I’m Stephen The Sailorman

As I have mentioned once or twice (oh alright then incessantly) in previous posts I have been struggling all summer with a viral infection which had effectively knocked me for six. In addition to chest and ear problems I was also living under a cloud of fatigue which refused to budge no matter what antibiotic or multivitamin I was prescribed. At one point I was popping so many pills that if you had shaken me I would have rattled like a baby’s toy.

This resulted in a number of visits to my doctor’s surgery where I was poked, prodded and eventually pierced. Blood samples were taken (I was a brave little soldier when the needle went in) and I was told to contact them the following week to get the results. As I was by this stage starting to feel better and back at work I promptly forgot all about it until I received a phone call at work earlier this week from a concerned sounding Fionnuala. ‘The surgery called. Your blood results are back. They want you to phone them.’

Having diagnosed myself as fit and well again my over active imagination of course went in hyperdrive conjuring up the worst possible case scenario as I nervously punched the numbers of the surgery into my mobile phone. By the time I got through to the results line I had convinced myself that I had the Ebola virus or, at the bare minimum, a rare blood disorder that would ensure I never saw Christmas. I was relieved therefore to hear the receptionist assure me at the very outset that the results were in but it was nothing to worry about.

She informed me that my folic acid levels were low and I was being prescribed a four month supplement to bring them back up to normal. I was slightly bemused by this as my only awareness of folic acid prior to that had been that women trying for a baby took it in order to minimise the child being born with certain physical disabilities. My ignorance of the subject was such that I did not know that the human body (and in particular the male body) even produced it. Every day is a learning day.

Upon terminating the call I fell back upon good old Dr. Google to learn a bit more about folic acid. Apparently it was naturally present in a whole host of foodstuffs – rice (check), pasta (yup I eat loads of that), bread (oh this is so easy) and dark green, leafy vegetables. Hang on, run that last one past me again? My eyes scanned down the list in question. Broccoli (manageable), Brussel Sprouts (I would rather eat hot coals) and spinach. Spinach? What like Popeye the Sailorman. Is that even a real food? 


Apparently it was. I glumly accepted the inevitable like a condemned man on his final walk to the gallows. My immediate future was going to contain lots of unsexy food. Lots and lots of unsexy green food. My spirits lifted somewhat when I realised that (a) you did not have to eat the spinach raw, (b) it did not involve squeezing it out of a can and guzzling it all in one go whilst laughing maniacally and (c) the aforementioned guzzling did not have to take place while dressed in dodgy nautical attire and smoking a pipe.

When it comes to cartoon characters I had always modelled myself more on Homer Simpson tbsp Popeye. And I most definitely would rather be consuming donuts as opposed to spinach. Why is it that all the tasty food is bad for you yet all the healthy stuff tastes like soggy seaweed. But needs must and I was willing to do whatever it took to ensure that those pesky folic acid levels soared again. I never wanted to revisit the summer that was; one of phlegmy coughs, aching ears and levels of fatigue that had driven me to the end of my tether.  

The spinach analogy can be applied to my life in general. All the activities that I revelled in were ultimately bad for me physically, mentally and spiritually. Alcohol, social media and unhealthy relationships to name but a few. I craved them like Homer craves a box of chocolate frosted donuts. So satisfying at the time but long term they only lead to ridiculous cholesterol levels and ever expanding waistlines. I was heading in that direction with regards to my family and faith. It took several harsh wake up calls to bring me to my senses again.

Spinach sounds boring. It sounds tasteless and hard to stomach. Just like some mornings when I get up and I can’t be bothered with the kid’s petty arguments; or I stumble out of bed dreading the prospect of spending another eight hours chained to my desk at work. These seemingly mundane chores may seem a pain  when there are so many other ‘fun’ activities we could be participating in. But at the end of the day they are the bread and butter of our lives. They will form the backbone of who we are and the legacy that we want to leave behind us. It might not be appear the most glamorous of lifestyles but the long term benefits far outweigh the short term pain. 

Sometimes you just have to suck it up. All that glitters is not gold. The real miracles are in the everyday grind. So I pray. I pick up my Bible and study. That might not rock your boat but you do need some kind of anchor in order to keep your ship on an even keel. All I can say is that after forty years of  running aground that my faith works for me. Whatever tools you decide upon I encourage you to do your utmost to remain rooted to the key values and morals that define your being. Because whatever your belief system the demons are real and are never far away, waiting to pounce at the first sign of weakness.

Seek out what  you need not what you desire. And always remember to eat your greens.

What are your thoughts on this post?

What everyday things keep you focused and on an even keel?

Do you love your greens? Or do they turn you green?

The Forty Seven Year Old Foetus

Back in my days of drinking yore I used to keep a mental note of my Top 10 worst hangovers. As I got older my hangovers got worse. In the end this meant that if I drank on the Saturday evening it would be the following Thursday before I began to feel remotely human again. Despite headaches, nausea and general roughness, however, I was rarely physically sick and only then when I had mixed my drinks. When I did though the results were normally explosive (as in literally) and invariably merited a spot in the Top 10. 

One such occasion was when Fionnuala and I attended the wedding of a friend in the north-east of England. Having risen ridiculously early to catch a flight from Belfast to Newcastle we found ourselves with several hours to kill before the service. In my ultimate wisdom I decided to hit the hotel bar and downed several pints of strong lager before we caught a taxi to the wedding venue. Fionnuala knew what lay ahead but said nothing fearing I would start an argument and accuse her of being a party pooper.

Upon arrival complimentary glasses of sparkling wine were being handed out. As it would have been rude not  to avail of this hospitality I got stuck in meaning that even before the nuptials had been agreed I was well oiled. The situation deteriorated at the reception where several glasses of white wine over dinner combined with numerous more pints led to me cutting a sorry figure on the dancefloor later in the evening. In my drunken stupor I thought I was John Travolta in ‘Saturday Night Fever’. In reality I was more akin to him in ‘Pulp Fiction’. On my own. Without Uma Thurman.

The evening ended with me asleep in the corner as the party raged on around me. Fionnuala somehow carried me back to our hotel room where I awoke the next morning  with the mother of all hangovers. We had treated ourselves to room service and a full cooked breakfast with all the trimmings. All was well as I consumed this from a largely horizontal position. I began to feel decidedly queasy, however, as we sat in the hotel lobby waiting for our taxi to take us back to the airport. The ensuing thirty minute journey felt more  like thirty years as the contents of my stomach merrily performed cartwheels. This was only going to end one way.

To my eternal shame I made a dash for the toilets upon our arrival at the airport, barely making it into a cubicle before my breakfast from earlier and I became reacquainted again in devastating fashion. Afterwards I curled up in the foetal position on the cubicle floor mulling over the errors of my excesses from the night before whilst simultaneously breaking out into a clammy, cold sweat. This one, I concluded, was definitely Top 10 material.


Fast forward to last Christmas and I found myself in a similar position. This time, however, I was stone cold sober. I did not have intoxication to fall back upon as an excuse for my misdemeanours. And rather than face a tongue lashing from Fionnuala for another drunken debacle I was facing something much worse. Silence. From my wife and kids. A silence more terrifying than the most volcanic argument. Silence as I tearfully begged for another chance. Silence as I curled up in a ball on the floor of a friend who had reluctantly taken me in because otherwise I would have been out on the streets.

It is eight months later and, by the grace of God, I am back on the right path. I know, however, that I cannot rest on my laurels for a single second because, given my addictive personality and OCD, chaos lurks just around the corner. So I think about incidents like the two I have described above. Curled up in the foetal position. Crying out for the warmth and security of the womb; the sustenance of the umbilical cord; the reassuring thud of my mother’s heartbeat. And then I recall the horror of being ripped out of that environment as a result of my own disastrous choices.

There is nothing more effective in bringing you back from the brink of temptation than having a few ‘foetal position’ moments stored away in your mind for future reference if required. It is okay to be tempted. It happens to all of us. The problems start when we act upon emotions triggered by temptation. Because emotions lie. They are temporary and not grounded in the permanence of truth. The bedrock of right and wrong. It is our conscience that sets us apart from the animals, that defines who we are. The conscience cannot be defeated by emotions if we have the mechanisms in place to repel temptation when it comes calling.

The word ‘foetus’ relates to life and new beginning. It conjures up images of peace and love. Yet many of us, when we hit rock bottom in our lives, find ourselves curled up in the same position. Utterly exposed and alone. Stricken with pain and surrounded by heartbreak and devastation. There is nothing comforting about that. In order to move forward into the beauty of the light and remain there we must never forget the horrors of the past from whence we came. Because the former cannot exist without the latter.

It is our guardian, our wise counsel, our tap on the shoulder when we think that nobody else is looking. Scars heal but they never completely disappear for a reason. For there is beauty in scars. They remind us of the past and we will never make the future a better one unless we understand and learn from our past. Never forget those foetal moments for they are your friend. 

1 Corinthians 10:13 – ‘No temptation has overcome you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it’.

Have you ever found yourself in the foetal position? What was it like?

What mechanisms do you have in place to resist temptation?

Thank You 

This blogging business is a right hoot isn’t it. The site has been up and running now for three months and we have 900 followers and are fast approaching our 10,000th view. According to my more geographically aware wife we have had views from 50% of the countries in the world. Mind blown. I just want to thank everybody who has taken the time to read the blog, write such positive and encouraging feedback and put up with my daily musings on honey comb ice cream, running and Jesus stuff.


It took me the best part of fifteen years to discover WordPress which I now regard as my online home. I regard YOU ,my fellow bloggers, as my community, my people, my tribe. Down the years I have dabbled with (and spectacularly failed at) a number of other social media platforms. Initially back in the day it was Facebook where Fionnuala first painstakingly introduced me to the internet. It was akin to a caveman stumbling upon fire. ‘Yes Stephen this is called a mouse and when you move it around and click it strange and wonderful things start to happen on that screen in front of you.’

I soon grew bored with that. Addictive personalities can never settle on one obsession for long. The buzz soon wears off and they have to push the boundary and take it to the next level. Facebook was full of people who I knew in real life (Euuuuuughhhh!) and I became increasingly frustrated with their real life dramas of ‘who said what to who’, endless pictures of their adorable kids (because none of the rest of us had kids right?) and drunken photographs of the night before which were invariably deleted the morning after.

Above all else I had to be careful what I said on there. The virtual walls had ears so to speak. Big Brother (and sister and dozens of cousins) were watching. I couldn’t say what I wanted to say, be who I wanted to be. And by that I meant say anything and be anyone as long as it wasn’t my dull, real persona who got up every morning, changed dirty nappies while semi hungover and then trudged into work in ill fitting clothes where my genius and sparkling personality were universally overlooked.

Helllooooooo Twitter! Now this was more like it. I’ve talked about my love/hate relationship with the little blue bird in previous posts so won’t bore you with the details again. But it was love at first sight. I did not know 99% of the people on it so could say whatever I wanted to. Any old nonsense and the more outrageous the better. Waving goodbye to my morals and parking my conscience at the front door I proceeded to create an online persona which resembled me in no way whatsoever. Before I knew it I was utterly addicted and had nearly 10,000 followers who I needed (from my slanted perspective) to entertain on a daily basis. They were my public. 

This gradually deteriorated to the extent where my online activities took precedence over trifling matters such as my faith, family and job. I began to live an increasingly secretive and duplicitous life which led to all sorts of carnage in the real world. Spiralling depression and anxiety led to me increasingly hiding from these problems in my alcohol fuelled online life. Where everybody recognised me as the witty bon vivant I was born to be. Alcohol and Twitter equated to  real life misery which could only be alleviated by more alcohol and  Twitter. A vicious and ever decreasing circle. About four years ago it all collapsed around me in an explosion of shame and regret. You can read about this episode of my life The ‘Twirly Chair’ posts.

Since then there have been lapses most notably of catastrophic proportions on Instagram last year. I had badgered a despairing Fionnuala into accepting it as a half way house between the monotony of Facebook and the madness of Twitter. I had promised to moderate both the time I spent ,and what I got up to, on it. Of course I spectacularly failed on both scores and ended up in a situation which made my Twitter excesses pale into comparison. If Facebook had been my marijuana and Twitter my cocaine, then Instagram was the crystal meth and GHB cocktail from hell.

The Instagram days are for another day and another post. Three months into my online recovery I am relishing the WordPress experiment. There is probably an argument that I should go ‘cold turkey’ and avoid social media in its entirety. But then how would I express myself creatively and share my experiences in order to help others going through similar situations. Which is why Fionnuala and I found this safe place. Where I can lick my wounds and write my words. A place of healing and hope.

As I indicated at the start of this post I have been amazed by the growth of the blog and the support and feedback I have received from the WordPress community. It has been truly inspiring. So much so that I have decided to take it further and start work on my first novel. I have an idea. I hope and pray that is original and quirky enough to capture people’s imaginations. I hope I have the talent and determination to follow it through. But as a first time author I need a shedload of help and encouragement. If you would like to know more then add a comment and welcome aboard. Let the games begin.

What has your WordPress experience been like to date?

What advice can you offer a novice author? Structure? Resources? Forums? Personal triumphs and struggles? I would love to hear from you.

The Power Cut

The world stopped turning today in our office as we were struck with a power cut. The lifts ground to a halt (thankfully nobody was in them at the time), the computer systems crashed (snigger) and (horrors of horrors) the phones cut out mid conversation. Seasoned professionals looked desperately at one other. How would we cope? What were we supposed to do in order to survive this post-apocalyptic environment.

As senior management entered talks about talks regarding what was to be done, the workers congregated in huddles muttering about the third world conditions they were being forced to endure. The lighting had gone out in the corridors leading to many a hilarious ‘who goes there?’ exchange. The lighting had also gone in the toilets on my floor and traumatised survivors staggered from them with horror stories that they would take to the grave.

Thankfully the kitchen was still operational allowing my colleagues to settle their frayed nerves with copious amounts of tea and toast. And the odd sausage roll. Others sat at their desks scratching their heads as they looked at their blank computer screens. ‘What are we supposed to do?’ they whined. ‘We can’t do any work. The computers are down.’ No spreadsheets, no e-mail, no case handling system. Civilisation teetered on the brink.


Then something incredible happened. We looked over to see a colleague produce a notepad from a drawer. Next thing, he was holding a slim, cylindrical object in his hand. We looked on in amazement as he started to press the object (I believe they call it a pen) to the notepad and make bizarre, circular motions. Swirls and squiggles began to materialise on the paper. Letters became words which became sentences. I swear I even saw a semi colon at one point but may have been mistaken.

Yes he was writing. Like they used to back in the 90’s. Before keyboards took over our lives. However this was not the end of the madness. I watched, mouth hanging open, as a colleague got up from their desk, crossed the expanse of our open plan office and started a conversation with a co-worker on the other side of it. No e-mail, no phone call, no lengthy memo in triplicate via the internal post. They were actually talking to each other. Eye contact and everything. 

The next two hours were perhaps some of the most productive in the history of the organisation. At one point I even swear a decision was made but don’t quote me on that. There was an alleged sighting of ‘The Big Boss’ going up a flight of stairs and (even more unlikely) reports of our Directot of Finance smiling and chatting to members of his staff. We relished the freedom and ran amok. The shackles which chained us to our desks were shattered. The hypnotic spells keeping us glued to our computer screens were broken. Today was a good day.

Of course normal service will be resumed again tomorrow. The bunker mentality will be firmly back in place and colleagues based on different floors will not see each other again until the next awkward team building event. Phones will ring and e-mails will fly. Sub committees will meet and decide that a sub sub committee is required. Action plans will result in no action being taken and working groups will do everything but actually work. All will be well in the world again. 

Where would we be without technology? It has made our lives so much easier and, I for one, would crumple in a teary heap without my I Phone 6 and Kindle Fire. Life without Netflix would be intolerable and blogging by courier pigeon? No thanks. Advances in medicine, engineering and computer science have undoubtedly made the world we live in a safer and more hospitable place. 

We should not, however, neglect the basic skills that lie beneath the surface of 21st Century living. Take our eyes off our 500 Twitter friends (496 of whom we have never actually met) and focus instead on the three friends in real life who would happily lay down their lives for us and give us their last penny. Visit an elderly relative instead of e-mailing them a generic Christmas card. Because nobody posts Christmas cards any more. Write a heartfelt letter to someone you care about instead of a hurried ‘CU L8R M8’ text. Or rather, WhatsApp. Texting is soooooooo 2010.

Jesus, in the space of a three year earthly ministry within a fairly limited geographical area, (so megachurch jet on standby unfortunately) instigated a revolutionary way of life and thinking that within a few hundred years had swept away the most powerful empire the world had ever seen. With not a Blackberry, I Pad or Instagram account to be seen. He walked everywhere. Looked people in the eye. Spoke to and listened to them. Loved them. It is hard to love hiding behind a keyboard. I try to but it is hard. The only power he requires was the Holy Spirit.

If he arrived back on earth tomorrow I don’t think his style would have markedly changed. Yes, he probably would stop for the occasional selfie with a follower or now and again indulge himself in a caramel latte with mini marshmallows. But he would still very much be a people person. And as followers of him we are expected to do the same. Technology can spread the message, yes. But hearts are softened and wounds healed, conversation by conversation. I encourage you today to put your tablet down, look up and walk across the room. The person on the other side may need you more desperately than you will ever know.

Because power cuts can empower.

When did you last experience a power cut? How on earth did you survive?

Do bloggers still write? With pens and pencils? On paper??

When did you last ‘cross the room?’

Out Of Bounds 

Yesterday I was reading an book which referred to an area having been made ‘out of bounds’ following a serious crime having taken place; meaning that the police who attended the scene in the aftermath of the incident had secured and cordoned off the area. Only authorised persons were allowed beyond this point so that the scene would neither become contaminated nor important evidence destroyed. The area had been marked ‘out of bounds’ in order to ensure the integrity of the investigation. It was being protected interference and harm.

As a young boy I often went on adventures in the countryside surrounding my home. There wasn’t an inch of ground that I did not know during long and invariably wet Northern Irish summers. There were areas I was forbidden from entering however by my parents. One such place was a boggy stream that ran past the bottom of our estate. Nobody quite knew its depth and all efforts to measure this with tree branches had proven futile.


We constructed the myth that it was a bottomless quagmire and any poor soul unfortunate enough to fall into it would be sucked under never to be seen again. Nobody had the courage or stupidity to challenge this myth so the stream remained uncharted territory for my friends and I. Had my parents known I went anywhere near it I would undoubtedly have been grounded for the rest of the holidays; or worse felt the wrath of the dreaded ‘wooden spoon’ across the back of my legs.

The area was strictly ‘out of bounds’. But unlike the crime scene this was for a different reason; as opposed to protecting the area itself from intruders this was in order to protect hapless intruders like me from the scene itself. Just like elsewhere dangerous quarries, beaches and other sites are normally surrounded by such signage warning curious kids or lost ramblers from stumbling into hazardous terrain.

Our lives are littered with ‘out of bounds’ areas. For some, like the crime scene, it is in order to protect their hearts from external factors. Perhaps you have been badly hurt in a relationship and to avoid a repeat scenario you have ‘shut up shop’ so to speak. You have decided to not make that mistake again and have raised the drawbridge. You will never allow anyone to get that close to you again. Your emotions are forever a closed book; a book with no hope of a happy ending. 

Such people allow their hearts to fester and stagnate. Love, hope and joy are firmly barred. Resentment, bitterness and fear take hold and flourish. The light is extinguished and the darkness reigns. And as any child knows the darkness multiplies any exitsting fears a hundred fold. For it is in the darkness that the demons lurk; under your bed, in your wardrobe or scratching at your bedroom window. Eventually they will overwhelm you and before you know it the ‘out of bounds’ area that you thought would protect you has in fact become your private prison of pain.

For other people certain areas of their own lives scream danger. Once they ‘step over the line’ into these areas they can easily become entrapped. And like setting foot in a boggy stream they become stuck and slowly sink beneath the surface. In these instances the human heart, in the form of our feelings and emotions, is the villain of the piece. And instead of needing to protect it from harm it is the instrument of harm, leading us inexorably towards our undoing. Emotions cloud our conscience when it tries to tell us the difference between right and wrong. Emotions deceive and lead to wrong decisions. Which, in turn, to lead to sinful actions. 

How many times have you had that ‘out of body experience’ where you look down upon yourself indulging your heart’s desire.  Cringing as you say things you never dreamed you would ever say; shuddering at actions you never thought you would carry out. It is so easy to become a slave to our emotions, to allow them to take control of the rudder and steer us into increasingly choppy waters and ultimately onto the rocks of ruin.

What can we do then? How do we stay in bounds? How do we balance reining in our impulsive desires while at the same time not completely shutting down emotionally? Because fire and ice both burn given the opportunity. Well there are numerous strategies. Surrounding yourself with trustworthy and mature friends who you can hold yourself accountable to; doing everything you can to remain mentally healthy and aware of your own weaknesses; striving to put strategies and barriers in place to protect yourself from all of the curve balls that life can throw at us.

I have fallen foul of both declaring my heart ‘out of bounds’ and following it into ‘out of bounds’ areas. I have tasted fire and ice. They both have left scars. I have been terribly hurt and hurt terribly. A double edged sword that cuts deep either way. Two meandering paths that eventually join on your journey to the grave. I have teetered on the brink and stared into the abyss, a step away from oblivion. 

Each time, however, something has made me turn back. The lies in front of my eyes twist and distort, tantalisingly out of my reach. They are wrapped in mists and shadows. I crave a solid foundation. A toehold in reality. So I surround myself with my family. I strengthen my faith through study and prayer. I write and I run. My keyboard and the road. I pound both on a daily basis. I exist. I survive. And I choose to live. 

Proverbs 2:18 – ‘Surely her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead.’

Have you ever declared your heart an ‘out of bounds’ area?

Or allowed your emotions to lead you astray?

What strategies do you employ to keep ‘in bounds’?


Spoiler Alert

Manchester United kicked off their new season yesterday and Adam and I eagerly sat down together to watch the match on television. Unfortunately the kick off coincided with our Sunday dinner (appalling timing by Fionnuala I know) so we paused the live feed of the match to allow us to eat. This meant that when we finally sat down to resume our viewing we were 15 minutes behind the actual live action.

‘Whatever you do don’t check your phone’ I sagely warned Adam knowing full well that any goals would be plastered all over social media in an instance. He nodded in agreement and we shut ourselves off from the outside world in order to enjoy the first half. About 30 minutes later Adam’s phone pinged. Before I had any opportunity to shout ‘Noooooooooo’ and leap across the room in slow motion stylee he had picked it up and glanced at the screen.

The realisation of what he had done slowly dawned and he sheepishly looked over at me. ‘There’s been a goal hasn’t there?’ I sighed. ‘Yeah’ he replied. ‘Well is it good news or bad news?’ I ventured nervously. A smile crossed his face. ‘Oh good news’ he cheerily responded. Sure enough 15 minutes later United scored paving the way for a comfortable 4-0 victory. For the remainder of the game his phone was resolutely ignored. 

I thought nothing more of the episode until I was on the train this morning on my daily commute to Belfast. Upon boarding at my stop I saw only one empty seat in the carriage so made a beeline for it pushing out of my way any old ladies who had the misfortune to be in my path. Okay I made up that last bit. I planted myself in the vacant berth paying no attention to who sitting beside me.

About five minutes into the journey I did happen to look over and instantly regretted it. Next to me sat a man with earphones plugged in watching a show on his tablet. And not just any old show but my favourite series ‘Game of Thrones’. I immediately looked straight ahead as the next episode did not air in the United Kingdom until later tonight. Was he one of those diehards who has downloaded the episode overnight when it was aired in the United States? Aaaaaaarrrrrghhh! Spoiler Alert!


Must not look. Must not look I muttered to myself; a cold sweat broke out on my forehead as the train neared its destination. To look again would be disastrous as it would ruin the episode for me when I watched it later tonight. But try as I might I found my line of vision inching inexorably to my left and towards the screen of the tablet. I had no control over my body. It had rebelled and given in to the overwhelming urge to find out what the inhabitants of Westeros were up to.

And there here was. The heroic Jon Snow standing alone, broadsword raised shoulder high, as an attachment of enemy cavalry galloped towards him. I looked on in horror, unable to avert my gaze as my Monday night TV treat evaporated before my eyes. A second later hope was restored. This scene looked very familiar. In fact it looked just like a battle scene from the previous season. Maybe, my subconscious gently prompted me, that’s because it was a battle scene from the previous season. I was watching a rerun. Disaster had narrowly been avoided and Ser Stephen of Belfasteros lived to watch television another day. Or tonight at least. 

I survived both the Manchester United and Game of Thrones ‘spoiler alerts’. This is the term that is used with increased frequency nowadays to warn us that something we are about to read/watch/listen is imminent which may ruin a future visual or audio event. It is particularly prevalent as we record so much now as opposed to watching it in real time. We spend much of our days avoiding social media and friends in the event that they may let the cat out of the bag and forewarn us of an important sports score or the plot of that movie we have been meaning to watch for weeks.

We literally live our lives with our hands over our ears running around  shouting ‘La La La don’t tell me’ with our eyes tightly shut. It is ironic that we are part of a society with unlimited access to,and an insatiable desire for, information. Yet in the same breath we spend so much of our time actively avoiding it in the event that it spoils our viewing pleasure. We want it filtered through to us in a fashion that fits in with our schedules and not those of the rest of the planet. Because it’s all about us after all right?

One of the (many) good things about being a Christian is that you do not need to worry about ‘spoiler alerts’. Because it is impossible to be one for even five minutes without knowing what God has mapped out for mankind. One day it will all come to a crescendo and the teachings of Jesus clearly indicate there will be a time of judgement for believers and non believers alike. And on that day there will be no point sticking your head in the sand as the time for excuses will be over. 

On that day the truth will be revealed. Everyone will be judged. Fairly and without favouritism. There will be no wriggle room or extenuating circumstances. It will be too late. We will all have been given enough chances. For the just just and righteous the reward is eternity with God. To the rest eternal separation from God. Also known as Hell. It’s not a very palatable truth and many people (Christians included) tend to avoid talking about it.

There is no ‘spoiler alert’ as far as Jesus is concerned. It is all set out in black and white in the Bible. For anyone to see. Choose to follow him and adhere to his teachings. Love people. Help the needy. Care for the hopeless and helpless. Fight evil in all its many forms. Speak and live the truth whatever the consequences. Do whatever you can wherever you can to make the world a better place. 

Make each day count. For it could be your last. And then it will be too late. No point shouting ‘spoiler alert’ and covering your ears for that day is coming for us all whether we are prepared or not.

Now feel free to comment on this post but whatever you do, DO NOT tell me what happened on Game of Thrones last night.

1 John 4:17 – ‘By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgement; because as he is, so also are we in this world.’

Do you ever find yourself watching other people’s tablets on public transport?

Have you ever fallen foul of the dreaded ‘spoiler alert’?

Do you live each day as if it is your last? If you knew it was what would you change?


Santa’s Last Summer 

Our youngest daughter, Rebecca, has had a very busy summer. There have been cinema outings, trips to the seaside and lots of visits to her grandparents. She has covered countless miles playing football and riding her bike. And she has eaten superhuman quantities of Haribo, bubble gum ice cream and other sugary treats. She has been a very busy young lady indeed.

One activity, however, has formed a consistent theme throughout her holiday break. Her letter to Santa Claus. Because one can never start soon enough and why wait until the last moment (say mid-September) when you can have it all done and dusted now. The ‘Big Man’ will be busy enough come December so best to get your order in early.

And what an order. The Normandy beach landings required less planning and preparations. There have been drafts and redrafts as she has waded through a forest of paper in order to pen the perfect letter. Parental advice and approval has been sought at all stages of the editing process. Accompanied by drawings, screenshots and countless WhatsApp conversations she has studiously chiselled away at her Christmas list which unfortunately weighed in at £150 over budget first time round. 

I anticipate Rebecca will be a qualified accountant by the time she is 12. She is a financial mastermind. Constantly conjuring money out of nowhere in order to finance her jet set lifestyle. If there is money to find down the back of a sofa she will find it. She cleaned her bomb site of a room the other day and emerged triumphantly with £8 in various coinage. She is our village shop’s best customer. It won’t be long before she has shares in the place.

The Santa letter has not been a totally smooth experience however. There have been tears and tantrums along the way. And I’m just talking about the parents here. Sample replies to her myriad of questions have included ‘How much?’, ‘Leave me alone’ and ‘For the 45th time no you cannot get Grand Theft Auto for your PS4.’

It has been a long and winding road but the finished product now sits on our fireplace awaiting collection. Santa may still be lounging on the beach in the Maldives but he had better get his sleigh charged up soon  and recall the reindeers from pasture as there is work to be done. There are no excuses. The weather outside is most definitely not frightening. It’s 17 degrees centigrade for goodness sake. That’s a heatwave by Irish standards.

I have wanted to write about Rebecca for a number of reasons. Firstly I have already written about our other two hatchlings, Adam and Hannah, so she was long overdue a mention. She is the firecracker of the family, full of fun, energy and laughter. There is never a dull moment when she is around and for that we are blessed. She loves her Bible stories and has a huge heart for others. 

Secondly this will most likely be her last year writing to Santa. And so will end a magical period of our lives as parents. The other two stopped believing years ago so we have clung on to Rebecca and her love of all things Claus. The way she has jumped full length into this year’s festivities makes me think that she too realises that this is the last hurrah. We will make the very most of this last Christmas and then hope we are blessed with grandchildren in years to come so that we can relive it all over again. 

Thirdly her excitement over the letter made me think. She has written it so expectantly, truly believing with all her heart that when she charges down the stairs on Christmas morning the gifts she has asked for will be sitting waiting for her. There is no doubt in her mind. Her childlike faith is both humbling and inspirational.

I envy her faith. When we pray, part of that process is asking God to provide for ourselves and others. It is not a selfish act as God is delighted that we are approaching him with our needs. And if they are in accordance with his will they will be provided. How many times, however, do we approach prayer with a lukewarm mentality? We hope that God listens to and answers our prayers but do we believe he will with a rock solid confidence?

Being honest I know that I do not. Often my prayers are half hearted. I have prayed for family members and friends to be healed while at the same time doubting that it will ever happen. By doing so I am doubting myself and in the process doubting my God.  That is an insult to a God who created the universe and knows me inside out and back to front. To a God who has answered my prayers before on countless occasions and performed daily miracles before my very eyes.

So today I pray for Rebecca. I thank God for giving us such an amazing girl. And I also pray for her faith. That when I next place my requests humbly before God I do so with the faith and confidence with which she writes her Santa letter. He might not truly exist and you might read this thinking that God does not either. But I do and pray that you will one day as well.

Take a chance. What’s to lose. Believe. In the true Christmas miracle. Over 2000 years ago. In a stable at Bethlehem.

Philippians 4:6 – ‘Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.’

*SPOILER ALERT* When did you stop believing in Santa?

Are there still Santa believers in your house? When do they write their letters?

Do you ever read the Christmas story during the summer?

The 80/20 Rule 

Today was my first run in three weeks. I have struggled with injury and illness all summer. It has been very frustrating as I had been running five times a week as I trained towards my target of a 3:30:00 marathon in Dublin this October. The training had been going to plan and my weekly long run had reached the 16 mile marker. I was averaging 40 miles a week and was confident of getting the time I had set my heart on.

All that came to a shuddering halt in late May when I sustained a foot injury that put me out of action for two weeks. I returned to training to run the Lisburn Half Marathon in just under 1:45:00. This was at my marathon pace but I found it a real battle to keep to that speed. At the time I put it down to the heat that evening combined with my foot still not being quite 100%.

It took me longer than usual to recover from the race. I felt utterly drained for days afterwards and could not take on board enough fluids. I recall telling people that the race had taken more out of me than any of the six marathons I had run to date. I kept to my training schedule but felt lethargic and permanently tired. I had also picked up an annoying dry cough that would not go away no matter what cough medicine or lozenges I took.

Being a typical man I ignored the advice of Fionnuala and other people to take a break from running. My times got worse and I grew more frustrated. Tbe cough persisted and I now found myself bringing up phlegm. The tiredness would not lift and I felt as if weights were pressing down on my chest and legs. I eventually visited my doctor who diagnosed a chest infection and put me on a course of antibiotics for five days. I may as well have been taking M&M’s for all the good they did.

At the start of July I had to go on a business trip to England. I felt rotten throughout it and on the return flight endured painful earache during the descent back into Belfast. Over the coming days my ears resolutely refused to ‘pop’ with the left one in particular causing me real problems. It felt as if something was lodged inside it and I could barely hear out of it. I went back to my doctor who prescribed a second, stronger antibiotics.

I stopped running for a week in mid July hoping a total break combined with the new antibiotics would do the trick. They didn’t but I stupidly ran the Dark Hedges Half Marathon in the second half of July. This was a mistake as I was still ill and plodded round in a poor time. My male pride insisted, however, that I run the race. It finished me and exacerbated the illness leading to me taking a total break from running for three weeks and some time off work.

I hate taking sick leave from work as, by and large, I enjoy my job and feel like I am letting down my colleagues. I manage a team of civilian investigators who conduct ‘cold case’ reviews of murders committed in Northern Ireland between 1969-1998 where there have been allegations of police collusion. It is important and fascinating work and I feel blessed to be part of it.  The job also involves liaising with bereaved families which is a massive responsibility. I honestly believe God put me in this job for a reason and I always endeavour to conduct high quality investigations in a respectful and empathetic manner.

Those three weeks dragged by. The second course of antibiotics failed to work and a third doctor concluded that my inner ear tube had deflated as part of a viral infection. She prescribed a month long course of hay fever medication and total rest. For once I did what I was told and barely moved from the sofa for a week. I binge watched Netflix and ate waaaaaaay too much ice cream. I put on weight which annoyed me but I refrained from running. And very, very gradually improvement came.

The first ailment to clear was the cough. To the point where I only coughed when someone asked how was my cough! How weird is that? My strength also gradually began to return and my right ear cleared. The left one still continued to cause me problems. It felt as if it had been stuffed with cotton wool so that the only way I could clear it was to tip it to one side in order to allow the air pressure in my inner ear to normalise. I began to do this without even thinking resulting in some very strange looks from passers by.

I made the decision to return to work last Monday. I felt some trepidation as I was still far from 100% but felt I had to take action or I would spend the rest of days growing a beard and eating ice cream straight from the tub. No bowl required. Classy I know. The first couple of days surprised me. I felt light years better than I had been at home. Yes, I think the third doctor had finally diagnosed me correctly and prescribed effective medication; but tbe very fact I was easing back into my normal routine was in itself healing.

My recovery came full circle with my first run in three weeks earlier today. It was slow and tough. Afterwards my legs ached as if I had run thirty miles as opposed to three. But I did it, something that I would have been incapable of even a week ago. It is another small step forward. I am not even thinking about marathons at the minute, just small steps forward. This illness had been difficult and I have thrown many a ‘pity party’ over the last few months. I feel, however, that God has taught me some important truths during this season of recovery. 

1. Patience – this has been very hard for me. I always think I know best when it comes to me and I selfishly soldiered on through the illness determined that it would not interfere with my training schedule. In the end I had to raise the white flag and recognise defeat. Rest and recovery were essential. During my sofa time I felt useless and hopeless. God was in control and Stephen didn’t like it. As usual, however, he knew best. I was still. And only then did he heal me. In his time and not mine. 

Psalm 46:10 – ‘Be still and know that I am God.’

2. Listen – God loves humour and I regard it as no coincidence that I had to experience temporary deafness in one ear in order to start to listen to him again. During my enforced down time I spent more time studying my Bible and meditating on his Word. Suddenly my head became inundated with blog ideas and the words flew off the keyboard. This time with God has taught me that he wants to use my imagination and writing to glorify him. Tbe running is a worthy sideline but I now know he is not impressed by the strength of  a3:30:00 marathon. If I run it then great but if I do not then it is no big deal. 3:30:00 marathons are Stephen projects and not Kingdom projects. He sees strength instead in my writing where I write of my weaknesses and failures and how he has used them to bring glory to his name.

Philippians 4:13 – ‘I can do all things through Him who gives me strength.’

3. Normal is the new Rock n Roll – I once heard a pastor preach about the saying ‘the grass is always greener on the other side.’ He said if you ever felt like that then you had better pay more attention to watering your own garden. He added that we will never be 100% satisfied in this life. We need to focus on the 80% we have as opposed to foolishly chasing the other 20%. Because in doing the latter we can end up with nothing.

Yes I’m not a millionaire. Yes I don’t have an executive box at Manchester United. Yes I haven’t run a 3:30:00 marathon…..yet. But on the other hand I do have a loving and supportive family. Yes I do have a good job and a secure income. And yes today I do have clear ears and lungs. I do have strong legs and I can run in the outdoors. Sometimes God temporarily takes away the 80% you take for granted in order to force you to refocus on it and not the 20% you (a) will probably never obtain and (b) will probably never need. What he provides is enough. Stop chasing daydreams. 

Have an 80% day people. 

Philippians 4:12-13 – ‘I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.’

Has God ever taken something away from you in order to appreciate its true value?

Are you an 80% or 20% person?

Have you ever had a negative experience chasing the 20%.

The Twirly Chair – Part Three

In Parts One and Two of this series I talked about my struggles with alcohol and social media. Amplified by my obsessive and addictive personality these twin demons brought me to the bottom of a deep, dark pit four years ago. To a stage in my life where I thought I had lost everything and considered suicide.  I was faced with the stark reality of losing my wife and children. It was them or the demons. My choice.


My first decision was to give up alcohol. Completely. When I drank it was for no other reason than to get drunk. I drank to numb the pain and escape reality for a handful of blissful hours. One drink was never enough. I drank until I blacked out only to wake up the next morning gripped by ‘the fear’ followed by desperately trying to piece together my shattered memories of the night before. This was usually followed by a horrendous physical hangover that lasted days accompanied by titanic feelings of guilt and despair.

If this sounds flippant I apologise but I found giving up alcohol surprisingly easy. I rarely missed it although it did necessitate me losing touch with several ‘beer buddies’ who I had formerly thought myself close to. There was no way, however, that I could accompany them to a bar and buy soft drinks. Even today I feel incredibly uncomfortable in bars, the proverbial fish out of water. It’s not that I’m tempted to drink because I’m not. It’s just my shyness and social awkwardness intimidate me and I feel I don’t fit in without the crutch of alcohol. 

Tbe final nail in the coffin was just over three years ago when I started running. I took to it immediately, lost three stone in weight and within a year was training for my first marathon (I’ve now run six). I had found a new drug called endorphins. Tbe thought of running with a hangover made my skin crawl and my stomach heave. Running and drinking just didn’t go hand in hand as far as I was concerned.

For me tbe tougher battle was always going to be with social media. Even to this day I still regard it as a daily battle. Kicking alcohol was a pussy cat compared to this prowling lion. I packed in Twitter and (surprise, surprise) discovered that it didn’t shut down overnight due to my absence. I didn’t miss my Twitter friends, more the attention and ego enhancement I obtained through them. My desire to be popular was pathetic but irresistible. This led to several lapses where I maintained secret accounts unbeknownst to Fionnuala trying to feed the lion while on the surface leading a guilt ridden, hypocritical existence.

Fionnuala always found out and my dishonesty and deceit were exposed to the daylight. I honestly believe that this ‘sixth sense’ she had came from God. She always seemed one step ahead of me and no matter how hard I connived or contrived the truth would always bubble to the surface. Be it in the form of dreams or ‘feelings’ she read me like a book every time and saw through my lies. I was continually outmanoeuvred on all fronts. But every time after several months of abstinence my resolve would crumble and I would succumb to the online urge.

I tried to go cold turkey and failed. I tried to wean myself off it gradually and failed. I agreed to only have a Facebook account and steer clear of Twitter. It was like prescribing methadrone to a heroin addict. It just didn’t give me the same kick. I tried the middle ground of Instagram. Surely just posting pictures couldn’t hurt? But I failed again in spectacular fashion and by the end of 2016 hit a new low. I was beaten all ends up.

Eight months later I am ‘social media sober’. It has meant total accountability to Fionnuala. She knows all my passwords and has complete access to my phone. Some  grown men might regard this as humiliating. I regard it as essential. I cannot trust myself when it comes to social media so I can hardly expect others to trust me fully. I accept that as a hard, but palatable, truth. It has to be this way and it needs to be this way. Social media will chew me up and spit me out every single time. It is my arch nemesis, my Achilles heel, the itch I cannot scratch.

So now I write. A lot. It calms me and reassures me. I have my family, my job and my running. Simplifying my life has enriched it beyond comparison. I am at peace now but can never become cocky. Fionnuala can see the warning signs and always has to be on her guard. It is far from ideal. She trusts our three kids more online than she does me. I am not proud as I type these words but I type them anyway as they are words of truth.

Through this whole story I firmly believe God has been at work. Both before and after I became a Christian. These three posts have given just a taste of the last seven years. Without his grace and love I would not be sitting here today with my marriage and family still intact. His message of hope and forgiveness has overcome the mess I had made. He has dragged me kicking and screaming to where I am today. He allowed me to be broken and then put me back together again. Without him I am nothing.

My name is Stephen and I am an idiot. My name is Stephen and I am an addict. My name is Stephen and I am here to help. I am here to talk to you. Pray for you. Listen to you. I have been where you are and came through the other side. Never give up. I slay the dragons every day. And so can you. 

Thank you for reading this series and all the positive and encouraging feedback you have given me – Stephen.

The Twirly Chair – Part Two

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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