the love; or someone who you want to scream at and punch in the face rather than buy chocolates and roses. I know. For I have been loved at my most unlovable.
Loving someone likes this often involves telling them what they don’t want to hear. Delivering hard and unpleasant information otherwise known as ‘the truth’. Some of you may have heard of this term. To others it remains an alien concept. Falling in love is like standing under a tropical waterfall. Remaining in love often involves throwing ice cold buckets of water over your sleep walking, day dreaming partner. In order to smell the coffee you must first be woke up. That can be an unpleasant, but necessary, experience.
Loving someone like this is entirely selfless. You have to be entirely selfless in order to destroy the selfishness in the other person. In order to prick their conscience you have to first burst their bubble. And that can be a messy process. True love involves bursting that bubble but also remaining around afterwards to mop up the mess. Sacrifice is a dirty, disgusting business. In order to be truly purged we often have to be submerged in blood, sweat and tears.
Fall in love, yes. Enjoy the rush, the thrill, allow yourself to be swept off your feet. But when you return to terra firma be prepared to roll up your sleeves and knuckle down for a hard slog. Love is a war where many enemies, both internal and external, will attempt to grind you into the ground. True love will prevail but it will be a war of attrition. One day at a time. With its casualties but also with its heroes who are often unsung. For they understand the true meaning of love.
This post is dedicated to my wife, Fionnuala. ❤️
How do you define love?< strong>What are your experiences of falling, and remaining, in love?
Yesterday lunchtime I had a walk around areas of Belfast city centre where scenes of my first novel are to be set. The plan was to capture details that have evaded my memory to date so that when I am writing I can refer to them there and then. Ideally I would like to write the relevant scene while sitting at the location but it was minus 4 yesterday. I’m a wannabe author but I’m not that crazy!
Progress has been slow of late. What with work and family life it is hard to find the quiet time necessary to write. I also don’t want to neglect my blogging which is at the heart of my writing. It is my meat and potatoes. The book is just the dessert. Honeycomb ice cream or strawberry cheesecake I hope.
I’ve written about 40,000 words but I literally vomited them out during a week off work about a month ago. It’s as if they had been lying on my stomach for years and I just had to get them out of my system. I purged myself. What have I learnt? That I can write, yes, but also that I need a structure to form my words around.
I’m therefore spending more time on outlining and storyboarding as opposed to just writing blindly. The latter has surprised me in that I’ve realised that I am at my most creative when in the actual act of writing. That is when the ideas come to me, when I am actually sitting at the keyboard. It has resulted in characters leading me off in totally different directions from what I had first anticipated.
It has also dragged me down a few dead ends, however. A happy medium needs to be struck between spontaneity and preparation. I need a solid foundation upon which to lay these creative bursts. This is slowly coming. I have been using a technique called ‘The Snowflake Method’ where you start with the premise for your novel in one sentence and gradually build it from there. A paragraph, a page, four pages and so on.
The above technique is teaching me discipline and patience. Writing a novel is hard work. Yes, you have your days when the words flow from you like water from a fountain. But at other times it involves monotony and frustration. Taking five steps back in order to move one step forwards. Chipping away at a block of stone in order to reveal the sculpture beneath.
I also haven’t decided on my favourite writing device. At times I favour sitting at my desk writing on the laptop but I also jot down ideas and notes on my I-Phone and Kindle Fire. I also have a notebook which I write in. With this ancient writing tool known as a pen. Some of you may have heard of this. If haven’t just google it.
So that’s my update. I’m getting there but slower than I first expected.
How is your writing coming along?
Look at me and what do you see? A husband, a father, a runner, a blogger. I hope that I am all these things and more. But not so long ago I saw myself differently.
I saw a failure, a fraud, I worshipped false gods who gnawed at my flaws. Fixated on the din of sin, no quiet, still voice for me within. Rather, the insanity of vanity ravished me, ravaged me until I lay feeding on the bloated carcass of my future. I was deflated, my appetite for life abated. A vain, conceited man, whose veins ran red with others pain. Oh what a brain but no common sense. Dense with demons who would not relent. My world could not revolve until I evolved. Evolved from the mire and shed my desires. Not easy for a spineless liar who flinched at the fire. The fire of truth which lay at the root of everything I refused to stand for anymore.
On my knees for all the wrong reasons….
The truth stung like sea salt on a fresh cut. Like an open handed slap to the face on a bitter cold morning. I was someone too big for their boots. These boots were made for walking. I wanted to walk the paths of the righteous….you’re never right so shush…. but too often I strayed off the beaten path. Until I was beaten to a pulp. I could not travel but instead unraveled before an unseen God who looked on waiting. No shortage of trouble when you have your own shovel.
I had been diverted. Diversions leading to fresh perversions. I averted my shameful gaze from the sordid secrets on the screen to my journal where I wrote words of life day after day after desperate day. Yet day after day I lived a life of lies. A double life of double standards. Standing at my own gallows with the good book in my hand. They say I saw the light but they didn’t see my frostbitten heart. Black and dead like a gull on an oil slick. My words were slick yet I was sick, vomiting up my own hypocrisy to be gobbled back down time and time again by an adoring audience.
A dog always returns to its own vomit.
Losing weight yet so full of hate. Hating myself for what I had become. Numb. Personal bests on the road. Personal worsts off it. Home alone and on I droned on my twirly throne. With that hateful phone. Tweet Tweet I bleat, no end to my conceit. Empty words. I was running on empty. As the fat fell off me my soul became clotted with the cholesterol of a chaotic existence. A requiem for everything I once was now turned to dust and rust for I was broken. My lungs were choking. Suffocated on stuff I hated. Gasping for breath but there’s nothing left. Drunk on retweets and punch drunk on deceit.
Flatlining on my timeline. But every heart attack requires a heart. So life went on. Prolonged….
The sins of the father. Well my father sinned but even he would have shook his head and looked away from what I had become. Thank God they sealed the coffin lid. The dead mourned the living that February day. He had to leave yet I couldn’t grieve. Disbelief as I bluffed my way through his wake. Wide asleep. The emotional thief high on death. An endorphin rush from the grave. The big man holding the family together I was, yet falling apart inside. The tears wouldn’t come, frozen inside me and encasing my essence. Holding me together yet tearing them apart. This stinking thinking which was my inheritance. Was cancer the answer God? Really?
I had no will to kill the thoughts. They would not stop. You go on to bed. I’ll be right up. The fridge opens. Another drink. Don’t want to think. Just sink. Clink Clink.
Weakened every weekend they went to sleep leaving me downstairs to mourn the death of my former self. I dreamt drunken dreams where I was strong and not the mess causing so much stress. But I digress. Another beer. To kill the fear. The fear of what I had become. For even when the beer had run its course I still was hoarse; from the lies that lined my sandpaper throat. Saliva like acid burns as I slide back, backslide to where I came from and where I was going.
Alcohol was my crutch. It wasn’t much but was enough to snuff out what was left. I was bereft. I lost two parents that day and gained a child I did not want. You’ve lost your father? Doesn’t matter. You’ve still got your mother. Yet I smothered another, my lover, the mother of my children. I am ashamed and I was to blame. She deserved better and I hope these letters and these words are an end for her and a beginning for us. An end to sin. New life within.
Four years ago. Sober at last. But a sober drunk is a dangerous creature. For we still thirst. Which leads to worse.
To be continued…..
The above piece is part of a trilogy that I hope to post over the next week. Thank you for taking the time to read it. If you have any comments or questions then please leave them below – Stephen.
We live near the shores of Lough Neagh, the largest freshwater lake in the British Isles. It is home to a rich variety of wildlife including elegant geese who regularly fly over our house in a perfect arrowhead formation. It’s a wondrous sight but not quite as jaw dropping as the herd of pigs which flew over chez Black around lunchtime yesterday.
Okay. Okay. I made that last line up.
But there was an equally miraculous visage for Fionnuala and the kids to behold. Yours truly standing at the ironing board. As in actually ironing! With an iron!!
Fionnuala hasn’t been feeling that well this weekend and even I couldn’t avoid to see the mountain of ironing accumulating in the corner of our kitchen. Now my housekeeping skills leave a lot to be desired. I can burn water. But surely even I could manage a few shirts and school uniforms in order to take the pressure off my long suffering better half. Wee buns as we say in Northern Ireland.
Over the course of the next couple of hours I fine tuned my technique until a sizeable amount of freshly pressed clothes were folded up on the kitchen table. It was hard to imagine that they had previously been a crumpled heap in the wash basket. I must admit I felt quite pleased with my efforts. I can’t swim and I don’t own a bike so it will be the nearest I’ll ever come to being an Iron Man.
Sorry couldn’t resist….
How many of you feel like a crumpled shirt or pair of trousers? Dishevelled and unwanted. Covered in creases and wrinkles. The wrinkles can be literal, the result of unremitting pressure and stress. Wrinkles are bumps on the highways and byways of our lives. They need to be overcome and the iron creates the searing heat needed to eradicate them. A white hot heat that regenerates and purges. I needed a hot iron in order to remove the creases from the pile of clothes I tackled today.
Sometimes in order to remove the problems in our lives an external heat needs to be applied. It can be a concerned friend or a caring relative. We stumble around in a maze of mistakes and cannot see the bigger picture. We lose our perspective and become subjective. We require a blunt appraisal of our situation from an outside source. Warts and all. We might not like it but the best medicine never goes down easily.
We become blinded by bias and a friendly iron can be be a painful necessity in order to smooth out our predicament. Heat hurts but it also heals. It can lead to wide, flat plateaus of peace devoid of the cobbles of confusion and flagstones of fear. Why sidle on the sidewalk or ponder on the pavement when you can surge ahead on the straightest, narrowest road imaginable.
Chase your dreams on open highways. We all accumulate wrinkles and creases on our life journeys. Don’t allow them to force you down dark alleys that lead to dead ends and delay. Swallow your pride and share your problems with someone who you can be truly accountable to; allow them to bring the heat and drag you out of the trough you find yourself in.
You need never be alone. De-crease your problems and increase your hopes of a brighter future. Just reach out. We are here for you.
Are you an ironing geek? Or do you dread this chore?
Do you need help with a problem today?
Are there people out there who can iron out your creases?
Today is a very special day in the Black household. Our eldest daughter, Hannah, is celebrating her 14th birthday. This makes Fionnuala and myself feel very old but it also fills us with wonder as to where all the years have gone. It seems no time since that exciting, frightening day when Hannah was born. Hannah was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and underwent many operations in her early life with great bravery and dignity.
How many of us could undergo neurosurgery one day and be sitting up in bed, relying on paracetamol alone for pain relief, the next. Hannah has a heart the size of Ireland but is as tough as they come. Her courage and positive outlook on life have humbled me on many occasions. She loves life and is developing into a intelligent, beautiful and talented woman before our very eyes with every passing day.
Adam is the sporting star of the family and Rebecca the bookworm and aspiring blogger. Hannah, however, loves drama, song and dance. She performs on stage with incredible confidence and her talent shines bright. This amazes Fionnuala and myself all the more given you wouldn’t catch either of us dead or alive on stage.
Hannah is a loving daughter and a loyal friend. She also loves her brother and sister very much despite the ever so occasional fallout they have. Her smile could melt the coldest of hearts and lights up every room she enters. She refuses to be defined by her disability and since the first day of her life has defied surgeons and doctors alike with her spirit and desire to live a normal life.
With every passing week she reveals new skills to us. First it was her theatrical panache, next her flair for make up, hair and fashion. And this week has shown she has inherited her mother’s baking skills; her scones, shortbread and gingerbread biscuits were heaven on earth. I will have to run a few extra miles this week to burn off all the excess calories.
I embarrass her on a daily basis with my cringe worthy dancing and appalling rap skills. Her sighs and eye rolling are a sight to behold. But we are blessed to call her our daughter. She inspires and motivates us every day to strive harder and reach higher. She is a living testimony to the adage that nothing is impossible. She is unstoppable….especially in her new, motorised wheelchair!
Hannah, thank you for the joy you bring to our lives. Thank you for the singing, the laughter and the tantrums. Thank you for the gift you are. Thank you for being you. You are perfect to us and our hero. We cannot wait to share this magical, special day with you. We will never leave your side and never let you down.
All our love.
Mummy & Daddy
Fionnuala and the kids have been trying in recent weeks to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by adding me to the family’s Snapchat group. This appears to involve sending each other photos and/or videos of yourself with animal ears or speaking in squeaky voice. Or both! At the same time!!
It’s all a bit beyond me. Firstly the app couldn’t acknowledge my facial features when I tried to take a photograph. Now I realise I’m no Brad Pitt or George Clooney but at the same time this was a bit of a blow to my already fragile self-esteem as Fionnuala says I’m no Quasimodo either.
I’d never seem a photograph of him before today but I have to say the face rings a bell….
*tumbleweed drifts across screen*
Anyhoooooo….another app they’ve introduced me to is Bitmoji. You know the one where you can create a cartoon character of yourself which can then reflect your every mood. Say happy….
Or I feel like rocking the Christmas elf look.
In hindsight I don’t think I have the legs for those tights….
That aside I’ve taken to Bitmoji like a duck to water. Fionnuala is already bitterly regretting showing me how it works as I now bombard her and other friends with Bitmoji images as opposed to texting them ‘words’ or, heaven forbid, having an actual conversation. With words, eye contact and adulting stuff like that.
Isn’t it amazing how lazy we have become at communicating with each other. Why bother expending all that energy expressing yourself when a 😊 or a 👍🏻 will suffice. We love creating layers and barriers in order to hide our true selves. Being honest and open is almost regarded as a sign of weakness in this day and age.
We have become an emoji culture.
We are in fact an emotionless culture.
Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all the same. So many people offering up entirely inaccurate and misleading caricatures of who they really are. We are the happy selfie generation while inside there is despair and selfishness. Nobody sees the real person anymore. They are buried beneath fake smiles and glazed eyes.
That’s what I love about you guys. The WordPress community. Realism. Warts and all. So real it cuts me to the bone at times. You wear your hearts on your sleeves every day. You inspire and motivate me. You tell stories of brokenness. You speak the truth even if it is a painful truth. You desire healing and growth. You want to move forward, to leave behind the zombie generation.
You want to help others but realise, before that, you have to help yourself.
We are the refugees of social media. The online outcasts. We have fled the coming storm and sought sanctuary within WordPress. It is our fortress, our stronghold. We have pulled up the drawbridge and now sit around the fire telling stories of struggle and recovery. We are a family, a community. We are one.
We don’t need selfies. We don’t pout or preen for the camera. We are what we are. Fragile, weak, yet real. Words are our weapons and tools. Together we are strong. There are multiple beliefs and faiths on the blogs I read here every day. But they are bound together by love, empathy and wisdom.
Physician heal thyself. But you are. One day at a time. One blog post at a time.
Why do you love most about WordPress?
As I walked through the city centre this morning I gingerly sidestep the discarded debris from the night before. The greasy pizza boxes frozen to the pavement and broken beer bottles glistening in the half light. Empty like the drunken revellers who had gorged upon them. Signs of lives that sparkled, then spluttered, across the Belfast horizon not ten hours ago. Grime scenes of pointless brawls and even more pointless declarations of undying love. The dying embers of the best or worst night of their lives.
The street cleaners are already hard at work, their trucks shattering the silence as they trundle by, removing all incriminating evidence that the night before ever existed. No more blemishes on the landscape. A return to the status quo, order restored. Setting the stage for the same tired melodramas to be played out later that evening; penning another tawdry chapter in the sorry storybook of their lives. New opportunities, high hopes, dazzling dreams. Waiting to be shattered.
Human remains. Washed down the drain.
The actors awake in their beds. Or possibly somebody else’s. Some recall every second of the previous night, for others it is a dim memory that evades their grasp long into the daylight hours. Some smile and others shudder as they replay the sordid scenes that unfold before their bloodshot, hungover eyes. Phones are checked, messages are cherished or hastily deleted. Some can’t wait til the next time, others swear never again. Alcohol enthrals them as it once enthralled me. But now I stand appalled. At who I once was.
Love affairs (and death affairs) blossomed here. Life long friendships were cemented or derailed. I see it all with jaded eyes as I’ve been there, done that, bought the ill fitting t-shirt. I stand on the outside now looking in. My nights of revelry are a distant memory. I avoid bars now. I recoil around the drunken revellers. I feel isolated, intimidated, afraid? I fear them but not as much as I fear myself. What I am capable of. The side of me I want to bury. I didn’t come through hell. I was hell. My victims are legion. Their lesions are my living testimony.
I had a choice. The high life or a real life. I chose the latter. I chose my wife and kids. I chose nine to five and staying alive. For one pint was never enough. I drank to get drunk. The quicker the better. Pint upon pint. Bad decision upon bad decision like stacked dominoes. I scarred the hearts of my loved ones like alcohol scars the liver of the lonely lush. It numbed me to the truth. It deafened the words of wisdom I needed to hear. Because who wants to hear when there’s another beer. She was my mistress. She was my mistake.
I turned my back on those human remains in order to remain human. I now see a life beyond the next weekend, the next party, the next crushing hangover. I run long and I think longer. I want my remains to outlive the street cleaners. I want my legacy to be generations of flesh and bone; fond memories; happy times. I want my existence to matter. No matter what. So I sacrifice to accumulate. A small price to pay given the rewards I see ahead. My faith is as blind as it is lucid.
I am a broken man, but a resurrected man. I wear my scars like battle honours. No longer reeling, rather feeling and healing. Liquid healing under a cascading waterfall of love, grace and hope. I heal so I can be real. I cling to the present like a new born child cling to it’s mothers breast. I am thirsty but not for beer. I desire to be restored by living water from fountains of knowledge and wisdom. This knowledge opens the door to worlds where dreams can become reality. Knowledge leads to truth. And truth leads to freedom.
No more human remains for me. No more. Yet I am human. And I remain.
What sights do you see when you take an early morning walk through your town or city?
What remains from your past are you struggling to scrub from your present life?
How are you dealing with healing?
Today was a Bad Hair Day. A very Bad Hair Day. I would post a photo but I don’t want to scare any of you good, good people. You all deserve better than that. I’m not sure if it was my now infamous cap, the windy conditions or that I’m in desperate need of a haircut but I resembled a 5′ 11′ Northern Irish troll when I finally reached the office this morning. Which is not a good look.
My arrival was greeted by a chorus of guffaws from my rarely sympathetic colleagues causing me to beat a hasty retreat to the bathroom to inspect the damage. I looked like I’d seen a ghost. It would have been a truly hair raising experience if it wasn’t for the fact that my hair was already raised. There followed a frenzied few minutes of wetting it down and trying to restore some semblance of sanity to my appearance. I looked like Albert Einstein after he stuck his finger in a power socket.
Makeover complete I returned to the office looking every inch the suave, sophisticated middle manager everyone knows and loves. Note to self – always keep a tube of hair gel in the office to avoid a repeat performance in the future. Or stop being so lazy and pay a visit to the barber’s to get it all whacked off. Hair today, gone tomorrow. I apologise. That was possibly the worst pun in the history of WordPress.
That’s the good thing about Bad Hair Days. They can easily be rectified, no matter how dire the reflection that greets you in the mirror. But what about those Bad Head Days? When no matter how hard you try and no matter what you do you can’t shift the smog of sadness which silently settles on your mind like volcanic ash. As it settles you become more unsettled. For you know what is about to follow.
Unsettled by depression and despair. Depression like a giant raven which sinks its talons into the meat of your mind and refuses to let go. It is relentless and seeps into every recess, polluting and contaminating your every waking thought and every restless dream. Dreams that make you scream. Screams that nobody hears because you are entombed in the solitary prison that is your consciousness.
Alcohol. Drugs. Sex. Money. They offer only temporary release, a momentary relapse in the onslaught which rains down on you like meteor showers hitting the atmosphere of your soul. Souls full of holes which can never be mended. Irreparable damage to irreplaceable hopes and aspirations. You feel utterly alone and are utterly defeated. You fly the white flag of surrender against a backdrop of nightmarish proportions.
Bad Head Days have a habit of becoming Bad Head Weeks. Then months, then years and before you know it your life is slipping through your fingers and you are left staring at nothing. Why wash? Why eat? Why answer the phone? Why get out of bed? Why breathe another breath? Options decrease as the anguish increases. You are broken. And choking. Choking on the bitterness of empty promises and seductive lies.
Lies. Soul ties. Time flies and before you know it they are gone. The loved ones, the loyal ones, the people you felt would always be there to catch you when you fell. Fell into hell. You’re in freefall. But it’s not free. It has cost you everything you’ve ever held dear. Suicide is painless they say. Not for those you leave behind. They will die every day reliving the day of your death. There is no hope at the end of a rope. Hope is living. Even if living is little more than survival.
In order to thrive you first must survive. A minute at a time. A breath at at time. Inhale. Exhale. Repeat ad nauseum. Until you are sick. Until you vomit up the poison. Until you see that first chink of light on the horizon. That first hazy sunset which cuts through the smog and warms your frozen heart. Scream. Scream until your lungs burst. Scream until you are heard, until you get the help you need to visit tomorrow. And the tomorrow after that.
Are you having a Bad Head Day? Or know someone who is? Please don’t suffer in silence. Get help. Today. Now.
Raise your voice. Kill the noise.
I appreciate that some of my subject matter can be quite dark and depressing at times but today’s post marks a new low. I apologise in advance to the more fainted hearted of you but this story has to be told.
We have a thief in our midst.
When Rebecca told me she wanted to bring home an elf this Christmas I was initially excited. I was thinking Cate Blanchett, Liv Tyler or Evangeline Lily.
But no I got Elfy the Elf….
Since then he has wreaked havoc. And I give you….
But much, much worse was to follow.
He had to take it a step too far. He drank all my Diet Coke. You don’t want to meet Stephen without Diet Coke. He’s like The Hulk. Except I’m not green. And don’t have his muscles. But apart from that. Literally identical.
This means war on the elves. I shall be raising an army of orcs forthwith and descending from Mordor upon Elfy and his kin. They can expect no mercy when, on my command, hell is unleashed.
They shall not pass….
*Elf & Safety Footnote – No elves were harmed during the making of this blog post. So far *
Are you suffering an infestation of elves this Christmas?
What is your favourite LOTR race? Hobbits? Dwarves? Elves? Orcs? Ents?!?!
Last summer we holidayed as a family in County Kerry which is right down at the very bottom of the island of Ireland. And while there we did the whole tourist thang, battling through coach loads of American pensioners to visit various gift shops. These had all kinds of traditional ‘Oirish’ gifts including Star Wars themed t-shirts, Star Wars themed mugs and er…..Star Wars themed tea towels. Scenes for the latest Star Wars movie had been filmed in Kerry earlier that year.
My attention was drawn, however, to a 100% Irish cotton flat cap with optional, drop down ear flaps. Think Sherlock Holmes with dark hair and glasses and you have it. Despite the giggles and strange looks from my adoring wife and kids I was enamoured by it, thinking I cut quite the dashing figure. I swooped and the purchase was made. When we returned home I gave the cap one last, admiring glance before tucking it away in a drawer to await the colder weather.
Which promptly arrived about a week later. Summer time in Northern Ireland usually consists of a weekend in late June if you’re lucky. After that the winds pick up, the heavens open and the temperature plummets. Before I knew it my chilly ears demanded the return of the cap. Thankfully Mark Morrison was nowhere to be seen as I proudly donned it and ventured out to meet my adoring public.
Day 1 in the office produced the following devastating sartorial critiques. And I quote….
Are you wearing that for a bet?
You look like a sheep farmer.
Did your grandfather leave you that in his will?
That’s the most ridiculous piece of headwear I’ve ever seen.
And that’s just the printable comments. Jealousy is a terrible thing and it was obvious that my colleagues just couldn’t cope with my ground breaking head furniture. None of them could carry off this look I thought, rising above their petty jibes and ignoring their juvenile attempts at humour. The ear flaps helped on the latter score but, that aside, I rocked it like a hurricane. Me and my hat were the talking point of the office. Hats off to Stephen!
A notable feature of my life BC (Before Cap) was that my social awkwardness was seriously enhanced by being visible to the human eye. When I saw colleagues in the street I had to acknowledge them and there was always the fear of bumping into people I didn’t particularly want to meet. Not any longer. I walk unrecognised through the mean streets of Belfast. My own mother would walk past me when I’m wearing my cap. It’s like a cloak of invisibility. Except it’s a cap….and it’s not invisible.
I have worn many caps in my time. I tend to adapt my personality to fit in with a certain crowd. This stretches to my values, morals and ethics. I play a role. The problem is I’m a pretty rubbish actor and, before too long, the scenery comes crashing down around me. I didn’t like the real Stephen very much so was constantly endeavouring to reinvent myself and create exciting new personas; be they online from behind a keyboard or in the real world from behind a pint glass.
My various caps blinded me to the truth. Never mind a tissue of lies. I used up entire boxes of them. It got to the point that I became so wrapped up in my various personas I no longer grasped who I was. I was adrift and spiralling out of control. I was in freefall and it was only rock bottom that removed the cataracts of confusion from my eyes. The juddering impact also cleared my head. I looked in the mirror, really looked, for the first time in many years and saw the real me.
Not a pretty sight. Without my various pieces of headwear I was a bloodied and bruised mess. Stripped of my ego I lay exposed and broken. But I was real. And where there is reality there is recovery. Steps leading to a better place. A life without lies. Without secrets. Where I didn’t have to pretend any more. Where I could look my loved ones in the eyes and speak the truth. Warts and all.
I love my Kerry cap. I look like a clown in the office and I move like a ghost on the streets. But beneath it I am content. I am happy. I am me. No more Drunk Cap Stephen. No more OCD Cap Stephen. No more Liar Cap Stephen.
Just Stephen. In a silly cap….
Do you have a favourite piece of headwear?
Have you ever worn different ‘caps’ to fit in with others or avoid confronting the real you?
What’s in a word?
All my life I’ve enjoyed playing with words. Juggling them, rearranging them, making them dance to my tune. I guess I’m a wordsmith. They have been with me in soaring to unimaginable heights and plummeting to indescribable depths. They have been my most loyal ally and my most bitter enemy.
What’s in a letter? 26 little squiggles make the world go round. Or at least the English speaking world. Oh look! Do you see what I did there. With one extra letter I’ve made word becomes world. Aren’t I clever? Words are like putty in my hands, I say jump and they say how high. Without words we are nothing. Our lives are fuelled by words. They shape our futures and cement our pasts.
Words can be weapons. They can hack, slice, pierce and gouge. Words can be swords. Look I did it again! Words can start wars and end lives. They can make good men do bad things. Words can unleash the most horrendous evil. It was words that fuelled the killing factories at Auschwitz and Belsen; it was words that sent tens of thousands of brave, young men over the top to their deaths at the Somme.
Words can break hearts and crush dreams. They can worm their way (three times! three times!) through the smallest gap and wreak havoc. They are permanent. You can’t take back a word. The tongue is the most dangerous part of the body. Actions speak louder than words? I’m not so sure about that. Words are just as capable of irrevocable damage. Words end lives.
The voice inside is just as dangerous as the voices around us. The voice that tells us we’re ugly, stupid, fat or just not good enough. The voice that drips words like poison into our muddled minds to be soaked up by our saturated souls. The voice that tells you to do something that you know is wrong over and over and over again. The voice that leads you to your grave. That seductive, hypnotic voice that drives you to distraction with its promises and lies.
The sweetest poisons are often the most deadly.
Withheld words can be just as devastating as spoken or written words. Silence is a weapon as well. The pain of silence deafens and disorientates. That question that goes unanswered, that cry for help that goes unnoticed. Phone calls that aren’t returned, text messages that are read but ignored. Cutting people out of lives cuts them to the bone. There is no pain like the pain of rejection. Loneliness is the slowest, cruellest of deaths.
Tomorrow I’m going to flip the coin and write about the beauty of words. They inspire and they motivate. Without words there can be no hope, no joy, no charity. Words are love. The Word is love. Your words today can heal. They can change lives. They can drive you onwards and upwards.
Your words are the greatest gift you can bequeath to the world. Choose them carefully.
Please feel free to let us know your thoughts on this post. We always appreciate your comments and feedback.
We hit 30,000 views over the weekend and this is just a quick thank you to everyone from the WordPress community who has supported us since we started six months ago. We have been moved by your kindness and touched by an online harmony that we have never experienced on any other social media platforms.
Ours is a fractured faith. But it’s still a faith.
THANK YOU ❤️🙏🏻😊
Why do we have scars?
I mean really? If God is this all powerful being why does he allow them to exist? To blemish and defile the pinnacle of his creative powers. Mankind.
Broken bones heal. Why don’t all wounds?
The answer? Bones heal but scars reveal.
They reveal where he have come from and remind us what it has taken to get where we are now. We are ashamed of our scars but we should be proud of them. We have earned them. They are battle honours that we fought long and hard for. Your story is told in your scars. Each one is a chapter of your life and each one adds to the person you are today.
You are your scars.
Yes God could wave a magic wand every time you bleed and most times he does. The wound heals and the new skin grows back leaving no sign of the injury. But not every time. No matter how skilful the surgeon or how intensive the therapy.
Stitches are a railroad to our souls, jagged paths that we need to walk in order to grow into who we are destined to become. Some say they are ugly but I say they are beautiful and lead us to greater understanding, knowledge and wisdom of ourselves and others . The wise cherish their scars. They have survived to tell the tale. The tale is in their scars.
We must forgive but in order to do so we must never forget. Weapons aim to dismember but scars allow us to remember. How can you forgive if you can’t remember? For forgiveness is not a one off quick fix. It is a journey, a life long work in process. We may have to forgive a person every day for the rest of our lives. Seven times seventy times and more, Jesus taught. Scars allow us to remember. Scars allow us to forgive.
You may feel broken, unworthy, soiled. But you are beautiful. They say beauty is only skin deep but beauty is in our DNA. It permeates every organ, every tissue, every cell. And there is breathtaking beauty in our scars. They are what make us unique. The unblemished are the incomplete. Our scars make us who we are. Our marks are magnificent.
Scars allow us to love and be loved. They should not be hidden. Scars shouldn’t scare. Instead they should inspire. Inspire and encourage. Scars are for the living and not the dead. Life flows from our scars like the clearest, purest water from a mountain spring. Scars are a tapestry leading to the very essence of who we are.
We are our scars. They complete us. They define us.
Please feel free to comment below and share your thoughts on this post.
Are you one of those people who sees the world only in black and white? Or do you know someone like that? A person who knows right from wrong, has their life totally sorted and knows exactly where they are headed? Who is 100% happy with their life?
If you are one of those people then I doff my metaphorical hat to you.
For I’m nowhere near there. I live in a world of grey.
50,000 shades of grey. Without the kinky stuff you will be glad to hear 😂
We want to drink ice cold, clear water from Alpine streams. But the truth is, most of us splash around in a pretty muddy mire. Polluted by pride, guilt, self pity, loathing and a billion other contaminants that form like cataracts over our eyes and conceal the truth from us.
What is the truth? It’s who we truly are. It’s where we are meant to be heading in our lives. It’s that little voice inside of us screaming to heard above the vacuous words we spout every day that make us inwardly cringe and hates ourselves all the more. It is blindingly obvious yet we are so obviously blind to it. The truth will set you free. But we see the truth as confining, restrictive and conforming. We seek something else.
The blackness is all around us. It whispers in our ears. It comforts and seduces us. It tells us what we want to hear. It is a reassuring arm around the shoulder, that warm hug after a long day of rejection and failure. While the truth hurts, its lies soothe and console. And before you know it that blackness has taken up residency in your heart. It is your best friend. Yet it wants nothing more than your complete destruction.
We are all a work in progress. An unfinished masterpiece. We strive to be good people but find it so hard to expel the darkness from our lives. We live somewhere in between. Mix black and white and what do you get? Grey. Grey is indecision and confusion. It is ‘maybe’ and ‘I don’t know’ and ‘there’s always tomorrow.’ It is limbo and it is exactly where most of us are to some extent.
The Devil doesn’t wear Prada. He doesn’t have all the best tunes. They call him the Prince of Darkness but his favourite colour is grey. He knows he’s not going to turn you into the next Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler. His is a defensive war. He craves the status quo. He wants nothing more than nothingness. He wants you to drift through life in the most nondescript fashion possible. No plans, no decisions and no impact.
Seventy odd years on the planet without having even made the slightest dent. Then straight into his welcoming arms. He is a grey god. I turn my back on that. We fear and avoid the darkness but that’s not where he wants us. He wants us to exist in the murky half light of under achievement where all hope and ambition has been beaten out of us. He doesn’t want serial killers or corrupt politicians. That’s waaaaay to easy.
He wants mediocrity. He wants an army of sleepwalkers marching through the gloom to their drab destinies. He wants tired, lethargic hearts and minds. He wants to numb your very soul. He wants inaction and meh. He is the meh-vil and we are his target.
Let me tell you something. It might shock a few but here goes anyway. You’re never going to be perfect. You’re never going to live in the light on this world anyway. But you can acknowledge it and move towards it. Aspire to be perfect. It’s hard, frustrating work but perspiration leads to inspiration.
Step out of the grey. I know you can. I’m no Christian Grey (thankfully you shudder) but I also don’t want to be a grey Christian. And whatever your beliefs you don’t want to live a grey life. You are better than that. Step out of the murkiness and wear your real clothes with pride. You are technicolour today.
Do you live in the grey? How can you step out of it?
My social media profile used to be entirely self centred. All I was interested in was getting more likes, more followers and more retweets. I used to have almost 10,000 followers on Twitter. But that was never enough, I always wanted more.
I portrayed myself as the wittiest, cleverest person on the internet. I craved the spotlight like a sponge soaks up water. My online life became more important than my real life. I ignored the people who mattered as I was more interested in myself and my own ravenous ego. I was consumed by the self to the expense of my spiritual and mental health.
The wheels came off in spectacular fashion and, after that, I stayed off social media for a long time. I was ashamed of the person I had become. I was embarrassed by my online activities. I was a fraud, a liar and a joke. I never wanted to see another tweet or Instagram photo for as long as I lived. They epitomised everything I hated about myself. They were the blackest of mirrors reflecting a side of me I despised.
So why do I blog? Well…. Fionnuala encouraged me to come back as she felt I had a story to tell. And yes, it has been for partly selfish reasons. It has allowed me to write, to express my hopes and fears; to exercise my creative muscles; and to exorcise some demons from the past. Through the blog I have learnt more about myself and those I love. Blogging has become an important part of my life. But not the most important part.
This time round I have reflected on my past failings but moved the spotlight from myself onto others. My past online career thrived in the shadows but this blog is about shining a light that will cut through the darkness; to expose the demons and shine a path to restoration and healing. To offer a lifeline to others who are suffering and struggling in silence. Too damaged to reach out for help in the real world.
Too hurt. Too many confidences betrayed. Too many promises broken. Once bitten twice shy. I know, I’ve been there. But broken bones can mend. A fractured faith is still a faith. Belief can be restored and hope can grow back even on the most rocky, barren soil. Recovery is possible. Believe me I know.
I see such pain and loneliness online. I see people consumed by addiction, illness and abuse. They need to know they are not alone. They need to know that there is life and freedom on the other side. I’m here to guide them there in any small way I can. I don’t have qualifications but I do have experience. I want to help. I need to help.
So I blog. And I pray for people who don’t even know I read their cries for help. That’s why I’m here. A passion needs a purpose. This is mine online.
Why do you blog?
Two little words that mask a multitude of emotions and experiences.
Two little words that paper over bottomless chasms of hurt and disappointment.
Two little words that cement the thickest, highest walls of denial and regret.
Two little words.
How many times have you answered a heartfelt, caring question with these words. The question of a relative, a friend or perhaps a complete stranger. Words that stumble out of your mouth. When inside all you want to do is scream and scream until your lungs collapse. Two little words. One huge lie.
I see so much pain on WordPress. I see broken people. People who are too scared or proud or whatever to speak the truth out loud. So they write it here. And it saddens me.
I’m broken as well. I’m not okay. But that is the first step. Admitting it to yourself. Facing up to the facade that you have constructed because that is what society expects of you.
Let me tell you. It’s okay to not feel okay. It’s okay to feel devastated and distraught be it through illness, addiction or bereavement. Or those million other demons that force us to our knees.
And why are you not okay? Because you are more than that. You are precious, unique and loved. You have a purpose and a plan. You are a message in a bottle. Adrift on a stormy sea for now but destined to settle one day on the beach of your destiny.
My name is Stephen and I’m not okay.
But I’m okay with that.
So let’s start again. How are you today?
I ran a marathon on Saturday. Regular readers may already be aware of this 😉
I completed a ridiculously hilly course in 3:54:55 coming in under my target time of 4 hours. I also raised in excess of £100 for SHINE Charity. And I finished 4th. Out of 40 runners. But still 4th!
I intended to post a race review but this is more a conversation review. At around the 3 mile mark in fell into the company of two fellow runners. We were all going at a similar pace and got talking. Or rather they got talking and I mostly listened. From the way they chatted I assumed they were old friends only to later discover that they had never met before that day.
One of them came from my home town of Omagh and worked with my cousin. Small world. The other was a psychiatric nurse which was also my father’s profession. Both, it quickly transpired, were recovering alcoholics and members of Alcoholics Anonymous. Except they weren’t very anonymous about it. In fact they were incredibly proud of this and totally open about their battles with alcohol and how the ’12 Steps’ had turned their lives around.
They both were passionate about both their sobriety and their running, stating that the latter very much contributed to the latter. One of them said running was the only time when he felt totally at peace. The other agreed, adding that he found a unique joy through the suffering of distance running. I could only listen on intently as they regaled each other with tales of their chaotic pasts and how they had fought back.
If I had to describe marathon running in two words then ‘peace’ and ‘joy’ are not the ones I would choose Most distance runners will, at some point, encounter ‘the wall’ in the latter stages of the race when their glycogen reserves run out and their bodies effectively begin to shut down. It is an indescribable feeling. The physical pain is only matched by the mental anguish. Loneliness is Mile 18 of a marathon when you have been running for three hours and realise you have still 8 miles to go.
is an old adage that the second half of a marathon only begins at Mile 20. That is when your mind and body rebel on you in equal measure. You want nothing more than to stop. Every rational part of you wants to give up, yet something irrational keeps the marathon runner going. They see beyond the pain of the wall. They see the glory of the finish line and neither hell nor high water is going to stop them from crossing it.
This was nothing to these men. They relished the pain. They sought and embraced the suffering. For it was nothing caused to the pain and suffering that addiction has wreaked upon their lives and the lives of their loved ones. Yet they had overcome the odds and fought through the horrors. They had conquered their demons. They both swore like troopers and were rough round the edges. They spoke of a Higher Power but I don't even know if they believed in God as I do.
For all that though they showed an appreciation of life and the spiritual world that put me to shame and made me believe that I was meant to be in their company and hear their stories. They provided me with inspiration during the perspiration. They were running the race of life for all it was worth. They knew true peace and joy. 26.2 miles was nothing to them. They had seen it all before and were making up for lost time.
By the end of the race I had lost contact with the two men, finishing ahead of them both. I had stronger legs and lungs than them. But they were streets ahead of me in terms of where their hearts and souls were. I hope one day to experience the peace and joy they talked about. They proved to me that there is hope no matter how dark your world becomes. The light will always overcome the darkness. Just like good will always vanquish evil.
Have you ever experienced joy through suffering?< strong>Do you believe in a Higher Power?
Did I tell you that I ran a marathon the other day? *collective sigh and eye rolling from my fellow bloggers*. Well the good news is that this post is not about the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I ran/endured on Saturday. Well it is a little bit but bear with me. It’s more about the aftermath. As in right now, this very minute.
If there are two things distance runners love after a race it’s food and sleep. We can’t get enough of them. As I write this, however, it is 4:17 am and I’ve been awake for almost two hours. As in wide eyed, bolt upright, five trillion thoughts whirling around my head awake. Ideas for dialogue in my novel are bursting into my consciousness like a meteor shower bursting through the earth’s atmosphere in one of those big budget Holywood blockbusters.
I’m also hungry. Very hungry. The only feeling outweighing that hunger at present is laziness. I’m too lazy to go downstairs to make something to eat. Note to self – we need an upstairs kitchen; or at the very least a bedside toaster. I promise not to leave crumbs in the bed, Fionnuala, if you buy me one for Christmas. Pinky swear. Or at least not on your side of the bed anyway.
If you’re still with me as we meander into paragraph four of this post then thank you. You deserve so much better but thank you anyway. The point I wanted to make is that before I woke up I was having a recurring dream. Fionnuala has the most vivid, lucid prophetic dreams. She sees stuff that is both freaky and amazing at the same time. I hope one day she will write more about her dreams.
I on the other hand dream nonsense. But amidst the nonsense are three recurring dreams which are as follows:
1 – I am sitting in an exam hall but my head is blank. I haven’t studied for the exam and a growing sense of anxiety and panic grips me as I stare at my blank paper and the clock on the wall as it clicks relentlessly on.
2 – I can’t see because I have a ridiculously long fringe down to the bridge of my nose. I freak out and feel claustrophobic. I walk into inanimate objects, fall over quite a bit and have yet to make it to a barber’s shop.
3 – This was the dream I was having before I woke up tonight. I am either hungover, drunk or thinking about drinking. In all three scenarios I feel incredibly guilty but that doesn’t stop me from drinking. These are the worst dreams.
I haven’t had an exam in over 20 years. I haven’t had a drink in over 4 years. And I haven’t had a haircut in er….about 4 weeks. Those of you hoping for deep or witty insights at this stage of the post are about to be bitterly disappointed but I’ll try anyway. Here goes…
Fionnuala dreams about the future whereas I dream about the past. She predicts future events (crazy but true believe me on this one) and has dreams about people and insights into their lives that, when imparted to them, offer hope and light. I dream about failure and inadequacy. And stupid haircuts.
I want to have her dreams but when God was dishing that gift out she was at the front of the queue and I was probably on my third pint of Budweiser. The same thing happened the day of the ‘brains and beauty’ queue. We all have gifts. I got words. Could have been better, could have been worse. But they flow from me every day now.
My dreams might be in the past but my daydreams are today. Now. I dreamt about running a marathon one day. Two days ago I ran my seventh *yawns*. I dreamt about having a semi successful blog that people read and enjoyed. It’s kind of happening now. I dreamt about writing a novel. Ditto. I dreamt about being a decent husband, father and human being. Work in progress but I’m getting there.
Dreams don’t have to remain dreams. You can make them your reality. It just requires a tonne of hard work and a sprinkling of talent. You are special and unique. Seize the day and squeeze every last drop out of it. Live the impossible. Follow your destiny. It’s within touching distance.
Sweet dreams. I’m off to make some toast.
Do you have recurring or prophetic dreams? Or can you interpret any of mine?!?!
What is your dream for 2018? How are you going to make it happen?
I’ll post a proper review tomorrow but just a few lines tonight to say that I completed the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon today in a time of 3:54:55 getting under my target time of 4 hours. I also raised some money for SHINE Charity in the process.
Thank you to everyone who has supported me on WordPress. I’m recovering now with a Chinese takeaway now and a hot bath. Although not at the same time….
I was awakened this morning with a stabbing pain in my belly button. Want to become a doom mongering hypochondriac? Then sign up for a marathon. With the big race little over a day away every little ache or pain now sends me into a spiral of despair and scrambling for the medical dictionary. Or Dr. Google.
The worst thing you can do is try and self diagnose yourself online. Within a few moments I was convinced that I had appendicitis and would be in surgery within the hour. I ignored the dozens of other possible answers and immediately plumped for the worst case scenario. Dr. Google takes that little seed of worry and turns it into a mighty oak tree.
Dr. Google also suggested indigestion and I had eaten something before going to bed last night. It was, based upon the available evidence, the most likely answer to my dilemma. Did I consider it even for a nano second? Of course I didn’t. If an ambulance had turned up at the door I would have happily hopped into it, told Fionnuala to pack a bag and hooked up to the nearest morphine drip.
In my job as a civilian oversight investigator we are taught to consider the available evidence and, based upon that, draw up a list of theories, or hypotheses, as to what might have happened in a given situation. We then test each theory against the evidence to ascertain which theory fits best. We discount the most unlikely theories until we are left with the one which fits best. Nine times out of ten this is the simplest theory.
So who shot JFK? Consider the available evidence and you can come up with the most outlandish conspiracy theories but the simplest answer is that it was Lee Harvey Oswald. *please don’t come back at me with alternative arguments I’m just using this as an example* This technique is known as Occam’s Razor, named after the English philosopher, William of Ockham, who invented it. The simplest theory is the most likely solution.
Turns out that when I got up and had something to eat the pain subsided. I write this from the comfort of my own home, not a hospital bed. It was more than likely a touch of indigestion. My self diagnosis was miles off target and it looks like I’m going to live to run another day.
Why do we always think the worst? Of ourselves and of others? I’m the biggest culprit when it comes to this. Always putting myself down and overcomplicating of situations. Life can be as simple or as awkward as we want it to be. Humans tend to muddy the waters at every possible opportunity. Why look up at a clear, blue sky when you can spend your days walking about under a cloud of worry or through a fog of confusion.
Jesus got Occam’s Razor. The religious rulers of his time had turned God’s law into a huge, tangled knot of burdensome laws and procedures. A veritable Gordian knot that only they could navigate. Jesus cut through this with the sword of truth. He cut it back to the bare bones and boiled it down to a few basic lessons. Love God. Love others. Tell the truth. Follow me.
The simplest answer is the most likely answer. Leading a simple, honest life is the most likely way to avoid self inflicted dramas and theatrics. Strip away the lies and sin and see the truth for what it really is. Stop talking and start walking. Along the path that you were always destined to walk. William of Ockham 1 Wikipedia 0?
What are your views on Occam’s Razor?
Do you consult with Dr. Google?
As I’m not the sharpest tool in the box (just ask Fionnuala) it only struck me this morning that the marathon I have been training for (and boring you about) these last few months falls during the Thankgiving Day weekend. This is not celebrated in Northern Ireland but as most of our followers live in the USA I thought it appropriate that I mention it.
So while most of you will be eating yourselves into a food induced coma I will be trudging 26.2 miles. It will more than likely be raining (it is Northern Ireland after all) and near freezing temperatures are forecast for this Saturday. I will be wet, cold and aching from every joint. And what’s more I’m paying the race organisers for the pleasure. So what is there to be thankful for about running a marathon on Thanksgiving weekend?
Well firstly is the fact that I can run at all. I struggled with injury and illness throughout the summer so the fact that I am participating at all is something I am grateful about. My training has been tough and it’s only over the last month or so that I’ve begun to regain a semblance of my former fitness and form. I’m thankful that my body has healed and that at this stage in life (I’m no spring chicken anymore) that I can even contemplate such a challenge.
I’m running the race for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida & Hydrocephalus) and have been raising funds for the cause which is very close to our heart. Our daughter, Hannah, was born with both disabilities and is a wheelchair user. She can’t run….yet. I can. So this race is for her and all the other kids in wheelchairs. She hasn’t let her disabilities stop her from living life so why should I let a few strained ligaments and a virus stop me from running my race.
I’m thankful I will have my family on Saturday. I take them for granted too often. They have supported me at my very best and my very worst. I will be thinking of Fionnuala and the kids every step of the way. I’m thankful that, whatever happens during the race, I will be going home to a warm home with people who I love and who love me back. I don’t deserve what I have but I suppose that is what grace is all about. Undeserved favour.
I’m thankful that I have this forum to write. I’m thankful that people read the blog and take the time to comment. I’m thankful that I have a good job and have been blessed with a modicum of talent. I’m thankful that the crazy ideas that bounce about my head are solidifying into a novel. I’m thankful that I’m free from the demons of my past. I’m thankful that my eyes have been opened to past mistakes and poor decision making. I’m thankful for the friends I have and thankful that others are no longer part of my life.
No life is perfect but we still have much to be thankful for. I thank God I’ve been given a 473rd chance.
To all our American friends Happy Thanksgiving Day!!
What are you doing for Thanksgiving Day? Running a turkey trot? Or eating lots & lots?
What are you thankful for?
Back in the bad old days when I spent 97% of my life on Twitter I used to spend my daily commute tweeting about my fellow commuters. This series, imaginatively titled ‘Train Tweets’, used to cause my adoring (or so I thought) army of followers and myself no end of amusement as I by and large conducted character assassinations of complete strangers. It was cheap, nasty and attention seeking on my part.
I still make the same commute with the same people and while I no longer tweet about them I don’t really pay them any attention at all now. I’m sorry for what I tweeted about them before but as it was always anonymously and I used pseudonyms I’ve never felt the need to walk up to one of them and apologise. They would probably look at me as if I was a madman. I’ve figured out I spend approximately 7 hours of my week with these people and I’ve never spoken a word to any of them.
Despite feeling bad for my snide tweets I’ve never really moved on from viewing my fellow commuters as anything more than the one dimensional characters I created in my head for my own entertainment. When I look at them I still think of the imaginary back stories I created for them instead of seeing real human beings with lives and families of their own. People with fears, hopes and struggles who deserve a lot better from me than I have dished out to me over the years. I wonder what they see when they look at me every day on the train and feel ashamed.
Yesterday a man I have always known as ‘The Angriest Solicitor in Ireland’ was queuing to buy his train ticket. He is permanently attired in a business suit with his mobile phone permanently clamped to his ear talking loudly about legal matters that make little sense to me. He might as well be speaking Cantonese for all I can make out of it. His tone of voice is curt, cold and uncompromising and he always looks flustered, red faced and at odds with the world, as if spoiling for a fight. For this reason I tend to give him a wide berth.
Yesterday the woman in front of him in the queue wanted to pay for her ticket by debit card but was informed by the conductor that the relevant machine not working and they were taking cash payments only. She did not have any money on her and started to become agitated, thinking that she would not be able to get on the train. From behind her I heard a vaguely familiar voice offering to pay for her ticket. I looked up and saw that it was ‘The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland.’
In the end the conductor allowed the woman to get on the train and pay for the ticket at her final destination. But that didn’t take anything away from the fact that this man, who I had previously dismissed as grumpy and uncaring, had demonstrated a compassion and kindness that I had previously thought him incapable of; I had made up my mind about him, judged and stereotyped him based upon my own preconceptions and stereotypes. God knew the man’s heart whereas I most definitely had not. I had judged him when I had no right to, for he proved himself a better man than me on that occasion.
Never judge a book by its cover. Leave that to God. It made me think about all the other people I have judged inaccurately down the years. We know nothing of these people’s lives at the end of the day. Instead of deriding and ridiculing them we should pray for them or, Heaven forbid, try to find out a little more about them by engaging in conversation. Building real relationships and friendships. Instead of sniping and gossiping behind their backs. Every day is a learning day and yesterday was no exception.
Behind every caricature and facade is a real, living person. We don’t know their story or what is going on in their lives at any given moment. We need to show more understanding and give them the benefit of the doubt. So if you see that grumpy commuter, rude colleague or arrogant fellow student today bite your lip and don’t judge them. Smile at them, say hello to them, pray for them if you believe in prayer. For none of us are perfect and we all have off days.
Do you know a person who you have previously judged and stereotyped?
How are you going to treat them next time you see them?
I couldn’t believe it this morning when the alarm went off. ‘Is that 6 o’clock?’ I asked Fionnuala in groggy disbelief. ‘Actually it’s 6:25’ she replied before leaping out of bed. We had slept in a little. Where had the night gone? It seemed only moments ago that I had placed my head on the pillow and settled down to sleep. Even worse we had gone to bed extra early last. I groaned inwardly and forced myself out of bed into the cold, dark day.
As I’ve gotten older I’ve become less of an early riser. Some mornings both the flesh and the spirit are unwilling when it comes to rising and facing the daily grind. It was once written that the only certainties we face in life are death and taxes. They weren’t far wrong. The commute to the office is a drag, the working day itself a monotonous chore; each day blends into the next and creates the interminable soundtrack to our life. The working week never seems to end yet those precious weekends are gone in the blink of an eye.
Some days you just want to switch the alarm off, pull the covers over your head and go back to sleep. The term ‘rat race’ is misleading as at least a race promises an end to the race and a possible prize at the finish. The rat race promises nothing but bills and responsibilities. Which begs the question why do we bother? What motivates us every day to get up and face the outside world when all we want to do is turn our backs on it all and drop out of society?
Well the obvious response is that we have to get up. We need to get out of bed and, yes it’s those pesky bills and responsibilities again. In order to have a bed in the first place and, indeed, a roof over that bed we need to pay the man. That means dragging our sorry backsides into our offices, shops and other places of employment across the land. The same goes for school and college. Fail that exam or flunk that test and future employment prospects become bleaker by the day.
With bills come responsibilities. It is expected of us. Fionnuala and I holler at the kids every morning to get up and get ready for school. We are expected to turn up at work, college and school (or home school!). If we don’t then we are letting down others; our families, friends and colleagues. We cannot live with the shame of letting others down. So we shut up and show up. We play the game because others are relying on us to play the game; just like we are relying upon them to also play the game. The game is the most selfish and selfless of activities. We play it because we need to play it; we have little choice in order to survive.
We need to play it but we do we want to play it? We have discussed why we have to get out of bed but do we want to get out of bed? It is a subtle yet very important difference. And there, I believe, lies the key to life. Do you want to get up the morning? What makes the difference between falling out of bed and leaping out of bed? The answer lies in both our dreams and our beliefs.
That might seem a contradiction but our dreams are founded on our beliefs. If our dreams are a majestic palace, then our beliefs are its sturdy foundations. If our dreams are a majestic oak tree then our beliefs are the strong roots that tether it in place. Without our beliefs, our dreams will collapse and crumble to nothing. I dream of running a sub four marathon this coming Saturday; I dream of having a first novel published; I dream of seeing my kids achieve great things in their lives; I dream of a happy retirement with my wife and seeing a little more of the world.
I believe that God will provide all of the above if it is part of his plan for my life. And if they don’t happen then they obviously weren’t. But I believe that is because he has even better plans that I am unaware of at this moment in time. I believe that, through my dreams, I can contribute towards making the world a better place. By running I raise money for worthy causes, by writing I hope to inspire and motivate others, through my family I hope to teach our kids the proper way to live and set an example to others.
I believe in an afterlife and that this life is only a tiny part of my overall journey. There are better times ahead. Both tomorrow and in eternity. Therefore while I acted like a grumpy old man this morning and had to get out of bed I also wanted to get out of bed. Now for a massive Diet Coke fix and the long trudge to the office. Have a great Tuesday everyone!
What gets you out of bed in the morning? Coffee? Screaming kids? Multiple alarm clocks?
Why do you have to get out of bed?
Why do you want to get out of bed?
I have the most temperamental of mobile (cell) phones when it comes to charging. It will only charge if I use Fionnuala’s charger (I go through phone chargers like Donald Trump goes through aides) and place it at a certain angle until the charging icon comes on. A millimetre to the left or a millimetre to the right and it will switch itself off. I need the steady hand of a surgeon and the unblinking eye of a fighter pilot to complete my task.
I’m on my phone a lot as I use it for my blogging so half of my life is spent either charging the phone or thinking about charging my phone. This is particularly tricky at work where we are not allowed phones in the office for security reasons. While I am hardly ever on my phone at work as I am a model employee the corridor outside often resembles an obstacle course of texting colleagues and charger leads. It’s a wonder there is ever any work done in the place.
I know I spend too much time on my phone as many of us do if we are honest with ourselves. If our most valuable possession is our phone then our phone charger can’t be too far behind. We see them as our lifeline to civilisation and without them we feel naked. It is as if we are missing a limb. When I commute to work in the mornings nobody on the train reads a physical newspaper anymore. They obtain their news fix from their phones or tablets. Do people even talk anymore? We are the walking dead, shuffling along oblivious to what is going on right before our very eyes.
If we only we were as disciplined at checking our physical, mental and spiritual charges? How many of us are running on empty in respect of these areas. Running around at a million miles per hour attempting to stick to unrealistic schedules. We eat the wrong foods, neglect to exercise and become weighed down with stress and the worries of the world. We compensate by worshipping at the altars of money, sex, alcohol, bad food and a thousand other false deities. We are running on empty and desperately try to fill the aching chasms in our lives with activities guaranteed to damage our hearts, minds and souls even further.
We need to take more care of recharging ourselves and spend less time recharging our electronic devices. Take time for yourself and the people around you who truly matter. If you are a Christian spend time praying and reading your Bible. If you’re not find something, anything, that will help you switch off from the ratrace that is life and switch on to your own well being and state of mind. For otherwise one day your battery will run flat and no charger on earth will be able to blow life into it again.
This blog post was brought to you by my I Phone 6 which is currently sitting at 94%.
How much time do you spend on your phone or tablet every day?
Do you spend enough time tending to your own charging needs?
Yesterday was my last long run before the ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon which I am running for SHINE Charity (Spina Bifida and Hydrocephalus) around Strangford Lough, Northern Ireland, next Saturday. The run went well and now it just a matter of keeping things ticking over and continuing my disciplined taper until the big day itself. The nerves are well and truly starting to kick in now for a number of reasons.
Although this will be my 7th marathon in total, it’s my first in over 18 months, and a sliver of icy self doubt remains lodged in my brain. Hard as I’ve tried I have been unable to budge it despite knowing deep down that I am capable of this. The target for my comeback at 26.2 miles is sub four hours and my training programme has been tailored specifically around this time. Everything has went exactly to plan. Yet still the sliver remains, burrowing deeper and deeper into my consciousness no matter how hard I try to ignore and repel it.
Doubt is the most sly and subtle of enemies. When all you want to do is build a wall of fact and certainty it drifts through the slightest of cracks like cannon smoke on a battlefield. You can be 99% certain of something and doubt will lob that 1% into the equation like a cluster grenade, exploding to create havoc and ruin within your carefully constructed defences. My OCD is fuelled by doubt; the ‘what ifs’ and ‘but maybes’ having a field day no matter how many times I attempt to drive them away. They thrive on uncertainty and relish hesitation. They sow the deepest of roots, so hard to dig out and destroy.
I fear the 1%. It batters me from all sides like the fiercest of hurricanes. I see it wherever I glance. The same applies to my writing. The 1% tells me I’m not good enough, I’m too old, it’s all a pipe dream and my chance is long gone. The more research I conduct into finding a literary agent and publishing a novel the more complicated and unlikely it seems. Even if I do complete it, even if it is half decent, the market is brutally competitive and the chances of being noticed seem remote. The 1% raises its battleaxe and screams in my face ready to cleave my hopes and dreams in two.
It is daunting but I cling to the shaky belief that the 1% is a liar. It whispers and it screams but I have to turn my back and walk away. The lies are a blizzard of darkness; jumbled memories, words, faces and images. Their timing is impeccable, their intent wholly malicious. But I choose different numbers. I choose the 500 plus training miles I have ground out since the summer. I choose the 30,000 words I have written to date. I choose the millions of words of love and encouragement from Fionnuala and the kids.
Freewill is a gift and I choose to wield it like a sword against my Goliath. To slay the dragon wrapped around my ambition, relentlessly squeezing the oxygen from my lungs. I choose the sword of truth, it’s blade so sharp that not even the toughest of armour or scales can withstand it. I stand on the ramparts of my mind and I watch my enemies flee, my defences strong and intact. The past will not overcome me, it will not sweep me away like it once used to. Believe in your own abilities. Believe in your inner circle.
Believe in the 99%.
How big a part does doubt play in your life?
How do you battle it?
What is your dream?
Like General Custer at the Little Big Horn I had fought long and heroically against overwhelming odds but had reached the point where I realised I was hopelessly outnumbered and defeat was inevitable. My only saving grace was that my opponents were slightly less bloodthirsty than Crazy Horse and his war braves. I raised the white flag and surrendered to Fionnuala and the girls. Yes I am going to get the Christmas decorations out of the attic later today.
Over the last few weeks they have gradually worn me down utilising a series of subtle and not so subtle psychological operations that would not have have looked out of place at CIA Headquarters. Pulling on my heartstrings one moment and then threatening to throttle me with them the next. These ladies could teach Jason Bourne a trick or two. The women of the Black household put the Black into Black Ops.
Our attic is akin to the Land that Time Forgot. Every time I reluctantly pop my head up there I fully expect to be dive bombed by a baby pterodactyl. Our step ladder is a step too short so in order to get into the attic I have to risk life and limb by teetering atop the top step and hauling myself up into the roof space itself. This involves contorting my body into positions that a man of my years was not designed to do. Before pulling down any Christmas decorations I invariably have to pull a few muscles first.
Gaining access to the attic is only Phase One of the operation however. I then have to battle through a minefield of bric-a-brac and discarded toys from years gone by in order to locate the boxes and bags containing the prized decorations themselves. With this bridgehead established I solider on, ignoring aching muscles I never knew I had, in order to haul the decorations down to the impatient little (and no so little ones) waiting below. Getting back down to terra firma is a whole blog post in itself but I’ll save that for another day.
With that my work is done as the more artistic and creative members of the family take over. If you were waiting for me to assemble and decorate a Christmas tree I would certainly have it ready for the big day; but by that I mean Easter as opposed to 25th December. Fionnuala loves all things Christmas and her enthusiasm has certainly rubbed off on Hannah and Rebecca. Before the end of the weekend we will have maintained our title of being the first house in the street with their decorations up. Bah Humbug I say to all our grinchy neighbours.
I want this Christmas to be a special time for us, as close to perfect as I can make it. A lot has happened since the decorations were put away last year. The same decorations may be coming out of the same attic this year but they are being put up within a different environment. This year they are being put up in a home as opposed to a house. This year we are going to celebrate Christmas as a family and look back on how far we have come these last twelve months. There have been ups and there have been downs; sometimes it has been one step forward, two steps back but we have made it. We are together and we are strong.
I wonder if Joseph and Mary felt the same as they looked down at their newborn baby boy all those years ago in that Bethlehem stable. They had just experienced a pretty crazy year (visitations from angels and miraculous pregnancies anyone?) and the birth itself was no exception. But, worried and exhausted as they no doubt were, they had battled through it and come out the other side, stronger than ever. A proper family. They trusted God and he guided them through the good times and the bad. He had a plan for both of them and they followed it to the letter, no matter what that entailed.
I hope I am following His plan too. The words have flowed this week and I am now 30000 words into my first novel. 30000 words that will require no end of polishing, trimming and reordering but I am excited by them and proud of them. I never realised I could run until I started running. Likewise I never realised I could write until I started writing. I have wasted so many years but I hope that period of my life is over. I want to follow His path now as nothing is impossible. We will enjoy this Christmas but if anything I’m more excited for what the year brings ahead for us as a family.
Now where did I put those stepladders?
When do your Christmas decorations go up?
Are you excited for 2018? What plans do you have?
We all have that one favourite pot, well those of us that do the cooking that is. My favourite pot is the perfect size for boiling the right amount of potatoes, rice or pasta for all the family and it’s the first pot I go to when I’m about to prepare a culinary delight. Last night my pot was involved in a catastrophic incident. For a few minutes I had forgotten about it and it burnt the rice I was cooking for dinner.
Stephen and I were watching a game show called The Chase and it was coming up to a very good part of the game when Hannah said to me “Mummy what’s that funny smell” when alarm bells sounded in my head “THE RICE”. I jumped up off the sofa and tried to make a run for it to the kitchen but Hannah bless her was in front of me in the hall going at a top speed of 0.8mph and I couldn’t get past her. Everything was in slow motion I could see smoke pelting from the cooker and could smell the rice being cremated and now it was unfit for human consumption I even think Charlie would have screwed his nose up at it.
When I got to the cooker I lifted the pot threw it into the sink and it managed to melt the basin so not only had inside of the pot got an inch thick of charcoaled rice stuck to it the base of it was now covered with melted black plastic.
Stephen took one look at the pot and said “that’s the end of that pot” all I could think of was no that’s my go to pot, my favourite pot of pots I can save it.
I let the pot cool down and was then able to peel the plastic from the base and then squeezed washing up liquid inside the pot with warm water and left it to steep overnight.
This morning when I got the kids out to school I got stuck into cleaning it. I poured out the water and the rice that had been stuck to it last night which had loosened and was now clogging up the sink hole, now the base of the pot was rice free but still completely black. I got more washing up liquid and a scrubbing brush and scrubbed away at it – this had to be repeated a few times and each time I could see tiny bits of steel peeping through the blackness. I then filled it with water scrubbed some more by this stage the water was black. I poured the water out and there I could fully see the stainless steel bottom left with tiny black rice shaped scars.
Before we became Christians we came to God broken and in a dark place and through his Word, his love and his grace which he washed over us continually he transformed us into beautiful new creations. Nothing is too broken or too ugly for him to make beautiful and functional again.
I felt God speak to me during this cleaning process he has given us all a plan and a purpose for this life he has know it from before we were created in his eyes none of us are useless or beyond repair. We all go through storms and battles in life which leave scars on us, scars are a good reminder that we fought and made it through to the other side.
So tonight my pot scarred as it is will be back in use again boiling potatoes for the top of the Shepherds Pie for the Black family to enjoy.
1 Samuel 16:7
“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”
The other day I was walking through the city centre when I saw before me on the footpath what looked like dried blood. There was little mistaking the dark red colouring or the tell tale splatter pattern of the droplets as they had struck the ground marking the grisly path that some unfortunate soul had taken down the street before they abruptly ended in an empty doorway.
Now I’m no Dexter Morgan, thankfully, but the absence of flashing lights, wailing sirens and yellow tape across the road assured me that I had not stumbled upon a crime scene. I had heard nothing on the morning news about a crazed axeman running through the streets of Belfast. So I was fairly satisfied that there had been no loss of life. But something had happened; so my mind went into overdrive trying to conjure up a likely scenario.
Had it been as innocent as one of the hundreds of schoolboys who take this route to the nearby grammar school every morning developing a nose bleed? Or was it something more sinister? A bar brawl which had spilled out onto the street or an altercation where a knife had been produced? Piercing skin, biting deep, striking home. Since starting this blog I have become acutely aware of the number of homeless people who populate the streets of Belfast. Young, vulnerable people with little hope in their eyes. Had one of them been the victim?
Our streets are caked in blood and grime. Some of it is visible to the eye, but not all. The homelessness, the violence, the drugs, the prostitution. Just like our homes are caked in grime. The grime of our sinful lives. Broken homes, broken relationships, broken families, broken hearts. What you don’t agree? Because behind every veneer of domestic bliss is a less than idyllic reality. Addiction, jealousy, depression, unforgiveness. It is everywhere. On our TV screens, on our social media and in our fickle hearts.
I wonder if on a morning almost two thousand years ago did any travellers on their way to Jerusalem pass a spot by the roadside where they saw a pool of dried blood. They were unfamiliar with the city but were later told that there had been three crucifixions there the previous day. Two common criminals and some madman who claimed he was the Son of God. Well he had been shown up for the charlatan he was and had died on the cross like the rest of them. Good riddance to him too; the last thing they needed was some rabble rouser riling the Romans. There was only going to be one winner there.
Saying that, there had been some strange things happening since then. Weird goings on up at the temple apparently. Some of his wacky hangers on had been running about shouting that he had risen from the dead. Was walking about with holes in his hands where they had driven the nails in. What nonsense. The travellers paid little attention to the tall tales, completed their business and departed the city to head home. Probably two drunks brawling. Or possibly bandits had robbed a less fortunate traveller.
Next time you pass a spot of dried blood on the pavement (or sidewalk as you crazy Americans insist on calling it) spare a thought for the person who shed it and the circumstances that led to them spilling it there. If you are a Christian pray for them. And spare a thought for the blood that Jesus spilled all those years ago. We normally associate spilt blood with danger and harm, but not His, which was willingly given in order to protect and purify.
He gave His blood in order to rid our lives of the guilt, shame and sinful living patterns that plague our every waking step. When it comes to His blood you can be certain as to the reasons for it forming in a pool at the foot of the Cross. There is no need for head scratching or speculation. He did it for me and for you. The decision is ours. Do we accept the sacrifice and follow Him or step over the blood he shed and carry on with our journey through life?
When did you last encounter blood on the street?
Do you believe there was a man called Jesus? Or it is just a fairytale?
Today’s blog is a showcase for the true talent at afracturedfaithblog, my wife Fionnuala. Here are some of the faith inspired images that she has created. I think they are amazing but then I’m bias You can see a lot more of Fionnuala’s work on our Instagram account. Just click the relevant link on our blog site and have a wonderful Wednesday.
I hadn’t expected to blog a massive amount this week but I’m wide awake at 05:00 am so thought I would update you all on my first day of serious writing. I had been putting this day off for some time for a multitude of reasons; chief amongst these was a fear that I wouldn’t be able to do it. That I would open the laptop and stare at a blank screen all day devoid of inspiration and unable to transfer my tangled thoughts into flowing prose.
Well I guess I slew that dragon yesterday. The words did flow, to the extent that at end of play yesterday evening I had passed the 5000 word mark. They could well be the worst 5000 words ever written but here’s the thing – they are written. My worry over writers block reminded me of my concerns about hitting the wall during my first marathon; in each case it never happened because I didn’t allow it to happen. Sometimes we forget the amount of control we have over our own destinies.
The other thing I learnt yesterday was the amount of time people talk and think about writing. When I first got the idea for the book I talked for months about writing it to anyone unfortunate enough to be within hearing range of me. I thought about writing almost as much as I thought up excuses not to write. I read books about writing which often seemed to advocate doing everything bar actually writing. They spoke of endless months of plot structuring and character development in order to create design documents that would eventually be crafted into the finished article.
I realised yesterday that whilst this approach might work for a lot of people it doesn’t work for me. I need to write. I need to get the words out of me that have been festering inside all these years. I need to be purged of them. Sometimes when you are ill and feeling nauseous the only way to get rid of that awful sensation is to actually be physically sick. I feel the same when it comes to my writing. I want my words to see the light as opposed to festering inside. For if they stagnate in the darkness for too long they become something else. Beauty will rot if unattended for any length of time.
I realised that I am a back to front and upside down writer. My first draft will be raw, manic and spontaneous. It is only at the end of the process that I will sit down and begin to smooth out the many rough edges. I will edit and redraft until the cows come home. And when the cows have come home and I have checked that they are fed and watered I will edit and redraft some more; until it is complete, whatever it is. Which leads me to the final (I promise) point I want to make in this post. What you sit down intending to write and what you actually end up writing are often very distant cousins.
Yesterday morning I sat down at my desk with every intention of birthing an introductory chapter which has been germinating in my grey matter for some time. I could almost recite it to you verbatim. All I had to do was transfer that mental screenplay onto a Word document and hit save. A gentle start to my writing career before the real work started in earnest. Did it work out that way? No of course it didn’t. Instead my main character demanded that I delve into his past and explore his past. Over the next few hours he taught me much about himself that I had not previously known. He explained to me how he had turned out the way he had. He educated me.
I had heard other writers talk about their characters writing the book for them once they started and maybe that will be the case with me. The 5000 words I wrote yesterday bore little semblance to the 5000 words I thought I was going to write. My main character asked me to let go of the steering wheel and trust him. That was kind of a liberating experience and took a lot of pressure of me. It was as if he sensed my trepidation and decided to show me the ropes on my first day at a new school. I hope all my characters are as kind to me as he was. Although I have my doubts as some of them are bad, bad people.
Did I say that was my last point. Sorry, I lied. My last observation is that no matter how wrapped up in your literary muse you become don’t lose an awareness and appreciation of your present surroundings. It is our here and now that fuels our pens and allows our creative juices to flow. Yesterday was a great day for the Black Family. Hannah got her new motorised wheelchair which Fionnuala wrote about in the last blog; and Adam and Rebecca both had encouraging days on their respective sports fields. I have been blessed with an ability to write but it is they who have turned that ability into a reality.
They are my lighthouse. I must never lose sight of them no matter how adrift I become on this sea of words in the months ahead.
How do you write?
What writing projects are you working at present?
The day that we have been waiting for for a very long time has finally arrived and I don’t mean Stephen actually sitting at his desk to start writing his book more importantly Hannah got her new all singing and dancing power chair.
The regular readers of our blog will know about all the trials and tribulations we have had over the year regarding pressure sores and unsuitable wheelchairs and we want to thank all of you for your prayers and encouraging words and comments they have all been a massive blessing and support to us.
At church yesterday a lady approached us and told Hannah after speaking with her earlier she got a word for her “POWER” we just looked at each other and laughed and told her that Hannah was getting her power chair today and it was very appropriate Thank you God 😊
Today has been a very emotional day and I am so blessed to see how much this chair has brought comfort, independence and the biggest smile that I’ve ever seen on my amazing daughters face in quite some time. My heart feels like it could burst today Im that proud and happy for her.
At a top speed of 0.8MPH Hannah was treated by an extra proud Granny to a new handbag to match her chair and some lunch in Belfast before heading back home to show off her wheels to her Daddy.
Hannah is now watching the clock for Adam and Rebecca to come home so she can take Charlie Our dog out for a walk and this has really got me thinking about how much we take for granted and about the little things we grumble and moan about.
Today has most definitely been a #ProudMummyDay one which I will never ever forget.
‘I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well’ Psalm 139:14
After the service today we are going to a Newcomers lunch being hosted by the leadership for families who have only recently started attending the church. They have billed it as an opportunity to get to know other people and learn more about the history of the church, its values and vision for the future. Oh and there is free food. Lots of free food. What’s not to love about that?
When faced with social events and meeting people for the first time I revert to my default setting of social awkwardness which has failed to serve me so well all my life. I’m just not good around people I don’t know and invariably say or do the wrong thing. Once at a funeral I asked the clearly devastated son of the deceased at the graveside how he was keeping. The second the words left my lips I wanted to jump in the open grave and be done with.
The list goes on. I could write a book on such faux pas. When I was at university I attended a seminar where everyone sat in a circle to discuss a subject. I knew nobody there so didn’t utter a word during the entire hour we sat there. Unbeknownst to me one of my legs went dead during the next hour meaning that when I stood up to hurriedly leave at the end I had no feeling in it whatsoever. I flapped desperately in ever decreasing circles like a winged goose in front of my peers before collapsing in a heap of pins, needles and shuddering shame.
Needless to say I never went back to that seminar. In fact I spent the next three years studiously avoiding anyone who had been there that fateful day. I am a comedian, a klutz and a clown when it comes to such environments. I call it shy. Fionnuala is more direct in her analysis of the problem – ‘You’re just a weirdo’. ‘But I’m your weirdo’ I pathetically reply to be greeted with a withering stare or being told in no uncertain terms to ‘grow up’.
Alcohol was my social crutch for many years. Three pints of strong lager and I became the life and soul of the party. I was Mr. Personality, a social butterfly who was willing to talk to anyone about anything. I thought I was eloquent, witty and verbose. The Oscar Wilde of the bar. Two hours later and I was more often than not slumped in the corner fast asleep or being poured into a taxi just as the party was starting. The next morning I lay curled in a ball gripped by the fear. What did I say last night? Had I offended anybody? What if they never speak to me again?
Put me in my working environment and I can talk to anyone. Because it is my job I put on a mask of professionalism and competence. I can give a presentation in front of a hundred people. No problem. The ‘big boss’ needs a briefing in ten minutes. I’m all over it. The Prime Minister is on the phone? Put her through. Ok I made up the last one about the Prime Minister but you get the message. Fionnuala calls this persona ‘Work Stephen’. Confident, calm and decisive. If only I could be like that all the time.
I’m much more comfortable with the written, as opposed to the spoken, word. Which explains why I got hooked on social media so easily. I could be who I wanted to be and hide behind my keyboard when expressing myself. Which led to all sorts of problems which I have previously blogged about. Blogging is my happy medium, therefore. On here I can be myself and be honest. Without the dead legs, verbal howlers and sickening hangovers.
I’m sure today will be fine. I’m looking forward to it as I want to meet new people and hopefully make some friends. It is important for us as a family to find a spiritual home where we feel safe and welcome. We have been adrift for too long and sailed through too many storms. It is time to lay anchor in calmer waters and set foot on firm ground. I hope this is the beginning of a new leg of our journey. And I hope I don’t get a dead leg….
What are you like in social settings?
What’s the most embarrassing thing you have ever said or done at such an event?
Race Day is now only two weeks away and today was my last long run before the marathon itself. As I’ve mentioned in recent weeks my times have improved considerably over the last month to the extent that this morning I was running a minute per mile faster than my projected race pace. I am of course delighted with this and can only put it down to having finally overcome the virus which struck me down during the summer.
With two weeks to go I now enter the stage of my training plan known as the taper. This is where you reduce your mileage and focus on rest and recovery so that you reach the start line refreshed, healthy and injury free. All the hard work has been done and it is now just a matter of keeping your body and mind ticking over until the big day itself. And having run over 130 miles during the last three weeks I should be looking forward to this enforced scaling down of my training schedule.
Marathon runners, however, have a love/hate relationship with the taper. It is difficult to adjust to a regime of lower mileage when you have been pounding the roads for the better part of three months. The mind starts to play tricks on you. Will I lose my fitness? Am I putting on weight? Have I peaked too soon? All these thoughts have assaulted me during previous tapers and I no doubt will entertain them all over again in the coming days.
Part of me wishes the race was tomorrow but the logical part of my brain reminds me that I need this period of winding down in order to be fully wound up come race day. The taper is just as important as the 20 mile long run. At this stage of the journey I have come too far only to blow it all by overtraining and arriving at the start line tired and jaded. For the next two weeks less is more. I need to relax, have faith in the plan and be patient.
Unfortunately relaxation and patience are not two of my strongest characteristics. So I’ll fret and I’ll worry over the next two weeks. Which I know is ridiculous as I have been through this six times before and on each occasion the taper worked and I arrived at the start line in the best shape I could possibly be in. It all comes down to a lack of faith. In myself and in the training plan which has never let me down before and won’t let me down this time either if I would only stop stressing and wise up.
I’m a bit like that when it comes to my spiritual training plan. I know that God has a plan for my life but I become restless and frustrated when things don’t go as I feel they should be going. I get angry, sulk or feel sorry for myself as I watch my life meander along. I want everything yesterday rather than accept that God knows best and allow the plan to be revealed in His time and not my own. My lack of faith unsettles me. It is selfish and disobedient. I should know better.
God has never let me down before and has dragged me out of some almighty self inflicted messes along the way. So I just have to bite my lip and accept that He knows best no matter how much it pains me at times. Just like I need to bite my lip and accept this taper period for what it is; all part of a bigger plan designed to benefit me in the long run. My short sightedness needs to see beyond the here and now and appreciate the bigger picture. Be it 26.2 miles in a fortnight or the rest of my life as a follower of Jesus I just need to stick to the programme.
Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
Are you a patient person? Or do you struggle?
Are you good at sticking to plans?
I’m taking next week off work to write. As in work on the novel idea that has been rattling around my head these last few months. It has now got to the stage where I have to get the words out or I think my brain will explode. It is akin to mental birthing pains if that makes sense. It is time to stop talking and start writing. It could be literary gold dust or a big pile of steaming you know what. But it is time.
I haven’t the first clue about writing a novel. I’ve read a lot about developing a structure, creating a design document and so on. But it’s got to the point now where I just have to write. I know in my head what the first few chapters will look like that and I have a fair idea of the overall story. I have fleshed out my main characters (all three of them – big exclusive there) in quite some detail and can see them in my head as clear as day. I just need now to bring them to life on the page.
I know the themes which will meander between the chapters, pages and words. I know the setting (Belfast – another exclusive) and I know the overall feel of the novel. Now I have to write. I reckon that by this time next week I will have a fair idea as to whether or not I can do this. I am excited but also nervous. It feels like the time I decided I wanted to run a marathon. The only way you can discover whether or not you are a marathoner is to run a marathon. The same applies to writing.
Who knows where this will lead? Can I make a living (or at least create a secondary income) through writing? Or will it just continue as an interest that I find both challenging and rewarding. Am I talented or just a deluded daydreamer? Only time will tell. But I know God has a plan for me and that somehow this is part of it. The growth of the blog is testament to that. He wants me to write and I need to write. That’s good enough for me.
Fionnuala is my driving force, my inspiration. She has encouraged me every step of the way and stuck by me as I have walked through many dark valleys. She has created a writing environment for me at home and it was her idea that led to this blog in the first place. The blog has been my testing ground. Without it having taken off in the way it has I doubt very much if I would be standing now on the cusp of this new adventure. The more I write, the more the words flow. I need to write in order to write. It is the least vicious of circles.
The comments and feedback I have received from my fellow bloggers have also helped to seal the deal in my mind as well. It is such a loving, creative and supportive world to dip my literary toes into. They are not the prettiest of toes (especially after 20 mile training runs) but exposing them to fellow writers has been necessary in order to practice my craft and instil a self belief that has been lacking for many years. It is time write. It is time to live the impossible.
It is time to meet Mr. Skelly….
Have you written a novel? Do you ever plan to?
What advice can you offer a fledgling novelist?
I was walking through the city centre yesterday on my way to the office when I saw an old man walk out of a bookmakers (betting office) in front of me. He was bent over, a bit unkempt looking and carrying a couple of shopping bags. He looked no different from any other Belfast pensioner who spent their day drifting round the pubs and bookies of the city.
I knew that particular bookies well from my gambling days. I had spent many a lunchtime in there studying the odds and watching the races. It is an entertainments business now with comfy seats, coffee machines and wide screen televisions. No longer are betting offices portrayed as dens of iniquity where the dregs of society gather to waste their ill gotten gains. Visiting a bookmakers now is on a par with going to the gym or the supermarket.
The new sparkling veneer, however, doesn’t hide the darker underbelly of the place. Men (for it is largely men) still fall prey to the bright lights and lure of the bookies, tempting them in to fritter away money that they can ill afford to lose. Whilst the buzz of a winner is hard to surpass, more commonly the experience is that of a losing bet and the gut wrenching awareness that your stake is gone forever; followed soon after by the overwhelming urge to ‘chase your losses’ and place another bet.
I have never met a poor bookmaker and the longer you spend in such an establishment the more likely it is that you will leave with less money than you entered with. You will lose and lose big. So I felt sorry for the old man as he shuffled down the street in front of me. From his modest attire he did not strike me as someone who could afford to lose what little money he probably had. He struck me as just another victim of the ravenous beast named addiction; down on his heels, down on his luck and probably down to his last few pennies.
Then something quite unexpected happened. The old man walked through the doors of the next building down the street; a church no less. I will never know why he crossed its threshold or how frequent a visitor he was. Was he praying for a sick friend or relative? Was he lonely and in need of a friendly face and and a comforting voice; or was he pleading for the Almighty God to whisper to him the winner of the 3:45 at Ascot?
What I did know was that this man had a faith. I did not know if it raged within him like a forest fire or was a flickering ember barely alight. But it was there. He believed. He believed that there was hope and that he had a future no matter how battered and bruised life had left him. I walked on with an added spring to my step, safe in the knowledge that God was at work in the life of this man. And confident that he was equally at work in mine.
Many men enter a bookmakers with everything (in financial terms at least) and leave with nothing; broken and adrift. They have gambled and they have lost. The same cannot be said of those who choose to follow Jesus. Instead they enter his House with nothing and leave with everything and more – eternal life. Why back a rank outsider when you can choose a racing certainty? Why gamble your soul away when the safest bet of your life is to give everything you have to Him?
Do you struggle with temptation?
What are you willing to gamble to secure happiness?
The marathon is now only 18 days away and I had my final long run on Saturday. 21 miles on a dry, sunny and still morning. Ideal running conditions. I can handle rain but the wind is an enemy of the runner. It can wreak havoc with the best laid pacing plans. I set off in a hopeful frame of mind my intention, as ever, to remain under the 9:09 minute mile pace I need to average in order to run a sub 4 hour marathon.
The other week Fionnuala purchased me a brand new pair of Nike Air trainers to break in for the big day. I sadly had to retire my old pair at Nike which had served me well but were now on their last legs if you pardon the pun. They were literally falling apart and the soles were so worn down that it was akin to running on cardboard. They had to go so were consigned to the garage where they would live out their retirement along with the garden furniture and other odds and ends.
It is fair to say that the new Nike have been a revelation. I had a bad summer running wise due to illness and injury but was slowly building up my distance and times in preparation for the marathon. However I was nowhere near the levels I had run previously. With the arrival of the new trainers, however, I began to fly again. My times started to plummet. I felt fitter and faster. Coincidence or not, my confidence soared again and I put it all down to my new foot furniture.
The thick, cushioned soles made me feel as if I was running on air. Without the flying snowman and falsetto singing. I bounced along like an astronaut on the moon. It was like somebody had attached springs to the soles of my feet. I felt like Inspector Gadget. The 21 mile run went ridiculously well as a result. I finished with a 8:17 mile average, well within my target pace. Part of me wished the marathon was then as I truly believed I could have kept going and completed the distance well under my 4 hour target.
All thanks to a new set of soles. Wouldn’t it be great if we could discard everything as easily as that. Unfortunately we only get one mind, one heart and one chance at life. And they can get battered and bruised beyond recognition. We can’t chuck them in the bin, though, and start over again. We have to make do with what we have and plod along often underachieving and missing out on the goals and targets we set ourselves along the way. Life has a nasty habit of chewing up dreams and spitting them out the other side.
Have I depressed you yet? Don’t worry the good news is that God does offer you a second chance. And a third chance and a seventeenth chance for that matter. He offers hope and a better life. All you have to do is reach out and accept the offer. He has an all singing, all dancing new set of running shoes for you. Just slip them on and you will feel like you never have before. Faster, stronger and ready to run the race of life like you never have before. Running forward into a future of Personal Bests.
We only get one shot at this race. So why turn down such an offer? Would Mo Farah line up for an Olympic final in a tatty old pair of running shoes when he could be sporting the finest that the boffins at Nike could offer? It’s a no brainer when you think of it that way. Which is kind of handy as many of us shuffle through life making decisions as if we don’t have one. A brain that is. It’s time to wake up and smell the coffee. I don’t like coffee but you get my drift.
I believe in the spiritual realms. I believe in angels and demons. Ghosts, ghouls, monsters call them what you like. And I believe in the Devil. He wants your soul and he will offer you all kinds of bright, shiny trinkets in order to attain it. We are incredibly naive and arrogant if we think we know everything there is to know about this universe. There is more than meets the eye. The eye deceives. Don’t be deceived by money, popularity or power. It’s a lie of the eye.
Why sell your soul to the Devil when Jesus is willing to upgrade the one you have. For free. And then you too can race towards the finish line instead of veering off track. For there lurk demons….
What is your favourite form of footwear?
Where is your soul at today?
Do you believe in angels and demons?
Have I told you that I’m running a marathon for SHINE Charity in just under three weeks time? Once or twice I suspect. Well last week the charity posted out my charity running vest for the big day. It’s a demure bright yellow which won’t win me any awards in the fashion stakes but will ensure that I’m visible from about a mile away for passing motorists. I will resemble a giant, fluorescent banana. I’ve had worse looks.
They also sent me out some sponsorship sheets and a charity wristband which I proudly slipped on. Wristbands may now be a fashion faux pas for all I know but I wear three. The aforementioned SHINE addition and one from my favourite singer/author Lacey Sturm saying ‘Living the Impossible’. I have kind of adopted this as my life slogan for if you had told me five years ago that I would be running marathons and writing a novel I would have snorted in derision.
The third one is a simple black band with a verse from the Bible embossed on it. 1 John 2:6 to be precise ‘Whoever claims to live in him must walk as Jesus did.’ It kind of sums up how I am trying to live my life and the mindset I am attempting to adhere to. Our pastor talks a lot about the difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus. Anyone can make the decision to become a Christian. But attempting to live like he did day after day is a whole different ball game.
He also talks a lot about discipleship. It’s more than just turning up at church on a Sunday, mumbling along to a few worship songs and then shuffling off home again. It’s about how you live your life the rest of the week that matters. Displaying your faith on a consistent basis in a positive and loving manner. Being the light of the world, the city on a hill. Stepping out of your comfort zone armed with only a mustard seed of faith. Taking a risk.
In corporate management speak I am risk averse in such matters. Fionnuala calls me socially awkward which is probably the understatement of the year. Or any year for that matter. I am fairly hopeless around people I don’t know and not much better around those that I do. And I make no exception when it comes to my faith. I am much better writing about it than I am discussing it; which is one of the main reasons this blog was born. I had a story to tell but knew the written medium was the only way I could effectively express myself and do that story justice.
An example of this occurred last week. I was sitting at my desk, minding my own business, when a colleague asked me what was written on my wristbands. What a fantastic evangelical opportunity. But what did I do? Rather than openly and proudly talking about my faith I muttered something about the Lacey Sturm wristband being the title of a song I liked prior to quickly changing the subject. Epic fail!
I felt like Peter after he denied Jesus three times and the cockerel crowed. Talking about my faith in an open plan office in front of my colleagues was a risk I was not prepared to take. It was a bridge too far. I had turned my back on Jesus. I was willing to wear his name on his wrist but not declare it with my voice. I was left an embarrassed Christian as opposed to an unapologetic follower of Jesus. I had let him down and felt pretty rubbish.
The good news is that Jesus doesn’t turn his back on us even when we repeatedly turn our back on him. He’s got a thick skin that way. He is a bottomless ocean of patience and forgiveness, the ultimate grace generator. And when you stumble, or fall flat on your face like me, he’s there to reach out and help you back on your feet. To follow him. In your own time. But don’t leave it too late for you never know what’s round the next corner.
The next time I have an opportunity to demonstrate my faith I hope I don’t waver. I want to be a follower. I want to step out of the boat in faith. Christians wear wristbands. Followers wear riskbands.
Do you wear a wristband? What does it stand for?
Are you a risk taker? Or risk averse?
Regular readers of the blog will have known that our youngest daughter, Rebecca, celebrated her 11th birthday a few days ago. The festivities have lasted the best part of a week culminating yesterday in a trip to the ‘Disney On Ice’ show in Belfast. There she was entertained by a flying Peter Pan, Ariel the Mermaid and Olaf the Snowman. And Fionnuala was horrified at paying £9 for a bucket of popcorn and a set of plastic Mickey Mouse ears. Let it go. Just let it go!
On Thursday night she had a pyjama/onesie party with her closest friends. And before anyone asks I don’t own a onesie and have no intention of ever owning one. What struck me at the party was the current unicorn craze amongst young girls. We have unicorn onesies, unicorn pillows, unicorn headphones. In fact anything you can think of. Unicorns are taking over the world. I had always thought it was going to be a zombie apocalypse that was going to end civilisation as we knew it. But I was wrong. It’s actually going to be unicorns.
I’m not sure if there were any unicorns on the Ark. But if there were then Noah’s journey on the waters would have undoubtedly been a much more enjoyable experience. Why? Because unicorns seem to bring joy and happiness wherever they appear. Just ask any little girl. Or perhaps the occasional boy. They are not just mythical flying horses with ice cream cones stuck to their foreheads. They symbolise hope and love and better times. They are a beacon of light in an otherwise bleak world.
Nobody knows who came up with the idea of unicorns. Just like nobody knows exactly who came up with Father Christmas, The Tooth Fairy or the Easter Bunny. But they all play a central role in the lives of our little ones. We tell them the stories, perform the traditions and answer their million and one questions on the subjects. They are at the heart of many of our most treasured family memories. Until that terrible day when it stops. When they stop believing. And then all we can do is relive the memories until, hopefully, a few grandchildren appear and we can do it all over again.
We place such emphasis on these mythical creatures. They bring joy to our homes. Yet do we place the same emphasis on God? Do we place Jesus at the centre of our homes?Is he pushed aside at Easter and Christmas in favour of six foot rabbits and men with white beards and dodgy fashion sense? For let’s face it, if it wasn’t for Jesus there would be no Easter or Christmas. And while some see him also as a make believe figure in this increasingly secular world, it is a recognised historical fact that a man called Jesus walked the earth two thousand years ago. Can’t say that about the Tooth Fairy can you?
The next hurdle is was he just that, a man, or was he more than that? Was he the son of God? The explosion of Christianity to topple the Roman Empire literally overnight would strongly suggest that there is more to it than meets the eye. But at the end of the day it all boils down to faith. Believing in the unseen; believing that there is more to life. Because we all desperately want to believe in that. Just like an expectant child charges down the stairs on Christmas morning. They believe they will be gifts behind that door. They believe it more than anything else.
Jesus came to earth and gave us the greatest gift of all; his life. He died for us and by giving up his life offered us eternal life. All he asks for in return is that we believe in him. We can learn a lot from children and Jesus encouraged his followers to display a child like belief. Because there is a better life. There is a future no matter how dark our present might appear. We just need to take His hand and dare to believe.
I’m not sure I believe in unicorns. But I believe in everything they stand for. Hope, love and joy. For those words are Jesus. And I believe in him.
John 14:1 – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’
Do you believe in Jesus?
How would you describe your relationship with him?
What mythical creature did you love as a child?
When I was 20 back in the day I wanted to be Kurt Cobain. Without the heroin habit and suicidal tendencies of course. ‘Nevermind’ still remains my favourite album (does that give away my age?) of all time and I can tell you where I was the first time I heard ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ I can also tell you where I was when I heard of his death. That was a sad day and I recall reading the newspaper and shaking my head in disbelief. Such a talent. Such a waste.
I began to wear second hand ‘grunge’ clothing which, oddly enough, cost more than brand new gear. I wore this with pride around Belfast. I was a rebel who lived life on the edge. Of course I never wore it when I went home to visit my parents but every rock legend has to start somewhere. I bought a second hand acoustic guitar and started to play until about a week later when I realised I hadn’t a note in my head and flung it into the corner.
Air guitar was more my thing and I spent many a happy hour throwing shapes and thrilling sold out auditoriums from the safety of my bedroom. Jumping off the drum riser (bed) and landing on my knees was my speciality move until I received complaints about the noise. Had to tone it down a bit after that as, metal god that I was, I didn’t want to get on the wrong side of the neighbours.
I went to a motorcycle shop and bought a genuine biker jacket. The guy in the shop started to quiz me about crankshafts and the like and I nodded knowledgeably and muttered something about my bike being in the garage at the moment. I also wore skin tight black jeans which left little to imagination and took around half an hour to get on and off. Just think Ross Gellar and the episode of ‘Friends’ where he bought a pair of leather trousers.
But most of all I wanted long hair. Long, straight hair. I resolved that I was growing it and painfully inspected it each day in the mirror to monitor progress. Initially all was well but disaster loomed once it crept over my collar. It started to grow upwards again. The back of my head resembled a ski slope. I was bereft and no matter how hard I tried to straighten and coax it, my follicles steadfastly defied the laws of gravity. I looked more like Kirk Douglas than Kurt Cobain and was inconsolable.
If you viewed any photographs of me taken during this era and you would have been convinced that I had no neck. Whenever a lens was pointed in my direction my default setting was to scrunch up both shoulders in a desperate attempt to convince people that my hair was longer than it actually was. The cringe factor was off the scale and, for the last 20 plus years, I have made it my life’s work to hunt down and destroy any visual image of me from that period of my life.
No matter how hard I tried I was never going to be Kurt Cobain. I realised that it was much less expensive (and embarrassing) to just be myself. Externally at least. Throughout my adult life I have always tried to be someone who I am not in order to impress others and fit in. I have had more reincarnations than Dr. Who and they have all invariably ended in disaster. Hurting myself and my loved ones in the process.
Being yourself is hard in this day and age. Peer pressure to behave in a certain way is huge and many buckle under the strain of it all. But accepting and beginning to like who you are is the first step towards maturity. My family love me for who I am even though I can try the patience of a saint. Being yourself is infinitely harder than playing a role and living a lie. But infinitely more rewarding. God created me this way for a reason. He has a plan for all of us and to act out of character is disobedient and self-defeating.
Be brave. Be honest. Be yourself.
Jeremiah 29:11 – ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’
How hard do you find it to be yourself?
Do you even know the real you?
Tell us about your worst ever hairstyle.
I work in an investigative environment. My job invokes asking lots of questions and finding stuff out. I analyse, assess and dissect. In forensic, minute detail. To miss a tiny piece of information can have serious repercussions. It is fascinating, but painstaking, work. But I’ve been doing it for seventeen years now so I guess I’ve picked up a bit of expertise along the way.
I’ve been told I have a gift for drawing learning and teaching out of the Bible. I enjoy researching and studying it from different angles and presenting well known stories and passages from new and different perspectives. I’ve been fortunate enough also to have been given the opportunity to share my thoughts at house groups, youth cells and in church itself.
The same applies to any challenge I tackle. I am currently training for my seventh marathon and am sticking rigidly to a training plan. I do exactly what is required of me every day. The same applies to my writing. I blog every day and have started on the strucure for my first novel. My investigative background has been of great benefit to me. I’m determined and recognise that attention to detail is essential in order to reach my targets.
Yes, if you asked anyone who knew me they would probably place attention to detail near the top of my skills set. I wish the same could be said for my home life. You see, I have so much junk whirling about my head that I often neglect those I love the most who are right in front of my eyes. The kids ask me questions and I am miles away, thinking about something else. I am oblivious to basic household chores that require attention.
I would walk through a darkened room without the metaphorical light bulb in my head telling me that the literal one above my head needs replaced. The time went back last weekend and there are still clocks in the house that need adjusted. The list goes on. I am a nightmare and drive Fionnuala nuts; too busy brooding over my past and daydreaming about my future to focus on what really matters – the present, the here and now screaming in my face.
I am flawed and frustrating. I know that. I am a work in progress. I know that also. I want to become a better person and make up for decades of lost time. But I guess I need to learn to walk before I start running. Today I was going to write about the blog reaching 2000 followers but God has a way of bringing us back down to earth with a resounding thud. Yes, we can reach for Heaven. But only if we keep our feet well and truly on the ground.
Pay attention to your loved ones. Never take them for granted. Or one day they might stop paying attention to you.
What is your biggest flaw?
Do you pay attention to your loved ones? Or is it an area of your life where you can improve?
Never have I ever seen a girl so excited for her birthday before. Today is the day Rebecca has been counting down now for weeks. She wants to thank everyone for their lovely comments on her blog she wrote yesterday and for those that wanted to know what her big brother’s present was it was a set of unicorn ear phones.
We are now counting down the hours and minutes until her Onesie/PJ Party starts at 5pm when Stephen and I will be sent to spend the evening in the kitchen so the living room can be taken over by eight 10/11 year old girls – all prayers for our sanity will be greatly appreciated 🙏
An extra blog today from our very excited daughter, Rebecca, who turns 11 tomorrow.
Hello here my name is Rebecca you may have read my first blog. Well this blog is about the day before my birthday and all the stuff I’m doing to kill time. When I woke up I sat in bed for fifteen minutes and read my book then I got up and went down stairs and had some breakfast. Then I just chilled out on the sofa with my mummy and watched some TV until I got up and put up some birthday banners. After that I brushed the hall and I brushed the living room and I brushed the kitchen and cleaned the kitchen and living room all up. Then I had my lunch that killed about twenty minutes then I started my blog. Some other things that I am doing tonight is when I’m having my dinner I am going to eat it slower and then me and my mummy are going to Tesco. After when we come back from Tesco I’m going to help put away the shopping then I’m going to go in the bath and wash my hair so when I come out from the bath I can do my hair what will kill some more time.
The most things I’m excited for is my birthday party I’m having that night and for in the morning because my big brother Adam thought it would be funny to wrap my present up from him last Sunday when I was out and sat it on the table in the living room so from Sunday every time I go in I just want to open it and he put loads of paper and stuff like that so when you shake it you can’t hear anything so this is the end of my blog and I really appreciate you for taking time to read it there is just one more thing I would like to say is that when I was writing my blog the verse John chapter 3 verse 16 says For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have in eternal life.
When I was writing this blog that verse came into my head so that is way I wrote it down bye
Hollywood sometimes is not the most creative of artistic environments (Fast and Furious 8 anyone?) and is no exception when it comes to the glut of ‘Groundhog Day’ type movies which flood our screens. We had never heard of the phenomenon in Northern Ireland until the release of the Bill Murray original in 1993, where a not very likeable TV weatherman becomes caught in a time loop where he has to relive the same day over and over again.
The experience forces him to review his life and helps him evolve into a much kinder and more loving person. It was a box office success and has led to all sorts of spin offs and variations of a theme. I’ve seen Christmas, horror and teen ‘Groundhog Day’ inspired movies. All following the same basic premise. What if you could live yesterday all over again? What would you do differently? What would you change? Or would you just leave things as they were?
I’ve made a billion mistakes down the years and there are days when I wish I could turn back time (minus the dodgy Cher wardrobe) and rewrite my past. Erase a lot of the bad decisions I have made and put things right. Live a better life, a perfect life. But then I think would that make me the person I am today, warts and all. Do I want to be a revisionist historian like in Stalinist Russia? Airbrushing my failings? Sugar coating the truth of who I was?
I stand here today before you scarred and flawed. But I earned those scars and I have them for a reason. My past has cost myself and others dearly. I wish it was not so but it is. I have walked a rocky road but my screw ups have helped shaped me into the person I am today. God allowed me to make the same mistakes over and over again to bring me to a point where I hit rock bottom and realised I could no longer do it on my own. I needed Him.
Our past shapes us and makes us who we are today. We go through it in order to learn from it and evolve. My past has allowed God to chip away at my faults and insecurities and reshape me. If it wasn’t for my past I wouldn’t be writing this today. In fact, this blog probably wouldn’t exist (hurrah you all cheer). Our past is our fuel. It powers us through the present and hopefully helps steer us to a better future where we can avoid the potholes on the road that we previously fell foul of.
So tempting as it sounds I’m not so sure I want to wake up and repeat 31 October 2017 all over again. Sure there are things I would change if I could. But if I did then would I be the man I am today, this very second. I learnt from yesterday. As I will learn from today. And tomorrow. I’m no Marty McFly or Dr. Who. Plus time travel sounds like awfully hard work. I think I’ll stay where I am for now.
If you could relive yesterday what would you change? Or would you let sleeping dogs lie?
What is your favourite Bill Murray movie? Scrooged? Ghostbusters? Lost In Translation?
I had a creative growth spurt over the weekend (if such a thing exists) which resulted in me coming up with numerous blog ideas. But little old indecisive me hasn’t a clue which one to write first. Which means that they are all currently languishing in the dank dungeon that is my drafts folder.
Sooooooo….I’m going to let you lot decide as to which one I publish first. Below is a brief synopsis of each one so as you can decide which you would like to read first. It will then be tomorrow’s post. Don’t all rush at once now….
1 – Long Hair, Don’t Care – the sorry saga of my doomed to fail efforts to grow my hair back in the day when I thought I was the next Kurt Cobain. Without the talent and the baggy sweater because my mother wouldn’t let me wear clothes like that.
2 – I’m Walking On The Air – did I tell you that I’m running a marathon in 26 days time? Well my new running shoes have arrived. Join me on my first training run in them as I pretend I’m the next Mo Farah. Then wake up and smell the coffee.
3 – Witches Road – a darker post regarding my thoughts on a murder that took place along a road that I regularly run. I share my thoughts and emotions on the scene itself and the parties involved.
4 – Foetus – another cheery tale about crippling hangovers, some of the darker days of my life and the faith that dragged me kicking and screaming through them.
Please comment below with your choice and I’ll announce the winning post later today.
I stopped swearing about four years. I can’t remember the exact date but I know that it literally happened overnight. Just like that I went from regularly dropping the ‘F Bomb’ and similar expletive hand grenades to nothing. Nada. Zilch. It was like someone had reprogrammed my brain. I like to think it was God but, whoever or whatever it was, I wasn’t complaining. It was a dirty habit and one I was glad to be rid of.
I literally could not get the words out. Whack my shin off a hard surface. No problem. I would grit my teeth, smile and give a cheery smile. Close down a Word document and forget to save four hours worth of work. Never worry. Life goes on and at least nobody died. I cringed in the presence of others who showered their conversations with cursing. It just felt so uncomfortable. No unnecessary. So wrong. It was part of my past; a past I had no intention of going back to.
I had many bad habits at the time and, in the greater scheme of things, swearing was probably near the lower end of the scale. But I was still proud of my achievement. I was not brought up in a house where cursing was allowed and, to this day, I have never sworn in front of my mother much as I have been tempted to at times. I became one of those annoying reformed alcoholic types. Frowning at those who swore in my company and chastising relatives and friends whose language did not meet my lofty standards.
I was a massive hypocrite of course. Yes I had got to grips with what was coming out of my mouth. Unfortunately the same could not be said for what was going on inside my head. There were still plenty of impure thoughts rattling about which led to equally impure actions. I was akin to a footballer whose team had lost 12-1 but only wanted to talk about the goal he had scored and not the final score. Beneath my sparkling new exterior the creeping rot continued on its inexorable path.
Fast forward a few years and I feel I have finally come to grips with that rot. It is a daily struggle, and I have stumbled many times along the way. There are days I am still tempted. There are days I am ravaged by guilt and self pity but I get through them. My family inspire me. The support I get from the WordPress community is an incredible comfort. My faith, which ebbs and flows, is always there is some form or another. We are tentatively exploring a new church. I have plans. To run marathons and to write a book. There is hope and there is a future.
This blog has been a salvation; a means of expressing myself on social media in a positive and constructive format. But I can never become complacent. For disaster is only one poor decision away. It so easy to slip back to old ways. They can slip like wisps of smoke into your consciousness without you even realising it. An example?The other day I found myself in a stressful situation. Before I even knew it I swore….in French. ‘Merde’ I muttered under my breath. Nobody heard it and I chuckled at the silliness of my utterance. Swearing in French did not count I reasoned with the disapproving voice in my head.
Or did it? Momentary, insignificant lapse or the first step on a slippery slope back to where I started. Every landslide starts with a single rolling stone. That first sip of beer. That first click of a keyboard. That first text message. My French folly taught me an important lesson. I can never relax, never let down my defences. Every day is a battle and every day I must not let my standards lower. I can be proud of where I am and what I have achieved. But that must never become vanity and arrogance. The brink, the pit, the abyss. Call it what you will but I must never go back there.
Whatever the language….
Have you ‘F Bomb’ issues?
What are your worst habits?
How do you fare in the daily battle against temptation and bad habit?
Two nights ago I woke up at 2:45 a.m. And that was me wide awake. No matter how much I tossed and turned I could not get back to sleep. Why? I have no idea. There was nothing particular on my mind and everything I tried to return to the land of nod was doomed to failure. I read, I got up for a while, I even blogged (my blogs have sent many to sleep these last few months but it didn’t work on me) but all to no avail.
In the end I gave up and drove into work early. I was in the office for 07:00 a.m. My colleagues gave me strange looks as they drifted in but thankfully none of the usual hilarious quips that accompany such an early morning premonition; for example ‘Has she finally seen sense and kicked you out?’ or ‘Did someone wet the bed last night?’ Oh my aching sides….
The rest of the day passed in a drowsy fog. No amount of Diet Coke could shake it. I was The Walking Dead. By 09:30 I was ready for my lunch (thankfully not brains) and I struggled to focus on my computer screen and the words on it. A lunchtime run helped lift my slumber a little but by 3:30 p.m. I was ready for home. My working day had been a bit of a non event. Sleep deprivation was wreaking havoc with my Friday. I was tired, grouchy and wide open to any negative, intrusive thought that happened to drift across my consciousness.
When I hit the sack last night I don’t think I managed five pages of the book I am currently reading. I normally need a good twenty pages before drifting off. I must have been asleep by 10:30 p.m. I slept, largely uninterrupted, until 08:00 a.m. I woke up a new man. Fresher, more alert and feeling less sorry for myself. When Fionnuala, who was heading out for the day with the girls, asked me what I had planned I even mentioned the words ‘gardening’ and ‘cleaning’ in the one sentence. Unheard of!
I had caught up on my sleep. I need it just like I need water and food. Without it I struggle to function at the level required of me. Physically and mentally. Deprivation leads to disintegration. The same applies to my spiritual life. These last few weeks I haven’t been at church, haven’t been reading my Bible and haven’t been praying. I have struggled as a result. I have been less patient with people and more likely to get annoyed with them. I have been bearing grudges and unwilling to forgive. I have felt sorry for myself and resentful of others. I have set a poor example to those around me.
I want my writing to inspire and provoke thought. I want to offer hope to those without hope. I want to bring light into the lives of those who currently are surrounded by darkness. I want this blog to be the launch pad for my book. I have a story and I want to share it with others. But without God getting involved none of that is going to happen. Even the most expensive sports car isn’t going to move an inch without fuel in it. I need spiritual fuel just as much as I need sleep. I need it more so. Without it I grind to a halt.
Today is a new day. I will run. I will garden. I will clean. Fuelled by a proper sleep. But I’m also going to make a point of picking up my Bible and talking to God. For without that my soul dries up and the words cease to flow from my keyboard. I just ask that you take care of your own needs today. Physical, emotional and spiritual. Whatever your belief system do what you have to do in order to be properly fuelled to face the challenges of the day ahead.
None of us can do it on our own. You may feel utterly lost and alone as you reading this. Broken and worthless. Running on empty. Let me tell you that you are not. You just need the proper fuel to get going again and back into the race. You are special, unique and precious. We need you to be whole again. Don’t give up. Ever.
Are you running on empty today? I hope these words have been of some comfort to you. Please feel free to leave a comment.
Today is Pay Day which, for a limited time only, makes me the most popular member of the Black household. This will of course not last and normal service will no doubt be resumed before the end of the weekend. It is also the start of the half term holidays and Funderland is opening in Belfast. Funderland is an annual, outdoor carnival and the kids have been chomping at the bit to visit it this year and spend Daddy’s hard earned money. I mean, what else would I be doing with it.
So tonight after work I am taking Adam, Rebecca and two of their friends to the greatest show in town. Unfortunately Hannah is a little under the weather so is staying at home with Fionnuala. At face value I cannot say I am jumping up and down with excitement at the prospect. Carnivals combine many of my pet hates. Rollercoaster rides (terrified of them), possible clown sightings (even more terrified of them) and unhealthy food coming at me from all angles.
The kids are excited, though, and that is all that matters. This is another positive memory that Fionnuala and I, as parents, are creating for them. These memories are the building blocks of a happy childhood; they are laying foundations for their lives ahead where they may face tough times but can always fall back upon a strong, solid upbringing that taught them right from wrong. Amongst the candy floss and toffee apples tonight we hope that bonds are strengthened and relationships deepened.
Our children are a blessing to us. They are our legacy. As parents we too often find ourselves screaming at them to wash the dishes (our washing up rota is a literal war zone most evenings) and bring their dirty school uniforms down for washing. Homeworks, constant demands for money and sibling warfare are a drain on the most patient parent. And our house is no exception. There are times when we are both driven to despair by their antics. Surely we didn’t behave this badly when we were kids?
I’m pretty sure God blessed me with kids for reasons other than keeping the Black family line intact. They continue our education as human beings long after we have left school. They are little professors who reside in our homes and teach us values that we have either forgotten over the course of time or never quite figured out in the first place. They help untangle the roots of selfishness that take hold in our hearts and chip away at the layers of bitterness and resentment that calcify our souls.
I look at our son and learn about patience and humility. I look at our eldest daughter and see courage and determination. And then I look at our youngest daughter and experience humour and fun. Fun – a word that I somehow lost from my adult vocabulary many years ago. Don’t get me wrong they are no angels and there are days when we want to string them up but would we have it any other way? No, I don’t believe we would.
Jesus hit the nail on the head when he said ‘Whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter at all.’ As we grow up into adults we all too easily slip into a life of complacency and mediocracy. We pick up bad habits and stumble along, oblivious to the warning signs all around us. As we grow more physically mature, we become more spiritually immature. Instead of progression there is regression. Little teachers are placed in our lives for a purpose.
We need to ensure that the inner child within us all lives on. We need to ensure that the daily grind does not destroy the values we were born with; the purity, faith and unconditional love of a child. We need to remember that life is to be lived and not merely endured. For it is only when we reconnect with the inner child that the outer adult can mature into the person God created us to be; and fulfil the plans he has set out for us.
We need to remember that Funderland can be every day and not just a once a year experience.
When did you last have fun?
What do you learn from children?
Who washes the dishes in your household?
Sometimes you hit a crossroads in life and I think I am there now. It has been an undulating and meandering route but I am there. So where do I go? The crossroads is barren and offers no clues as to the way ahead. There are no signposts or clues as to which road to take. There are no fellow travellers to consult with. All I know is that I cannot go back the way I came for there lurk demons.
I am weary and fearful that if I delay my decision much longer then it will be too late. The window of opportunity will be firmly and permanently shut in my face. The options open to me will disappear like wisps of smoke in a clear, blue sky. I look to the skies for inspiration but see only the gaunt vultures circling me under the watchful, unblinking eye of the searing sun. They smell death. The death of my dreams.
I crave death. The death of my past. I want to cut free from the stifling chains of guilt and worthlessness. The voices that tell me I have failed. For they are seductive liars who flaunt their wares brazenly in front of my tearful eyes on a daily basis. I no longer believe the lies but they still sting like salt on a fresh wound. They circle me mockingly and show no respite. They seek to overwhelm me but I will not succumb to their falsehoods.
I look to God for guidance but he is silent. Is his silence a sign in itself? Is there a purpose behind his silence? Or is he screaming in my ears but I choose not to listen? Is my spiritual deafness self inflicted? The cruellest enemy is the one who knows you best. And I know myself very well. I know every chink in my threadbare armour. Every exposed area where the steel of the enemy can plunge deep through flesh and muscle until it strikes home, piercing my very soul.
I see myself lying at the crossroads as my essence drains out of me to be consumed by the dusty, thirsty road. My very being ebbs away as my eyes glaze over. There are no Good Samaritans on this road. Only the crossroads and a decision to be made. Is there a right decision? Is the wrong decision making no decision at all? I renounce the confusion in my head. The fog of the enemy has no place in my mind. I pray for clarity and truth.
I look down as my right foot tentatively steps forward. Followed by another step. Then another. I am walking. Forwards. I know not where this path leads and I know not why I have chosen it. But a decision has been made. I leave the crossroads behind me and move on, leaving the vultures behind. The distant horizon offers only baffling anonymity. I see no end to my journey. I see no fireworks or marching bands. Only the road. But every step is another one away from my past.
For there lurk demons.
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?
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?
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?
My OCD has flared up a bit this week and I think it’s because I’ve been reading a lot of OCD related books for the novel that I am supposedly researching. So I’ve decided to take a break from all that and am currently reading a fantasy novel about a post apocalyptic world where the remnants of society are governed by an all knowing, all seeing computer.
Your position within this world is determined by a wristband which gives you a digital reading of between 0-10 based upon your attitude and loyalty to the ruling regime. The more you adhere to the rules and regulations of the regime and ‘tow the line’ the higher your rating will be. In order to scale the social ladder you need to conform. Show the slightest sign of independent thinking or emotion not in accordance with accepted values and your rating will plummet.
Hence those with ’10’ ratings are viwed as almost god like; perfect and flawless in every respect. They are effectively automatons devoid of feelings; living a dull, zombie like existence in their ivory towers oblivious to the myriad of possibilities that life holds if they would only open their eyes and ears to what lies beyond. Theirs is a miserable existence yet they lack tbe self awareness to recognise this. Their perfection is an ugly one. Their success is their downfall.
The large majority of the population aspire to be a ’10’ and live a life of luxury. Their sole purpose in life is to improve their scores. A ‘7’ will do whatever it takes to become an ‘8’ even if it means eradicating every last trace of the personality they were born with. It is a bitter rat race. At the other end of the scene become a ‘3’ and you are referred for medication in order to correct your independent behaviour; a ‘2’ and you are institutionaled for ‘behavioural reprogramming’. Think lobotomies here. And if you drop to a ‘1’ you tend to disappear, never to be seen again.
It is a bleak picture of a future world where creativity and innovation are frowned upon. Emotions are abhorred and shows of affection are almost non existent. Free thinking is despised and harshly punished. Thank God we don’t live in a world like that right? Thank God we are free to be ourselves and don’t have to conform to such crushing peer pressure. Hmmmmm….
How many of you have buried your own opinions and thoughts in order to fit in? How many of you have said ‘yes’ when you wanted to say ‘no’ just so that you weren’t the odd one out? How many of you are currently unhappy living your life a certain way in order to please your family and friends? We become boxed in and trapped. In our relationships, in our schools and workplaces, even dare I say it in our churches. On the surface we smile and nod when deep inside all we want to do is scream and run as far away as we can.
Our lives become performances. We play a role and lock our real selves in darkened dungeons within our souls which never see the light. We use money, drugs, alcohol, power, exercise, sex, anything really in order to construct these false creations for the outside world to marvel at. While inside we slowly rot away. Anything to become a ’10’. Don’t believe me? Just scan down your social media feeds or look at all the ‘perfect’ people parading around your office, your school, your church.
Jesus wasn’t interested in ’10’s. He came to earth to rip up the rule book. He realised that man made systems were irrevocably flawed. He sought to transform lives and encouraged people to think outside of the box and turn their backs on the rules and regulations which were suffocating them. He wanted people to step off the ‘hamster wheel’ of life, to show a little faith and follow him instead. People who were willing to walk away from the trappings of social status and give it all up for him.
I’ve spent the large majority of my life aspiring to conform and become a ’10’. This resulted in years of misery for myself and others. Since becoming a Christian I have been taught a few hard lessons. God has had to break me down in order to restore me. It has been a painful process removing layer and layer of arrogance and selfish behaviour. I’m a work in progress, still far from the finished article. But I’m slowly learning that true freedom is not being an earthly ’10’ but instead working in the opposite direction.
By killing your self and rejecting societal norms you can do this. Think of others first. Give don’t take. Learn to forgive. Love don’t loathe. Become selfless and not selfish. Here lies the key to becoming a better person and acquiring spiritual riches, real treasure. Money and power won’t get you there. Neither will looks or the number of followers you have on Instagram. It’s all a dirty lie. The truth is right before your eyes. All you have to do is walk away from your present life. Give it all to to God. The addiction, the temptation, the anger, the depression. Surrender it all to him as you’ll never do it on your own.
Let go of the greasy pole of success and freefall. Fall towards your destiny. One where you can start all over again. Free from guilt and anguish. Start again. Become a zero.
Romans 12:2 – ‘Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’
Where do you lie on the 10-0 scale?
Do you feel trapped in your current life? Are you living a lie? Performing a rule?
What do you need to do in order to break free?
The ‘Loop of the Lough’ Marathon is five weeks today and, this morning, I set out on a 20 mile training run. The next 2-3 weeks are the toughest part of the training plan before I cut back the mileage in the final fortnight before the big day itself. This final period of the training is known as tapering. All the hard work is done and it is just a matter of keeping ticking over, eating and resting properly and avoiding injury.
I was quite nervous before I set off today as this was my longest run in well over a year. I was anxious that my legs would give out on me. Facing a 20 mile run is a daunting prospect and the doubting voices in my head were having a field day. They did their best to convince me that I would flop spectacularly but I set off anyway, more hopeful than confident. I am training for a sub four hour marathon so need to average 9:09 minute miles or better in order to hit my target.
The first four miles or so went well as I headed out a long stretch towards Lough Neagh. I felt strong and was averaging decent mile splits. Then the heavens opened. A light drizzle at first which gradually intensified. By Mile 6 I was well and truly drenched but thankfully there was no wind to accompany it. As a runner I can live with rain; when it’s combined with a headwind, however, it can play havoc with a pacing strategy. There is nothing worse than slipping off your pace and watching all your race dreams disappear in a puff of smoke.
I stopped at the house at Mile 10 for a quick drink and towelling off, then it was off again. From then on it was just a matter of counting off the miles and trying to ignore the mounting pain in my thighs. I play games with myself, picking out landmarks in the distance and trying to guess how far away they are. I check my Garmin watch every 0.05 of a mile, try to work out how much more I have to run as a percentage, estimate what my mile split will be every 1/4 of a mile; anything really rather than listen to the voice telling me to give up and stop.
By Mile 15 I was about four minutes inside my target time so could afford to relax a little. Having a few minutes in the bank is very reassuring. I prayed periodically throughout, thanking Jesus for allowing my body to be able to do this and asking him to give me the strength and focus to keep going. I’m not fast but I do have stamina. My final two miles were roughly at the same pace as my first two. I finished wet, cold and aching all over. But five minutes inside my target pace. Now all I have to do is repeat that in five weeks time. And then run another 10K on top of that.
I’m sore but pleased. The old me would have wanted to brag about this run all over social media and posted lots of photos of yours truly looking pleased with himself. I thought twice about not writing about the run at all but decided to in the end. Running helps me physically and mentally. It is part of who I am so if I were not to refer to it then you would only see part of the real Stephen. And that’s what I want to be. Real. I want to show you the good, the bad and the ugly.
The old me only portrayed a false and misleading persona. I craved attention, was vain and obsessed over running faster and faster every race. In five weeks time I won’t set a personal best and I won’t be bombarding you all with selfies. But I will plod round, hopefully avoid injury and raise some money for charity along the way. I’m just grateful at the end of every run I have a loving family to return to afterwards. For without them, I am a gibbering wreck. They inspire me to be the best possible person I can be. Without them I am nothing. I’m running the race of life with them and for them. With God to guide me.
Psalm 119:32 – ‘I shall run the way of your commandments, for you will enlarge my heart.’
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.
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?
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 ❤️🙏🏻😊
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 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?
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?
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?
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?
As a barely functioning adult I rely heavily on my surrounding support network to drag me kicking and screaming through everyday life. And by support network I mean Fionnuala. She is the fuel powering the juggernaut that is Team Black. She is the power behind this (ahem) blogging empire.
Without her I shudder to think what shape we would go out to work and school each day. Packed lunches, clean clothes and knowing where we have mislaid keys, wallets, shoes etc all fall within her daily remit. In the whirlwind that is chez Black every morning she is the (mostly) calm eye of the storm.
Take this morning for example. Adam stumbled down the stairs doing his best teenage boy ‘Walking Dead’ impersonation to mumble that he had no clean white shirts for school. Extracting dirty clothing from his room for washing is akin to getting people out of 1960’s East Germany. The only clean white shirt in the house was the one that I had just put on barely five minutes before his announcement.
All eyes fixed on me and I had little choice but to take off my crisp, white shirt and hand it over to him. I trooped back up the stairs and perused the contents of my wardrobe. I was left with the stark choice of pink or black shirts. As I had worn a pink shirt the previous day and didn’t want allegations raging round the office that I had worn the same shirt two days running I had little choice but to opt for the little black number.
I managed to find a matching black tie so all was well. True, it did look like I was going to a funeral but this seemed strangely appropriate given the avalanche of paperwork awaiting in my in tray. I braced myself for both this and the 236 times I would have to answer the ‘So who’s dead then?’ question from my ‘hilarious’ colleagues.
Quicker than a Katy Perry wardrobe change I had transformed from white to black. From one extreme to the other. When you make the decision to become a Christian it’s as immediate a transformation, except the other way around. Beforehand our hearts are stained with sin. We can’t help it. There is no means of avoiding it given our default settings and the broken world we live in. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.
We are dirty rags unfit to stand in the holy, pure presence of God. For no matter how hard we try we will never attain the standard required. Blame Adam and Eve for that one. God realised this which is why he sent Jesus to the Cross to atone for the mess us humans were making of things. He loved us that much he provided our get out clause. He took the ultimate hit for #TeamHumanity. So that today anyone who accepts him as their Lord and Saviour can discard their soiled, sinful past and stand unblemished as a new creation.
That’s not to say it won’t be a walk in the park after that. It is only the beginning of the journey. All sorts of pitfalls and temptations lie ahead. Many will stumble and some will be led astray. Jesus, however, will live within the believer through the Holy Spirit providing strength and guidance as required. He is truth, light and bottomless grace. We need him because, otherwise, we will never be rid of the ‘black shirt’.
John 3:16 – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’
What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?
Do you believe Jesus is the solution to your problems? Or are you uncertain? Reluctant? We would love to hear your comments?
‘Carpe Diem’ is a frequently used Latin expression and, translated means ‘seize the day.’ A lot of people adopt it as their maxim for life. It encapsulates a positive attitude, that indefatigable, ‘never say die’ mentality that we attribute to our sporting heroes. Never give up! Up and at them! To the victor the spoils.
It is good to wake up with a positive attitude and adhere to it throughout the day. There are many benefits to adopting this mindset. I have written in recent posts about focusing more on the present and future rather than looking back on my sinful past. I need to accept where I came from, yes, but regularly revisiting the dark places leaves me more vulnerable to emotions and thoughts I no longer want to experience.
It is a balancing act, a happy medium. One can also take it too far. This succeed at all costs outlook can lead to selfishness, injustice and anger. Like any path we walk in life it is so easy to veer off track as our moral compasses spin out of control and lead us off in the wrong direction. If there is one thing that’s worse than a bad loser, it’s a bad winner. We have all encountered them so I won’t labour the point.
Seizing the day as a Christian is as much about quiet, selfless acts that largely go unnoticed as it is about preaching in front of thousands or being a New York Times bestseller. It is praying for someone who doesn’t know you are praying for them; it is making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause; it is buying a cup of tea for a shivering homeless person who you might never see again.
Too many people seeking to seize the day end up suffocating in their own self importance and insecurities. They are so pre-occupied with attending to their worldly needs that they neglect their much more important spiritual ones. The world is broken and we, as Christians, have a responsibility to slap a bandaid on it whenever we can. But it is dying.
The good news? I believe a day will come when Jesus will intervene; when enough will be enough. When he will descend and establish a new Kingdom. One where there will be no more wars, famine or disease. Where he will put death to the sword and reward the faithful few who stuck to the path and ran the race well. For the selfish, the unforgiving, the disbelieving, there is also a future. But not quite as pleasant a one.
Seize the day? Yes, there are many positive traits to that philosophy. But beware the pitfalls associated with it too. Take responsibility for your destiny but do it with the right motives and with a good heart. Don’t leave it too late. As Jesus is coming on the ultimate day. To seize the world.
Luke 21:27 – At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’
How do you intend to seize today?
Our pastor at Journey Community Church gave a fantastic sermon this morning on the difference between becoming a Christian and consistently being a follower of Jesus. He spoke about how Jesus came to earth to make disciples and not Christians. It is so easy to say you are a Christian but a lot more tricky to take up your cross and imitate Christ every day.
Church really inspired me today. It was our fifth week attending (not that I’m counting) and this was the first Sunday I’ve felt comfortable and at ease there. I went and asked for prayer after the service which really calmed me as well. This is Church as it should be. We were made to feel welcome and at home. Plus there was lots of food….which always helps.
Upon getting home we started tidying up the back yard for the winter. I was on sweeping duties but my task was made all the more difficult due to a loose screw. Now before you all start I was not the one with the aforementioned problem although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of having a screw loose.
No, the faulty screw connected (or at least was meant to connect) the brush itself to the brush handle. And no matter how hard I tried it made it nigh on impossible to sweep up the fallen leaves adorning out patio. I pushed the handle one way, the brush swivelled in the opposite direction and the leaves went in every direction. Stephen 1 Mother Nature 0.
Matters deteriorated from there as I was reduced to crawling about on my hands and knees trying to corral the errant leaves into a dustpan via a combination of a short handled brush and my bare hands. ‘Perhaps you should go and buy a new brush?’ a bewildered Fionnuala suggested from across the yard. I accepted defeat like any mature, adult male and skulked off to the village shop with my tail well and truly between my legs.
The comedy that was attaching the new brush to its handle is another story which may require a three blog series all of its own. Suffice to say with a properly functioning brush my task was made a lot easier. Before you could say ‘Stephen is a walking DIY disaster’ the yard had been cleared and looking a lot tidier than it had an hour earlier. If I had persisted with the wonky brush I would probably still be at it come Christmas.
Our pastor challenged us today about who, if anyone, we are discipling within our sphere of influence. After much soul searching I came up with nothing. I profess I’m a Christian but, of late, I have done little to evidence to others that I am following in the footsteps of Jesus. If he is the brush handle then I’m the wobbly brush, careering ineffectively in the opposite direction from where He wants me to go. And the people (leaves) in my life who I should be having a positive impact on are being overlooked and left to their own devices.
All because of a little screw. About the size of a mustard seed. My faith. Without it the whole show grinds to a halt. Unless I believe I can be more like Jesus then I never will. I will always be shackled to sin, death and self-doubt. I need to fuel and feed my faith, tighten that tiny screw of faith until it cannot be budged whatever the world throws against it. Without I will never be able to confidently sweep through my friends and family with the message that Jesus brought to the world.
It’s time to start sweeping….
Matthew 19:21 – ‘Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’
Do you believe there is a difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus?
Are you doing enough to sweep up disciples in your community?
It is 6:37 am in balmy Northern Ireland and I can’t sleep. The reason why? Adam’s big rugby match is less than four hours away and I’m excited about it. I never sleep well the night before one of his matches and tonight has been no exception. I kept wakening up, had weird dreams and then dozing off again. I won’t get back to sleep now so thought I might as well squeeze a blog post out of it.
It is good to feel excited. I’m excited about being excited again as it’s an emotion I haven’t experienced much lately. I have been in a rut this last week or so and a lot of my writing has been negative and about my past. I have revisited a lot of dark places from there and this has taken its toll. Some of that darkness has seeped back into my present life and that has not been healthy. It has sucked the life out of my bones and left me feeling agitated and irritable.
I read a blog post the other day about a mental health illness where the sufferer is unable to derive pleasure from anything. They are incapable of feeling excited about anything. I know this does not relate to me because I am different. I have chosen not to feel excited about anything. I have allowed the darkness to suffocate my light. That has to change. Starting now.
I have a lot to be excited about. There is a lot happening in our busy lives and I’m grateful to God for everything He has done for us this year. The Bible is full of excitement. Imagine how Moses must have felt when he parted the Red Sea? David after he slew Goliath? Daniel as he walked unscathed out of the lion’s dead? The disciples on a daily basis as they watched and listened to Jesus? Never let it be said that the Bible is a dull book. It overflows with excitement.
My heart needs to overflow with excitement. Overflow into other people’s lives and drown their own fears and inadequacies. It is time to crush depression and anxiety. But that excitement has to be genuine. Not the once a week ‘happy clappy Christianity’ that some try to portray at church on a Sunday. Parading their perfect families and fake smiles while in their hearts there is nothingness. I want my excitement to be real and genuine.
I am not that type of person. My default setting is ‘glass half empty’. I don’t run round church with my hands in the air singing ‘Praise Jesus’. I am a quiet worshipper. I read, I write and I think. A lot. Possibly too much. But I want to be a quietly excited worshipper. And that means immersing myself in more positive environments. The people I spend time with, the books I read, the music I listen to.
It will soon be time to get up and face the day. I am excited about today. And not just because of the rugby match. I am excited to be alive and well. I am excited to be married to a wonderful woman and to have three fantastic children. I am excited to be writing these words to you. In fact I am excited for you and the plan that God has mapped out for your life. I won’t shout. I won’t roar. But I am excited. Quietly excited.
2 Samuel 6:14 – ‘And David danced before the Lord with all his might.’
What plans have you for the weekend? Are you excited about them?
What is your emotional ‘default setting’?
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?
The news, as ever, has made pretty depressing viewing of late. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks and now the horrific events in Las Vegas. Some days I don’t want to step out of my front door. I just want to stay at home with Fionnuala and the kids close to me. Heartache and despair seem to be lurking behind every corner, waiting to sink their claws into your heart and tear you apart.
At times like this I feel helpless. There seems little I can do to protect my loved ones from the world as it is today. I watch the news and hear the responses of world leaders to each breaking nightmare. A commonly used phrase is ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families’. I hear it so often that the words mean nothing to me. Trite. Glib. Empty. Another day. Another meaningless soundbite.
Or is it? We are surrounded by these devastating tragedies. They dominate our social media timelines and work conversations. They are everywhere we go, constantly reminding us of the broken, bleeding world we inhabit. They occupy our every waking moment. Our thoughts are full of sorrow, pity and, dare I say it, relief that it didn’t impact upon our cosy bubble of life. This time.
Thoughts are just that however. Thoughts. It requires an act of will to turn them into actions. Something tangible and concrete. I can think about writing a blog all day long but until I take action and actually start writing then that blog is going to be nothing more than a fanciful idea in my head. Without action thoughts are nothing. And given the scale of the horrors we face doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option anymore.
Some might say the same about prayers. They are pointless and achieve nothing. What more is a prayer than a wistful wish to a God who, even if he does exist, appears indifferent and distant to the needs of a desperate world. A God who allows famine and fear to reign unabated. Who allows disease and death to break bodies and hearts. Who allows bad men to do bad things.
Prayer to a Christian, however, is more than just a whimsical desire. It is a positive act that can make a difference, which can effect change. It can move mountains….and molehills. There is nothing too insignificant or too insurmountable which cannot be addressed by prayer. It is communication in its purest form. And I can vouch that it attains results. For our prayers are heard by a loving God who cares for each and every one of us. Prayer works.
If you are feeling helpless today as the world self destructs then I encourage you to stop thinking and start acting. Prayer is action. It is the concrete that God uses to construct miracles with. It is the glue that holds our crushed communities together. It is the fuel that drives us forward towards a better life; for ourselves and others. It is spiritual oxygen and it is sorely needed across our lands as the world threatens to be suffocated by enveloping evil.
Stop thinking. Start praying. Please.
Mark 11:24 – ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’
If anyone requires prayer today then please ask us. We would be happy to pray for you and your loved ones.
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?
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.
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?
This week I’ve been asking God for inspiration and ideas in order to drive the blog forward. And he has, as ever, delivered; sometimes in the most unlikely of ways. Today has been no exception. I got home last night from a three day work trip to England. The flight home was delayed by over two hours meaning I didn’t walk through our front door until after midnight. Then I was up early this morning to take Adam to a rugby match.
As a result I was feeling tired and had a nasty headache developing over my right eyebrow by the time lunchtime swung round. A six mile run perked me up a bit so I decided to maintain my momentum by tidying up the back yard a bit. Part of this chore involves scooping up several ‘presents’ Charlie the Border Terrier had lovingly deposited awaiting his master’s return. I affectionately call this part of my week ‘Poo Patrol’.
Charlie obviously produces invisible poo as it is apparently invisible to our kids. Perhaps he is part unicorn or has faerie blood or something. Whatever the cause they remain blissfully oblivious to this most unenjoyable of tasks. Leaving me with the dubious pleasure of several days worth of doggy doo doo to clear up. They are also incapable of walking, feeding and bathing Charlie, but when it comes to petting or playing with him they are oddly always available.
Armed with several plastic bags I gingerly began to remove the offending items. Charlie beat a hasty retreat, no doubt wired off by the muttering and face pulling of his master that now was not a good time to ask for a belly scratch. Several circuits of the yard later my work was done and all was well with the world again. Charlie returned to gnawing on his prized bone and the yard no longer resembled the messiest of minefields.
As parents Fionnuala and I (but mostly Fionnuala 😬) spend a lot of our time clearing up the mess of others. Our kids have the uncanny knack of turning the tidiest of rooms upside down within minutes. And why on earth use a perfectly good rubbish bin when you can just throw the chocolate/crisp/sweet (delete where applicable) wrapper wherever you desire. Like on the floor. Or down the back of the sofa.
It drives us to despair and, at times, I’m convinced our roars can be heard in the next village. Why should we spend our weekend cleaning up after chaotic children and a destructive dog? It’s just not fair is it? But then I thought of Jesus. Who came to earth to clean up the biggest mess ever made. By mankind. Who was obedient to the will of his Father despite the cruel and lingering death he knew that obedience entailed.
He didn’t mutter. He didn’t complain. He went to the Cross full of love and compassion. To clean up our messes past, present and future. His blood is the greatest detergent of them all. It means we can approach the throne of God one day sparkling clean and with nothing to fear. He has cleansed and purified us. All we can do is be grateful and try each day to be more like Him.
A few years ago I would have laughed at the words I am typing today. I would have regarded myself as naive and deluded. But today I see with 20/20 vision. I see my shameful past and I realise there is no way I would be where I am today without the Cross. God has a sense of humour. Today he spoke to me through a piece of dog poo. But when it comes down to the business of salvaging broken lives he is deadly serious.
Isaiah 1:18 – ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.’
What is your most dreaded cleaning chore?
Has God cleaned up your life? Or are you in need of it?
I love books. I have hundreds of them and Fionnuala is constantly encouraging me to have ‘book culls’ in order to free up some space in our already packed to the gills abode. A few years ago she bought me a Kindle which rarely leaves my side. I probably have another hundred or so books on it. Logical, rational minds would therefore conclude that the problems with book storage are a thing of the past. No more need for overladen book shelves when your library can be held on a pocket sized device. Right?
Er….wrong. Much as I try I cannot resist the lure of the second hand book store just around the corner from my work. It is a treasure cove of hidden literary gems where I spend many of my lunch breaks, wandering studiously up and down its aisles. Invariably I leave with a purchase much to the dismay of my long suffering wife. I am indeed a hopeless case.
Much as I love my Kindle and the many bonuses it brings to my reading experience (LED screen means I can read in the dark, new releases are usually cheaper than the hard copy version, highlighting option as opposed to underlining with pen) I can never totally sever my ties with holding an actual book in my hand; the feel of it, the smell of it, the taste of it. Ok I made that last bit up before you call the psychiatrist.
The same applies to my Bible. Or should I say Bibles as I have four different translations. I also have a Bible app but I never feel comfortable reading the Word off a screen. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s like having to settle for a Diet Pepsi when you asked for a Diet Coke. It will never hit the spot in quite the same way. Maybe it is the whole ‘tablets of stone and scrolls’ thing. I just can’t visualise Jesus standing up and reading from his I-Phone 8. Which of course he wouldn’t have anyway as that’s vain and materialistic.
I picked up my Bible this morning and, before I started reading, asked God to speak to me through his Word today. Before I had even read a word I got a picture of an open, upturned Bible. Over my head like an umbrella. The leather cover faced outwards and upwards shielding and protecting my head from the outside world. From temptation and the way the world wants me to lead my life. I felt safe there, protected from the pressures and distractions of everyday life.
Meanwhile the open pages of the Bible were showering words down onto my head. Words like love, hope and faith. God was refreshing my mind and my body with truth and light. I was underneath an umbrella but was being soaked by his grace. And it didn’t bother me in the slightest. God was speaking to, and refreshing me, before I had even looked at a page. I had benefited from his Word without reading a word of it.
I had to write about this immediately. God doesn’t send me many pictures so this was an event that I wanted to share with you all. And I hope it makes sense to you. The Word can be whatever you need it to be at any given moment. One day a shield of protection, the next a waterfall of grace. Or both simultaneously! All you have to do is pick it up and ask God to speak to you through it. For when you are picking up a Bible, you are picking up life itself.
I would encourage you today to pick up a Bible and read it. You might do this every day anyway; you might have lapsed of late and feel a need to re-engage with the Word; or you might never have done so before. Pick it up, open it and read it. Even if it’s just for five minutes. What have you got to lose? Nobody needs to know. Just you and Him. Today. Now. I hope and pray it is a worthwhile exercise.
Hebrews 4:12 – ‘For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to even dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’
What happened today when you picked up your Bible?
And if you didn’t pick one up how was your day anyway?
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 ❤️🙏🏻😊
Today is the second in a series of ramblings about Bible verses which have spoken to me in recent weeks. Don’t worry, it will all be over soon and I will revert to the normal programming schedule of average running reports and griping about life in general. Just humour me. And who knows you might even get something from it.
Today’s verse is from the Message translation which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee). But it jumped off the page and hit me over the head repeatedly. Which Jesus has a habit of doing. In a loving, non-violent way of course.
‘But if you’re content to simply become yourself, you will become more than yourself.’
As with yesterday’s verse, at first glance, it appears that Jesus is contradicting himself again. I mean, isn’t being a Christian all about changing? About becoming a better person? A new creation? I certainly thought this to be the case when the ‘God penny’ dropped with me just over four years ago. I had already stopped drinking but sought to change every aspect of my life which was not of God.
I wanted to preach. I wanted to talk God with everyone. I wanted to lead house groups, youth cells and basically anything else I could muscle myself in on. At the time I thought my enthusiasm was fuelled by the Holy Spirit; when, in fact, it was driven by a selfish desire to grab the limelight at every available opportunity. Had that much changed from my days of drinking and social media addiction. Had I really changed? Not really.
In time I became a bigger hypocrite than I had been before I took the leap of faith. I was standing up at the front of church on a Sunday talking about how Jesus had changed my life when in reality I was bad as ever, if not worse Monday through to Saturday. I was a total fraud. I hadn’t changed one iota. Whatever an iota is….
God of course realised this and allowed the light of truth to flood into the murky corners of my heart. A humiliating and painful cauterisation of my soul, but a necessary and life saving intervention. I began to realise that the world did not revolve around Stephen, something which Fionnuala regularly reminds me of. I began to take more of a back seat. I am, by nature, a shy and studious type. Call me a geek. I plead guilty.
I realised that I had not changed at all. I was still the vain, attention seeking, needy individual I had always been. I thought I was transforming when I was really just reverting to type. Living a lie instead of facing the truth. God had to step in again and bring to my knees. He broke me in order to rebuild me. Like resetting a bone. Nasty work. But it had to be done.
God does want us to change. But to change back into the human beings that he created us to be when he placed us on the earth in the first place. We are bespoke beings, unique creations; custom built to carry out important missions in a spiritual war against forces of darkness. We are Frodo Baggins. We are Luke Skywalker. We are all heroes in training.
You don’t have to fake it. You don’t need to put on a performance or wear a mask. Just be yourself. As God meant you to be. It is then, and only then, that God will use you and refine the natural talents that he has graced you with. Talents that he will develop and refine if you are obedient to his will. Talents which can be used to achieve more than you could ever possibly imagine.
So Jesus was right after all. He does want us to change. But change as in revert back to our original selves, not conform to our earthly desires. It is only then that the magic will happen. It is only then that obstacles will be overcome, that ground will be gained, that bottles will be won.
Change. By not changing.
Do you put on a performance every day?
How can you change back into the real you?
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?
Dogs hate me. That’s just a given. Or rather dogs hate me when I’m running. I don’t know if I give off an unpleasant, sweaty odour or it’s my garish collection of ‘hi vis’ running tops. Either way when I go hurtling (plodding) past them they invariably go boogaloo and appear hellbent on having my running shorts for lunch. And, believe me, that would not be a pleasant experience for all concerned.
Horses are utterly unimpressed by my marathon training. Cows are more interested in grass consumption. And cats are well….just cats. But dogs give me their undivided and ferocious attention. Big or small, pedigree or mongrel once one sets eyes on me approaching he alerts his canine neighbours that the afternoon’s entertainment is approaching. All I can do is pray that they are locked up in their yards. Barking I can take. It’s when they run loose that problems occur.
My arch nemesis is a black Labrador who resides half way round a 2.5 mile loop round our village that I regularly run. I don’t know his real name but I affectionately refer to him as HellHound. He has eyes that glow red like the fires of Hades itself. His claws are like daggers and when he barks and announces his presence the ground itself shakes. He is evil personified and hates me with a cruel intelligence that borders on the unnatural.
We are sworn enemies. He is Moriarty to my Holmes. He is Dr. Evil to my Austin Powers. He is Homer Simpson to my Ned Flanders. I always pick up my pace and cross the road as I near the laneway to his house. Often he is locked up but, by his frantic howls, I know he smells my fear. On those days I scuttle past, nervously looking over my shoulder until I am out of harm’s way.
On other occasions I am too far past the laneway when he careers out of it in hot pursuit. He will only go a certain distance past his laneway and then stop, snarling and seething as I live to run another day. Sometimes it is a close run thing. I can sense him closing with every step and have only escaped from the danger zone by the skin of my Nike Airs as he screeches to a halt, mere inches away from sinking his fangs into my calf.
He had never caught me despite a few hairy moments and I grew increasingly confident that he never would. The loop was my favourite run and I wasn’t going to let some psychotic pooch get the better of me. Until last December. I misjudged my run past the laneway. Thinking I was out of danger I relaxed. The next thing I knew his claws were raking down the back of my trailing leg as he simultaneously sunk his teeth into the juiciest part of my thigh.
I think the shock outweighed the pain. Anger overcame my fear and I turned on my heels and ran screaming at my assailant who promptly tucked his tail between his legs and scarpered back up the laneway. There followed words with his largely unimpressed owner (who suggested I must have provoked the family pet who wouldn’t hurt a fly) before I limped off with my pride and right hamstring in tatters.
Now for the twist….
That afternoon I had post run plans. I’ll not go into the details but suffice to say it was wrong and sinful. I had told myself for days I wasn’t going but had been backed into a corner where I felt I had no other option. I convinced myself it was the lesser of two evils and concocted a web of deceit and lies from which there appeared no escape.
HellHound put an end to that. He had never caught me before and he has never caught me since. But on that chilly December afternoon he was a dog on a mission. A mission not from Hell, but from Heaven. Call me naive but I honestly believe he was sent to save me from myself. I had to cancel my plans given I had only one good leg. Because no matter how dire your circumstances might appear, no matter how deep a hole you have dug for yourself, God can and will intervene. If you will only allow him to.
He afforded me an opportunity that day, an escape route that I took. It still didn’t stop me from screwing up at a later date but that was my choice. He has given us the gift of freewill. Otherwise we would just be mindless automatons. He provides us with an alternative route. It is up to us as to whether or not we take that path. But never say He is not real. Or that we don’t have a choice. He is all around us every minute of every day.
We just need to tune into his wavelength and notice his signs and promptings. Some are ever so subtle. A whisper on the breeze. Others are less so; like a rabid Labrador with a serious chip on its shoulder. But He is there.
God works in mysterious ways after all….
Proverbs 15:3 – ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.’
Are there any psychotic pets in your neighbourhood?
What’s the strangest way God has ever caught your attention?
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?
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?
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.
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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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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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.
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.
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 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?
We have been watching the news over the weekend as Hurricane Irma has battered Florida. As I wrote about in an earlier post we have been praying for the people in the affected areas and hope that the damage to life and property is kept to an absolute minimum. What has amazed me has been the indiscriminatory nature of the storm in addition to its unpredictability.
The hurricane has shown no favour, irrespective of wealth or social status. It has been as merciless in the affluent city of Naples as it has been in the poorer islands of the Caribbean. The healthiest bank balance means nothing to Irma. It will still destroy your home and uproot your dreams. It brings everyone it touches to the same base level, where survival is all that matters.
As disturbing as its power has been its unpredictability. It changes direction at a whim and the most gifted meteorologists have been left scratching their heads, their predictions and projections hopelessly inaccurate. They can estimate where Irma will strike next but never with 100% accuracy. The slightest ‘wobble’ can answer the prayers of one community but bring another into the destructive path of the storm. Miami ‘dodged the bullet’ whereas the west coast of Florida was exposed to a brutal assault.
I am reminded of my own addictive nature in the characteristics that Irma displays. Like a storm, addiction is indiscriminate. It will wreak havoc with your life no matter what your upbringing, education or job. It doesn’t care if you have 10 dollars or 10,000 dollars in your savings account. As long as there enough for that next drink, that next hit, that next high. It will take it all and leave you with nothing.
Addiction is equally unpredictable. It can strike at any time. Life can be going just great moment and then BAM something happens and you are hooked and powerless in its grasp. Scrabbling for a grip as it drags you inexorably over the brink and down into the abyss. It can overwhelm the strongest of defences as if they were made of matchsticks . You will be tossed about in the wind like a scrap of paper.
My addictive tendencies towards alcohol and social media led to poor decision making and sinful actions. Behind them were a history of OCD and depression. I hid at the bottom of a beer glass or behind my online personality like a helpless Floridian takes refuge in a storm shelter. I viewed my addictions as my sanctuary from the storms of life. How wrong I was. The storms were instead being fuelled and fattened by my vices. I was helpless in the face of their strength and erratic nature. My enemy was within my defensive walls unbeknownst to me all along. An enemy within is the most dangerous enemy of all.
We went to church yesterday for the first time in several months and in the space of an hour God hit me with three ideas for blog posts. This is the first of them. During one of the songs the worship leader sang the following words over the congregation repeatedly as the music rose steadily to a crescendo – ‘When I feel like I am surrounded I am surrounded by you.’ Over and over in a loop. As if it were meant for my ears alone.
Today you might feel as if you are in the path of a raging storm. Helpless in the face of your own Irma. It could be addiction or mental health like I have struggled with. It could be physical, financial or a relationship issue. My message to you is that there is a way out. There is always hope where there is love. And love will overcome any storm. You just have to show an ounce of faith. And believe.
All storms pass. When you are being battered surround yourself with hope. Love can overcome any storm. God is bigger than any storm.
Psalm 18:2 – ‘The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer; My God, my strength, in whom I will trust; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’
I hope that this post has helped you in some way. I truly believe that I was meant to write it for someone today who is hurting. Please feel free to share your thoughts on it below.
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?
Adam has his first rugby match for his new school tomorrow. I don’t know who is more excited. Me or him. I was an incredibly average grammar school player back in the day so any allegations that I am reliving my school years through my son are sadly very accurate. The fact that he has more skill, strength and stamina in his little finger than I had in my entire pudgy teenage body is also sadly accurate.
He has been training hard with his new coaches since mid-August but was disappointed earlier this week when the team was announced. He had been selected to play but not in his favoured position of Number Eight. Instead he is to play at tight head prop; an equally important position but not the one he had been hoping for. His coach explained that as it was the first match they were still experimenting with positions and it would only be a temporary measure.
Since then Adam has knuckled down to his new role with great determination in order to learn his new position in time for the big kick off. He has displayed great adaptability and has sacrificed his own personal preference for the sake of the team. He hasn’t sulked. He hasn’t thrown a temper tantrum. He has just put his head down and got on with it.
It has made me think back to the many years I spent putting myself in front of my family. When I sulked if the Saturday shopping list did not include a case of beer even when money was tight and Fionnuala was struggling to make ends meet. When I was too hungover on a Sunday to spend any time with the kids, snapping at their reasonable requests. When I was more interested in my Twitter followers than the people who truly mattered.
I rarely wanted to adapt to the needs of others. My own selfish desires always dominated the agenda. I had to be the centre of attention and woe betide anyone who thought otherwise. I could sulk for Ireland. If there were medals to be given out for self-centredness then my trophy cabinet would haven been overflowing. I was wired to put Stephen first. Every time.
I have walked a long, hard road since those days. Many rough edges have been knocked off me. I have been left battered and bruised. I have looked in the mirror of truth and seen the weak, selfish man I had become. And I am trying so hard now to put things right, to make amends, to repair and rebuild. I seek to learn from my faith. I seek to learn from my wife and my kids. I want to be a better person more than anything else.
And if that means playing out of position now and again then so be it. The least I can do is put the people I love first given the many times they did so for me even when I deserved to be kicked to the kerb. Win, lose or draw tomorrow I will be proud of Adam as I watch from the touchline. He might be playing me out of position but he, as do all my family, has pole position in my thankful heart.
How do you control your selfish urges?
Are you willing to ‘play out of position for your loved one?
Fionnuala and I feel we have a connection with Florida. We had a wonderful two week holiday there some years ago and used to be connected to a church in Jacksonville. We have been watching in horror as Hurricane Irma has wreaked its destructive path across the Caribbean towards South Florida.
Today we offer up our prayers for the islands which have been hit already and for the people of Florida and the Southern states. I was at a loss for words this morning as I started this post so turned to my Bible and The Psalms. I opened them at the following Scripture.
Psalm 46:1-3 – God is our refuge and strength, A very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, Even though the earth be removed, And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea; Though its waters roar and be troubled, Though the mountains shake with its swelling.’
Please pray today and throughout the weekend for the victims of Hurricane Irma.
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’?
For several years now (or has it been decades?) Fionnuala has been gently encouraging (but most definitely not nagging) me to clear out our garage. Now by clear out I do not mean a quick tidy up and maybe the odd item for the rubbish (garbage) dump. Oh no. My initial objective was being able to clear enough space to be able to actually get into said place in order to confront the four foot wall of junk that covered every available inch of it.
‘Dictionary definition of a garage – ‘A building for storing a motor vehicle or vehicles.’
Yeah right. The last time one of our cars was in the garage was about 2012. In a land before Donald Trump, Brexit and Leicester City winning the English Premiership. Our current vehicle has never experienced the warm glow of the interior of a garage. No, it sits on the driveway and stares wistfully at the building that could have been its home. Now home to the biggest collection of junk this side of the Irish Sea.
It was with some trepidation therefore that I faced this Herculean task. I had taken the week off work so at least appreciated it was no quick fix. My strategy was a simple, yet I hoped, effective one. This had to be progressed one step at a time. In bite sized chunks. Interspersed with regular breaks for Diet Coke and much head scratching. Slow and steady wins the race was the philosophy I hoped would guide me through this ordeal. I mean delightful domestic chore.
Once I had actually gained access to it (hurdling bags of fertiliser and a disembodied gazebo in the process) initial momentum was painfully slow. There were a few high pitched squeals on my part when I thought I saw a mouse but thankfully they were false alarms. Otherwise you wouldn’t have seen me for dust. Inch by inch I cleared sufficient space in order to swing a very small cat. Which I supposed would at least have come in useful if Mr. Mouse did show up.
If I had been hoping for an Aladdin’s Cave of hidden treasures I was to be sorely disappointed. Bag after bag of discarded debris was gathered up, loaded into the back of our van and conveyed to the council dump. By the end of it I was on first name terms with the workers there. There were no long lost family heirlooms that would secure us financially for the rest of our days. I retrieved a grand total of 13 pence and a couple of dirty euros. They earned more on the gulags.
What did I discover then that has merited this post? Well, firstly memories. My two days of hard labour were a trip down memory lane as I unearthed endless blasts from the past. There were good ones (I relived many a Christmas of old as I discovered dozens of toys that the kids had long outgrown), not so good ones (the number of empty beer bottles I found was embarrassingly high) and bizarre ones (too many dodgy CD’s to mention.
Secondly the sense of achievement. I know I will never be DIY Dad of the Year, and that this was the most unskilled of unskilled labour, but I did feel pleased with myself when I gazed upon the clear floor space of afterwards. Rebecca now has somewhere safe and dry to store her bicycle. Adam is going to turn part of it into a gym. There is even talk of converting it into a study for me. Sorry faithful van but it looks like you’re staying on the driveway.
And finally I think I learnt something. How often do we allow our hearts to become cluttered with junk. Perceived wrongs, pain and anger that we just cannot let go of, long standing grudges where we can no longer even recall their origin. We are unable to navigate them as our arteries become clogged with unforgiveness, bitterness and hatred. And just like my garage was unable to perform the role for which it was originally built (to store a motor vehicle) so our hearts cannot do what God originally created them for – to care for, to give without thinking. To love.
I know my heart is long overdue a spring clean. I need to spend time taking stock of what is inside it and throw out the hurtful junk that prevents me from becoming a better person. A person who can make a difference and leave a lasting legacy. The person I was created to be. What about you?
Matthew 5:8 – ‘Blessed are the pure in heart. For they shall will God.’
What do you store in your garage or shed? Garden tools? Endless tonnes of junk? Or heaven forbid a motor vehicle?
What is the most bizarre or valuable item you have found during a spring clean?
When did you last declutter your heart?
When I run I like to have something on my person that drives me on and inspires me. However, as it is difficult to navigate a half marathon with a framed photo of Fionnuala and the kids or a litre tub of honeycomb ice cream (it would melt anyway) I have to make do with something smaller. Usually this involves a plastic wristband of some sort with a motivational message on it.
I have built up quite a collection of these over the last few years but have a terrible record of hanging onto them. No matter how much I treasure them, at some point I will take the wristband off, set it down somewhere and promptly forget about it. In the time/space anomaly that is our house it will be subsumed into a parallel universe where all lost things go (along with about 3468 odd socks belonging to me) never to be seen again.
So it was with extra trepidation and care that I purchased my latest wristband last Friday. I planned to buy a plain, non descript band that I could wear all the time irrespective of where I was or what I was doing. That way I would be less inclined to remove it and misplace it. It had to be understated yet meaningful. I eventually opted for a slim, black one with a Bible verse embossed on it, also in black:
1 John 2:6 – ‘Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did’.
Having paid the grand sum of 99 pence for it (hey big spender) I slipped it on and went about my business for the remainder of the day. It was only later when I was having another nosey at the band that I noticed there was other writing embossed on it; the letters WWJD – What Would Jesus Do? Thinking about it, I realised that this tied in perfectly with the accompanying Bible verse. There is little point being a follower of Jesus and admiring his teachings and actions if you fail to replicate them in your own life.
What did Jesus do? Well, he did a lot in his thirty odd years on the planet and especially in the final three as part of his earthly ministry. He taught, he healed but most of all, he loved. He loved. Family, friends, enemies, the people who eventually killed him. It didn’t matter. He loved them all equally and unreservedly. But he afforded a special place for those that felt most undeserving of that love. I call them the broken. The outcasts, the thieves, the debt collectors, the prostitutes. They were the people he most loved to have around him. They were the people he most loved to love.
When was the last time you loved one of the broken? That drunk guy you see every morning on your daily commute to work? The woman at the grocery store who isn’t very good at hiding her bruises? The little kid in the playground who always seems to be on their own? Because we all know what Jesus would do. But what are you going to do?
I challenge us all today to step outside of our comfort zone and love one of the broken people. Because I truly believe that we are currently in a place in our personal journeys to help someone who needs us. Jesus lives through us. Instead of ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ I should instead be thinking along the lines of ‘What Is Stephen doing?’ For in a world of Texas floods, terrorist attacks and missile tests we all need love more than ever before. Be a part of that today.
Do you have a favourite wristband?
How do you intend to love like Jesus today?
I have only recently returned to running having spent most of the summer struggling with injury and illness. The latter was caused by a mystery virus which manifested itself in a persistent dry cough, ear ache and severe fatigue. I could barely run a bath, let alone a half marathon, as a result of it and found the entire experience frustrating and demoralising. Thankfully it has finally resolved itself allowing me to train again and I’m gradually building up my distance as I prepare for the Belfast Half Marathon in two weeks time.
During one of my (many) visits to the doctor’s surgery blood samples were taken to determine if there were any underlying causes for my general malaise. I thought nothing of it and even forgot to contact the surgery when the results came back. It was only when a slightly concerned Fionnuala called me at work to say that the surgery wanted to contact me about the results that I took the plunge and picked up the phone.
It transpired that I had a folic acid deficiency and now have to take a supplement for four months in order to redress the imbalance which explained the tiredness I had been experiencing. I was slightly bemused by this as my only knowledge of folic acid was that it was taken by pregnant women or those trying to get pregnant in order to reduce the odds of their baby being born with certain disabilities.
Now the last time checked I was neither pregnant nor contemplating getting pregnant. The thoughts of morning sickness, swollen ankles and constant back pain did not appeal to me. And as for the ‘joy’ of childbirth itself. Errrrr….no thanks. Watching Fionnuala go through three pregnancies had scarred me for life. While admittedly she was a little ray of sunshine throughout each one (I am contractually obliged to say this) I think I’ll just leave the whole issue of baby production to the stronger sex.
Folic acid is a form of folate which is one of the B vitamins our body needs. The recommended dietary intake is 400 micrograms per day. A deficiency in folic acid can result in a type of anaemia where the body has a lower count of large red blood cells. Wikipedia told me all this so blame them if any of that is inaccurate. But as an old boss of mine once said never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
This caused the fatigue that I had been struggling with. Hopefully now that I am popping my supplement every morning this problem will not rear its head again. I already feel much stronger and my energy levels have returned to their previous levels. Fionnuala may argue that they were never were very high to start with when it came to domestic chores but let’s not go there shall we.
Looking back on my summer of sickness it amazed me that I had been stumbling around oblivious to what was causing me to feel so rough. There was a deficiency inside me which was invisible to both myself and the outside world. Thankfully as it was a physical ailment the wonders of medical science were able to identify and rectify the problem. I was healed and no long term damage resulted.
How many of us are walking about today, however, oblivious to a spiritual deficiency inside of us? When I say oblivious that is not strictly true. We have an inkling that something is not quite right. We are uneasy, unsettled, disenfranchised. There is something missing but we know not what. The cause is invisible to us but the symptoms are plain for all to see. We are frustrated, angry, filled with negativity and disillusionment. These emotions can only lead to destructive behaviour.
The word ‘deficiency’ has its etymological roots in the Latin word ‘deficere’ meaning to revolt, desert or fail. This makes sense physically. When my folic acid levels fell (they had deserted or failed me) I felt ill. A supplement was prescribed to replace the scurrilous defectors. Likewise when we are spiritually bereft we often seek to ‘fill the gap’ with anything that can ensure a quick fix – food, alcohol, drugs, sex, money, power, starvation, cutting; whatever it takes to numb the pain even if only for a few hours.
We all have our quick fixes. The one common feature that all the spiritually redundant share however is that none of them work for any length of time. We end up in a darker place than where we started. For some that path leads to madness and death. I was walking that path. I was doing a fantastic job at developing an alcohol dependency while simultaneously succumbing to OCD, social media addiction and all the dangers associated with that. I was sinking fast.
I had been brought up to believe in God. I knew all my Bible stories and had a wary respect for him. But he was always on the fringes of my life and if I’m honest looked a bit grumpy for my liking. Jesus seemed like a cool guy but, again, my relationship with him was tenuous to say the least. It was only when I hit rock bottom and got dragged to church by a friend that I began to open my eyes and my mind. I accepted my many failings and realised I was powerless to get out of the mess I had gotten myself into. I know it sounds a cliche but I decided to hand it over to God. I had tried everything else and failed. What was there to lose?
The weird thing was that this time it worked. It made sense. The more I studied the Bible the more I got it. God was not grumpy, he was love. Christianity was not dull and conforming. It was exciting, edgy and revolutionary. I stopped drinking. Got to grips with the OCD demon. And after many doomed attempts kicked Twitter & Instagram. I’m far from perfect (just ask Fionnuala) but I feel I’ve got my life and family back. I enjoy my job and I love to run and write.
You don’t have to feel deficient. Just like when you are physically ill you visit a doctor when you’re spiritually deficient you visit Jesus. He’s open 24/7, 365. You don’t even need an appointment. He will never turn you away. For He is sufficient when you are deficient. He will heal you. What have you to lose?
Luke 5:31 – ‘Jesus answered them, ‘It not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.’
Hands up who knew you could develop a folic acid deficiency?
Are there any areas of your life where you feel spiritually deficient?
Or have you story of how your faith brought healing and restoration?
Warning – This post talks about OCD in graphic detail and may cause victims/survivors to trigger.
When it comes to my faith I need constant reminders. It is so easy for me to stray ‘off message’ in all areas of my life. I make bad decisions and act selfishly, putting my own needs and interests before those of my loved ones. I am a poor judge of character and can easily fall into bad company. I am easily influenced and vulnerable to addictive behaviour and unhealthy relationships. Due to my low self-esteem my default setting is to crave attention and affirmation. No matter what the consequences. How did I come to be like this. Let me introduce you to my not so good friend, OCD.
I was formally diagnosed with OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) just over four years ago. I have had it, however, since I was a child. There are various strands of it. The type I have is called Pure OCD. I have intrusive, negative thoughts that enter my head and remain there in a constant loop. This is the ‘O’ in OCD. Thoughts like ‘You don’t love your family’, ‘You are a paedophile and a threat to children’ or ‘You are a homosexual and your marriage is a sham’.
These are just three examples of any number of obsessive thoughts that used to enter my head on a daily basis. They led to increased levels of anxiety. I can only describe it as akin to a radio playing with the volume turned up repeating the same thought deafeningly over and over again. Imagine trying to hold a conversation or concentrate at work with that message screaming in your head every second of your waking day.
It inevitably leads to increased levels of anxiety. I can best describe it as a weight pressing down on my chest and legs. A growing sense of panic that threatens to overwhelm me like a tsunami of terror. This is where the ‘C’ in OCD comes in. In order to dispel the intrusive thought I develop a routine in my head that I am compelled to complete successfully in order to dispel the compulsive thinking.
So the voice is telling me I am a paedophile. This is,of course, ridiculous. My logical mind tells me that I obviously am not. I am a loving father and would never hurt a hair on any child’s head. Yet the voice insists that I would and the only way I can combat it is to develop an effective strategy which I can then deploy in order to defeat the thought.
This usually meant me coming up with five reasons why I was not what the intrusive thought suggested I was. Why five? Because five is my number. OCD thrives on numbers and repetitive actions. Every victim has them. Mine are five and three. It varies from person to person.
Let’s act it out. The voice tells me that I am a paedophile, scum, the lowest of the low for the 574th time that day. And it’s not even lunchtime. I have spent all day preparing five reasons why I am not a child molestor. They must all be valid and approved in advance. I must then find a quiet place and focus on an object. Let’s say a picture on a wall. I will think out the five reasons in my head. ‘I am not a paedophile because….’. I’m not going to talk about the actual reasons I used in this post in case I trigger myself or other OCD victims reading this.
The five reasons I rhyme off must be word perfect. The slightest slip, hesitation or memory lapse and its back to the beginning. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. I then have to choose a different object to focus on as the same one cannot be used twice. If I the phone rings I must start again. If somebody talks to me in mid routine I must start again. If I deviate in the slightest from my prepared script I must start again. Because that’s just the way it has to be.
When you are in the routine nothing else matters. I’m late for an important meeting. Doesn’t matter finish the routine. I’ve been in the bathroom for 20 minutes and people are starting to talk. Doesn’t matter finish the routine. I am coming across as disinterested or rude towards Fionnuala. Doesn’t matter Finish the routine. OCD is a selfish and spiteful mistress. It demands your total attention. Everything else is irrelevant until the routine is quashed.
It can takes hours, days even to finally run through the routine word perfectly in order to kill the obsessive thought once and for all. Until the next one trundles over the horizon, five minutes later. A different thought but equally brutal. OCD is a mental wrecking ball. It will relentlessly hammer you into submission. It knows no mercy or compassion. Every time you get back up off the canvas it knocks you down again. It wants to break you, destroy you, tear your soul into a million pieces.
It is hard to put into words the accompanying mental anguish or the devastating impact that it can have on relationships with loved ones. It permeates every aspect of your reality. It knows no barriers. It is there, an ever present, whether you are at work or at home with your family. It demands your total, undivided attention. I would secure a temporary reprieve each time I successfully performed a routine but it would just laugh at me. I had won a battle. It would win the war.
Worry. Anxiety. Depression. OCD makes you feel worthless. I escaped it through sleep, alcohol and social media. But every morning I woke up it was there. Every time I sobered up it was there. Every night when I logged out it was there. The deepest slumber, the strongest drinks, the thousands of ‘likes’ and ‘follows’. They mattered not a jot. It was always hungry for more and would not be satisfied until I was broken beyond repair.
And it almost succeeded. It almost stole my family, my job, my very life. Yet I survived thanks to medication, a loving family and the grace of God. I read so many blogs written by people who feel utterly defeated by the demons of mental health. My advice? Don’t ever give up hope. Talk to someone about it. Get help. Pray about it and ask God to take over because you cannot do it on your own anymore. But don’t give up. Because, no matter how dark it may seem, the light will come and it IS stronger. Good will always overcome evil. OCD can be defeated.
Romans 12:21 – ‘Do not be overcome with evil, but overcome evil with good.’
Are you an OCD victim/survivor? How have you fought it?
Or have you only limited knowledge of it? How has this post changed your thinking on OCD?
I write a fair bit on the blog about freedom.
It can be pretty heavy reading at times so I believe it is important to add a sprinkle of humour to the posts. My sense of humour I would call quirky (others have preferred terminology such as ‘juvenile’ or ‘deeply embarrassing.’) Each to their own I suppose.
But I’m not afraid to laugh at myself because, if we didn’t laugh, then the world truly would be a much bleaker place than it currently is. My wife, Fionnuala, also has a sense of humour. Well she did marry me after all. I have caused her heartbreak many times but she has bafflingly always stood by me.
She does get her own back occasionally, however. And this morning was one of those days. I had just completed my first 10 mile run since returning from injury and illness. I felt strong during the run and could have kept going at the end. I was bang on my target pace as well for my next race, the Belfast Half Marathon on 17 September.
So there I was feeling on top of the world. Freedom from illness. Freedom from injury. I thought I was Mo Farah. Thankfully Fionnuala brought me down to earth with this photo of my heroic return.
2 Corinthians 3:17 – ‘Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Lord of the Spirit is, there is freedom.’
What is your most embarrassing photo?
What is your next target for 2017?
What are you grateful to be free from today?
Today is repeat prescription day. Hurrah! I will dutifully call into the village chemist to collect the little white pills which have become part of my daily routine these last four years. When all else has been in turmoil around me, they have been my constant. 20mg of Escitaloprem a day. One pill in the palm of my hand, pop it into mouth, slug of Diet Coke (naturally), swallow and we are done for another day. So easy. So simple. So necessary.
This summer has been a regular pill party for me due to illness and injury. Various painkillers, two different antibiotics (neither of which worked), hay fever allergy medication (for my wonky ear), various multivitamins and last, but not least, a folic acid supplement to balance a deficiency picked up in my blood tests. Yes it has been a veritable riot. Pick me up and shake me. I would probably rattle like a child’s toy.
When I was first prescribed Escitaloprem for OCD and depression all those years ago I was a bit bemused. Yes I was relieved that the voice in my head had finally been identified. I realised I was normal in a completely not normal way. I was amazed that I was not alone. I was not evil. I was not insane. Instead I was ill. As ill as the thousands of other people who had been through, and were going through, what I had endured. I now had hope that I could live my life free from the twin demons who had reigned unopposed in my head for the best part of three decades.
I was more bemused that I found myself on anti-depressants. To me they had always been the preserve of ‘moody teenagers’, ‘hysterical women’ and men who wore black and walked unannounced into their former places of employment with a chip on one shoulder and an assault rifle slung over the other. I was having problems yes but I did not write bad poetry, listen to Leonard Cohen or wear baggy, threadbare sweaters and berets. By agreeing to take them was I not accepting defeat and confirming what I had accepted all along? That I was a failure.
I was a middle aged man with a wife, three kids and a border terrier. I had a good job and was rising through the ranks. I enjoyed a few (dozen) drinks at the weekend but I worked hard all week so thought I deserved them. Any time I was feeling down, twelve tins of Stella Artois usually did the trick. The bills were always paid and on the face of it I was a model of middle class respectability. I was happy in an unhappy kind of way. Most of the time. Wasn’t that enough?
But when the depression descended slowly upon me like a mouldy, damp blanket it wreaked havoc. I drank, I tweeted and I drank some more. I sat on my throne, the Twirly Chair, oblivious to the carnage I was creating. I was snug and tight in the eye of the storm as Hurricane Stephen raged all around me, uprooting relationships and hurling them into the abyss. I lived a twilight existence, wandering aimlessly or so I thought. Because with each shuffling step I was another one nearer the brink where I would face my final destination.
As Road to Damascus experiences go mine was decidedly a low key and drab affair. No shining light, no moment of dazzling revelation. Instead it was a series of humiliating and debilitating episodes that culminated in me sitting in a doctor’s surgery being told that I was officially one of them. I was a failure. A hopeless husband, father and son. No friends and no real future bar work, taxes and death. I was even slightly disappointed I hadn’t been diagnosed Prozac as wasn’t it the must have accessory drug these days. I even sucked at being depressed.
So I took my happy pills. Except they didn’t make me happy. Overnight I didn’t become a little ray of sunshine. My world did not become one of unicorns and pixies. Give me orcs and zombies any day of the week. But slowly, ever so slowly, the cloud lifted to the point where I was only miserable if something happened which caused me to be miserable. So I woke up with a stinking cold and felt miserable. Or Manchester United got thumped by Chelsea and I felt miserable.
I stopped being miserable,however, when I had no reason to be miserable. The OCD did not go away either but there were positive signs there as well. I always visualised it as an ancient, 1930’s radio sitting in the study of some retired army major. With a volume knob that you had to physically get up and twiddle with instead of zap with a remote control from across the room. OCD FM was still on the airways but had been turned down to a barely discernible background hum; as opposed to the deafening symphony that used to dictate my every waking hour.
They were the tiniest of pills. And the tiniest of steps. But all in the right direction, away from the brink, and back into the arms of my family. I began to feel safe and purposeful. There was a future and a world out there where I could make a difference. I discovered running and rediscovered my faith. Yes, I still had bad days and I still had relapses; I still messed up and I still had a few car crashes to walk away from. But it became one step backwards and two steps forward as opposed to the other way around.
I embraced normality. For it is there that you find the miraculous. Normality feeds the soul, it is there that you will find the hidden gems. Right before your eyes. My son crashing over the line to score in a cup final; my daughter singing until I thought her lungs would burst on stage in front of hundreds of people; my other daughter laughing at my silly jokes and wearing her Manchester United shirt with pride; my wife saying she loved me and me knowing that she truly meant it and that I loved her back just as much in return.
Normal is magical. And if it means taking a happy pill every day then so be it. I am no longer ashamed of being on antidepressants. And nor should you. They are not a crutch, rather they allow you to throw away the crutches of addiction and depression. They allow you to walk free and with your head held high. They are your badge of honour, evidence that you faced your demons and are now fighting back. You are a survivor and your life is precious.
The battle will never be over. But at least I have a fighting chance now. I am proud that I am where I am today. Escitaloprem is a weapon in my armoury, a tool in my belt. One of many. Calling it a happy pill is misleading; rather it stops me from feeling unhappy. Which then allows my everyday life to fill the void with the natural happiness which I have craved all my life. And if I can do it then so can you. You can and you will.
Three cheers for the Not Unhappy Pill.
Proverbs 8:11 – ‘For wisdom is better than rubies, And all the things one may desire cannot be compared with her.’ (NKJV)
Have you ever been on, are on you currently on, antidepressants? Do they make you feel happy, not unhappy or just plain numb?
Have you OCD? Depression? Anxiety? How do you visualise them?
What makes you happy?
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 🙏🏻❤️😊
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?