What Is Your Worst Habit?

Yesterday I wrote about my ongoing querying of literary agents and how researching their backgrounds prior to submitting your manuscript to them, is the acceptable face of online stalking. It was a tongue in cheek piece, as most of my writing is, but there was a serious message wrapped up inside the frivolity. That being, the obsessive behaviour which fuels the mind of a stalker.

I have OCD and an obsessive personality. I have no filter, no brake, no off switch. I can easily become fixated with activities and even people. This is exacerbated by a complete lack of self awareness when it comes to this particular character trait. I am unaware of my behaviour, in fact I rationalise that it is completely normal and those raising the alarm to me are the killjoys and bores.

This obsessive streak can be explained away as having a stubborn streak or being ultra single minded and determined. Which, in themselves, are admirable characteristics. You need these to run marathons. You need them to carve out a reasonably successful career in my chosen fiend. You need them to slave away at your novel for over a year until it is finally complete.

It’s a double sided coin, however. It’s not so admirable when you become obsessed with running, or paragliding, or base jumping. These activities are designed to be a release from the daily grind, as opposed to becoming the grind itself. They become destructive and counter productive when they drag you away from your core values and the people and pursuits who truly matter.

We become ensnared by these pastimes, they become our raison d’etre. They possess and consume us. They same can be said of online activity. I admit I spend far too much time online, trying to build the blog and related social media platforms. I know it is a necessary evil to pursue my writing dream, but I often need Fionnuala to remind me that I also have a wife and three kids who supersede all my other responsibilities.

This weakness has led me down all sorts of nasty rabbit holes in the past. I cultivated unhealthy online habits which damaged both myself and those I love. I became secretive and distant. Thankfully my current online incarnation is founded upon transparency and accountability. This affords me a safety net should I ever feel the urge to slip back into old habits. I’m learning to police myself again and, in doing so, trust myself again.

Any habit is hard to shake. I bite my nails, drink too much Diet Coke and the list goes on. I’ll never be a hand model but I do recycle all my empty cans and bottles. There are worse habits to have, I glibly inform people whenever I am challenged on these. And, indeed there are. But it’s a warning to always be on my guard. Old habits die hard. They are always lurking, waiting to pounce. The demon that is OCD is never far away.

I don’t smoke, I don’t drink and I don’t do drugs. I’m a boring, middle aged husband and father. I don’t attract a second glance on my daily commute to and from work. None of us do. We are normal. Oh, but if only they knew. If only they knew the dormant madness that lies within. Just waiting for it’s opportunity to be unleashed and wreak havoc on our carefully constructed worlds. If only….

What are your bad habits?

Does madness lurk within you?

The Day My Dog Spoke To Me

Our dog, Charlie the border terrier, isn’t the sharpest tool in the box. Every morning I fill his bowl with fresh water, and every morning he and I enact the same routine. He pads over to the bowl, sniffs at it and then rewards me with a withering glare, before sulking in his cage for the remainder of the morning. If looks could kill then I’d be halfway to doggy heaven by now. Charlie doesn’t do tap water.

I’ve no idea why as it’s perfectly acceptable tap water. Good enough for the human members of the household. Perhaps he’s just not thirsty, I used to think. Or his sensitive canine palate will only accept Evian sparkling H20 from the purest Alpine springs. His father was a pedigree so maybe that’s where his culinary pickiness comes from. Possibly there’s a bit of corgi in his family lineage.

Given this, I was surprised the other day to find him slurping noisily from a plant pot in the back yard. It had rained heavily overnight so the saturated soil in the pot contained a good few inches of dirty rainwater. Dirty rainwater that our Charlie was gulping down at an unprecedented pace. It was as if he had just crossed the Sahara Desert and was on his last legs. Paws. Whatever.

When he was finished, he ambled past me with a smug expression on his face, his thirst quenched. Can dogs look smug? He trotted past his bowl of clean, cool tap water without a second glance. Here was a dog who knew what he liked and no dumb owner was going to stand in his way. I initially dismissed this as a one off but have since caught him a number of times lapping up muddy water from the back yard.

It doesn’t appear to have affected his health. He’s still a bouncing ball of energy and his all consuming hatred of neighbourhood cats and our amiable postman, Tony, remains undiminished. He just has a preference for al fresco dirty water. Maybe, somewhere deep within his admittedly tiny brain, it is the same primeval beast within which still makes him circle ten times before lying down.

I used to be like Charlie. I had a loving home and family, everything I needed on tap. Yet I preferred spending my nights at the bottom of a pint glass or talking online to complete strangers. I turned my nose up at the pure refreshment on offer for my soul and wallowed in self pity and shame. A physically and mentally unhealthy mess who was more interested in his Twitter followers than his wife and kids.

I’m glad that those times are behind me now. They say you should never look back but sometimes it does no harm to peek over your shoulder to see how far you have come on your journey. We often forget to reflect positively on what we have achieved, instead becoming overwhelmed by the present and what yet lies ahead of us. It is our past conquests where we attain the strength and skills to forge ahead. Our past arms us for the future.

When I get home tonight, I may sneak Charlie an extra biscuit for teaching me an important lesson today. For a dog, he has a pretty comfortable life. I’ll allow him his back yard forays to the dirty plant pot knowing that I now drink from a well of living water. Everyone has the opportunity to sip from this well, yet it remains the less traveled path to so many. I’m glad I made the right choice in the end.

Have you got a pet? What lessons do they teach you?

Have you drank dirty water in the past? Where are you now on your journey?

What Do Bloggers Do On Sunday?

From personal experience, Sunday is the quietest day of the week on WordPress. People tend to be offline and blog traffic picks up later in the week again. For many people, Sunday is traditionally a day of rest. They have a lie in, spend the day with their family, some go to church. I also realise that others have to go to work. To some, Sunday is just another day while others treat it as special time which should be protected at all costs.

My Sunday’s follow a typical pattern. They used to start with a stinking hangover, followed by skulking around the house eating unhealthily and largely feeling sorry for myself. How times have changed. We aren’t connected to a church (loooooooong story) but friends do come to our house every Sunday morning to listen to worship music, pray and study the Bible. Today, I spoke about using the Bible as a weapon.

Now, by weapon I don’t mean literally bashing people over the head with it, although I have been sorely tempted at times. Even loooooonger story. No, the Bible can be used to protect you from unacceptable and inappropriate behaviour. I know it is not for everyone but I believe it has helped me become a better, more thoughtful, considerate person. I’m no expert and a lot of it still challenges and confuses me, but I do get a lot out of it.

Afterwards we all hung out for a while. Fionnuala baked a birthday cake for our friend, Graham. When our friends left, I ran a 5K even though I felt tired. I’m still recovering from a mystery virus I’ve been battling since before Christmas. I’m much better than I was, and back running again, but there are days when it is the furthest thing from my mind. I forced myself out there, though, and felt all the better for it.

I’m no culinary giant but promised Fionnuala last week I would cook dinner on Sunday. She suggested sausage casserole as even a walking disaster zone like yours truly could manage that one. Rebecca helped me by cutting the up carrots and onions while I peeled potatoes. We both ended up with stinging eyes from the onions but I managed not to burn anything and everyone seemed to enjoy it. It’s another dish I’ve mastered which I can add to my recipe book.

The remainder of the day will be taken up with blogging and writing an article a website has approached me about. I’ll also drop an e-mail to my editor to see how she is progressing with the book. We will hopefully get caught up on some of our shows, although Fionnuala always has a busy Sunday evening, preparing lunches and uniforms for the week ahead. So much for Sunday being a day of rest then.

Monday comes around oh so quick. Our weekends are precious times and I’m blessed that I can spend mine with family and friends, people who truly matter. I hope you do the same and are doing so now, instead of reading my rambling words. We only have so many of these days, we should make the most of them. I hope you are all having a great Sunday. Whatever you are doing today.

How do you spend your Sunday?

The Land Is Yours

Every so often, I get a phrase in my head that won’t budge. It’s different from the million other thoughts which bounce around my head every day. Different in that I know it is not of me. It’s as if a flying saucer has landed on my cranium and a team of little green men have dumped the phrase out their landing doors. Well, they have returned. For a phrase has settled. Four little words. Or possibly four HUGE words.

The land is yours….

Yup, that’s it. As a C minus Christian with a deeply fractured faith, I want to believe that God has placed the phrase in my head for a purpose, a specific reason. And I believe this to be the case in this instance. I believe I was given the phrase for a friend of ours who has to make a big decision. Hopefully it will help him to make the correct choice. But it’s landed with such a thump on my doorstep that I feel I should share it with you all.

We all have decisions to make in life, difficult choices to take. These involve change, which can be daunting and frightening. Change can be a white knuckle ride of epic proportions. Life is about moving forward, often into the unknown. This invariably involves sacrifice and hard work. Many shy from such responsibilities, preferring the safety of the status quo as opposed to rolling the dice and seeing what numbers come up.

I was such a person for many years. I wallowed in a bubble of inertia, consumed by self pity and haunted by the ghosts of my past. My mental and physical health deteriorated. I succumbed to addictive and inappropriate behaviour. It was my security blanket, my shield. For the last thing I wanted to do was draw back the curtains and expose myself to the truth.

I reckoned nobody liked me much, for I didn’t particularly like myself. I sulked in the darkness and avoided the light at all costs. Until the penny dropped one day. I realised I was wasting my life and wasting the lives of my loved ones. I ripped up the book of excuses and chose to step forward into the destiny that had been staring me in my face all along. All I had to do was reach out and touch it.

The land was mine….

Any farmer will tell you that in order to reap the benefits of the land, you must work hard. Fields of corn don’t just sprout up overnight. You need to tend to them, put the hours in. It applies to everything. Your career, your education, your relationships. Yet, if you combine a strong work ethic with an equally strong belief, then that’s when the miraculous happens. I believe that is where God steps in and turns the impossible into the inevitable.

You might believe in God, Allah, Buddha or the man on the moon. You might believe in nothing, including yourself. If you do, then that is your prerogative. I can’t force you to change. All I can suggest is you might be wrong. Step up and step out. The land is yours and, what’s more, it’s closer than you think. Clamber over the fence or whatever barrier is holding you back from where you need to be, from where you were born to be.

The land is yours….

Start walking and, whatever you do, don’t stop and don’t look back. Keep your eyes firmly fixed on the horizon and feel the virgin earth beneath your feet. Watch as the veils of failure and defeat fall away to reveal what is meant to be. Now look around and marvel at the lush, verdant fields stretching for as far as the eye can see. There is no limit to what you can achieve. Just believe. And leave the rest to your higher power.

Is the land yours?

I Interviewed A Dying Man….

I interviewed a dying man once. I was visibly shocked when he calmly informed me that this was the case. He mentioned it as you would the weather, or how shocking the train service has been of late. It was matter of fact, making conversation, a throwaway comment. To many, that sounds as if he did not value his life, that he had given up, that he no longer cared. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The dying man had lived a full life, an incredible life which he gradually revealed to me during the course of our interview. If I were to tell you half of it, you might raise an eyebrow but I can tell you that it is all true, having researched this man before we met l. He had squeezed every last drop out of it, and now looked back upon it as it drew to a close.

He spoke clearly to me throughout, and his eyes had a piercing intensity that suggested an iron will and steely focus. For this man, though dying, had unfinished business. Which was why he had agreed to meet me, after weeks of careful brokering via an intermediary. There was still work for him to do, and I was the conduit he had chosen to facilitate his dying wish.

I cannot tell you what that wish was, as to do so would reveal his identity and betray his trust. Other than to say, if and when it is fulfilled, it will probably feature on the front page of many newspapers. There are very few people on this planet who can work towards granting his wish, but I happen to be one of them. I feel pressure, responsibility, a burden. But it is one that I gladly accept.

The dying man told me exactly what I needed him to tell me. The baton had been passed on, the gauntlet thrown down. The ball was and is in my court now. The dying man told me he had found his faith in the depths of his despair. As such, he was prepared to meet his Maker. He believed and had spent the latter years of his life helping others as God had helped him through his own personal valley of death. He believed.

This incredibly intelligent, wildly successful man believed. Prior to meeting him, I was somewhat in awe of his achievements and reputation, I was nervous meeting him, unsure as to what to expect. Yet where I might have expected arrogance and vanity, instead I found humility and compassion. He was at peace with his circumstances and his diagnosis. Utterly confident as to what lay ahead.

Yet, I still doubt. I waver, I falter, I stumble in my faith. This great man had chosen me to assist in granting his dying wish. Am I even fit to lace his shoes? As we shook hands at the end of our meeting he said two words to me – ‘God Bless’ – and it was as if his eyes bored into my soul, stripping away all the earthly layers and seeing me for the broken earthly vessel I am. Yet still, he believes in me. He trusts me to deliver my end of the bargain.

I saw life in his eyes. Life and hope and purpose. The dying see the world in 20/20. They see the rest of us, the living, as we stumble about lost in our earthly fogs. The dying implore us to carry on, to realise their dreams and aspirations. They see that time is short, but they know the truth. I interviewed a dying man and looked into his eyes. He shared his truth with me.

Something Has Been On My Mind.

I wrote some time ago that I was no longer going to write exclusively about Christian topics. I described myself as a Christian who blogs, as opposed to a Christian blogger. My reasons for this have been well documented so I don’t think I need to repeat them on this post. Suffice to say, I felt awkward and uncomfortable doing so, given my own fractured faith. Enough said.

At the time, I received a lot of support for my stance. From Christians and non-Christians alike. People replied that they respected my decision and the rationale behind that. Phrases like ‘refreshing honesty’ were thrown about and I felt vindicated. People understood, or at least I thought they did. I forged forward, content that all was well and I could focus on other topics close to my heart.

Very, very gradually though I began to realise that all was not as rosy as I first thought. Certain Christian bloggers stopped reading and commenting on my posts, others less and less so. It has been a trickle, as opposed to a flood, but a noticeable one, nonetheless. Like a leaky tap in the corner of the room. Barely audible but there all the same. Drip. Drip. Drip. In certain quarters, I have become somewhat of a blogging outcast.

It’s not as if I’m shouting atheism from the rooftops. I still consider myself a Christian, albeit a deeply flawed one. The majority of my posts contain a consistent Christian message. Love others. It’s just I choose not to deliver it as overtly as I used to, and as others continue to do. I don’t quote Scripture, although I still read my Bible. My faith is more private. I’m seeking to focus on my relationship with Jesus.

My daily views have dipped considerably and for a long time I was unable to put my finger on the reason for it. Or rather, I chose not to. I didn’t want to speak out loud what I’d been privately thinking for some time. Even less so, I haven’t wanted to air my thoughts. Yet, here I am, writing about it. It’s that whole ‘refreshing honesty’ thing again. I write what I see. I might be horribly mistaken. But that’s what I see.

WWJD – What Would Jesus Do, or rather think? I’m not sure what his views on social media would be. I know it can be a fantastic evangelical tool, if used properly. But I still reckon he would be old school when it came to missionary work. Walking the streets, looking the broken in the eye, loving the unlovable. Not sitting behind a keyboard, tapping merrily away. You can only do so much from there.

Don’t get me wrong. There are still a core of Christian bloggers who I read, and interact with, on a daily basis. They have always shown love in the way they support and encourage me, no matter what I write about. But I see a worrying trend amongst other Christians on WordPress to only interact with other overt Christian bloggers. Isn’t that kind of missing the point?

I saw the same thinking when I went to church. We stick to our own, we don’t reach out beyond our comfort zone. We smile politely and nod and say all the right things, but where is the integrity, the desire to get your hands dirty and mingle in the mire and the mud of the sinful. For that is where Jesus would be. Up to his knees in it. Be that on WordPress or in a doorway with an alcoholic, a drug addict, whoever needed him.

Only People In The Movies Slip On Banana Skins

Have you ever watched an old black and white movie where one of the characters slips on a banana skin and then launches into mid air before coming crashing back to earth again. Cue howls of laughter. Oh stop, my aching sides. I always thought such scenes were confined to the silver screen. Surely such idiots didn’t exist in the real world. Until two days ago, that was.

I was walking through the city centre, on my way to the train station, minding my own business, when suddenly I was propelled skywards. In a scene more befitting of a slapstick version of ‘The Matrix’ I found myself experiencing a weird, out of body sensation. I realised I was in mid air and hung there, awaiting gravity to do ‘its thang’ and return me to terra firma. I didn’t have to wait long.

My right hip collided painfully with the pavement and I lay there, dazed and confused, staring at the offending article. A banana skin. I was more embarrassed than hurt. It was a busy street and I cringed, expecting howls of laughter or, at the very least, a stifled snigger. Nothing. I waited some more. Life continued on around me, as if I was invisible. Had I imagined the entire episode?

Hauling myself gingerly to my feet, I checked all was in order, desperately avoiding eye contact with any of the pedestrians hurrying past in either direction. Too late. An old man caught my eye. Oh well, at least he had the compassion to show an interest in my well being. I braced myself for an embarrassing conversation about how I was fine really, no harm done, thanks for asking anyway, etc etc.

‘You slipped on a banana skin,’ he cheerily announced, before continuing on his way, a broad smile on his face. ‘Er yes, I was aware of that,’ I sourly replied, not sure if he was extracting the urine or somehow thought I was unaware as to what had happened. An old lady then distracted me, by asking was I alright. In the the meantime, 8,473 other people had scurried past, unconcerned as to my plight.

I thanked the lady, muttering I was fine, before fleeing the scene as quickly as I could, given my aching hip and bruised pride. In hindsight, I should have disposed of the banana skin, to save somebody else a similar plight, but at that moment in time, all I wanted was for the ground to open and swallow me up. Later though, I thought about it more. Are people really that uncaring in today’s society?

Okay, I wasn’t badly hurt, but I could have been. Bar Olly Obvious and the old lady, it was as it my aerial antics had been invisible. Are city folk that conditioned nowadays to avoid interacting with other people, for fear of being stabbed, mugged or otherwise harmed? Where have all the Good Samaritans gone? Would I have ran to someone’s aid if I witnessed a similar scenario? I’d like to think I would have. Does that make me a minority of one?

Life is full of banana skins, scattered along the road we travel, just waiting to trip us up along the way. It’s inevitable we will all come a cropper one day and find ourselves flat on our backs, staring up at the sky. It’s then that we need people around who love us and will help us back onto our feet. People who will always love us, no matter what the circumstances. People who hang around, when the going gets tough.

We need those people. We also need to be those people.

Have you ever slipped on a banana skin? Or witnessed someone else? How did you feel? What did you do?

Have you the people around you, who will step up to the mark, when you need help in your life?

Where Are You God?

It was a frosty start this morning as we arose to face a dark and dreary Tuesday. The car thermometer informed us it was below freezing as Fionnuala drove me out to the train station for my daily commute to Belfast. Ahead of us was another busy day. The weekend seems a long way off, and tends to be even busier than the week itself. The Christmas break can’t come quick enough.

My local train station in the morning resembles the American evacuation of Hanoi. Utter chaos. Woefully inadequate car parking facilities mean vehicles are abandoned on the road, as school children and office workers converge on the tiny stop. The mighty minds at Northern Ireland Translink have also cut the number of carriages, meaning getting a seat is nigh on impossible.

We cram onto the train, jostling for position and breathing space. I’m convinced I will be asked one of these days to sit on the roof, more akin to Mumbai than Moira. Everyone looks suitably miserable on the journey into Belfast, the majority with their noses buried in their phones or other electronic devices. Eye contact is kept to a minimum and Heaven forbid you attempt to strike up a conversation.

When we arrive in Belfast, it’s a stampede onto the platform and every man and woman for themselves in the dash for the barriers. Where sour faced staff await us, begrudgingly inspecting our tickets before allowing us through and onto the hustle and bustle of the city centre and beyond. Despite the lights being up, I don’t think the festive spirit has gripped the city yet. I’m not sure if it ever will.

The walk to the office is equally grim. It’s as if the number of homeless people in Belfast multiplies by the day. They huddle in doorways and shopfronts, cocooned in blankets, but still shivering against the biting cold. I walk past and onwards to my warm office, where petty office political wrangles await. Want to fully expose yourself to the lowest human qualities? Greed, arrogance, deceit? Work in an open plan office for a year.

It’s at times like this I ask, where is God? For I don’t see him on my daily commute. Instead, I see a world I’m not particularly proud to be a part of, a world that seems to be spiralling out of control. God has been very quiet in our lives of late. Hopes have been dashed, prayers gone unanswered, and obstacles loom up in every direction to frustrate and restrict us. I still believe in God, but I do wonder at times. Where are you?

Then, Fionnuala pointed out the sky to me this morning. She was looking up, whereas I was glumly staring ahead. That sums up the two of us quite well. The photo below doesn’t do justice to the majestic orange and purple hue, framing a crescent moon, kept company by a lone star, blazing brilliantly over the gloomy earth below. I wonder if the Wise Men looked upon a similar sight as they journeyed to Bethlehem.

The sight gave me hope. Hope that there are better times, and that God has better plans ahead for us. It certainly doesn’t feel that way, at present, but I guess that is what faith is all about. Without hope, we are lost. We need to believe in something, otherwise life is pointless. We need guidance. A single star in a chilly morning sky might not be much. But for me, today, it was enough.

What do you believe in?

Are You A Morning Person?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m going to try again this morning….

Are you a morning person?

Are you too hard on yourself?

Or can you try harder than you have been?

The Winning Ticket – Part Two

Earlier today I wrote about purchasing a monthly train ticket for the princely sum of £138. Since then I have been commuting to and from Belfast, constantly checking my wallet to satisfy myself it was where it was meant to be. I would produce and stare at it longingly like Frodo Baggins on his way to Mordor with the one ring to rule them all. Thankfully, minus the annoyingly protective Samwise Gamgee at my side.

The good news is that I have managed to navigate the first half of October without losing said ticket. It remains in pristine condition, safe and sound in its plastic sleeve, less wrinkles than a botoxed socialite. I proudly wave it at the conductor every morning, mentally calculating how much money I have saved since abandoning my previous policy of buying daily tickets.

I guard it with my life. It is indeed my precious. All £138 of it. If only I treated all the precious commodities in my life with such care. Physically I ‘try’ to eat healthily and run regularly. I’d like to think I’m in decent shape for a man of my venerable years. Mentally, I take my happy pill every morning which wards off the slumbering monster called OCD which lurks in the darker recesses of my mind.

But what about my soul? I’ve always thought there is something beyond life. This can’t be everything, at least that’s my take on it. Call me naive but I believe in an afterlife and how you conduct yourself in this existence, determines where you’re going to end up when you trundle off this mortal coil. When that happens I won’t have to worry about my weight or cholesterol levels. But I will have to worry about my soul.

It’s worth a tad more than £138 but I often neglect the most important commodity I will ever possess. I need to be kinder, humbler and more loving. I need to put others before myself, give generously of my time and energy. There is so much I need to do better and more often. And yet I so often neglect what’s staring me straight in the eye, jumping up and down and stamping its feet like a toddler throwing a tantrum.

Tomorrow is another working day. I’ll brave the packed Belfast Express, clinging on to my ticket for all I’m worth. But I’m learning to cling even more tightly to the wisdom and guidance I so desperately need to traverse this minefield we call life. It’s involved a lot of tentative steps but I’m hopeful I’m headed in the right direction. For this is one journey where a one way ticket is all that I’ll require.

Do you believe in the afterlife?

God Remembers – Part One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be continued….

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

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

Do you feel life has passed you by?

That God hasn’t heard your prayers?

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

Every Cloud Has A Silver Lining

My hiatus from novel writing and running has allowed me to re-evaluate and focus on more important areas of life – namely my faith and family. A few days ago I asked for suggestions as to which book of the Bible I could feature in a future study on the blog. I was inundated with responses. Thank you very much to those who took the time to respond. I ended up with dozens of selections.

So much so, that I decided to pick two books, from the Old and New Testaments respectively. The ‘winners’, for want of a better word, were Psalms and Luke. I hope to post weekly blogs focusing on these studies, starting with one on Zachariah, the father of John the Baptist, this coming weekend. I hope they will prove of some worth to you as I now have more time to study, and reflect upon, this neglected area of my life.

Is God Really Good?

When I was at school, and Queen Victoria sat upon the throne, I had a very grumpy English teacher called Mrs Hume. I felt sorry for Mr. Hume if she was as grumpy at home. Mrs Hume was a well balanced woman. She had a chip on both shoulders. Life had dealt her a poor hand and, instead of writing bursary winning poetry at Harvard, she was stuck in a freezing cold portacabin in rural Northern Ireland.

All the other English teachers had spacious, warm classrooms in the main school building. Not so, Mrs. Hume. Her portacabin was drafty and cramped. In the winter months it resembled a Siberian concentration camp, only less friendly. Mrs. Hume never took her coat off and sat huddled in it at the front of the classroom, rolling her eyes at our excruciatingly bad analysis and interpretation of Shakespeare, Chaucer and D.H. Lawrence.

After two years of her acerbic feedback and pithy asides, a miracle occurred; or rather, two miracles. Firstly I obtained an ‘A’ grade in my ‘A’ level English Literature; and secondly I survived two winters in that portacabin without losing any of my extremities to frostbite. Armed with my certificate and a fully functioning set of digits I set off to university where I, of course, chose to study….er….Modern History.

I often wonder how my life would have turned out had I decided to pursue an English degree. Perhaps, nothing materially would have changed. Or we could all be speaking Russian or have grown tails or something. What is certain though is that, beneath her barely contained contempt for the human race, Mrs Hume was doing something right. For, otherwise how could I have achieved the grade that I did. The woman could teach.

The one lesson she consistently hammered home was to avoid using lazy language. Words like ‘nice’, ‘fine’ and ‘good.’ Including them in one of your essays would awaken a dark, primal rage within her which ensured you never did it again. She, in her own cantankerous style, encouraged us to embrace and explore the English language. She demanded passion, vitality and expressive thinking. Describing Tennessee Williams as ‘good’ didn’t quite cut the mustard with her.

God is Good.

If you hang around Christians for any length of time, you will hear that stock phrase rolled out. It’s up there with ‘I’ll pray for you’ and other such cliches. God is Good. Is that the best we can manage? To describe the Creator of the Universe, the omnipotent, omniscient power behind everything we know. Who sent his son to the Cross to wipe clean the slate of sin for all eternity. Oh that was nice. That was lovely. That was good.

Saying God is Good isn’t good enough. Which is why he told Moses to call him ‘I AM.’ We can do waaaaaaaay better than good, but at the end of the day our tiny brains are utterly incapable of putting into words who or what God is. We don’t even understand a fraction of what is going on in our universe, planet, let alone our own bodies. We are stumbling about in the dark, half the time. I respect those who hold agnostic or atheist views. But do they know for certain? Are they 100% sure? Really?

Christians can be so lazy and I’m the worst offender. We are saved and think the hard work is done when, the reality is, it’s only just begun. It’s not fluffy and comfortable; it’s a bloody, brutal unforgiving war against a cunning, determined enemy. We need to work harder, think smarter, do better. Good is not enough. God isn’t good, God is God. Recognising that is an important, hard earned lesson. Thank you Mrs. Hume for teaching me about it.

What are your views on lazy language?

What was your English teacher like?

Care to share your experiences of Christian cliches?

What words would you use to describe God?

The Tooth Will Set You Free

Remember that tooth? You know, the one I have been whining….I mean writing….about these last few weeks? The idiot who ran a marathon with toothache? Then collapsed in a heap when he crossed the finishing line and cried like a baby the whole way home? Yeah that tooth? Well, three visits to the dentists later and it’s still there. And this is where today’s story begins….

On Monday I sat, a complete wreck, in my dental surgery waiting to be summonsed into the torture chamber. The omens were not particularly good. The receptionist sweetly informed me that their computers kept crashing so the dental team were unable to view x-rays prior to commencing work. Part of me perked up at the prospect of an 11th hour reprieve.

Another part of me just wanted it over and done with. The computer gremlins seemingly vanquished, I was invited into the treatment room where my always bright and breezy dentist gave me the option of a tooth extraction or several painful and expensive root canal sessions in order to save the offending back molar. Even then she could not guarantee it would be successful. Just get it out,’ I pleased. Toothy and I were finished.

Not one, not two, not three, but four pain killing injections later, I lay back in the chair like a drooling bumpkin, unable to feel my ears, let alone my mouth. Hannah the dentist, all seven stone of her, began to valiantly tug and pull at the tooth. I felt nothing initially, the anaesthetic was doing it’s job. Then a sickening crack. I looked up into her eyes, expecting to see her triumphantly holding the tooth aloft.

How wrong I was. She held a tooth, or rather, part of a tooth. Such was the level of decay, the molar was crumbling. Part of it had broken off, but the base and roots remained resolutely in place. Hannah frowned before delving determinedly into my mouth again. This girl wasn’t giving up. That’s when the pain began. Which, given my level of pain relief, was astounding. Yet, there it was.

She huffed and she puffed but it would not come. Her silver instruments flashed before my eyes, before playing a cruel tune across the exposed nerve. A veritable xylophone of agony. In the end I waved a hand frantically in the air. Enough! The pain was too much. She admitted defeat, saying she would refer me to a specialist who would remove the remainder of the molar under sedation. Lots and lots of sedation, I silently prayed.

Teeth. Meh. Who needs them? Well, we all do I guess. But I certainly don’t need this one. Yet, it doesn’t want to leave me. It reminded me of my OCD, of how certain unwanted, intrusive thoughts refused to budge from my beleaguered mind, no matter how hard I tried. Addictive and destructive thinking. A sinful cycle of deception and despair. A desperate desire for the pain to end, for release, for freedom.

I wanted to be free of them, as much as I want to be free of this mischievous molar. I cannot be free of the tooth, I thought as I typed the sixth paragraph of this post on my phone. Then my verse for the day flashed up on the screen, and I smiled. Who says God doesn’t have a sense of humour. I’ll sign off by quoting the verse. The rest, I think, is pretty explanatory. Accessing the truth can be incredibly painful. In end though, it’s worth the effort.

John 8:32 – ‘Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’

How is your relationship with the truth?

Which Book Of The Bible Should I Start With?

As I wrote earlier in the week, I’m going to be blogging about Christian topics in future posts, although not exclusively. As I’m tentatively finding my way back into Bible study, and in order to be accountable, I thought I’d throw it open to my fellow bloggers as to which book I study first. The book with the most votes will then feature in regular-ish posts, delivered in my own unique, slightly offbeat style.

Please take a moment to leave a comment as to which book I study. I’m excited about this opportunity to share God’s Word with you. You might want to pray about this, or perhaps you already have an idea in your head. Possibly an old personal favourite or perhaps one of the more obscure ones you want to learn a bit more about. I will abide by your decision and will announce the ‘winner’ over the weekend.

Which book of the Bible would you like me to blog about?

Views of Christians and non-Christians both welcome.

Are You On The Right Tracks This Morning?

Good Morning. I have a busy, but exciting day, ahead. I’m on the 06:13 train to Belfast, a full 90 minutes before my normal one. The reason? I have a big meeting to attend this afternoon, so want to get in early to prepare for it. A three hour meeting, no less, where I will be bombarded with questions by our senior management team. I need to look smart and think smart. All prayers and kind thoughts would be much appreciated.

The 07:48 express to Belfast is normally standing room only, as we are crammed into carriages like claustrophobic sardines, thanks to the good people of Northern Ireland Translink who resolutely refuse to put on extra carriages as that would ‘cost too much.’ It reminds me of one of those trains, you see on the Indian sub-continent. Next thing they will be charging folk to sit on the roof.

The 06:13 is an entirely different experience. It was empty. I had my pick of the seats, indeed I almost had an entire carriage to myself. I’ve heard of the early bird catching the worm but this is ridiculous. It was a veritable ghost train, hurtling through the darkness towards the bright lights of Belfast. Getting up early was hard this morning, but I reaped the reward. It was worth the struggle and effort on my part.

Of late, my faith has been a little bit like my train experiences. For a long time, I’ve been lazy. Not physically, but rather spiritually. I’ve been quite content to go with the flow, and drift along with the masses. I’ve done the bare minimum with regards my prayer life and Bible reading. I’ve turned my back on Christian fellowship and run a mile from anything remotely resembling a church.

I’ve become a zombie. I walk, I talk, I breathe. On the exterior, I give all the signs of being a perfectly normal, functioning human being. But inside, I have been dead. My faith has shrivelled up, a dried husk desperately in need of hydration and cultivation. I have succumbed to old habits and allowed my OCD to read its ugly head once more. I have chosen wrong paths and made poor decisions. I have taken the easy option and boarded the wrong train.

You will never be short of company on the wrong train. For it’s where the majority of us, end up at some point in our lives. You might have been on it recently, or indeed are travelling on it as I write this now. It’s the easier option, but an altogether less pleasant alternative. It’s taking you to the same destination, but in a very different manner. Your legs ache and fellow commuters elbow you in the ribs. It sucks.

The ghost train involved a little more effort, but is worth it. You travel in more spacious surroundings. It’s the train you need to be on, the train that your loved ones need to be on. Yet, it’s virtually empty. I’m going to be making a greater effort in the future to consistently board the ghost train. You can even call it the Holy Ghost train….did you see what I did there. Sorry, got a bit carried away there.

What train are you boarding today? Are you taking the lazy option, are you switching off and backing down, when you need to be switching on and stepping up to the mark? I would encourage you to join me on the ghost train today. I could sure do with the company and I’ve saved you a seat. It sure beats spending your commute with your nose shoved into a stranger’s armpit.

What train are you boarding this morning?

What’s been your worst commute to work?

Why I Need To Start Reading My Bible Again

I’m as blind as a bat. Seriously. Since I was nine, I’ve had to wear glasses. I remember the first day they were unveiled to the ahem….watching world in Mrs. Robinson’s P5 class. I broke down in tears as the entire class turned as one to gawk at my oh so stylish National Health Service jam jars with equally appalling brown plastic rims. So began a life consigned to permanent face furniture.

I’ve tried contact lenses a couple of times but they aren’t for me. I’d rather stick red hot knitting needles in my eyeballs. Come to think of it, putting in lenses was a not dissimilar experience. When finally in, the tears rolled down my cheeks and my irises resembled maps of the London Underground, criss crossed with an array of broken capillaries. I resembled a vampire in the midst of a particularly bad reaction to sunlight.

My glasses are, therefore, a necessary evil. Without them I can’t drive, read or run. The only time I take them off is when I go to bed at night. I simply cannot function without them, I could not step out the front door, without falling flat on my face. It’s a no brainer that I go nowhere without them firmly attached to my ears. The alternative is unthinkable. They are as part of me, as the nose on my face.

I cannot see without them.

We were visited by friends on Sunday. One of them left her glasses case behind. Thankfully, it was empty. Before leaving, she talked to us about her faith and plans she had for the future , plans she believes God spoke to her about. It was exciting to hear and sparked a flame within me which had been dormant for many months, if not years. A spark which reignited a very battered, fractured faith.

I picked up my Bible yesterday, inspired by the words of this friend. All day I hadn’t been able to get the image of the discarded glasses case out of my head. I thought of my Bible which had lain discarded in the bookcase in our living room for longer than I care to remember. I used to read it every day until life got in the way. The ways of the world took precedence over the ways of God. I was blinded by anger, resentment and self.

I found the verse below, and realised how spiritually blind I have been. I realised how much I need my Bible, as much as I need my glasses. Without its words of truth, I stumble around in an abyss of sinful, addictive behaviour. I allow other voices in my head to drown out the voices that matter. The voices of my loved ones, the voice of God. I realised that I need my Bible. I need it’s guidance. I need Jesus.

He is the antidote for I have become toxic, poisoned by the ways of the world and the voice which has spoken untruth after untruth, layer after layer, clogging my arteries and hardening my heart; forming milky cataracts over my eyes which have blinded me from what really matters. I need the Bible more than I need the happy pill I take every day to inhibit the serotonin levels raging uncontrollably across my synapses.

These are mere words, and are meaningless without accompanying action. But it’s a start and, at present, it’s all I have. This my Declaration of Independence, my call to arms, my battle cry. I’m determined to get back to regular Bible study and reflection. It’s time to get back in the saddle and focus on those who matter. It’s time to open my eyes to the light again, to reclaim the 20/20 vision I so desperately need.

Psalm 119:18 – ‘Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.’

How is your faith journey today?

How important is the Bible in your life?

Has it always been that way?

When God Falls Silent

It is written

Mitigation

Twisting truths

To quote verbatim

Spare the child

And spoil the rod

Worshiping

Your silent god.

Verses, Curses

Robed Subversives

Empty hearts

Yet flowing purses

Holy men with hollow souls

Break the rules, you pay the toll

Creaking bridges

Lurking trolls

Faster, Faster

Master, Master

Bend the knee

To plastic pastors.

How Can A Fractured Faith Blog Be Improved?

The blog continues to grow and, of late, has been a bit of a pot pourri with regards topics and themes. I’ve posted three poems in the last week, very unlike me I know. Yet, I’ve woken up with the words in my head and felt no option but to write and post them. I have no idea if they are any good but I’ve received some lovely comments which have cheered and encouraged me.

I also posted a Christian blog yesterday about the martyrdom of Stephen. I would describe myself as a Christian who blogs as opposed to a Christian blogger, but occasionally am led to dip my quill into more reflective, spiritual waters. The post has fared poorly which surprised me a little as the blog has a sizeable Christian following who normally support such posts.

Family life also inspires many of my posts. There are not many days that pass without some comedy gem at chez Black. As I am normally on the receiving end of these, I feel compelled to write about it. Fionnuala and Rebecca post occasionally while updates on Adam and Hannah also feature. I’m keen to stress that this blog is about more than me. Otherwise my ego runs unchecked, which nobody wants to see.

I occasionally write about my job and work colleagues. I seriously could write a book about this but, given the sensitive nature of my employment, I can only discuss it in the broadest of brush strokes. Maybe one day I will be able to open up a little more about it. I don’t mean to be secretive but I like getting a monthly pay cheque and this could be scuppered if my bosses discovered I was spilling the beans.

My struggle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) lies at the heart of me and, therefore, my writing. I’m passionate about educating people about this often misunderstood mental illness. It never fails to amaze me how uneducated many are concerning OCD; they regard it as the comedy cousin of mental health as opposed to the horrific, crippling disorder it really is. OCD ruins lives. OCD ends lives.

The eponymous hero of my debut novel – The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square’ is a victim of OCD. I post weekly updates about the progress of the book but, again, can only disclose so much, for obvious reasons. People seem interested in the book and I hope it sees the light of day in some format, even if that means serialising it on the blog. It’s a planned trilogy but we will see. No point writing three books if everybody hates the first one.

Which brings me to my running posts which sink without trace most times. I understand that us runners are interminable bores, and only fellow running geeks can be bothered hearing of our latest exploits. There will be less of them in the months to come as, after the disaster that was the Causeway Coast Marathon, I have no plans to race again until next spring. I will still keep my training runs going, but over lesser distances.

Which brings me to the point of this post. I want to know what you would like to read more of; are there topics you would like to hear more, or less, about? What do you like and what are you less keen to peruse? Are there new topics I could cover? I’m willing to consider anything, within reason. I’ll hand it over to you now and look forward to reading, and responding to, your comments. Thank you again.

Start Playing The Martyr

I am quite partial to melancholy, to wallowing in self pity, feeling sorry for myself. There are various terms one can use to describe the act of introspective navel gazing. When the odds are stacked against me, and everything is going belly up, you can be guaranteed I’ll throw myself the mother of all pity parties. Fionnuala sums it up most succinctly when she catches me in this state of mind.

‘Stop playing the martyr….’

Which is ironic as I am named after the first Christian martyr, Stephen. The above phrase is largely associated with negative behaviour. It refers to a person who is overreacting to a given situation, behaving in an inappropriate or immature manner. I know when Fionnuala levels the comment at me I invariably stop what I’m doing and concede that I’m being a prat.

The word martyr is derived from the Latin, martur, meaning ‘witness.’ It is a person who is willing to sacrifice their life for a belief they adhere to; be that religious, political or for any other number of reasons. It is regarded as a noble, heroic act; laying down one’s life rather than capitulate or conform to values that fly in the face of everything you represent. Martyrs should be revered, not ridiculed.

Stephen was such a man. Facing the Sanhedrin, a collection of hostile Jewish leaders, on trumped up charges of blasphemy, he features very briefly in the Book of Acts. But what a show stopping appearance. Rather than bend the knee and renounce his faith, instead he eloquently and articulately gave testimony to, or witnessed, his belief that Jesus was the Son of God, who they rejected and murdered.

As well as eloquence, intelligence and a detailed knowledge of scripture, he displayed remarkable courage. He fronted up to them, exposing them as ‘stiff necked’ hypocrites, whose ‘hearts and ears are still circumcised.’ He spoke the truth and the only way they could stop the truth, was through stoning him to death. A young man named Saul, held their cloaks as they did so.

Stephen features for just over two pages in my 1250 page Bible, yet he sits shoulder to shoulder with giants of the faith such as Abraham, Moses and David. He set an example for millions of other Christians who followed in his bloody footsteps, willing to risk everything as opposed to renounce the faith. Stephen inspired Peter and Paul, the two fathers of the early Church.

Don’t be afraid to play the martyr, but do it for the right reasons. Don’t pout and sulk like I do, because you don’t get your own way. Instead hold your head up high, like Stephen did to the Sanhedrin, standing tall for what he believed in. Because when he looked up, he saw beyond the hate filled expressions and expletives and saw Heaven open to reveal the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.

Martyrdom today is linked to acts of terror or selfishness. Stephen epitomised the true meaning of the act. He was a visible witness, a presence, a voice, speaking love and truth over those who despised him. His last words were akin to those of Jesus, seeking forgiveness for those who killed him. We all can learn from Stephen. A martyr in the truest sense of the word.

The story of Stephen can be found in Acts Chapters 6-7.

Do you play the martyr? In the selfish or selfless sense? Or possibly both?

What do you learn from the story of Stephen?

I’m Writing A Book….Still!

I’ve now reached the two third mark of my fourth edit of ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles – Skelly’s Square,’ my first, and possibly only, novel. Progress has been slow, but steady, this week. As ever, real life has got in the way, and I haven’t been able to devote the time I would like to the project. It has simply been a case of chipping away at it, where and when I can. I’m fighting the urge to rush ahead and lose the quality.

The beta feedback continues to be excellent; positive and constructive. I made a point of selecting as diverse a range of test readers as possible; from teenagers to pensioners, and every decade in between. They all seem to be enjoying the story and Meredith Starc is emerging as the most loved character. Do I need to rename this ‘The Meredith Starc Chronicles?’

I hope not, as Kirkwood is very loosely based on yours truly when he was a struggling office worker in his early twenties; without the world saving potential of course. Some of the lesser, but still vital characters are also being introduced – Cornelius Dobson, Martim Rodriguez, Gunther von Steinbeck to name but a few. It has been fun creating their back stories, where my love of historical research has come to the fore.

Then there’s Colonel Augustus Skelly, himself. The villain of the piece. I’ve put a lot of effort into detailing his physical appearance and mannerisms. He is truly alive when I write about him and I hope that comes across to readers. My wish is that he evolves into that most delicious of characters – the bad guy you love to hate. There may even be a crumb of sympathy as to how he turned out the way he did….but not much.

There are still a few characters to be unveiled, including one largely based on our daughter, Hannah. This has proved a major challenge. How do you do justice to such a huge personality? I’m hoping she likes Harley, her alter ego in the KS universe, otherwise my life won’t be worth living. Harley is a crucial character and crashes into the story soon, driving the plot on to its conclusion.

Much of the early sections of the book concerned character introduction, development and back stories. This has been essential as both Kirkwood and Meredith have dark and troubled pasts, which the reader must understand in order to appreciate their actions and decisions in the present. Otherwise, the story doesn’t make sense. I hope I’ve penned heroes that you can relate to and empathise with.

Then there’s the real hero of the book, the city of Belfast. I’ve enjoyed describing the streets I walk most days, capturing the grime and the beauty in equal measure. Some locations are real, others I have based on reality but allowed myself a degree of artistic license. This is the Belfast of the Kirkwood Scott universe; gritty, but scratch beneath the surface and you will reveal its supernatural underbelly.

I hope to have this edit finished by the end of the month. Then it’s a case of mulling over the beta feedback, et voila it’s finished. I’ll then turn my attention towards researching potential agents and drafting query letters. As ever, I want to thank everyone who has supported me both in the ‘real world’ and the wonderful world of WordPress. Without you, none of this would be happening.

What do you make of the Kirkwood Scott universe?

Are you writing a book? Have you written a book? Are you thinking of writing one? Where are you on your writing journey?

What Are You Hungry For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Bible Is Full Of Idiots

I didn’t come up with that title for shock value but, let’s face it, I’m not far off the mark. Let’s consider the evidence.

I’ll start with Abraham. He hardly covered himself in glory now, did he? That business with Hagar, the slave girl, who gave birth to his son, Ishmael. Although his wife, Sarah, didn’t help to be fair. A bit like Adam and Eve. Dumb women egging on even dumber men. You couldn’t make it up. Although doubters would contend it is all made up. But, I digress. Onwards.

I think Samson was at the back of the queue when the grey matter was being dished out. He tended to act first and only engage his brain afterwards, when the damage was already done. I mean, that business with the foxes and setting their tails on fire. It’s like something out of a really bad Rambo movie. Like Abraham he was also a bit of a disaster with the fairer sex. Just ask Delilah.

Which brings me to David. Warrior, King, Visionary. A man after God’s own heart. Oh, and numbskull. He decides to lounge about on the roof of the palace when his armies are on the field of battle. Lo and behold, he sees Bethsheba and the rest, as they say is history. Cue adultery, deceit and murder which culminates in the death of his own son. Not his finest moment.

Peter, Peter, Peter. Where do I start? The disciple whose foot was permanently in his mouth. A man whose very presence within the inner circle of Jesus gives hope to us all. Denying Jesus three times was bad enough. But offering to erect some huts at the Transfiguration when Elijah and Moses descend from Heaven. It’s akin to meeting the Queen, sticking a pencil up your nose and going ‘Wibble, Wibble.’

These men (and women) were idiots. Their words and actions revealed inadequacies and character flaws which we can all relate to. People are weak and flawed; we are vain, selfish and forever falling flat on our faces. Yet, God still continues to pick us up, dust us down, and use us for His purposes. He has a plan, and we are part of it. Any idiot can apply to be part of the team.

I’m no exception. I mess up day after day after day. I ignore God, I moan at God and I consistently do the opposite of what I’m meant to be doing as a card carrying Christian. I don’t go to church enough, I don’t read my Bible enough and I don’t pray enough. I sin, and seek his forgiveness; then I sin again, anyway. I’m forever straying off the straight and narrow. I don’t like being around other Christians and sometimes I don’t like being around God.

Yet still He patiently tolerates me and seeks to use me. He waits and then plants an idea in my head which I reluctantly mull over, before finally agreeing that he was right all along. He encourages me, supports me and motivates me. He reveals to me the truth, His truth, not the tainted truths being peddled by the supposed pillars of our community. Hypocrites are twist the Word to suit their own petty needs.

I get angry when I think about these people, but not as angry as I get about myself. I know I can do better. I let religious buffoonery get in the way of my relationship with Jesus. I hope it’s a righteous anger, a means to an end. For I need an end, a finish line, a target. Otherwise, life is a futile, empty gesture. I need to open my eyes. I need to cast off the shackles. I need to stop being an idiot.

Do you get angry with yourself and other Christians?

Who is your favourite Biblical idiot?

Can you do better in your walk with God?

Prayer Warrior? I’m More A Prayer Wimp

During my church going days, I attended a fair share of prayer meetings. They always bothered me. You see, while others prayed aloud for what seemed forever, I wondered if they were more in love with the sound of their own voice, as opposed to in love with their Creator or the people they were supposed to be interceding on behalf of. At other times, although I didn’t like praying aloud, I often felt I had to, in order to fill the awkward silence in the room.

I envied those who stated they felt a powerful connection with God during prayer, for most of the time I felt nothing. While others fervently bowed their heads and focused intensely on the job at hand, I found myself drifting off and wondering what was for dinner or how United were faring in the early kick off. I would risk opening an eye and look around the room to see who else was risking an eye open and looking around the room. Mostly I was the only one.

I was equally jealous of those folk who bounced out of bed in the morning to ‘spend time with the Lord.’ I preferred spending time with my duvet while they brewed up a pot of coffee, opened their third generation Bibles and then took a photo of it to post on Instagram as to how humble they were. This would set them up for the day ahead while I stumbled around wondering where I had left my shoes and wishing it was bedtime again.

Then there were those who heard God talk to them during prayer time, who received a word, or sometimes multiple words. When I did pray it was invariably a one way conversation, with me bleating on about how rubbish I was, to be met by a wall of silence. I tried to maintain a journal to record revelations and answered prayers but usually gave up after a day or three, instead using said journal to list my running times or book ideas.

Our church sometimes went on prayer walks around the town, stopping at various strategic locations to pray for specific needs and concerns. It was all very coordinated and planned with military detail. I sloped along at the back of the prayer pack, desperately attempting to prepare a few words in case the pastor pounced, and asked that I pray for local commerce or political leaders in the area.

I had as much interest in them as the man on the moon. I would go through the motions to keep ‘leadership off my back’ and look good in front of my fellow Christians. But, the truth was, my most fervent prayers were selfish and centred on my own needs. I tended only to bend the knee when I was in trouble and needed dug out of a large hole. The rest of the time I was too distracted, too lazy, too full of the ways of the world.

I was a prayer wimp, as opposed to a prayer warrior. And when I left church, just under two two years I pretty much gave up on prayer altogether. I believe in the power of prayer but when it comes down to it, it doesn’t happen. I need to pray on my own and pray with others. I need to pray powerfully and expectantly. Even though I doubt this will involve watching the sun rise, while sipping on my coffee. I’ve never liked coffee anyway.

I need prayer. But I also need to pray. I’ve read book after book about when to pray, how to pray and what to pray. All this talk of prayer circles, prayer chains and prayer rooms leaves me dizzy. Shouldn’t it be simpler than that? Shouldn’t it be the simplest, most natural act in the world? To communicate with your Maker? Then why does it feel so complicated, so difficult, so unattainable? Answers on a wing and a prayer please.

Do you believe in the power of prayer?

Are you a prayer wimp or a prayer warrior?

What experiences, good and bad, have you had during prayer communities?

Are You A Martyr?

I wear my heart on my sleeve. I have a thin skin. Some might say I am overly sensitive. The other day in work a colleague made a comment about me that I found very hurtful. So much so, that I was taken completely off guard and unable to respond. I had to excuse myself and retreat to the toilets where I attempted to regain my composure. My heart was racing and I felt faint. It was as if I was back at school, the shy, chubby boy being bullied by the cool kids.

Part of me wanted to confront this person about the comment. He appeared utterly oblivious to the damage he had caused with the glib, throwaway remark. I had witnessed his casually cruel tongue before but never been on the receiving end until now. Worst of all this person was a Christian, a man who portrayed himself as clean living, church going example to the rest of the office. I was angry, disappointed and confused.

I said nothing in the end. I let it go. I’m not sure if that was the right thing to do. Time will tell. I had half hoped he would have approached me in the days that followed to apologise, but that has yet to happen. I’ve largely avoided him since and any communication between us has been minimal on my part. That’s what I do when I am hurt. I curl up into a ball like a frightened hedgehog and withdraw from the situation in question.

I’m good at playing the victim, the martyr. Part of me thrives on it even. I mope around, licking my wounds, feeling sorry for myself and lapping up any scraps of pity and sympathy thrown my way. Poor little Stephen. It is at times like this I need to take a good, long look in the mirror and see myself for what I truly am. To peel away the layers of ego and confront the hard, cold truth. For I am a hypocrite.

When I was young I sometimes wondered why I was named after a Bible character who featured so briefly before being promptly stoned to death. Why couldn’t I have been named after a more heroic figure like David, Joshua or Samson. Ok, maybe not Samson. Samson Black makes me sound like a WWE wrestler. And the last thing any of us wants to see is me prancing around the ring in a pair of rhinestone encrusted Speedos.

Now I realise that Stephen was a greater hero than any of them. He didn’t lay waste to opposing armies on the battlefield, swinging a mighty sword and performing great acts of courage and heroism. His bravery was a different kind. He instead stood before his prosecutors and spoke the truth with eloquence and dignity, before stoically dying for what he believed in. He refused to denounce his faith and was willing to give up his life for what he believed in.

His martyrdom was selfless and for others, unlike my own pale imitation which is motivated by neediness and attention seeking. For I am a bigger hypocrite than the man who struck me with a metaphorical stone during the week. I think of all the hurtful things I have said and done to those I care about. Then I realise that I have no right to take the high moral ground. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone? I have thrown more than I care to recall.

I have yet to forgive the man for his comment but realise this is what I must do in order to move on. I should also be thankful for him. For the incident has revealed to me faults and failings that I need to address in my own life. People who I hurt and whose forgiveness I should be seeking as opposed to focusing on my own petty concerns. The truth hurts but it is the best kind of pain. Sometimes we need to embrace that pain and never let go.

Are you a hypocrite?

Do you play the martyr?

What do you need to do to address situations in your life where you can do better?

We Live In A World Of Purple Pens

Rebecca starts at her new school today. She is extremely excited about this and last night was a bit like Christmas Eve in our house as she bounced around, getting ready for the big day. Yesterday, Fionnuala took her out to get the last bits and pieces she needed. The school had helpfully shared a list of what pupils required on its Facebook page. A very long and expensive list. My debit card has never known such frenetic activity.

Included on the list were pens. Each pupil was required to have blue, black and purple pens. Hang on a minute. Purple? I didn’t even know such a colour of pen existed. What happened to good, old fashioned red pens? Adam explained to us that the school no longer allowed red ink as this was regarded as too ‘negative’ a colour for marking homework. Instead teachers now did so with green pens and pupils responded to their grades in purple ink.

Once my jaw had bounced back off the floor I reverted to my old friend Google for confirmation of this nonsensical practice. And, lo and behold, Adam was right. Schools viewed the use of red ink as potentially harmful to a child’s fragile psyche. The poor, little lambs. The colour red was synonymous with harm and danger whereas green and purple were deemed more calming and neutral options.

Of course, we towed the line and purchased the purple pens. Apparently they are freely available at all good retailers. But what next? Purple traffic lights? Road signs? Will bulls now take offence if wrongly coloured rags are waved in their faces? I’m all for educating our kids in a safe and positive learning environment. I was bullied at school by teachers as well as pupils and know very well how a child’s fragile confidence can be damaged by those meant to bolster it.

But is this a step too far? Do we not need the colour red in our lives? Red signifies danger and acts as a warning sign. It guides us and allows us to avoid potential harm. Without it we are left exposed and more likely to stray off the straight and narrow path? We are humans and, as such, are infinitely capable of shooting ourselves in the foot. Sometimes we need alarm bells to ring and flashing lights to go off in our heads.

I know I do. If there is wrong decision to make, I will make it. I act on instinct, I don’t think and frequently put my foot in my mouth. I have an impulsive, addictive nature which, if left unchecked, would get me into all sorts of trouble. I don’t recognise the danger before it’s too late. I need the colour red in my life. Preferably in ten foot high letters and surrounded by wailing sirens and flashing lights. Purple fire engines are of no use to me.

This is why I need the right people around me. This is why I am always wary and cautious. The slightest prompt or thought can trigger me and quickly spiral out of control until it is too late and I have entered a whole new world of pain. I need honesty, transparency and accountability. I need people who will tell me how it is. Who will scream at me until they are red (not purple) in the face. I need the truth. Every single day.

Rebecca sets off on a new adventure today with a new school uniform, a new school bag and a new pencil case full of purple pens. Such is the changing world we live in. But when I arrive at work this morning and organise my desk I will be making sure that my trusty red pen sits front and centre. Old habits die hard and I’m too long in the tooth to change now. We may now live in a world of purple pens. But, I for one, still need the colour red in my life.

What are your thoughts on the purple pen debate?

Do you need the colour red in your life?

One Little Spark

This is the iconic Bank Building, which has stood in the heart of Belfast city centre since 1785. For the last 40 years it has housed Primark, one of the most popular department stores in the country. The building has become a famous landmark with its iconic clock overlooking Royal Avenue. It is a popular meeting place and buskers and street evangelists often ply their trade outside it, vying for the attention of the passing public.

Yesterday morning, just after eleven, Rebecca and I were travelling out of Belfast along the M1 motorway. We were heading home, having been in the city on an errand. A fire engine suddenly flashed past in the opposite direction, its sirens wailing and blue lights flashing. Then a second….and a third. We wondered what was going on. When we arrived home, Fionnuala was watching a live video feed from the city. The Primark building was on fire.

The fire started on the roof, apparently after a workman’s blowtorch was left unattended. A stray spark had started a fire which was soon raging out of control and spreading downwards. Thankfully the building was safely evacuated and hundreds of frantic shoppers spilled out onto the streets below. Within hours the building was an inferno and a black, choking shroud of smoke could be seen across the skyline.

Fourteen fire appliances and over 100 firefighters battled the blaze throughout the day. The roof collapsed, followed by all its floors leaving only a blackened, smouldering shell. There are genuine fears that the historic building will have to be pulled down. Hundreds of staff have lost their jobs. The city is mourning the loss of an old friend. It had survived the German Luftwaffe and countless terrorist bombings during ‘The Troubles.’ But now it was gone in the blink of an eye.

I walked past the blackened hulk this morning on my way to the office. There was an eerie silence and the smell of cloying smoke still hung thick in the air. So much history, culture and memories lost. All because of one tiny spark. Life will go on. Businesses will reopen and trade will resume. Yet it won’t be the same. The shockwaves of that spark will ripple outwards for many years to come.

Life can be like that. One moment of madness, one loose sentence and the fire is ignited. Small at first, but soon raging out of control, fanned by petty fears and jealousies. Before you know it friendships are consumed, relationships destroyed and families are left in ruins. The fire and smoke of our foolish actions can have repercussions which will impact upon the lives of others for generations. No family tree can survive its wrath.

Think before you speak. Consider the bigger picture and play the longer game. Wisdom and discretion are hard won, but invaluable, qualities to possess. Take responsibility for your words and actions. Nothing burns like a spiteful tongue and nothing hurts like a deep burn. Such wounds may never heal fully and even if they do the scars will remain throughout the ages. Yet they can be so easily prevented with a little care.

Are there fires raging in your life today?

It’s Not God’s Fault If Christians Are Idiots

Over the weekend, Fionnuala and I reorganised our bedroom. This included a bit of a spring clean and moving some furniture around. It was hard work but worthwhile. I found my missing Garmin watch charger and several dozen odd socks whose whereabouts had been baffling me for some time. I also recovered the grand total of 27 pence, a couple of euros and an old pound coin. Winning!

At the end of the day it was as if we had a new bedroom. There was so much space. I commented to Fionnuala it was as if we were away somewhere in a hotel room until the sound of the kids squabbling or the dog barking well and truly burst that bubble. Moving your bed 90 degrees may not be cutting edge feng shui but it certainly made a big difference as far as I was concerned.

Sometimes you have to reorganise the priorities in your life as well. Of late, I have been heavily focused on the book I am writing. Over the last month it has been as if my creative writing dam has burst for I’ve been making huge strides forward. Initial feedback from beta readers has been frighteningly good which leads me to believe I may have a half decent product in my hands.

Other pursuits have had to give though. One of these has been reading. I love to read but other than for the purposes of researching the book have been unable to do much of late. I have six books on my Kindle that haven’t been touched. This is most unlike me. Yet over the last week or so I have been getting subtle nudges to pick up one dust covered tome in particular. A book that I haven’t looked at in several months now. That book is my Bible.

The Bible used to be a priority in my life. I read it every day. I highlighted sections of it, made notes and tried to apply its teachings in my life. Then that all fell to the wayside. I’ve blogged about this at length previously so don’t particularly feel the need to cover old ground again. Let’s just say I stumbled. Stuff got in the way. Other people, other Christians and my own vanity and pride. I took the failings of others out on God.

I accused others of being hypocrites when the biggest hypocrite of all was staring me in the mirror every morning. I have come to the conclusion that it’s not God’s fault if Christians are idiots. I don’t mean to be glib or accusatory as there is no bigger idiot than me. But this has been a revelatory moment for me. So much so, that I’m picking up my Bible again starting today. We will see how that goes.

I may put it down again after a week. I don’t know. I hope not. I may devour it like I used to. I don’t know. I may even blog about it. Only God knows the answer to that one. But as far as life furniture goes, I’m shoving the good book into a more prominent position. It has been rescued from the pile of odd socks and dusted down again. I say Bible but I actually have four. They all might get an outing in due course.

So you have been warned. This blog may contain material of a biblical nature in the future. Fear not though, as I won’t be ramming it down anyone’s throat. That style of ‘evangelism’ leaves me cold. I’d like to finish by thanking all the Christian bloggers who have stood with me during this spiritual drought and patiently guided me back on track. Reading your daily wisdom has been part of that process.

Have you ever experienced a spiritual drought? How did you deal with it?

When did you last pick up your Bible?

Do idiotic Christians interfere in your relationship with God?

Every Good Plan A Requires A Plan B

Over the weekend I intend to have completed the ‘beta’ draft of Chapters 1-10 of my first book and will be in a position to forward it to a number of kind souls who have expressed an interest in taking part in the beta reading process. We were bowled over by the initial response and I’d like to thank everyone in advance for the time and effort they will be expending to review my work.

Unfortunately we have had to set a limit on the number of people we can accept for the process. Otherwise it becomes an overly complicated venture that defeats the purpose of the exercise. I’m hoping, however, those who are involved are looking forward to the journey as much as I am. Although I will confess I am also filled with more than a little trepidation and nerves. I’m going for it, though.

Like Kirkwood Scott, the eponymous hero of the book, I am a master at snatching defeat from the jaws of victory; at falling flat on my face with the finish line just ahead; at knocking over a tin of paint onto the canvas as I’m applying the final touches to my labour of love. I’m determined not to do that this time as I have worked too hard on this project for it not to see the light of day.

My family and friends also deserve this. They have listened to me whine and complain for almost a year. Fionnuala has endured this more than anyone to the point where she has turned around and pleaded to me ‘Just finish the thing’. The kids have been patient and understanding. There have been times when Daddy hasn’t been ‘Fun Daddy’ as he sits hunched over his laptop, hammering away at the keyboard.

The dream is that the book will get picked up by an agent and sold to a publisher. I am realistic, however, and realise how difficult it is for a first time author to secure such a deal. All I can do is try, though, and that is my favoured option. Plan A, so to speak. All good generals have a back up plan, however. So I’m also exploring several other options. Self publishing being one of them.

What I’m trying to say is that those of you who want to read the finished work will get an opportunity to do so, even if it means publishing it as a serial on WordPress. For I believe ‘Skelly’s Square’ continues a story of hope and redemption from the dark places that lies at the heart of all my writing. I believe it is a story that needs to be told as I believe there are those who desperately need such a lifeline to clutch to.

The only fly in the ointment to date is that I have had no male victims….I mean volunteers willing to take part in the beta process. I am keen to cover as many demographics as I can so come on chaps, don’t be shy and step up to the plate. Let’s show the ladies how it’s done, right? If any of you are interested then drop me a line over the weekend. It’s still not too late to get involved.

So that’s the update for now. If you never hear from me again it’s because the betas hated it and I’ve went on a sulk of epic proportions. But let’s hope that this is another small step towards revealing the finished product. And then I can start telling you about my plans for Part Two of The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles. For even the baddest of bad guys deserves a second chance, right? Thank you and stay tuned.

If you have questions or comments about my first novel: ‘The Kirkwood Scott Chronicles : Part One – Skelly’s Square’ then please leave them below. Thank you.

Do you have a Plan B?

99% Of You Won’t Read This….But I’m Okay With That

I love the eclectic bunch of people who follow this blog. One of the joys of writing is meeting and interacting with other folk who, ordinarily, you would never have an opportunity to engage with. People who share your worldview and people who don’t. All walks of life converge on WordPress to create a wonderful creative stew of humanity. Community is the oxygen of blogging. Without it we wither and wilt.

This blog currently has over 6400 followers, an amazing figure given that we have only been up and running for fifteen months. It has exceeded our wildest dreams and I’m often left scratching my head as to why people keep hitting the follow button. We are grateful for every one of you and our blogging door will always be open. We encourage healthy debate and interaction no matter where you come from and what your beliefs are.

But it’s not all rosy in the garden. I’ve written before about the downside of blogging. The posts that sink without a trace for no apparent reason, the occasional not so complimentary comment and the hard work involved in writing original material on a regular basis. The post I put up yesterday got 68 views. 68. That means that roughly 1% of our followers read it. Approximately a tenth of them commented on said post.

99% of people just kept on scrolling down their feeds. That’s quite a stark statistic when viewed in the cold light of day. A statistic that could wreak havoc amidst my fragile self confidence if I allowed it to. People hate my writing which means that they hate me. I’m a bore, I’m a failure, I’m a fraud who will never amount to anything. This is the voice that whispers constantly in my ear, seducing me with its distorted version of the truth.

Raw statistics can be manipulated. They are malleable. Just ask any politician. Yes, I can brood over the 99% and feel sorry for myself. That would be the old Stephen. Or I can focus on the 1%, the people who cared enough to give up a portion of their precious time to read and comment. To share their wisdom and humour with me. The regular visitors, those who drop by once in a while and others who I will never hear from again. They made the post a worthwhile exercise.

Focusing on the 99% is selfish. Focusing on the 1% is selfless. It is a subtle, yet mammoth, shift in perspective, one that has taken me many years to acknowledge, let alone regularly practice. I am here to serve others, not feed my own ravenous ego. For, once you start, it can never be satisfied and the incessant hunger will drive you over the edge and into the abyss. The darkest and most lonely of places.

I have no idea how many likes or views this post will get. That’s not the point. The point is that it reaches out to one person and makes a positive impact on their day. If I can achieve that then my work is done here. Focus on the 1%. For that is where the real treasure is buried. They are the reason you will keep returning to your keyboard, even when it is the last thing you want to do. Persevere.

Jesus said something similar once about sheep. Leaving the ninety nine who were safe and sound in order to search for the one which had wandered off and needed help. You should look it up. You’ll find it in the Bible. A big book about God. I don’t read it as much I should. But today might be the day I pick it up again. Today might be the day I become the 1% myself. For it is always there for me when I need it.

Just like this blog is for you.

99%? 1%? What are your thoughts on this post? Please comment below.

Make Every Blog Count

The deeper I immerse myself in the book I am currently writing the more concerned I become about the quality of my blogging. I worry that I’ll only be able to make so many trips to the literary well before it runs dry and I am left bereft of ideas and words to pour out onto WordPress. I want my writing to be relevant and fresh. I don’t want to be simply going through the motions. I call it sleep blogging.

We all have gears. I know that from my running and work. It is oh so easy to hit cruise control and drift along in your comfort zone. You are loathe to put the pedal to the medal as with that come inherent risks and dangers. Why confront and challenge when you can conform and collude. Breaking through and pushing on is painful. It hurts and takes a toll. You pay a price in order to progress.

Writers must have a purpose when they set pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. There must be a reason for the activity, a message that they want to impart. Writing without purpose leads to lazy language as we drift from sentence to sentence, meandering from one paragraph to the next. It is padding, filling the empty expanses of the page or screen with the creative equivalent of white noise. Night of the Literary Undead.

Not all my blogs hit a nerve or strike a chord. Some result in healthy discussions which can last for months while others slip relatively unnoticed beneath the radar. The goal of the blogger is to find that bullseye, that common thread which brings people together and gets them talking. In order to promote debate a blogger must be passionate about their subject matter. If you blog solely for likes, follows or, dare I say it, financial gain then you are less likely to succeed.

This blog is on a mission. A mission which I view as eminently possible and will not involve me swinging from a treacherous precipice a la Tom Cruise while flicking the camera a cheesy grin. I am no hero but I am here. Every day. Seeking to encourage and motivate others to be the best possible version of themselves that they can be. Offering a helping hand to pull them out of the pit and back into solid ground.

I hope that this vision and these values come across in my writing. Otherwise I might as well retire my typing thumb and pull down the shutters on fracturedfaithblog. I encourage you to do the same. Every time you sit down to draft a post ask yourself why are you doing it, what message are you hoping to put out there. Really think. Because your words matter. They cannot afford to be wasted. We need to hear them.

Blog from the heart. Shoot that flare up into the night sky for it needs to be seen as opposed to spluttering like a damp squib, neglected and soon forgotten. Blogging is a privilege, we must never forget that. For others throughout the world to be able to express themselves freely is but a dream. Your words today can bring solace and healing to the battered and bleeding online tribe gathered around you.

I hope today hasn’t been too heavy for anyone. That wasn’t my intention but I woke up with these words on my heart and needed to share them. I’ll post something silly next time to restore the equilibrium. I look forward to hearing your comments on this post. I love this community and I love your words. You each have a message. One that matters. Make every blog count.

How do you seek to make your blogs relevant and impactive?

What are your thoughts on sleep blogging?

Do Christians And Three Legged Dogs Go To Hell?

The man over the bridge has 16 dogs. He used to have 16 3/4 dogs but the old three legged one that used to lag behind the others has gone to doggy heaven. Do three legged dogs get their other leg back when they go to heaven? I’d like to think they do. I have no idea how he lost the limb in question but I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. But now I’m assuming he’s going to heaven. What if he’s going to doggy hell?

If such a place exists that is. A lot of people don’t believe in hell. I’ll take that a step further. A lot of people who profess to be Christians don’t believe in hell. Or at least their behaviour indicates that they don’t. Others smile knowingly and tell us not to worry about such matters. Jesus loves us and we are going to heaven and anyway it’s all symbolism and allegory right? A bit like the Garden of Eden and that big boat that Noah supposedly built.

My biggest problem with hell is that I believe in it. I often wish I didn’t. Life would be so much easier if I wasn’t fretting over death all of the time. I could do and say what I wanted without having to worry about consequences and repercussions. I sometimes feel like the ‘ghost’ at the end of a Scooby Doo episode when they are unmasked to reveal that it was kindly old Curtis the Caretaker all along.

And I would have gotten away with it if wasn’t for that pesky Hell.

Thinking about hell all the time and the distinct possibility that I might end up there does have its benefits. For a start I reckon Jesus would be proud of me as he spoke about hell more than any other subject during his missionary on earth. Which is all the more startling because many church leaders rarely mention it. All that hell stuff isn’t good for morale in ‘church land’ where everything is wonderful and nobody ever has any problems.

So if it’s good enough for Jesus then it’s good enough for me. He didn’t pull any punches either, painting a vivid, graphic picture of what we could (not) look forward too if that was to be our final destination. Anyone with even the most sketchy knowledge of the Bible can’t turn around and say they weren’t warned. It is as vivid and visceral as the story of the Cross. Jesus can be a real party pooper at times.

Hell is the ultimate style cramper. How am I supposed to live the life I want to live with all these rules and restrictions holding me back? Isn’t being a Christian meant to be about freedom and not having to worry? Well I did all that yet I don’t feel particularly liberated and I fret more than ever. Hell is the ultimate life beyond life sentence. It is the dark cloud on the horizon of all my good intentions. I can hear it, taste it, almost touch it. It’s coming for me.

But there we have the nub of it. Hell exists for a reason. Hell is love. Because Jesus doesn’t want us to go there. So he laid it on thick and told us how it really was. Like one of those anti smoking campaigns where they show terminal cancer patients talking about their nicotine habits. Ignoring Hell is choosing to live your life how you want to. Accepting Hell is an opportunity to live life the way you were meant to.

I believe in Hell. I don’t know where it is or what it looks like and I sincerely hope I never find out. I want to go to the other place where there are bottomless bottles of Diet Coke and you can eat honeycomb ice cream all day long without having to run ten miles afterwards to burn it off. I want to take that three legged dog for walks and not have to worry about worrying all the time. Hell gives me that opportunity. Hell is freedom. Hell is grace. Hell is truth.

Woooaaaaah!! That was a serious one, Stephen. Bring back the running and writing posts. All is forgiven.

What are your thoughts on Hell?

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?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On The Cusp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Familiar

I woke before five this morning. It has been a long, hard week of on call duties so you would have thought the weekend would be a time to relax and unwind; to catch up on those lost hours of sleep. Not a bit of it. So here I am writing this post before I get up shortly to take Adam to rugby training. An hour to myself before the chaos of another full weekend cranks into gear and whisks us away.

I am wide awake yet so weary that I can barely keep my eyes open to type these words. It has been a warm night so the fan in our room provides a comforting aural background. It hums like the engine of an aeroplane. I can close my eyes and imagine that I am 40,000 feet in the air on my way to faraway lands on breath taking adventures. Yet when I open them I haven’t moved an inch and am surrounded by familiar sights.

The familiar is my foundation, my bedrock, my cornerstone. It anchors and steadies me. Without it I would be swept away on currents of naivety and insecurity. Some regard the familiar as frustrating and stifling but it is my lifeblood. My familiar keeps me rooted to the truth. This stability feeds my ability without which I would wither into a ball of self pity and apathy. The tree of life never moved so why should I?

This is the golden hour when my head is clear and the words flow effortlessly. The arrows I draw from my quiver fly straight and true, striking their targets with unfailing accuracy. Words are my weapons just like silence is my enemy. When I write I aim to shock and awe the darkness which previously mocked and gnawed at my self belief. When you allow the light to enter your life you can never truly be alone again.

The gentle humming of the fan offers a calmness that allows me to flex my creative joints. It is a benign noise unlike the killer bee swarms of intrusive thoughts and compulsive actions which used to reverberate around my mind morning, noon and night. The familiar is my ally. The thoughts remain but then so do I. Intact and secure. For now? For ever? I cannot say but the familiar is a strong, impenetrable door which keeps the creatures of the night at bay. They snarl and they prowl outside, sniffing and scratching. But they cannot enter.

I am tired but I am sober and alert. Five years plus since I jerked awake to cruel hangovers and crueller memories of the night before and the damage done. I awaken now and look forward with hope and anticipation as opposed to over my shoulder with fear and trepidation. The familiar is crisp and clear and comforting. It is my now and it allows me to reflect upon the wreckage of my past from a safe distance. Those demons have taught me well. I have the scars to prove it.

The familiar is life and there is nothing dull or boring about that. It is ripe with opportunity. It saddens me that it took years of stumbling around in the dark to reach where I am today. Have I left it too late? How I wish I had those wasted years back. But without that waste I would be unable to taste the dazzling potential that lies just out of reach. The familiar is my bridge to what would have been impossible back then. The familiar is a weaver of dreams.

The familiar allows me each day to sift through the gilt and shame of the past to uncover nuggets of wisdom and knowledge. My past was a battleground but I emerged from it victorious and intact. I had to endure the horrors of war in order to enjoy the peace of the familiar. It was my reward and I cling to it every day with pride and faith. It will carry me forward to where I need to be. I need the familiar like an addict needs the needle.

I will get up soon. This hour has been well spent. I hope you think so too and awaken in your own bed surrounded by those you love. They say the truth will set you free but you can only recognise the former and appreciate the latter if you have first been exposed to the lies and served time as their prisoner. The familiar is the key that will unlock your cell door. It is your golden ticket. It is your next breath. Seize it. Cherish it. Protect it. It is you.

How do you spend the first hour of your day?

Have you discovered the power of the familiar?

Where are you at today on your journey?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well Done Rebecca!

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

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

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

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

Don’t Press That Button

There is a scene in The Simpsons where Homer finds himself facing a big red button with a large ‘Do Not Touch’ sign above it. You can see his tiny brain wrestling with temptation before he finally cracks and presses the button. Predictably enough, all hell breaks loose. DOH! Homer once again proves himself to be the bungling buffoon that we all love to laugh at. Because none of us would ever do anything so stupid, right?

Er….wrong. I can only speak for myself but I have lost count of the number of times I have faced the same button and succumbed. I know what I am doing is wrong and I know that it will all end in tears. Yet, I do it anyway. And guess what? All hell breaks loose. A decision that takes less than a second to make can lead to a lifetime of repercussions. The ripple effect of your actions can also spill over in the lives of countless others. People we love and care for.

So then why do we do it? What causes the Homer gene to kick in and allow logical, rational thought to fly out the window? When the chips are down why is our integrity and moral fibre nowhere to be seen? There is a saying – the grass is greener on the other side. We are never content with what we have, we always want more. And we are arrogant enough to believe that we can attain it without having to pay a price. A heavy price.

Take King David, a man after God’s own heart. That’s quite the title to live up to – one would imagine that he would be beyond reproach, as pure as the driven snow. He had everything; wealth, fame, more camels than you could shake a stick at. But it wasn’t enough. He became bored and lazy. Rather than leading his men in battle he preferred to lounge about his palace, partying the night away and then rising late the next day.

That’s when he saw Bathsheba. The rest, as they say, is history. His weakness and lack of control led to the death of his son. He paid the heaviest of prices. The Bible is riddled with such weak characters. Men who made bad decisions which ended up backfiring horribly. All because they weren’t satisfied with what they had. They always wanted more – more money, more women, more land. More, More, More. Well, sometimes less is more.

Fionnuala has a favourite saying – if the grass looks greener on the other side then you need to get watering your own side. They are wise words. Focus on what you have around you. You are on that side of the river for a reason. It is where you belong. Over reach and you will either drown in the crossing or realise when you get there that all is not what it seems. All that glitters is not gold. Paths of gold turn out to be the paths of the dead. From where there is no return.

We all have a self-destruct button, an Achilles heel, a chink in our armour. The trick is to be aware of it and put in place processes and people that allow you to overcome the urge to press the button when it is at its strongest. For urges pass. Temptation is not a permanent state of mind. And if you can tough it out you will emerge unscathed on the other side. Do it once and the next time it will be easier. Exposure leads to resilience and resilience culminates in victory.

I did it and so can you. Get watering. Look around. Be grateful for what you have. The other side is a mirage, a lie. Remember these words the next time you are tempted to eat, drink, snort, cheat, lie, whatever. Tell the button to butt out. Say don’t as opposed to doh. Look closely and you will see the other side for what it truly is. A graveyard of weeds. Just waiting to choke the life out of you.

Have you pressed the button before? How did that work out for you?

Are you tempted by the button today? What are you going to do about it?

Why Are Some Friends So Unfriendly?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Conversations Have You Had With Yourself Today?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What conversations have you had with yourself today?

Morior Invictus

The paths of the dead

Are where we must tread

To vanquish the demons

Who reign in our head

Death itches and twitches

Denying us riches

Our God given right

Morior Invictus

Yet I fear it not

For X marks the spot

New treasures revealed

And an end to the rot.

Happy Birthday To Us

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

I’m A Christian But I Still Worry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you worry about?

How do you cope with worry?

Is it a sin to be a Christian and worry?

Why Do You Write?

Why do I bother?

Why do I write?

Why do I struggle with words every night?

To convince all the wronged

The despised and forlorn

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

So I’m penning a story

Of hope and redemption

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

You click and you like and you comment and follow

But have you considered why you feel so hollow?

So empty inside, so frayed at the seams.

Consumed by dark nightmares which once were bright dreams.

Your plight has been sanctioned

Left bitter and vanquished

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

Friendships, romances all of them dead

You made this mess so best lie in your bed.

Your soul is in tatters

You’ve lost all that matters.

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

But I’ve been where you are

I will show you my scars

I was dead in the gutter

But could still taste the stars.

Stripped bare but He cared

He reached down to me there

Grace cloaked my disgrace

From the whispers and stares.

So that’s why I write

I’ve recovered my sight

Scales fallen from eyes

To reveal truth and might.

Better times lie ahead

For the damned and the dead

Turn your back to the lies and embrace truth instead.

Why do you write?

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

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

So I started on Job….

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

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

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

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

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

Anyway…..

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

That’s the patience of Job I guess.

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

That’s the impatience of Job I guess.

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

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

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

And they all lived happily ever after….

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

What do you think the Behemoth and Leviathan were?

Have you ever had friends as useless as Job?

I’m 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?

I’m A Christian But I Don’t Do Hugs

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

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

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

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

Please God. Make it stop. Now.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Heaven be a hug free zone for you?

What’s Been Your Best/Worst Wedding Experience?

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

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

What’s been your best/worst wedding experience?

List your comments below.

If Love Is A Mist….

If love is a mist

Then I must persist

For cords of affliction

And wisps of addiction

Are flogging my faith on a rack of derision.

The demons are screaming

Stop me from believing

Oozing lies, succubi

Leave me battered and bleeding.

Their hunger is fed

On the paths of the dead

As my starved, broken soul craves the wine and the bread

Cutting ties, crushing lives

We can all sympathise

But the blame lies with me

Wrapped in guilt, when once free

Destruction their function

Impaled at this junction

Slicing my soul without fear or compunction.

Yet I will resist

I’ll repent and desist

And walk through the mist

Towards fresh joy and bliss.

For this kingdom of sighs

Will give way to new life

And I will be vanquished

A thorn in their side.

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?

Fun Friday Continues….Even Though It’s Saturday

Today’s question is for all you bookworms out there. What was the last book you read and what did you make of it? To get the ball rolling here are the last few I’ve read. I read a lot much to Fionnuala’s dismay but I know that in order to succeed as an author you need to soak up as many other styles and genres as you can. Read, Read and then Read some more. I think Stephen King said that. And he’s done alright I suppose.

  • Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs
  • The Very Worst Missionary – Jamie Wright
  • Recovery: Freedom From Our Addictions – Russell Brand
  • Sylvia Plath: A Biography – Linda Wagner-Martin

Happy Reading!

Stephen 🙂

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.

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

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

Hmmmmm….thought not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Today I Was Snubbed

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How do you handle hurt and rejection?

What’s So Good About Friday?

What’s so good about Friday?

What’s so good about life?

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

What’s so good about suffering?

What’s so good about greed?

Never learning our lessons

Never realising our needs

What’s so good about trying?

What’s so good about loss?

What’s so good about Jesus?

Beaten and nailed to a Cross?

Well he’s the reason I’m still here

Trying my best to survive

He’s the reason my family

Every day flourish and thrive

That’s what’s good about Friday

That’s why he took the pain

That’s why he endured nails and a sword

Piercing his skin like a flame

So next time you moan on a Friday

Or mutter or mumble or mope

Think back to that darkest of all days

And thank Him for giving us hope.

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?

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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.

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.

What Are Your Three Best Qualities?

I make a point of reading as many other blogs as I can when I can. Sometimes I comment, other times I only have time to hit the like button but I do value the work of my fellow bloggers. There is a sense of community here that I have never experienced on other social media platforms before. People seem to genuinely care about others as opposed to seeking the spotlight themselves. WordPress is a selfless as opposed to a selfie zone.

A lot of people who write on this platform are struggling with a myriad of demons. There is an honesty and vulnerability expressed here that is refreshing compared to the fakeness of other platforms. It is raw and it is painful but it is real. Reality can be a tough pill to swallow but it is only when we recognise our weaknesses and accept our fears that true healing can begin. The best medicine is often the most bitter tasting.

The nature of this process, however, is that people are often very hard on themselves. Sometimes unfairly so. You are all wonderful people who deserve peace, love and happiness. Fionnuala and I are often deeply saddened by some of the stories we read. The negativity is often heartbreaking. Today I want to flip the coin. Life is about love. We were placed on this planet to love others. But before we can do that we must learn to love ourselves. That can be hard and I know I am my own worst critic.

So today I want you to comment below, listing your three best qualities. When you have written them down take a moment to reflect on them and think back to times when you have displayed them for the benefit of yourself and others. When you are in that good place, realise how special you are and how needed you are on this broken world we live in today. Look in the mirror and realise you are amazing. Do it now.

I insist….

What are your three best qualities? Comment below.

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.

What’s So Super About Heroes?

Everybody needs a hero, right? Someone to look up to. They inspire us to aspire to become more than what we are. They move us to improve. And their very nature makes them super. Heroes cannot be anything but super. They perform at a level beyond our wildest dreams. They operate on a different plane from us mere mortals. They are faster than us, stronger than us and smarter than us. They are flawless and their reflected glory casts a little more light on our drab and dreary everyday existences. We follow their exploits on the silver screen and in glossy magazines. They are everything we dream of being but are not. They are perfection and that perfection exposes and magnifies every fault and failing we spend most of our lives trying to hide from the world.

I disagree with pretty much all of the above paragraph. I’m sorry if that has burst a few bubbles out there. Maybe you want to skip this post and we can hook up again next time. You see, I don’t really want my heroes to be super. To me, a perfect hero isn’t really a hero at all. If everything you do is effortless then it’s not really super. It kind of becomes mediocre. Bland, mundane, run of the mill. I saved the world again today. It was easy…..yawn. Where’s the blood, sweat and tears in that? Where are the demons they have slain to become who they are today? Where are the staggering odds they have somehow overcome along the way? Er….we kind of skipped that part because we’re perfect and cut straight to the super, heroic bits.

I don’t want perfect heroes. Anodyne and featureless, every scrap of personality scrubbed clean from them. Now before I continue I know there will be many Christians reading this so, before you start, let’s set Jesus to one side for the purposes of this blog. Yes I know he was without sin and, therefore, perfect. He was the ‘Godman’ however and I’m talking about human beings here. Ordinary men and woman who commit extraordinary acts. I’m also not talking about superheroes like Wonder Woman or Captain America. I am talking about real people. I’m not really a DC or Marvel hero anyway. Give me orcs and dragons any day of the week. Or possibly Jessica Jones at a stretch.

I’m not really talking about celebrities either. Yes there are role models out there who inspire and motivate us but we risk straying into dangerous territory here. When we start to worship our heroes it can become idolatry. Which is largely unhealthy and counter productive. They are human beings and human beings have a nasty habit of letting you down. Never meet your hero they say as they have a habit of disappointing you in the flesh. They are not what you created them to be in your imagination. They are a pale imitation. That’s because they are flesh and bone. They can never possibly live up to what we have created them to be in our fevered imaginations. They will always fall short.

They are a concept, an ideal, an unattainable image. Striving, and failing, to be more like them will only end in frustration and resentment. I’m not saying unfollow Taylor Swift on Twitter and take your football and baseball posters down but just be wary they don’t take over. Obsession is a companion I know all too well. Filling your head with such individuals are a distraction. Distracting you from the people around you who truly matter. You will never become them and aspiring to do so is a futile exercise. Focus on becoming a better you not a better them.

Having real life heroes can be problematic as well. It’s all very well and good but once more they will eventually let you down. The higher you build them up the further they will inevitably fall. They cannot live up to your lofty expectations of them. And when they don’t it often ends in recrimination and broken relationships. There is resentment on either side and irreparable collateral damage is caused to trust and respect. Seeds of anger are planted on such fertile ground. From these grow weeds and thorns that will choke and entangle us. We will grow to despise those we once loved. And they will despise us back just as hard. Friends become enemies and allies become foes. I’ve lost so many friends so I know this all too well. My days of setting others on pedestals are over.

So what is the point of this post? I’ve dismissed just about every hero in the book. From Batman to Tom Brady. And everyone in between. Comic book heroes, action movie heroes, everyday heroes. Firefighters, brain surgeons, megachurch pastors and your big brother or sister. They are not heroes. They are just people like you or I. Respect them, admire them and love them. But don’t set them on a plinth and get all gooey eyed over them. For they deserve better than that and so do you. Plinths and pedestals are barriers to true relationships and mutual growth. Let’s all get on a level playing field.

Death to heroes.

What are your thoughts of hero worship and heroes in society today? Do you regard it as healthy or a hindrance? Please comment below.

Creeping Glory

For the seven of you out there who enjoy reading my running posts, I completed my online challenge yesterday to run 150 miles in the month of January. A day early no less but nobody likes a show off so I won’t brag about that. Oh hang on I just have. Anyways. It was an online challenge so all I have to do now is e-mail the organisers a screen shot from my Garmin app confirming the mileage and they will post me out a medal and compression top. To the victor the spoils. I had to pay £14.99 for this privilege (plus postage and packaging) but let’s not deflect from my glorious achievement here.

I’ll post a photo of them when they arrive. A photo minus me because I’m not a big fan of having my photograph taken. Plus those of a sensitive nature, with medical conditions, or eating might struggle with the sight of your truly in a compression top. It’s not a pretty sight let me assure you. I have battled low self esteem all my life and a desperate need for attention and acceptance. This, in turn, has gotten me into all sorts of trouble. I am a terrible judge of character and throughout my life have effortlessly fallen into the wrong company at the drop of a hat. In fact forget the hat, I’ll just do it anyway.

Running and writing used to be just two more tools I used to grasp the spotlight. It was all about me. The problem with being in the spotlight, though, is that you are exposed and blinded. Disoriented and unaware of what is going on around you. And in my case, inside of me. I was becoming a vain, selfish and thoroughly unlikeable person. Others could see it but not me. Or when I did during a rare moment of lucidity I didn’t care. I just shrugged my shoulders and carried on regardless. I was hopelessly hooked on the attention and forever chasing my next fix.

It was all about the next race or the next personal best. I joined a running club and had no shortage of running partners both at work and at home. I was Mr. Popularity or so I thought. My phone never stopped. My weekends were spent travelling around the country to race events instead of with Fionnuala and the kids. Then one day all that stopped. I run alone now. My phone can sit all day without anyone messaging me. And you know what? I’ve learnt to be okay with that. Because it’s no longer about me. It’s about others. It’s about YOU.

Running is now a means to an ends. I don’t run for the glory, I run because I need to. It cleanses and detoxifies me mentally. When I run I can dispose of all the negativity and unwanted junk rattling around my brain. I get most of my writing ideas when I run. Anxiety and dark, unwanted thoughts seep out of me along with the sweat from my pores. I used to use running to lose weight physically. Now I do it to unload excess mental and spiritual baggage. Running empties me and leaves me with a focus and clarity of vision which is laser sharp.

Running has taught me how to embrace and overcome pain. It has taught me patience. I prefer long distance running. My favourite race is the marathon. 26.2 miles is a daunting challenge but one thing I am not is a quitter. When I start a race or a challenge I will not stop until I have completed it. One of the few positive attributes of my obsessive nature. If I have to crawl to the finish line then I will. Defeat is simply not an option. I hate looking at myself in the mirror at the best of times but it would be doubly galling if i was looking at the face of a loser. I choose to overcome no matter what it takes.

So I will never stop. And I will never give up. And nor must you. No matter what. When I run I break every mile down into twenty sections. I run to the next bench, the next hedge, the next pothole in the road. I break a seemingly unassailable distance down into manageable bite sized chunks then count them off on my Garmin. Every 1/20th is a battle won and a step towards winning the war. I break it down in order to build myself up. I make the impossible possible. And so must YOU. I’ve written before about finding your grind. Become a pain sponge and suck it all up. Because, like me, YOU are not a quitter either.

Don’t look at the summit. Just focus on the next stretch, the next bend, the next step. Break it down and you will see the barriers fall and the milestones pass behind you. YOU are better than this. Never mind creeping death. Yours shall be a creeping glory. The enemy never feels threatened by an opponent who barely appears to be moving. He is oblivious to slow, almost imperceptible progress. His defences will fall and he will idle. And before he knows it YOU are past him and it’s game over. YOU are astride your Everest and the pain has been replaced by glory. The glory that is your story. Creeping Glory.

Take my hand and run with me ok? Together we will overcome.

What are your thoughts on this post. We would love to hear them. Please comment below and let’s get talking.

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?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can anger be healthy and productive?

I’m Hangry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Make your hunger known.

What do you hunger for?

Stay At Home Christian

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tell me about your church experiences?

Good? Bad? Indifferent? Non existent?

What does church mean to you?

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.

Shatter The Silence

Silence is golden they say. In today’s hectic world it is almost impossible to escape the constant hustle and bustle of everyday life. With technological advances we are rarely totally alone nowadays. We crave anonymity and inaccessibility. We just want five minutes of peace and quiet. We need a break, a time out, a little ‘me time.’ The ‘must have’ holiday invariably involves a deserted beach with no internet.

Some people choose to drop out of society. They become hermits and recluses. They turn their backs on human interaction. There can be a plethora of reasons for this. Some say it is the only way they can sustain a meaningful relationship with God. The noise of the world creates too many barriers between them and their Creator. They argue that by turning their back on modern life they are discovering the true meaning of life.

Others are hounded into silence. They have given up. Life has knocked them to the canvas once too often and they cannot pick themselves up again. They have been abused, betrayed and hurt beyond repair. The pain of a lonely life is preferable to the horrors they have experienced. They retreat into their self made fortresses. They become ghosts, drifting through life like wraiths on the wind.

All of the above scenarios involve choice. Although all three originate from differing needs they all entail a decision being made in order to improve an individual’s set of circumstances. Be it for physical, mental, emotional or spiritual requirements the quest for silence is all-consuming. It may be for self preservation or self improvement but it is dictated by free will. We decide. We crave the silence. It is more precious than anything. It is the gold at the end of our rainbow.

What if we don’t have that choice however? What if the silence is forced upon us. I see so many relationships today that are empty shells containing nothing but silence. So many friendships derailed by miscommunication and misunderstanding. For some silence is a weapon in their armoury that they wield to devastating effect. It can cut deeper than the most refined steel, piercing dreams and shattering lives. Silence can be a killer.

The victims are left bewildered and broken. Their is no closure, no explanation for how things have turned out the way they have. Questions are unanswered, apologies are snubbed, olive branches are thrown into the fires of recrimination. They are left hanging in limbo, twisting in the wind, clutching at the noose which squeezes the last breath of hope from their screaming lungs.

Many say Hell is a place of eternal silence and darkness. I can think of nothing more horrific. Silence is golden they say. It can also be toxic, sickening and leave its victims broken and bleeding. A cold shoulder can burn as deeply as a white hot poker. It can brand people for life, scar them beyond recognition. There is much to be said for reconciliation and restoration. No relationship is beyond salvage if embraced with love and hope.

Swallow the bile and the pride. Find it in your heart to forgive. Expose yourself to the healing glow of forgiveness. It’s not easy but it can be done. Put down that stone you are about to throw. Look around and then look deep into your very being. Are you really any better? Taking the high moral ground means you only have farther to fall when the tables are turned and you find yourself in a similar situation.

For that time will come. As certain as night follows day. Shatter the silence. Let your voice be heard. It could save a life of today.

Have you been a victim of silence?

Have you used silence as a weapon before?

Can you forgive someone today and shatter the silence?

Beardy McBeardFace – Part Two

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

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

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

Yours in beardiness

Stephen

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.

I Haven’t Been Through Hell

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

I’ve been through hell….

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

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

I’ve been through hell….

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

I’ve been through hell.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do you believe in an actual Hell?

Do you feel hopeful or hopeless today?

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

Slam

Happy Christmas Eve everyone!

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

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

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

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

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

His response to a lifetime of this was as follows:

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

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

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

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

He opens his door and welcomes us with open arms.

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

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

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

Happy Christmas from Stephen, Fionnuala and the kids.

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.

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?

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 ❤️🙏🏻😊

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?

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?

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?

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?

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.

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.’

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 ❤️🙏🏻😊

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?

The Wardrobe Malfunction 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

What has been your most embarrassing wardrobe malfunction?

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

Carpe Diem?

‘Carpe Diem’ is a frequently used Latin expression and, translated means ‘seize the day.’ A lot of people adopt it as their maxim for life. It encapsulates a positive attitude, that indefatigable, ‘never say die’ mentality that we attribute to our sporting heroes. Never give up! Up and at them! To the victor the spoils.

It is good to wake up with a positive attitude and adhere to it throughout the day. There are many benefits to adopting this mindset. I have written in recent posts about focusing more on the present and future rather than looking back on my sinful past. I need to accept where I came from, yes, but regularly revisiting the dark places leaves me more vulnerable to emotions and thoughts I no longer want to experience.

It is a balancing act, a happy medium. One can also take it too far. This succeed at all costs outlook can lead to selfishness, injustice and anger. Like any path we walk in life it is so easy to veer off track as our moral compasses spin out of control and lead us off in the wrong direction. If there is one thing that’s worse than a bad loser, it’s a bad winner. We have all encountered them so I won’t labour the point.

Seizing the day as a Christian is as much about quiet, selfless acts that largely go unnoticed as it is about preaching in front of thousands or being a New York Times bestseller. It is praying for someone who doesn’t know you are praying for them; it is making an anonymous donation to a worthy cause; it is buying a cup of tea for a shivering homeless person who you might never see again. 

Too many people seeking to seize the day end up suffocating in their own self importance and insecurities. They are so pre-occupied with attending to their worldly needs that they neglect their much more important spiritual ones. The world is broken and we, as Christians, have a responsibility to slap a bandaid on it whenever we can. But it is dying. 

The good news? I believe a day will come when Jesus will intervene; when enough will be enough. When he will descend and establish a new Kingdom. One where there will be no more wars, famine or disease. Where he will put death to the sword and reward the faithful few who stuck to the path and ran the race well. For the selfish, the unforgiving, the disbelieving, there is also a future. But not quite as pleasant a one.

Seize the day? Yes, there are many positive traits to that philosophy. But beware the pitfalls associated with it too. Take responsibility for your destiny but do it with the right motives and with a good heart. Don’t leave it too late. As Jesus is coming on the ultimate day. To seize the world. 

Luke 21:27 – At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory.’

How do you intend to seize today?

The Loose Screw 

Our pastor at Journey Community Church gave a fantastic sermon this morning on the difference between becoming a Christian and consistently being a follower of Jesus. He spoke about how Jesus came to earth to make disciples and not Christians. It is so easy to say you are a Christian but a lot more tricky to take up your cross and imitate Christ every day. 

Church really inspired me today. It was our fifth week attending (not that I’m counting) and this was the first Sunday I’ve felt comfortable and at ease there. I went and asked for prayer after the service which really calmed me as well. This is Church as it should be. We were made to feel welcome and at home. Plus there was lots of food….which always helps.

Upon getting home we started tidying up the back yard for the winter. I was on sweeping duties but my task was made all the more difficult due to a loose screw. Now before you all start I was not the one with the aforementioned problem although it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of having a screw loose.


No, the faulty screw connected (or at least was meant to connect) the brush itself to the brush handle. And no matter how hard I tried it made it nigh on impossible to sweep up the fallen leaves adorning out patio. I pushed the handle one way, the brush swivelled in the opposite direction and the leaves went in every direction. Stephen 1 Mother Nature 0.

Matters deteriorated from there as I was reduced to crawling about on my hands and knees trying to corral the errant leaves into a dustpan via a combination of a short handled brush and my bare hands. ‘Perhaps you should go and buy a new brush?’ a bewildered Fionnuala suggested from across the yard. I accepted defeat like any mature, adult male and skulked off to the village shop with my tail well and truly between my legs.

The comedy that was attaching the new brush to its handle is another story which may require a three blog series all of its own. Suffice to say with a properly functioning brush my task was made a lot easier. Before you could say ‘Stephen is a walking DIY disaster’ the yard had been cleared and looking a lot tidier than it had an hour earlier. If I had persisted with the wonky brush I would probably still be at it come Christmas.

Our pastor challenged us today about who, if anyone, we are discipling within our sphere of influence. After much soul searching I came up with nothing. I profess I’m a Christian but, of late, I have done little to evidence to others that I am following in the footsteps of Jesus. If he is the brush handle then I’m the wobbly brush, careering ineffectively in the opposite direction from where He wants me to go. And the people (leaves) in my life who I should be having a positive impact on are being overlooked and left to their own devices.

All because of a little screw. About the size of a mustard seed. My faith. Without it the whole show grinds to a halt. Unless I believe I can be more like Jesus then I never will. I will always be shackled to sin, death and self-doubt. I need to fuel and feed my faith, tighten that tiny screw of faith until it cannot be budged whatever the world throws against it. Without I will never be able to confidently sweep through my friends and family with the message that Jesus brought to the world. 

It’s time to start sweeping….

Matthew 19:21 – ‘Jesus said to him, ‘If you wish to be complete, go and sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.’

Do you believe there is a difference between being a Christian and being a follower of Jesus?

Are you doing enough to sweep up disciples in your community?

Quietly Excited 

It is 6:37 am in balmy Northern Ireland and I can’t sleep. The reason why? Adam’s big rugby match is less than four hours away and I’m excited about it. I never sleep well the night before one of his matches and tonight has been no exception. I kept wakening up, had weird dreams and then dozing off again. I won’t get back to sleep now so thought I might as well squeeze a blog post out of it.

It is good to feel excited. I’m excited about being excited again as it’s an emotion I haven’t experienced much lately. I have been in a rut this last week or so and a lot of my writing has been negative and about my past. I have revisited a lot of dark places from there and this has taken its toll. Some of that darkness has seeped back into my present life and that has not been healthy. It has sucked the life out of my bones and left me feeling agitated and irritable.

I read a blog post the other day about a mental health illness where the sufferer is unable to derive pleasure from anything. They are incapable of feeling excited about anything. I know this does not relate to me because I am different. I have chosen not to feel excited about anything. I have allowed the darkness to suffocate my light. That has to change. Starting now.


I have a lot to be excited about. There is a lot happening in our busy lives and I’m grateful to God for everything He has done for us this year. The Bible is full of excitement. Imagine how Moses must have felt when he parted the Red Sea? David after he slew Goliath? Daniel as he walked unscathed out of the lion’s dead? The disciples on a daily basis as they watched and listened to Jesus? Never let it be said that the Bible is a dull book. It overflows with excitement.

My heart needs to overflow with excitement. Overflow into other people’s lives and drown their own fears and inadequacies. It is time to crush depression and anxiety. But that excitement has to be genuine. Not the once a week ‘happy clappy Christianity’ that some try to portray at church on a Sunday. Parading their perfect families and fake smiles while in their hearts there is nothingness. I want my excitement to be real and genuine. 

I am not that type of person. My default setting is ‘glass half empty’. I don’t run round church with my hands in the air singing ‘Praise Jesus’. I am a quiet worshipper. I read, I write and I think. A lot. Possibly too much. But I want to be a quietly excited worshipper. And that means immersing myself in more positive environments. The people I spend time with, the books I read, the music I listen to.

It will soon be time to get up and face the day. I am excited about today. And not just because of the rugby match. I am excited to be alive and well. I am excited to be married to a wonderful woman and to have three fantastic children. I am excited to be writing these words to you. In fact I am excited for you and the plan that God has mapped out for your life. I won’t shout. I won’t roar. But I am excited. Quietly excited.

2 Samuel 6:14 – ‘And David danced before the Lord with all his might.’

What plans have you for the weekend? Are you excited about them?

What is your emotional ‘default setting’?

Role Models 

Adam is playing for his school in a big rugby match tomorrow. He is operating in a new position this season (tight head prop) which has required some mental and physical readjustment on his part. Tonight we are going to watch the Ulster-Connacht match on television and focus for the entire game on the tight head props to try and better understand the tactics and requirements of the position.

I used to spend my Friday nights drinking beer and largely ignoring my family. So this, in itself, is progress. I am hoping that showing an interest in Adam’s blossoming rugby career will help erase the pain I have caused him in the past. I hope to devote time to all my family in this respect. But it just so happens that tonight it will be spent with my son watching a rugby match.

We can learn so much from watching others who are better than us at something which we aspire to become better at. That was a long sentence so I hope you are still with me. Just like Adam seeks to improve his rugby skills by watching professional players so I seek to become a better person by spending time in the company of positive role models. 


As far as displaying Christian values to those around me I have fared pretty abysmally this week. At work I have been moody, bitter and unforgiving. I have tried not to bring this home but Fionnuala has picked up on it. She can read me like a book. A book that nobody else would want to read at the moment. As far as being a light of the world of late I’m afraid my flame has been largely extinguished. And I have only myself to blame for that.

I have been a hypocrite. I blog daily about spreading love, light and hope to others yet in practice I have been a miserable frump. I am painfully aware of this situation but have been powerless to rectify it. I know I’m letting myself and others down when I behave like this but appear incapable of applying the brakes to the runaway train that is my malicious mouth. I can’t love others when I don’t particularly love myself. 

It is because of this that I am particularly grateful that we have got back into the habit of regularly attending church again. I need that structure, routine and sense of community. I need to belong. This coming Sunday Fionnuala and I are going to sign up to a house group. The church we have been attending is launching six this month and is encouraging people to sign up to one.

I think it will be good for both Fionnuala and myself to join a group. Within the smaller setting it will be easier to forge new friendships and thus begin to feel more at home within the larger church community. From a personal perspective it will allow me to hopefully be around people who I can learn from. People who consistently exhibit positive traits as opposed to the negative characteristics I have been displaying of late.

You can always learn. Just as you can always grow and change. It is never too late and you are never beyond help. I get a lot of positive comments about the honesty of my writing. It is not pretty. The only pretty I know is pretty ugly. But it is me and it is real. After a decade of pretending to be someone who I am not on social media I am finally unveiling the real Stephen Black. He is broken. He is inadequate.

But he is trying.

How would you rate your behaviour this week?

What can you do to improve as a person?

When you blog do your readers see the real you?


Thoughts And Prayers 

The news, as ever, has made pretty depressing viewing of late. Natural disasters, terrorist attacks and now the horrific events in Las Vegas. Some days I don’t want to step out of my front door. I just want to stay at home with Fionnuala and the kids close to me. Heartache and despair seem to be lurking behind every corner, waiting to sink their claws into your heart and tear you apart. 

At times like this I feel helpless. There seems little I can do to protect my loved ones from the world as it is today. I watch the news and hear the responses of world leaders to each breaking nightmare. A commonly used phrase is ‘our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families’. I hear it so often that the words mean nothing to me. Trite. Glib. Empty. Another day. Another meaningless soundbite.

Or is it? We are surrounded by these devastating tragedies. They dominate our social media timelines and work conversations. They are everywhere we go, constantly reminding us of the broken, bleeding world we inhabit. They occupy our every waking moment. Our thoughts are full of sorrow, pity and, dare I say it, relief that it didn’t impact upon our cosy bubble of life. This time.

Thoughts are just that however. Thoughts. It requires an act of will to turn them into actions. Something tangible and concrete. I can think about writing a blog all day long but until I take action and actually start writing then that blog is going to be nothing more than a fanciful idea in my head. Without action thoughts are nothing. And given the scale of the horrors we face doing nothing is simply not an acceptable option anymore. 

Some might say the same about prayers. They are pointless and achieve nothing. What more is a prayer than a wistful wish to a God who, even if he does exist, appears indifferent and distant to the needs of a desperate world. A God who allows famine and fear to reign unabated. Who allows disease and death to break bodies and hearts. Who allows bad men to do bad things. 

Prayer to a Christian, however, is more than just a whimsical desire. It is a positive act that can make a difference, which can effect change. It can move mountains….and molehills. There is nothing too insignificant or too insurmountable which cannot be addressed by prayer. It is communication in its purest form. And I can vouch that it attains results. For our prayers are heard by a loving God who cares for each and every one of us. Prayer works.

If you are feeling helpless today as the world self destructs then I encourage you to stop thinking and start acting. Prayer is action. It is the concrete that God uses to construct miracles with. It is the glue that holds our crushed communities together. It is the fuel that drives us forward towards a better life; for ourselves and others. It is spiritual oxygen and it is sorely needed across our lands as the world threatens to be suffocated by enveloping evil.

Stop thinking. Start praying. Please.

Mark 11:24 – ‘Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.’

If anyone requires prayer today then please ask us. We would be happy to pray for you and your loved ones.

Modern Life Is Rubbish

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I hope and pray….

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

Have you woken up feeling frustrated and resentful?

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

How do you feel now after reading this post?

Invest 

The Disciples weren’t the sharpest tools in the box. They chose Peter as their spokesman. The case for the prosecution rests. Which is why Jesus, he of ultimate patience, had to painfully spell out his message to them in parables; simple, everyday messages which they could relate to and, therefore, attempt to understand the deeper truth hidden within them.

One of these concerned a rich ruler who was preparing for a journey so entrusted his money with his servants, asking that they invest it for him. Upon returning the first servant proudly informed him that his investment had doubled the ruler’s money. The ruler was delighted and rewarded him accordingly. The same applied to the second servant who had returned a 50% profit. So far, so good.

The third servant must have been shifting from foot to foot a bit uneasily by this point. He sheepishly told his boss that, as he was afraid of screwing things up, he had buried the money instead of invested it. Well, at least he hadn’t made a loss so no harm done right? Unfortunately the ruler didn’t agree and gave his employee a right earful.

When I first read this story my initial thoughts were that the ruler had been a tad harsh with his servant. I mean sure he was cautious but wouldn’t it have been worse if he had blown the lot on wine, women and song? And, after all, it’s only money right? It wasn’t as if the ruler was down to his last bag of gold. So what was Jesus trying to communicate via the parable? 

The key to understanding the parable is understanding that it is just that; a parable. Jesus is not literally talking about bags of gold. He is talking about grace. Grace is basically being given something that you have done nothing to deserve. Four years ago my life was a mess. I was on the brink of losing everything. Yet here I am today with a loving family, secure job and a million other blessings that I have done very little to deserve.

I’m still the same shallow, selfish Stephen. Struggling to become a better person. I’m embarrassed by how my life has turned around for the better, yet overjoyed at the same time. I can only put it down to the grace of God. I don’t deserve any of it. Yet here we are. God has given me umpteen bags of grace. 

The parable makes more sense now when viewed within this context. And Jesus, when summing up the parable, gets to the key issue with crystal clarity when he says:

Luke 19:28 – ‘He said, ‘That’s what I mean: Risk your life and get more than you ever dreamed of: Play it safe and end up holding the bag.’

God has blessed each of us with bag upon bag of golden grace. So the very least we can do is try and pay that forward. Because we are loved undeservedly we need to love unreservedly in return. And that involves taking risks, stepping out of our comfort zones. There’s no point accepting God into your life, with all the added perks, if you are then unwilling to demonstrate it within your own sphere of influence. 

That involves reinvesting the love he has shown you by displaying it to, and sharing it with, others. Don’t bury your head (or gold) in a hole in the ground. Take a chance. Be kind to strangers. Forgive those who don’t deserve your forgiveness. Love those on the fringes of society and show them that they matter. Be who you were created to be. 

Even the shyest introvert can pray and be kind to the needy. Jesus doesn’t want ego fuelled exhibitionists. But he does want people willing to make a difference by displaying to the world the love he displayed to them on the Cross. We need to start living life thinking more of others and not ourselves. I know I do. 

Invest in others. Today. Now. Then let me know how you got on.

Be A Painkiller

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is the worst headache you have ever had?

How are you going to be a painkiller today?

Poo Patrol 

This week I’ve been asking God for inspiration and ideas in order to drive the blog forward. And he has, as ever, delivered; sometimes in the most unlikely of ways. Today has been no exception. I got home last night from a three day work trip to England. The flight home was delayed by over two hours meaning I didn’t walk through our front door until after midnight.  Then I was up early this morning to take Adam to a rugby match.

As a result I was feeling tired and had a nasty headache developing over my right eyebrow by the time lunchtime swung round. A six mile run perked me up a bit so I decided to maintain my momentum by tidying up the back yard a bit. Part of this chore involves scooping up several ‘presents’ Charlie the Border Terrier had lovingly deposited awaiting his master’s return. I affectionately call this part of my week ‘Poo Patrol’.

Charlie obviously produces invisible poo as it is apparently invisible to our kids. Perhaps he is part unicorn or has faerie blood or something. Whatever the cause they remain blissfully oblivious to this most unenjoyable of tasks. Leaving me with the dubious pleasure of several days worth of doggy doo doo to clear up. They are also incapable of walking, feeding and bathing Charlie, but when it comes to petting or playing with him they are oddly always available.


Armed with several plastic bags I gingerly began to remove the offending items. Charlie beat a hasty retreat, no doubt wired off by the muttering and face pulling of his master that now was not a good time to ask for a belly scratch. Several circuits of the yard later my work was done and all was well with the world again. Charlie returned to gnawing on his prized bone and the yard no longer resembled the messiest of minefields.

As parents Fionnuala and I (but mostly Fionnuala 😬) spend a lot of our time clearing up the mess of others. Our kids have the uncanny knack of turning the tidiest of rooms upside down within minutes. And why on earth use a perfectly good rubbish bin when you can just throw the chocolate/crisp/sweet (delete where applicable) wrapper wherever you desire. Like on the floor. Or down the back of the sofa.

It drives us to despair and, at times, I’m convinced our roars can be heard in the next village. Why should we spend our weekend cleaning up after chaotic children and a destructive dog? It’s just not fair is it? But then I thought of Jesus. Who came to earth to clean up the biggest mess ever made. By mankind. Who was obedient to the will of his Father despite the cruel and lingering death he knew that obedience entailed. 

He didn’t mutter. He didn’t complain. He went to the Cross full of love and compassion. To clean up our messes past, present and future. His blood is the greatest detergent of them all. It means we can approach the throne of God one day sparkling clean and with nothing to fear. He has cleansed and purified us. All we can do is be grateful and try each day to be more like Him. 

A few years ago I would have laughed at the words I am typing today. I would have regarded myself as naive and deluded. But today I see with 20/20 vision. I see my shameful past and I realise there is no way I would be where I am today without the Cross. God has a sense of humour. Today he spoke to me through a piece of dog poo. But when it comes down to the business of salvaging broken lives he is deadly serious. 

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

What is your most dreaded cleaning chore?

Has God cleaned up your life? Or are you in need of it?

The Paper Umbrella 

I love books. I have hundreds of them and Fionnuala is constantly encouraging me to have ‘book culls’ in order to free up some space in our already packed to the gills abode. A few years ago she bought me a Kindle which rarely leaves my side. I probably have another hundred or so books on it. Logical, rational minds would therefore conclude that the problems with book storage are a thing of the past. No more need for overladen book shelves when your library can be held on a pocket sized device. Right?

Er….wrong. Much as I try I cannot resist the lure of the second hand book store just around the corner from my work. It is a treasure cove of hidden literary gems where I spend many of my lunch breaks, wandering studiously up and down its aisles. Invariably I leave with a purchase much to the dismay of my long suffering wife. I am indeed a hopeless case.

Much as I love my Kindle and the many bonuses it brings to my reading experience (LED screen means I can read in the dark, new releases are usually cheaper than the hard copy version, highlighting option as opposed to underlining with pen) I can never totally sever my ties with holding an actual book in my hand; the feel of it, the smell of it, the taste of it. Ok I made that last bit up before you call the psychiatrist.

The same applies to my Bible. Or should I say Bibles as I have four different translations. I also have a Bible app but I never feel comfortable reading the Word off a screen. It just doesn’t feel right. It’s like having to settle for a Diet Pepsi when you asked for a Diet Coke. It will never hit the spot in quite the same way. Maybe it is the whole ‘tablets of stone and scrolls’ thing. I just can’t visualise Jesus standing up and reading from his I-Phone 8. Which of course he wouldn’t have anyway as that’s vain and materialistic.

I picked up my Bible this morning and, before I started reading, asked God to speak to me through his Word today. Before I had even read a word I got a picture of an open, upturned Bible. Over my head like an umbrella. The leather cover faced outwards and upwards shielding and protecting my head from the outside world. From temptation and the way the world wants me to lead my life. I felt safe there, protected from the pressures and distractions of everyday life.


Meanwhile the open pages of the Bible were showering words down onto my head. Words like love, hope and faith. God was refreshing my mind and my body with truth and light. I was underneath an umbrella but was being soaked by his grace. And it didn’t bother me in the slightest. God was speaking to, and refreshing me, before I had even looked at a page. I had benefited from his Word without reading a word of it.

I had to write about this immediately. God doesn’t send me many pictures so this was an event that I wanted to share with you all. And I hope it makes sense to you. The Word can be whatever you need it to be at any given moment. One day a shield of protection, the next a waterfall of grace. Or both simultaneously! All you have to do is pick it up and ask God to speak to you through it. For when you are picking up a Bible, you are picking up life itself. 

I would encourage you today to pick up a Bible and read it. You might do this every day anyway; you might have lapsed of late and feel a need to re-engage with the Word; or you might never have done so before. Pick it up, open it and read it. Even if it’s just for five minutes. What have you got to lose? Nobody needs to know. Just you and Him. Today. Now. I hope and pray it is a worthwhile exercise.

Hebrews 4:12 – ‘For the Word of God is alive and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates to even dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.’

What happened today when you picked up your Bible?

And if you didn’t pick one up how was your day anyway?

A Few Lines

I will write a ‘proper’ post later today but just wanted to write a few lines from sunny Southend (where I am working for a few days) to thank you all for your continued support and encouragement. We hit 1500 followers overnight which is amazing given that the blog only started four months ago.


We hope that the blog continues to demonstrate that no situation is irretrievable no matter how bleak things might appear. The light will always vanquish the darkness. Hope and faith will always triumph. Love will always overcome evil. There is always a way out. Never give up. Trust God and hand it over to Him when it all gets too much for you.

Stephen & Fionnuala ❤️🙏🏻😊

For The Shire

Today is the second in a series of ramblings about Bible verses which have spoken to me in recent weeks. Don’t worry, it will all be over soon and I will revert to the normal programming schedule of average running reports and griping about life in general. Just humour me. And who knows you might even get something from it.

Today’s verse is from the Message translation which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea (or coffee). But it jumped off the page and hit me over the head repeatedly. Which Jesus has a habit of doing. In a loving, non-violent way of course. 

‘But if you’re content to simply become yourself, you will become more than yourself.’

As with yesterday’s verse, at first glance, it appears that Jesus is contradicting himself again. I mean, isn’t being a Christian all about changing? About becoming a better person? A new creation? I certainly thought this to be the case when the ‘God penny’ dropped with me just over four years ago. I had already stopped drinking but sought to change every aspect of my life which was not of God.

I wanted to preach. I wanted to talk God with everyone. I wanted to lead house groups, youth cells and basically anything else I could muscle myself in on. At the time I thought my enthusiasm was fuelled by the Holy Spirit; when, in fact, it was driven by a selfish desire to grab the limelight at every available opportunity. Had that much changed from my days of drinking and social media addiction. Had I really changed? Not really. 

In time I became a bigger hypocrite than I had been before I took the leap of faith. I was standing up at the front of church on a Sunday talking about how Jesus had changed my life when in reality I was bad as ever, if not worse Monday through to Saturday. I was a total fraud. I hadn’t changed one iota. Whatever an iota is….

God of course realised this and allowed the light of truth to flood into the murky corners of my heart. A humiliating and painful cauterisation of my soul, but a necessary and life saving intervention. I began to realise that the world did not revolve around Stephen, something which Fionnuala regularly reminds me of. I began to take more of a back seat. I am, by nature, a shy and studious type. Call me a geek. I plead guilty.

I realised that I had not changed at all. I was still the vain, attention seeking, needy individual I had always been. I thought I was transforming when I was really just reverting to type. Living a lie instead of facing the truth. God had to step in again and bring to my knees. He broke me in order to rebuild me. Like resetting a bone. Nasty work. But it had to be done.

God does want us to change. But to change back into the human beings that he created us to be when he placed us on the earth in the first place. We are bespoke beings, unique creations; custom built to carry out important missions in a spiritual war against forces of darkness. We are Frodo Baggins. We are Luke Skywalker. We are all heroes in training. 


You don’t have to fake it. You don’t need to put on a performance or wear a mask. Just be yourself. As God meant you to be. It is then, and only then, that God will use you and refine the natural talents that he has graced you with. Talents that he will develop and refine if you are obedient to his will. Talents which can be used to achieve more than you could ever possibly imagine.

So Jesus was right after all. He does want us to change. But change as in revert back to our original selves, not conform to our earthly desires. It is only then that the magic will happen. It is only then that obstacles will be overcome, that ground will be gained, that bottles will be won.

Change. By not changing.

Do you put on a performance every day?

How can you change back into the real you?

Pure 

A few Bible verses have been rattling around my head in recent weeks, to the extent where I felt the need to write about them. They will probably provide the source material for my posts over the next three days so for those of you who don’t do the whole Jesus thang…..

WARNING – This post may contain material of a Biblical nature!!!

There is something deeply satisfying about the combination of bold type, capital letters and exclamation marks. It’s the blogging equivalent of running down the street with no clothes on. Which, in my case, nobody wants to see. 

Anyways. I digress. Today’s verse…. 

Matthew 5:8 – ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’


Now I’m no theological genius and I’m not going to dive into the Greek or Hebrew translations. People have written books about the Sermon on the Mount, of which this is just one verse. I’m not going to contextualise or cross reference it, I’m just going to briefly write what it meant to me when I read it the other week.

I rarely feel pure in heart. Let me rephrase that. I never feel pure in heart. Regular readers of the blog (all four of them) will know that I regularly fall back on my dodgy past for inspiration. My heart is about as impure as they come. Steeped in selfishness. Stained by my sinful nature. As black as my name. Which is er…..Black.

I still struggle. Every day I am not generous enough, not forgiving enough, not loving enough. I regularly feel utterly inadequate and out of my depth when it comes to being a Christian. My mixed experiences with organised churches have done little to allay these doubts. I try every day to be a better person. And I invariably fail every day.

So I’m doomed right? Jesus said it himself. Only the pure in heart will see God. Which means no Stephen come the big party in the sky. But hang on then, doesn’t that mean it will be a pretty sparsely populated party? Didn’t Paul say something about us all having fallen short of the standard required to stride through the pearly gates?

So what was Jesus trying to say then? Was he condemning us all to an eternity in a rather hotter environment than heaven? Well no I don’t think so. However I believe he was issuing a stark reality check to his assembled audience, which no included a few self righteous Pharisees and other pompous do gooders.

Tbe reality is that there is only one way to access eternal life. And that is through Jesus. None of us have pure hearts. We can attend church seven days a week. Give all our money away to charitable causes. Help old ladies cross the street and adopt stray kittens. Doesn’t matter a jot. We all fall hopelessly short of the standard required. Our minds are runaway trains fuelled by jealousy, lust and every petty little thought in between. We are hurtling down the track full tilt and the brakes aren’t working.

Jesus knew all this. What he was doing was pointing out the problem and the solution. Namely him. Accept you can’t do it alone. Surrender to him. Fly the white flag. Only then can we accept him as the only means by which we can dig ourselves out of the mud and mess of our sinful existences.

Jesus knew all this. He knew he had to come to earth and die a brutal, humiliating death on a Roman cross. Only by the shedding of his blood, via nails, thorns, boots, fists and spears, could we be saved. He shed buckets of it. For us. To wash away our sin and allow us to approach the throne of God unblemished and white as a fresh snowfall.

Only through Jesus can we become pure in heart. Only through Jesus. 

Here endeth the sermon….

What are your thoughts on this verse and my interpretation of it?

The HellHound 

Dogs hate me. That’s just a given. Or rather dogs hate me when I’m running. I don’t know if I give off an unpleasant, sweaty odour or it’s my garish collection of ‘hi vis’ running tops. Either way when I go hurtling (plodding) past them they invariably go boogaloo and appear hellbent on having my running shorts for lunch. And, believe me, that would not be a pleasant experience for all concerned.

Horses are utterly unimpressed by my marathon training. Cows are more interested in grass consumption. And cats are well….just cats. But dogs give me their undivided and ferocious attention. Big or small, pedigree or mongrel once one sets eyes on me approaching he alerts his canine neighbours that the afternoon’s entertainment is approaching. All I can do is pray that they are locked up in their yards. Barking I can take. It’s when they run loose that problems occur.

My arch nemesis is a black Labrador who resides half way round a 2.5 mile loop round our village that I regularly run. I don’t know his real name but I affectionately refer to him as HellHound. He has eyes that glow red like the fires of Hades itself. His claws are like daggers and when he barks and announces his presence the ground itself shakes. He is evil personified and hates me with a cruel intelligence that borders on the unnatural. 


We are sworn enemies. He is Moriarty to my Holmes. He is Dr. Evil to my Austin Powers. He is Homer Simpson to my Ned Flanders. I always pick up my pace and cross the road as I near the laneway to his house. Often he is locked up but, by his frantic howls, I know he smells my fear. On those days I scuttle past, nervously looking over my shoulder until I am out of harm’s way.

On other occasions I am too far past the laneway when he careers out of it in hot pursuit. He will only go a certain distance past his laneway and then stop, snarling and seething as I live to run another day. Sometimes it is a close run thing. I can sense him closing with every step and have only escaped from the danger zone by the skin of my Nike Airs as he screeches to a halt, mere inches away from sinking his fangs into my calf.

He had never caught me despite a few hairy moments and I grew increasingly confident that he never would. The loop was my favourite run and I wasn’t going to let some psychotic pooch get the better of me. Until last December. I misjudged my run past the laneway. Thinking I was out of danger I relaxed. The next thing I knew his claws were raking down the back of my trailing leg as he simultaneously sunk his teeth into the juiciest part of my thigh.

I think the shock outweighed the pain. Anger overcame my fear and I turned on my heels and ran screaming at my assailant who promptly tucked his tail between his legs and scarpered back up the laneway. There followed words with his largely unimpressed owner (who suggested I must have provoked the family pet who wouldn’t hurt a fly) before I limped off with my pride and right hamstring in tatters. 

Now for the twist….

That afternoon I had post run plans. I’ll not go into the details but suffice to say it was wrong and sinful. I had told myself for days I wasn’t going but had been backed into a corner where I felt I had no other option. I convinced myself it was the lesser of two evils and concocted a web of deceit and lies from which there appeared no escape.

HellHound put an end to that. He had never caught me before and he has never caught me since. But on that chilly December afternoon he was a dog on a mission. A mission not from Hell, but from Heaven. Call me naive but I honestly believe he was sent to save me from myself. I had to cancel my plans given I had only one good leg. Because no matter how dire your circumstances might appear, no matter how deep a hole you have dug for yourself, God can and will intervene. If you will only allow him to.

He afforded me an opportunity that day, an escape route that I took. It still didn’t stop me from screwing up at a later date but that was my choice. He has given us the gift of freewill. Otherwise we would just be mindless automatons. He provides us with an alternative route. It is up to us as to whether or not we take that path.  But never say He is not real. Or that we don’t have a choice. He is all around us every minute of every day.

We just need to tune into his wavelength and notice his signs and promptings. Some are ever so subtle. A whisper on the breeze. Others are less so; like a rabid Labrador with a serious chip on its shoulder. But He is there.

God works in mysterious ways after all….

Proverbs 15:3 – ‘The eyes of the Lord are in every place, watching the evil and the good.’

Are there any psychotic pets in your neighbourhood?

What’s the strangest way God has ever caught your attention?

Ten Hours Straight

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What are your tips for shaking off spiritual slumber?

When was the last time you slept ten hours straight?

Clutter 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

All the more reason for a clearout.

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

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

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

What do you do when your blogging mojo is absent?

Dehydration 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Have you ever been physically hydrated?

How do you stay spiritually hydrated?

Needs 

It’s Monday morning. Or at least it is here in Northern Ireland. I’m about to get up. I’m not so sure about seizing the day but I’ll at least try to face it. I’m on call (boo) but all my sports teams won at the weekend (yay). Even the Redskins which proves there must be a God. It may be cold, dark and miserable out there but I have a lot to be thankful for. It promises to be a good week.

I felt pretty rough at church last night where the visiting speaker, Jason Vallotton from Bethel Church in Redding, California, spoke about needs and gifts. In hindsight I think I was dehydrated after yesterday’s half marathon. I drink waaaaaay too much Diet Coke and hardly any water. This meant I was feeling tired and had a headache by the time of the evening service. 

I needed water. When I arrived home later I drank some and immediately felt a bit better. It was that simple. We all have needs in life. They can be simple or they can be complex. And by needs I’m not talking about a new sports car or clothes wardrobe. I’m talking about real needs. Hydration of the soul. Failure to do so leaves us alone and miserable. For seeds of love and hope to take root and grow there we need spiritual sustenance.


The first step is to recognise our needs. We need to swallow our pride and humbly accept that we need help, that we cannot go it alone. Only then can we hope to develop and flourish as the people we were created to be. Failure to do so equates to failing at life. Turning our backs on our needs or thinking we can muddle through on our own is damaging to both ourselves and those who love us.

I see people every day in desperate need of spiritual sustenance. Yet when help is available they turn their backs on it, preferring instead to wallow in self pity, anger and unforgiveness. They allow the lying voice in their head to warp their thinking. They let down the drawbridge and allow the enemy inside. To do what he does best. Wreak havoc and destroy everything that is pure and good.

We all have giftings. Somewhere today there is a person with a need which is perfectly matched by your gifting. You are the missing piece in their jigsaw. But just as we need to open our eyes and realise our needs we must also identify and nurture our giftings. Be it baking, running or writing they can all be used to help others in need. As long as they are underpinned with love.

We need to love more. Love ourselves more by recognising our needs and reaching out for help. And loving others more by sharing our giftings with them. We need to use our earthly bodies to make an impact on this broken planet. When all around us the world is falling apart we need to dig in and start building. Before it is too late.

We need love. We are gifted to love. So love.

Romans 12:9 – ‘Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.’

Are you ignoring your needs?

What are your giftings and how can you use them for good today?

Running Scared

I ran the Belfast Half Marathon this morning in 1:56:29. My target was to complete the course in under 2 hours. The time was 21 minutes slower than last year but given the summer of illness and injury I have had I was just happy to get home in under my target time. 

My confidence was very low going into the race. I knew the virus had taken its toll and I’ve been slowly increasing my distances over the last month, ever cautious of a fresh relapse. I had ran for four years with hardly any problems until this summer. It has taught me that being healthy and able to run is a gift that I will never take for granted again.

I try not to refer to OCD as ‘my OCD’. Whenever I do, Fionnuala quickly corrects me. To do so is to define who I am in respect of it. OCD is not part of me. It is the enemy, an alien invader which I have battled against for years. I do not own it nor do I want it. It is the outsider seeking to creep into my mind on a daily basis and lay siege to my every waking thought. It scares me silly.


I take 20mg of Escitaloprem a day which has helped massively in blocking the intrusive thoughts. Combined with prayer and being more open about my mental health has allowed me to lead a relatively normal life. I also believe that running regularly has helped. After a run I am too exhausted to humour such thoughts. Running has replaced alcohol as my numero uno OCD buster.

It is never far away, however, and I have felt it prodding at my defences over the last week or so. I have been eating badly and food is something I would obsess over. I count every calorie I consume. My daily limit is 2500 calories. If I have run that day and my Garmin says I have burned 1000 calories then I’m allowed 3500. With me so far?

If I go one calorie over the target figure then I regard the day as a ‘fail’. I cannot ‘fail’ an odd number of days. To do so leads to mounting anxiety and never ending thoughts about food and my weight. This is the ‘obsession’ part of OCD. It is an endless loop in my head that plays at a deafening volume, drowning out the rational voice in my head which tells me I am being ridiculous.

Let’s say I go 500 calories over my target on Day 1. 1 is an odd number which is bad. So I need to binge eat the following day and deliberately go over my target in order to end the ritual on an even number of days. Screw up Day 3 and the ritual trundles on to Day 4 and so on. It sounds insane because it is insane. But unless I finish my eating binge on an even numbered day I feel so unsettled and anxious that I struggle to function. This is the ‘compulsion’ I must perform in order to ease the anxiety.

There are few worse feelings than forcing yourself to eat in order to accumulate calories as part of a ritual. You don’t enjoy the food. You just chew, swallow and repeat. This process is accompanied by guilt, shame and self loathing. I cannot look myself in the mirror after such an episode. I used to binge eat in secret so as to not raise suspicions. Buying extra chocolate bars when I was at the shop, snacking continuously at work.

Waking up the ‘morning after’ with a food hangover is horrendous. If the previous day was an odd numbered one then I face another day of eating food I don’t want to eat. If it was even numbered then I face a day of feeling fugly while struggling to stay within my daily target. My stomach is unsettled, I feel groggy and have a headache. The only means of allaying this misery is comfort eating. Which brings me back to where I started. Catch 22.

This week has been a bad one. I have had five consecutive ‘fail’ days. Which meant when I woke up this morning I felt compelled to go over my daily target. And as I was running a half marathon this equated at over 4200 calories. The thought of having to eat that much sickened me. I got out of bed with a feeling of imminent dread as opposed to looking forward to the race which I should have been.

The old me would have suffered in silence and succumbed to the obsessive thinking. I would have taken the beating and said nothing to anyone. Today, however, I am a different man. I talked it through with Fionnuala and realised it no longer has the power over me that it once did. I rebuke it and I hand it over to God. Who loves me just the way I am, warts and all.

I’m not going to binge eat today. Tomorrow might be different but that’s another tale for another day. Today I might not have run a personal best. But I bested OCD. And that’s good enough for me.

1 Peter 5:7 – ‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’

Do you struggle with obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviour?

What is your understanding of OCD?

How do you vanquish feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing?

Can you spot me in the photo?

15000 Views

We passed 15000 views yesterday. This blog was not created for views and followers but instead to get a message across that we hope will help others. It has been four months since the blog was set up and we have been amazed by the support and feedback we have received. Thank you everyone and here’s to the next 15000.

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