May Planner

May 2019 Planner CoverI have been lost this week since I didn’t finish and print this month’s planner until today.  I can definitely tell when I’m not reflecting and prioritizing my day’s work; my motivation wanders, and my brain feels scattered.

This month’s cover art is from a series of photos I took of the Vulcan statue in Birmingham, Alabama on a weekend with my sister several years ago.  Vulcan is the Roman god of the forge, and his likeness presides over Birmingham whose primary industry when the Vulcan statue was created was steel.  The back cover is a “cheeky” nod to the fact that everything south of Vulcan is continuously mooned by his apron-less backside (which is where I live).

If you used the April planner, I’d love to hear how it worked for you or if you have any suggestions.  And if you try the planner this month and like it, be encouraged that I prepared June and July and have already scheduled them to post here on the blog before those months begin. 🙂

Here’s the free May planner:

2019-May Planner

To Live Is…

20190429 To Live Is Christ

A cycle I repeat in my life is to be disciplined for a time, to make progress, and then to implode spectacularly and digress.  Self-sabotage isn’t unavoidable, but I sure act like it is when it happens, as though it were an inevitable, long-awaited invader that I am helpless to repel.  I see it now as a cycle of depression and fear, so I’ve been working to uncover the roots of it whenever I see myself running headlong into a tub of ice cream or completely avoiding writing.

I wish it were a simple fix, but I find that my self-sabotage roots are different for each problem.  When I skip writing for long periods of time, it’s generally because I’m afraid to fail.  No one will read what I work on, and that will prove I’m not a good writer, so if I just don’t do it, no one will need to know how bad I am.  (I don’t really believe this to be truth, but it is a very real fear that threatens my focus every day if I let it.)

I’m working on improving my health and losing weight, and that is consistently the worst area of self-sabotage for me in the last ten years.  My tendency is to eat my feelings.  My current weight is proof of that bad mental habit.  I’ve worked really hard to stop the stress eating, and I’ve mostly curbed it with better coping tools.  Once in a while I’ll turn to chocolate for comfort, but it’s a rare thing now.  What’s less rare is just randomly eating a metric ton of crap or eating nothing but sweets for days at a time.  I have no reason or desire to eat the junk, but I struggle to stop it.

The more I dig up the roots of this particular self-sabotage issue, the more I uncover grief pain that still lurks under the surface.

All those years of dealing with miscarriage after miscarriage without the healthiest coping tools led me to put on a lot of extra weight.  That mental weight is very physically visible in my body weight.  Every time I’ve worked to lose weight, I end up putting it right back on, even when I’m mentally healthy.

It finally hit me that I’ve carried the weight like a badge of honor and a memorial of all that loss instead finding a better way to memorialize the pain.  The truth is, it hurts to deal with the enormity of my grief, still, years later and so many miles down the road from the intensity of surviving the immediate experience of it.  Honestly, it hurts even more to admit it here because it’s embarrassing to say out loud.  I haven’t been able to maintain weight loss because I might forget by angel babies.  It sounds a little ridiculous, but it’s the biggest root I keep stumbling over when I look at the problem closely.

I love that the way I hear from God most often is to hear echoes of what I’m hearing in my personal Bible study and prayer everywhere.  It seems like whatever message I’m picking up is suddenly the sermon topic, the theme of every book I read or podcast I listen to, the eventual topic of conversations with family and friends…  I just know now that when I hear the same thought from multiple directions, that’s what God needs me to hear.

As I dug and dug to figure out why I kept eating junk despite my best plans to eat well and exercise, God kept putting Philippians 1:21 in front of me.  When I finally saw what my stumbling block was, I realized that I am completely willing to die for Christ.  No questions, no doubts, only joy at the thought of seeing my angel babies and having all my tears wiped away.  But Philippians 1:21 says, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

If living is Christ, then I can have at least some of my tears wiped away here on earth.  If living is Christ, then I can live in that joy now without waiting for heaven.  If living is Christ, then I must be a better example of the discipline he demands of me to be my best and offer my best to serve him well.

In short, I have to focus on life because death is not my calling.

We are called to abundant life, and I haven’t been living every area of my life as though to live is Christ.  I have to change my thinking every day and fill in the blank, “to live is ___.”  My previous answer obviously hasn’t been Christ when it comes to diet and exercise because I’ve been living in the past instead of in the grace and life of Christ.

It’s not going to be an easy emotional hurdle to clear, but at least now I’m working on the right problem.  I can lose weight and not feel guilt or shame about my pregnancy losses.  I can eat like a regular person rather than hiding the pain with bad food choices.  I can live in Christ in this space, too, and I can continue to heal without fear of forgetting my grief.  I just need to focus on new and healthy ways to acknowledge it.

Morning Pages and Mental Health Routines

I’ve been out of regular therapy sessions for a while, but only because I’ve been maintaining a pretty disciplined practice of mental health exercises.  (Now if I can just get motivated to get back to physical exercise, I’ll be extremely awesome…)  For the last few weeks, I haven’t been doing my morning routine, and I can feel it in my brain the way I feel it in my body that I haven’t been exercising.  When I work out, I feel stronger and healthier, and the same thing applies to my mental wellbeing.  I try to maintain morning, afternoon, and bedtime rituals to keep me on track.  Don’t get hung up by the word “ritual.”  I am not performing animal sacrifices, I am just trying to perform the same behaviors in the same order every day, with enough frequency that they become habit and with enough thoughtfulness that they retain their meaning… like rituals.

My morning routine consists of three key parts – morning pages, prayer, and planning.  While everything else may slide or be shortened, those three need to be done well for me to feel like my head is on straight the rest of the day.  The other things on my morning list are drink water (at least one full glass before coffee), get inspired (some form of positive thinking exercise, whether it’s a guided meditation from the app I use or it’s a positive statement I can repeat all day), deep work (a timed work session I usually use for writing, but it’s a great tool for any type of work – just set a timer and ignore every other distraction for that block of time), and celebrate (it sounds silly, but I do a little happy dance and give myself a mental high-five when I finish my whole routine).

20190424 Photo ballpen-blank-desk-606541
Photo by Jessica Lewis from Pexels

Morning pages is one of the best mental health tools I’ve ever discovered.  The practice comes from Julia Cameron’s book The Artist’s Way.  The only rules are that you should write by hand first thing in the morning for three full pages.  There is no wrong way to write your pages.  You can write about anything that pops in your head.  Cameron’s intent with morning pages is that you clear the junk rambling around in your mind, which frees you to think creatively.  Also, it’s pretty impossible to write three pages of complete mess without hitting on something important or a good idea to run with.  My morning pages are generally a brain dump of all the things on my to-do list followed by some actual reflection on my actions and the emotions running under them.

I always see something more clearly for having examined it longhand in my journal.

I usually see something new or from a different perspective.  I have, on occasion, written the lyrics to the “Spongebob Squarepants” theme song before I could make any coherent words come out of my pen.  I’m not a strict rule adherent in my morning pages journal.  I rarely make it to three pages because I have to get the tiny human to school and myself to work, so I just write for a set amount of time instead.  I can’t always write first thing in the morning, so sometimes I write third or tenth thing; sometimes I write evening pages.  I think for my mental health, the important thing is just for me to write and reflect.

When I examine why I am doing what I am doing, I can see the behavioral patterns I need to work on, whether that’s to keep doing something that works or to quit doing something harmful.

Prayer is the next step in my morning routine.  Maybe it should be first as a symbol of its priority, but I’ve learned I pray with much better focus if I do morning pages first.  Once my head is clear, I process everything better, especially scripture that I pray through before I pray for other people.  It may seem silly since I keep a handwritten journal for morning pages, but I actually use an app on my phone for my daily prayer time.  “Prayer Prompter” is a free app that’s very simple, but extremely helpful.  It has two sections: one is “Meditation and Prayer” that includes Bible verses and writings about spiritual discipline to pray through, and the other is “Petition/Intercession” that has some pre-filled prompts for suggestions.  You can add prayer requests in the “Petition/Intercession” section, so whenever I tell someone, “I’m praying for you,” I’m adding it there.  I really love this app and have used it more consistently than any prayer journal I’ve tried to keep.

I’ve tried doing my prayer routine at different times of the day, but I always come back to morning.  It helps me remember to pray throughout the day, and it helps me feel connected in my relationship to Jesus before I get lost in the day’s business.

Planning is the last thing I do before celebrating and getting on with the day.  I shared my planner a few weeks ago, so you can still see that on the blog home page if you’re curious.  I work through the morning mindset questions and prioritize my tasks for the day, and then I write them on the schedule.

I have never, ever had a day go exactly the way I wrote it on the schedule, but the act of putting tasks in a time space forces me to think through how long the task will take and when I will best be able to accomplish it.

I tend to put too many things on my task list and my schedule, so this helps me be a little more realistic.  I keep seeing articles about scientific studies that people who are always running late are really just optimists who think they can do more in an allotted time than they can; that seems to be accurate in my case.  The planner definitely helps narrow my focus for a given day and time span.

It’s crazy that those three things would make such a difference in my stress level and mental health, but they definitely do.  They’re probably the three most important tools in my coping toolbox.  How about you?  What’s the most important thing you do to keep mentally fit?

April Planner

April PlannerEvery new year, or new school year, I end up on the hunt for the perfect planner.  Much of my search is a misguided attempt to create the perfect schedule that will allow me to complete every task and goal (so long as everything runs perfectly, and I can run on coffee instead of sleep).  While that endeavor is doomed to fail, I have learned a few things over the last few years about what helps me be the most successful and productive in my realistic plans.

I need to be pretty constantly reminded what my biggest goals are so that I can work on them a little bit – even if it’s only five minutes – every day.  I need to encourage myself with positive thinking, and I need to remind myself that every day will present a challenge.  I also need to hold myself accountable for some basic daily ritual tasks, and I need to evaluate how I’m living each day.

I’ve learned that consistent journaling and evaluation helps me spot depression symptoms and potential relapse issues before they get too big to deal with.

So, I spent about a month each in several planners and decided to just make my own that had the things I wanted to track and the questions I needed to journal through each day.  I stripped out my personal details to make a blank I could pass on to my neighbor, so I thought I’d share it here if there are any other writer-artist-depressed-dieting types out there.  It’s a fairly niche market, but you can also take what’s there and change the categories to suit yourself.

The file is a pdf, so you can print it if you want to use it, and it’s here for you to click on and open – no strings attached.  I’m only doing a month at a time, so if you use it and like it or have suggestions, please pass those on.  You can comment here or drop me an e-mail at mabbatblog@gmail.com.  Also, I’m working on setting up a mailing list this weekend, so if you like the free planner and Bible studies, please sign up.  I’ll share more details on that post.

April 2019 Planner – BLANK

April 1 – Baruch

If my first child had been born on his due date, he would be ten years old today.  He would have dark hair and light eyes – blue like Steven’s, or hazel like mine.  He would be ten – full of boyish charm and sweat and dirt and ten – almost a teenager, almost a middle schooler (my favorite awkward age to teach), almost…  What kind of big brother would he have been?  I’m sure he would have been tall like my husband, with the same magical, mischievous twinkle in his eyes.

It seems wrong not to acknowledge his loss today, but I am at a loss to appropriately mark his passing.  There was no body to bury, no headstone to lay flowers on, no record of his life at all except for in my medical history, as the first of many “recurrent spontaneous abortions.”  My body is the only place he lived.  And died.  Am I a walking graveyard?  Somedays it feels that way.

Today, my body is weary of marking the passage of these lost children; my soul dark and void and chaotic in the face of their memory.

I named him Baruch, Hebrew for “blessing,” because I intended to wrestle like Jacob until God blessed me in spite of this horrific loss.  I wrestled through loss after loss after loss, and I have been blessed, though in none of the ways I intended in the early days after Baruch’s death.

I wonder what God’s name for my child is.  I wonder what his name for me is.  Is it a name I’ve grown into, the way a tiny child saddled with an enormous name or a chain of forefathers will?  Is it a name earned by what I’ve endured?  A name reflective of the magnitude of grace and love that allowed me to endure?  Some days I’m ready to trade in my earth-name for my God-given heaven-name.  I long to know as I am known, to see God’s face, to see the faces I’ve lost.

But I still have work to do here – to love as I am loved, to know God and to make him known, to carry the memories of children I never met, to endure and thrive and encourage as many people as I can to run with me across the finish line.  That is how I will mark the passing of my Baruch.  My blessing.

Reframe

“My art is largely made up of my pain; re-framed, redesigned and re-purposed. It’s a mutually beneficial experience for both the creator and the beholder. Transformative healing is a beautiful process.”
Jaeda DeWalt

1-Reframe PhotoOver and over the last few weeks, the tiny human and I have both been dealing with frustrations and quick tempers.  This morning, one of the dogs stole her cookie, and she completely fell apart.  I grabbed the box of cookies and tried to get her to keep moving to the car.  But she couldn’t yet.  She was slumped on the top porch step and bawling.  I couldn’t sit down to hug and cuddle because I was holding all of the things, and we had to get her to school and me to work.

I try to give her space to feel her feelings and then talk about them so she can learn how to accept the emotions but deal with them in truth rather than let them stand as truth.  I also recognize that there is a time and a place for everything, so we both need resiliency to be able to handle some emotional moments quickly in order to deal with the task at hand.  In this morning’s example, I had already provided a replacement cookie. (Breakfast of champions – some days we eat a healthy morning meal, some days we skip it, and some days a cookie is acceptable if it gets us out the door.  You may be a responsible adult with all your crap together, but this is reality in my life: some days you have it together, and some days you can’t find it with GPS and a homing beacon.)  I had already expressed empathy and solidarity that dogs should not steal cookies, but she was still crushed.

I responded as any mature adult would and continued down the stairs to put everything in the car, preparing to forcibly lift the tiny human and put her in the car if it came to that, muttering under my breath the whole way and questioning why God would let this happen on a morning that had otherwise been smooth sailing.  This day had tight parameters on time and things that needed to get accomplished, and I was watching it explode before it even got moving.

My counseling work of late has been about framing problems and things I want to improve in statements that are positive.  “I am stressed about work” becomes “Take a deep breath, focus, and work on the task at hand.”  I am always telling the tiny human when she gets angry and frustrated by failing to do something in her first try to slow down, take a few breaths, and try again; you have to try at least three times before you can quit.

This morning, as I finished loading the car, she stood up and started down the stairs, still crying, but moving.  I told her that it’s fine to be mad at the dog, but she’d miss out on the replacement cookie – worse, she’d choke on it – if she kept up the dramatic crying (it was no longer real despair, and I call her out on fake crying).  I told her we needed to rethink the problem with the dog stealing her food so we could solve the problem, and we could talk about it after school.

“But we can’t solve the problem – she already stole my cookie and ate it!”  The tiny human was still stuck.  How many times have I refused to reevaluate an issue because the situation has already spun out of control or because I don’t want to accept the facts on the ground not matching up with my expectations.

“You’re right.  We can’t fix that, but we can replace the lost cookie and then make a plan to keep the dog from stealing your food again.  We can solve the problem by making sure it doesn’t happen again.”  And then God pointed at that spot in my brain that gets stuck on past failures and said, “You see it, right?”

I’m trying to teach my child resiliency that I don’t always have a grasp on.  I’m doing the work, and I’m getting better at it, too, but I’d be a hypocrite of the worst order to tell you “this is how it’s done” after I stomped and muttered and railed at God over the tiny human’s railing at a lost cookie unless I admit that I am a work in progress.

Some days depression brain wins, some days I’m healthy and firing on all cylinders, and most days I’m somewhere in between, arguing with both truth and depression brain.  I have the most success when I reframe my thoughts.  The brilliant pattern in only using positive statements is they leave no room for the negative thought.

You are actively replacing the potential guilt/shame spiral with an affirmative.  You push out the negative by filling the space in your head with a positive action plan.

This is not the same thing as avoidance; you don’t avoid the emotional response to your circumstances.  You acknowledge the feelings, and then you apply truth and use the emotion as a cue to implement your reframing tool.  It takes repetition and practice (and SOOOOO much prayer) to make this tool a habit.  But it can become a habit and a powerful weapon in our arsenals to defeat depression brain when we keep practicing.

Another beautiful thing about reframing is that it perfectly exemplifies God’s grace.  Of course we have failed (and will continue to fail as long as we are human), but grace is forgiveness and the opportunity to try again.  Grace is room to grow.

Reframe those doubts and the thoughts of despair.  What does God really say to us about them?  Don’t settle for what the serpent would whisper in your ear and find some truth in the Bible.  Reframe the lies with his perfect love.  Reframe the pain into something beautiful.

“This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” 2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT

 

Wheel You Be Mine?

I'm Hooked on You

Maybe you guys are all on top of things, so our classroom Valentine’s Day cards are all ready to go.  If, like me, you barely have your crap together most days, here is my Valentine for you.  Several years ago I doodled around with some truck puns and sketches, but I never did anything with them.  This year is special because I dug them out and got them done thanks to Adobe and an accidental late night work session.

We had purchased gummy bear Valentines for the tiny human’s class, but then I realized that several of our friends keep kosher and can’t have the gelatin.  Enter Plan B.  I printed these off so my tiny human can fill in the names and then color them any way she wants to for her friends.  They’re not fancy drawings, but they are great for coloring with small hands or big crayons.

So, if you need an idea, and you like trucks, have at it.  There’s a pdf file in the hyperlink below that has 14 designs in a single printable file.

ALL Truck Valentine Cards