2 of my Favourite Things

If you stay over at my mum and dad’s house, like I am doing right now, the chances are my dad will appear in the kitchen at some stage, book in hand. He will read you this thing that he is enjoying and his fist will be raised in the air by the time he has finished. It will be the best thing ever. It will be changing his life.

We are all a bit like this in my family, to be honest. We use up all our superlatives on our current book, or our latest musical find.

Wait till you hear this.

Let me just find the page…

My 4-year-old has this phrase she likes to use for emphasis when she has told us something.  “Isn’t that A-MAZ-ING?”, she will ask, eyes wide, awaiting our affirmative response.

So we sit in each other’s kitchens sometimes, sharing favourite writers, best box sets, a great new place that does Japanese food.  We aren’t as demanding as Imogen in our requests for affirmation, but we are hoping someone in the family will share our new love.  Isn’t that amazing?

The internet is a bit like access to a zillion people’s kitchens.  I have had to learn that I can’t access them all.  So many recommendations and favourite things and other people’s life changing magic.

I have had to make peace with the things I don’t do including knitting, batch cooking and living in a yurt.

This all makes me reluctant to venture out of my real-life kitchen very often and add my recommendations to the mix.  Yet, there are 2 things the internet has introduced me to that are changing my life, worthy of a virtual fist pump.

1. The Enneagram

enneagram

It sounds weird.  It looks occult-y.  It’s a slow burn.  It is A-MAZ-ING.

Simply put, the Enneagram is an ancient personality typing system that helps people understand who they are and why they see and relate to the world the way they do.  It’s a helpful tool for spiritual formation and for developing self knowledge.  Ennea is the Greek word for 9 – the Enneagram teaches that there are nine different personality styles in the world, one of which we gravitate towards and adopt in early childhood.

The Enneagram is not magic, but it is really helpful.  It requires you to do your interior work, but it is totally worth it. Figuring out your type takes time (generally steer clear of online tests that will churn out a number at the end, it’s not that simple).

Here’s what has helped me:

The Road Back to You by Ian Cron and Suzanne Stabile is the perfect place to start.  This book calls itself a primer and it does a wonderful job of introducing something so complex in a clear and easy-to-read way.  It’s wise and funny, too.

Ian and Suzanne also host a podcast which is in its second season.  I have been immersing myself in these episodes since it first aired last summer.  They are a great way to slowly widen and deepen your understanding of the Enneagram as they interview guests across the 9 numbers.  Listening in will make you more compassionate towards just about everyone you know!

The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective by Richard Rohr is a great book if you are already convinced about the merits of the Enneagram and are ready to wrestle with it more deeply.  It’s not an easy read!

The Enneagram Institute gives detailed descriptions of each type here.

As Ian and Suzanne say in their book, “The Enneagram doesn’t put you in a box.  It shows you the box you’re already in and how to get out of it”.  I like it because, unlike other personality typologies, it is concerned not with your behavior (what you do) but with your motivation (why you do it).  This is a really helpful thing to know about yourself.  It is also unique in the way it takes into account the fluid nature of personality and offers great insights into where we move when feeling secure, or under stress.

Perhaps the most unique thing about the Enneagram is that it reveals to us our shadow side, the dark parts of our personality, and then helps us release our grip on our old, self-defeating ways.  That’s not much fun, initially, but as Ian Cron says: “The good news is we have a God who would know our scrawny butt anywhere.  He remembers who we are, the person he knit together in our mother’s womb, and he wants to help restore us to our authentic selves.”

2. Bullet Journaling

bullet journal

My brightly coloured Bullet Journal is never far from my side these days.  Apart from being a wonderful excuse to buy stationary, this craze is the real deal.

You can get an overview of Bullet Journaling from its creator Ryder Carroll here.  It calls itself The Analog System for the Digital Age.  It is basically a practice of using and self-curating a single notebook for all your tracking, organising and planning.

There are many, many YouTube tutorials and Pinterest posts that you can lose your mind over, if you want, but once you get a brief overview it is best just to give it a go and see what works for you.

I like it because it is flexible, handy and personal.

You can start one in any old notebook lying around or you can become a Leuchtturm 1917  junkie, like my sis-in-law and I. (The colours!) (Hers is red, above, mine is yellow, below).

So basically, if you hear Debs and I talking about future logs, signifiers, collections or migration… it’s Bullet Journal talk (BuJo to devotees like us) and if you hear something about my 9ness and her 2ness, how JM is a 5 and Chris…clearly a 1w2 … well, that’s the Enneagram.  I can’t recommend either highly enough!

books

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Even the six-year-olds

Liv clambers into our bed as soon as she wakes, poking us with elbows and knees, wanting to know what they are doing in heaven today, to celebrate Good Friday?

She wants to know every single thing I don’t have an answer to.

It seems, these days, like Liv has taken those verses in Deutoronomy, the ones about teaching our children diligently, and turned them on their head.  My own uncertainty about what to do with God’s words in our home does not stop her.  She talks of them when she sits, when she walks by the way, when she lies down, when she rises.

*

Liv has an unflagging interest this year in Pilate.  (Asking what his name was again, trying to get her tongue around it, giggling a bit, Pontius Pilate).

She sits in her booster seat as we drive to Asda and asks her questions.

She is trying to work out his responsability, what he decided, what he really wanted, if he was good.

“I would have decided that Jesus should die”, she declares, “because it brought so much good, in the end.”

So she clambers into our bed this morning, it’s Friday, and she wants to celebrate, because she is certain this story is Good.

*

“Even the stones would cry out!” she told us, wide-eyed, a few Sundays ago.

Yes, I think, even the stones, and even the six-year-olds.

A handful of quietness

‘Better is a handful of quietness than two hands full of toil and a striving after wind.’

[Ecclesiastes 4:6]

image

I dreamt last night that Richard Rohr was my spiritual director and I was following him through corridors and glass doors and endless staircases to wherever it was we were going to meet together.

The problem was, I clearly didn’t have childcare.  I was following the Franciscan friar while carrying my squirming 4-year-old in my arms, and she was misbehaving. At one point in the dream I was literally trying to peel her off the ceiling whilst trying not to lose sight of the wise man.  I felt flustered and embarrassed and torn in two.

It’s a familiar feeling.

It’s easy to think I could sort it all out if only my children weren’t climbing the walls.

I have my eye on a person I want to talk to, and a book I want to read and some thoughts I want to explore.  And I get to do that.  I get to do all those things.  But it seems so fractured, so fleeting.  It feels like my vision will always be blurred by blonde curly hair.

It’s hard, sometimes, to feel whole.  It’s hard to feel like we are tending to anything well, our souls or our children.  We dream of elusive priests and escaping daughters and it’s no wonder we wake up drenched in sweat.

There was stress in that dream, but the more I think about it, there was humour too. Imogen and Richard Rohr.  It’s an amusing picture.  It’s kind of great.

I’m a mother and a spiritual seeker, why wouldn’t I dream about both?  Why wouldn’t my hands be full? Why can’t I similtaneously chase wisdom?

The more I think about it, the more the dream makes me smile.  I realise it’s not a dream about what I’m missing, it’s a dream about what I have.

Tomorrow I will meet with my real-life spiritual director.  I sought her out.  Every month she makes space for my whole self, for the things I carry.  It’s a handful of quietness for my soul.

Last week I met my minister for coffee, it was a handful of quietness.

A good book, a podcast, an evening with my parents, Sunday mornings in church: handfuls of quietness.

They are framed by blonde curly hair.

They are more than enough.

Ordinary

‘I dream of a quiet man
who explains nothing and defends

nothing, but only knows
where the rarest wildflowers
are blooming, and who goes,
and finds that he is smiling
not by his own will.’

Wendell Berry

We walk around the park, school uniforms and muddy welly boots.  We walk by the river and up and down paths, over leaves and around trees.  The girls have found sticks which they have named Isla and Lauren and Logan.  They walk their ‘pets’, stopping regularly to let them ‘drink’ from puddles and mud.

It’s a great picture, isn’t it?

There’s a kind of family life I want to sign up for – one that involves muddy welly boots and sticks called Logan. Yet, when I am in the middle of it, I can’t see its goodness. 

There’s this feeling inside me about how children should spend their afternoons, and it doesn’t involve homework.  Yet, when we’re off following our gentler rhythms, it doesn’t seem good enough.

I am beginning to notice this subtle but damaging tendency I have to upgrade ordinary life, to polish it or measure it, to justify how we spend our days.

I talk, and write, about ordinary life, about every day, about celebrating small things.  I pay attention, I find beauty in overlooked places, I tell about it.

Yet.

Yet, I am also paying attention to how that ordinary beauty (that twisted, crazy-looking stick-dog called Logan, for example) does not feel so very beautiful at the time.  It’s a great story, later, a great picture of childhood.  But I didn’t feel like celebrating it in the moment – I felt cold, I felt bored.

I tell stories, other people take pictures.  We celebrate the ordinary.  I’m glad about that.  I want to see images of coastlines and back gardens, of cups of tea and blanket forts.  I want to see those things more than I want to see images of some glossy, magazine-style life.

Yet, I am also paying attention to this radar inside me that seems to be constantly scanning for a glossy kind of ordinary.

I think it’s related to this idea that ordinary life is something we sign up for, like we choose this type of life, over this one, and it leads to this outcome.  I choose welly boots and books and hearty meals and early bed times!  So I get the healthy, happy children on the front of the magazine, don’t I?  The ones with rosy cheeks, the little Boden-models.

“They’ll sleep well tonight”, we declare, after a long walk or a day outdoors.  There’s truth in that, but there’s danger too.  They might not.  It’s not an equation.

I make time for the park, largely because I have read articles about how much daily free play and outdoor play young children need, how they need a multitude of whole-body sensory experiences, how they need uneven, unpredictable, ever-changing terrain.  I try to make space for this kind of play even when I’m bored because I am convinced by articles that say it’s good for their motor-skills, for their resilience, for their mental health.

I find justification for my stance on homework from the articles that say there is no evidence that there is any academic benefit from assigning homework before high school.  I read about how the negative effects of homework are well known, and the irony that more is being piled on children despite the absence of its value.  I read about schools who ban homework and the parents who protest.

I can argue the benefits of ordinary activities – academic, physical and emotional benefits.  In those moments that don’t feel beautiful and don’t look idyllic, there is something worth doing.  But what I realised, this week, is that I don’t want all our ordinary days to be an argument for something, to be a ‘position’, to be a life I have signed my family up for.  I don’t want to be measuring our day by how well they sleep that night or by how much I think I have invested in their future intelligence or emotional health.  I don’t like these subtle equations in my head, this idea that our ordinary has to be special, has to lead to success.

A question forms in my mind, in the grey mizzle of a small Ballyclare park: What’s wrong with ordinary life? What’s wrong with providing them with ordinary days?

We walk around the park, school uniforms and muddy welly boots, bickering and snot, cold and bedraggled and ordinary.

 

# One Word 365

It’s odd that we start on 1st January and try to come up with our teachable moments. I can’t predict what life will teach me this year.’

[Erin Loechner]

“I thought your mornings are all nice and gentle?!” my husband texts me at 7.58am, in response to a text from me, declaring my intention to commit murder.

Gentle mornings.

He’s funny.

*

‘Morning’ was my one word for 2016.

I have been choosing a word for the past few years now.  Instead of making a list of resolutions that you forget, or fail at, you choose just one word.  The tagline for #OneWord365 is “Go where it takes you.  Be who it makes you.”

The words I have picked to guide me over the past few years have been Morning, Rhythm, Body and Home.

I have always picked words to help me focus on an area that I’m struggling with a bit, words to help me live more intentionally, words that encourage some improvement in my attitude or my time-keeping, in my habits, in how I spend my days.  Which is good.

I have a page in my bullet journal where I had been doodling contenders for 2017, all of them related, all worthy, none of them quite right.

*

Our mornings are not All Nice And Gentle.  But they are better than they used to be.

Mornings had been defeating me, on several levels, and #OneWord365 helped me invest a bit more in the start of my days.  I get up in time to have an hour to myself, more often than I used to.  A morning playlist has changed the atmosphere of our school mornings, apart form the odd morning, when I want to commit murder.  I also Read Aloud at breakfast.  It’s nerdy, but it works.

The school door has sometimes been a difficult threshold for my eldest daughter (and I) so I have picked up Lisa-Jo Baker’s reminder to part in love, not relief as my school-run mantra.  I needed it this morning.

*

As with previous words for the year, I will probably always pay a little more attention to my mornings now, picking up any tips and wisdom that I come across.  The other day I heard someone say that the problem with the ‘morning voice’ (the one that pipes up at 3am when we get up to pee) is that it gets us when we’re not ready for it.  So true. So helpful, somehow, to have someone draw attention to it.

This year, though, I have been doodling through January, circling around words that weren’t quite right.  Having too many ideas, to be honest.

Then I listened to an episode of the Simple Show about goals and non-goals.  Erin Loechner likes to celebrate, and centre herself, around her non-goals in January.  She describes these as the things she has fought to love and accept about herself (like her introversion).  When other people are setting goals and trying new things, she reminds herself about the things in her life that are now a given.  When she finds herself looking over her shoulder and thinking she needs to try something that worked for someone else – if it doesn’t match the things she has fought hard to keep about herself – then she knows she doesn’t need to.

I said ‘YES’ to all of this in my kitchen and as I listened I found a word emerging for 2017:

Permission.

This word is more of a grounding, than a guide.

It’s about holding on to important things that I am so quick to drop.  It’s about being myself.  (Isn’t it always?).  It’s about listening to the still small voice instead of the fire and the wind.  It’s about non-goals.

I’ll write more about it soon.

 


 

I follow Tsh on Spotify and use her Schoolhouse playlist in the mornings.  She writes about how she uses music in her house here.

 

 

Hungry

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I was hungry.

I was hungry, and I needed a biscuit.

I needed it through the sermon, through the final hymn, through the benediction.

It was a small need, but a fierce one.

I had a plan to make a subtle kind of beeline for the church hall to get my fix, casual but quick.  It was almost Coffee Time.  I would be ok.

*

There is a gap between God and I.  It keeps me from the place where I can feel God, somewhere inside.

There is a bridge between God and I and it is broken.

“How deep are the cracks?” asks my Spiritual Director.

“They are deep” I answer quietly.

She draws it on her whiteboard: the gap, the bridge, the deep, jagged cracks.  She draws me in the middle: earnest, lonely.

*

There was a comedy of errors at Coffee Time.  I was delayed getting through the doors.  My children needed to pee.  My children ran off.  People stopped me to talk.

When I finally reached the biscuit plate it was almost empty.  My girls grabbed KitKats, and I paused, for a fleeting moment, to help them unwrap. A fleeting moment during which someone lifted the plate from beside my fingers and offered it around the room – out of reach.

It was obvious to nobody but me that I was about to eat one of those biscuits.  That I needed to eat one of those biscuits.

I watched them disappear with a literal lump in my throat.

*

There is a gap between God and I.  There is a bridge.  There are cracks.

I have skills at avoiding those cracks, at pretending they’re not there.

I have ideas about filling those cracks!  I have Thoughts!

I am always disappointed.

*

There was a man who had been an invalid for 38 years and he lay by a pool.  He lay with the sick and the blind and the paralysed, hoping for healing when the waters were stirred.

There was a man and he had nobody to help him. By the time he gets to the pool, “somebody else is already in.”

*

No one in the Church Hall would have begrudged me a biscuit, in fact any one of them would have gone to the kitchen to find me one, if they knew how hungry I was. But there was no way I could think of to communicate this need without sounding petty, and selfish, and ridiculous.

I resented my daughters their KitKats.  I felt personally defeated several times when more biscuits appeared across the room, always gone before I could get one.

*

James K.A. Smith says that “discipleship is more a matter of hungering and thirsting than of knowing and believing” and yet we feel so embarrassed about our hunger and our thirst, like we are the only one with longing, like everyone else must already be full.

We see all these cracks in our knowing and our believing.  And we are embarrassed, or panicked, or paralysed.

“Do you want to get well?” Jesus asks, and it seems like such a stupid question.

*

I was still hungry and I still needed a biscuit as I headed to the car and someone called my name.

I was a little angry at the blond girl in my arms, chocolate smudged on her satisfied face, when someone called my name.

I was not in the mood to talk to anyone when my minister called my name.

“Do you want some?” he asked, holding out the Toblerone he had used in the kids’ talk.

Did I WANT some? 

He had no idea.

*

I slid into the car beside my husband, stuffing my face with triangular Swiss chocolate, and mumbling something about Emerson having just saved my life.

I was thinking, then, only of my immediate hunger and the unexpected Toblerone in my hands.

Later, though, as we look at the wonky bridge on her whiteboard, I tell the story to my Spiritual Director and she loves it and she tells me I need to write about it.

*

“He picked up his bedroll and walked off,” John tells us.

The pool wasn’t the source of hope after all.  Jesus was.

The man’s hope must have flagged time after time.  38 years.  Somebody else always getting in first.

The pool wasn’t the source of hope after all, but it was certainly part of the story.

*

“Do you want to get well?” asks Jesus.

“Do you want some?” asks my minister.

And it changes the story – the one where everyone else got a biscuit, the one where somebody else always got in the pool first.

*

There are some cracks in my knowing and my believing that my thinking can’t fix.

But I hunger and I thirst.

And I have this picture, now, of God – calling my name, offering me food.

Calling it Good

‘Some time when the river is ice ask me

mistakes I have made. Ask me whether

what I have done is my life.’

[William Stafford]

downhill

I walk along the beach and what I hear, in my mind, is the phrase: “let this be your good work”.

It is crisp and it is beautiful.  I look at the sea and the coastline, at the dark outline of Mussenden Temple in the last moments of daylight.

Let this be your good work.  This walking.  This breathing deep.

Let this be your good work.  This paying attention.  This finding words to tell about it.

Let this be your good work.  This making space to think and listen, to plan and to write.

Let this be your good work.  This honouring of your nature and your needs and, maybe, even, your gifts.

Let this be your good work.  This consideration of why you write and who you’re writing to.

You are writing, of course, to the ones who think their work isn’t good enough and their contribution doesn’t count.  You are writing to the ones whose homes, and heads, are noisy and demanding, the ones who are longing for a little quiet.  You are writing to the ones who have been suppressing the stirrings in their souls and the phrases in their minds.  You are writing to the ones that isn’t working for.

You are writing because when you listen to your own disquiet it is hard, but when you don’t, it isn’t your life.  You are writing because you want to be one of the people Parker Palmer writes about, the people who “decide no longer to act on the outside in a way that contradicts some truths about themselves that they hold deeply on the inside”.  You write to stop conspiring in your own diminishment, to encourage others to do the same.

Let this be your good work.  This weekend.  This one ordinary thing.  This doing your own life.  This stopping and calling it good.