Morning (small beginnings)

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The mornings are dark now and there is nowhere like a quiet kitchen lit up at this hour, when everyone else is sleeping.

There is nowhere like it yet, more often than not, I would trade my very soul to stay in bed. I whittle away this hour, ten minutes at a time, with every hit of the snooze button.  Always convinced it’s worth the trade off.

When I chose morning as my word for the year, maybe I imagined myself productive.  I thought I might have jobs done, essays written.

What I have, is a morning basket.  It has colouring pencils and colouring books.  It has my Common Book of Prayer.  It has my bullet journal.  Right now it has a Georgia O’Keeffe postcard that my friend Cherith gave me.  It has my heart bowl, which I set on the kitchen table beside the postcard.  Sometimes it has other books, or pictures, or quotes from my bedroom.

I have two problems with the morning.  One: I don’t want to get out of bed.  Two: when I do get out of bed, I want to do Everything.  It is easy (for me) to be lazy.  And it is easy (for me) to try to do too much, and to try to run on empty.  It is harder by far to just be awake and present to my life.

It is hard to just colour in.  It is hard to read liturgies before I read Facebook. It is hard to feed myself properly instead of quickly.  It is hard to Be Still, with my fists unclenched, like I believe in the holy spirit, like it’s the way to start my day, like it will make any difference.

It is hard to begin without feeling like we’re already behind, without panicking that already “it’s not enough”, without listening to ridiculous voices in our heads.

“Do not despise these small beginnings”, Zechariah 4:10 says, “for the Lord rejoices to see the work begin.”.

Those words are too long for a tattoo, but I need to etch them somewhere.

The mornings are dark now, and just being here in my quiet kitchen is a small beginning.  A cause to rejoice.


Are you free on Thursday night? Thoughts on Introversion.

There’s a few things the internet doesn’t need any more of.  Open letters, for example. Elsa pictures.

There’s something about saturation that can make us weary, or even angry.  Something that once was cute, or original, or important starts to make us twitch the more we see it.  I have read some brilliant open letters in the past, but these days I fear it’s only a matter of time before I turn on my computer and see “Dear woman with the curly hair driving the scratched Fiesta…”.

And there’s something about enthusiasm, evangelical fervour, popularity even, that can be curiously off-putting.  We feel like giving up faith, say, or breastfeeding, in reaction to the intensity of those who share our practice.

One of my favourite topics of conversation is personality types and tests like Myers-Briggs and the Enneagram, and particularly Introversion.  Understanding myself as an introvert has, and is, one of the most important factors in how I live my life.

But when a friend texted me recently saying: “I think I’ll become an introvert, they’re taking over the world”, I started to wonder, is one more post about introversion the last thing the internet needs?  Have we got Introvert-fatigue?


Back in the day, I read about introversion like it was some big secret.  Back when Philip Yancey books were steadying my soul in the garden, one of the reasons I felt this weird commonality with him was in the way he wrote about his personality, his slowness, his thought-process.  He was the only person I ever read who was writing about being an introvert and I thought me too, me too.

My ears picked up any time I heard it being discussed.

Even 4 years ago Susan Cain’s TED talk, and subsequently her book, healed and inspired me so much because it wasn’t being talked about.


When my mind is healthy I know that my gifting, my truest parts, my best offerings all come from being an introvert – from slow, well-brewed thoughts and feelings, from paying attention.

But on a daily basis that mind gets frazzled and rushed and the thing it notices is people around me doing life faster and smoother and smarter, and I feel less-than.

When my soul is healthy I know that it needs stillness, time, good books, prayer and rest to stay that way.  Yet when I hear those words “Are you free on Thursday night?” something in me still believes that the only acceptable no is the ‘Busy No’… No because I’m at an Event, No because I’m meeting someone else, No because I’m doing some kind of work.

I need those introvert articles and memes and comic strips to simply remind me that I am a person who recharges by being alone, and that I am not the only one, and that I do not have to go anywhere on Thursday night.

image(Source: Quiet Revolution)

I’ll be honest, because I’m an introvert, the text my friend sent “recently” was actually about a year ago.  This post has sat, unfinished, for a long time.  I would read it, now and again, and wonder what my point was.  Since then I have been doing the work with Brené Brown, I have started seeing a Spiritual Director and I have become a bit of an Enneagram-geek (that is a whole other post!).  These things are adding depth and dimension (and even discomfort) to my understanding of shame, true self and the things that get in the way.

I have also come to understand that it is not just introverts who feel the pressure of the “acceptable no”, or whose lives are damaged by too much hustle.  Gemma’s  lovely Ode to Margin resonates with most of us, I imagine.

So I do not celebrate my introversion over your extroversion.  Thursday nights are for solitude and conversation, pottering and dancing, saying yes and saying no.  I do not click on all the introvert articles anymore (I probably get sent a few too many ‘saw this and thought of you’ ones, these days).  But, regularly, I just need a reminder, you know?



Some of my Introvert Favourites

Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
by Susan Cain

Susan Cain TED talk

Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture
by Adam S. McHugh

Can Introverts Be Part of the Revolution? by Addie Zierman

Why Slowing Down Your Kid’s Schedule Can Be A Good Thing by Brian Gresko

Exactly Like Him


I had been thinking about his garden.  Even before he lost his swallow, before his final, peaceful days, I’d been thinking about his garden.

Maybe you knew that garden.  It was exciting, and a little daunting, as children to go through the gate into what seemed like a tropical jungle. There was colour and life everywhere, and more often than not Grandpa was hidden in the middle of it, tending to something.  It was not a garden you looked at, it was a garden you experienced.  It flourished.  I had been wondering how he did it.


When Grandpa died at the beginning of August, I thought of that garden. And I thought of garden metaphors.  I think we all did.

We thought of him tending and nurturing plants.  We thought of him tending and nurturing us, and other people, and his faith.  We thought of the things he planted.  We heard from people whose lives he’d touched.  We wondered how he did it.

‘Unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies’, we reminded ourselves.

To think of life at work underneath the surface of what looks dead and desolate, brings enormous comfort.  Garden metaphors make sense to many of us in the face of loss.  And they make sense in the face of dementia.

Or they don’t.


Nothing ‘makes sense’ in the face of dementia.  You could become an expert on Lewy Body Dementia, like my my mum essentially did, and it still wouldn’t make sense.

When Grandpa lost his swallow, it seemed like old Boughton’s lament in Gilead that “Jesus never had to be old!”, was fitting.  What else could you say about years of steadily losing every piece of himself?

I want it to make sense. I am tempted to force an uplifting lesson out of it for a blog post, to smooth over the sharp edges of dementia with my words.

Or, I am tempted to write-it off, a dark chapter jammed between an inspiring life and a blessed eternity.

But something is making me sit with, instead of make sense of. Maybe it’s the Wendell Berry-effect. I have just finished ‘The Memory of Old Jack’, after all, where wise and gentle Mat Feltner draws up a chair and sits beside Old Jack a while “in death as he had sat with him in life”, where he refrains from exacting a tribute on his passive remains.

My 5-year-old wants to draw his face. It’s her first reaction when she hears about his death.

“Let’s draw a picture of him that looks exactly like him,” she says with Lola- esque emphasis.

Exactly like him.

My Auntie P and I shared a wee moment in Grandpa’s room the day before he died. We looked at the photos on his wall. With Nana on his wedding day: “So handsome”.  A portrait of the pair many decades later: “Still so handsome. So robust.”.

That second photo, to me, is Exactly Like Him. But not to my 5-year-old.

She is very clear about the face she wants to draw. She does not like the photographs that I like. She wants “a picture of him in the last home he lived in, looking like that.”

She only knew him very old. She only ever knew him with dementia. That’s Grandpa to her. That’s the face worth drawing, the face worth remembering. She will not let me air-brush.


We sing songs at his Thanksgiving service about Home.  All The Way My Saviour Leads Me.  There is a Hope.  The Lord’s My Shepherd.

I listen to them in my kitchen for weeks afterwards as I do my mulling over, my own laying to rest.

“For your endless mercy follows me, your goodness will lead me home.”



I don’t know what to make of it, this vision of mercy and goodness pursuing him right through the dementia.  But I like it.  And I sing.


Dementia is harrowing and yet any tendency in me toward pity, any attempt to wrap up this final chapter of his life in exclusively brutal language, has always been stopped short when I have observed my daddy.

“We became the best of friends”, my dad said in his tribute.  He was talking about the relationship that formed between him and his father-in-law after Grandpa came to live with them, and then during his years in a near-by nursing home.

At one stage of his dementia Grandpa started referring to my dad as his brother.  Dad didn’t bat an eyelid.  He just started referring to him as his brother too.

Best Friends.  Brothers.

The most debilitating years of Grandpa’s life, yet the bond they formed was extraordinary.  It changed my life, a bit, to witness it.

I think of an article in the Guardian by Helen Dunmore about the novel ‘We Are Not Ourselves’ and its astonishing portrayal of dementia.  She writes: “The novel’s account of this illness and its terrible progress through a life is unsparing, but never cold or removed. Thomas creates an intimacy with Ed’s struggle against his own mental dissolution that is intensely moving.”

My parents shared in the intimacy of Grandpa’s struggle and there aren’t really words to describe that.  I just need to sit in a chair and think about it.


As I sit, I have these favourite quotes I am sitting with.  They mean something to me, this month.  They come to mind as I think about this particular man.

They are all from the novel Gilead.  Maybe you will find them worth sitting with, too:

“Existence seems to me now the most remarkable thing that could ever be imagined.”

“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”

He will wipe the tears from all faces.” It takes nothing from the loveliness of the verse to say that is exactly what will be required.




‘I think we were made free to live like we belong to the household of God.’

[Lessons in Belonging – Erin S. Lane]


There’s this episode of The Good Wife when Alisha is running for State’s Attorney and in an effort to damage control a previous admission that she’s an atheist, she is advised to describe herself as “struggling” in a TV interview.

“Struggling” – the word she could use.  The word we can all use.  I certainly do.

I say I struggle with faith. I say I struggle with church.

I can say those words, and people can hear them.  They thank me for my honesty.

But these words have been annoying me lately.  They feel a little like the “TV interview” version of my soul story.

I can be hyperaware of expectation, presumption and reaction when I give a version of my story in a blog post or at the pub, over coffee or to my minister.  Even though they are all kind audiences, I default to the lines that I think people can hear.

One of the things I am doing about this is to start to meet with a therapist for Spiritual Direction.  It sounds a bit weird, I know, but I feel like I need to actually explore “my struggles”, explore my wilderness and my rebellion.  I need to talk out the long version without fear.

Another thing that is helping me is the book Lessons in Belonging by Erin S. Lane.  It was one of those well-judged “saw this and thought of you” recommendations.

For a long time now I have cringed about my association with ‘the household of God’.  What does it even mean?!  So much room for misunderstanding and misinterpretation!  What if people misjudge my views, and my heart?  Every time I heard a “Christian” view that was not my own it seemed that my only choice was to distance myself further and further away.

But I have found myself, over the past year and a half, in church – welcomed, noticed, blessed – and I have experienced what, for me, is the push and pull of Christian Belonging.  I want to belong here.  I want to run for the hills.

I laugh out loud when Erin Lane describes the panic she felt with the sneaking realisation that she was on ‘a path’.  I know this feeling.  “I don’t want to be on a path”, she says, “I want to zigzag”.

This is me.  I want to zigzag – between my books and my podcasts and some small pockets of people.  I want to be in my own house or in the forest or on the other side of the world.  So I panic a little to find myself, week after week, in the same pew of a country Presbyterian church.

Lane says that by showing up at church like this my body begs a witness greater than its own two eyes can see. It says, “I cannot do this alone, even though I try.”

Doing it alone, for me, has not so much been a declaration of independence, as a protection mechanism against the messiness of belonging. Maybe I haven’t so much ‘struggled’ with church, as tried to avoid the struggle.

Avoidance often seems like wisdom to me – the wisdom of limiting who I listen to, what I read and who I spend time with; the wisdom of choosing stillness and quiet.  As an introvert this seems so important to me.  I safe guard my time, I seek out podcasts, books and articles that resonate with me, I spend time with soul chums.  I seek a rhythm that is healthy for me, and my family. I write about this kind of thing.

And yet, what I could end up with is a very narrow, crafted life, that indulges just one way of being.

Parker Palmer says: ‘As our privacy deepens and our distance from the public increases, we pay a terrible price. We lose our sense of relatedness to those strangers with whom we must share the earth; we lose our sense of comfort and at-homeness in the world.’

My privacy can run deep.  It makes me want to close my front door and retreat from the struggles of faith and church, or at least from the struggle of articulating them.  It is a sure sign that I have lost my sense of comfort and at-homeness if I don’t trust you with more than the “TV interview” version of my life, if I presuppose that we won’t connect, or that you’ll tire of the real me.

My life, in recent years, has been concerned with how to spend time wisely.  And spiritually – I have been looking for comfort and rest.  I have been looking to feel known.  So THESE are the words from Lane’s book that I have underlined, written out, read and re-read:

‘This is the paradoxical mission of the church, to comfort and disrupt, to give rest and rile up, to make us feel known and make us feel small in the wake of what we cannot know.

Sabbath freedom is not the freedom to spend our time wisely.  Instead sabbath freedom is the freedom to live large. To live large on the sabbath day means choosing to live larger than our own rhythm. When so much of modern life is spent crafting our home, filling it with belongings and guarding it from interruption, going to church is a countercultural practice. Going to church teaches us how to craft a home in the world.’

This is what I am trying to be open to these days, instead of using the “I’m struggling” line as a door that I shut, or using the “introvert” line as permission to stay home. I turn up with my thin skin and my relentless thoughts, I turn up with the fear that I might not be able to be or do what people want. I let my guard down, a little. And like Erin Lane, I am learning to linger and I am learning to approach life’s unknowns (and the person beside me) with humility and curiosity.

This is how belonging happens. Not by waiting for permission or holding out for perfect conditions. Not by cherry-picking people just like us or nitpicking people who don’t get us. Belonging happens when we choose to give ourselves away, saying, “Take. Eat. If you’ll have me, I belong to you.”

[Erin S. Lane]

The Sisterhood of Crackpot Mothering



A free spirit. A wonderer and wanderer. Quirky. Day-dreamy.

These are words I often use to describe my 5 year-old, and now that I think about it, they are words that are sometimes used to describe me.

She is often the easiest of company. If she can take the world on her own terms, all is well.

But I noticed, early on, that she struggles with anticipation. She gets nervous if there’s a build up, if there’s fuss about something. Half-way through an expression of excitement she has changed her mind and doesn’t want to do it. She feels under pressure sometimes, when there really isn’t any… a kind of performance anxiety even when nobody’s watching.

September was tricky. P1. She developed a clingyness she hadn’t had before. She was one of those children who needed prised off their mum, finger by finger. But still, September of P1, that’s understandable, right?


It’s June now and since the middle of May she has, once again, needed peeled off me every morning.

This morning her Principal bent down and carried her in to school in her arms. They are so gentle with her. So positive and kind. Yet here she is on 1st June freaking out about going through that door.

The school office phoned on my way home. She’s ok. She’s settled. The Principal’s wearing her sun hat. She’s laughing.

Of course she is. I know she is. She enjoys school. But, yet.


Her little sister got baptised on Sunday and when I get in from the school run there’s a text from my mum.  She has sent a few since Sunday – texts that are careful not to make a fuss of me but that are checking in if I’m ok – if I have ‘recovered’.  She knows me.  The baptism was good, important.  Among people who are gentle and positive and kind.  But my mum knows me.  I freak out, sometimes, even in safe places, even in the midst of things that I want.

We joke, now and again, about the little triangles of pancake my mum produced a steady supply of in the run-up to my wedding.  She was well practised by then in the low-key art of caring for a daughter who feels sick when she’s nervous.  She just plated them up and left them quietly at my elbow, bite-size pieces of sustenance that would get me through.

Last night at bedtime Livi said it out loud: “I’m nervous about P2”.  It’s what I suspected.  It seems so early, so pointless, to start worrying about it now.  And yet, I get it.


I have described to friends how I feel like my intuition is broken these days, like I used to “KNOW” how to work with Liv, and now I don’t.  But I read this recently:

Intuition is not independent of any reasoning process. In fact, psychologists believe that intuition is a rapid-fire, unconscious associating process- like a mental puzzle. The brain makes an observation, scans its files, and matches the observation with existing memories, knowledge, and experiences. Once it puts together a series of matches, we get a “gut” on what we’ve observed.

Sometimes our intuition or our gut tells us what we need to know; other times it actually steers us toward fact-finding and reasoning. As it turns out, intuition may be the quiet voice within, but that voice is not limited to one message. Sometimes our intuition whispers, “Follow your instincts.” Other times it shouts, “You need to check this out, we don’t have enough information!”

In my research, I found that what silences our intuitive voice is our need for certainty. Most of us are not very good at not knowing. We like sure things and guarantees so much that we don’t pay attention to the outcomes of our brain’s matching process.

[Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection]

It’s a lovely idea that we might be wonderfully, naturally intuitive parents.  But it’s much more comforting to me that intuition is something I can go looking for, and remind myself of.

I have been doing that this week. I remind myself of my own nervous nature and how it hasn’t ruined my life.  I remember what it feels like to be cared for by an empathetic mother.  I read old favourite articles and books.  I take wise counsel.  I reawaken my instincts.

I started this blog post one evening and when I read it the following day the old gremlins were whispering – people will read it and think ‘Well of course Olivia has issues, her mother is a clearly a crackpot!’.  I told a few friends. They said: Me too.  Welcome to the Sisterhood.


My friend Tory told me a story this week about her son Noah at his nursery sports day. 60 kids walked out all completely fine, and in the middle of them, Noah, “walking along crying his little head off, upset and miserable.”  Everything in her story reminded me of Liv – how she could tell how difficult his first race was by the way he was running and the weird way he held his mouth.  Tory said so many wise things but among them this : “I hate that he cried at his sports day but I totally understand why he did.”

It’s not just going in to school that’s hard for Livi at the moment.  It’s been the Mayfair and her cousin’s play and swimming and church and choosing an ice-lolly.  I hate that she cries at these things she should love, but I understand why she does.

In my favourite parenting book, Simplicity Parenting, Kim John Payne calls it a “soul fever” when a child is being rushed along by too much stuff, speed or stress.  “Something is not right; they’re upset, overwhelmed, at odds with the world. And most of all, at odds with their truest selves.”  He advocates simplification – stripping away the distractions and clutter that monopolise our attention and threaten our connection.  “It’s about giving kids the ease to become themselves, and giving us the ease to pay attention.  To more fully develop, and to trust, our instincts.”

In an article I love about slowing down kids’ schedules, especially introverts, the author writes about how his 6-year-old son Felix “isn’t always cognizant of his needs”.  I have to deliberately remind myself of this.  Olivia isn’t cognizant of her needs.  She wants to do All The Things.  But all the things exhaust her, especially at the minute.

June is full of events and outings and changes in routine.  Each one seems like a good thing, but when Olivia anticipates what’s ahead, combined with finishing P1, it sends her running to the toilet.  So we have cancelled some outings, replaced them with things like ‘Chicken drumsticks for dinner’ and ‘Walking to the café for a bun’, and truthfully, even CBeebies on the sofa instead of ALL the time in the sun.  And she hasn’t complained like we thought she would, in fact she seems at peace with the schedule.  There is a certain kind of anticipation, is there not, in chicken drumsticks and a wee bun, that couldn’t make anyone nervous?


I have thought all week about Liv, about my mum, about my own anxious self.  Liv has wobbled and I have wobbled.  It’s Friday now and I feel like the quiet voice in my gut has got a bit clearer, and calmer.  She’s out of sorts.  That’s ok.  I can care for that.  And also, it isn’t everything she is.

We walk home from school on Friday afternoon and she sidesteps into the doorway of the old music shop to do this geeky dance to the music.

She always does that.

It’s one of my favourite things.

photo credit: Poison Ivy via photopin (license)

5 Things I learnt from having the Flu

You is kind. You is smart. You is important.”

[Kathryn Stockett, The Help]


1. Only the Flu is the Flu

I knew this one already, but this flu (let’s call it The Flu of April 2016), reinforced this truth.  Ever since I had The Flu 16 years ago, I have been careful not to call ANYTHING else ‘the Flu’. Colds, yes. ‘Viruses’, oh yes. Tummy bugs, ‘flu-like symptoms’, feeling s**t… yes, yes, yes.  But never The Flu.

When I had the flu 16 years ago I remember my mum mopping down my 20-year-old brow in the middle of the night, and it occurring to me that perhaps I was dying.  I remember my friends had it too and we were supposed to be going to a Travis concert (!).  Our parents stretched landline cords to hold phones to our ears while we assured each other that we would definitely be better in a few days and definitely be going.  We weren’t better and we didn’t go.  My dad put an advert in the Belfast Telegraph and somebody bought the tickets via a rendezvous at Lisburn Leisure Centre, because that is what you did 16 years ago.

Previously, there was the Beijing Flu of ’93, the highlight of which was when my brother puked while on the phone to his girlfriend.

The Flu of April 2016 reminded me that, other than the Travis Flu and the Beijing Flu, I had never really been sick in my life.  ‘The Flu’ becomes your new standard of illness.  Your ‘soldier on’ button gets stuck and even though it’s your husband’s Sunday morning lie-in, he has to get up because you genuinely, honestly can’t get out of bed.

2. Never be jealous of a sick person

In the weeks preceding The Flu of April 2016 I heard people mention that a husband, or wife or so-and-so had a terrible dose and spent the day in bed.  I thought that sounded amazing. A whole day in bed! An excuse to opt out of life with small children for a day.  But then I got the flu and learnt…

3. It is possible to NOT enjoy a day in bed

When I am tired, but well, I don’t really believe this, but it’s true.  I did not enjoy bed or the sofa. I did not enjoy back-to-back Nashville or a Scandinavian crime marathon or even 5 Star babies. I could not read a book.

My husband went around saying “You know Sharon’s sick when she doesn’t even want a cup of tea” … so, really, a day in bed without tea or a book… what’s the point?

4. Recognise your Shame gremlins

This is a serious one!  I have been reading a lot of Brené Brown recently and learning about the ways in which shame is present in the most mundane and visible aspects of our lives.  To identify your own shame-triggers she suggests writing out how you want to be perceived, and how you don’t want to be perceived.  I realised from doing this that being sick (or even tired) is a shame-trigger for me, particularly as a mum.  It is desperately important to me to be seen as someone who will ‘soldier on’.  So when I got the flu, and I couldn’t, my shame gremlins (as Brené would call them) were quick to make me feel panicked and embarrassed about how much help I was needing from my husband and parents.  But the critical awareness Brené teaches meant I could recognise these shame gremlins for what they are, and be kind to myself.

One of my friends included those lovely words from ‘The Help’ in a text to me while I was sick and I needed the reminder: rest up, you is important.  In contrast, if you have a friend (or great-Aunt or nosey neighbour) who practices a shaming brand of sympathy: don’t communicate with them when you have the flu, or ask your husband what they said.  You will not be better tomorrow and your husband is going to do the school run, even though theirs never did.

5. You DO Something!

Finally, the best thing I learnt from having the flu recently is that I do something! I had been so focused on both the embarrassment and the logistics of getting people to do the things I normally do, that I missed the fact that maybe I’m a *little bit* important to some people!

I am on a Career Break this year and one of the benefits of being a ‘Stay-At-Home-Mum’ is that there is no hassle when your kids are sick.  Early morning puking? No problem, no panic about work and child care. But my husband and I were both panicked on the Sunday night of the Flu of April 2016 when we realised I was the one sick.

One of the damaging sides of being a ‘SAHM’ is that you can struggle to see what you have to show for your day.  You discount the importance of the school run and making dinner and only notice the things you aren’t getting done.

What I learnt, from having the flu, is that those things – the school run, making dinner – seemed much bigger and more important when I had to ask someone else to do them.  My 3-year-old’s day seemed like something, when it depended on someone else.


Did anyone else get the Flu of April 2016? Or the cold or a mysterious ‘virus’? Or do you remember the Beijing Flu?! However you’re feeling, remember that we can feel shame in the most mundane circumstances, and that you is important.


Faith in the Dark

“She used to be afraid she was the only one in the world who could not make sense of things.”

[Lila, Marilynne Robinson]


I stood at the kitchen window recently, washing up the breakfast dishes, listening to Martyn Joseph, looking out at a familiar (gloomy and mizzley) kind of Northern Irish morning.

And I felt so at home.

Literally, figuratively.

If my husband had been about his ears would have picked up at the gravelly tones of the Welsh man.  He goes on ‘pensive alert’ when he hears me listening to Martyn Joseph.  (What is she thinking about NOW?)

The rain is a strange kind of friend, he sings.  Lost my soul in the sound of the rain again.  My strange friend.

I stood at the kitchen window, feeling at home.  Pensive.  A little melancholy, even.  And I thought that THIS is what faith feels like to me now.  And I realised that maybe it always will.


There is a verse in Jeremiah that reads like this in the Message:

“The light you always took for granted will go out and the world will turn black.”

The light you always took for granted.

Doesn’t that line resonate deeply with any of us who grew up careless in our certain faith, whose favourite songs were about light, about letting it shine?

I once danced in a conga line around an Eastern European university campus singing “We are marching in the light of God.”  I know, now, that a novelty dance paired with a protest song (true meaning then lost on me) wasn’t an expression of true faith, or light.  But still, it’s easy to look back and say my faith then was strong, and my pensive, rainy-day faith is not.


A few years ago, when my children were at their tiniest and I couldn’t find a place for my tiredness and neediness at church on a Sunday morning, I found it on a Thursday night in a Belfast pub.

We got a last minute babysitter, drove through the November dark and rain, to slip in to a gig that was half over, just in time to hear Martyn Joseph sing “are you down to your last ray of hope?”.

And I thought how hard it could feel, when you slip in to the back row of church, but how good it felt, here.

I thought how, maybe, if those were always the opening lines we heard in church, then more of us would stay.


In Eugene Peterson’s introduction to Jeremiah he explains how in a time when everything that could go wrong did go wrong, Jeremiah was in the middle of it all, writing it out.  He says:

“Anyone who lives in disruptive times looks for companions who have been through them earlier, wanting to know how they went through it, how they made it, what it was like.  In looking for a companion who has lived through catastrophic disruption and survived with grace, biblical people more often than not come upon Jeremiah and receive him as a true, honest, and God-revealing companion for the worst of times.”

Today Addie Zierman’s book Night Driving releases, and people are writing out their stories of faith in the dark for her synchroblog.  I first stumbled across Addie Zierman one tired morning when my youngest was a newborn and her post, Come Weary, was simply the best thing I could have read. Then I discovered she was writing about cynicism like it mattered, that she was de-constructing Christian clichés and reclaiming a faith that had been oversimplified.  From then on I read everything she wrote. For me, reading Addie provides company, breathing space and a way forward in this faith journey.

Addie says that one of her least favourite things about Christian culture is how quickly we skip over the dark spaces of our stories to get to the redemption and beauty and light.  And so she is telling the truth about her own darkness (most often Depression) in her new book, and holding space for others in her synchroblog.

Darkness, for me, comes from not being able to make sense of things, it comes when I think I am ‘the only one’, it comes from the world outside our stained glass windows, and, some days, it just comes from the ‘tired thirities’.

Faith in the dark, though, is a hopeful phrase to me.  It sounds right. Stubborn.  Persisting anyway – scouring sponge in hand.  It’s not a faith that dances the conga, but it’s listening and looking, and it has found companions.

When I think of faith in the dark I think of those companions.  Jeremiah, MJ, Addie, my friend Rachel.  And if the hardest thing about seeing the light you always took for granted grow dim is that you feel you are somehow letting the team down, well then the best thing is that you become the companion when others find themselves in the dark.  I am not going to be leading any revivals, but I am the girl people text when they’ve fled to the church foyer choking back tears or shaking with anger, and I think I’ve learnt that’s important, too.


Now the clowns and clairvoyants are aiming at true
In the babble, the rabble, I’m still headed for you
Those masters of war never did go away
And though the bleak sky is burdened I’ll pray anyway
And though irony’s drained me I’ll now try sincere
Cause whoever it was that brought me here
Will have to take me home…

Martyn Joseph





PS! These are some of my favourite posts from Addie: More Than You Can Handle, God-Shaped Hole, Anywhere, Anything: On Worship and Hyperbole, Making Your Faith Your Own, An Open Letter to the Church: How to Love the Cynics and The Church & The Cynics: Some Final Thoughts.