The Waiting Room 

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who constructed the barrier? You or them?

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

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Shark Attack 

I walked into the living room this evening to find Fionnuala and Adam watching a movie called ‘Sharknado’. You may have heard of it but not during Oscars week. The plot basically surrounds a series of freak tornadoes hitting Los Angeles and depositing a shedload of man eating sharks on the unsuspecting public. Shark + Tornado = Sharknado. Get it?

It ‘stars’ (for want of a better word) Tara Reid from ‘American Pie’ and that annoying bloke out of ‘Beverly Hills 90210’ with the curly blonde hair. Steve, I think. Or was it Dylan? Anyway I doubt that the movie was a career highlight for any of them but I suppose it paid a few bills.

If the acting is bad, wait until you hear the storyline. At one point an actress is plucked from a helicopter high above the city by a ravenous, airborne Jaws lookalike. She’s a goner for sure right? Wrong! Ten minutes later our hero, Steve, dives headlong into a shark as it plummets towards earth in order to push his teenage daughter out of the way. Double trouble!

But rest assured as the next scene shows him cutting his way out of the shark’s belly with a chainsaw that he just happened to pick up along the way. And clambering out behind him, covered in shark intestines, is the girl who had, seemingly a lifetime ago, been grabbed from the helicopter. Sharktastic!!


All this caused great hilarity in the Black household. The special effects looked like they cost around £5.50 and a few rolls of duct tape. It was Z-list made for TV celluloid trash. And how we loved it! Adam was delighted to hear that ‘Sharknado’ is now a five movie franchise. There is obviously a market for this trash. The mind boggles. 

It really was one of those ‘so bad it’s good’ movies which we have all secretly enjoyed while admitting  nothing of the sort to our movie afficiando friends. A guilty pleasure which we will take to our graves rather than fess up to the ridicule of our peers. And where is  the harm in that? Nobody gets hurt and in the event of a real life airborne great white invasion we are streets ahead of our neighbours when it comes to chances of survival.

Guilty pleasures. That extra helping of dessert. That new dress you have been eyeing up in the sales for weeks. That new must have gadget that you just have to get your hands on. Again, no great drama as long as you hit the gym the following day or make sure your credit bill is paid at the end of the month. 

Where guilty pleasures do become a problem though is when they take our eyes off God and the path he has laid out in front of us. When they create barriers between Him and us and become idols that we covet and worship. When they replace God at the centre of our lives. That extra glass of wine after dinner every night that eventually becomes a bottle. Then two.

Or that harmless online friendship that over time slides into inappropriate, sinful behaviour. It is then that the guilt outweighs the pleasure and your moral compass starts to go into serious freefall. Before you know it you are lifted off your feet and blown away into your own personal tornado of shame and despair. 

Don’t go there. It’s not a nice place. And believe me I know as I’ve been there. Who knows how many times King David admired Bathsheba from his palace rooftop before he invited her over for dinner. It was his guilty pleasure. Nobody else knew about it. What harm was a little peek?

But the seed had been sown and before he knew it David was an adulterer and a murderer. His moral compass was doing loop the loops and the more he tried to dig his way out of it, the worse it got for him. It cost him his son. And almost his very soul. Check out Psalm 51 if you don’t believe me.

If it can happen to the mighty King David, a man after God’s own heart, then it can certainly happen to you or me. Subtly, gradually, almost without us being aware of it. Then BAM!! Satan has his hooks well and truly lodged in our hearts and it’s game over. 

So enjoy that extra slice of pizza now and again. But when it comes to the bigger issues, know your limits. Know when to say no. And have Christian friends around you who you can be accountable to. Identify your weaknesses and vulnerabilities and prepare strategies to counter enemy attacks. Because that’s where he will be coming at you from. Trust God to guide you through the trials and temptations. For he sees into the deepest recesses of your heart.

Now does anybody know where I can rent ‘Sharknado 2’?

2 Samuel 11:2 -3 ‘One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful and David sent someone to find out about her.’

What is your ‘so bad it’s good’ movie?

Have you any other guilty pleasure?

How do you focus on God every day?

Sick 

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

When did God last speak clearly to you? 

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

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

Mr Mop

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Demon Part 2

In my previous blog post  https://afracturedfaithblog.wordpress.com/2017/07/27/the-demon/ I wrote about my lifelong struggle with mental health issues and, primarily. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It has been a harrowing journey at times. A daily war of attrition between my logical, rational thought processes and the inner voice, which I described as a demon, urging me to fully embrace the madness that is OCD. A deadly, seductive voice that every fibre of my being resisted. And yet so many times I have succumbed to its lies.

I hope that this follow-up post is more positive. I am a survivor, a pretty beat up survivor, but one nonetheless. I have a loving family and a secure income. 99% of the time I function perfectly well and keep the demon chained up in a corner in the deepest recesses of my psyche. But I can never grow complacent. For he is always watching, lurking; waiting for the tiniest mental scrap that he can pounce upon and manipulate until it spawns into an uncontrollable wrecking ball of poisonous negativity. 

Listed below are some coping mechanisms that I deploy to combat my ever present enemy. As a Christian they work for me. They might not work you. OCD is forever shifting, changing and evolving. It varies from one victim to the next and is as slippery as an eel and as elusive as smoke on a windy day. All I can do is talk about my experiences and pray that they emit a beacon of hope to at least one person out there who is adrift and unable to cope.

1. Get properly diagnosed.

For years I thought I was a freak, an oddball, a deviant. Who else would have the horrific, obscene thoughts that plagued my every waking hour? Perform ridiculous, convoluted routines countless times until I dropped to my knees in abject surrender? I was quite simply insane and a lost cause, doomed to endure this inner torment for the rest of my days.

That was until my wife, Fionnuala, conducted some online research and suggested I might have OCD. I was initially sceptical, as to me OCD revolved around cleaning routines and people who constantly washed their hands. I displayed neither of these obsessive behaviours. It was only when I began to delve deeper into the illness  that I realised I ticked so many of the relevant boxes that this is what it had to be.

The relief was immense. Just the knowledge that I was not a raving lunatic but instead had a recognised  illness that could be treated. As important was knowing that I was not alone but could now tap into the experiences of thousands of others who were walking the same road as me. Before I was miserable and isolated. Now I was part of a community where I could learn and share.

2. Talk to someone

For many years I hid the illness. I was ashamed of it, convinced that nobody would understand and I would be ostracised because of it. Added to that was how to put into words the maelstrom of disgusting thinking that polluted my mind every day. How do you explain to your wife that there is a voice in your head telling you that you are a threat to your kids? 

Fionnuala knew something was badly wrong. But little by little I began to confide in her, opening the lid on the thoughts that circled my conciousness like a bird of prey. To my amazement she didn’t turn her back but listened and stood by me. She has been a rock ever since. She might not understand it all but her love and empathy have dragged me through many a dark day. Talking helps. It lances the boil. It release the pressure. Talk to a loved one.

3. Seek help

When I was diagnosed I was prescribed 20mg of an anti-depressant which stimulates the release of serotonin, a chemical which acts as a neurotransmitter within the body. Persons with OCD are known to have reduced levels of serotonin in their systems. Regulating levels via prescribed medication can prove an effective tool in tbe battle that is raging within. It has worked for me. The screaming voice of OCD is now a faint whisper which I can normally contain and control.

Many other people diagnosed with the disorder have benefited from counselling. Cognitive Behavioural Theraphy (CBT) has proven to be especially effective; here the patient is gradually exposed to the thought or situation that is making them anxious. This gradual exposure to your unwanted thoughts teaches you other methods of overcoming them as opposed to falling back into repetitive rituals. Registered charities such as OCD Action and OCD-UK also offer incredible support networks.

4. My faith 

Not everyone who is reading this will be a Christian but my faith and belief that there is a supernatural higher power has been a great comfort to me these last four years. Sometimes when the obsessive thinking has become overwhelming I have prayed and handed it over to God. Nothing overwhelms him. On many occasions praying quietly or studying the Bible has given me the strength to carry on and face another day. 

This belief reassures me that there is a life beyond OCD. And that hope keeps me going through the dark times. The Bible is littered with stories of ordinary people who were used by God to achieve superhuman feats despite histories of depression and anxiety. Moses the original worry wart; David wallowing in despair when he wrote the Psalms; and Peter driven to the edge of madness when he denied Jesus three times. 

God used them. He pulled them out of their respective mental mires and infused them with a spiritual belief that allowed them to overcome their inner demons. And he can use me and you in exactly the same way today. All we have to do is admit our weaknesses, accept that we are powerless to conquer them and hand them over to him. And he will. For him, nothing is impossible.

Please let me know your thoughts about this post. I pray that it has been of some help to somebody. 

Psalm 40:2 – ‘He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’

The Demon 

I have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder more commonly known as OCD. It is a recognised mental illness often diagnosed alongside anxiety and depression. I call them the Unholy Trinity. Looking back I have had it, in some form or another, for most of my life although it was at its worst in my mid to late twenties. I am largely on top of it now thanks to medication, self-education and family support but I can never let my guard down as it can flare up again at any time.

What is OCD? It is incredibly difficult to explain and is intensely personal and unique to anyone who suffers from it. If you want the textbook definition then google it. As for me it is unwanted, intrusive thoughts that enter my head and then remain there on a constant loop. No matter how hard I try to ignore or dispel them, thet fester and grow to the point where they occupy every waking second of your day. Imagine a broken record playing full volume in your head over and over again. 24/7. That is OCD. It will not stop until it has broken you. It is a demon of the mind.


The thought can be anything. When I was younger it was more physical. Household items had to be positioned in a certain way, daily routines had to be performed a certain number of times and so on. I developed various physical ticks and movements that had to be performed even to the point where they caused me embarrassment, discomfort or actual physical pain. They had to be carried out ‘just right’ to ease the rising tide of anxiety building up inside of me.

In later life the obsessions became more mental as opposed to physical. This is known as Pure OCD. Dark, disturbing images would explode uninvited into my head. You are a paedophile. You don’t love your family. You are a homosexual. And unless I performed certain complicated mental routines a certain number of times (usually three or five) the thought would rage unabatee through my increasingly fragile mind. To the extent where I could not perform any other activity. Could not work, could not hold a conversation, could not think. I was held captive in a prison without walls. Everywhere I went the thoughts went with me. 

The obsession (be it physical or mental) and accompanying anxiety could only be eased it I performed a pre-determined routine a set number of times. This was the compulsive response to the obsessive thought. In my case this usually involved a tortuous series of mental gymnastics that would leave me exhausted and questioning my own sanity.

For example if the unwanted voice in my head told me that I was, say, a terrible father I would have to state five ‘facts’ to disprove this statement. No I am not a bad father because….And unless I said these facts in exactly the right order, using exactly the right words I would have to start all over again. Until it felt just right.

This would take up huge amounts of my time. The concentration and focus required were enormous. At work I would have to hide in the toilets for lengthy periods of time in order to perform routines. At home I would drift off in the middle of conversations in order to deal with routines. This made me come across as rude and disinterested. I wasn’t. I was just battling the obsession in the only way I knew. 

And all the while the voice in my head was there. Telling me I had slipped up. That I had missed a word. Start again. That, yes, I had performed the routine accurately but it didn’t feel quite right. Start again. For every time I performed a routine the voice would have a million and one reasons why I had to start again. It had a total grip of me. I was powerless. It broke me day after day. The only respites I had were sleep or alcohol. But they were only temporary. And every time I woke up or the hangover cleared the voice would be waiting for me, ready to pick up again from where we had left off. Start again. Start again. Start again.

The reason I am writing this today is to educate others who have been misinformed about the illness and to offer hope to those currently battling this demon of the mind. I still have bad days and I still struggle. I doubt that you can ever be ‘cured’ but there are ways to fight back. For it is a battle. But a battle you can win. If you enter it with the proper weapons, armour and tactics. In my next blog I’m going to talk about how I did just that and how you can too.

Until next time. Don’t be a victim. Slay the demon.

Have you OCD or know somebody with it? If so please talk to me. I want to help.

Need 

Tomorrow is pay day. I get paid on a monthly basis so the final few days leading up to the grand event are always full of anticipation as I count down the hours, minutes and seconds until the money finally lands in my bank account. It’s like Christmas Eve for adults. Without the mince pies, tinsel and big fat guy in the red suit. And it happens 12 times a year!

The money is electronically transferred so that it appears in my account at one minute past midnight. I have known colleagues to be strategically positioned at ATM machines at this exact moment, such is their enthusiasm to spend their hard earned wages. In the nearest bar. I, of course, have never sunk to such depths. Ahem. 

When Fionnuala and I were younger pay day meant three things: spend, spend and then spend some more. We lived for the moment and well beyond our means. Designer clothes, holidays and nights out were the priorities. Never worry about saving for the future. That could wait. We needed the good stuff now!

Fast forward twenty five years or so and we still look forward to pay day. But for very different reasons. New school uniforms need to be purchased, bills need paid, in fact there always seems to be something or someone draining our resources. Pay day for me used to be a night (or preferably weekend) on the town living the dream. Now I’m content if I have enough to buy a new book on my Kindle. 

I still look forward to pay day now but for different reasons. Back in the day it was all about myself. Treating myself and making sure I enjoyed myself. Fast forward to the present and I have responsibilities – three kids, a mortgage and a border terrier to provide for. I now consciously choose to put them first even though ,at times, I still want to look after numero uno.

This is partly due to greater maturity on my part but also out of necessity. Our kids rely on us to provide for their needs. Much as I would like to splash the cash on myself I realise that there are others who need it more than me. The word ‘need’ itself has a varied etymology but one translation traces it back to the old German word ‘nud’ meaning ‘hardship, distress or danger.’

Danger? I need a new laptop. I need a new car. I need a new house. Hardly life or death situations. More want than need. But contextualise it differently and the word makes perfect sense with regards its Germanic roots. I need a drink of water. I need food for my family. I need this vaccination for my child or he will die. Those needs encapsulate the true meaning of the word. Need is desperate. Need is now. Need is the difference between life and death.

I am sure none of you reading this are millionaires. And if you are a millionaire then surely you have better things to be doing than reading this blog! I am equally sure that you all have pressing financial demands that need to be covered. We all have bills to pay; equally we are all entitled to the occasional treat. I am not suggesting for a moment you adopt the ‘sackcloth and ashes’ approach. God put us on this planet to enjoy our time here and the last thing the world needs is another sanctimonious party pooper.

But it is true that the best things in life come free. Health, Family & Friends. The rest is mere detail. Like chasing the wind. It will never truly satisfy you. So when you contemplate your next payday purchase because you really need it, stop a second and think about the meaning of the word. Will I be placing myself in danger or distress if I don’t buy that new pair of jeans or video game? And when you have answered that question perhaps consider giving the money you would have spent to those whose needs, if not taken care of, can place them in real danger. 

Africa. Aleppo. It doesn’t really matter. It can be a headline cause on the other side of the world. Or it can be the family living on the breadline in your neighbourhood. Their needs are greater than yours. Remove them from distress and danger.

You need to….

Ecclesiastes 5:10 – ‘Whoever loves money never has enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income. This too is meaningless.’

What has been your craziest payday purchase?

What need can you meet in your community today?

Ear We Go Again

It has been three weeks now since I wrote Aches On A Plane the account of my harrowing flight home to Northern Ireland from a business trip in England. To those of you fortunate enough to have erased it from your minds I apologise in advance. For I am going to talk again about the harrowing saga that is my left ear.


It remains blocked. As in muffled. As in somebody has stuffed it full of cotton wool. As in ‘Sorry what was that you said?’. I have tried decongestant nasal sprays, ear wax removal sprays and two courses of antibiotics. All to no avail. It still sounds the same as when you pick up a seashell at the beach and listen to it. I have even tried prayer. Yes I’m that desperate. 

I thought the blocked ear was part of this mutant alien virus I have been struggling with for the past month. I have not helped matters by running when I shouldn’t have but, slowly oh so slowly, the symptoms had been easing. The dull headache had gone, the tiredness and heaviness waslifting and I only cough now when somebody mentions coughing. Coughs.

I have decided I am not running again until I am totally better. Otherwise this bug will never clear up. This then triggers all sorts of other Stephen madness. Am I putting on weight? A little probably but so what? Will I ever get my fitness back? Yes of course you will? If I eat badly today does that mean I have to eat badly tomorrow in order to placate the OCD voice in my head insisting that I comply with the ‘even number’ rule. This only applies to eating. Other compulsions involve ‘odd number’ rules. Which of course makes perfect sense.

I have written about the (not my) OCD a little in previous posts. At its peak it raged unabated but I largely have it under control now thanks to prayer, medication and a very understanding wife who talks me through a lot of brain baloney when I am having a bad day. I never say this enough but thank you Fionnuala for keeping me sane and off ‘the roundabout’.

When I started the second course of antibiotics, however, my doctor said I had to stop taking the OCD medication until I had completed the course. Tbe two did not mix well apparently. Well my brain does not mix well with life either when I am not taking my little white pills. So while I thought I was managing fine without it, Fionnuala had noticed me slipping in a few areas that needed nipped in the bud. This involved a short, sharp shock on Saturday evening after one such episode.

I pray that I am back on track this week. But just as my actual hearing has been muffled of late, so has my spiritual hearing. I have blocked out the wise counsel of Fionnuala and others, convinced that ‘Stephen knows best’. I have neglected my prayer and study regime, allowing the small, still voice of God to be drowned out by an earthly cacophony. I have allowed the Enemy inside my head where he has gleefully taken up residence.

It is time for him to leave. This blog is part of that process. ‘Satan you have been evicted from the Big Stephen house. Please leave immediately.’ I need light and truth to course through my brain, living waters to cleanse my ears and rid me of the lies and tricks that are so desperate to set up shop between my ears. I need to remove any barriers between God and myself. I need Jesus and only Jesus.

Writing this had helped me spiritually. I need to write out my thought processes in order to make sense of them. And yesterday I found that tilting my head slightly seems to dislodge something in the ear and allow the air pressure to stabilise and the hearing to return. It could be wax loosened by tbe ear spray. Or it could be the antibiotics finally kicking in.

Either way slightly realigning the position of my head is making a massive difference. Just like slightly realigning my thinking and priorities since Saturday has made a massive difference to my mental health and the relationships which truly matter. This slight realignment, this tiny tweak of the ‘God Radar’ is sometimes all you need to dislodge the selfish and deluded worldly patterns that lead us off the straight path.

Listen. Learn. Get off the roundabout and reposition your life. 

Matthew 15:10 – ‘After Jesus called the crowd to Him, He said to them ‘Hear and Understand.’

Dedicated to Fionnuala xxx 

Have you any remedies for muffled hearing?

How do you keep your communication pathways with God clear?

A Tall Tale

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Train or remain. The choice is yours.

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

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

Have you a love/hate relationship with the gym?

How do you spiritually train?

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