New Table

Today I went out shopping and got an amazing bargain. For a few weeks now I have been looking for a new coffee table but couldn’t see anything that I liked until today. You might be thinking why on earth is Fionnuala blogging about buying a new table but please bear with me I’m actually going somewhere with this.

On writing this Stephen has been home for just over an hour now and he has yet to notice the new shiny table right under his nose! You can see in the photo that it is less than two feet away from him but he is oblivious to it.

It gets better not only has he walked past it, and sat right next to it he lifted the huge box of it which I left sitting at the back door and moved it out to the bin. He also squeezed past the old table which was on its side under the stairs. Stephen is the butt of many jokes in our house but this one is one I don’t think the kids will let him live down.

This has also got me thinking how often do we just go about our day and are oblivious to things that are going on around us? On our streets there are so many people crying out for help that we don’t see because we are so wrapped up in our own little boxes. Sometimes we need to look outside the box and you know it is even safe to step outside of the box nothing bad will happen to you you never know you might even enjoy it and discover something new.

In our house it’s a running joke to see how long it takes Stephen to notice something. The kids are busting to tell him to look at the new table but also watching the clock to see just how long it is taking him to notice it. I personally don’t think he will notice it not until he sees this blog post.

Anyway here goes I’m going to post this it has now been an hour and 30 minutes since he has been home and he still hasn’t noticed it 😆 I could be in trouble here please pray for me. By the way I do love and respect my husband and we both like to have the odd prank on each other now again so please take this post in the humour it’s been written in 😊

Why Do Women Not Understand Manflu?

I woke up this morning and groaned. Not only was it a dark and dreary Monday morning, but I sensed a tickle in my throat. My nose was blocked and my energy levels were even lower than I normally would have expected. I sighed and sadly informed Fionnuala that I appeared to be unwell. I received zero sympathy as she launched into the 1001 tasks she has to perform every weekday in order to get the hatchlings out to school.

Manflu had struck….Now I’m not one to complain (cough, cough) but it strikes me that the female of the species struggle to understand the traumatic nature of this affliction. When it comes to empathy and understanding they tend to stare blankly at us, before making some snide remark about childbirth. The words ‘weak’ and ‘pathetic’ are muttered beneath their collective breaths as we shuffle miserably around the house.

I go to work every day. I’m rarely sick, not counting the four week virus I had a few months back and er….all the other times I sniffle or feel a slight twinge. I run marathons in all weathers and regard myself as in reasonably good shape for a man of my years. So, when I am struck down by the lurgy, the lack of female concern and compassion leaves me baffled.

I have queried this with my wonderful wife, to be greeted with a withering stare or hoot of derision. I still await her considered response and I fear I may be waiting a while. So I’m throwing it out there to the rest of the WordPress universe. I look forward to your thoughts as I heroically struggle through the working day. I know I will be in your thoughts and prayers

Ladies – what’s your beef with manflu?

Men – argue our case! Tell them how it is!!

Don’t Tell My Wife I’ve Written This

They are legion. Breeding. Multiplying. Every time I turn my back, more of them appear. Cloning. Driving me to the depths of despair and the heights of frustration. Are they a hallucination? A figment of my overworked imagination? Is there a medical term for such a psychosis? Do I require medication, counselling, a lie down in a darkened room? No, for they are real and I am, therefore, doomed.

Cushions….

It all started innocently enough. Almost as an afterthought, Fionnuala mentioned one day last month that she had her eye on a new set of cushions for the living room. I thought nothing of it, as I leave all such interior design matters to her refined eye. I struggle to match my socks in the morning so this was a whole new world to me. A world I had no intention of setting foot upon.

I had my side of the sofa, and Fionnuala had hers. We had a cushion each, with one in the middle to act as a security buffer or sterile corridor in the event of any unwanted infractions by either party. The United Nations were on speed dial in the unlikely event that this occurred. Unlikely, but you can never be too careful where such matters are concerned. All was well with the world.

Now we have three cushions. Each. With a Great Wall further separating us. Woe betide me, if I attempt to dislodge any of them even a fraction of an inch. I used to recline and relax on our leather settee. Now I teeter on the edge of it, scared to breathe. Nothing, but nothing can be found, in this forest of fabric. Phones, Kindles, remote controls, even Rebecca disappeared for several hours over the festive period.

I thought there was a glimmer of hope as one set featured some elegant swans within a wintry backdrop. Perhaps they will be gone by Easter. But what seasonal horrors will replace them? Chicks? Bunny rabbits? The mind boggles. Either way, I am fighting a losing battle for the one domain where I thought I was safe. If a man’s home is his castle, then surely the sofa is his throne.

And there’s more. Oh, so much more. The madness has spread. To the bedroom. Never one to rest on her laurels, Fionnuala has started spring cleaning a full two months early. The cushion invasion has spread to the bedroom. I returned home yesterday to be greeted by an impenetrable barrier of the abominable objects. A Grand National winner would have struggled to hurdle them.

I have estimated that if I want to go to bed at 10:30 p.m. I will actually need to commence operations at around 9:45 p.m. in order to complete a successful excavation and reach my mattress. Any less time, will result in abject failure. There are also a myriad of Health and Safety ramifications. Do I now need to wear a hard hat when on site? Perhaps a hi-vis vest, clipboard and whistle?

If you are talking to my wife, for she occasionally blogs herself, deny all knowledge of this post. It can be our little secret, okay? For I fear the consequences if my concerns are divulged to her. Suffocated under an avalanche of cushions or battered to an unrecognisable pulp by them. Neither modus operandi particularly appeals to me. Instead, I will grit my teeth, smile, and continue to teeter.

On the brink….

Are you a lover of multiple cushions?

Or do they strike dread into your heart?

What household habits within your home drive you insane?

Everybody Hurts. Most of the Time

My neck hurts. This is a surefire indicator of stress. Here’s a true story. The night before I got married, I got a cramp in my neck. Since then, whenever I get stressed, I develop a dull ache in one side of my neck. Cracking it helps. A little. I have no idea if there is a physical reason for this pain, as I’ve never sought medical help. Maybe it’s all in my head. Or neck. Whatever. My neck hurts. No pain in the neck/marriage related jokes please. I’ve heard them all.

The cause of the stress? Undoubtedly the work report from hell. For there must be a hell. Otherwise, where could this report have been spawned? It is a 300 page, paper boomerang. It keeps coming back. Landing on my desk when I least expect it. Edits of edits. Ad nauseum. Maybe I’m too much of a perfectionist, maybe I should just let it go. Wash my hands of it. They know best. Did I mention that my neck hurts?

My legs hurt. Like, proper ache. At least I know the cause of this. I’ve ran the last three days and was contemplating doing likewise today. But I knew after yesterday’s 10K effort, that I needed a day off. I’m trying to run more consistently and my times have reflected that of late. Yesterday was my best 10K in many moons. It’s a great stress buster as well. My neck doesn’t hurt when I run. But now my legs do.

Swings and roundabouts. My father once said you can’t have a pain in two places at the same time. He might have had a point. So, there will be no running today. I’ll be back on it like a car bonnet tomorrow. Winter running is essential if I’m going to be anywhere near ready for my 10th marathon next year. So I grit my teeth, take the wind and rain, take the cold, take the pain, and get out there and do it.

My brain hurts. Who would have thought that the actual writing of a book was the easiest part? Now I’ve entered the murky world of seeking literary representation. I plan to query 10 of them in the New Year. That’s the shortlist. The long list I’m currently wading through nears 500 in total. From there, I’m seeking to whittle down those who I feel are best suited to my work. It’s hard work. My brain hurts.

I’m researching their likes, dislikes, blah blah blah. British, Irish, American. Male, female. Some seem lovely. Encouraging and understanding. Others less so. They portray themselves as gods and seem to delight in intimidating debut authors from their lofty literary towers. ‘If I don’t like the first line of your manuscript, then I probably won’t read anymore.’ One of them actually said that. Jaw dropping arrogance.

I’m about halfway through the long list. My short list is too long. Should I be spending more time on my query letter? Are my opening three chapters strong enough? Why am I thinking about the second book when there is still so much to do on the first? Will people get the humour? The anger? The hopelessness? I’m bracing myself for the worst, and hoping for the best. But my brain hurts.

That’s the icing on the cake. The hurt cake. Cut into it and you find all the other hurt. The worries, the frustration, the disappointment of everyday life. Family, faith, finances, friends. It goes on. Hurt is everywhere. Physical, Mental, Spiritual, it’s all there. Why bother? Why try? What’s the point? Well, here’s the point. Everybody hurts. Most of the time. But I’ll keep going. Because there is hope.

Yesterday was our daughter’s birthday. Our beautiful, brave daughter who has defied doctors and proved them all so wrong. She is worth the hurt. As are my wife and other two kids. I hurt for them. I run to keep the mental demons at bay. I work to pay the bills. I write to pave a better future for us. I hurt for them. Every day is a battle, but every day is an inch in the right direction. Proving the doubters wrong. Proving. Improving. Embrace the hurt.

Where are you hurting today?

Are you embracing the hurt?

How Persistent Are You?

Last night I missed an important phone call. It was my own fault as I had my mobile on silent at the time, one of my many bad habits. Thankfully the caller phoned back later in the night, waking me up but I didn’t mind, so relieved was I that they had tried again. I was able to do what needed done and the situation was resolved. I went back to bed, breathing a huge sigh of relief.

But wide awake. Hence, this (very) early morning post. What did I learn from this experience? Besides, stop being an idiot and turn your phone on when you are expecting important calls. Well, firstly I need to listen more. I have a tendency to know what’s best and ignore the sound advice of much wiser people around me. If I don’t listen, then I can’t learn. It’s as simple as that.

I’ve been told I’m a great communicator, both in and outside the workplace. That’s partially true. Yes, I can write and I also know I can be verbally eloquent when the need arises. I’m comfortable giving presentations and speaking out at meetings. But communication is a two way street and also involves listening. Which is just as, if not more important, than talking. God gave us two ears and one mouth for a reason.

I’m a poor listener on two fronts. Firstly I often fail to hear what is being said to me. I drift off into La La Land and have no idea what has just been said. I know how rude this appears, and frustrating to the other person. Secondly, I do take in what is being said to me but fail to act on the advice given. Imparted wisdom is precious and failing to act positively on it is foolish in the extreme. Again, I plead guilty.

I need to become an active listener, to make a conscious and sustained effort to hear the speaker and then do something about it. This involves turning up the volume on my phone and ensuring I have a signal to pick up incoming calls. Not doing so, can and will land me in a world of trouble, with only myself to blame. There’s no fool like an old fool and I’m not getting any younger, that’s for sure.

The second area I picked up on was persistence. The caller didn’t give up, they recognised that the information they held was important, so kept trying until they finally got through to me. They didn’t give up. And I, for one, was very grateful for that. Even if it meant being roused from my sleep in the process, it was a small price to pay. Wisdom is toothless unless it reaches the ears of those who need it.

As a parent, I’m constantly trying to educate our children the best I can. I don’t want them to make the same mistakes I did. I want them to be better than that. Often I’m frustrated when they don’t appear to be listening to me. But they are only kids, what’s my excuse? I’m a hypocrite and need to practice what I preach. If they don’t see me listening to others, then what sort of an example is that to set?

Secondly I need to persevere with them. Throwing my hands up in the air or losing my temper isn’t going to achieve anything. I can’t give up on them, no matter how infuriating they can be at times. Love is many things, including persistent. You don’t give up on those you love. You call them, even when it involves risk. You persevere, you endure, you hang in there, even if it’s by the fingernails at times.

Are you a good listener? Or a day dreamer life me?

How persistent are you at loving others?

When did you last miss an important phone call?

How Did That Happen?

We passed 7500 followers yesterday. Quite the achievement for the little blog that Fionnuala encouraged me to start almost eighteen months ago. Since then, there have been almost daily posts about life, the universe and everything. I’m not quite sure why, but people continue to read and post encouraging comments. It has been both an enlightening and humbling experience which has restored my belief in the online human community.

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you all.

Are You A Morning Person?

In our house on weekdays, the alarm normally arouses the adults from blissful sleep at 5:45 am. Routine then kicks in and our weary bodies go onto autopilot. Fionnuala commences the Herculean act of getting a bouncing eleven year old and two zombie teenagers out of the house and on their way to school. Uniforms are ironed, lunches are packed and there is much hollering which would raise the dead, but not seemingly a sixteen year old boy.

I’m largely entrusted to get myself ready for work, although Fionnuala might have something to say about that. I stumble out of bed, wash and shave, before dressing and making my way downstairs to bedlam and my first Diet Coke of the day. Slices of toast are hurriedly shoved down throats and then we are all on our way, via bus and train, to our respective schools and workplaces.

Weekends are not much better. Yesterday Adam had a rugby match so I had to have him at his school for 8:45 am. It was worth the early start as they won 57-5 but lie ins are a rare commodity these days. Today, we all had to be up early as we have visitors calling so have to ensure the house is ship shape and ready. It’s little wonder, Fionnuala and I are ready for bed by 10 pm most nights. The all night partying is a distant memory when you’re married with three kids.

It’s fair to say, we are morning people out of necessity more than any great desire to be. If I had a choice, not that I do anymore, I’d much rather remain under the covers as the first rays of morning creep over the horizon. I often claim I’m going to arise for magnificent dawn runs which will leave me energised and inspired for the day ahead. This rarely happens, and my running gear remains untouched at the bottom of the bed.

The same goes for those people who bounce out of bed, stick on a pot of coffee and get tonnes done before the rest of the world stirs. There have been books written about how that first hour of the day can be the most productive. Sorry, that’s just not me. It takes at least an hour for both my body and brain to crank into gear. And anyway, I hate coffee, so I’ll just leave all you Perky Pete and Paula’s to it.

I’d love to be a morning person, truly I would. I could accomplish so much. Sometimes there is so much stuff to wade through that I would happily welcome a thirty hour day. I feel bad when I don’t make that early morning run, when I don’t finish the chapter I had planned to, when I overlook a task or errand that needs ticked off the list in order to keep family life trundling along like a well oiled machine.

Something always seems to have to give. Everything can’t be a priority. Why can’t I be everywhere at once, doing everything at once? Why can’t I keep all the balls in the air at the same time? It’s at times like this, I need to take a deep breath. Turn off panic mode. Shift from negative self-reflection to positive assertion. Focus on what I have achieved from day to day. The runs that did happen, the words that were written, the million and one tasks that were completed.

No, I’m not a perfect husband, father, employee or person. But at least, I recognise that. And I try every day to get the job done, to get from A to B as best I can with the skills that God blessed me with. Trying is sometimes all we can manage. Trying is trying. But it’s better than dying. Dying in a morass of mediocrity and apathy. Giving up and giving in, when there are still battles to be fought and one.

I’m going to try again this morning….

Are you a morning person?

Are you too hard on yourself?

Or can you try harder than you have been?

The Winning Ticket – Part 1

As many of you know, I get the train to and from Belfast every day as part of my commute to work. My adventures on the 07:53 express to often feature on this blog. Today’s post is no exception. But today I want to talk about money, or rather saving money. Something I’m not very good at normally but we, as a family, have been making a big effort at of late in order to become more economically frugal.

I normally think nothing of landing at the station and purchasing a daily return ticket to Belfast – £9:60, no less. In an average month, I make this transaction approximately 20 times. Which, if you do the maths/math/finger counting, equates to forking out £192 per month on travelling to and from the office. A sizeable outgoing, I’m sure you will agree. With me so far? Good, then I’ll continue.

When it comes to good ideas in our house, you will normally find that 99% of them originate from Fionnuala. For it was she who suggested I research the price of a monthly return ticket to Belfast. When I checked, I was amazed to find that this cost a mere £138. A saving of £54 a month. That’s £648 a year! Imagine all the Diet Coke and honeycomb ice cream I could buy with that.

It was with some smugness, therefore, that I made my purchase at the beginning of the month. I clutched my brand new, shiny monthly ticket as if it was a winning lottery ticket. The conductor even gave me a little plastic wallet to hold it on, so that it would never become torn or creased. I felt akin to public transport royalty. Then it struck me. What if I lost it?

I’m a bit of an expert at ‘misplacing’ items. Keys, wallets, anything remotely valuable. My mind is a leaky sieve and Fionnuala and Rebecca are forever running around after me, picking up the detritus of my life. How on Earth then could I be trusted to hang on to a tiny ticket for an entire month without it going AWOL? Which would necessitate yours truly having to go permanently AWOL when he reported the bad news back to his wife!

What happened next? Find out later today in Part 2 of ‘The Winning Ticket.’

God Remembers – Part One

Zacharias prayed every day. Which wasn’t peculiar, in itself, given his status as a high ranking priest within the order of Abijah. He was a man of some status, a descendant of Aaron, who had devoted his life to serving God. He was respected by the people, a man viewed as righteous and blameless in the eyes of God. He was humble, preferring to live a modest life in the city of Hebron, as opposed to the more glamorous surroundings of Jerusalem or Jericho.

Zacharias did everything by the book. He married the daughter of a fellow priest, as was expected of a man of his standing. Her name was Elizabeth, a God fearing and obedient woman who shared her husband’s righteous ways. He served for two weeks of the year in the temple, as was required of him, performing the relevant ceremonial duties. On the surface, he and his wife led exemplary lives.

Or did they? You see there was something not quite right about them, for they had no children. Which, in first century Palestine, was a social no no. A childless marriage was viewed as something as a social pariah. Many thought such couples had offended God and were being punished accordingly. What shameful secret were they hiding beneath their perfect lives to have merited the wrath of God?

Zacharias would have been well within his rights to divorce Elizabeth, given she was unable to bear him a son, to continue the family lineage. Nobody would have batted an eyelid had he ‘traded her in’ for a younger wife who would have given him the family befitting of a man who walked in such close alignment with God. Yet Zacharias did not. Why? Well, because he loved Elizabeth of course.

Instead he prayed. Day after day, month after month, year after year. For a family, a son. But now, as they entered their sixties, it appeared that boat had sailed. There was no child, and his prayers remained unanswered. People still gossiped and whispered behind their backs about the honourable priest and his childless wife. Zacharias could have turned his back on it all, his faith and his wife. But he didn’t. Instead he continued to love Elizabeth, pray diligently and serve at the temple.

Today was no ordinary day. No, it was the Day of Atonement, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The day, when the nation of Israel offered up prayers of repentance and forgiveness. A very special day. And the most important part of the day was when a hand picked priest would enter the inner sanctum of the temple, the ‘Holy of Holies’. Today, that priest was Zacharias, the childless priest from the barren Judean Mountains.

His job? To carry a fire censer, laden with coals taken from the altar, into the ‘Holy of Holies’ which contained the Ark of the Covenant itself. Zacharias would stand in the presence of God and sprinkle incense on the coals and waft them, allowing a pleasing aroma to rise up to Heaven. It symbolised the prayers of the people, the hopes of a nation. It was most likely the pinnacle of his priestly career.

I’m sure he must have been nervous. His hands were probably shaking as he moved the fire censer from side to side, every last iota of his concentration focused on this most prestigious task. Outside the prayers of thousands of worshippers were rising in volume and intensity. The ceremony was reaching a crescendo and Zacharias stood at the centre of it all. It didn’t get much bigger than this.

Then it ended. He sighed with relief, mouthed a silent prayer of thanks that he hadn’t fluffed his lines, and exited the holy place. The greatest day of his life had peaked. He could relax now, rest and prepare for the long journey home to Hebron. Except it wasn’t. It wasn’t anywhere near over. For God had other plans for Zacharias. The old man who had given his life to God was about to embark on a new adventure; a life he thought was meandering to a mundane end.

Waiting for Zacharias outside was an angel. A most senior angel, as it happens, by the name of Gabriel. Who had a message for the elderly man of God which was going to turn his world upside down. God had been listening to his prayers and now was the time to reveal the plan he had been preparing all along for Zacharias and Elizabeth. For they were to have a son. A very special son. Who would be the spark that would set the known world on fire.

To be continued….

Zacharias – the Greek spelling of Zachariah, meaning ‘The Lord has remembered.’

You can read the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth in Luke Chapter 1.

Do you feel life has passed you by?

That God hasn’t heard your prayers?

Don’t give up hope. God remembers. But we must also remember him.

Unsung Heroes

Our weekends seem to be getting busier and busier as the kids get older. Today has been no exception. Adam had a rugby game in Belfast, prior to starting his part time job at 3pm. In the middle of all that, Hannah had a lunchtime birthday party to attend. As we only have one car, this has meant frantic driving to and from various locations. The icing on the cake has been the constant downpour and ridiculous traffic jams.

Fionnuala has performed heroics ferrying us all around, as ever sacrificing her own day for the rest of us. I often describe our family as a beautiful swan, gliding serenely across a glasslike lake. Beneath the surface, however, it paddles frantically to keep afloat. Fionnuala is the engine room who keeps us moving forward. Without her, we would sink without a trace.

She is an unsung hero and none of us thank her as often as we should for what she does for the family. Today she was so busy that she forgot to eat, until I insisted we pull over at a filling station so she could buy a sandwich. She constantly puts the needs of others before her own. Without her, there would be no rugby matches, birthday parties or part time jobs. Everything would grind to a halt.

So I just want to take this opportunity to thank her. We have guests tomorrow so I’m meant to be cleaning the bathroom so please don’t tell her I’m skiving….I mean blogging. We all love her very much. Sometimes, it’s worth stopping for a second and reflecting on everything the unsung heroes in your life do for you. They give their all, so that our lives run smoothly. We should never take them for granted.

Who are the unsung heroes in your life?

Today….I Must Be Honest

A Fractured Faith has increasingly, in recent months, acted as a vehicle to publicise a book I have been writing. Since the turn of the year, it has taken up a considerable amount of my free time. I have made steady progress and a few months ago started to release sections of it to a dozen beta readers for honest feedback and constructive criticism. Around half of these volunteers have since fallen by the wayside but those who have stuck about have been worth their weight in gold.

This time last week I was nearing the end of the book’s fourth edit. I anticipated there was approximately another week’s work and I was done. Then it was just a matter of collating and reviewing the beta feedback, tweaking the manuscript as suggested, and moving onto the next phase of pitching the story to potential agents. I was nearing the end of phase one of the journey, so was pressing down hard on the accelerator as the finish line loomed up ahead.

That was last week. I haven’t written a word since and cannot bring myself to look at it. There are a number of reasons for this that I won’t bore you with. I initially thought I was sick of the story and characters. Familiarity breeds contempt, after all. As the week has progressed, however, I’ve come to the conclusion there is more to it than that. I’m not sick of the book, rather I’m sick of myself.

I started this blog with Fionnuala to help other people, not sell a book or promote myself as some hot shot writer. The message was about humility; pointing out to others that it is possible to utterly mess up your life, yet still recover and rebuild it. It increasingly feels I’m not doing that but allowing my ravenous ego to take over and drag me kicking and screaming in completely the wrong direction. I may write the words, but I don’t want the blog to be about me.

So the laptop remains switched off this week, as I struggle with where I am heading. At the minute, I don’t know when it will be switched on again either. The same applies to my running shoes since the disaster that was the Causeway Coast Marathon two weeks ago. I never thought I would hear myself say these words but I don’t particularly want to run or write at present. I just want to be close to Fionnuala and the kids. It’s all I’ve ever really wanted.

I can only be honest. I know no other way to write. I’ve poured everything into the book and I’m not sure I have much left to offer. The prospect of countless rejection letters completely switches me off. I know my skin isn’t thick enough to handle that. Increasingly, the thought of tidying up the final few chapters and storing it a drawer, grows increasingly appealing. My dream was to write a book and I will have achieved it. That might be enough.

Running and writing a book are stretching me too thin. There is so much more I could be doing to support my family rather than pursuing distant pipe dreams. I’m not sure I have the strength to follow either to the distance. Mentally, I feel exhausted and, physically I’m not far behind. These, in turn, damage my spiritual health, which I am trying hard to rebuild. It has to be my priority, for if it suffers then I cannot fulfil my primary roles of being a good husband and father.

That’s how it is, at present. I’m excited to have started my Bible studies again. I’m excited for, and proud of my kids, for everything they achieve every day. I love my wife deeply and want to be there for her in any possible way I can. As for publishing a book or running a marathon? At the minute, there is nothing I can think of doing less. That could change tomorrow. But today, I must be honest. There is no other way. Honesty is what I crave.

Happy Birthday Anne!

A belated Happy Birthday to our dear friend, Anne McCartney, who celebrated her ahem …. something first birthday yesterday. Anne has been a tremendous spiritual and practical support to Fionnuala and myself in recent years, through good times and bad. Anne and her husband, Graham, have been two of the people who have inspired me to retain a faith in God, no matter how fractured that faith has been at times.

She is kind, loving and wise. She remained loyal to me, when many turned their backs and I was at my lowest ebb. She prays constantly for us and I know exciting times are just around the corner for her as she opens a new chapter of her life with Graham. I only hope I can repay back to her 1% of what she has done for us. Happy Birthday Anne from everyone at chez Black. You are much loved and respected.

Is there a special person in your life who you want to give a shout out to today? If so, feel free to honour them by leaving a comment below.

What Are You Hungry For?

Saturday was the start of the new rugby season, so Fionnuala and I hugged the touchline, to watch Adam play for his college against one of the big Belfast schools. Unfortunately they lost, but didn’t go down without a fight. Adam had a great game and scored his team’s only try. I thought he was our best player but then I’m his father so that’s to be expected. Afterwards, therefore, I was relieved to hear his coach agree with my assertion.

He informed me that, given his performance, Adam was being moved up to the first team for next weekend’s match. We were delighted to hear this as it has been his target all summer and he has worked hard towards attaining it. He will now be playing against boys up to two years older than him, at a much higher level. It’s a steep learning curve but one that he needs to take in order to fulfil the potential within him.

The coach also told me that he did not want Adam progressing too quickly into the first team as he wanted to ‘keep him hungry.’ If he reached his target too easily then that could impact upon his motivation and determination for the rest of the year. Adam has talent and a strong work ethic but to be the best that he possibly can requires more than that; it requires a desire or drive that cannot be taught.

Whenever I’m training for marathons, which is most of the time, I’m permanently hungry. I think about eating all day long. I don’t view myself as greedy, rather I need to eat a lot to replace the calories I burn up on training runs. This allows me to eat pretty much whatever I want. Which means ALL the ice cream. I dread the day I have to stop running as I will probably put on three stone in a week.

We normally associate the word with the physical discomfort experienced through a lack of food. But the wider definition fits better with the etymological roots of the word. Hunger derives from the Old English word ‘hungor’, meaning desire. It goes beyond growling stomachs and yo-yo diets. When we hunger after something, we desire it, we yearn for it, we crave it.

Hunger, within this context, is a double edged sword. While we identify the physical experience of hunger with negative emotions, it is construed as a positive attribute for a young rugby player like Adam, striving to progress in his given sport. To aspire to better yourself, to improve reflects a healthy mindset. We need targets in life, or at least I know I do. For otherwise, we stagnate and become bored.

Flip the coin again, however, and we can hunger after unhealthy desires. Desires that lead us down the wrong path. An unhealthy appetite, if allowed to run unchecked, can result in more than indigestion. It can bring destruction and ruin to your life and the lives of those you love the most. Collateral damage is still damage. Be hungry, but hunger after those things which are going to supplement your life, not suffocate it.

What are your thoughts on hunger and desire after reading this post?

The Unadulterated Joy Of Shopping With Hatchlings

Today I tested the limits of my parental skills, I attempted the Everest of fatherhood. As Fionnuala is housebound nursing a heavy cold, I took our three hatchlings (aged 16, 14 and 11 going on 61 respectively) out shopping. I felt a bit like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible; all that was missing was being suspended from wires with a silly fringe and pair of Cuban heels.

Our target was the Junction One Retail Outlet near Antrim. Adam needed new trainers and a gum shield, Hannah was buying a birthday present for her best friend, and Rebecca just wanted to spend the £3.30 that was burning a hole in her pocket. Fionnuala also asked me to get roast potatoes for dinner. The pressure was well and truly on. I was already breaking out into a clammy, cold sweat as we entered the outlet.

My fears were confirmed as Adam, the pickiest of dressers, was horrified to learn that his beloved Adidas store at the centre, had relocated. He refused to set foot in ASICS and reluctantly toured Nike before announcing there was nothing he liked and stomping outside. He later informed me that if he realises his dream of making it as a professional rugby player he would point blank refuse a Nike seven figure sponsorship deal.

Hannah fared much better. Upon entering The Beauty Outlet she announced she ‘was in heaven’ and spent the next twenty minutes sampling various perfume and make up samples. Ever the duck out of water I stood awkwardly, the only man in a shop full of women who hunted for bargains with a steely eyed determination that I found mildly disturbing. These ladies meant business!

Rebecca was caught on the horns of a dilemma between spending her money on a bath bomb or a a box of chocolate sauce covered dinky donuts. I know, it’s a tough one and she will probably blog about it later so I will leave you all on tenterhooks over that one. An hour later we were all back in the car and homeward bound. I don’t know about the kids but I was exhausted.

Such was the excitement I forgot to call into ASDA to get the roast potatoes. I resorted to the village shop, who only sold small bags; not enough to feed our ravenous hordes. My punishment was to peel extra potatoes for dinner, a task I found strangely therapeutic. But please don’t tell Fionnuala or she will have me doing it every time. I peel a fine potato though, even if I do say so myself.

Dinner passed uneventfully. Nobody complained about the aesthetics of the root vegetables served up and all was well. Today’s post is a running and writing free zone, if only to prove that I do occasionally contribute towards household duties as opposed to acting like a big kid and messing about on WordPress. Following this, I’m off to start on the dishes. No rest for the wicked!

Tomorrow normal service will resumed. There is work, the kids will all be back to school and our house will be chaotic from six o’clock onwards. There is also the small matter of a marathon to run in three weeks and the next slice of the book to be e-mailed to my fantastic team of beta readers. The feedback has been amazing so far and I can’t believe people are actually enjoying it. Oh hang, there goes my boost about not blogging about writing.

Bath bombs or dinky donuts?

Boiled or roast potatoes?

Adidas or Nike?

Marathons or novel writing?

You decide….

Our Eleven Year Old Daughter Has Moved Out

There is never a dull moment at chez Black and this weekend has been no exception. But it has been a little quieter than usual. The reason? Rebecca, our youngest daughter, has been sleeping over at her Granny’s house in Belfast. This was initially meant to be a single night sleepover but she announced to Fionnuala yesterday, who had called to pick her up, that she was staying another night as she was having so much fun.

Adam and Hannah were overjoyed at the news. No more annoying little sister barging into their rooms and asking a million and one pointless questions. Hannah actually punched the air in delight when I told her. Ahhhh, sisterly love. Biscuit and crisp supplies have also been notably healthier. Who knew an eleven year old girl could eat so much? The house has also been considerably tidier.

No more trainers lying on the floor where they have been hurriedly kicked off. No bicycles or scooters abandoned in the front driveway just waiting to be stolen by the first opportunistic thief who wanders by. Dishes have been washed, dried and put away instead of left in messy piles by the sink or found three weeks later cultivating alien organisms in the dark abyss that is her bedroom.

I have been missing my comedy sidekick, however. She is the only member of the family who appreciates my Dad dancing and rapping. She laughs at all my jokes even when I know they’re not funny. We talk in silly voices and watch Nickelodeon together. I now feel like I am an only child, sharing the house with three disapproving, eye rolling ‘grown ups’. I am Embarrassing Dad as opposed to Cool Daddy. It’s a tough gig.

I messaged her last night to express my loneliness. I expected empathy, understanding, perhaps compassion. Her reply was a suggestion that I play with Charlie, the border terrier. Sheesh! Eleven year olds can be brutal. And besides, Charlie seemed much more interested in licking his nether regions as opposed to entertaining the human who feeds and homes him. There’s gratitude for you.

She will return later today and normal service will be resumed. It will be World War III. Fionnuala will scream at her for not bringing down her clothes for washing, Adam will scream at her for barging into his room unannounced and Hannah will scream at her because well….that’s what older sisters do to their siblings. Her and I will talk in silly voices, exchange jokes about unicorn poo and binge on Haribos.

The house has felt empty without her. We have all missed Rebecca in our own ways, just like I know she would miss one of us if we were away. It’s weird and a little disquieting to see her empty bed in the morning. We are a family and when one of us is away it feels as if we are missing a limb. Maybe I’m getting sentimental in my old age but I like having us all under the same roof at the end of the day.

Sometimes you only appreciate your most precious commodities when they are not there. Fionnuala and I joke about the joy and freedom we will experience when the kids eventually move out but I also dread that day. We need to harvest hay while the sun shines and make the most of these times. The together times. For one day my little girl will be all grown up and unicorn poo jokes will be a thing of the past.

How do you cope with an empty house when family members are away?

Jokes about unicorn poo are hilarious. Discuss?

What are your views on Dad rapping?

Losing The Battle….Winning The War

I am supposed to be running the Longford Marathon in two weeks time. It was the target I set myself after completing the Belfast equivalent in May and some of you may recall I blogged about my intentions at the time. I thought it was a realistic proposition and I could juggle it with all my other competing priorities. I had before, right? I’m Super Stephen and you name it I can do it.

Wrong.

I’m not super. Far from it. And as I neared Longford I realised I wasn’t quite there. I was a couple of long runs short of where I needed to be. My times weren’t quite right, my diet hadn’t been great and other matters had meant the running had slid further down the pecking order. There have been family issues, work demands and the little matter of wrestling with a 120,000 word manuscript.

This has sucked both time and energy from my sails. I have been left stranded in the running doldrums. So I’ve taken the decision to miss out on Longford and instead aim for the Causeway Coast Marathon at the end of September. It ticks a lot of boxes for me at the moment. It’s closer than Longford and offers a greater challenge as it incorporates road, trail and beach sections.

The latter mean that it is not a Personal Best course. I can take my time and enjoy the experience, take in the amazing scenery and not place myself under quite as much pressure. Because, whilst pressure can inspire and motivate, it can also deflate and crumple dreams and ambitions. At the minute I’m trying to convince the voice in my head that I’ve made the right call.

The voice that nags and niggles my every thought, telling me that I’ve bottled it and taken the easy way out. I’ve fought this voice for most of my adult life. It has been at the heart of many of my most spectacular personal car crashes. Always pressing the accelerator and taking stupid, unnecessary risks when I should be adhering to the speed limit and checking my rear view mirror at regular intervals.

Although not defined or restricted by her disability, Hannah’s spina bifida means she requires our constant care and attention. Fionnuala’s health has not been great this summer either and Rebecca starts junior high school next month. Adam is about to start a big year as well, both academically and with regards his rugby. They all require me to be around, as a husband and father.

Something has to give and, this time, it is the Longford Marathon. Who knows, Causeway Coast may have to give as well because there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to squeeze it all in. And if the voice regards that as failure then so be it. I’ll take that one on the chin. I believe it requires more courage to say no and hit the brakes as opposed to careering blindly over the edge of the cliff.

This is not defeat. Defeat is letting the enemy crush you so that you can never rise against it again. Call it more a tactical retreat. The most skilful strategists play the long game, they consider the bigger picture. They soar like eagles above the battlefield, seeing everything. They are blue sky thinkers, 20/20 generals. Wisdom is a 360 degree perspective. I want to soar with them. So farewell Longford.

There’s always next year.

Are you winning your battle?

What does the voice in your head say?

Competing Priorities

These last few weeks the pressure has been on big style in my office as the powers that be have demanded the delivery of a number of long term projects within an increasingly short term deadline. I have been shackled at my desk, pounding away at my keyboard like one of those harassed detectives you always see in the movies. Without the cloud of cigarette smoke engulfing me and glass of bourbon surgically attached to my right hand.

I’m comfortable with handling such pressure as I’ve been doing it for over 17 years now. I also trust my analytical and report writing skills sufficiently to know that I will deliver a quality report on time. If they would just leave me to get on with it. What doesn’t help is hordes of stressed colleagues continually circling me like vultures over a dying animal in the desert. Leave be people in my focus bubble and the job will get done.

Everything is a priority. On Monday, Task A is the priority. Then someone else will tell you that Task B is urgent before the next knock at the door demands Task C ASAP. I might clown about a bit but I’m no juggler despite this place increasingly resembling a circus. It’s fire fighting of the highest order and the priorities pile up as the next crisis lumbers over the horizon. It’s inevitable that it will all end in tears.

Declaring everything a priority actually means that nothing is a priority. Jumping mindlessly from one test to the next without any plan or structure is a sure fire way of ensuring that nothing is seen through to its completion. When we panic or become stressed then we are more likely to rush and make mistakes. There can only be one priority at a time, otherwise we may as well pull down the shutters and all go home.

I have many competing demands. I am busy at work but desperately trying to get my head above water so that I can take some leave. I’m training for a marathon next month and have set the month after that as the deadline for finishing my book. There are bills to be paid, telephone calls to be made and jobs around the house that have been overlooked for too long. There is also the small business of blogging.

You might think these are all worthwhile pursuits and you would be correct in that assessment. All of the above are a far cry from the not so distance past when my priorities were making it to the weekend so I could get ridiculously drunk and predicting next year’s Champion Chase winner. My interests now are physically and mentally edifying whereas before they were shallow and destructive.

None of them, however, are my priority. Note the use of the singular there as opposed to that term I despise – competing priorities. There can only be one be it a Highlander, a ring to rule them all or in the busy, barmy world of Mr. Stephen Robert Black. That priority is my family; for without them I’m incapable of delivering any of the other stuff. They are the foundation upon which everything else is constructed.

The job pays the bills, the running keeps me in shape and the writing is my dream. But I would drop them all in an instance if they came between my family at myself. Choose your priority wisely. It can fuel your other dreams powerfully and blast you off on the adventure of a lifetime. Or it can bring you crashing back to the ground and reality in a ball of flames. There can only be one.

Do you struggle with competing priorities in your life at present?

What is your priority?

Do you have a middle name? The more embarrassing the better.

Only Mad People Start To Write A Novel? Discuss….

Whenever I tell people in the ‘real world’ *dabs fingers patronisingly* that I am writing a novel they invariably look vaguely uncomfortable before changing the subject at the first available opportunity. Some of them stare at me as if I have finally taken leave of my senses while others nod in bemused sympathy, say ‘that’s nice’ or ‘good for you’ as if I am a five year old child tugging at their trousers having told them I have just seen The Gruffalo arm wrestling The BFG at the bottom of the garden.

The few that do clamber over this initial hurdle of disbelief normally come to a jarring halt when the inevitable next question is asked – ‘What’s it about Stephen?’ Their faces drop as I begin to wax lyrical about the world of Kirkwood Scott. Supernatural beings amongst the homeless community in Belfast? Forces of good and evil battling for control of the known universe in that pub we always go to on pay day because it sells cheap beer? He’s finally lost it.

It is disheartening but thankfully there are those that keep me going. A friend visited us last night who I haven’t spoken to in forever. When Fionnuala brought up the fact that her deranged husband was writing a book she was genuinely interested and said she would like to read it. And you know what, I believed her. These are the tiny crumbs of support and encouragement that I cling on to as I plough through the third draft.

Because these tiny crumbs are the oxygen that the fledgling author so desperately needs in order to force him or her to flip open their laptop, stare at the blank screen and then start to hesitantly tap those first few words out on the keyboard. It’s all about belief. And it’s so much easier to believe in yourself when others believe in you first. Especially in the final stages when your literary lungs are bursting and the finish line seems farther away than ever.

I run marathons. Have I mentioned that before? They are 26.2 miles long. People always tend to forget the .2 but let me tell you that is the part of the race when the crowd are at their most inspiring and you need them more than ever before. It is their cheers and hollering that drag your aching, exhausted body over the line. They make the previous 26 miles worthwhile, they are the reason you run at all. They are the fuel that powers you through those lonely training runs in the pouring rain.

I feel like I am nearing the 26 mile stage of the book. Fionnuala has…. er ‘focused my thinking’ by informing me if I haven’t finished it by the end of September then she is initiating divorce proceedings against me. I think she’s joking. I think. But it’s certainly a kick up the creative backside when I need it the most. I need her support at a time like this. I need to finish this project even if it never sells a copy and wins literary equivalents of those awards they hand out at Oscar time for the worst movie of the year.

This book will prove a lot of people wrong. But more importantly it will prove a few people right. Those who cared. Those who believed rather than looked at me as if I had two heads. Those who encouraged me rather than those who offered smirks, sighs or, worst of all, silence. I’m excited about the end of September. Incredibly nervous but excited nonetheless. To be able to let the trusted few see what I have been hammering away at with furrowed brow for the last nine months.

It’s 6:30 in the morning and I’m about to clamber out of bed and haul myself into the rat race for another day. I will sit on the train and fret over still gaping holes in the plot. I will daydream through meetings about the colour of Meredith’s hair, still undecided, and whether or not Harley’s character should be introduced at an earlier stage of the story. I will spend my lunchtime run plodding around the city as my frazzled brain works overtime on such thoughts.

But I’m getting there. Only .2 miles to go.

How do you deal with the doubters and doomsayers when it comes to your dream?

What advice would you offer to me with .2 miles to go?

I Do Good Foot Rubs. But Very Little Else.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you drive your loved ones insane?

How do you show people you love them?

What Do You Wish You Had Written About Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What has this post inspired you to write about?

A Little Taste Of Sweden

Northern Ireland traditionally grinds to a halt this week for the 12th of July band parades as the Unionist community celebrate the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where the army of King William defeated King James and so began over 300 years of political and religious hatred between the two communities. It’s a long, long story but suffice to say Fionnuala and I are seeking to raise our own kids to turn their backs on these cultures and traditions. We believe there is a better way.

We don’t need flute bands, bonfires and gallons of alcohol to have a good time. Nope, for today we took the kids to IKEA, the huge Swedish furniture and home fittings store just outside Belfast. Who needs DisneyLand or Universal Studios when you have fun factories like this on your doorstep. The kids were a tad underwhelmed but Fionnuala needed some raw materials for her crafts business so off we went.

No need for expensive rollercoaster rides when you can have your father career up and down the ramps of the largely deserted multi storey car park in a Fast & The Furious stylee. Even better was to follow when we got inside the store. The dual English/Swedish signage caused much mirth as the kids attempted to get their tongues around some of the more exotic Scandinavian pronunciations. IKEA also kindly place arrows and maps throughout the store so you cannot get lost. It was just like a huge treasure hunt. With walk in wardrobes!

The relief that we were not actually purchasing any of said flat bed furniture was a huge personal bonus. I can barely dress myself in the morning, never mind deciphering impenetrable instructions. The last wardrobe I assembled resembled the Leaning Tower of Pisa and could barely survive a mild breeze, let alone two teenage wrecking balls and an eleven year old tornado. I’m more DOA than DIY when it comes to home improvement and any act requiring a semblance of hand to eye coordination is normally beyond me.

The highlight of the trip, however, was undoubtedly the visit to the IKEA bistro after the shopping was concluded. Hot dogs, Swedish meatballs and French fries for five people. For under a tenner! The tomato ketchup dispenser was a personal favourite. And as for the bottomless refills of diet soda. Well let’s just say if I hadn’t already got my money’s worth beforehand then I certainly did then. Four visits to the drinks machine later and I was fit to burst. Sorry, too much information I know.

We drove home a happy bunch. Well I say that. The kids were bickering in the back seat by the time we hit the motorway but that’s par for the course. The entire day cost very little money and all our needs were met. Fionnuala made her purchases, the kids were fed, watered and entertained and yours truly obtained more blogging ammunition. What’s not to like about IKEA and the Swedish? I could almost forgive their football team for their abject showing against England the previous weekend in the World Cup. Almost.

It’s the people you are with who make the memories as opposed to the lavish location or amount of money spent. It has taken me a good part of my life to realise that. I spent years down no end of rabbit holes seeking happiness when it was right before my eyes the whole time. As long as I have my loved ones around me then I have everything I need. Nothing else really matters in the end. There’s a lot to be said for cheap and cheerful.

Have you had any memorable day trips recently?

Thank You

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

Adrift

Fionnuala and I went to the cinema last night. Without kids! We get to do this about once a decade. The movie was called ‘Adrift’ based on a true story of a couple whose dream of sailing across the Pacific turns to tragedy when their yacht is badly damaged in a storm leaving them thousands of mile from safety with insufficient food and water supplies. I won’t say anymore in case some of you are planning on going to see it yourselves.

There were only 14 people in the cinema (yes I counted them. I do have OCD you know) so we were able to sit back and relax without any distractions. I don’t like people sitting beside me in cinemas. Elbows touching, poor eating habits, annoying laughs and plot giveaways. The list is endless. Thankfully this lot were well behaved so I didn’t have to adopt my school headmaster routine.

Fionnuala frowns upon me smuggling food and drinks into movies. The shame of being caught doing so and forever exposed as ‘tight’ I’m afraid would be too much for her to bear. So we treated ourselves to drinks and snacks in the foyer beforehand which ended up costing more than the movie tickets themselves. But at least there was no having to wait until a noisy part of the film in order to slyly open contraband tins of Diet Coke.

Before any 90 minute movie nowadays one must sit through 100 minutes of adverts and trailers. The trailers elicited the standard ‘Ooooooh that looks good’ comments from both of us. But then trailers invariably look good as they are all the best bits of the movie cobbled together. If a movie has a dull trailer then you know it must be seriously bad. Trailers are designed to deceive and trick you into parting with your hard earned cash.

Imagine you had to make a trailer of your life so far. What would you include in it? What would you leave out? In order to impress someone and convince them that they needed to find out more about you and your life? A new boyfriend for example? Or an employer? Those neighbours or that church community? I imagine any highlights reel you chose would only feature scenes which portrayed you in the most favourable of lights.

I used to be like that on social media and towards the world in general. People only saw my best bits, the parts that I wanted them to see. I was desperate to be a box office hit so hid much of the truth of who I actually was from them. I was a facade, a fraud, a front. Lying was second nature to me. I became a slimy, selfish salesman desperate to impress and promote myself to the world while neglecting those who loved the real me. Warts and all.

The net result was that I, just like the movie we watched last night, ended up adrift. Buffeted by life’s storms and hopelessly off course. I was in danger of sinking without trace; a walking, talking shipwreck lying at the bottom of the ocean with all hands lost. I didn’t need any iceberg to breach my hull for I was more than capable of doing that myself. I was the architect of my own demise. Standing at the helm as I silently slipped beneath the unforgiving waves.

Thankfully I somehow survived. I cannot claim any personal credit. My wife and kids kept my head above water. It was they who hauled me out of the water and into the life raft. They reached out their hands and I clung on for all I was worth. If you are adrift today please pay heed. There are those who want to help. Who want to be allowed to save you and be a part of your life. For all good movies deserve an even better sequel.

What was the last movie you watched? Was it any good?

What are your pet hates at the movies?

Have you ever felt adrift?

Why I Gave National Selfie Day A Miss

Some of you may have been wondering why I haven’t been posting about my running exploits of late. Although many of you are undoubtedly not. I’m not injured or anything and have been plodding along the highways and byways around our village as ever. My Garmin has been playing up, however, which means I haven’t been able to sync runs to the corresponding app.

A screenshot of the app is how I evidence the run. As I can’t do this at present then I’m loathe to write about runs that I can’t prove I ran. I could be making the whole thing up. Us runners have an unwritten rule – if it’s not on Garmin/Strava/Forerunner then it didn’t happen. Call me weird but that’s one of the reasons why I haven’t been blogging about my running. It’s not the only one though.

I also reckon it’s not the most exciting subject matter unless you’re a fellow runner. I’m ever conscious of the fine line between informing you all about my life and bragging about it. I desperately don’t want anyone thinking the latter so am always very careful when I write updates on the book I am writing or upcoming races. I used to be that big head on Twitter/Instagram. It’s a role I don’t want to reprise.

I wrote a blog yesterday about the book that received a fairly lukewarm response. I’m fine about that but it was a timely reminder that everyone’s life does not revolve around me and my running and writing. I took a day off yesterday from the book as I had other priorities to attend to. The break will have done me no harm as my obsessive nature is never far away.

I noticed during the week that it was National Selfie Day. I cringed when I read that as it brought back some horrible memories of my previous incarnations on the aforementioned social media platforms. I now tend to avoid cameras where I can. I don’t do any social media bar WordPress and fret about future marketing of the book if it ever sees the light of day. Thankfully I think I saw two selfies the entire day on WordPress from a couple of serial offenders who seem to do little else.

I think that says a lot about the calibre of the bloggers on WordPress. I hope I never go back to being that vain, self centred person. Thankfully I have a very sensible wife who helps keep me on the straight and narrow. And three fantastic kids who regularly bring me down to earth and remind me that I’m an embarrassing, middle aged man who cannot dance, rap or do anything remotely cool.

I’ll keep blogging but there will be periods when I won’t talk about the projects I am working on. Now you know the reasons why. I want this blog to inspire, encourage and motivate others. In order to do that I attempt to set a positive example. This blog is not about me, it is about others. I cannot and will not go back to the way things were. I’m better than that and you all deserve better than that. That is all.

What are your thoughts on the selfie culture?

What have your experiences been like on other social media platforms?

Happy Father’s Day

All around the world today people are celebrating Fathers and in our house today we will be celebrating Stephen.

Stephen has been my rock this week and I couldn’t have got through it without him. The kids and myself are so proud of him at how he has turned his life around for us and learned from his mistakes. My children are very fortunate to have a daddy that loves them unconditionally and would do anything for them even it meant pulling the stars down from the sky for them.

Happy Father’s Day Stephen

Lots of love

Fionnuala, Adam, Hannah & Rebecca xxxx

That Time I Went Through My Neighbour’s Bin

Storm Hector hit our village the night before last which brought high winds and heavy rain. Our ten day summer was officially over. The gazebo was dismantled and put away; the paddling pool was emptied; the garden furniture was placed in the garage as we battened down the hatches and prepared for the worst could Hector could bring. He had a stupid name anyway so I wasn’t overly concerned.

I woke the next morning to the sound of cacophonous rattling outside. This was strange as I am normally awakened by the sound of our neighbour’s sixteen dogs barking. All at once. Every day. Without fail. But I digress. Had the Russians invaded? The North Koreans? Or whoever Donald Trump had posted an offensive tweet about recently? The Greenlanders? The Fijians? It’s hard to keep up these days.

I arose (staggered) from bed to investigate. A peek out the window allayed my more serious concerns regarding alien invasion but I was nonetheless dismayed by the sight revealed to me. A neighbours bin had been blown over during the night and emptied its contents all over the street. And by all over the street I meant in our front garden. Hector had left his calling card. Although I doubt if the United Nations would have been losing much sleep over the humanitarian crisis unfolding in front of me.

I bounded into action. Throwing on clothes (nobody needs their first sight in the morning to be a middle aged man chasing rubbish round the street in a pair of Peppa Pig pyjama bottoms) I ventured outside to survey the carnage. Our front garden was bedecked with every type of garbage known to man. I gingerly tiptoed through the chaos and tidied up the mess, all the while shooting daggers at the offending house from whence said detritus had emanated from.

By the end of it all I knew what they liked to drink (cider and lots of it), eat for breakfast (their own body weight in Honey Nut Loops) and even how their exceedingly grumpy teenage daughter had fared in a recent R.E. exam (not very well – sniggers). A five minute rummage through their bin and I knew more about them than in all the preceding ten years we had lived within a hundred yards of each other. I don’t know my neighbours very well I glumly concluded.

Perhaps rooting through a neighbour’s bin is a tad extreme in the getting to know you stakes (although each to their own I guess) but it’s a sad indictment as to how little we know about the people we share our lives with. And I don’t just mean the folks down the street who we exchange pleasantries with once in a blue moon. What about our colleagues, friends and family. How well do we really know each other?

It often takes one of life’s storms in order for us to open up to others. In times of crisis we are more likely to spill our garbage all over a friend or relatives immaculate front lawn. All of our secrets, faults and dramas. Yet we expect them to clean up the mess. I know I have and it wasn’t a pretty sight. All my dirty laundry and grubby skeletons made my neighbour’s bin look tame in comparison.

We need to talk more. Listen more. Take a risk and reach out more. This post is as much for myself as for anyone else. I have cut myself off from so many but when the you know what hits the fan I expect so much from them. Do it now before it’s too late. For one morning the storm will come and you will need that shoulder to cry on. Even if he is wearing Peppa Pig pyjama bottoms.

Do you talk to your neighbours?

What’s the most interesting item you’ve ever discovered on your front lawn?

Still turning the knife

Last weekend saw the passing of my father and just as I had wrote a nice blog about him trying not to focus on the bad memories he managed to turn the knife yet again. Just when I thought he couldn’t hurt me anymore he did. My mum, my brothers and their families, myself, Stephen and our children have all been treated disgustingly by this man who from now on I refuse to even call my father.

During his life he robbed us of happy memories. We were all well down his pecking order everybody and everything came before us and even in his death we are still being treated that way. In his death he has robbed us of our grieving and robbed us of mourning him at his funeral. Now he has left us with nothing but anger and hate.

Hate for a man that we should be able to look up to and respect and anger that he couldn’t see the gold that he had under his nose instead of casting us aside for money. Money was his god and where has it got him? It may have bought him a fancy coffin and bought him a family of strangers and their fake love that didn’t really care about him just what he had in his wallet but where is his soul now, did he get anywhere near those pearly gates?

I haven’t wrote this for sympathy or for people to tell me they are sorry for my loss because I’m not sorry that he has gone and neither are my brothers.

It’s Father’s Day this weekend and I will not be spending it crying. I will be celebrating with my children and my husband and celebrating the wonderful dad that he is a man who has made mistakes in the past but was able to change and turn his life around. I will be celebrating my brothers and the amazing fathers they are and will be. I will be celebrating my father in law the man that was taken far too soon the man who also saw his flaws and changed for his family. I will be celebrating my Grandfather a man that would have gone to the ends of the earth for his family who without a doubt is in heaven today.

To the man who banned his wife and children from his funeral I hope you are proud of yourself now.

The School Run

Fionnuala and Hannah stayed at my wonderful mother in laws last night so I was entrusted with looking after Adam, Rebecca and Charlie the border terrier; or rather they were entrusted with looking after me. Either way the prospect of orchestrating the school run this morning filled me with dread, despite Fionnuala’s detailed instructions which the average five year old would have been able to follow without too much bother.

I was up bleary eyed and not so bushy tailed at 7 a.m. to tackle the first of my herculean challenges – the ironing of the school uniform. Fionnuala says I have the most awkward, impractical ironing style she has ever seen. Which makes perfect sense given the awkward, impractical man I am. Putting the ironing board up was a battle in itself. Think Steve Irwin wrestling a crocodile and you’re close. Or did he wrestle alligators? Hmmmmm…..

Fifteen minutes later and you could have cut your finger on the creases in Adam’s trousers. His school shirt looked as if it had been injected with Botox – totally wrinkle free. I had the school uniform, all I was missing now were a couple of school children to fill said clothing. I utilised an old tactic taught to me by Fionnuala. Stick some bacon under the grill and wait until the aroma wafts up the stairs. Ten minutes later, hey presto! We have salivating kids storming the kitchen.

The lunches were next on the agenda. I played it simple. Ham sandwiches, yoghurts, biscuits and crisps. Easy peasy. Charlie kept an eye on proceedings just in case I messed up. Or dropped a slice of ham for him to gobble up. This was a breeze. I was bringing my A-game to the adulting stuff. Alas, it was all going too well. Disaster struck when Adam plodded barefoot into the kitchen. He had no clean black socks! Had my good fortune finally run out?

Thankfully I had put on a clean pair only that morning. I did what any other self respecting father would have done and sacrificed them for my son. I raided the sock drawer and came up with the only other clean pair I could find; a rather fetching set of novelty reindeer socks. . It was the middle of June and 20 degrees celsius outside but hey, a man has to do what a man has to do. I may have gotten a few odd looks later when I strolled into the village shop but I reckon I rocked the look. Haters gonna hate and all that.

I was on the home stretch now. Dishes were washed and I left Rebecca to sort her own hair out. I was hitting them out of the ball park but, believe me, French plaits were a bridge too far. She did compliment me on my delicious bacon sandwiches though. Charlie also wagged his tail a lot when he got his bacon so breakfast was a win-win all round. Following that it was the small matter of chauffeuring Adam to his bus stop where I resisted the urge to publicly embarrass him in front of the other miserable looking teenagers awaiting their transport.

My last task was to drive Rebecca to school. While she no doubt missed the slick, uber efficient morning routine Fionnuala provides she admitted she did enjoy ‘Daddy Rules’ which allowed her an extra half hour outside playing before bedtime and an extra fifteen minutes asleep the following morning. With her safety deposited at the school gates I headed on into Belfast to see my wife and other daughter; all the while wondering if I had left the iron on.

Some people wonder if I do anything other than write or run. I accept I could bore for Ireland on either topic. But I hope that today’s post shows that there is more to me than that. I do try. And I’m determined to be the best possible husband and father I can be in the process. I want my wife and kids to have good memories of a man who wasn’t perfect but did his best. Love and hard work can take you a long way. I intend to see how far I can go.

How slick are you at getting out of the house in the morning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well Done Rebecca!

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

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

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

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

I’m Writing A Book….Still (Part 5)

I finished the first draft of the novel at the tail end of last week and have now started the laborious, but crucial, editing process. The first draft weighed in at a whopping 120K words and I’m presently around 18K words through the first edit. This has been useful in identifying plot gaps and clunky dialogue. I’m also working on greater detail regarding character development and scene setting. It’s a massive undertaking but I’m determined to see it through to its conclusion.

On top of all this I’m trying to conduct some background research which will prove necessary in order to add credibility to several of the characters. Also as I wander around Belfast city centre I am constantly seeing little details which I know will end up in the book. I’ve taken the plunge and booked a week off work later in the month where I will work exclusively on editing and rewriting.

I’ve allowed Fionnuala and Adam to read a chapter which was nerve wracking. Imagine what it will be like when I reluctantly hand over the full manuscript to a chosen few for constructive feedback, proof reading and general dismemberment. All this and I haven’t even broached the thorny subject of whether to go down the traditional publishing or increasingly self-publishing route. Decisions, Decisions, Decisions.

it’s slow but steady progress. Family and work commitments take priority and I’m not a night owl (I need my beauty sleep) so I work at the book where and when I can. I am fortunate to have a very patient and understanding wife. Hopefully one day it will all prove worthwhile and the finished product will see the light of day. I’ll continue to post regular updates throughout the summer. Thanks for your continued support.

The Giants Causeway

Today was spent acting as tour guide for some American visitors to Northern Ireland. We took them along the Causeway Coastal Route which shows off the beautiful scenery of Northern Ireland’s North Coast. The weather was equally spectacular as well with temperature hitting 26 degrees celsius. I only wear shorts when I run though so the thousands of tourists were spared the sight of my legs.

As one of our guests is a big Game of Thrones fan we visited several locations which feature in the series – Cushendun Caves, Ballintoy Harbour and The Dark Hedges. We also took in The Giants Causeway where Rebecca and I climbed the famous rock formations for this selfie. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow on the blog. I hope you are all enjoying your weekend wherever you are in the world.

What Conversations Have You Had With Yourself Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What conversations have you had with yourself today?

Happy Birthday To Us

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

That Time I Frightened A German Teenager On The London Underground

So there I was yesterday afternoon. Sitting on the tube as it hurtled beneath the streets of London towards our stop. It was packed which meant that my work colleague was sitting further down the carriage whilst I was surrounded by a gaggle of excited German teenagers who had embarked at the previous stop. I decided to give up my seat to one of them and move down the carriage nearer my colleague.

I did this for a number of reasons. Firstly I am a gentleman and an all round top guy. You should always give up your seat to a lady who is standing or at least offer to do so. The fact that 99 times out of 100 I ignore this etiquette on my daily commute in and out of Belfast is besides the point. A mere trifling detail. I’m a Christian and we are all a major disappointment to our God but he loves us anyway, flaws and all. Moving swiftly on.

The real reason I gave up my seat was that I was afraid I would become separated from my colleague at our stop. I can barely find my way around our village back home let alone one of the largest cities in the world. This meant standing for a few moments but I was alright with that. I caught my colleague’s eye and confirmed with her that we would be disembarking at the next stop. All was good and I was an anxiety free Stephen.

That lasted for a fleeting few seconds as I realised that the German teenage girl sitting next to my colleague was looking at me in a manner which meant only one thing. She was considering giving up her seat to me. She saw an opportunity to perform an act of kindness towards an elderly man laden down with luggage in a stuffy, crammed compartment. I saw only humiliation, despair and the end of my middle age.

I had been dreading this day for many years. It would effectively signal the end of my life and send me sailing down the slippery slope of free bus passes, ear hair and knitted cardigans. I fixed her with a desperate expression. ‘Do. Not. Do. It. I am in full possession of my faculties. I ran a sub four hour marathon the other week. I am not your grandfather. There is no need for this you incredibly kind, but hopelessly deluded German teenager. For the love of sweet Jesus. Don’t.’

Of course I said none of the above but my powers of telepathy must have somehow got through to her. Which was cool because (a) I didn’t know I was a telepath and (b) that I was a bi-lingual one at that. She looked away and the moment was gone. I had survived and thankfully disembarked a few moments later. I will never forget that kind German girl. Just as she will probably never forget the crazed, perspiring, staring Irishman who gave her the creeps on the tube.

As near misses go this was probably a Def Con 4 experience. I know that the day is coming when a young person will offer me their seat on public transport. Just as I know that I will respond with maturity and grace by undoubtedly glaring at them before storming off down the carriage in a strop. I increasingly feel as if I’m running out of time and yesterday was merely another example of that. The clock is ticking. Faster than I want it to.

It’s just life and I guess I will have to accept that. Live in the present and enjoy the many positives surrounding me today. Be thankful for what I have, not what I’ve lost or think I need. I am where I am for a reason. I cannot take my eye off that ball. So today this forty something is grateful for what he has – his family, his fractured faith, his fitness….and kind, German teenagers on the London Underground.

What’s been your most humiliating public transport experience?

Are you worried that life is passing you by too quickly?

We are proud of you

Around this time last year Stephen wasn’t in a great place which is no big secret as he regularly blogs about it. As a result of his state of mind back then I encouraged him to do what he loved to do again and that was to write which was when this blog was birthed.

Over the last year Stephen has fought his demons by putting pen to paper or in this case fingertips to the keyboard and he has broke down many barriers and obstacles.

The reason I am writing this is because today this blog has reached 5000 followers. I noticed last night that it was at 4995 and asked him was he going to blog about it and he said no that it would come across that he was boasting. Stephen is a very selfless person nowadays the old Stephen, which he refers to himself as, would be shouting this from every platform possible. I am writing this because I am bursting with pride at the man, husband, father and my best friend he is now and of everything he has accomplished via this blog.

Congratulations on the 5000 Followers Stephen and the first year of Fractured Faith Blog.

Fionnuala, Adam, Hannah & Rebecca xxxx

Belfast Marathon- 23 Mile (I think)

It’s been a long cold morning but as we stand here waiting and watching the runners pass us by the sun has come out and is heating us up nicely.

At this point in the marathon it is uphill and my heart does go out to the runners. Stephen has always said he looks forward to seeing us at this point it spurs him on.

Late last night he decided that he would create a Just Giving Page to try and raise funds for a friend of ours who is trying to raise some much needed funds for some of the Special Needs Schools in Belfast one of which our Hannah attends. If you would like to make a donation here is the link to his page https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/fionnuala-black

Adam, Hannah & Rebecca are waiting at the side of the road eagerly waiting to see their Daddy.

Stephen has just passed us at 12.30 still looking strong. Adam and Rebecca ran a bit with him feeding him Jelly Babies 👶

Well done Stephen see you at the finish line 🏁

Belfast Marathon- 7 Mile Mark

Stephen realised at the start that he left his vaseline in the car so at this point we have to do a hand over of Vaseline and Jellybabies.

The marathon started at 9am Stephen reached the 7 mile mark at 9.58 looking fresh 😂

Next time we will see him now will be at 23 miles and then the finish line.

Keep running Stephen.

Belfast Marathon- Starting Line

Well the day has arrived Stephen has been blogging about for a few months now. Myself and the kids don’t get a sleep in on Bank Holiday Monday we get up very early and come into Belfast to watch Stephen running.

Stephen asked me to do blogs today each time we spot him so here is a few pics from the start.

Good luck Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who needs alcohol?

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

What’s Been Your Best/Worst Wedding Experience?

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

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

What’s been your best/worst wedding experience?

List your comments below.

Happy Birthday

This is a very special weekend for The Black Family as tomorrow we celebrate 48 years of Stephen – yes it’s his Birthday!!

We have had a really busy few weeks with next week set to be even busier with the lead up to my brother’s wedding so this weekend it’s all going to be about Stephen.

Stephen drives us all insane with his annoying rapping and his impromptu “yeahs” and “huhs” but deep down and I mean way way way deep down we do secretly find it funny.  A few weeks ago Adam and I were out in the car and a song came on the radio and we both could imagine Stephen rapping along terribly to it.

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This world would be a very dull place for us without Stephen in it.  We’ve had our difficult times, like all families do, but it really has made us stronger and better.  Myself and the kids would love it if all you lovely people of WordPress would send him lots of birthday love ❤️

We all love you Stephen and hope you have a very HAPPY 48th BIRTHDAY

Fionnuala, Adam, Hannah and Rebecca xxxx

 

Cheap Date

I had another long work day yesterday so booked today off in order that Fionnuala and I could go shopping for new outfits for her brothers wedding next week. We hardly ever get time together alone so vowed that we would make the most of it. A romantic lunch perhaps? It was pay day after all so the world, or at least Belfast, was our oyster. I hate oysters by the way. Most seafood actually.

I think the last time I went clothes shopping was 1998. It was a Tuesday afternoon if my memory serves me right. I used to be a right clothes horse. I would only wear designer brands. Everything was a label. I thought I was Noel Gallagher. In reality I was a bit of a prat. But clothes shopping was a major pastime for me. I knew where to go for all the best brands and bargains.

Fast forward twenty years and I am clueless. All the shops I knew are gone, replaced by retailers that mean nothing to me. I’m less fussy now. I just want a blue or a grey suit. That fits me and is machine washable. As quickly as possible please. With the minimum of fuss. And none of that skinny fit nonsense. I want to be able to walk around without flaunting my junk for the world and her auntie to see.

Fionnuala guided me through the fitting room hell with the patience of a saint. Eventually we agreed upon a reasonably priced grey suit with white shirt and purple tie. I couldn’t get out of the shop quick enough. My days of being a fashion doyen are long gone. Nowadays my wardrobe consists of 1) loungewear 2) running gear or 3) work clothes.

I have no ‘going out’ clothes probably because we never go out anywhere. But we resolved today to ‘do lunch’ together. So where did we end up? You guessed it. Sitting in the car eating sandwiches we bought in a garage and sharing a packet crisps. Listening to 1980’s ‘golden oldies’ on the radio as we stared out at the rain battering against the windscreen. With the heat on full blast. It is late April after all.

And you know what? We were as happy as two pigs in a big pile of poo. If we could have changed into our pyjamas we would have. An hour alone with food (which we chose ourselves), music (which wasn’t the new Shawn Mendes song played for the billionth time) and best of all not having to separate three hatchlings from tearing each other’s throats out. What’s not to love about that.

We all have hopes and aspirations. Fionnuala and I are no different from anybody else. But we should also appreciate the simple things in life as well. Sometimes it’s nice just to pull over and let life flash past for a while. It can wait for an hour. When your every waking moment is fretting about family issues or work worries. When you’re pushing yourself to run marathons or write books.

Sometimes doing nothing is the best choice. Or as little as possible. I constantly feel like I’m running out of time rather than appreciating the time I have. I’m falling over myself straining to see what’s down the road instead of looking around me and enjoying the moment. Who needs fancy restaurants and designer clothes when you can share a bag of crisps in a deserted car park?

What’s the cheapest date you’ve ever been on?

What are your simple pleasures?

I’m Running A Marathon…Still

Today I’m providing a two part update on my running and writing exploits of late. The title above may have given it away that this first instalment covers the former. Those who would rather gnaw their own foot off than read a running blog may look away now with my blessing. But more fool them for opening it in the first place given the blindingly obvious, giveaway heading.

The Belfast Marathon is a mere 34 days away. Not that I’m counting. It will be my third Belfast Marathon and eighth in total. Well get me. My PB (that’s Personal Best for us in the know) is 3:33:20 which I set at Belfast in 2016. I will be nowhere near that this year and will be happy with anything under four hours. I’m two years older now (if not wiser) and injury and illness last year have taken their toll. Plus I’m no longer part of a running group so have been plodding a lone furrow which tends to take the wind out of your sails a bit. Hey ho.

Training has been going well all the same. I’ve been injury free (touches nearest tree based object) for the guts of a year now and I’ve consistently been hitting my target times. Saturday last I completed a 20 mile training run with the minimum of fuss. I felt stiff and sore the next day but ‘no biggie’ and I completed a 10K yesterday feeling a-ok. My warm up race is the Omagh Half Marathon this Saturday which I’m looking forward to as it’s my home town. I’ll bore you all with my adventures at that in due course.

So I’m nervous, excited, a bit of everything really. But I’m as ready as I’ll ever be and the countdown is well and truly on now. I have a 21 mile training run scheduled in another 2-3 weeks and then I’ll wind down for the big day itself. You can then brace yourself for a flurry of photographs of yours truly looking sweaty and unflattering in running gear. But it’s a small price to pay for such a high quality, diverse and entertaining blogging product right? In the interim, to bide you all over, here are some equally unflattering snaps (of me I might add, not other members of the family) from previous runs.

My Name Is Stephen and I Am A Snorer

I’m feeling a little under the weather. I awoke yesterday with a cold that one of my daughters thoughtfully passed on to me. One of the perks of sharing a house with little people. I felt lousy yesterday and a little less lousy today. All I want to do is sleep. All Fionnuala wants to do is sleep as well. But she has been unable to. Why you ask? Well I’m glad you did. For I have a confession to make.

For my name is Stephen Black and I am a snorer….

I know this may come as a shock to you and for that I apologise from the bottom of my phlegmy heart. There was you thinking all this time that I was the perfect man without a flaw. If you want to unfollow the blog now I fully understand and we can both just move on from this unfortunate incident and pretend it never happened. It’s for the best. It’s not you, it’s me. And so on.

I don’t think I snore all the time. But when my head is congested and my lungs are tight I guess I do. I woke up this morning to discover that my wife was not in bed with me. Had she finally seen sense and left me? Or possibly been abducted by little green men? If the latter then they don’t know what they have let themselves in for. Those Farrell woman are tough and don’t take kindly to being poked and prodded.

But no. I checked my phone to see that I had a WhatsApp message. From Fionnuala. At 4:53 am. Stating that she was downstairs and could still hear my snoring over the sound of the television. Surely she was mistaken. We live about twenty miles from Belfast International Airport so perhaps it was a plane passing overhead. Or our neighbour’s rooster having a particularly croaky start to the day.

Unfortunately I have to hold my hand up and take this one on the chin. My super snorey saliva stained chin. I am a secret (or not so secret) snorer. I checked the overnight news but thankfully there were no zombie related incidents for I feared I had wakened the dead. Just my wife. So now I feel lousy for two reasons. But I’m off work today so she has the pleasure of my company which is surely a silver lining. Er….right? Hello…..?

We all have annoying characteristics. Many people attempt to portray themselves and the lives they lead as perfect and wonderful. Don’t believe me? Just scroll down your Facebook timeline for two minutes. What we get is a heavily edited, airbrushed version of their realities. We don’t see the arguments and the tears and what they look like first thing in the morning. They seek to deceive us but really they are deceiving nobody but themselves.

Ever done that yourself? Show of hands? Don’t be shy now. Well I’m raising mine. I used to be like that. I had convinced myself that I had to portray a perfect image in order to be liked. Until I realised. The people who truly matter see beyond the mirage. They see the truth. They want the real you, warts and all. For that is the person they love. Our flaws are what make us so unique and fascinating. We should embrace them, not try to hide them in the closet with all our other skeletons.

So my name is Stephen Black and I’m a snorer. And I bite my nails, have a terrible memory and a million other bad habits that drive my wife nuts. I once asked her did I annoy her when I breathed? Her response? ….Yes. 😳 But I am me. And I know that buried deep down (waaaaay deep down) are other qualities that balance out the equation and make sharing a life with me worthwhile. Don’t be embarrassed by your imperfections. For it is they that make you perfect.

Are you a secret snorer? Or do you live with one?

What is your worst habit? I promise I won’t tell.

What are your experiences of the false Facebook culture?

Everything You Wanted To Know About Ireland But Were Afraid To Ask

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from the Black Family in a wet and windy Northern Ireland. Just for a change….

Okay he was probably Welsh, didn’t know a shamrock from his elbow and never saw a snake in his life but those are just details right? Today is a big day on the island of Ireland.

Later today I’m going to write about living in Northern Ireland after a fellow blogger suggested this topic. So if you have any questions about the country then please feel free to comment below.

But be warned, I’m not your stereotypical Irishman. I hate Guinness, can’t speak Gaelic and green is most definitely not my colour. But Fionnuala and I are born and bred Irish so we will do our best to answer any questions you might have.

What questions do you have for us about growing up and living in Ireland?

The Torch Bearer

My father was a great man. Not a perfect man but a great one, nonetheless. He had flaws but part of his greatness was that he recognised and embraced them. He knew he wasn’t perfect so took positive action to rectify them. Most of the time he was successful at this, sometimes not, but every time he tried his best. And if he failed he dusted himself off, got back up on his feet and tried again. Great men do that. Don’t believe me? Check your history books.

One of my father’s lesser, although still irksome, flaws was his support of Liverpool Football Club. Growing up in Northern Ireland all football mad boys adopt an English football team to support. Mainly because the local sides are so rubbish. The two most popular choices have always been Liverpool and Manchester United. Bitter enemies with a rivalry going back almost 150 years. Loyalty to a team would be passed down from father to son, generation to generation. It is all part of the paternal bonding process.

Yours truly of course had to be different. I decided to support Manchester United much to my father’s disgust no doubt. I have no idea why I made this decision but for as long as I can remember the Red Devils have held a special place in my heart. I have no recollection of consciously rebelling against my father when making this decision but obviously at some point did. Some boys smoke or buy fast cars. I put Robson, Cantona and Solskjaer posters on my bedroom wall instead of Dalglish, Rush and Beardsley.

It is with some relief, therefore, that our Adam has chosen to follow in my footsteps and support Manchester United. Hopefully these will be the only footsteps of mine he chooses to pursue for many of the others lead to dangerous cliff tops, treacherous quicksand and murky dead ends. Part of my fatherly duties, as I see it, is to steer him away from the paths that I spent the majority of my adult life travelling. Manchester United, however, is a much safer option. Plus, combined with his rugby, it gives us another shared interest. And I’m all for that.

The other night I heard him celebrating a Manchester United goal loudly. Very loudly. It reminded me of myself when I was his age. Running round my bedroom screaming at another last minute winner. And it filled me with pride. Pride at the little part I have played in bringing three such incredible young people into the world. Fionnuala has to take the majority of the credit. She has raised them. I just go to work and pay a few bills. That’s the easy part of the deal.

It also filled me with sadness. I lost my father eight years ago to prostate cancer. Adam lost his grandfather. I’m not so sure my father would have been enamoured with his grandson’s choice of football team but I know he would have been bursting with pride at his academic and sporting achievements. The torch has been passed on. It has flickered and spluttered at times when my father and I held it but it burns bright again now in Adam’s hands. It will no doubt flicker and splutter again for that is the way of the world. But for now it burns bright.

How bright is your torch burning today? It may be a mighty blaze or it may be a timid flicker. It matters not. What matters is that you don’t allow it to be extinguished no matter what obstacles you face. For one day you will be called to hand it on. The race will continue but yours will be run. Younger, stronger legs will take over from you but they need you as much as you need them. They need you, flaws and all. From our weaknesses they will emerge wiser. They will triumph where we have failed. They will overcome.

What made you decide to support your current sporting team?

Who are your torch bearers, past and present?

Dr. Hell’s Emporium Of Pain

I cut a sorry figure as I staggered out of the dental surgery three days ago. I had been booked in for a routine filling. Something about me consuming too many fizzy drinks. Who me? I had innocently enquired when asked. I may be partial to the occasional Diet Coke or ten but other than that I have no idea what you’re talking about. Now just give me a jab to numb my mouth, fill the tooth and I’ll be on my way. Fionnuala and I were meeting my sister immediately afterwards for breakfast and the prospect of a sausage and bacon filled soda was all my mouth was focused upon.

‘Are you numb?’ my ‘butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth’ dental surgeon asked after administering an injection to the offending area of my mouth. ‘Er yes I think so’ I replied. It did feel a bit numb, but anyway I had been through this before and it wasn’t that painful anyway. Just crack on and let’s get this over and done with. I’m a busy man don’t you know. After breakfast I had to go to work. Plus I still had to buy Fionnuala flowers for her birthday. That magnetic spice rack she had been after. And a million and one other things to do. This filling was a trifling inconvenience.

Twenty minutes later I was squirming in the dental chair, eyes rolling in my head as the Butcher Dentist of North Street (for that is her new name) wreaked havoc in my mouth. ‘I’m afraid the hole is too deep to fill’ she sweetly simpered. ‘I’m going to have to remove the root in order to save the tooth.’ And with that she threw back her head and emitted a blood curdling cackle before falling upon me with demonic relish, her instruments of mouth destruction reflecting maliciously off my terrified retinas.

Okay I might have slightly exaggerated that last part but, hey, I’m a writer and artistic license is my prerogative. What I’m not exaggerating was the pain. I very quickly realised that my mouth was nowhere near numb enough and I needed another injection. In fact I needed all the injections. The second her drill came into contact with the exposed nerve I entered a whole new universe of pain. Searing, white hot agony that made my toes curl and my innards turn to mush. On a level of 1 to 10 it was a 37. The next five minutes or so seemed like days. I’m convinced I aged several years in that chair. If not decades. Which I can ill afford.

At one point I let out a high pitched whimper which must have alerted her to the fact that her patient was a tad distressed. ‘I think I’ll stop there for today. I haven’t got near the root and you’re in too much pain.’ She almost seemed slightly disappointed as if I had ruined her morning. ‘We’ll have you back in a few weeks and, between now and then, you can decide if you want root canal treatment or the tooth removed.’ And with that I was being ushered out of the room by the dental nurse. Shell shocked but alive I shuffled to reception where I was given my new appointment card and charged £14 for the experience. Ain’t life grand?

‘What happened you?’ asked a shocked Fionnuala as her ashen faced husband emerged from Dr. Hell’s Emporium of Pain formerly known as North Street Dental Practice. As the delayed onset shock set in I just gestured for her to drive. Anywhere. Half an hour later as Fionnuala and my sister tucked in to French toast and bacon I made do with two Ibuprofen and tentative sips of tea which then dribbled down my chin much to the unease, no doubt, of adjacent cafe customers. My jaw felt the size of a house and arrows of agony were still shooting through the tooth in question.

Brave little soldier that I am I headed into work afterwards where the sympathy was predictably underwhelming. I resembled an extra from The Walking Dead for the remainder of the day and was in bed before eight. It was the best nights sleep I have had in months. Every cloud has a silver lining I suppose. I don’t know if I learnt anything from the day so prepare to be disappointed if you are expecting some deep, spiritual learning to be be revealed in the final paragraph. Because it’s time for the final paragraph.

Well here goes anyway. Always be prepared for the worst. Never trust a smiling dentist. All dentists lie. Dentists are liars. Have I made myself clear on that last point yet? Take the pain relief. As in all of it. Give me all the drugs. Now. Never attempt to drink hot tea after a mouth numbing injection. You’ll just end up looking like a drooling idiot and will frighten any young children in the immediate vicinity. Also never arrange a dental appointment if it is your wife’s birthday the next day and you are not yet completely organised. Pain and present buying are not a good mix. That is all.

What’s been your worst dental experience?

Happy Birthday Fionnuala

A short blog to wish a very Happy Birthday to my incredible wife, Fionnuala. She holds this family together and I am blessed and honoured that she chose me to be her husband. She is the bravest, strongest and wisest woman I know. She will always be beautiful to me, inside and out. We love you Fionnuala xxx

There Are Times I Don’t Think

There are times I don’t think. And when I don’t think I’m back on the brink. I huff and I puff and I blow my house down. Left standing in rubble, the boy in the bubble. A bubble of trouble, a mess and a muddle. A puddle of pain, the stress and the strain. I know I’m to blame and I’m stricken with shame.

There are times I don’t think. Can’t say it’s the drink for that’s over. I’m sober. Five years on the wagon, I’ve slain that old dragon. But the habits are older, they’re the worst of hangovers. I hang over the edge but I’ve taken a pledge. I’ve changed and I’m trying. The past can stop prying for I’m done with dying a death of regret.

There are times I don’t think. There’s no rhyme or reason for this is our season. Our future is bursting with promise and hope. Yet I’m such a dope. My synapses relapse, my defences collapse. I regress to type, I believe all the hype. I’ve nothing to hide yet the demons inside seek to thwart and deny the man I’ve become.

There are times I don’t think. Old habits die hard. I need to reprogram and live for the moment, not worry and scurry and dither and frown. Excuses like nooses which rob me of life. My kids and my wife are the air that I crave, my escape from the grave. The loves of my life, the reason I write. These words are for them, my last requiem.

There are times I don’t think. The impact of actions, my flustered reactions. Looking guilty and sly when inside I’m buzzing with passion and life. Planning birthdays and dinners and trying to change. My reasons sound lame but i promise I’ve tamed this beast from my past. Let this be the last. I’m discarding my mask.

There are times I don’t think. Those times need to end. So today is the day when I break all the trends. I’ve crafted these words like you’ve crafted your gifts. Your beauty and patience are the reason I live. I promised to change and I promise I have. Today I’ll start thinking, leave behind all the hurt. For better or worse. We’re blessed more than cursed.

What Are You Up To This Weekend?

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

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

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

A Walk In The Snow

‘The Beast From The East’ hit Northern Ireland with a vengeance today. We awoke to a carpet of white and it has continued to snow heavily all day. Sub zero temperatures combined with a brutal wind chill factor have just added to the fun & games. As usual the country has descended into utter chaos. The kids weren’t complaining though as all the schools were closed meaning they could concentrate on some serious snowman construction.

As for me. Well I drove the on call car into work this morning risking life and limb on the giant skating rink that was the motorway into Belfast. The snowfall meant I had no idea what lane I was in half the time much to the displeasure of psychopathic lorry drivers thundering past me in the overtaking lane. I resolved, upon finally reaching the office, that I was getting the train home even if this meant a three mile walk from my stop to the house. I would walk along the towpath at one with nature.

This seemed a good idea for all of about 15 seconds before I slipped and landed on my backside with all the grace of a drunken walrus. Luckily the towpath was deserted meaning my blushes were spared. I also escaped injury although I was more concerned about my I-Phone ending up in a drift after it catapulted out of my hand as I was performing my mid-air Swan Lake routine. I had been taking a selfie at the time to send Fionnuala and the kids which made my tumble even more ridiculous looking.

My three mile scenic ramble turned into a death match. Now I’m not one to exaggerate but I now know how those German soldiers felt on the retreat from Stalingrad. One of the characters in my novel will be a German soldier *spoiler alert* so at least I could look upon the experience as character development. The scenery would have been breathtaking had I any breath to take. Unfortunately the bitter breeze took care of that.

I’d rather run a marathon any day than walk three miles in deep snow. It was like jogging through treacle. My calves were aching, I had brain freeze (without a scoop of ice cream to be had) and my feet were getting increasingly damp. I was in a thoroughly foul mood when I saw a sight for sore eyes (and face and calves and backside) approaching me. It was Adam who had set out walking to meet me at the half way point. Upon seeing me he burst into one of those slow motion romantic comedy runs while playing Celine Dion’s ‘My Heart Will Go On’ from his phone.

It truly was a special moment….

He carried one of my bags and kept me company for the rest of the journey home. We were also able to retrace his steps which meant there was no more virgin snow to traverse. We talked about rugby (predictably) but other topics as well. It was a walk I will never forget. Horrendous at times, comedic at others and, finally, touching and enjoyable as I got to spend some quality ‘man time’ with my son. We also got to see some yellow snow (snigger) that a passing dog walker had left behind. And by that I mean the dog and not the dog walker. Or at least I hope so.

I arrived home to a bowl of homemade leek & potato soup and a set of warm clothes from Fionnuala. I then collapsed onto the sofa from where I’m currently composing this post. Looking outside the snow scene looks much more appealing than when I was actually out in it. I am grateful to be home in a warm house. I am grateful that the fridges and cupboards are full and we will not go hungry. And, most importantly, I am grateful that I can return to a loving family who care about me. We should never take any of the above for granted. I most certainly don’t.

What’s the weather like where you are today?

What are you grateful for today?

Weekend Update

Another shortish post today as another crazy week begins for the Black family. We are bracing ourselves as a cold front from Siberia descends upon the British Isles. The media over here have named it ‘The Beast From The East’ and we have been warned to expect icy winds, heavy snowfall and sub zero temperatures. So much for spring being on it’s way. The Easter Bunny may get his thermals out based on the weather outlook ahead.

An excellent weekend was had by all here. Ireland beat Wales in the Six Nations Rugby and, almost as importantly for us Irish, the English were beaten by Scotland. Apologies to our English followers (well not really) but you can’t be Irish and not have a giggle over that one. The main sporting highlight, however, was Lurgan College beating Strabane Academy 29-12. Adam had a great game cheered on my Fionnuala, Hannah and yours truly.

Hannah had another reason to cheer as Fionnuala has secured tickets for the two of them to see Niall Horan (formerly of One Direction) in concert next month. Although I think that Fionnuala might secretly be just as excited. And where was Rebecca you might ask? Well I’m glad you did as she was having a sleepover with her little cousin at her granny’s house. I’m not sure how much sleep she got as she was a tad tired when she returned home but I know she had a great time.

As for me? Well I’m on call this week so have had to deal with phone calls in the dead of night over the weekend. It’s no fun but it’s part of the job. I managed an eight mile run yesterday and plan to run tomorrow again, weather permitting. The Belfast Marathon is a mere 70 days away. Yikes! I’m also chipping away at the novel, averaging approximately 500 words per day. It’s hard finding the time but I’m trying to discipline my writing. I’m getting more and more excited about the plot and the character development. The bad guys in this novel are something else and, if anything, are even more fun to write than our main protagonists.

Anyone that’s me signing out. Talk soon 🙂

A Few Lines

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

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

Down The Rabbit Hole

Day 2 of Operation Home Improvement effortlessly slipped into gear at chez Black yesterday. I continued my painting duties while Fionnuala skilfully concentrated on the wallpapering, a skill set way beyond my limited abilities. I am the manual labourer to her skilled artisan. She learnt to wallpaper by watching her grandmother and mother and, by the end of the day, was continuing the tradition by overseeing a very eager Rebecca at the pasting table. If you are reading this thinking that Irish men are useless then, yes, you are most probably right in that assumption.

I normally break out into a cold sweat when the phrases ‘DIY’ or ‘Home Improvement’ are mentioned. Ask me to pen a thesis or give a presentation to 200 people? No problem. Ask me to put up a shelf or tile a wall, however, and I would invariably crumple in a flood of tears. If I am in Belfast and my comfort zone ends in London then these tasks are roughly somewhere between Ulan Bator and Beijing. You do the maths….I mean geography. The same goes for anything too technological. I will goes to pieces. Literally.

So it was with some trepidation that I faced the weekend that was. But you know what? I actually enjoyed it. Yesterday evening as we surveyed the (almost) finished kitchen I felt great pride at our achievement. Fionnuala had carried out all the difficult tasks but I had contributed, worked hard and didn’t feel the useless, spare wheel that I usually do. I felt part of the process and gone were the feelings of guilt and shame that I usually experience as I skulk on the sidelines of such projects. I even surprised myself with the enthusiasm and energy I possessed as I threw myself into the project.

My writing and running are largely solitary pursuits. Yesterday and the day before I felt part of a team. This was all the more important as the team were my own family. It is ‘mundane’ tasks like this which create the precious memories that you carry in your heart forever. I wrote yesterday about bonding with Adam as we painted the ceiling together. It was much the same yesterday with Fionnuala. As we toiled together we listened to music which reminded us of our early years together in the late 1990’s. Oasis, Catatonia, Blur, Smashing Pumpkins, The Divine Comedy and so on.

We realised that we hadn’t listened to music together in forever. For a couple who always say they have nothing in common this was something that we always had in common from Day One. So it’s important that we cling to, and nurture, such mutual interests. Fionnuala will never run a marathon and I will never master the myriad of skills that she has accumulated down the years. We rarely like the same movies and differ in so many other areas. We are chalk and cheese yet somehow it works. Like yesterday for instance. Even if involved a mortified Hannah watching her father play air guitar with a broom to ‘Champagne Supernova’.

During a recent Q&A session the most frequently asked question was how I find the time to write so often. I do a lot of it when I commute to and from work or if I wake up in the dead of night and can’t get back to sleep. But I had to take a good, long hard look at myself and realise that my blogging has been eating into time when I should have been focused on other urgent tasks. Whereas Nero fiddled as Rome burned, Stephen blogged as the house fell down around him. I write a lot because I truly believe God has given me a talent and placed a lot on my heart that I need to share with people. God also, however, wants me to participate in the real world.

We write about our life experiences but we need to stop writing sometimes in order to experience life. I have learnt that in recent days. I’ll still keep writing so worry not. You will still have to endure my ramblings on a regular basis. We are bloggers and we need to write. It purges, cleanses and revitalises us. It is our lifeblood, it helps make us who we are. But so do the loved ones around us. Never stray to far down the rabbit hole of self absorption that you forget there are still people back up on the surface. Waiting for us. Needing us. They are what matters. The words that follow are just the icing on the cake.

What’s been your biggest home improvement/DIY achievement?

How do you balance your writing with your other responsibilities?

The Hibernation Is Over

I love the WordPress community. I find the honesty and openness expressed on it as refreshing as a spring breeze. People can be vulnerable here and strip back the layers of pretence that we are forced to wear in the ‘real world’. In a society where many social media platforms portray a false, distorted reality of people’s lives, WordPress is the one medium where the truth is spoken and freedom reigns.

We flee the real world at times in order to be ourselves.

There’s something not quite right about that last sentence but that’s kind of how it feels to me at times. I see so many blogs where people write painful truths but then add that they could never say such things in the real world. Many of us write anonymously in order to protect ourselves and others. Some worry that what they write might be misconstrued or misinterpreted by someone they know in real life. They delete posts or water them down accordingly. We find our freedom in the shadows. We are exiles.

The world we live in is in disarray. Moral values appear to have been turned upside down. Greed and selfishness seem to run rampant, devouring all before them. We feel like outsiders looking on helplessly at the madness all around us. It is beyond our control, an unstoppable surge. We wonder where God is. We wonder where simple human decency is. We are strangers in a strange live. We fall back to our primal, default mentalities of fight or flee. We feel too weak to fight back and so we choose to flee.

We have been beaten up, downtrodden, broken and left for dead. So we retreat, we fall back. We choose self preservation. We hide in our caves, we curl up into foetal balls and resolve to wait out the gathering storm. We are done with life and people who have done nothing but disappoint and hurt us. We effectively enter a self-enforced hibernation, cutting the umbilical cord between ourselves and the world. We turn our backs on those who have turned their backs on us. We disappear.

Hibernation is a time of safety and warmth. It is necessary in order for animals to prepare for the coming seasons. They hibernate in order to survive. They switch off in order to be able to switch on again when the first weak rays of sunlight start the thaw the deep snowfalls. Hibernation is a temporary death they go through in order to lead a more fruitful life when they re-emerge into the chaos that is life. It is an annual resurrection of sorts, a ritual passage that lies at the heart of the cycle of being.

Fionnuala and I spoke a few days ago about this subject and how we have gone through a period of hibernation over the last year or so. This has been largely self enforced and I am to blame for that. As a stay at home mummy it has been particularly hard for Fionnuala. At least I can escape the insanity of living with three kids and retreat to the workplace where I can (supposedly) interact with other adult human beings. Fionnuala does not have such a release valve after having to give up a very busy and challenging office job because of our unique childcare issues.

I too often get too wrapped up in my work, blogging or running. It is part of my obsessive nature although that is no excuse. I get ideas above my station and too big for my boots. I neglect my wife who has been my rock through so many storms in recent years. I simply cannot live without her yet I am thoughtless and take so much for granted that she does for me and the family. I neglect other people too; friends who I have turned my back on when they never did that to me. I messed up and ran away and hid in a pity cave of my own making. It is time for that to end. The hibernation period is over and I’m seeking to re-emerge, fully focused on my faith and my family.

We need to find new friendships and perhaps reignite some old ones. We need to communicate not curl up in a ball of denial. I need to face my failings and take practical action to prove my sincerity to my loved ones. I need to practice what I preach and show love as opposed to just talk about it. I need to put God and my loved ones before myself. In fact I need to put everyone before myself. I need to kill the self and start afresh. I need to wake up and smell the coffee flavoured truth. They say a leopard can never change its spots. I disagree, I believe we can always change and become better people through the grace and love of God and others.

I want to change. I need to change. I have to change.

I will change. The hibernation is over.

Have you ever experienced a season of hibernation? Is it currently ongoing?

Why did you enter it and how did you re-emerge?

Medals Or Memories?

I have a drawer full of race medals. When I first started running four years ago I treasured them like precious jewels. The guys I ran with had the motto ‘It’s all about the bling’. We would travel the length and breadth of the country in search of additions to our collections. The bigger and more colourful the better. I remember once running a ten mile race and being handed a commemorative mug, as opposed to a medal, at the finish line. I was devastated.

In my first full year of running I competed in around 25 races. That’s 25 weekends away from my family. Fionnuala was very understanding and supported my healthier lifestyle but looking back I was selfish. As the weight fell off me and my medal collection grew I became increasingly cocky. As my times tumbled so my arrogance increased. Family life revolved around my racing calendar. It was only a matter of time before the wheels came off and indeed they did.

When the chips were down the majority of my running friends were nowhere to be seen. In my hour of need the medal haul meant nothing. My marathon personal best was irrelevant. And it was the people who I had largely neglected that stood by me – my family. They didn’t give a hoot about my running heroics. They just wanted their husband and father back. The real me and not the fake persona I adopted on race day or on social media. They loved me for who I was, not who I wanted to become.

I’m planning to run six races this year and I hope to have Fionnuala and the kids cheering me on at a couple of them. It will mean another six medals but they are not the reason I am doing it. My mental and physical health benefit massively from running and I also raise money for a charity close to my heart. I will be setting conservative targets with regards finishing times instead of busting a gut to get a personal best. And I won’t be going on Facebook or Instagram the second I cross the line to brag about my exploits.

All that glitters is not gold. I can take or leave the medals now. They can go in the drawer with all the others. The medals I will cherish the most are the less visible ones. The memories that will be created with my family, the smiles on their faces as I cross the finishing line and the fun travelling to and from the events. These are the rewards that you will always carry on your heart as opposed to around your neck for a few, fleeting hours. They are the reason I am where I am today.

What do you have in your trophy cabinet?

How do you intend to make memories this year?

Repackage Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you repackaged your heart in the past?

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

Bite Your Lip

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.

The Grind

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?

Straight Outta Aghalee

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your embarrassing ‘talents’?

Melancholy v Mirth? How do you balance them?

How Good Is Your Memory?

I have a great memory. I have a terrible memory. Confused? Let me explain. Ask me to name the Manchester United Premiership winning team of 1992-1993. No problem. Schmeichel, Irwin, Pallister…..Ok Ok you’re not interested, I get it. Back to the main message.

Ask me however what I did yesterday and I struggle. This drives Fionnuala nuts and rightly so. She will ask me to pick up some groceries on the way home. I’ll walk in the door empty handed. She will bring up a discussion we had the previous day. I will look at her blankly. She will remind me about an appointment that we have. I will have no recollection of this.

It drives me nuts as well. I don’t do it deliberately and I can’t understand why I’m like this. When it comes to my job I have an encyclopaedic memory. Dates, names, locations i’m like a walking computer spitting out the details. Ask me what I had for my dinner the previous evening, however, or the route I took for my last long run and I am in trouble.

Maybe it’s hereditary. I lost my grandfather to Alzheimer’s which really worries me but when I think about it logically I honestly don’t think that’s the reason. We lead hectic lives so maybe it’s just total information overload and my tiny brain can only retain so much. Is it because I use up so much of my time fighting off the intrusive OCD thoughts which threaten to swamp my consciousness? Who knows. It’s not as if I do it deliberately and it’s not as if I don’t care. It’s embarrassing and when I look in Fionnuala’s eyes after I’ve forgotten another mundane detail I see hurt and disappointment.

I don’t want to hurt and disappoint my wife. This hurts and disappoints me. I want to be reliable, trustworthy and bang on my A-game when it comes to my family commitments and responsibilities. So, in order tocounter my shocking memory lapses, I have started to religiously note everything down in a diary. If it ain’t written down then it ain’t happening. It’s always within arms reach. It is my go to new best friend.

I’ve realised I need to write stuff down in order to get it into my head. I need lists and schedules. It’s how my brain works. Without them it turns to mush. I’m already reaping the benefits and believe I have impressed Fionnuala of late with my recollection of a few upcoming events. She will never admit to this but I thought I should record it in the blog for the purposes of posterity anyway.

Isn’t memory a bewildering topic? I can’t remember what I did yesterday but can recall events from thirty years ago with laser accuracy. Down to the fine grain detail. And why is it that so often it’s the traumatic, distressing memories that we retain? Replaying them over and over like a broken cinematic reel. If only we could break the cycle and drain the memory banks of these poisonous thoughts.

I’ve been the victim of some of these thoughts but I’ve also been the originator. Either way they continue to haunt me. I can’t undo what happened and I can’t erase them from my memory. All I can do is focus on the here and now. Focus on working on my memory in order to support my wife and kids today. And by doing so ensure that their memories thirty years from now are happy ones.

We can’t tear down the bad memories but we can be the architects of better ones. Start building today. Even if you have to write it down.

What is your memory like? Do you rely on a diary?

How do you deal with toxic memories from the past?

Shatter The Silence

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?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part Two

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

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

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

Yours in beardiness

Stephen

Death By Cupcake

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

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

All I Want For Christmas….

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.

Homemade Christmas with Love

It is no secret that Christmas is hands down my favourite time of year. I could watch Christmas films from 1st January to 31st December. I love the smells that fill the house – cinnamon, ginger, fresh pine and the turkey and stuffing cooking in the oven. I love the cold weather bonus if it snows. I love the shops at Christmas, the music and the wrapping of presents. I love Christmas Eve when the kids are bathed and in their new jammies; excitement buzzing round the house, counting down the hours until Christmas morning. So yes I’m Christmas’ biggest fan.

After the year we have had as a family I am so thankful that we are spending this Christmas as a united family and not a broken one and intend to make good, happy lasting memories for the kids and hopefully start new family traditions that they can continue with their own children.

This Christmas I’m doing things differently and am having a go at making gifts, decorations and home made baking. I’ve watched enough Christmas films in my life so think I should be able to fully succeed at this one.

Tomorrow myself and the girls will be baking homemade shortbread to give out as gifts to their teachers and classroom assistants. We had a trial run last weekend and Stephen and Adam devoured the lot. Today I made Christmas stove top Pot Pourri and the smell throughout the house is amazing and through doing that I decided I would share some of my creations with you all throughout the week.

To make this Christmas Pot Pourri you need:

2 cups of fresh cranberries

3 sticks of cinnamon

1 teaspoon of cloves

3 nectarines quartered or halved

1 inch piece of fresh ginger

1 cup of cranberry juice

1 small piece of fresh pine

Put all the ingredients into a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to the boil and reduce temperature to simmer; remember to keep topping up with water as needed. I would normally burn a lot of cinnamon candles this time of year so this is a new favourite for me.

If you make this let me know what you think of it and if you have any other homemade creations I could have a go at let me know.

Fionnuala 💕

Love Is….Hard Work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This post is dedicated to my wife, Fionnuala. ❤️

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

Stinking Thinking -Part 1

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

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

On my knees for all the wrong reasons….

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

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

A dog always returns to its own vomit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…..

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

Elf Hath No Fury

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

We have a thief in our midst.

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

But no I got Elfy the Elf….

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

Day 1

Day 2

But much, much worse was to follow.

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

Day 3

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

They shall not pass….

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

Are you suffering an infestation of elves this Christmas?

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

30K

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

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

THANK YOU ❤️🙏🏻😊

The 26.2 Mile Turkey Trot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To all our American friends Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

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

What are you thankful for?

The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1% Is A Liar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe in the 99%.

How big a part does doubt play in your life?

How do you battle it?

What is your dream?

Happy Christmas Even Though It’s Still November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now where did I put those stepladders?

When do your Christmas decorations go up?

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

The Burnt Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 16:7

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

Fionnuala’s Faith

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

A Sea Of Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you write?

What writing projects are you working at present?

You’re Just A Weirdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you like in social settings?

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

Meet Mr Skelly 

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

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


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

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

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

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

It is time to meet Mr. Skelly….

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

What advice can you offer a fledgling novelist?

Thank You

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

I Believe In Unicorns 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe in Jesus?

How would you describe your relationship with him?

What mythical creature did you love as a child?

Attention To Detail

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is your biggest flaw?

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

Funderland 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you last have fun?

What do you learn from children?

Who washes the dishes in your household?

Cloudy With A Chance of Grace 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are you today and what is the weather like?

Did God shower you with grace today?

Real Running

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Care & Love 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grateful 

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


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

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

Thank you all again ❤️🙏🏻😊

The Morning After 

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

Storm Warning 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you deal with the storms of life?

The Wardrobe Malfunction 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

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

Modern Life Is Rubbish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope and pray….

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

Have you woken up feeling frustrated and resentful?

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

How do you feel now after reading this post?

Be A Painkiller

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is the worst headache you have ever had?

How are you going to be a painkiller today?

Ten Hours Straight

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your tips for shaking off spiritual slumber?

When was the last time you slept ten hours straight?

Clutter 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

All the more reason for a clearout.

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

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

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

What do you do when your blogging mojo is absent?

The Butterfly

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

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

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

Fractured Faith Blog

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

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

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Dehydration 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever been physically hydrated?

How do you stay spiritually hydrated?

Forgive and Forget

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Matthew 18:21-22

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

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

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

1 Corinthians 13:4-7

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

Football Crazy

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you last open your heart to God?

The Silent Treatment 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scream it from the rooftops.

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

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

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

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

Out Of Position

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

How do you control your selfish urges?

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

Responsibility

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

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

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

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


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

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

How hypocritical do you feel today?

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

That Back To School Feeling

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Balloon Boys

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What miracles do you see in the everyday?

Who Is Jesus?

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

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

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

What does Jesus mean to you?

I would love to hear your thoughts.


1000 Followers 

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


Stephen & Fionnuala 🙏🏻😊❤️

The Unemployed Juggler

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Twirly Chair – Part Two

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wrong Trousers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Because that is not a good look….

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

What has been your biggest wardrobe malfunction?

What is your ‘go to’ loungewear ensemble?

How do you deal with peer pressure?

Burnt Offerings 

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your greatest culinary disaster?

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

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

Respect Your Juniors

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Wow I thought. ‘You mustn’t need much sleep’ I replied. He looked down and smiled ruefully before speaking again. ‘I have spent £8000 in legal fees so far trying to win access to my six year old son.’ He needed the money desperately. And with that he was off leaving me standing at the front door of my home feeling five inches tall. And up in his room my son buzzed about excitedly at the prospect of watching his favourite football team with his Dad later in the day.

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

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

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

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

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

What shared activities do you enjoy doing with them?

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

Mr Mop

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Dark Hedges 

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



Are you a Game Of Thrones fan? 

Who is your favourite character?

Books or TV series?

Stephen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Road Trip 

Tomorrow I head to England for two days because of work commitments. I am looking forward to the trip as it is a challenging and important task I have to carry out when I get there. But I’m also anxious. Not really about what I have to do because it’s what I’m trained to do and paid to do.

Rather because I will miss my wife and three kids. Isn’t it funny how you only truly appreciate your loved ones when you are separated from them? Earlier this year I had to spend several nights away from them and my heart ached the entire time. I felt broken and useless. I was nothing without them.

For all my big dreams and talk I am a home bird at heart. I am at my happiest on the sofa with Fionnuala binging on Netflix and ice cream; standing on the touchline watching my son, Adam, play rugby; sitting in the audience watching my daughter, Hannah, dance and sing on stage; or just talking nonsense with my other daughter, Rebecca. And not forgetting curling up with Charlie the border terrier on a cold night.


In this life we are always striving for more. And in doing so we often neglect what we already have. For it is what we have, not what we want, that defines who we are. They are my legacy. When my body is dust and my soul has departed I will live on in the minds of my children and (hopefully) grandchildren.

Yes they can drive me crazy with their million and one demands; the endless financial drain for school trips and new rugby kit; the drama, the histrionics and the diva tantrums. But that is family. It is warts and all. It is raw and it is real. It is life and when these days are gone and Fionnuala and I are sitting in an empty house we will look back and wish we could turn back time. But not too far back. No need to revisit the nappy years.

Family and friends are a blessing. Do not take them for granted. Look around you today and be grateful for them. Surround yourself with memories, not regrets. Never stray far from them. Never lose contact with them. Bury hatchets. Forget past wrongs. Forgive and move on. Love them today as if it is your last day on earth.

Now time to start packing….

Dawn Of The Dead

Tomorrow morning our son, Adam, is going on an end of term school trip to Scotland. He is super excited about this and has been looking forward to it for weeks. I am not quite so excited as (a) I had to pay for the trip (b) he announced he would need £60-80 ‘spending money’ but this was okay as the ‘spoilt kids’ were taking £150 and (c) I will have to get up at 4:30 a.m. to drive him to his pick up point.

After that I have five hours to kill before work. What to do? What to do? Go back to bed? Unlikely that I will get back to sleep and, even if I did, I would probably wake up more shattered than before. Go for a run? I hate early morning runs and always struggle on them. Plus I haven’t been feeling that well this week so my running mojo has been somewhat lacking.

Go on Amazon and buy some new books for my Kindle Fire? Tempting if it wasn’t for the fact that our son has already bankrupted me of late through semi-formals, school trips, new school uniform and rugby kit etc. The Bank of Dad is down to its last few pennies make no mistake.

Spring clean the house from top to bottom and prepare breakfast in bed for my wonderful wife? This has potential but runs the risk of burning the house down or waking Fionnuala up early as I blunder around the kitchen banging cupboard doors and dropping saucepans on the floor.


So many options coursed through my head. Then it hit me. Never once had I included God in my enforced early start. Why wasn’t I starting my day in his company? When was the last time I started the day studying his Word, praying the million prayers I should be praying or just quietly meditating in his presence?

We are so used to living our noisy, chaotic lives at a million miles an hour that when we do get cursed (I mean blessed) with a dawn start we immediately look for ways to fill the time with additional clutter as opposed to making the most of the opportunity and spending time with God.

Jesus often got up early to spend time with his Father in Heaven. And he had the busiest days imaginable. So why can’t we follow his example. Now that the brighter mornings are here (at least where we live) it isn’t much to ask. He wants to spend time with us. And it will be time well spent.

Anyway I’m off to bed. I have an early start tomorrow 😳

Mark 1:35 – ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.’

Are you a morning person? Or do you fail to function as a human being until after noon?

When do you spend your quiet time with God?

What is the first thing you normally do when you get up?

Don’t Give Up 

For what seems like forever we have been battling with our local health trust to acquire a new wheelchair for our daughter,  Hannah. Hannah is 13 years old and was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus. She has outgrown her current wheelchair to the extent that it is now dangerous for her to use. She has been out of school for six weeks (and counting) and is largely housebound as we fight an ongoing bureaucratic nightmare with the medical authorities to obtain the essential equipment Hannah needs to live her life.

It’s got to the point now where he have decided to raise the funds ourselves to buy the chair that Hannah needs. Kids with disabilities should be at the very heart of our society. They should be loved, cherished and protected, not exiled to the fringes and seen as an inconvenience by some medical professionals. They deserve better.

As do their carers. I will have known my wife Fionnuala for 21 years this summer. She is an utterly devoted wife and mother. To the extent where she has given up her career to care for Hannah and our other two kids. The problems with Hannah’s chair have had a devastating ripple effect on the family. Fionnuala has been affected most of all. She cannot leave Hannah’s side so is effectively housebound herself. 

Every day for her is ‘Groundhog Day.’ A mind numbing routine of housework and hospital appointments. She has a heart as big as a house but it is breaking at present. Breaking for her daughter but also breaking for the life she had which now seems so tantalisingly out of her reach. A year ago she had an important job and had a hectic social life. She was very involved in our church.

Now that she has had to give up her job and we have decided to step down from church life the phone has stopped ringing. She gives so much and expects so little in return. Yet people forget. People disappoint. And she sits and looks out the window as life appears to pass her by. 


It’s easy, at times like this, to think that God has forgotten as well. When the loneliness is overwhelming and the obstacles seem insurmountable. We have prayed long and hard about this. Fionnuala has cried, pleaded and screamed. She will fight tooth and nail for her family. She always puts the needs of others before her own.

They say an untested faith is a useless faith. Well our faith is being sorely tested of late. My wife is a proud woman. An intelligent woman. And a patient and forgiving woman (she did marry me after all!). I know this is just a season of her life and that God has incredible plans for her. Just around the corner. But we round the corners of our lives in his time and not our own.

I feel Fionnuala’s corner is close, very close. But that is little consolation to someone who feels at the bottom of the pit, at the end of their tether. Words are cheap. As meaningless as chasing the wind. But prayer is powerful. And just as light always overcomes darkness so love will always conquer despair.

Fionnuala as you read this I pray for you. That your light keeps burning, that your flame never goes out. You are deeply loved and the heartbeat of this family. We are nothing without you. You are strong and beautiful, a warrior. A Daughter of the living King. My best friend, my earthly salvation, my number one fan. Yes cry, scream, swear and shout.

But do not give up. As I will never give up on you and us.

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

Believe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fionnuala

Can you remember your first experience with the Holy Spirit?

Does God speak to you through dreams?

Do you want to get to know Jesus?

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