Pockets Full of Paper

Sunday morning: my husband raises his eyebrow at the scraps of paper on the kitchen worktop. Short sentences scrawled in inky black pen, crumpled into balls, soon to be stuffed into the pockets of my jeans.

My Permission Slips.

My new favourite practice.

‘Permission’ is my word for 2017.

I need to give myself permission, most days, just to be myself, to rest in my God-breathed worth.

I need to give myself permission to have these particular limits and gifts and needs, to have this particular way of being in the world.

I need to give myself permission to have the thoughts and feelings that I do, to let them exist.

This is work for me, it’s kind of a fight.

I don’t want to function from a place of shame, or envy, or pretense.  I know the cost of that.  It’s not worth it.

Yet these are my defaults – to withdraw with embarrassment, to look over my shoulder, to declare it all ‘fine’, everything’s fine.

Brené Brown says we need to reckon with emotion rather than off-load it, and I have learnt (from her) to use permission slips to do this.  She says, “writing down permission becomes a powerful intention to stay aware.”

So I pause now, sometimes, before going out the door, and I scribble these notes.

Permission to be excited!

Permission to be nervous. 

Permission to tell the truth. 

Permission to not know what to say.

It is a simple practice, stuffing my pockets full of paper, but it gives me peace, and it gives me courage.

I use it a lot for the things that make me nervous, and I use it a lot for church, but you could use it for anything.

‘Be Kind to Yourself’ by Andrew Peterson plays every day in our house at the end of our morning playlist.

“How does it end when the war that you’re in is just you against you against you?” 

I uncap my pen, rip a piece of paper.

Maybe that war can end here – with pockets full of paper and permission, black uni-ball scribbles and authenticity, walking out the door with courage and peace.

 


Thanks to Gemma for doing the lovely graphic for this post.

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

The Sisterhood of Crackpot Mothering

6338217467_5843e5a4ef_b

 

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)

Story

‘What if we agreed that there is always more to us than one essay, one conversation, one moment, one admission?  People are nuanced and complex; we are not just the organizations we lead, the coalitions we identify with, the drums we beat, the churches we belong to, the friends we keep, that one thing we said or did.’ 

[Jen Hatmaker]

‘Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.’ 

[Anne of Green Gables]

I love that C.S.Lewis quote ‘We read to know we’re not alone’.  It is a powerful thing to find company in the pages of a book.  It is why I read a novel every single night in bed. It’s why I read memoirs and poetry and blog posts and the psalms.  It’s why, as a special needs English teacher, when people tell me the most important thing is ‘functional literacy’, I say no, the most important thing is story.

We read to know we’re not alone.  We read for the relief and hope of “Me too”.

Anne Lamott says “Me too” is the most  powerful sermon in the world. I know I am always listening for it, looking for it, measuring how worthwhile a book or conversation is, right up against it.

It’s a powerful, beautiful thing.  I thought I was the only one. I’m not. 

And it’s the same when I write.  I discover I’m not as alone as I thought I was.  All the filters I had about who could relate to me were wrong.  When people say “me too” it’s a powerful, beautiful thing.

But there’s another powerful thing: when we can’t say “Me too”, but we pay attention to someone’s story anyway.

Last weekend I wrote about struggling in a big church. Two nights later the minister of that big church sat in my living room and asked questions and listened and made me feel known.  Some of our conversation centred around Rachel Held Evans‘ new book ‘Searching for Sunday’ which he is reading and which he, quite rightly, recommended to me.  And here’s the thing: he is reading it even though her experience is different to his.  He says it’s not his story, but he can understand it.

I love that – honouring someone’s story even when you don’t feel the “Me too” – listening, noticing, realising it is important.  He told me to keep writing, even though I wrote something that disheartened him the first time he read it.

Brené Brown has influenced  me a lot in recent years and I love this quote of hers:

brene brown

Owning our story is hard.  The recovering people-pleaser in me wants a different one, maybe one they could use in a glossy church brochure.  Telling our story is hard.  As I have written before – we don’t want anyone to laugh at us or raise their sceptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.

But Brené Brown is right, it is worth it, and not nearly as hard as running from it.  I have been blessed with the healing “me too”, both in what I read and what I write.  But this week I have been blessed with something else too, and I wonder, do I look for like-mindedness too much?  What do I lose, or miss, in my quest for ultimate compatabilty? 

Sometimes I read something that is beautiful and healing, but then I pick it up like armour, like an argument. I use it as cement to set my part-formed feelings against some other way of thinking. What-she-said-not-what-he-said-kinda-thing.  My story’s more valid than your story.

I remind myself of the recurring rally-cry of the West Wing: “Let Bartlet be Bartlet.” I remind myself  that politicians, leaders, ministers, all of us, lead best and live best as ourselves.  So I believe in owning my own story?  Then,  I believe in others owning theirs, too.

This week Connie Hunter owned her story with courage and made public a blog she began writing 3 weeks after her husband Craig died unexpectedly.  It is worth carving out some time and reading every entry.  Her writing is a gift to anyone who can relate to her pain, they will feel less alone.  But her writing is also a gift to those of us who can only imagine.  You can read it here.

*

I will always read to know I’m not alone (my go-to-writers with their fragile faith, anxious thoughts and unconventional ways). But I also read to be stretched, informed, enriched, changed and provoked. I read to be moulded. I read to add something to my character, and experience. I read to have access to other souls and other minds.  I read to access collected wisdom.  I read to know what it’s like for someone else.

What about you?  What helps you to own your story? Do you default towards stories that comfort or challenge you?  How can we honour each other?

Body: Skinny

Body 365

There are conversations that I have never felt I have a voice in, among women. Conversations about body image and size and weight loss. I don’t feel like I have a voice in the casual conversations among friends and colleagues (and acquaintances even) about points and slimming world and ‘being good’. And I don’t feel like I have a voice in the public ones… in the campaigns and activism and articles and feminism, much of which I love to see.

I was a skinny girl and now I am a skinny  thin slim fineboned petite 30-something woman.

See I picked up a lot of baggage, being a skinny girl, and all these years later there aren’t many words left that don’t sound like criticism in my ears.

***

When you are skinny, in a world where lots of people want to be, people don’t filter what they say to you. People are intrusive in ways they would never ever normally be.

The most harmful things that have been said to me about my body have been said by people who loved me, or at least liked me.

I didn’t pick up my negative body-image from magazines or soaps or pop music or bullies or bitchy girls. I picked it up around dinner tables and  in church, I picked it up wearing uniforms and special outfits. I heard it addressed to me and I heard it addressed above my head, to my mum. I picked it up from people who were kind-enough, aware-enough, pc-enough and sensitive-enough to never dream of commenting on the weight of an overweight child… who would NEVER draw attention to that child or try to openly discuss their body with their mother.

When I was growing up the things I was told about my body  made me feel labelled, criticised, humiliated and patronised. And simultaneously I was told I couldn’t have any issues about my body. I was lucky.

It was confusing as a child and confusing as a teenager to have body issues and then to be pushed out of every conversation about body issues.

***

There is no one comment or one person that damaged me, but the build-up did.  I ‘get it’ now, of course. As an adult I have a different perspective and more resilience. I know that there is much damage in our society from the pursuit of ‘Thin’ and there is a huge balance to redress.

I have been enjoying the Maisie Dobbs books recently and I read with a wry smile as in between solving mysteries she dodges intrusive comments about her eating habits. She can’t visit Lady Rowan or Dame Constance without being told to “put meat on her bones” and she is forever assuring people “I eat plenty”. I have a fondness, now, for those pass-remarkable characters in life… for our Mrs Doyles, our  honorary ‘Aunties’ and matron figures. I don’t want to rid our world or dining rooms of them entirely.   I have learnt to be less sensitive to their analysis and advice, and these days I can brush it off more often than not. But still, I feel for that skinny girl, who couldn’t. I wish she didn’t have to run a gauntlet of comments growing up – comments on her arms and legs, comments about how bony she felt when hugged.  I wish she didn’t have to endure assessments and prodding and eyes on her dinner plate. I wish she hadn’t spent YEARS covering up her limbs, sweaty summers in long-sleeves and jeans, ashamed.

***

The world is divided when it comes to Body Issues, and maybe we will never totally understand each other. We are divided into those who want to be curly and those who want to be straight, those who eat when they’re stressed and those who lose their appetite, those who treat their aesthetics with too much importance, and those who neglect it.  We are even divided into those who feel too fat, and a few of us who feel too thin.

Maybe we will never totally understand each other but I’ve noticed something as I have tried to write this piece, that I suspect many of us have in common. It’s hard to admit that certain things bother us.  It’s hard to say I struggle with this, I’m sensitive about this.  It’s hard because it is not the whole story of who we are. It’s hard because it seems so superficial. It’s hard because shouldn’t we just ‘get over it’? It’s hard, for me, because all my life I have heard “well I’d love to have your problem“.

***

I have 2 daughters now who may have inherited my metabolism. How do I raise them to stand proud and not be diminished? It was an uphill battle for my own mum whose voice was wise, sane, loving…yet other voices got in and damaged me.

My mum has countered those voices in changing rooms across the country with patience and persistence.

I don’t know how to raise my daughters, but I am learning how to stand proud myself and not be diminished by comments on my figure. I listen to my mum and my husband. I listen to who God says I am. I read Anne Lamott and Brené Brown. I treat my body with compassion and fondness and gratitude. I wear clothes I like that are sleeveless and short and I can see this unique and particular body looks good, doing its own thing. Then I am proud of myself for wearing them, and for thinking so.

Brené Brown says: “What we think, hate, loathe and wonder about the acceptability of our bodies reaches much further and impacts far more than our appearance. The long reach of body shame can impact who and how we love, work, parent, communicate and build relationships.”

I’m just not prepared to pay that price. Let the impact of body shame be the thing I’m most afraid of.

Brené says that we must reach out to others and speak our shame: “If we feed shame the secrecy and silence it craves— if we keep the struggles with our bodies buried inside – the shame will fester and grow.” I spent all those years feeling ashamed of being skinny, and because that seemed like such a weird thing, I was doubly ashamed. It never occurred to me not to internalise every comment and feeling.

Let’s stop worrying if our bum is too big or too small and let’s worry more about what we miss, lose, diminish and inhibit in our lives when we let body shame take root in our pysche.

(More guest posts from some important voices coming over the next few weeks! Read the series so far here .)

Gospel Meetings, Casualty & the struggle to Walk Unafraid

“… Walk Unafraid, I’ll be Clumsy instead…”

walk unafraid2

I started a blog once before, maybe 7 years ago. It was called Clumsy Instead, in reference to one of my favourite REM songs (not an original thing to do!). I told 2 and a half people about it, wrote a few posts, over-thought the few posts, died of embarrassment over the few posts, that nobody was reading, and deleted the whole thing. I wanted to be clumsy instead, but blogging felt too clumsy, and I wasn’t there yet.

When I started to think in September that maybe I might maybe write something, I went searching for that old WordPress account.  My name was still there, Clumsy Instead, there were tags to a post about this and a post about that… I WANTED TO READ THEM… but the posts, and the blog name, were irreversibly deleted. I had decided that no-one should read them, ever, and that was that. I had had my chance to be Clumsy and the blog name was gone and could not be resurrected, now that I was ready to try again.

So anyway, I just picked another name.

But fear is a recurring struggle… a spiral staircase…. familiar territory for most of us, in whatever shape or form it effects us, down here. And so we come back to old favourite songs, we re-read books, we re-learn faith and heart lessons, we hear something new and it reminds us of something old and true.

I think these days of Daring Greatly by Brené Brown (‘Vulnerability TED’) as my Walk Unafraid, Be Clumsy Instead book. I realise how the courage to be vulnerable effects everything from awkward blogging to embracing adventure to having children whose health and happiness and next breath is not guaranteed.

One of my friends recently asked me why I am, like her, a mother who fears her sleeping baby must be dead, and imagines her curious toddler falling out the window. She says her mum was always freaking out, so she guesses that’s where she gets it from. But why am I like that, she wants to know? My mum is calm and SANE. Where did I get it from?

Aside from the reason of being human, I think I panic due to a combination of genes, gospel meetings and Casualty. My nana was a major Worrier and my mum is a worrier too, she’s just good at not freaking out. But also, I went to a lot of gospel meetings growing up and they have ingrained in me the possibility of imminent death for any of us. I have shaken the ticket-to-heaven, moment-of-conversion, fear-of-eternal-damnation thing from my own understanding of the Gospel and faith, but I have never been able to shake the conviction that I, or someone I love, could walk out the door and be hit by a bus.

And then too many episodes of Casualty on Saturday nights in the ’90s have given me a store of visuals to go with my fears .You know, the pre-stories to the accident where people are  doing something either really ORDINARY or really HAPPY and then tragedy strikes. I catch myself in life imagining in a certain moment that it’s a pre-story, expecting the worst is about to happen. I can just see us in the park, or driving the coast road, or being tucked in … I can see us ON CASUALTY, or CSI or Criminal Minds. (I have definitely watched too many of these shows to be good for anyone…).

And, as always, the little things effect me even more. The biggest challenges to walking Unafraid come from the every day.

A few years ago I did some Cognitive Behaviour Therapy in the hope that I could be less of an anxious case when driving, and anticipating driving. I remember the therapist’s Eureka moment, when she clearly felt she had unlocked the key, to me. It was when we realised: I’m afraid of crashing, yes of course, but mostly, I’m just afraid of stalling. 

And I think this IS they key to me, in many ways. I’m afraid  in life of stalling, of getting stuck, of not doing it right, of it going wrong, of having to try again.

But all the voices worth listening to say: be clumsy, instead. All the people I most admire are like this.

And so I say yes, then battle the nerves. I start a blog, and delete a blog, and start a blog again. I re-start the engine. I ask for help. I try again.

I switch off Criminal Minds. I read those lines I underlined in that book. I pray. I read a blog that’s good for me.  I listen online to a speaker that feeds my soul. I play that REM CD.

I’ll trip, fall, pick myself up and
Walk unafraid
I’ll be clumsy instead
Hold my love or leave me high.

What do you do?

(some of these thoughts were triggered by recent posts/comments from Espero and Transfarmer)

Fan Mail

Every now and then my brother and I have this conversation.

Me: “Charles, have you written that letter yet to Eugene Peterson?”

JM: “No, Charles. Have you written to Philip Yancey yet?”

Me: “No, I really should.”

JM: “I know, me too.”

I have been declaring my intention to write a letter to Philip Yancey for over a decade now. I ate up his books in the years that church was not feeding me. Soul Survivor – how my faith survived the church is THE book that, along with a handful of people in my life, helped MY faith survive the church.

I remember reading it in the mornings on the patio at home, in the summer of 2001. It was the first book that I read with such relief, and such thanks. In it he writes about 13 unlikely mentors who helped shape his spiritual autobiography, and in doing so he became my first unlikely mentor. This bushy-haired American writer of my parents’ generation was the first person that gave me that sense of “Me too!” and of “Phew”. This was the first book that gave me permission to have the kind of faith that I do – to think my thoughts and engage with my questions and to find inspiration in some unlikely places. Frederick Buechner, one of the 13, refers to himself and the others as an assortment of “odd fish”, and I just loved their stories. And I loved Yancey’s story and I loved that someone had written a book like this.

The words that reached me on the patio were thoughtful and hopeful and honest and interesting. All of the things I wished church was. It kind of was church, sitting outside with my tea and toast, running in every now and then to read this sentence or that sentence to my mum. No clichés, no tidy answers or churchy phrases … none of the quick, easy, surface stuff that was leaving me feeling empty those days. No bullshit.  This book satisfied my mind, as well as my soul, and gave me the one thing I was really craving, spiritual company.

Soul Survivor was full of inspiration, but more than anything what it said to me was Don’t Panic, hold on to your odd little faith. It kept me company, along with a few of my favourite people, when I didn’t feel like I had a lot of company. It was enough.

And slowly, my bookshelves expanded.

fan mail

About 6 years ago I was bought Traveling Mercies. A good book is about the best present you can buy me, but this wasn’t just the gift of a good book, this was the gift of Anne Lamott. As my 3-year-old Charlie & Lola fan would say…  she is my favourite, and my best. I immediately borrowed more of her books, while I filled my Amazon wishlist with her back-catalogue of novels and non-fiction until I had the entire works of Saint Annie. If life, or the people in it, is at all difficult or stressful….  if I am in any way anxious or crazy or wound-up…. if faith is a little murky or beyond all imagination… then there will be one of her books on my bedside table. She keeps me company so much of the time, sometimes I forget I don’t actually know her. You know when people talk about their ideal dinner guests? Well she would be my number 1, if it wasn’t for the fact that that scenario would stress me out and I wouldn’t be able to speak to her, or eat my dinner.

I know Donald Miller wrote a post this year about how his faith has changed since Blue Like Jazz, and I’m sure mine has too, but I have no words for how much I loved this book. I couldn’t believe it. It was such a find.  I bought it for my favourite people. I read entire chapters out loud to Chris. It was so good for me. Donald Miller became the second person I should never be seated beside at a dinner party. When Chris and I started to look for a church to call our own, I started to look for one with people like Anne Lamott and Donald Miller in it. Or, at least, people who read Anne Lamott and Donald Miller. This did not go well. But when I longed for spiritual company, I just read Blue Like Jazz again.

Introverts in the Church (Adam McHugh) was an impulsive buy – in my Amazon basket almost as soon as I had read the title, and I’ve been obsessed with it ever since. I’ve bought it, lent it and yammered on about it to my favourite introverts, and extroverts.  For me, this book gave me a better understanding of myself and a lot of help in how to live, work and practice faith in ways consistent to my personality.  It reminded me of who I am and how important that is. It has taught me to advocate a bit more for myself and people like me, and our way of being.  For me this book also gave a lot of insight into some of my struggles with church, and finding a place there.  Now that I understand why I feel like running for the door so much, I am actually doing it less.  Insightful, thoughtful and healing, I found both peace and a lot of power in the pages of this book. Around the same time I watched and loved the Susan Cain TED Talk and added Quiet. The Power of Introverts in a world that can’t stop talking to my essential Introvert Collection.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead is the book that is changing my life right now. Sometimes my sister-in-law and I just say to each other: “Brené Brown”.  I’m on my second read. I haven’t even begun to process it all yet. This book was written for me.

(As for Peterson, my brother calls him The Godfather. I would say he’s his mentor and spiritual hero. He hasn’t found the words yet to capture his influence, so I certainly won’t try to do it for him.)

I am wondering… who are your spiritual mentors? Who most deserves your letter of thanks? Who are your go-to-people or one-off reads that have saved you a time or two? Who makes you too starry-eyed to ever be sat beside at a dinner party?