What Helps You Stay Sane? {Book Club}

I return again and again in my mind to Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis by Kimberlee Conway Ireton because Kimberlee lives with paradox. She lives with tension in her life story. She not only lives with it, she leans into it.

If you’ve started Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisisyou know Kimberlee is a writer and a mom. Her husband wants another baby. She wants another book.

“And that’s when I realized I couldn’t possible have another baby. Not if I was going to be a writer. Not if I was going to press on through all this rejection and come out on the other side with a second book to my name. Not if I was going to be able to parent the two kids I already had, write, and stay any sort of sane — because writing was what kept me sane. Words are how I see the world, how I make sense of it. Without words, there is no meaning, there is no me. At least, no me that I can make sense of or understand. Forming words into sentences and paragraphs and stories — this is the only way I know to truly live. Having another baby would just be one more giant responsibility sucking my time and energy away from my writing, away from the words that give me life.”

We all have them. Things that help keep us sane. Maybe writing isn’t yours. That’s cool.

Maybe yours is cooking or home schooling or photography or reading or running or painting or any number of things. I’ve written about it, I bet you can guess one parts of life that helps me stay sane: Zumba.

“A week later, I found out I was pregnant.”


Later her children’s minister corner Kimberlee and says, “I read something this week that made me think of you. The author was talking about how sometimes people have two vocations that seem to conflict with each other, like they’re working at cross-purposes. And I thought of you, because I know it’s hard that you’re not writing much right now. This author said that eventually those two conflicting vocations would flow together, and both vocations would be stronger because of each other. I just knew — I know — that your mothering will make you a better writer, and your writing will make you a better mom.”

Kimberlee writes, “If God can teach me patience through this, or teach me to wait on divine timing, or teach me to trust … well, as much as I hate being a blob, at least I’ll be a growing blob– and not just physically.”


Now the word “vocation” might be stumbling block. Is Zumba a vocation? Or reading? Or running? I really don’t want the focus to be on a definition but the spirit of the meaning. Is it life giving? Does it help you return to you? Process life? Help you be the true version of yourself when you will be unencumbered by sin and the junk of life?

How do you handle seasons like the one Kimberlee describes when you aren’t able to stay sane because of outside restraints? You love cooking but live with only a small market to shop from? Or running is life giving and either women aren’t to run in public where you live OR you live somewhere that is not conducive to safe running in the winter due to ice? Or painting is life giving but your schedule is too full with other obligations this semester?

What helps you stay sane? And how easy or difficult is it for you to do that “sane” activity where you are? I love our chats!


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Photo Credit: jenny downing via Compfight cc


  1. Annalisa September 8, 2014

    Baking.  And while I’ve had to adjust the times to the altitude, it has otherwise been pretty easy (as long as I have people bring/send me down baking soda every once in a while; they only sell baking powder here).  Any maybe I’m really lucky because baking (food) helps break through barriers.  Sometimes people have no clue what I’ve made (chicken pot pie, for example) because it doesn’t fit with the culture here, but they sure love trying “American food.”

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Annalisa, love this! And it reminds me of how things that keep us sane can ebb and flow. Baking used to be one of mine too. But when things were in a super busy phase for me, cooking was no longer relaxing but a chore. When that season ended, I never quite had the same relationship with cooking I did before 🙂

      1. Elizabeth September 10, 2014

        I used to love baking too! Then I had 2 more kids (making a total of 4), and the kitchen no longer seemed friendly to me, especially in the 3rd world. So I grieve that loss a bit, and know what you’re saying.

  2. Elizabeth September 8, 2014

    That first quote you shared — about writing keeping you sane — I actually underlined it when I read it in the book!

    There are so many things that keep me sane — and it takes planning to ensure they all get in my life. Exercise, worship music and singing, reading, writing, time with my husband, time in nature, time with friends, time by myself. It means I have to be so disciplined in eliminating time wasters! Definitely a journey, but this week’s theme is timely as these things have been on my mind for awhile. And I have more motivation now to eliminate unhelpful things, in order to squeeze in the truly helpful, ever since realizing what was really going on in my seemingly tight schedule.

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Yay to mind reading/underlining! I have a feeling it stood out to several of us, because there might be seasons when we are asked to lay down that which keeps us sane. BUT, as you said, often we can find ways to stay sane with some intentionality :). Love how things are flowing together for you this week Elizabeth!

  3. karen September 9, 2014

    Water. Growing up in landlocked Kansas, I never realised how life-giving large bodies of water were… Living near the sea now, I know when I’m getting antsy, jittery, cranky, that I just need to see water, to sit by it and pray and listen and watch my kids play. Writing and reading, too. And a cup of coffee (or bottle of wine) shared with friends… I’m always in need of that!

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Oh yes! There IS something life giving about water, isn’t there? Just something about the sound of a river or creek …

      Thanks for calming my soul for a moment :). Now if only we could enjoy it with a cup of something!

    2. Shelly September 10, 2014

      I agree that water, especially a large body of water, has a way of calming and putting things into perspective. Fortunately, in all of my nearly 12 years in China I have lived within reach of a body of water. What a blessing to me! But I realize that I didn’t choose that means of sanity as often when the water was a bit further out than in my first years. Other means are journaling – LOTS – and reading and drinking hot tea and talking with trusted others about what is going on with me.

  4. Sharee September 9, 2014

    Running has been good for me. I used to hate it but then stumbled upon a run/walk ratio method that I’ve used. I’ve got a great playlist for running, and when I hear those songs, they just remind me of the feeling of running through the park where I used to live. I don’t get to run much these days, but when I do, it definitely helps.

    Another thing is knitting. I’ve joined a knitting group and have made some wonderful new friends through it. I love seeing how projects come together, and it’s so relaxing for me to just sit and work with the yarn in repeating patterns.

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Sharee, I love this 🙂 … in part because my mind thought I knew where you were going and started to fill in before I actually READ what you wrote. I thought you were going to say you liked running but stumbled too much on poor sidewalks. Goodness, can we say, projection? Or the reason I’d give for not running! Hahahaha 🙂

  5. Brittany September 9, 2014

    There is a variety of things that keep me sane (much like Elizabeth’s list^^).  And variety is what helps keep me sane.  Sometimes, I just need to go get out by myself with headphones playing worship music.  Other times, I desperately need a night out with girl friends.  Still others, SLEEP is all I need to keep me sane.   Probably the number one thing that keeps me sane is talking with other women about how God is working (in my life and theirs).

    I do like cooking/baking, but my oven is HORRIBLE here and I’m struggling to find the ingredients I need.  I’m starting to get into some painting/letter art, but have little access to any kind of craft type supplies.  But we just went to a town 4 hours away with a decent supply of “needed” things and I was able to get some art stuff that I’m hoping to use on my Sabbath days.

    Sabbath is another practice that keeps me sane.  During the VA week about Sabbath, someone mentioned an idea that has helped revolutionize Sabbath for my family!  My husband and I split up our day so we each get our time alone to do what refreshes us.  I take the first half of the day (my hubby lets me sleep in EVERY Sabbath) and I can read, go for a walk, paint, soak in the tub with some music…) and then he takes the second half while I watch the kids.  And then we have pizza and movie night with the boys.

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Brittany, I just FELT saner reading this :)! And I felt the life these activities might breathe into you. No pressure, but if you get some art done, it would be fun to have you show us. Here’s to all of the different pathways God brings us back to ourselves!

      1. Brittany September 10, 2014

        Haha, Amy, one of these days if I ever finish anything, I’ll find a time to share it.  😉

    2. Shelly September 10, 2014

      Oh Brittany, I agree that Sabbath keeping has helped me tremendously in the last year or so. Now that I am in the US I am figuring out what Sabbath looks like – again.  I live with my parents for the time being and they have their own routines that I need to work around or try to incorporate.

      1. Amy Young September 11, 2014

        I think many of us can relate to this Shelly :). So grateful for places to stay on HA, but they still come with some juggling 🙂

  6. Stacey September 9, 2014

    Honestly, I am searching for what the things are that keep me sane in this season. Long, long ago – before marriage, support-raising, blessings in children, a bajillion moves, cross cultural living, homeschooling, and living in a crowded city – I used to rejuvenate in nature. Sometimes quietly and alone with God, sometimes in the company of goofy friends, sometimes in the company of reflective friends who needed the same. Sometimes I needed to walk, sometimes I needed to just lay on a blanket and have a sleepy think/snooze while watching the clouds float by until my eyelids got too heavy. Going outside to beautiful, calm, relatively safe places – that kept me sane. I’m in my eighth year of that being a very rare thing (not sure if I can even say yearly? Although when we’ve had visits to the U.S., I do squeeze in more than one outing into a year… if only those extra few outings would cover the years without!) I’ve tried to instill other habits, make the most of the “nature” and free time available to me, find creative new ways to refresh. It’s been a struggle. So much so that the anxiety the author writes about is like reading my own. Only the fleeting details are different. In fact, on a recent visa run to a bigger city, I went to see a counselor about anxiety after having a panic attack on the plane and disturbed sleep for months. One of the things she said was that it was important to find some of those life-giving things to help me decompress, and to make time to do them. I have really had a hard time figuring out what those things are here! There are pockets of nature, but when you add in the much more difficult transportation and scheduling issues we find here while juggling everything else, it is not nearly as easy, or even relaxing, as it used to be.

    Writing also used to be an outlet for me. But as my life has grown more complex and anxiety a deeper struggle, there are times when the idea of writing mocks me. The keyboard or the pen promises to provide release, but the thoughts swirl and I don’t have the energy to try to confine them to just one measly word at a time. So what used to be life-giving actually feels intimidating and demanding. I might squeak out a list of thanksgiving or a few sentences to remember a Bible passage by, but the deep turmoil sits unwritten because it is too fast and chaotic to write. Actually writing why writing has become difficult – that was hard, but a little life-giving! It’s also a sign that I’m having a “better” night than some others, which I’ll take. But when the dark is darker, the life-giving things are even stripped of their life-giving natures; and they sometimes seem to be  – just one more thing to face.

    Having said all that, obviously God is still giving me some things to keep me alive, and even still enjoying many parts of life. Authentic conversations with friends who love even if they don’t completely understand… I think that is what has kept me sane even without my normal lifeline. Books and online communities like these also help me know I am not alone in my crazy thought life, which adds a little sanity to the insane. The grace of God’s whisper to think on heavenly, good, pure, wonderful things, to meekly search and find many things to say “thanks” for even when I am filled with terror – that keeps me afloat. Not always sailing, but at least back to the surface long enough for a deep breath and an assurance that really, everything is going to be beyond-good-ok.

    Thanks for the opportunity to share!

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Stacey, what a gift you’ve given us! Nature doesn’t speak to me in quite the same way it sounds like it breathes life into you, but I had a teammate for years who found living in our large city — I want to say draining and life sucking … it was slowly sucking the life out of her to not be in nature. But, as you said, it could be just as draining to expend the time and energy to get out to nature.

      You might already have this, but are you able to have house plants or fresh cut flowers? I know some places have really great local flower markets and sometimes having fresh flowers in my home was a bit of nature in doors (I know it’s not the same :)!!!). I am terrible at keeping plants alive but found a few varieties I couldn’t kill 🙂 and people often commented on how much having plants in every window made my home feel alive.  I will say it took until about year 6 or 7 I even thought about making some of these investments … and sometimes I wondered what took me so long :)! But better late than never, eh? And part of it was experimenting as to what DID help me stay sane.

      Thanks again for offering us a slice of you! Amy

      1. Brittany September 10, 2014

        I definitely agree with trying to find some houseplants or fresh cut flowers if you are able!  I’ve never been one to keep flowers (I can kill every plant possible…even cactus) but in a city with lots of grey and filth I’ve loved getting fresh flowers regularly.  They are SO much cheaper here and more beautiful than in the States.  They can really help to brighten a day.

    2. Karin September 10, 2014


      Thanks for sharing.  It sounds like God’s grace is still holding you in the midst of confusion and anxiety.  I pray that as you journey you will find new things that are life giving.  While it might not be the same as it used to be, may you find something that is like a breath of fresh air for this time…this place. Keep pressing on!

    3. Martha Lester September 19, 2014

      Wow Stacy. Thank you for sharing your words and thoughts. Somehow as you shared I was reminded of my one year of living in a HUGE polluted Asian city with little nature and an unusual season of life and not many “on-the-ground, in-the-flesh” friends until almost the end of the year when we were about to move AGAIN almost all the way across the country. You touched on so many things and I’ll be praying for you in those – for you to have life-giving moments everyday and to be able to find more of those things that keep you sane. One place we lived, a way that helped me stay sane was to intentionally set aside money in the budget to allow for buying fresh flowers once a week. It seemed like such a luxury at the time, but was worth it in the end. Cheers and prayers.


  7. Laura September 9, 2014

    I highlighted the first quote about writing as well while I was reading the book this past week. Writing definitely helps keep me sane, as well as sitting at the beach for a while or reading a good book.

    1. Amy Young September 9, 2014

      Laura, I know I’m not alone in being grateful for your writing and the ways it has touched me and been a gift to VA!

  8. Karin September 10, 2014

    It seems my life giving activities have been forced to change with the seasons of life.  Moving overseas, moving from water and nature to urban pollution was difficult.  I never found a good substitute for a long walk in the woods, but here I could get a long foot massage.  When I first moved here I didn’t even realize I was missing the library until someone pointed it out to me.  Once I realized how much I missed easy access to reading materials I was able to fix that by prioritizing and buying books.  Now technology has changed that one so I don’t feel that anymore.  (I love my kindle!)  Having a day to get away with the Lord once a month was a discipline that changed when I had kids.  I had to learn how to ask for help.  My husband is happy to give me the time and take the kids so that I can spend extended time with Jesus.  I just have to work on asking.  Podcasts are another life giving thing for me.  I can listen while on the bus, or cooking, or cleaning.  I need to find new ways with new environment or circumstances.  So I appreciate reading everyone’s posts!  Gives me some new ideas to try.

    1. Amy Young September 11, 2014

      Karin, I agree! It’s been fun to see what others have shared :). And to see that what might speak to one soul, might not another. Love our variety! I think moving to grey urban areas is one of the biggest transitions for folks — especially since so many of us came from places that had easier access to nature or the luxury of being able to build it into city planning.

      Thank you for reminding about foot massages! That’s been a path way to sanity for me too 🙂

  9. Brittany September 10, 2014

    Oh, Karin, I think a nice long foot massage would do wonders for me!  Lol.  It seems that when I find out what is life-giving to me during a particular life season and really get into a groove, life changes and I’ve got to start over with finding something again.  And I can so understand the difficulty in asking for help.  My husband is so gracious and willing, but I struggle to take him up on it often times.  I just have to remember that my family NEEDS me to have time to refresh my soul and keep me sane!  Accept the help, ask for the help, it’s a gift to your family when you do.

  10. Kelly September 11, 2014

    Playing the piano. I used to be a worship leader back in the States, and when that season was over, I was still able to go into my piano room, close the door and play and sing to the Lord. It always filled me up. Here in mexico, we weren’t able to bring the piano …and space is a premium. I miss it and it definitely let me get out anything I needed to say to the Lord. Now, playing worship music on my ipod and long walks has been my subsitute.

  11. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 13, 2014

    Reading the comments here has been such a blessing–and also convicting. This year I have slowly realized how I fail to take care of my soul–often because it feels like one more Thing To Do on a list that’s already too long–and I am taking slow steps to incorporate life-giving, soul-caring practices into  my life.

    Thank you to everyone who took the time to write a comment here. Please know I have lifted each of you up in prayer as I’ve read your words, that God would meet you in the difficulties you face, shore up your souls with beauty, and breathe hope into your hearts that all shall be well. I pray Ephesians 3:16-20 over us all.

  12. Martha Lester September 15, 2014

    Cooking and baking help keep me sane. (Baking especially) However, we are living in a high altitude location now AND my little toaster-like oven finally bit the dust – arcing and sparking with no hope of repair…so I am using an even smaller toaster-like oven that is not grounded and has the propensity for shocking me, if I even have the tiniest bit of moisture on my presence. Still all these things aside, somehow the kneading, the punching down, the gather of ingredients and random substitutions is akin to some kind of creation and art that does not only keep me sane but is pure life-giving. Bonus – so many others enjoy the end product or helping me to actually bake. My husbands college students (particularly the girls) really seem to like to get together and learn to bake western-style bread and other treats. And baking together almost always involves sharing about the Bread of Life. Double Blessing!

    1. Annalisa September 19, 2014

      I hear you.  I baked with a donated toaster oven for quite a while.  (Fun Fact: a toaster oven is a large electronic device and needs to be removed from your carry-on bag while going through security at the airport, just like a laptop!)  Then I was blessed with the opportunity to buy a stove-oven at a low price from someone headed back stateside; such a blessing!

      I’m glad you’re able to share with the girls.  I have some girls who sometimes come to bake with me, but not as regularly as I would hope.  Please be praying for them and the things they are going through in their lives!

  13. Kris TAT September 16, 2014

    Music, reading, sometimes cooking but another one for me is organizing and giving some things away. When I’m feeling overwhelmed with life one of the best things for me before reading a good book is to put on my praise music and clean/organize/straighten bringing clutter and chaos under control. Even if an area of the house is not cluttered, a good cleaning and searching for items no longer being used or needed helps me stay sane. Depending on the day or week this may be a small project like one drawer or storage area or may turn into a week long-room by room project. Sharing a box of ‘stuff’ at the end is a blessing to me as well as those who receive it!

  14. M'Lynn September 27, 2014

    What helps me stay sane? Well, it’s not what I’m doing…it’s more about what I’m NOT doing. Having a house helper/babysitter five mornings a week helps me stay sane. Mostly because having her help allows me to do the things that bring sanity…like alone time with coffee and a journal, taking a morning stroll in the park, planning meals, calendaring and buying good food to cook good meals for my family. Sometimes I feel guilty about having so much help, but then I remember I’m more sane than I’ve been in a long time because of it, so I stop feeling guilty and feel thankful instead!

    1. Kimberlee Conway Ireton September 27, 2014

      M’Lynn, you are an inspiration! Of course you feel more sane for having time alone. I am a strong introvert, and I homeschool our four children, which most days leaves me exhausted and haggard by dinner time. I applaud your hiring someone to come help you, so you can have that time alone. I have long needed to do the same, but like you, have felt guilty about it. I would never begrudge you or anyone else help of this sort, so why do I thrash about in guilt and self-reproach when I think of hiring help for myself? I think it is part and parcel of my perfectionism: I do not deserve such a rich gift, and I so desperately want to earn everything I have.

      God is pursuing me about this, trying hard to get my attention and tell me I don’t have to earn anything, let alone everything, that I can’t earn it no matter how hard I try because love is always a gift, life is always a gift. Grace, I am realizing as I reach midlife, is all gift, and that chafes me. But God is gentle and kind and knows this about me and is working through others–people like you–to show me a better way, the way of rejoicing and gladness and gratitude. I can sulk along the edges of my days in bitter rage because I never deserved this grace (to paraphrase Annie Dillard, who put it much more eloquently), or like you I can turn grace to gratitude and thanksgiving.

      I know which I want to choose. Thank you for reminding me. And God bless you for choosing sanity and silence and solitude in your mornings. You inspire me.

      1. M'Lynn September 27, 2014

        Oh my goodness! How cool is this! I just bought your book (eeek…confession number next…I’m not keeping up with this book club, but glad to have it for great recommendations and no pressure to keep up with the schedule!) So I just got to the part where you just found out you are having twins. Can’t wait to read more. I’m loving your honesty on every page.

        Thank you for the encouragement. I was already second guessing myself for telling all that I have so much help. Then, after reading the first few chapters of your book, I had a conversation with myself that went like this:

        “So, you told everyone you need lots of help to stay sane. That’s kind of lame.”

        “Well, I’m pretty sure God knew that I couldn’t possibly handle being a mom of three kids by myself, so He made sure to put me in a country where we can afford the extra help!”

        Then, I read your reply to my comment here. Too cool. 🙂

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