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?

Football’s Not Coming Home

Unless you’ve been living under a rock of late or holidaying on Saturn you will have noticed there is a little football competition taking place in Russia called the World Cup. It is the biggest sporting competition in the world and has a worldwide audience stretching into the billions. This has led to fever pitch excitement and you cannot turn on a television or open a newspaper without being swamped by World Cup related mania.

Not least here in Northern Ireland. Despite getting knocked out in the qualifying play off by those nasty, not so neutral Swiss we were at least not alone in our misery at not making the party in Russia. The Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Wales also failed to qualify. Which left us with the English who did. Despite four of their squad coming from Manchester United, the team I have supported since a boy, I was loathe to support them.

The reason? It’s got nothing to do with nationality, religion or politics. I don’t even mind the players who seem a hard working and talented unit. I follow the English cricket team and always support British competitors in other events where they are often plucky underdogs against much bigger nations. Nope, my dislike of the English football team boils down to two unrelated factors – their fans and journalists.

English football fans have wreaked havoc across Europe for many decades with their senseless and sickening violence and racism. While they have been well behaved in Russia, largely thanks to a massive pre-tournament policing intelligence operation, scenes of English hooligans laying waste to city after city, still leaves a sour taste in the mouth. Their loutish behaviour, inane singing and lager swilling excesses never fail to annoy me.

They are an arrogant bunch too, convinced that whatever tournament they enter they are nailed on winners. This flies in the face of the truth being they have won nothing since the 1966 World Cup. Which they still sing about. Incessantly. Their journalists are no better. Never learning from past mistakes they hype up the team before every competition only to mercilessly tear them to pieces when the inevitable defeat occurs against the football giants of Brazil, Germany or er…..Iceland.

This year was no exception. Initial realism and grounded reporting soon evaporated once they realised the current squad were actually ‘quite good’ having qualified from their group with comparative ease. There then followed knock out wins against Columbia and Sweden leaving England in a semi final against Croatia. The media regarded it as a foregone conclusion and were already gleefully rubbing their hands at the mouth watering prospect of a final against the old enemy, France.

All this seemed to gloss over the fact that Croatia possessed a top team chock full of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Juventus players. It mattered not a jot. England were going to win. Football was coming home and the nation ground to a halt at 7:00pm on Wednesday evening to witness this fait accompli. Meanwhile most of Scotland, Wales and Ireland (both north and south) prayed fervently, crossed fingers and willed Croatia to put an end to this jingoistic, sabre rattling nonsense.

Our prayers were answered. There is a God and justice prevailed. Despite an early English goal (cue scenes of beer quaffing pandemonium from London to Liverpool) the Croatians didn’t panic and slowly worked their way into the game, equalising in the second half and taking the match into extra time. The unbearably smug BBC commentary team began to look a little less pleased with themselves and a second Croatian goal had them all throwing their arms in the air in horrified disbelief.

The final whistle blew. England were out of the World Cup. Grown men in ill fitting replica tops bawled into their pints as news reporters beat a hasty retreat behind every cliched excuse in the book in order to explain this inexplicable loss. They had defied all expectations, they had restored English pride and belief and were now using the defeat as a springboard for the 2022 World Cup in Quatar which they were obviously going to win.

Football wasn’t coming home. The English went into a period of self imposed national mourning. And the rest of us sniggered and got on with our lives again.

What sporting team annoys you the most?

Have you been watching the World Cup?

Would You Write A Letter To A Fellow Blogger?

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

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

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

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

Are you willing to accept the letter writing challenge?

Who would you like to write to and why?

What are you going to include in your letter?

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

Thank You

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

Ghosts From The Past

When I was aged around 12 I developed a facial twitch. The severity and frequency of this twitch would depend upon my anxiety levels at any given moment. I was a painfully shy and insecure young boy so it will come as no surprise that I was bullied at school about this by my peers. It was not the most intense or vindictive bullying I have ever witnessed but it had a massive impact upon me which I still carry to this day.

All I wanted at school was to be accepted and to fit in. My twitch, combined with my shy nature and chubby, unsportsmanlike physique, ensured that I did not. I was a geek, an outcast, not one of the ‘in crowd.’ I firmly believe that this is the reason I grew up with such a brittle, malleable personality. I have always been a people pleaser even if this has meant sacrificing my own beliefs and values in the process. I would always say yes even when every fibre in my body was screaming no.

This led to me getting into a lot of hot water in later life; hot water that almost scalded me alive until I was plucked from it at the eleventh hour. I kept bad company which led to bad behaviour. This has been a constant and recurring theme throughout my adult life. It is only now, many years and many wounds later, that I am learning to be more cautious when I approach new situations and people. I no longer dive in with both feet, wanting to be everyone’s new best friend.

I have to be constantly on my guard. The next disaster could be just around the corner. Fionnuala is a massive help in keeping my feet firmly rooted to the ground. She sees the warning signs long before I do and warns me accordingly. It is so easy to effortlessly slip back into old habits. The transition can be almost imperceptible, an osmosis that creeps up on you and before you know it – BANG – you are right back at the bottom of that slippery slope it took you so long to scale in the first place.

Here’s an example. Today I took my seat on the train for the daily commute into Belfast. Sitting opposite me was a middle aged lady. I paid little heed to her and started to read my book whereupon I noticed her head jerk ever so slightly. Then again a few seconds later. And again. I realised that the poor woman had a similar nervous tic to the one I had eventually grown out of all those years ago.

Within a few heartbeats I was transported back to my childhood self and gripped by an overwhelming urge to replicate the lady’s actions. It was as if my head was in a vice and the only solution to the compulsive thought was to succumb to it, to surrender to the urge. I was gripped in a panic and tempted to run out of the carriage, anything to escape the ghosts from my past.

I didn’t of course. I sat where I was, gritted my teeth and waited until the urge passed. And when it came to my stop I got off the train and carried on with my life. My exciting, vibrant, present life a million miles detached from those unhappy childhood memories. The incident left a lasting impression upon me and an itch that could only be scratched by writing about it. A lesson was learned on that train this morning.

I can never become too comfortable. I can never rest on my laurels and think that I’m invincible to my former flaws and weaknesses. All it takes is one slip, one stumble and I’ll be back to square one. I am still weak, still impressionable, still oh so easily influenced. If I can almost relapse following a brief encounter with a stranger on a train what hope would I have when confronted by larger, more vicious demons from years gone by.

I can never relax. I will never relax.

Do you still fear the ghosts from your past?

How do you fight them?

Unreality Television

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your views on reality TV?

Are you living a real or unreal life?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lunchtime In Belfast

So it’s Monday lunchtime and I’m sitting outside the office in the square basking in the warm sunshine. They are predicting a heatwave this week and word has it that Thursday could be the hottest day on record in Northern Ireland. Like ever! All around me office workers are sitting eating their lunches while tourists amble in and out of the imposing St. Anne’s Cathedral just across the street.

I’ve spent the morning within the arctic confines of our open plan office researching the role of the British Army when first deployed in 1969 at the start of the Northern Ireland troubles. It was a brutal period marked by senseless sectarian murders, street riots, explosions and hijackings. It was a time of confusion and carnage. Belfast was the Beirut of Western Europe. The British Government referred to it as an internal security situation.

Who were they trying to kid, it was a war. I grew up in that world although I lived in a relatively quiet rural area and my parents did everything in their power to shelter me from the reality of what was going on in Belfast and other hot spots. Even then I was tainted by the hatred and violence that flooded into our living room every night on the television news. It was everywhere, you could not escape it.

I’m so glad our country is at peace now. Our children will not grow up in that environment. Belfast is a modern, cosmopolitan city now with a thriving tourist industry. Security barriers and bombed out buildings have been replaced by trendy bars and restaurants. You can freely stroll around the city without fear of being caught in the crossfire of a terrorist attack. Another innocent victim. Collateral damage. Today’s headlines, tomorrow’s fish and chip papers.

Belfast is a better place. I sit back and stare upwards at the clear blue skies. When I look back down three rough sleepers pass me by. One of them has no legs and is propelling himself along on a wooden skateboard that looks like it was built in the 1950’s. The last time I saw a disabled person use such a mode of transport was when I visited Eastern Africa several years ago. I had never seen such poverty and thought I never would again.

Yet here it is in 2018 on my own doorstep. I look away in dismay to see half a dozen young people at the other side of the square clearly involved in a drug deal. In broad daylight as the tour coaches pull up outside the cathedral and the camera toting hordes disembark. All in the square outside my comfortable office. All in front of my comfortable life. The same square where two teenage girls brawled viciously the other week, fuelled by copious amounts of cheap cider.

The same square where a young man was viciously raped on his way home from a nearby club. Beneath the shiny veneer this city still stinks. You only have to dig a little and it’s there, the nasty underbelly. How civilised are we really? When we can live in a world that is still overflowing with greed and violence; with poverty and despair. It would be unimaginable if it were not for the fact that it is happening right in front of us.

I want to contribute, I want to make a difference, I want to make this wretched world a better place. I see progress and I see potential. But some days you set eyes on sights that bring all your dreams and plans crashing to the ground. Some days you just want to turn your back on it all as you can’t stomach it anymore. Today was one of those days. And all it took was a lunch break in the dazzling sunshine.

Thoughts On Death

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on death?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Are Some Friends So Unfriendly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Conversations Have You Had With Yourself Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What conversations have you had with yourself today?

Morior Invictus

The paths of the dead

Are where we must tread

To vanquish the demons

Who reign in our head

Death itches and twitches

Denying us riches

Our God given right

Morior Invictus

Yet I fear it not

For X marks the spot

New treasures revealed

And an end to the rot.

Happy Birthday To Us

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

How Is Your Mental Health Today?

The sun is splitting the rocks in Belfast today. That’s if there were any rocks to split. The thermometer has hit 20 degrees celsius no less and pale, podgy people who should really know better are publicly displaying waaaaay too much pale, podgy flesh. Others are sticking rigidly to their philosophy of ‘This is Belfast. It could be snowing in five minutes’ and are refusing to discard their scarves and overcoats. There is an uneasy standoff between the two factions as they exchange disapproving looks at each other in passing.

I wore a suit to work today as I had an important meeting to attend. Jacket, shirt, trousers, even a tie! I normally just wear trousers and an open necked shirt. Smart but not overly formal. My appearance in the office this morning therefore led to all kinds of ‘hilarious’ comments from my colleagues. Ranging from ‘Has somebody died?’ to ‘Is your case up in court today?’Side splitting stuff I’m sure you’ll (not) agree.

People were judging me by my appearance. I looked different from how I usually do and they commented on it accordingly. Just like if I had turned up sporting a Mohican or a neck tattoo they would have noticed. I was a different Stephen from the Stephen they interact with every other day of the week. And they were right. I was a very different Stephen. I was worried sick.

While the peculiar big yellow ball in the sky, also known as the sun, blazed down upon the rest of the city I was walking around with an invisible, but nonetheless, very real cloud of anxiety hanging over me. I had scraped the side of the car on the journey to work and fretted all day about the damage I had caused. It wasn’t much but I was annoyed with myself for trying to drive through a gap that simply wasn’t there.

I was also worried that Fionnuala would be disappointed in my poor decision making and manoeuvring skills. She hurt her legs this morning and the last thing she needed was another tale of woe from a flustered husband. I attempted to explain the damage to the car via text and phone call but in the end she told me to send a photo. I nervously did as instructed and waited for judgement to be passed. The axe swung over my head as her reply arrived…..

And I paraphrase….ahem…’Is that it? I’ve seen bigger dents in your head’.

I had fretted all day and turned a molehill into a mountain. So that when I bared my soul and confessed all I discovered that the outcome was nowhere near as bad as I had initially anticipated. Fear feeds on doubt and indecision. Guilt thrives in the dark. It is only when you step forward into the light that your self inflicted wounds can be identified and treated as opposed to left festering in the shadows.

I got caught telling a tiny white lie the other day, something I saw as irrelevant and inconsequential. But the most devastating of landslides begin with the tiniest trickle of loose earth. I was annoyed at myself and resolved to nip that particular unhealthy practice in the bud when it next occurred; which is did in the case of the scratched car. I was honest and reaped the benefits of telling the truth as opposed to digging an even bigger hole for myself.

Is there a cloud of anxiety following you around today? Are you feeling guilty and need to get something off your chest? My advice? Seize that bothersome bull by the horns and speak to whoever you need to in order to dispel it from your mind. There are too many of us suffering in silence. Our mental health is precious. Speak out today. Before it is too late. You are greater than your fears. Let the sunshine in.

How is your mental health today?

Do you need to get something off your chest?

I’m A Christian But I Still Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you worry about?

How do you cope with worry?

Is it a sin to be a Christian and worry?

Awkward Conversations With People We Love

It’s the weekend and Rebecca and I are off to not so sunny Omagh to visit my dear old mother. We shall talk about the weather, soap operas and our various aches and pains. It’s what mothers and sons talk about isn’t it? Rebecca shall ask 34,575 questions on the way there and back. I shall answer approximately 8 of these and reply ‘I don’t know’ or ‘ask your mother’ to the remainder.

Mother will have prepared an extravagant lunch and insist that I eat everything placed in front of me or she will take offence. Have you ever seen that episode of ‘Father Ted’ where Mrs. Doyle insists that Ted takes a cup of tea? That’s Mother politely insisting that I take another chocolate biscuit and me politely declining because I’ve already eaten three and I’m fit to burst. Until I finally crumble and eat it. Anything for an easy life.

I only get to visit my mother about once a month although we do speak on the phone every evening. I make a real effort to maintain a relationship with her, especially since my father died eight years ago. She has lived a very quiet life since then having never really recovered from his loss. My sister and I have both tried to bring her out of her shell but she has stubbornly deflected all our best efforts.

Some evenings we have very little to talk about. She is a private person so feelings and emotions rarely break the surface. Some nights there is very little to talk about but I still make the effort. Often it is an exasperating monologue on my part with very little involvement on her part. Other times I can’t get her to stop talking. On occasion I’m tired and the last thing I want to do is make the call. I still do it anyway.

As mother-son relationships go ours is fine. It plods along. We love each other although we very rarely tell each other that we do. Heaven forbid! It is unspoken but it is known and no less stronger for that. I am blessed that I still have my mother. Every conversation we have is a gift, a bonus, an opportunity. Sometimes they feel like a chore, a duty, an obligation; but I never take them for granted because one day one of us will be gone and there will be no more talking.

I realised that when my father died. We also had a rocky relationship at times and there are many words I wished I had said to him before he left us. I hope he knows how I felt about him and what a positive and lasting impression his life has left upon mine. Often when I need to talk to Adam I wonder if what I say will impact upon his life and the choices he makes in the years to come. I pray that I speak wisely and guide him down the right paths.

Mothers Day has already passed in the U.K. but I realise that many of you further afield will be celebrating it this weekend. For those of you fortunate enough to still have your mothers with you make the most of this opportunity. Many of us, for a plethora of reasons, are unable to talk to our mothers or fathers this weekend no matter how badly we want to or how hard we have tried to. Some bridges cannot be crossed in death or life.

Our parents are not perfect but then neither are we. We are all human. And that means we are all flawed. So if you have to endure an awkward conversation with a parent or sibling this weekend just take a deep breath and get on with it. They are probably thinking exactly the same thought when they look at their phone and realise it’s you calling. Yet they will answer and make the effort just as you will. Through gritted, yet loving, teeth. Because that’s what we do.

Do you have awkward conversations with relatives?

Is there a relative you would give anything to talk to today?

Why Do You Write?

Why do I bother?

Why do I write?

Why do I struggle with words every night?

To convince all the wronged

The despised and forlorn

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

So I’m penning a story

Of hope and redemption

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

You click and you like and you comment and follow

But have you considered why you feel so hollow?

So empty inside, so frayed at the seams.

Consumed by dark nightmares which once were bright dreams.

Your plight has been sanctioned

Left bitter and vanquished

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

Friendships, romances all of them dead

You made this mess so best lie in your bed.

Your soul is in tatters

You’ve lost all that matters.

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

But I’ve been where you are

I will show you my scars

I was dead in the gutter

But could still taste the stars.

Stripped bare but He cared

He reached down to me there

Grace cloaked my disgrace

From the whispers and stares.

So that’s why I write

I’ve recovered my sight

Scales fallen from eyes

To reveal truth and might.

Better times lie ahead

For the damned and the dead

Turn your back to the lies and embrace truth instead.

Why do you write?

I’m Writing A Book….Still

It’s been a quiet week on the novel writing front due to weddings, marathons and life in general. As ever this has raised my anxiety levels but I realise there are only so many hours in the day and I need to sleep at some point. I’m currently working on the final climactic chapters of the first draft which are largely action based and which draw all the main characters for the first time to the one location.

The word count is hovering at just over 100K and I reckon another 20K should do it. I just have to cram in a satisfying conclusion for Book 1 plus enough loose ends to tease the reader into Book 2. This is no easy task let me tell you. I have major decisions to make as I know not all of my main characters are going to see Book 2. Creating and maintaining tension whilst simultaneously remaining credible and ensuring consistency and continuity is a serious feat of mental juggling.

It’s sad putting so much effort into developing characters when you suddenly realise you have reached the end of the road with them. Such sacrifices, however, are necessary for the overall plot and structure. This is dark YA fantasy literature so everyone cannot happily sail off into the sunset much as I might like them to. The main characters are continually walking the paths of the dead and, inevitably, some will not make it to the other side.

Following the first draft the serious editing process begins. My fear is that I discover chapters I wrote some months ago are utterly rubbish and have to start all over again. I’m almost afraid to dip into them again. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and am my own worst critic. I know, as an author, that constructive feedback is essential in order to develop and improve but the scared little boy inside of me is still terrified to take that step. Hopefully it will come with time and experience.

I also have a stack of research work to complete in respect of developing the back stories of several of the main characters. This will involve books on mental health, military history and a plethora of other topics. I warn you now. My characters are an eclectic bunch thrown together by circumstance from all corners of the globe and history onto the streets of modern day Belfast. There will be carnage and lots of it.

I’m currently preparing a review of a book by a well established, published author who contacted me after she read my blog and thought we had similar writing styles. I hope to post that in the next week or so but if any other published or unpublished writers would like me to review their work then please get in touch. I’m also checking out a site where unpublished writers can connect and share feedback and ideas.

As far as the blog itself, Fionnuala posted sneakily yesterday after we passed 5000 followers. I wanted to pass this milestone quietly but, as ever, she had different ideas. I would just like to take this opportunity to thank those of you who sent me such kind and thoughtful messages. I’m just me and very undeserving of them but thank you anyway. They have bolstered my confidence and motivated me to forge on with my writing and running.

As for future plans. Well you can expect posts on topics as diverse as the noble art of boiling an egg to the considerably less noble art of catfishing; more of my unique take on famous biblical stories; and news of my next marathon project which I hope to tackle during the summer months. Plus all of the usual crazy nonsense that incorporates our million mile an hour lives. Thank you again for your continued support.

Are you a published or unpublished author? Where are you at on your journey?

Would you read a dark fantasy adventure set in modern day Belfast with spiritual and historical themes as detailed above?

All feedback is much appreciated. Please post your comments below.

The Vultures Are Circling

Life can seem pretty perfect at times. Everything is trundling along just as it should be and we are enveloped in the comforting glow of permanent sunshine. We are in love and loved. We are healthy and bursting with positivity for the future. We have big plans and bigger dreams. Our family form a protective circle around us. Nobody is missing. Everything is as it should be.

Our friends are genuine, loyal and ever present. They are there for us, just as we are for them. They are selfless and attentive, responding to our needs and concerns as we do theirs. They are relationships based on trust and equality. There is no Judas in the room, no silent assassin the shadows waiting to lunge forward and slide a dagger of deceit between our ribs. Piercing organs, tasting death.

We are physically and mentally strong. We fear nothing. The demons within us are silent for they have been conquered and vanquished. Where once they were sovereign and many they are now scattered and few. They skulk in the shadows of our psyche, licking their wounds and dreaming of times when they wreaked havoc and rampaged through our consciousness, hellbent on destroying everything we held sacred.

We are confident and comfortable as we stand on the ramparts and look out across the plain. We see no dangers on the horizon, no dust clouds to indicate an approaching enemy. Our defences are high and strong. We raise our faces to the blue skies above and let the sun caress our skin. Yes, life is perfect. For we have made it that way through our blood, sweat and tears. We have built this sanctuary with our own hands. We deserve no less.

But suddenly something catches our attention high above. The tiniest of specks. Just the one…no wait…two….three. Silently circling our citadel of calm. Circling. Waiting. For the inevitable storm is coming. It could arrive in the dead of night when the phone rings unexpectedly. Or it may be more subtle and innocuous. An innocent text message, a conversation, a glance. That is when they will swoop from above.

When they do it will be sudden and brutal. They will take no prisoners and they will show no mercy. Their goal is a simple one – your complete and utter destruction. They will butcher everything and everyone you once held precious until the streets are awash with blood and the cries of the desperate are silenced. Then they will turn and laugh in your face. For you knew nothing after all. You are broken and beaten, your fortress lying in ruins around you.

Rain or shine, they are always there. Our hovering harbingers. Their eyes miss nothing, they are ever vigilant. Their patience is immeasurable. Waiting, always waiting. For the slightest chink in your armour, the tiniest gap in your defences. And when that first breach is made they will flood through with an unprecedented fury, slaying all those foolish enough to stand in their path.

So use these days wisely. When all around you seems serene never let your guard down. Never become complacent, never relax. For that is all they require. One lapse, one slip, one moment of madness. Then you will look to the skies above and watch helplessly as your carefully constructed world implodes around you. Their joy is your devastation. The vultures are coming….

How are your defences today? Do they require bolstering?

Are you aware of vultures circling above in your life?

Belfast Marathon 2018 – Recap

You’re probably all bored silly by my marathon exploits so I promise this will be the last one….for a while anyway. Fionnuala did a great job providing updates yesterday but that was nothing compared to the support that her and the kids offered at various points along the route. They must have covered a fair few miles themselves getting about and it was a logistical masterclass traversing Belfast on marathon day with three kids, one of whom was wreaking havoc in her motorised wheelchair.

Thankfully the day wasn’t as hot as predicted and running conditions were perfect. It was dry and mild with hardly any wind – I couldn’t have asked for much better. My original plan had been to set out with the 3:45 pacers and I started roughly 30 seconds after them thinking I could reel them in over the first few miles. Unfortunately I’m not sure what instructions they were given but they certainly weren’t running at 3:45 pace. I never got within touching distance as they steadily disappeared over the horizon.

Experience kicked in and I didn’t panic. I let them go, knowing that pursuing them would have been suicidal. I knew I was running well within my sub 4 hour target. As long as I stayed ahead of the 4 hour pacers I was fine. At Mile 7 I saw Fionnuala and the kids for the first time. Adam ran alongside me to hand over a tub of Vaseline as I had stupidly left mine in the car. Vaseline is a marathon runner’s best friend when it comes to chafing issues. I won’t horrify you with the gory details but it’s not a pretty sight let me tell you.

There then followed a number of hilly miles up into West Belfast and over into the north of the city. I hit a little blip at around Mile 10 when I saw ahead a hill I had completely forgotten existed. Two miles later I hit the Antrim Road, a three mile gradual ascent out of the city. This is a section of the race traditionally feared by runners but I was surprised at how strong I felt going up it. At halfway I checked my watch and knew I was well ahead of my target time.

At the top of the Antrim Road there follows a steep descent. I clicked my fastest mile of the race here – 7:59 no less. I made sure I took on fluids and gels at every opportunity as the number of walking wounded I passed increased with every mile. At Mile 17 you hit a towpath which takes you back along the side of Belfast Lough into the city. It’s a lonely section with no crowd support but I just kept telling myself to plod along as close to 9 minute mile pace as I could. I was still well ahead of schedule.

Miles 20 and 21 are through the Belfast Harbour Estate which again is a rather soulless experience. But then I was back in the city again and running through big crowds, along roads that I regularly cover during lunchtime training sessions. The towpath along the River Lagan is an old friend and I tried to convince myself that this was just another 7 mile training run. I was counting down the miles now as I swung onto the Ormeau Road where some of the largest crowds are gathered.

At Mile 23 I saw Team Black again. Adam appeared from nowhere to run alongside me with a handful of jelly beans. Rebecca then joined us and I could hear Fionnuala and Hannah cheering from the sidelines. It spurred me on as the next mile was a horrible ascent where I really started to struggle. It was my slowest mile of the race (9:42) but again I knew, barring an utter disaster, I was going to clock under 4 hours. I kept putting one foot ahead of the other and eventually reached the top of the road which then swung left and thankfully flattened out.

I was starting to relax and take in the atmosphere. The crowd support was fantastic. People at the roadside kept offering sweets, chocolates and drinks but I no longer needed them as I passed Mile 25. One final slight ascent and I turned left onto the Annadale Embankment. I could now see the finishing line to my left in Ormeau Park. At Mile 26 I saw the final turn into the park. Then it was just a matter of the finishing straight. People were calling my name but I had no idea who they were.

I crossed the line in 3:51:10, well within my 4 hour target. Fionnuala and the kids were waiting for me at the finish line where I collected my finishers medal and t-shirt. I was stiff and sore and had some impressive blisters but other than that felt fine. Saying that, the walk back to the car took more out of me than the marathon itself. The rest of the day consisted of a hot bath, lots of liquids and even more ice cream and cake. I want to again thank all my fellow bloggers for the support and encouragement they have given me along the way.

So that was Marathon number 8. Plans for number 9 are already underway *collective groan*.

The Night Before….

This time tomorrow I will have completed my eighth marathon. Today is all about resting as much as possible, loading up on pasta and getting an early night. The race starts at 9 a.m. tomorrow and the forecast is for a warm day. I’m glad it’s going to be dry but I’m wary of the heat. Even if it means slowing a little I’ll make sure to get plenty of fluids on board at the water stations.

My target is to run sub four hours and I’m planning to go out with the 3:45 pacers and stick with them for as long as possible. That will allow me a comfort cushion if I slow in the latter part of the race. I’ll post a review tomorrow. In the meantime any kind prayers or thoughts forwarded to Northern Ireland tonight will be gratefully received. See you all on the other side.

I’m Broken. Are You?

I’m broken.

There I’ve said it. I’m in bits. And you know what. I’ve never felt so good. Why you may ask? Have you finally lost the plot, Stephen, and floated off to the land of fairies and pixie dust? Possibly but let me explain. Then if you still think I’ve lost my senses I’ll quite happily wait for the men in white coats to come and cart me off the nearest secure facility. Deal? Great. Then I’ll proceed.

For many years I thought I was the Big ‘I am’. I knew best and anyone who thought otherwise was a clueless fool who didn’t deserve my attention. I knew best when it came to my work/life balance. I knew best when it came to my mental health. I knew best when it came to my alcohol consumption. I knew best when it came to my addictive and inappropriate behaviour. I knew best.

Then one day I realised that I didn’t, that in fact I knew nothing. I knew nothing about the needs of my loved ones. I knew nothing of the hurt I had caused them. I knew nothing of the long term damage I was causing myself and others. I knew nothing of the depths I had sank to in my endless pursuit of the next high, the next thrill, the next rush. Anything to fill the ragged, gaping hole inside of me that, try as I might, I could not breach.

Realising that you are in fact clueless as to how you have been leading your life is a sobering thought. Some refer to it as the end of the road, others rock bottom. Either way, most regard it as a dark place from which there is no return. Where you lie shattered and twisted, beyond redemption. Brokenness is seen as the end, a failure that irrevocably defines you. It is the end. I disagree. I view brokenness as the beginning.

The best thing about hitting rock bottom is that you can’t go any lower. Impact is preferable to continued free fall. It is liberating as it instigates a change that you must accept. Brokenness makes us face the reality of who we are. We can no longer hide in a world of fantasy and lies. We have no option but to take a long, hard look at ourselves in the cold light of day. We might not like what we see but it is the truth. And the truth is the key that will set us free.

When you are broken you are forced to choose a path. You can lie there in a mangled heap at the bottom of your pit of pity or you can rebuild. Brokenness offers hope, a new start and a new way. Less than two years ago I lay broken. Mentally and spiritually. I chose to rebuild. I started to glue the pieces back together again. A slow, painful process for all concerned but a process all the same.

The glue can be whatever you need it to be. For me it was my family and fractured faith. They were my therapy. They led me to this blog where I chose to bare my soul on a regular basis. A risk I know but one I was prepared to take, one I needed to take. A safe place where I could lick my wounds and breathe again. A place where I discovered a community of equally broken souls. Trying to find their way back to the light.

There is beauty in our brokenness. The cracks expose our old, toxic selves and allow the bitter bile of our past lives to seep away, drop by drop. Brokenness purges and cleanses us. It allows the light to flood in and reveal who we really are. And if we choose not to flinch and look away we can see our real selves waiting to be reborn and rise from the mess that was. Ready to start again. Broken yet yearning to be whole again.

I was broken but I strive to be whole again. This blog is part of that journey. It will be a year old in a couple of weeks and is just one of the steps on the ladder I have climbed to emerge from the dark abyss where I once lay bruised and bleeding. If you are lying in that same abyss today facing a similar fate know this – it is an opportunity to rebuild. You can go no lower. Seize that first rung and start to haul yourself back to the life you were born to live.

Brokenness is a gift. Take it. Unwrap it. Use it. Today.

I’m broken. Are you?

Embracing Anxiety

Today is the day of my last long run before the Belfast Marathon in just over two weeks time. I’ve worked out my route and hydration strategy; I’ve decided what gear I’m going to wear; the weather is dry and mild. Now it is just a matter of going out and doing it. I know I’m capable of it as I’ve completed such distances many times before. Yet as I type these words I feel nervous and worried.

Why? I have no idea. It’s just me. I am a natural born worrier. If I didn’t have something to worry about then I would be worried. The only way to overcome the anxiety is to confront the problem and dive headlong into it. I know that once I get a few miles into the run I will be fine. All feelings of self doubt will disappear and my confidence will soar. I will actually start to enjoy the experience and wonder why I got so worked up in the first place.

It is the same with every aspect of my life be it family or work matters. Before every important event or meeting my worry levels rise to a crescendo before melting away the minute said event or meeting commence. You would think that decades of experience would teach me that worrying was counterproductive and pointless but every time the old routine kicks in and my own personal Groundhog Day is repeated.

Our bodies and minds are constantly battling chains and shackles that delight in tying us up in knots and denying us from becoming the people that we were created to be. We are at A but we are destined to be at Z. How do we get there? By overcoming the hurdles and barriers that ourselves and others place in our paths to deny us our destinies. It can be a person, an event or situation, an illness or addiction.

Whatever it is, it is strong and relentless. And if you allow it to it will suffocate your dreams and snuff out your potential. It will win if you allow it to. Somehow, and from somewhere, you have to find the courage and conviction to overcome it. You need to stand tall, look it in the eye and tell it NO! No, you won’t let it win. No, you are not going to give up this time. And no, the cycle of submission is not going to be repeated.

I won’t sugarcoat it for you. It will not be easy. After 21 miles today my body will be tired and aching. But the feeling of achievement and satisfaction will far outweigh any temporary physical or mental discomfort. The worry and anxiety will have been left far behind on the road along with the negative thoughts and doubts. You will have broken free. And breaking free is a form of rebirth. You have become a stronger, braver version of you.

If you are reading this today and experiencing the doubt and fears I have described I would encourage you to lace up your metaphorical running shoes and run straight at that problem or situation that is weighing so heavily upon you. We can’t run away from our problems but we can run towards them and through them. Eventually you will emerge on the other side. Where you are meant to be. Battered and bruised possibly. But alive. And free.

Change is painful. Change is frightening. But in order to improve we need to embrace it. In order to become better people we need to become better at dealing with change. Anxiety and worry magnify the fear of change to the extent where we cower away from it. Today is the day to stop cowering. Face it. Embrace it. I’m away for my run and I’ll see you on the other side. Who’s with me?

Are you shackled by worry and anxiety? How do you deal with it?

What aspects of your life would you like to change?

Tell Them

I have had a crazy week work wise which meant I wasn’t able to post yesterday. But fear not, I’m back and normal service is resumed. However I’m very tired so don’t be expecting a Dickensian masterpiece today. More low expectations than great. Sorry, that was a terrible play on words. Let’s just forget I ever mentioned it and move on to the next paragraph ok? Great.

Without going into the nature of my work I had to deal with a number of sudden deaths during the week. They were all equally unexpected, sudden and in tragic circumstances. One second these people were there and the next they were not. No opportunity for loved ones to say goodbye to them, no chance of righting wrongs or seeking forgiveness. They just ceased to exist. Snuffed out in an instance.

I am trained to deal with these incidents in a professional and empathetic manner, as are my colleagues. It is distressing but necessary work. We arrive and we do what we have to do as discreetly and sensitively as possible. It does leave its mark though. I saw sights this week that I will carry with me for the rest of my life. But I’m alright. My employers will offer me trauma counselling (which I won’t avail of) and I will go home to my family.

It is my job. I get paid a significant amount of money to do it. I move on to the next week and the next incident and the world keeps turning. Well my world does anyway. For those families and friends left behind it does not. It comes to a jolting, juddering stop. And for some it never starts again. The colour is drained out of their lives never to return. They don’t move on because moving on suggests forgetting and they never want to.

Why? Because the memories are all they have that’s why. So they cling to them like a drowning man would cling to a piece of floating wreckage. It is all that there is between them slipping away into the nothingness of grief and despair. Memories are fickle, flighty friends. The good ones can provide comfort and solace but the not so good ones can flutter endlessly around your mind like a belligerent bat.

Why didn’t I ask them for forgiveness? Why didn’t I forgive them? Why didn’t I say no? Why didn’t I say yes? Why didn’t I stop them? Why didn’t I let them go? Why didn’t I say that? Why did I say that? The list could go on forever but I’m sure you get my drift. Why? Why? Why? Those unanswered questions that snag beneath our skin and gouge away at our flesh the more we twist and turn in an effort to dislodge them.

Think of the people you love most in the world. Think about when you last saw or spoke to them. Now imagine that you never saw or spoke to them again; and think about the regrets you would have, think about all those unanswered questions that would start to slowly settle on your mental landscape like ash from a volcano which for ages lay dormant but is now ready to erupt again with unrivalled fury.

Think of that and then seek them out. Now. Today. Tell them you love them. Tell them you’re sorry. Tell them they’re better at handstands than you. Tell them whatever has been sitting on your heart but needs to be spoken aloud. Because tomorrow it might be too late. And you will be left alone with only your memories to accompany you into the beyond.

Do you need to tell a loved one something today?

Don’t Be A Parachute Pal

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

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

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

But seriously….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever been frozen out of a friendship?

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

What’s Your Favourite Bible Story?

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

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

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

What’s your favourite Bible story and why?

What Bloggers Would You Invite To Dinner And Why?

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

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

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

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

For It Was Written Long Before You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Big Fat Irish Black Toenail

Half Marathons are great fun. You pay the organisers £27 for the privilege of running for nearly two hours whereupon you end up a big, aching, sweaty mess. At the end you queue ten minutes with hundreds of other aching, sweaty messes for a banana, chocolate bar and bottle of orange juice. I’m off chocolate at the minute so I took that home for Fionnuala. You also get an (admittedly) pretty cool medal and T-Shirt. That fits like a Small even though I ordered a Large.

I woke up the following morning to discover that I had obtained another race memento. A black toenail. The big toe on my left foot to be precise. Don’t worry. I’m not going to post a photo of said toe as I fear that would be a bridge too far for many of you. Suffice to say it’s not a pretty sight. Just one of the many perks of being a decidedly average distance runner. Along with blisters, stress fractures and plantar fasciitis. Don’t know what the last one is? Google it. Or look it up in the dictionary under ‘Agony’.

It’s not painful but strangely fascinating in a hypnotic kind of way. It has a mesmeric quality that enthrals and repulses in equal measure. I reckon I could have snagged a role as an extra in ‘The Greatest Showman’ along with Wolverine, Troy Bolton and that lady with the beard. Apart from the fact that I can’t sing. Or act. Trifling details I know but anyway. Had I sustained this injury around Halloween I reckon I would have been a massive hit with the local trick and treating community. Yup, I would have been pulling them in from miles around. Roll up! Roll up! See the man with the blackest toenail in Ireland. Vomit inducing guaranteed or your money back.

Bruises are par for the course when it comes to running, or any physical activity. We pick them up as we traipse through life and wear them like an external purple badge of honour before they go that horrible yellowy-green colour and then fade away. Some are bigger than others, some last longer than others but even the most gruesome one should eventually disappear. They are a temporary phenomenon and if we are just patient enough the body will do what it does best – heal itself.

It’s a shame the same can’t be said for bruised hearts and souls. We accumulate them just as easily as we travel through life. They aren’t as visible though and we hide them away rather than admit we are hurting and in need of help. We hope they will fade away in time and some do. But others are so deep that we carry them around for life, damaged and broken, unable to cope with what has happened and unwilling to reach out for aid. These invisible bruises are uglier than any busted toenail and the ripples of repercussion emanating from them can echo through lives and generations.

Every day I read about fellow bloggers who are nursing these invisible bruises. WordPress is the one safe place where they can reveal their wounds to the world. Many choose anonymity as they are still too raw and painful to publicise. We are all damaged goods. Damaged by others. Damaged by ourselves. Damaged by the random awfulness of life. Addiction, Depression, Anxiety, Physical Disability and Illness, Bereavement, the list is endless. Suicidal thoughts and images of self harm. They haunt my timeline and scar my thoughts. They impact me deeply.

Fionnuala and I want to remind you that you are not alone. We started this blog in order to reach out and help others. We are all broken but we are not beyond repair. Healing is possible. If you feel the need the talk then please do – we have a private e-mail which you can access via the ‘contact’ or ‘prayer request’ tabs on the blog site. Please use it. Some of my posts have been quite negative of late. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I want you to see my bruises as I know no other way to write. So I rant and I rave but it’s only because I care.

I’m going to post a poem later *collective groan* titled ‘Bruises’ but until then know that you are not alone. Not as long as this blog exists.

The Day I Woke Up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today is a new day a new beginning.

Today you are going to let your light shine.

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

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

What Is Your Worst Habit?

Fionnuala often affectionately tells me (at least I hope it is affectionate. Can you be affectionate and annoyed at the same time?) that if there is an awkward way to do something then I will find it. Take Lent for example. My sincere intention to refrain from biscuits, chocolate and crisps lasted all of…oh….let me see now….around 4 minutes. I displayed all the willpower of an anaemic gnat before I went snuffling off to the cupboard in search of sugary sustenance.

My ‘problem’ reached new heights (or depths depending on your perspective) over Easter itself when I devoured anything remotely unhealthy within arms reach. My eating Everest was a huge (as in HUGE) Cadbury’s chocolate Fruit & Nut egg which Fionnuala bought me as otherwise I would probably have sulked when the kids got their eggs. Or stolen them. So it’s my wife’s fault really. She forced me to cram every last chunk of it into my greedy gullet. I’m the innocent party in all of this don’t you see? Don’t you??

A chocolate egg. With raisins in it! And nuts!! What evil genius created this delicious delight. I was powerless in its grasp. Fast forward to the following morning and I woke up with a momentous food hangover. I felt nauseous, sluggish and very, very guilty. I’m a binge eater and with my running I can largely get away with it. I don’t put on much weight and if I do I tend to lose it fairly quickly again. Yet that morning I felt rubbish and resolved I was going to eat healthily between now and the marathon in just over a months time.

That’s right. I’m giving up chocolate…..after Lent!

It’s back to front thinking of the highest order but that’s the beauty of life. You can make a decision to change at any time and contrary to popular belief it doesn’t just have to be on 1st January. I’ve had more than my fair share of bad habits down the years. I’ve successfully knocked some on the head while others have proven more difficult to shake off. I would include a chronic Diet Coke problem, nail biting (just fingers, not toes) and binge eating in the latter category. Fionnuala has also mentioned my talking and breathing at times but I’m pretty certain this was in the heat of the moment and she didn’t really mean it.

I am proud that these bad habits are relatively minor in the greater scheme of things and that the bigger demons I have slain have far outweighed them in terms of significance. I also contend that my good habits now outnumber the not so good ones. It’s all part of the process of trying to become a better human being as you battle through life. You mess up, you learn from it and you resolve to do better the next time. Sometimes you do and sometimes you don’t but that doesn’t mean you should stop trying. The day you stop doing that is the day you might as well throw them towel in.

So I have a challenge for you all. I’m off all the aforementioned junk food until 7th May. I want YOU to join me. What bad habit are you willing to kick into touch for the next month and possibly beyond? Comment below and we can create an online accountability network. If it is a sensitive or private issue then feel free to send an e-mail. You are greater than your worst habit. Give it up rather than simply giving up. You will be shocked and surprised with the levels of willpower and discipline you can dredge up.

What is your worst habit?

What habit are you prepared to give up for the next month and possibly beyond?

Isn’t It Time You Stepped Out Of Your Tomb?

We all get buried alive at some point in our lives. It can be of our own doing or we may have been the unwitting victims of other people or circumstances beyond our control. Either way we come to our senses covered in dust and fumbling around in the darkness for some way out. The air is stifling and we can feel the panic rising in our throats. Our natural inclination is to scream. But who would hear us if we did?

You see that’s one of the annoying things about tombs. You don’t get many people hanging around them apart from the occasional loved one paying their respects. Or possibly a rogue gravedigger or gardener squeezing in a bit of overtime before the Easter break. Normally though tombs are pretty deserted places. Just you and your thoughts. So there’s no point really in screaming. Looks like you are going to have to figure your own way out of this predicament.

Which brings me to Awkward Issue Number Two. Tombs are kind of designed so as occupants have no problem getting into them but when it comes to leaving again, well that’s a whole different ball game. Once you’re in there nobody really expects you to have a change of heart and leave again. There are no fire exits, no secret compartments and no skylights. It’s one way traffic so sit back and make yourself comfortable. You’re not going anywhere in a hurry. That big, old boulder isn’t going to budge an inch no matter how hard you huff and puff at it.

Hmmmm. This isn’t going so well is it? Looks like we’re well and truly stumped here. If only we had Jesus to exert some of that supernatural power of his and roll away that pesky boulder as if it was a tiny pebble. Oh hang on a minute, we can. Or if Jesus isn’t your thing why don’t you hang your hat on whatever your understanding of a ‘Higher Power’ is. It can be Brahman or Buddha or any other spiritual life force you choose but choose quick cos you’re not getting out of here on your own.

It’s time to realise you’ve messed up and you don’t know how to make things better. Once you’ve handed that over it’s half the battle. You’re buried alive under tonnes of guilt, shame, lies, sin, whatever. It can be an addiction, a toxic relationship, a mental health or eating disorder, anything. But whatever it is you are six feet under and the rest. You’re running out of air and there’s no sign of the cavalry coming over the horizon. You are sunk without a trace.

Now nice and slowly. Hand it over.

Pray. Scream. Throw some stuff around if it makes you feel better. Hey, you can even curse if you want. This isn’t church and I won’t be telling. But when you’re done I can guarantee that you’ll feel better. For you’ve taken that first step. Accepting that your situation is out of control and that you need help. Acknowledging that things can be better and you want to keep walking in that direction. Having faith that whatever it is you have chosen to cling to will somehow get you back to a life worth living.

What’s that? A slight rumble at first but slowly it increases in volume. Dust starts to cascade from the ceiling, the ground beneath your feet begins to shake. Thin shafts of light permeate the gloom as the supposedly immovable object rotates ever so slowly away to reveal daylight outside. Fresh air seeps into your starved lungs and you rub your eyes in disbelief. Can this be real? You’re free? Or at least starting out on the road to freedom. Armed with faith, hope and the love of others who have been through what you are going through and survived to tell the tale.

Three steps and you’re there. Accepting the problem is out of your control. Handing it over to a power higher than yourself. And then accepting the help of wiser, experienced people who have walked the same road. My hope today for you is that if you are reading this, entombed and lost that you realise that all is not lost. All tombs can be breached and no stone is too heavy not to be rolled away. Light will always extinguish darkness and love and faith will always overcome anguish and despair. Just believe and step out into the garden.

Are you in a tomb? Have you extricated yourself from one in the past? Please share you experiences below.

What’s So Good About Friday?

What’s so good about Friday?

What’s so good about life?

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

What’s so good about suffering?

What’s so good about greed?

Never learning our lessons

Never realising our needs

What’s so good about trying?

What’s so good about loss?

What’s so good about Jesus?

Beaten and nailed to a Cross?

Well he’s the reason I’m still here

Trying my best to survive

He’s the reason my family

Every day flourish and thrive

That’s what’s good about Friday

That’s why he took the pain

That’s why he endured nails and a sword

Piercing his skin like a flame

So next time you moan on a Friday

Or mutter or mumble or mope

Think back to that darkest of all days

And thank Him for giving us hope.

Scraps

Meet Charlie the Border Terrier. He’s the sixth member of the Black Clan. I thought he deserved a post written about him because 1. I’ve written about everyone else and didn’t want him feeling left out. Dogs have feelings too y’know and 2. He can’t write for himself like the others can. Dogs can’t write y’know. Or at least none of the dogs I hang about with.

So what can I tell you about Charlie. Well. He’s six years old and we’ve had him since he was a puppy. He is the world’s friendliest dog. He is also the world’s most untrainable dog and believe me we have tried. In the end we just gave up. He’s either too stupid or too intelligent to obey even the most basic of commands. I’ve always given him the benefit of the doubt and plumped for the latter. Although there are days I have my doubts.

Charlie loves sleeping, barking, eating and having his belly scratched. In no particular order. He hates baths, cats and being told to get off the sofa. He is in love with Fergie, the little white Shih Tzu who lives next door. And she is in love with him. They are the Romeo and Juliet of the canine world. But alas their love will never be consummated. For their nasty human owners do not want to be ankle deep in Border/Shih Tzu puppies anytime soon. Shame on us.

Every morning I pour Charlie fresh water and set a bowl of dog food in front of him. Expensive, nutritious dog food, no cheap nonsense for our Charles. And every morning he looks at me with an expression that says ‘What you expect me to eat this muck? before sulking off to his cage for the remainder of the morning. Eventually he will reluctantly eat it if there is nothing else on offer all the while shooting me daggers and muttering under his breath about canine rights. We are cruel, unreasonable human beings and he lets us know this in no uncertain terms.

There is a pecking order in our house and I know where I stand in it. Somewhere roughly between Charlie and the front door. As in ‘Well if you don’t like it, then there’s the front door.’ Charlie has me wrapped around his little finger, I mean paw, and every night when we sit down for dinner positions himself beneath me where he bombards me with his most long suffering, hang dog expressions. Mug that I am I always cave in and end up feeding him scraps from my plate. He will happily gorge himself on these while his bowl of dog food sits untouched in the corner of the kitchen.

We can all be a bit like Charlie. Begging for scraps from a table while our perfectly acceptable meal lies discarded and untouched. Why we do have this insatiable need to crave more and not just be content with what we have? For it is more than enough if we would only open our eyes and inhale the truth. Scraps cannot fill us. They just leave us hungry for more, never satisfied, never full. Hunger leads to bad choices and poor judgement. It is a path that can only lead downwards.

Scraps are unhealthy and unedifying. You are better than that. Look in the mirror and see the person you are. You were created to sit at a table with those that love you and respect you. To dine on love, compassion and respect. Not scurry around on the floor barely existing on the occasional morsel thrown your way. One more like on social media, one more empty compliment, one more night out with people who have little time for you when sober. Is that really what you want? Really?

The people who matter are right before your eyes. Every day. They hang around because they see something in you that you cannot see for yourself. That you are special. That you are enough for them. They accept you for who you are. You do not need to change for them, you can drop the exhausting charade. All they ask is that you sit with them, spend time with them and believe. Believe in what they believe. That you are a good person, that you are complete and that, by acknowledging and accepting this, you complete them as well. They are your grass and it shines a brilliant green. You need never cross to the other side again.

Have you a pet? Who wears the trousers in that relationship?

What are your experiences of feeding on scraps?

Hannah The Campaigner

We are not protestors by nature but yesterday took to the streets of Belfast with many other concerned parents to protest against plans by the Education Authority to close seven special needs schools in the Greater Belfast area and merge them into three ‘super schools’ which would be created to cater for students with physical disabilities and learning difficulties.

Our daughter, Hannah, has been attending one of these schools, Fleming Fulton, since she was three years old. Hannah was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and is a wheelchair user. We were very proud of Hannah yesterday as she spoke at the gates of Belfast City Hall in front of hundreds to express her opposition to the proposed closures. Here are some of her words.

‘I was born with spina bifida basically my legs don’t work but my brain does and that’s thanks to the hard work and dedication of my parents, doctors, teachers and workers at my school. I have been going to Fleming Fulton since just before my third birthday, it is like my second home, I have made the best of friends that will stay with me for the rest of my life.

If the Education Authority goes through with what it is planning I will be separated from my friends and will have to go to a different school which I don’t want to happen. I love my school the way it is and don’t want it to change.’

Fionnuala and I are proud of all the kids but Hannah took the bar to a new level yesterday. Sometimes you have to stand up to the faceless government mannequins who put cuts before kids and who deny our most vulnerable young people the education and health care they are entitled to. Hannah deserves better and she spoke out for herself and her classmates today. She made us very proud parents.

This is a full recording of Hannah’s speech if you would like to hear it.

Achilles Heel

Achilles heel. Scabbed. Won’t heal. Pick at it. Secrets revealed. Itching. Twisting. Tired of bitching. Peel it off and start again. Take the pain but what remains? Scarlet blood flows free and proud. Love and grace replace disgrace. Grit your teeth to save your face. Love again to run your race.

Achilles heel. Tensed and taut. Athletes crouch and pistols pop. Off they hurtle down the track. Forward. Onwards. Don’t look back. Sinews straining. Years of training. And for what? A crowning glory? Crowds are roaring. But if it snaps a different story.

Achilles heel. Ancient tales. Heroes turning in their graves. Arrows piercing exposed skin. Unsheathed swords sliding within. Scraping bone and piercing organs. Writhing hydras. Towering gorgons. Monsters unleashed. Ravenous beasts. Havoc wreaked. An end to peace.

Achilles heel. Guard it well. For heels are gateways to a hell of such dimensions that it will melt away all your pretensions. And leave you bony, broken, baffled. All hope snaffled. Life’s a raffle and you have lost. What’s the cost? Pay the ferryman and come across.

Achilles heel. Doesn’t matter if you run or walk, limp or crawl. He’ll welcome you all. With open arms and boundless charm. No need for pyrotechnics or alarm. But once you’re in the doors are locked. The clocks are stopped. The lights go out. You learn your plight. Eternal night.

Achilles heel. Painfully real. We all have two and here’s the deal. Slice open one you’ve still a chance. To get away, still save the day. But lose the second and you’re down. A helpless mess upon the ground. Vultures circle high above. Hyenas feast upon your blood. All for what for you gained naught.

Achilles heel. So now you’re dead. Scavengers fed and long since fled. And what of you? A pile of bones, stripped of your pride and left alone. No wifi here or mobile phones. But never fear. You won’t be bored. For we have so much to explore. New depths of pain you’ll not ignore.

Achilles heel. And here it ends. The train wreck just around the bend. You knew it all yet you knew nothing. The years of lies, deceit and plotting. It brought you here where you’ll remain. Eternal pain, forever stained. Alone and shackled in your chains. And there is only you to blame.

Who Are Your Favourite Bloggers?

I’m always delighted and slightly surprised when someone compliments me on my writing. It’s that inbuilt inferiority complex that I have dragged around behind me for most of my life. A nasty case of you’re-not-good-enough-itis. For many years I was so disenchanted with myself that I hid behind different characters that I created in order to gain attention and cover up the many glaring flaws that I perceived as having.

It took me to the brink in more ways than one. I almost lost everything. But over the last year or so I have come to the conclusion that maybe I’m not such a bad person after all. Maybe there is hope for me and a purpose for my life. And that is why the majority of my writing focuses on my faith, family and fitness. For they are the three constants in my life that I have clung on to when the rest of my world has been crumbling apart. Likewise they have been the foundations on which I have started to rebuild.

This blog has been part of the rebuilding process. The more I have written and revealed myself to the blogging community the more you have supported and encouraged me. It has been refreshing and invigorating to discover a social media platform where people put others first and talk openly and honestly about their lives and struggles. Where vanity and ego play second fiddle to compassion and selflessness. If only Facebook, Instagram et al could follow that example.

They say a picture paints a thousand words. Personally I’ll take the thousand words any day of the week. The rampant selfie culture holds no interest for me anymore. Beauty fades, prose and poetry do not. They are timeless and irreversible. New words lead to new worlds. Worlds overflowing with possibilities and opportunities. Words bring people together and create caring communities where before there was separation and isolation.

WordPress typifies this bringing together of like minded souls. So the purpose of this post today is to further promote and spread our community. If you would like to I would encourage you to either reblog or post a link to your favourite blog or blogs below. This will create a list of new sites for people to check out and follow. It is about putting others before ourselves and encouraging fellow bloggers to write and read more.

I Wonder

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How often do you read the Bible?

Or have you never picked one up before?

Do you read other books of faith?

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

Death By Blogging

Today was largely spent chained to the laptop, revisiting and editing a number of chapters for the book. It was a graft and once again, as if I needed reminding, I realised what hard work writing can be. Some days the words just refuse to flow and you have to drag them kicking and screaming out of your imagination and onto the computer screen. Every sentence is a battle and every chapter a war.

I managed to get to where I needed to be and, before I closed the laptop down for the day, decided to carry out a word count. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the first draft is now sitting at 68,000 words. That’s over 200 pages. For the first time I felt as if I could actually do this. There is still a world of pain ahead and many long hours of rewriting and editing. But I’ve overcome a very awkward second quarter of the book and feel I’m roughly where I need to be now.

I’m literally bursting to share the plot and characters with you all but know I can’t do that yet for obvious reasons. All I can divulge is that it’s set in modern day Belfast and genre wise would be young adult fiction with very gritty themes and a sprinkling of the supernatural. In my head it is a trilogy and this first instalment largely sets the scene for a bigger and bolder story arc in the second and third books. This book largely concentrates on the inner struggles of the main characters before they turn their attention to the outside world.

I’m fairly word blind as I type this so apologies if my thinking is a bit skewed this evening. My neck aches which is a tell tale symptom that my brain is shot for the day. But I feel it’s important I blog about the book in order to hold myself accountable to you guys who support me on a daily basis in my writing and running ventures. The blog keeps me honest and underpins everything I do. Without it there would be no book and there would be no marathons.

Blogging helps keep me sane. It keeps my feet on the ground as the majority of my writing here explores my very flawed and fractured character. I’m my own biggest critic and I use my past failings to hopefully ensure that others do not make the same mistakes. My faith and my family feature heavily in my blogging and I make no apologies for that. They are the reason I am where I am today. All of the above ensure I remain grounded and keep my dreaded ego in check.

So I’ll go to bed tonight and probably dream of words and letters. We have come a long way since the blog launched last May. But there is still a long way to go. I wrote some months ago about how I regarded 2018 as ‘The Year Of Death.’ Death of the old ways, death of the old me, death of the demons who ensnared and almost destroyed me. I encourage you to join me in burying your past as well. Here’s to life and love and light. Here’s to words and miles. Here’s to you people.

What are you seeking to bury this year?

What does FracturedFaithBlog mean to you?

Our Next Blog – You Decide

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

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

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?

For All Demons Bleed….

It’s all about me. I’m selfish you see. So vain and conceited, it’s all about me. I fight the urge, this endless dirge, the need to purge myself of me. My needs. They feed my brain. They inflict pain. I smother others with my greed. It sows the seeds which grow the roots which, when afoot, choke and constrict. Restrict the man I want to be. Beautifully and wonderfully formed. Yet I conform to shallow sins, the endless din of voices fuelled by evil whims.

Yes, it’s all about me. For I’m selfish you see. You want an example? I’m so glad you asked. For I’ll put down my glass and trample the dreams of my loved ones aghast. I just want the best but it ends up a mess as the baby obsessions emerge from their nest. They’re as blessed as I’m cursed, they wish only the worst, driven forward by demons for actions rehearsed a million, a billion, a trillion of times. I’ll tell you I’m fine, I’m feeling sublime, yet inside their fingers are gouging my mind.

For it’s all about me. I’m selfish you see. The world keeps revolving round my gravity. I’m clever and witty and everyone’s friend. I’ll bend to your blend at the drop of a hat. I crave the attention and, oh did I mention, I run and I blog and I’m writing a book. So have a good look, gather round young and old. Click follow and swallow the lies that you’re sold. A slippery slope, a dope on a rope, I hope beyond hope that the demons are choked. By a force beyond words. A force beyond me. A life giving spirit, at last I’m set free.

It was all about me. I was selfish you see. But little by little I’m trying to change. They had me deranged but I’m prying away. They bite and they pull but I’m stronger each day. I’ve escaped from the filth and the guilt and the silt of my past which has clogged up my laughs and sliced through my life like a knife through warm butter. From gutter to author. I’m better than this and I’m better than you. I’ll run and I’ll write and I’ll love and I’ll smile. For with every mile you’re a mile down the road. That odious toad that I must offload, the demons they’re screaming as I grow more bold.

Now it’s all about them. I’ve discarded my past like the rags that they were. So dirty and soiled, they were drenched in the oil of earthly transgressions and shallow desires. Now I stack the dry bonfire and strike up a match. To raze to the ground those demonic clowns who clung to my soul like a leech fat and round. So bloated and soaked in the filth that they found. Now I’m watching them burn and then turning and walking away. To start a new day, a new week a new life. With the people that matter, free from relentless chatter.

Yes it’s all about us. That’s the thrust of these words. And I trust you see through them, the prose and the verse. To the truth of a man who was saved from disgrace. By a grace with no depths and a love with no bounds. I was lost, now I’m found. And I hope you see hope in the words that I write. That they open your eyes and offer fresh sight, a glimmer of light. To vanquish the darkness that’s raging inside. You’re better than that and you will succeed. For all demons bleed when faced with the truth. Your power over them is about to take root.

What Are You Up To This Weekend?

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

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

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

Persecute & Perish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

All Fogs Are Temporary

My plans are in ruins!

Now I’m not one to exaggerate but I had planned to go on my long run this morning only to awaken to a blanket of fog outside. A real pea souper even though that description never rang true with me as wouldn’t pea soup be green? And I’ve never seen green fog even in that Stephen King movie about the fog. Or was that mist? Can you get green mist? And what’s the difference between mist and fog anyway?Aaaaarrrrghhh! My brain hurts!

So here I am blogging instead of running. The weather man says it should clear later in the morning but that’s no good to me as there is lots of other stuff going on today. Plus the longer I wait the less likely I am to go out and run. I always get very nervous before a long run as self doubt and negativity creep in. My next target is the Belfast Marathon on 7th May so I have plenty of time but try telling that to the grouchy gremlins who reside within my head. They are already rubbing their hands with glee at the sight of fog and telling me my training schedule is in tatters now and I’m doomed to fail.

Fog has only a temporary grip on reality.

I know this fog will clear like all fog clears. It is a transient phenomenon. And when it clears everything will be exactly as it was before. The houses in our street will not have moved. Dinosaurs will not be roaming the earth. The Washington Redskins will still suck. Nothing will have changed. And I will go out for my run and all will be well. I might have to curtail the distance I planned to run but it can be made up another time. I will not lose four years of fitness and confidence in the space of four hours. The world will keep turning and Stephen will keep running. Fact.

The same applies to the mental fogs that sometimes descend upon us. When the fog closes in we feel disoriented and confused. We lose our bearings and panic sets in. We don’t know where we are and we don’t know where we are going. We become afraid as who knows what monsters lurk out there in the shadows. The fear of the unknown is magnified as our mind starts to play tricks upon us. Depression, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness and self loathing set in. Our defences crumble as the armies of despair and paranoia overwhelm us. We turn on ourselves. And our fog filled minds can be our most bitter enemy as it knows every weakness to play upon and every button to push. We succumb to it.

Fog conceals the truth.

It plays tricks. It is a liar. It distorts and twists. It may seem impenetrable but the truth is that the light is still there. And the fog in our heads has only temporary power over it. The light and the truth are constant. They are set in stone. The sun and the moon will always be there when the fog lifts. Clear skies will return to show you that nothing has changed. Mental illness is not who you are. You are who you are. And that will never change. Your soul will continue to shine brightly just as the stars will continue to shine at night. No fog can steal that from you.

How do I know this? Because I too have stood in the fog unable to see past my own hand. I have fallen to my knees and given up all hope of ever finding a way out. But I did. And when I did emerge I discovered that nothing had changed. My loved ones still loved me. I was still the same me. The mental fog I had struggled with had merely distorted my vision and muddied the waters. It had polluted my perception of who I was and what I stood for. It had created an altered state where I could not flourish and thrive. A state where subjective, pessimistic thinking reigned and hopelessness took root.

And if I can do it then so can you as well. The sun will always burn away the fog. It’s rays of faith, hope and love will break through and will light the way for you. It can set you back on the right path, the road to recovery and well being. The light will always emerge victorious over the darkness. The fog will always dissipate and no matter what you addiction or obsession it is temporary. All chains can be broken. Freedom is a choice. All you have to do is believe and make that choice. Make the right decision. Today. Now. Walk out of the fog and welcome to the rest of your life.

Have you experienced the fog? Are you currently there? Or have you overcome it? We would be interested in hearing your thoughts. Please comment below.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here’s To Being Average

Adam and I spent yesterday morning painting the kitchen ceiling. Fionnuala has been asking me to do this for around two years now but I have been waiting until our son was tall enough to help me out. Some might call that laziness and indifference. Not I. I regard it more as excellent forward planning and best use of resources. Well yesterday that day came. I decided it was time to paint the ceiling. Or rather I was told if it wasn’t done this weekend my life wouldn’t be worth living. Yes it’s sad but it’s true. Our son, aged 15, is now taller than me.

I am 5′ 11” tall. This pains me. When people ask me how I tall I am I sometimes reply ‘Almost six foot’. Does this make me feel any better about myself? Well, not really. I so wanted to be six foot tall but sadly it was not to be. I’m not short but I’m not tall. I’m kind of somewhere in between. I’m average. Adam on the other hand is going to be a giant. He’s hit six foot and is still growing. This became obvious yesterday as we tackled the ceiling. He didn’t need to use the stepladder once. I, on the other hand, was up and down it more often than a forgetful firefighter.

Our son now looks down upon me. I’m his little old man. And now that he has started serious weight training as part of his rugby training regime he’s just going to get bigger and bigger. Fionnuala is already giving him the talk about girls because the way his rugby career and physique are developing he is going to be attracting a lot more female attention in the years to come. He has an exceptional talent that, even now, has the rugby coaches and scouts sitting up and taking note. I think he will one day play rugby professionally, he’s that good. I know I’m his father so am naturally bias but that’s what I think. Time will tell.

I was never that good at rugby. Or football, or any other sport for that reason. I was average at best and never stood out on the playing fields. The same went for my height and many other areas of achievement (or lack of) in my life. I viewed my average abilities as inadequate when, looking back, they were entirely adequate. To compensate I always craved attention and popularity. That needy nature still lurks inside me and raises it’s not very pretty head from time to time. Thankfully I have a wise and wonderful wife who can knock this particular demon back down whenever it surfaces.

As I grow older, but not taller, I’m learning that you can’t be a superstar at everything you try. If you were brilliant at everything then life would be pretty boring. You would have no standout talents or abilities, you would just be equally amazing at everything. Nothing would stand out. Even superheroes have flaws or weaknesses. Perfection is well….average. And being average at most stuff you tackle in life is alright actually. You get by, you manage. And the ninety nine average traits in your life allow your talent or gift to shine all the more brightly, like a beacon of hope on a dark, featureless hillside.

Our average characteristics contribute towards our unique nature. They help in shaping us into the complex, incredible creations that we are. They define us and complete us. Every genius had a generous dollop of average as well thrown into the mix. God insisted. Otherwise our egos would run amok and our ability to express humility and modesty would be swallowed whole. YOU are exceptional and were placed on this earth at this time to do exceptional things. And being average at this or that is all part of the exceptional person you are.

You are who you are for a reason. Never forget that. It’s time to start feeling comfortable in your own skin. For it’s the only one you will ever have….unless you happen to be some some kind of weird snake-human hybrid. Which would be far from average. So here’s to being average. It’s the new awesome.

What height are you?

Are you comfortable in your own skin?

What’s so awesome about celebrating the average?

Clean

Hold the front page! Yesterday I got my cleaning head on as the family, some more enthusiastically than others, got stuck into some serious housework. Adam and I are painting the kitchen this weekend, which is probably a four part blog series in itself, so in preparation there was a lot of clearing away and movement of items. It’s necessary to complete this groundwork before the real work begins. So under the watchful eye of Fionnuala the men of the house began to clear out the kitchen. This took a while but in the end it was mission accomplished and Operation ‘More Paint On The Ceiling Than Ourselves’ can hopefully start later today.

The clear out obviously got my cleaning juices flowing as I decided to keep going. I don’t do enough to help around the house so this was a good opportunity to carry out a few additional chores and take a bit of the workload off Fionnuala. I’m a work in progress when it comes to household tasks. I mean who knew that darks and colours couldn’t go in the washing machine together? Well apparently Rebecca (11) did as Fionnuala and her looked on in horror as I loaded the machine. Disaster was narrowly averted and I moved on to other less mentally taxing duties.

I emptied bins, swept floors and polished work surfaces. I cleaned windows and washed dishes. And before any of you go ‘Oh isn’t he just the most wonderful husband’ can I just stop you. I’m not. The fact that I didn’t really know what I was doing and had to constantly stop and ask for instructions is testimony to that. What cleaning product do I use for this work surface? Where is this or that stored? Am I doing this the right way and am I getting in your way? I was trying. Very trying….But in the end I hope I managed to make a useful dent in the seemingly never ending list of chores that need done.

What did I learn from my manic morning? Well a few things really. Firstly, preparation and groundwork are key. You can’t just launch into painting a room. It requires organisation and prior preparation. Brains before the brawn. Thankfully Fionnuala has the former in much greater abundance than yours truly. She kept a watchful eye over Adam and I as, otherwise, we would have probably dived headlong into the painting and made a fearful mess. We would have been more destructive than constructive. It’s better to take two hours to do something properly than rush it in an hour and then spend the next five trying to make amends. Slow and steady wins the race.

Secondly I need to wear my dust goggles more often. Fionnuala works hard at keeping the house clean but even after a day or so dust will accumulate on surfaces. I realised this as I was polishing shelves and tables. What I thought were spotless work surfaces contained a fine layer of dust which I had previously been oblivious to; cleaning is a constant process as opposed to a once a month blitz. We can never slack off as the way of the world is that the dust and grime will just start to build up again. My cleaning prowess needs to be more than a one-off phenomenon. I need to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty on a more regular basis.

It’s the same with our lives. We need to be more watchful in so many areas. Our mental and physical well being; our relationships with loved ones; our ability to ascertain right from wrong. It is so easy for us to relax, become a little lazy and take our eye off the ball. Then before you know it the layers of selfishness begin to accumulate again. We become blinded to the truth and allow destructive patterns and negative behaviour to sneak into our lives. It’s almost imperceptible but it happens and before you know it you are right back where you started. A clean conscience and a clear head require your constant attention.

We have to be always on our guard. There are pitfalls and traps at every corner. And there are those who do not want us to succeed. Sometimes it is other human beings but I believe that often it goes beyond that. I believe there are other forces at work, invisible powers locked in a battle that is as timeless as it is beyond our ability to fully comprehend. We might be mere pawns in this struggle, tossed about on the stormy waters like flimsy pieces of wreckage, but we matter. It is a battle for our hearts and souls. It is the difference between leading loving, impactive lives or drifting off down other paths where our sinful natures will stifle and strangle our natural gifts and talents.

Our enemies are cunning and resourceful. They also work hard. They don’t take days off. They are determined and dedicated. We need to be equally so. So just as I learnt on the cleaning chain gang yesterday I need to be prepared and vigilant. And I need to be watchful at all times. Because, otherwise, the layers of sin and self will start to accumulate on our souls and tarnish the beautiful lives that we were born to live. We need to knuckle down and work even harder, applying the most effective cleaning fluid of them all – love. Love is not fancy words or grand gestures. It is a way of life, a routine, a series of habits that you display on a daily basis.

Love kills all known germs. It is hard work. It can be mundane and monotonous. But it is here that you discover the miraculous.

What are your favourite household chores? And which ones do you dread?

Who are your enemies? How do you seek to counter them?

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?

Ask Me A Question….

How many times have you opened your mouth to say something to a loved one but have been unable to force the words from your lips? You’ve felt too awkward or embarrassed to make public what may have been sitting on your heart for what seems like an eternity. So the unspoken thought or emotion lies dormant within you never to see the light of day. It’s a frustrating, infuriating feeling right? You are bursting at the seams but unable to seize the moment. And another opportunity meanders by. Another day is lost and important words go unspoken.

I have often bottled up my emotions and allowed them to fester and spoil within me. They eat away at you from within, like acid working on your stomach lining. Why is it so hard to speak the truth when lies seem to drip so effortlessly from our lips? Why do we stumble over proclamations of love when words of hate and ill feeling fly from our mouths like flocks of crazed crows? We cannot practice what we preach unless we first practice how to speak lovingly, truthfully and without fear.

So today I’m going to suggest an exercise. I want you to ask me up to three questions. It can be anything. Something that you’ve always wanted to ask but have held back. It might be trivial, it might be silly, it might be deep and spiritual. Whatever it is I will answer you truthfully. But it will be a special kind of truth because it will cross the ether and unlock your own truth reservoir. When I have answered I want you to speak to a loved one later today and tell them how much they mean to you; how much you appreciate what they do for you. You can even mention the dreaded ‘L’ word if you want. That’s love by the way not laundry.

You do not have to participate if you don’t want to but I hope that you do. It could be the safest of steps for you or it could be a gargantuan leap into the unknown. Either way I hope releasing words of love and kindness from within you will start a tiny tsunami of positivity that spreads throughout your community. It could fizzle out or it could start a chain reaction that results in permanent, concrete change within damaged relationships and brittle friendships. Call me naive but I hope and pray that this is so.

So it’s over to you. Are you up to the challenge?

Start asking….

Lacey Sturm – Mercy Tree

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrgl9z3grKU&feature=share

Fionnuala and Hannah are the musical maestros in the family but I thought I would crash the party and post a song by one of my favourite singers and authors, Lacey Sturm. She was formerly the lead vocalist of a band called Flyleaf who some of you may have heard of. Her words and music have had a huge impact on my faith journey. This is one of her more mainstream songs (she’s usually more grunge rock). Hope you enjoy it and let me know what you think.

You Are A Warrior

Adam and I went to the Kingspan Stadium in Belfast last night to watch Ulster Rugby play the Southern Kings in a Guinness Pro 14 match. We had a great night; Ulster won 59-10 and we got complimentary burgers from my brother-in-law who is in charge of the catering and hospitality at the stadium. It made the frozen toes and long walk back to the car afterwards worthwhile. Note to self – wear thicker socks next time you got to a rugby match in February!

It is the start of a big rugby weekend. The Six Nations Championship has started and Ireland play Italy later today in Dublin. That, however, is not the main event for the Black family. Adam has been selected to play for his school’s senior team today for the first time. He will be playing against boys three years older than him but the coaches recognise his talent and potential and are throwing him in at the deep end. They have confidence in him and believe he has the ability to cope with this step up in class.

Fionnuala and I will be nervously cheering him on from the touchline. Win, lose or draw we are very proud of him as we are of all our kids. Adam has the skill and work ethic to develop into a top rugby player and hopefully play professionally one day. My dream is to watch him play one day at the Kingspan for Ulster Rugby. And even if he doesn’t watching him play has brought us closer together this last year. It has become our thing. I’m passionate about his rugby. I know I get a bit carried away at times but he has been blessed with a gift and I want him to run with it as far as he possibly can.

It is a dream at the minute but dreams can become reality if you are prepared to roll up your sleeves and work at them. They are reality waiting to happen. You just have to reach out and take what is rightfully yours. It might not happen overnight but it will do eventually if you just keep your eye on the prize and keep moving forward. Fear and doubt will do their best to scupper your ambitions but they have to be ignored and kicked to the kerb. You are better than that. Of that I am certain.

Do you have a dream that remains unfulfilled? Have you given up after a lifetime of having been knocked down and pushed back? I encourage you to dust yourself down, take a deep breath and stand tall again. You are better than the demons who oppose you. They are more frightened of you than you are of them. That is why they fight so viciously. Because they see the light within you and it terrifies them. They see what you do not see. They see the real you and in that they see their ultimate demise.

You are a warrior standing on the battlefield of your own destiny. You wear the armour of a good and righteous person. Your enemies stand amassed before you and you have a choice. Do you cower before them and allow your life to meander aimlessly and without purpose? Or do you fill your lungs with air and roar a battle cry of defiance? Do you charge towards them in the knowledge that you are better than them? You can conquer depression, addiction, guilt and worthlessness? You are a hero. You are my hero and you will stand victorious over all you survey. I know you can do it. Do you?

What enemies are you facing on the battlefield today?

How do you propose to conquer them?

For My Father

Yesterday I visited a grave with my mother. My father’s grave. We lost him eight years ago to prostate cancer, aged a very young sixty four. He had recently retired and was looking forward to traveling, gardening and voluntary work for his church and a number of charities he was involved in. He was a great man and a great loss. I only cried once, at his bedside when they turned his ventilator off. Once.

Since that day I have cried many times. But on each occasion I have been crying for myself. Selfish, shameful tears. And I wonder what my father would have made of the various messes I have made of my life. I am certain of one thing though. He would have forgiven me. Because that’s the type of man he was. It’s another reason I need to forgive myself for my past. I owe it to those people, dead and alive, who have forgiven me. They deserve better than the sight of me wallowing in self-pity.

When we left the graveyard I told my mother for the first time that I had started to write a book. I am still very shy about telling people. But she seemed genuinely interested about it or as interested as my mother is about anything these days. It was then she told me that my father had always dreamt of writing a book but never had the opportunity. It was taken away from him just like he was taken away from us. His death was senseless and it knocked me off track for many years. But now I have focus again.

Graves are full stops on lives. They are shrines to the past. Yet if you believe in an afterlife, as I do, they are meaningless; for my father was not in that grave we stood shivering beside yesterday morning. He was elsewhere. He was never in that grave for his journey continued onwards. The dead travel beyond the grave but so many of the living cannot. How many people have given up on life at the loss of a loved one? Been unable to move beyond the trauma of bereavement? Become the living dead?

We must look beyond the grave. Grief is a process and for many it is a long, hard journey but we must endeavour to push through that process to the other side. We must keep going for those who need us and rely upon us. Death can distract us from life. Many almost see grief as as a relief as it allows them to raise the white flag and collapse at gravesides never to rise again. The dead deserve better than that from us. We owe it to them to pick ourselves up, walk away from the graveside, and live. Somehow.

I’m writing this book for many reasons and for many people. But now I have another. It is the book my father never wrote. It is me telling the world that I forgive him just as I forgive myself. Just as he has risen to a better place I too have risen from the ashes of grief and shame. My sinful past is just that, the past. I am walking away from the grave of my former self. I have no need for wreaths and headstones for I have words now. Words of truth and hope. They are my dream and they will become my legacy. Because I know I can do this. And I will.

In loving memory of Andrew Charles Black 18.05.45 – 08.02.2010.

New Blog Features

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

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

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

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

Repackage Your Heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have you repackaged your heart in the past?

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

The Atheist Angel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who are you going to love today?

Lists

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Past Is In Tatters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Want To Read Your Blog

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

So……

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

Yours

Lazy Stephen 🙂

We Dare You To Comment On This

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

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

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

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

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

Please comment below. Thank you.

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can anger be healthy and productive?

Stay At Home Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your church experiences?

Good? Bad? Indifferent? Non existent?

What does church mean to you?

CSI: You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How are you getting on at working your crime scene?

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

Is there a message hidden in your mess?

The Ugly Truth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you struggle with telling the truth?

How have lies impacted on your life?

Sick Of Being Sick

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are sick. But the world is sicker.

Who Do You Trust?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you an introvert or an extrovert?

Where do you stand on the issue of trust?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part Two

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

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

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

Yours in beardiness

Stephen

Detox Day

Fionnuala suggested the other evening that I undertake an endurance challenge for January 2018. It involves running 150 miles during the month and logging them on my Garmin watch. At the end of the month I e-mail the challenge organisers a screen shot of my mileage and, in return, I get a medal and compression top. Not bad for £14. Plus, as ever, I will be running to raise funds for SHINE Charity, a cause very close to my heart.

I like challenges. No, let me rephrase that, I need challenges. Even in work I may moan about it at the time but I work well under pressure and to a deadline. A certain amount of pressure can be healthy. You need to be tested in order to examine your outer boundaries and then go beyond them. So I am grateful to Fionnuala for discovering this fresh challenge for me. She is always thinking of new ways of stretching me. Either that or this is her polite way of getting me out of the house more over the next four weeks.

I’m setting out on a ten mile run this morning as my first leg of the challenge. No time like the present right? The challenge is perfect training preparation for the marathons and half marathons I plan to run throughout the year. I used to experience a different type of alcohol related pain on New Years Day so it will be invigorating and liberating to start the year off in this fashion. I feel as if I will be on the front foot and ahead of the game.

I am also going to use the ‘me’ time alone on the road to think and pray. It is important that we all get this downtime whatever our belief systems. As ever I hope to leave a few of my demons out on the road and return home a more focused and decluttered individual. Running for me is like my writing. I use it to detoxify my soul and spirit, to unburden my heart of worries and fears. It is an act of cleansing and purification; a precious purging.

However you spend the first day of this new year I hope you find a little ‘me’ time to tend to your own mental and spiritual needs. I’ll see you on the road.

How did you spend the first day of 2018?

How do you intend to detoxify this year?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stinking Thinking – Part Two

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanity Scissors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I Haven’t Been Through Hell

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

I’ve been through hell….

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

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

I’ve been through hell….

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

I’ve been through hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe in an actual Hell?

Do you feel hopeful or hopeless today?

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

The Outsiders

I’ve felt an outsider for most of my life. At school I was bullied, mostly by fellow pupils but also some teachers, because I was chubby, quiet and shy. I was no good at sport, despite trying hard, which meant I was never part of the ‘in crowd.’ I didn’t go to our school formal and don’t think I spoke to a girl until I was eighteen. I had few friends and didn’t go out much. I was a loner; happy sitting in my room reading Stephen King novels and listening to heavy metal music.

My university years did not fare much better. These swayed between alcoholic excess in my first year to hermit like abstinence in my final one when I finally realised I needed to knuckle down and study in order to get a decent degree. It was during this final year that I began to exercise excessively and then secretly binge eat during all night study marathons. An unstable home life at the time also left me permanently anxious and worried. Looking back it was a deeply unhappy and lonely year of my life.

When I left university I gained a place on a post management graduate course where alcohol reared its ugly head again. I was now living in rented accommodation in Belfast. It was the social crutch that I leaned on heavily for the next twenty years or so. I secured a good job and worked my way up the corporate ladder. When I tell people what I do for a living now they look genuinely impressed. I met a wonderful woman who has stuck with me through thick and thin. I don’t deserve her but that doesn’t make me any less grateful for her.

We have three amazing kids and live in a lovely house in a quiet village. We are financially comfortable and on the face of it I epitomise what ‘fitting in’ to society should look like. Then why do I still feel such an outsider at times? Why am I still plagued by feelings of insecurity and low esteem? Why do I still periodically battle with OCD and the demons from my past? Why do I struggle to make friends and sabotage the few genuine friendships I have formed in my life? Why am I still so socially awkward? Why do I feel such a failure at times?

While people might look at it and think I’ve got it made, I still feel as if I am fighting a losing battle where time is not on my side. I desperately want to please people; the problem was that I always set out to please the wrong people, not the ones who mattered. I donned various personalities in order to curry favour but these all ended in disaster. I disliked myself so intensely that I would do whatever I could to be someone else. I still do at times but the purpose of this post is not to indulge in a pity party.

The purpose of this post is rather to celebrate where we have come as a family in 2017. It has been a long and often very rocky road. There have been slips and stumbles along the way. I am learning to live in my own skin. I am me. Glorious, imperfect, messed up, wonderful me. I am proud to be an outsider as I have finally realised that most of my problems in life have been when I have tried to be somebody I’m not in order to fit in.

I’m a square peg. I’ll never fit into that round hole. I’m learning not to look through the window and focus on what might have been but instead concentrate on what I have. On the outside. There is safety on the outside. There is safety in numbers. For we are many. This last year has taught me that in order to heal I need the clear, crisp air of the outside. I need to breathe in the truth and purge myself of the lies from the past. I need to take a step back in order to move forward.

Detoxification can be intoxicating on the outside. I want to be drunk on life. I want to run and write and love. I want to laugh more. People say I don’t laugh enough. Yes I’m a weirdo, an oddball and the most infuriating man in the world at times. But at least I am me, at least I can look at myself in the mirror and not have to avert my gaze in disgust.

And I have finally found my social media home with you – my fellow outsiders.

Viva la difference!

Do you feel like an outsider?

How have your efforts to fit in damaged others and yourself?

Slam

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

His response to a lifetime of this was as follows:

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

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

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

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

He opens his door and welcomes us with open arms.

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

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

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

Happy Christmas from Stephen, Fionnuala and the kids.

Spin Class Stories

I’m a runner. I like to run. Preferably in a straight line at around 8:30 minute mile pace. I don’t like sprinting or being pressurised into running faster than I have to. I like long, steady paced runs. My favourite distance is the marathon. I don’t particularly enjoy hills but put one in front of me and I will run up it. I will not stop. Call me determined or call me stupid but I will not stop. I’ve ran seven marathons and I hope to run more in 2018. It’s what I do.

When I decided to get fit and lose some weight three and a half years ago I dabbled with all sorts of other physical activities before I plumped for distance running. It was all part of the mid life crisis. My fourth that particular year. I took up Taekwondo and pranced around the village hall in a pair of oversized white pyjamas. I reckon I could have been a black belt by now if it wasn’t for my startling lack of hand/eye coordination and flexibility.

I had a go at weight training but was intimidated by all the muscle bound hulks at the gym. I have quite strong leg muscles from running but as for my upper body, forget about it. I looked like a jerk at the clean and jerk. My kettle bell technique was the talk of the place. For all the wrong reasons. My arm curls were toe curlingly embarrassing and my squats were sqawful. I’m pretty sure that’s a real word.

Finally I tried spin class. I skulked at the back of the class and hoped that the instructor didn’t notice that I was pedalling at a lower resistance than the rest of the class. Everyone pumping furiously around me seemed so much leaner and younger. I was up and down out of the saddle but never seemed to be getting anywhere. Quite literally. Spin class depressed me. I didn’t like being shouted at and being told what to do. My heart wasn’t ‘spin’ it.

Spin class was like my grief. It hit me in waves but I never seemed to get anywhere with it. I worked harder and harder but there was never an inch of progress. All that pain for nothing. A day or a week or a month later and it would hit me anew as if for the first time. Grief is a thief. It slips up on you when you least expect it and brings your world to a jagged, juddering halt.

Spin class was like my drinking. Binge followed by hangover. Over and over again. Ad nauseum. I drank to forget but at some point forgot why I was drinking. It became a sickly cycle and the wheels had to come off eventually. They did so in spectacular fashion. Alcohol is no longer my favoured form of transport. Drinking and cycling are a definite no no. When I run my body and mind are cleansed. Alcohol poisoned me. I’m still detoxing I suppose. I always will be.

Spin class was like my OCD. An endless circle of obsessive, intrusive thoughts followed by baffling, heart breaking routines. It’s the most orderly of disorders. It will grind you into a pulp. As your routines become slicker so the thoughts become sicker. Always one step ahead of you. Pedalling furiously to keep up but never quite getting there. Hurtling through the fog not knowing what mental pothole lies just ahead waiting to throw you headlong over the handlebars.

Spin class was like my addiction to social media. Never learning. This time I would get it right. A new account, a new Stephen. A new creation doomed to slide into familiar patterns of behaviour. Ever so gradually until I was trapped again. Watching myself as if in a dream, an out of body experience. Wanting to stop but unable to. Always cracking, always relapsing. My soul spiralling downwards as my follower count spiralled upwards. A thousand likes as I despised myself.

Are you trapped in or on a cycle? Are you pedalling at breakneck speed but getting nowhere? Are you tired of the the same, endless, pointless routines? Take a health check. Are you physically, mentally, emotionally running on empty? Then step off the bike. Stop what you are doing and look around you. Breathe. Observe. Live. You are better than this. You deserve better.

Do it today. Now. Stop spinning. Start winning.

Is your life spinning out of control?

Are you trapped in an endless cycle?

What are you going to do about it?

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.

Wake Up Dead

As I get older I find it harder to leap out of bed in the morning, full of the joys of spring. Or summer. Or autumn or winter for that matter. Especially winter. It’s cold and dark. And invariably wet. Why on earth would anyone throw back the duvet to embrace that? All I want to do is remain under the covers and hope that the world doesn’t notice my absence for the next 24 hours or so. I’m sure you could all cope.

Unfortunately I am expected to get up and do adult stuff. Like go to work. Communicate with other equally grumpy grown ups. Smile when I don’t particularly feel like smiling. There is so much to do. Kids to shout at, bills to pay. Elves to put on shelves or place in other equally ‘hilarious’ scenarios. Yes life is a veritable hoot I’m sure you will all agree.

Sooooooo. I crawl out of bed. Take a slug of Diet Coke. Wash. Shave (most days). Dress (every day). Eat toast. Get train to work. Arrive at work. Take many more slugs of Diet Coke. And so on and so forth. I commute to and from work on a train full of miserable looking people all trying their hardest not to look at each other. Noses stuck to their phones, glaring at the screens.

The other day I found myself on the train sitting beside two young woman who were facing each other across a table. One of them was reading a Bible and frenetically taking notes. She had a glint in her eye and was totally immersed in her studies. I had to admire her passion and energy. You don’t see many young people openly reading a Bible these days. Or anyone for that matter.

The other woman was lying slumped across the table with her head resting on her arms. She was out for the count. All I could make out was a mess of long hair. She must have had a heavy night I thought to myself. One (or ten) too many beverages I suspected. I was at my judgemental best and frowned at her. If only she could have been like the diligent, devoted girl sitting opposite her. Tut! Tut!

The train pulled in and passengers began to disembark. ‘Diligent Girl’ (for that’s what I had christened her) closed her Bible and began to pack away her notes. ‘Drunk Girl’ (boo hiss!) arose from her stupor and groggily looked around, uncertain as to her whereabouts. Belfast? Baltimore? Beirut? Who knew. She yawned and began to sleepily gather up her belongings.

It was then that the two girls started to talk. They obviously knew one another. Then I noticed that they were both wearing name badges indicating that they were members of a church organisation. Whatever your thoughts on their beliefs here were two young women who were about to venture out onto the mean streets of Belfast to do what they thought was the right thing to do. Sharing the love of God with others.

Yet I had already trialled and convicted one of them as being a useless waste of space. I felt guilty and shuffled off the train and onto the platform with the hundreds of other commuters. My fellow runners in this rat race we call life. All shuffling along, heads down and eyes fixed firmly on the ground. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year.

We are the Walking Dead. We wake up dead. We go about our daily routines dead. We go to sleep dead.

Those two young woman had a purpose, a passion, a mission. For all I knew ‘Drunk Girl’ could have been exhausted because she was up all night praying for someone in need or helping a broken person find their way through the night. Or maybe not. Whatever her tiredness it was not for me to judge her. If only I had an ounce of her faith and conviction. If only we all did what a better place the world would be to live in.

Why do we get out of bed in the morning? Beyond the mundane, dreary necessities of life why do we do it? Are you driven and passionate? Are you pursuing your dream, the reason you were placed on this planet? Or are you just aimlessly drifting along from one day to the next with no real goals or ambitions?

We are nearing a New Year and with it come the traditional resolutions that rarely last a week. Why wait that long? Why not start today. I’ve spent most of my life in zombie mode, going through the motions. From one self inflicted disaster to the next. Trying to fill the gaping hole in my soul with trifling distractions. I’ve achieved a lot. I have Fionnuala and the kids. But there is so much more to do, so much more to achieve. And the clock is ticking.

I cannot waste a second. I need to push on. Forwards. Alway forwards. I might not leap out of bed but I get up now with vision and focus. It makes it all worthwhile.

I wake up tired. But alive.

Do you wake up dead every morning? Are you shuffling through your day like a zombie?

Or have you a plan? A target? A dream worth getting up for?

Poker Face

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). This is a mental illness whereby distressing, intrusive thoughts enter my head and refuse to leave. These are known as obsessions. The only temporary reprieve is to perform a physical or mental routine, the compulsion, in an attempt to force the intrusive thought from my mind. It invariably returns, however, often stronger than before. The compulsive act reinforces the impulsive thought. It is an ever decreasing circle, a cycle of despair.

One of my earliest OCD memories as a young boy revolved around the fireplace in our family home. It was a coal fire and my mother kept a metal poker on the fireplace in order to rake the ashes. It was nothing. Just an insignificant piece of metal, an inanimate object which served little purpose other than as I have described above.

It was to become the centre of my universe.

I don’t know how or when it started. But unless the poker was in a certain position on the fireplace I would be overcome by wave upon wave of anxiety and worry. Like a boulder sitting on my chest. I was consumed by it. I could think of nothing else and would wait until the living room was empty before scurrying over to the fireplace and setting the poker in exactly the position I needed it to be in. This would alleviate my distress.

Until the next time.

I was embarrassed at having to do this so did everything in my power to ensure that nobody became aware of my fixation. Because it was insane right? But my mother had been watching and one day asked me why I was doing it. I was mortified and had no real answer. Why was I doing it? I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember the feelings of guilt and shame that followed.

I didn’t know what OCD was back then. I felt like I was a freak, a weirdo, an outsider. Something inside me was not right. I was broken and could not be fixed. My obsessions and the resulting compulsions dominated my life. They became my idols and I was brought to my knees time and time again at their altars. I was powerless to resist.

They made me the man I am today. The man I have been working so hard to change. This blog is part of that transformation. I am a work in progress but there has been progress. My OCD is largely under control now thanks to a combination of medication, education and a supportive and loving family. I still display OCD traits and have bad days but the good days outnumber them.

I have slain my idols.

Is your life being controlled by a false idol? It could be a toxic relationship, an addictive behaviour or a mental illness. It is the centre of your universe and try as you might you cannot kick it. To do so would cause your world to shatter into a million pieces. You are paralysed by fear, alone and confused. I see hundreds of posts a day about these false idols. Good people consumed by despair and depression.

You are not alone. I might not comment on your posts because sometimes I don’t know what to say. But I pray for you. There are thousands of us like you. Open your eyes. Be brave. Reach out and ask for help. Do not let your situation dictate the direction of your life. Grab the steering wheel now. Get off that road you are on. You can do this. If I can then so can you.

I believe in a God. You may or may not. But even if you do not share my beliefs do not allow false gods to ruin your life. Drugs, alcohol, sex, money, people. They do not control your destiny. You do. Turn your back on their altars of anarchy. Walk away. I am walking with you. For we are many and this path is well travelled.

Walk away. I know you can.

Have you allowed false idols to enter your life?

How are you coping with this?

Steps Lead To Shelter

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

Steps lead to shelter….

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

Change involves transition. Transitions require decisions.

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

My advice?

Take the step.

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

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

I see little comfort in that.

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

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

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

Take the step.

Steps lead to shelter.

Have You Been Naughty Or Nice This Year?

At this time of the year children all around the world unite and traditionally engage in the damage limitation exercise known as ‘The Naughty Or Nice List’. Wherein they attempt to rectify eleven months of misbehaviour and disobedience by falling over themselves to perform household chores, which they had blissfully ignored for the rest of the year, and suck up to their parents in any way possible in the hope that, come Christmas morning, they won’t be waking up to a whole lot of nothing.

‘Santa has been watching and knows if you have been naughty or nice’ we proclaim sternly in the vain hope that it will spur them on to tidy their pits (I mean bedrooms), bring down their dirty washing (before it walks down the stairs itself) and solve the age old conundrum of where have all the cups gone (I believe Rebecca hold the current record of having five on her bedside table at the same time).

All I can say is that Father Christmas must be the most naive magical being alive as he falls for it every year. 360 days of utter chaos in the Black household are wiped off the slate by a few half hearted attempts to wash the dishes and put the bins out. Getting them to dry and put away the dishes or bring said bins back into the yard is a whole different blog. Despite all this gullible old Santa falls hook, line and sinker for this pre-pubescent ‘hearts and minds’ offensive every year and duly delivers the goods on Christmas Eve.

If only real life was like that. If only we could wave a magic wand and undo all the mistakes and bad choices we have made this year. If only we could turn back the clock and undo those harsh words we spoke, erase those impure thoughts we had or reverse the many selfish actions we undertook . If only we could be ‘nice’ for the next few days and forget about the many other ‘naughty’ days we have clocked up throughout our lives.

I intensely dislike the word nice. It’s a nothing word. My old English teacher said it was the laziest word in the English language. Naughty isn’t much better. But I suppose it’s only kids after all so doesn’t really apply to us larger humans who supposedly do the ‘adulting’ stuff. Why be naughty when you can be nasty, cruel, spiteful or just plain old mean. That’s more up our street isn’t it. And when you develop a mindset which regards these as second nature then it’s a long road back.

Unfortunately we don’t have Santa Claus to turn a blind eye to our faults and failings. Which placed me on a sticky wicket when I hit rock bottom a few years ago. He was nowhere to be seen. Not a reindeer or an elf in sight. I had no other option but to rely on my fractured faith which I had neglected for many years. I started reading my Bible and trying to practically follow the teachings of Jesus on a daily basis. I know not everyone who reads this blog believes in Jesus any more that they believe in Santa Claus; all I can say is that it worked for me.

I’m far from perfect. There have been many hiccups along the way. I screw up on a regular basis. I can do SO much better. But I hope that I’m getting there a step at a time. No disrespect to the Big Man with the red suit and beard but Jesus is the main event at Christmas for me this year. And no matter how ‘naughty’ you have been he can wipe the slate clean and offers you the same opportunity to start again on the ‘nice’ list. All you have to do in return?

Believe. Trust. Follow. The choice is yours.

Isaiah 9:6 – ‘For unto us a Child is born, Unto us a Son is given; And the government will be upon His shoulder. And his name will be called Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.’

Have you been naughty or nice this year?

Do you follow Jesus? Are you curious? Or do you think it’s just a festive myth? I’d be keen to hear your views. Comment below.

How Is Your Writing Coming Along?

Yesterday lunchtime I had a walk around areas of Belfast city centre where scenes of my first novel are to be set. The plan was to capture details that have evaded my memory to date so that when I am writing I can refer to them there and then. Ideally I would like to write the relevant scene while sitting at the location but it was minus 4 yesterday. I’m a wannabe author but I’m not that crazy!

Progress has been slow of late. What with work and family life it is hard to find the quiet time necessary to write. I also don’t want to neglect my blogging which is at the heart of my writing. It is my meat and potatoes. The book is just the dessert. Honeycomb ice cream or strawberry cheesecake I hope.

I’ve written about 40,000 words but I literally vomited them out during a week off work about a month ago. It’s as if they had been lying on my stomach for years and I just had to get them out of my system. I purged myself. What have I learnt? That I can write, yes, but also that I need a structure to form my words around.

I’m therefore spending more time on outlining and storyboarding as opposed to just writing blindly. The latter has surprised me in that I’ve realised that I am at my most creative when in the actual act of writing. That is when the ideas come to me, when I am actually sitting at the keyboard. It has resulted in characters leading me off in totally different directions from what I had first anticipated.

It has also dragged me down a few dead ends, however. A happy medium needs to be struck between spontaneity and preparation. I need a solid foundation upon which to lay these creative bursts. This is slowly coming. I have been using a technique called ‘The Snowflake Method’ where you start with the premise for your novel in one sentence and gradually build it from there. A paragraph, a page, four pages and so on.

The above technique is teaching me discipline and patience. Writing a novel is hard work. Yes, you have your days when the words flow from you like water from a fountain. But at other times it involves monotony and frustration. Taking five steps back in order to move one step forwards. Chipping away at a block of stone in order to reveal the sculpture beneath.

I also haven’t decided on my favourite writing device. At times I favour sitting at my desk writing on the laptop but I also jot down ideas and notes on my I-Phone and Kindle Fire. I also have a notebook which I write in. With this ancient writing tool known as a pen. Some of you may have heard of this. If haven’t just google it.

So that’s my update. I’m getting there but slower than I first expected.

How is your writing coming along?

Stinking Thinking -Part 1

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

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

On my knees for all the wrong reasons….

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

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

A dog always returns to its own vomit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued…..

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

Decrease The Creases

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

Okay. Okay. I made that last line up.

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

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

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

Sorry couldn’t resist….

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you need help with a problem today?

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

A Special Day For A Special Girl

Today is a very special day in the Black household. Our eldest daughter, Hannah, is celebrating her 14th birthday. This makes Fionnuala and myself feel very old but it also fills us with wonder as to where all the years have gone. It seems no time since that exciting, frightening day when Hannah was born. Hannah was born with spina bifida and hydrocephalus and underwent many operations in her early life with great bravery and dignity.

How many of us could undergo neurosurgery one day and be sitting up in bed, relying on paracetamol alone for pain relief, the next. Hannah has a heart the size of Ireland but is as tough as they come. Her courage and positive outlook on life have humbled me on many occasions. She loves life and is developing into a intelligent, beautiful and talented woman before our very eyes with every passing day.

Adam is the sporting star of the family and Rebecca the bookworm and aspiring blogger. Hannah, however, loves drama, song and dance. She performs on stage with incredible confidence and her talent shines bright. This amazes Fionnuala and myself all the more given you wouldn’t catch either of us dead or alive on stage.

Hannah is a loving daughter and a loyal friend. She also loves her brother and sister very much despite the ever so occasional fallout they have. Her smile could melt the coldest of hearts and lights up every room she enters. She refuses to be defined by her disability and since the first day of her life has defied surgeons and doctors alike with her spirit and desire to live a normal life.

With every passing week she reveals new skills to us. First it was her theatrical panache, next her flair for make up, hair and fashion. And this week has shown she has inherited her mother’s baking skills; her scones, shortbread and gingerbread biscuits were heaven on earth. I will have to run a few extra miles this week to burn off all the excess calories.

I embarrass her on a daily basis with my cringe worthy dancing and appalling rap skills. Her sighs and eye rolling are a sight to behold. But we are blessed to call her our daughter. She inspires and motivates us every day to strive harder and reach higher. She is a living testimony to the adage that nothing is impossible. She is unstoppable….especially in her new, motorised wheelchair!

Hannah, thank you for the joy you bring to our lives. Thank you for the singing, the laughter and the tantrums. Thank you for the gift you are. Thank you for being you. You are perfect to us and our hero. We cannot wait to share this magical, special day with you. We will never leave your side and never let you down.

All our love.

Mummy & Daddy

What Do You Love Most About WordPress?

Fionnuala and the kids have been trying in recent weeks to drag me kicking and screaming into the 21st Century by adding me to the family’s Snapchat group. This appears to involve sending each other photos and/or videos of yourself with animal ears or speaking in squeaky voice. Or both! At the same time!!

It’s all a bit beyond me. Firstly the app couldn’t acknowledge my facial features when I tried to take a photograph. Now I realise I’m no Brad Pitt or George Clooney but at the same time this was a bit of a blow to my already fragile self-esteem as Fionnuala says I’m no Quasimodo either.

I’d never seem a photograph of him before today but I have to say the face rings a bell….

*tumbleweed drifts across screen*

Anyhoooooo….another app they’ve introduced me to is Bitmoji. You know the one where you can create a cartoon character of yourself which can then reflect your every mood. Say happy….

Or sad…..

Or I feel like rocking the Christmas elf look.

In hindsight I don’t think I have the legs for those tights….

That aside I’ve taken to Bitmoji like a duck to water. Fionnuala is already bitterly regretting showing me how it works as I now bombard her and other friends with Bitmoji images as opposed to texting them ‘words’ or, heaven forbid, having an actual conversation. With words, eye contact and adulting stuff like that.

Isn’t it amazing how lazy we have become at communicating with each other. Why bother expending all that energy expressing yourself when a 😊 or a 👍🏻 will suffice. We love creating layers and barriers in order to hide our true selves. Being honest and open is almost regarded as a sign of weakness in this day and age.

We have become an emoji culture.

We are in fact an emotionless culture.

Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are all the same. So many people offering up entirely inaccurate and misleading caricatures of who they really are. We are the happy selfie generation while inside there is despair and selfishness. Nobody sees the real person anymore. They are buried beneath fake smiles and glazed eyes.

That’s what I love about you guys. The WordPress community. Realism. Warts and all. So real it cuts me to the bone at times. You wear your hearts on your sleeves every day. You inspire and motivate me. You tell stories of brokenness. You speak the truth even if it is a painful truth. You desire healing and growth. You want to move forward, to leave behind the zombie generation.

You want to help others but realise, before that, you have to help yourself.

We are the refugees of social media. The online outcasts. We have fled the coming storm and sought sanctuary within WordPress. It is our fortress, our stronghold. We have pulled up the drawbridge and now sit around the fire telling stories of struggle and recovery. We are a family, a community. We are one.

We don’t need selfies. We don’t pout or preen for the camera. We are what we are. Fragile, weak, yet real. Words are our weapons and tools. Together we are strong. There are multiple beliefs and faiths on the blogs I read here every day. But they are bound together by love, empathy and wisdom.

Physician heal thyself. But you are. One day at a time. One blog post at a time.

Why do you love most about WordPress?

Elf Hath No Fury

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

We have a thief in our midst.

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

But no I got Elfy the Elf….

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

Day 1

Day 2

But much, much worse was to follow.

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

Day 3

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

They shall not pass….

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

Are you suffering an infestation of elves this Christmas?

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

If The Cap Fits….

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

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

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

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

Are you wearing that for a bet?

You look like a sheep farmer.

Did your grandfather leave you that in his will?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Stephen. In a silly cap….

Do you have a favourite piece of headwear?

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

Words

What’s in a word?

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

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

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

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

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

The sweetest poisons are often the most deadly.

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

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

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

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

30K

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

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

THANK YOU ❤️🙏🏻😊

Why Do We Have Scars?

Why do we have scars?

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

Broken bones heal. Why don’t all wounds?

The answer? Bones heal but scars reveal.

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

You are your scars.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Devil Wears Grey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do You Blog?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you blog?

Are You Okay?

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

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

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

Two little words.

I’m okay.

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

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

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

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

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

My name is Stephen and I’m not okay.

But I’m okay with that.

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

Joy Through Suffering

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marathon Finished

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

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

Occam’s Razor v Dr Google

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your views on Occam’s Razor?

Do you consult with Dr. Google?

The 26.2 Mile Turkey Trot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To all our American friends Happy Thanksgiving Day!!

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

What are you thankful for?

The Angriest Solicitor In Ireland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Do You Get Out Of Bed In The Morning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why do you have to get out of bed?

Why do you want to get out of bed?

Phone Moan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The 1% Is A Liar

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

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

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

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

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

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

Believe in the 99%.

How big a part does doubt play in your life?

How do you battle it?

What is your dream?

Happy Christmas Even Though It’s Still November

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now where did I put those stepladders?

When do your Christmas decorations go up?

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

The Burnt Pot

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Samuel 16:7

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

Dried Blood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When did you last encounter blood on the street?

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

Fionnuala’s Faith

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

A Sea Of Words

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you write?

What writing projects are you working at present?

Power

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You’re Just A Weirdo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are you like in social settings?

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

Stick To The Programme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a patient person? Or do you struggle?

Are you good at sticking to plans?

Meet Mr Skelly 

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

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


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

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

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

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

It is time to meet Mr. Skelly….

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

What advice can you offer a fledgling novelist?

Thank You

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

A Racing Certainty

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Do you struggle with temptation?

What are you willing to gamble to secure happiness?

I’m Walking On The Air

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your favourite form of footwear?

Where is your soul at today?

Do you believe in angels and demons?

Riskbands

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a risk taker? Or risk averse?

I Believe In Unicorns 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe in Jesus?

How would you describe your relationship with him?

What mythical creature did you love as a child?

Long Hair Don’t Care

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Be brave. Be honest. Be yourself. 

R.I.P. Kurt.

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

How hard do you find it to be yourself?

Do you even know the real you?

Tell us about your worst ever hairstyle.

Attention To Detail

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is your biggest flaw?

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

💕 Our Big 11 Year Old Baby Unicorn 💕

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

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

BIRTHDAY EVE – 1st November 2017

An extra blog today from our very excited daughter, Rebecca, who turns 11 tomorrow.

Hello here my name is Rebecca you may have read my first blog. Well this blog is about the day before my birthday and all the stuff I’m doing to kill time. When I woke up I sat in bed for fifteen minutes and read my book then I got up and went down stairs and had some breakfast. Then I just chilled out on the sofa with my mummy and watched some TV until I got up and put up some birthday banners. After that I brushed the hall and I brushed the living room and I brushed the kitchen and cleaned the kitchen and living room all up. Then I had my lunch that killed about twenty minutes then I started my blog. Some other things that I am doing tonight is when I’m having my dinner I am going to eat it slower and then me and my mummy are going to Tesco. After when we come back from Tesco I’m going to help put away the shopping then I’m going to go in the bath and wash my hair so when I come out from the bath I can do my hair what will kill some more time.

The most things I’m excited for is my birthday party I’m having that night and for in the morning because my big brother Adam thought it would be funny to wrap my present up from him last Sunday when I was out and sat it on the table in the living room so from Sunday every time I go in I just want to open it and he put loads of paper and stuff like that so when you shake it you can’t hear anything so this is the end of my blog and I really appreciate you for taking time to read it there is just one more thing I would like to say is that when I was writing my blog the verse John chapter 3 verse 16 says For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have in eternal life.
When I was writing this blog that verse came into my head so that is way I wrote it down bye

Back To Groundhog Day….In A Tardis

Hollywood sometimes is not the most creative of artistic environments (Fast and Furious 8 anyone?) and is no exception when it comes to the glut of ‘Groundhog Day’ type movies which flood our screens. We had never heard of the phenomenon in Northern Ireland until the release of the Bill Murray original in 1993, where a not very likeable TV weatherman becomes caught in a time loop where he has to relive the same day over and over again. 

The experience forces him to review his life and helps him evolve into a much kinder and more loving person. It was a box office success and has led to all sorts of spin offs and variations of a theme. I’ve seen Christmas, horror and teen ‘Groundhog Day’ inspired movies. All following the same basic premise. What if you could live yesterday all over again? What would you do differently? What would you change? Or would you just leave things as they were?


I’ve made a billion mistakes down the years and there are days when  I wish I could turn back time (minus the dodgy Cher wardrobe) and rewrite my past. Erase a lot of the bad decisions I have made and put things right. Live a better life, a perfect life. But then I think would that make me the person I am today, warts and all. Do I want to be a revisionist historian like in Stalinist Russia? Airbrushing my failings? Sugar coating the truth of who I was?

I stand here today before you scarred and flawed. But I earned those scars and I have them for a reason. My past has cost myself and others dearly. I wish it was not so but it is. I have walked a rocky road but my screw ups have helped shaped me into the person I am today. God allowed me to make the same mistakes over and over again to bring me to a point where I hit rock bottom and realised I could no longer do it on my own. I needed Him.

Our past shapes us and makes us who we are today. We go through it in order to learn from it and evolve. My past has allowed God to chip away at my faults and insecurities and reshape me. If it wasn’t for my past I wouldn’t be writing this today. In fact, this blog probably wouldn’t exist (hurrah you all cheer). Our past is our fuel. It powers us through the present and hopefully helps steer us to a better future where we can avoid the potholes on the road that we previously fell foul of.

So tempting as it sounds I’m not so sure I want to wake up and repeat 31 October 2017 all over again. Sure there are things I would change if I could. But if I did then would I be the man I am today, this very second. I learnt from yesterday. As I will learn from today. And tomorrow. I’m no Marty McFly or Dr. Who. Plus time travel sounds like awfully hard work. I think I’ll stay where I am for now.

If you could relive yesterday what would you change? Or would you let sleeping dogs lie?

What is your favourite Bill Murray movie? Scrooged? Ghostbusters? Lost In Translation?

You Decide 

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

Fuel 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For There Lurk Demons

Sometimes you hit a crossroads in life and I think I am there now. It has been an undulating and meandering route but I am there. So where do I go? The crossroads is barren and offers no clues as to the way ahead. There are no signposts or clues as to which road to take. There are no fellow travellers to consult with. All I know is that I cannot go back the way I came for there lurk demons.

I am weary and fearful that if I delay my decision much longer then it will be too late. The window of opportunity will be firmly and permanently shut in my face. The options open to me will disappear like wisps of smoke in a clear, blue sky. I look to the skies for inspiration but see only the gaunt vultures circling me under the watchful, unblinking eye of the searing sun.  They smell death. The death of my dreams.

I crave death. The death of my past. I want to cut free from the stifling chains of guilt and worthlessness. The voices that tell me I have failed. For they are seductive liars who flaunt their wares brazenly in front of my tearful eyes on a daily basis. I no longer believe the lies but they still sting like salt on a fresh wound. They circle me mockingly and show no respite. They seek to overwhelm me but I will not succumb to their falsehoods.


I look to God for guidance but he is silent. Is his silence a sign in itself? Is there a purpose behind his silence? Or is he screaming in my ears but I choose not to listen? Is my spiritual deafness self inflicted? The cruellest enemy is the one who knows you best. And I know myself very well. I know every chink in my threadbare armour. Every exposed area where the steel of the enemy can plunge deep through flesh and muscle until it strikes home, piercing my very soul.

I see myself lying at the crossroads as my essence drains out of me to be consumed by the dusty, thirsty road. My very being ebbs away as my eyes glaze over. There are no Good Samaritans on this road. Only the crossroads and a decision to be made. Is there a right decision? Is the wrong decision making no decision at all? I renounce the confusion in my head. The fog of the enemy has no place in my mind. I pray for clarity and truth. 

I look down as my right foot tentatively steps forward. Followed by another step. Then another. I am walking. Forwards. I know not where this path leads and I know not why I have chosen it. But a decision has been made. I leave the crossroads behind me and move on, leaving the vultures behind. The distant horizon offers only baffling anonymity. I see no end to my journey. I see no fireworks or marching bands. Only the road. But every step is another one away from my past.

For there lurk demons.

Hotdogs For Breakfast 

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

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

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


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

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

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

I wonder if they serve hotdogs for breakfast in Heaven?

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

Are you a worrier?

What appointments do you have today?

What’s your favourite breakfast?

Cloudy With A Chance of Grace 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where are you today and what is the weather like?

Did God shower you with grace today?

Every Team Needs A Kicker

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you a NFL fan?

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

Be A Zero

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Where do you lie on the 10-0 scale?

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

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

Real Running

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Care & Love 

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Aboard 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What are your thoughts on this post?

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

Where are you on your journey through life?

Grateful 

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


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

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

Thank you all again ❤️🙏🏻😊

The Morning After 

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

Storm Warning 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you deal with the storms of life?

The Unlikely Angel

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When does Christmas officially start in your house?

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

Do you believe in angels?

Pace Yourself 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s on your bucket list?

How do you get through the tough times?

Deadline Day

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

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

I have a deadline to meet.


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

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

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

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

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

Just kidding. I’m still here. 😊

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

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

Are you facing any tight deadlines today?

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

The Wardrobe Malfunction 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

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

Carpe Diem?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you intend to seize today?

The Loose Screw 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

It’s time to start sweeping….

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

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

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

Quietly Excited 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What is your emotional ‘default setting’?

Role Models 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

But he is trying.

How would you rate your behaviour this week?

What can you do to improve as a person?

When you blog do your readers see the real you?


Thoughts And Prayers 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stop thinking. Start praying. Please.

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

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

Modern Life Is Rubbish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope and pray….

John 14:1 – ‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.’

Have you woken up feeling frustrated and resentful?

Do you have trust issues? Have you been let down recently?

How do you feel now after reading this post?

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