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.

Exactly Like Him

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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.”

Beautiful.

Incredible.

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.

 

 

Belonging

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

[Lessons in Belonging – Erin S. Lane]

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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

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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)

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]

Night-Driving-Synchroblog

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.

Driving in the Snow


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In recent snowy winters, if I managed to drive my own self into work, I could count on the surprise of my colleagues and the repetition of the words: “I didn’t expect to see YOUR car in the car-park, Sharon.” Everyone knows I am a nervous driver at the best of times. And everyone knows my fondness for a “wee lift”.

Yet, strangely, as long as it’s not too icy, I like driving in the snow.

Driving in the snow feels like the whole entire world has SLOWED DOWN. We make room for each other. Everyone is cautious and deferential, gentle. We get to ease on to the motorway surrounded by space. I love that.

Driving in the snow I might get stuck, or feck things up, but so might everyone else.  And I am confident people would help me, without judgement.

I love January like I love driving in the snow. I love January with the same measure that I hate September.  In January it feels like the whole  entire world has slowed down. January isn’t so shiny, or bustley, or efficient.  I feel like there is space for me.  I feel like I can go at my own pace.

January’s cold and dull and long, which feels right for easing in to a new year.  We don’t have to hit the ground running with certainty and speed.  We get to be pensive in our jammies and hoodies and the new slipper boots we got for Christmas.  We get to be pensive in the half-light, burning down those candles we overstocked on for the festive season.  There’s no parties we should be at, nobody asking “Well, are you READY?”, every minute of the day.

It’s January and I don’t know what you feel, but I feel permission to take my foot off the accelerator.  I sense the truth that I’m not the only person in the world who struggles, who has to concentrate a bit too hard.

It’s January and I will get reflective and I will think about a word for the year, even though I am not known for ANY kind of  measurable success when it comes to my word for the year!  I will do it because here’s what I want as we ease into the new year; here’s what I want for our journeys, for our goals, for the lives we are trying to craft: I want us to know we might get stuck, or  feck things up, but so might everyone else.  And I want us to be confident of help, without judgement.

Who’s with me?

 

The Beach, The Newsagents & The Mountainside

‘I had been so lucky to be raised, to be loved, by a calm, uncomplicated mother.’

[American Wife, Curtis Sittenfeld]

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I dream I am at the beach. Portballintrae, I think. I suddenly realise my girls are napping at home. How long have I been away? 4 hours? 6? Much longer than a nap, certainly, and it will take me over an hour to get home. How did this happen? How are they there, but I’m here? Worst-case scenarios fill my mind but I can’t get home any faster.

I dream I am in a small newsagents. WHSmith, maybe, in a train station. I meet an old work colleague who engages me in conversation but I am trying to keep track of my daughter. I try to listen and follow her at the same time. For some reason I cannot leave the conversation, I am expected to stay, but floors keep opening up below us – one after the other after the other. Imogen disappears down spiral escalators, blonde curls getting further and further out of sight. I can’t keep up.

I dream I am at my friend’s kitchen table in what appears to be a dingy student flat. What has happened to her spacious white house? I ask tentatively if she has left her husband. “No, he’s here,” she says and he appears in a seat. “We thought this would be good for us.” Two more people appear around the table.  Flatmates, I presume. My friend is standing by the wall pointing to a large reward chart she has drawn. She is talking through their targets for self-improvement.

I am lying in a kinesiologist’s office.  This is not a dream, although I’m tempted to say that it is.  She is talking about my small intestine and asks if I ever get a pain where she touches, on the right.  I do, it’s one of the reasons I am there.  She tells me the small intestine is connected to the part of the brain that analyses things, tries to get organised, tries to figure things out.  “Maybe that’s your personality?” she asks.  Yes, that’s my personality.  And also, it’s my season of life.

My writer friend, Tory, organises a writers’ morning in a prayer house.  I go eager to spend time with some creative chums, eager to snatch some time with my coloured pens and my yellow paper.  I don’t expect anything more than that.  But the house operates as a ‘retreat’.  We are looked after with tea and pastries, with thoughtful cards written to each of us.  There are beautiful, quiet rooms for us to work in, and women who pray for us downstairs.  They tell us that the vision for this house is for it to be a mountainside – like where Jesus went to pray, where he went to get away.  I realise I don’t expect mountainsides in my life right now.  I expect frantic dreams and busy days and stress that shows up in my body.

When I was pregnant with my first child several friends asked me what kind of mum I thought I would be.  I didn’t know.  You’ll be laid-back, they said.  You’ll be cool, you’ll be calm.

My girls are 5 and almost 3 now and although most people still believe I am calm, my mind chases them down escalators in my sleep.  I haven’t been able to find the “off” button for the high-alert switch that got triggered when they were born.  Stress shows up in my body.  Stress shows up in my dreams.

It is ridiculous how much I want to be that laid-back mum my friends envisaged.   How different I sometimes want to be for my kids, for my husband.  Then again, I also believe what Glennon Doyle Melton says that: “They don’t need you bigger, smaller, smarter, richer, calmer, feistier, craftier, anything-er at all. They just need YOU.”

They just need me me, I’m committed to that.  But I’m also committed to being the healthiest me possible, one whose mind hasn’t been over-taken with rewards charts and responsibility.

‘The mountainside’ keeps me healthy. ‘The mountainside’ for me is the same old things – time to read and solitude.  I honour the first, but feel guilty about the second.  Once a month I take a full day, and night, away from my house and my family.  I want to keep it a secret.  I want to be so laid-back I don’t need it.  I want to be the kind of woman that does an activity instead, because that sounds more acceptable somehow.  Sharon’s running, she’s shopping, she’s out drinking cocktails.

In the first of her podcasts Elizabeth Gilbert says that if we model martyrdom to our children they will grow up to be martyrs, but if we model creativity, they will grow up to be creators.  She also says: “Mothers are the members of society who need to be given the most permission to be able to do the things that ignite their own souls.”  I remind myself of that when my sub-conscious translates being alone on a beach into neglecting my children.

Like Alice Blackwell, in American Wife, I am lucky to have been raised and loved by a calm, uncomplicated mother.  I want to be that for my girls, but I can’t fake it, so I find my little patches of mountainside where I can and give myself permission to be there.

What about you?  Anyone else more highly-strung than they like to admit?  What practices are ‘mountainsides’ for you?