Use Your Hands – Three Things Thursday

Use Your Hands – Three Things Thursday

If you have children or work with them, you’ve probably said, “Use your words, not your hands.”  But today, we are throwing caution to the wind and assuming you’re mature enough to use your hands AND your words.

Today, my home state decided the wisest course of action to slow the pandemic spread is to cancel in-person classes at school for the rest of the semester.  My tiny human was a little nuts the first week that school was paused for three weeks.  Now that we know we’ll continue the semester with assignments from home, she was a lot nuts trying to go to bed tonight.

To be honest, so was I.  Everything in our schedule is upside down.  I’m a naturally empathetic person, and I can’t even peek at social media right now where everyone’s dogs and cats and family updates usually perk me up – right now it’s full of people experiencing the same loss I’m experiencing, and I can feel too deeply the lost senior year antics, the teachers missing their students and working like crazy to figure out how to make the next two months happen virtually, the students who miss their teachers and classrooms and friends and routines, all the people out of work, and all the people working through incredibly stressful conditions at essential jobs.  It’s a lot, and it’s hard for everyone right now, no matter what your situation.

If you have been feeling a little too much of the worry of the moment (or had a mild panic attack like I did tonight), here are three things you need to know right now:

  1. It’s okay to feel the feelings.  It’s okay to mourn for the loss of your daily routine and to freak out a little bit at all the things that are different right now, including the inexplicable hoarding of toilet paper and ground beef.
  2. Once you feel the feelings, tell them the truth.  Let the crazy thoughts and emotions and anxiety parade by, but don’t get out there and march with them.  Wave as they pass by.  And as they march down the parade route, imagine yourself as the cheesy news anchor announcing the float, telling you bizarre facts like how many coffee beans were used in the construction of the float, and then sending it off with a great one-liner like, “But I know no matter how many coffee beans they used to make that float, it’s still not running the show.”  That’s a silly example, but a real thought exercise might sound like this in your head: “Here comes stress.  Stress likes to show off with flashy things like anger and overstimulation, but stress is going to keep walking right on by.  I’m going to wave goodbye to stress because it needs to finish the parade route, and I can control my actions.”  You aren’t your feelings.  You aren’t your thoughts, though that’s a tempting line of thought, given Descartes’s catchy, “I think, therefore I am,” philosophy.  You are a created child of God, which leads to…
  3. Philippians 4:6-7: “Don’t worry about anything; instead, pray about everything. Tell God what you need, and thank him for all he has done. Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.”
Slow down, breathe for a moment, and get some perspective. I don’t care what this pandemic or anything else going on in your life holds for you, God will hold you together through it. These verses are a blueprint for how to survive.

So I just listed three things that obviously had nothing to do with the introduction.  That was a bonus list.  The three things I started out to write for today is a set of mental health exercises to use if you’re feeling the stress a little too much right now, and they all use your hand as a cue.

First, trace your hand on a piece of paper.  I’ll wait.  No, I’m not kidding.  Any paper will do.  I only had fluorescent green handy (see what I did there…), so that’s what I’m using (as well as subpar phone photography).

When’s the last time you traced your hand?

Our first exercise is just breathing.  Breathe in through your nose while you count to five, hold it for a count of five, and breathe out through your mouth while you count to five.  Use the hand print as a visual to focus your thoughts onto just your breathing.  If you want more meditative visualization, remember that we are God-breathed creations, the Bible is described as God-breathed, and every breath is life.  We are breathing in God’s provision, savoring it for a moment, and then letting go of everything that’s past.  Try this for a few breaths, or a few minutes, until you feel your heart rate settle and the stray thoughts that run in like saboteurs slow down their attacks.

Now, using your hand as a counting reference, list five things that you’re thankful for right now. If you like the physicality of ticking them off with your fingers, go for it. Whenever you feel like anxiety is trying to take over, list five things you’re grateful for or five things that bring you joy. It’s not going to change the circumstances, but it’s going to change your perspective of the circumstances by reminding you of good things in your life.

And the third exercise is one of my favorites (and the reason you need an actual tracing of your hand on paper).  In the space outside your hand, write down all the things you can’t control that are taking up space in your thoughts.  In the space inside your hand, write down things you can control.  What’s the difference in the things in your grasp and the things you can’t hold on to?  If you can’t control the things outside your hand, how much mental energy should you devote to them?

We tend to think of worry as something that just happens to us because our circumstances are big and scary.  But… Worry is a choice.  While we can’t control every thought that pops into our heads, we can control how much we let them run around unchecked.  The second we let all the things we can’t control run the narrative in our thought patterns, worry is running the show.  We used the parade imagery in the first list, and even though it was a parade of negative thinking, there was order and we were telling the floats what to do, right?  Now imagine for a second what that parade would look like without a chaos coordinator.  Think Barney ’97.  Total disaster.

Let’s use Philippians 4:6-7 as our thought process model.  Don’t worry; let the thoughts pass by without letting them run the show.  Pray about everything; that’s certainly something you can control, so if it’s not already in your handprint, maybe you should add it.  Tell God what you need; he already knows, but you still need to express it as a need for him.  Thank God for what you have.  Feel that anxiety turn towards peace.  That’s what putting your life in God’s hands will do.

Alright, I now have two lists of three things, and since I have moderate perfectionist tendencies, I feel the need to end on another list of three so we have three three things because two three things will not do.  So… here are three things that bring me extra stress relief:

  1. Bee Badminton. Tis the season for carpenter bees. I hate them making swiss cheese out of my porch, so I whack them with badminton rackets. Bonus fun – now the dogs like to help by catching the ones I hit and eating them. It’s now a team sport.
  2. Potato Pelting. One of my dogs has a barking problem. At night I can stop her by shining a flashlight on her, but, alas, my superpower beam is useless in the day. I usually stash some tennis balls in the kitchen that I can chunk at her to redirect her attention, but, alas, all the balls are in the yard. Today I discovered some tiny potatoes that hid in a dark corner of the kitchen until I forgot about them. They’ve all sprouted and are useless for eating, but they’re the perfect size to chunk at the loudmouth dog – heavy enough to be able to throw accurately for decent distance but light enough not to injure the dog. And I’m composting (badly, I admit, but it’s composting nonetheless, and you won’t convince me otherwise).
  3. Writing. I was tempted to chuck it all, even the potatoes, tonight and distract myself with television and solitaire until I got sleepy. I feel much better now for having done some mental work to settle down and praying for a while. Now that I’ve dumped my brain out on a page, I feel like I’m me again.
I’m extremely talented. You should see me work with knives.

One final hand photo to prove I may write like I have my crap together, but I can’t even trace my hand without getting Sharpie ink all over myself. This is one of at least five similar ink spots. I can barely be trusted with scissors, so I promise if I can make it through life, you can, too.

When the Hits Keep Coming – Mindset Monday

Sometimes the hits keep coming.  You’ve bobbed and weaved, tucked and rolled, maybe even landed a few punches of your own…  But the body blows keep coming.  What then?  How do you stay on your feet?  Live to fight another day, as it were.

Photo from Pexels.com

There’s good news and bad news, and that is: there is no magic formula.  There is no mystic ritual or self-help mumbo jumbo.  There’s just this: do the next thing; pray; breathe; rest where you can; work through what’s in front of you.  It feels like great problems or great stressors should have fancier solutions than that, but I promise you there’s no elaborate plan you’re missing that will fix your issues.

The great news about there being no magic formula is that working through hard things is within your reach.  You can do this.  It’s not impossible, and you have a very big God on your side who wants you to not only survive, but also thrive.

The hard part is that without a magic formula, there’s no way to avoid the hard work.  Sometimes it’s simple work – don’t eat all the chocolate in the house at one time no matter how you feel, maybe even exercise more than once a month – but that doesn’t make it easy.  And you know what?  It’s okay for simple work to be hard.  It happens to everyone.  I don’t know a single (honest) person who hasn’t struggled with something that felt easy to someone else.  For example, my sister is an excellent housekeeper.  I, on the other hand, will willfully ignore dirty dishes for days, and clutter is my middle name.  I fight to complete the simple work of not becoming the next subject of the “Hoarders” series.

So how do we keep our heads down and fight through the never-ending hit parade?

Photo from Pexels.com

Let’s take a look at the best source material I know and gain some biblical perspective.

In the book of Micah, God is speaking to his people through the prophet Micah to tell them that God was angry and sad at their disobedience and their corrupt leadership.  This particular verse is my favorite verse in the entire Bible because it sums up how we’re supposed to live as Christ followers in a single verse:

“O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”

Micah 6:8 NLT

It’s simple work: do what’s right (do the next thing), love mercy (cut your people some slack), walk humbly with God (spend daily time with God and keep studying the Bible).  Sometimes it’s even easy work, but in my almost forty years of following Jesus, I have yet to arrive at the point where I get this right all the time.  But I’ll never stop trying, no matter how many times I fail.

Hebrews 12:1-2 gives us another perspective:

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne.”

Hebrews 12:1-2 NLT

Hebrews 11 is often called the “Hall of Faith” because it lists heroes of the faith that lived before Paul, the guy who wrote this letter to the Hebrews.  Those faith superheroes are the huge crowd of witnesses Paul is talking about in Hebrews 12:1.  He’s telling us that we can look at those people, who were far from perfect, and we can see their example of faith as encouragement to continue in our faith.  We have a race to run that God set out for each of us (so your race will look nothing like my race), and we have to learn how to run efficiently.  We need to examine our lives honestly, and gracefully, and decide what dead weight is holding us back.  We need to develop our endurance.  And Paul gives us a method to use to gain endurance: keep your eyes on Jesus.

It’s simple work: run with endurance towards God’s finish line; keep looking forward at Jesus.  It’s not easy work.  Paul doesn’t pull any punches about that either – he plainly told the Hebrews that Jesus endured a horrible death on the cross because he could see the joy of the end result.  I’m not there yet.  I can’t even stick to the don’t eat all the chocolate plan for more than a few days.  I’m certainly not at the point of discipline even to death.

So now that I’ve crushed that pep talk, let’s look at one more simple instruction designed to help us through tough work:

“Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 NLT

More simple work: always be joyful; never stop praying; always be thankful.  Wherever you find yourself today, no matter what body blows you’ve been taking or for how long, I promise you have something to be thankful for.  You may have to step back and take a big picture view, but if you look, you will find something for which you can be grateful and that brings you joy.  Did you know that gratitude journaling is one of the top “homework” activities therapists recommend for people being treated for depression?  It helps us gain perspective, and that prescription has been floating around for a few millennia now.

It’s also huge to note that along with joy and gratitude, we should never stop praying.  We humans were made for social connection, and God wants us to be connected to him even more than we’re connected to our social networks.  In this moment of social distancing, we never have to hold God at the recommended 6’ distance.  He wants us to always be in communication with him, and when I look at what truly soothes my anxious heart, it’s always time in prayer and reading the Bible.  Everything else I try (chocolate, I’m looking at you) is just an empty filler that doesn’t reach the root of my unease.

Those are all my best sources for how to survive and also thrive despite the craziness around you.  But maybe you’re not convinced that there is no magic formula, no elaborate ritual to make everything right.  Read 2 Kings 5.

Elisha was a great prophet for Israel, and he had a reputation for performing miracles.  In this story, Naaman, who was a very important person as the commander of the Aramean army, also had leprosy.  His king sent him to visit Elisha to be healed, and the king sent huge amounts of money as a gift to the king of Israel, ostensibly to gain access to Elisha, but probably meant to impress upon him how great the King of Aram was and how great Naaman was by extension.  They were very important people, and very important people expect very important treatment.

Elisha heard of Naaman’s approach, and he merely sent a message to go wash seven times in the Jordan River, and then he would be healed.  How do you think Naaman handled that message?  How would you have handled it?  Naaman was furious.  He expected a personal greeting – he was a very important person, after all.  He expected some herculean task, but instead all he got was a messenger telling him to go wash in a river that was inferior to all his very important rivers back home.

Naaman pitched a fit.

But Naaman’s officers talked some sense into him.  They asked, “If the prophet had told you to do something very difficult, wouldn’t you have done it?”  Oh, how I love Naaman and his raw human reactions.  He said and did everything we say and do when God gives us simple work in response to what we view as the biggest problem/pain/issue that has ever been.  We argue that simple work will not possibly be adequate to address our situation, and we pitch a fit.

I bet you pictured Naaman and his king in all of their very important person glory, and I bet you didn’t see yourself in their pride until just now.  I never see my own pride right away.  I pitch fits.

After I pitch my fit, I try to follow the rest of Naaman’s example.  Naaman listened to his officers and gained perspective.  He went and washed in the Jordan River as Elisha instructed, and he was healed.  Naaman continued his humble streak and went back to Elisha to tell him that Elisha’s God was the only true God in all the land and he would never worship another God.

Naaman went from a very important person attitude to a Micah 6:8 mindset in that experience.  God sets us on paths that are hard, and he expects us to follow him, to see the joy waiting for us on the other side and run with endurance towards it.  Endurance isn’t always fast or pretty, but it’s consistency developed over time through experiences that test our faith and our willingness to do the simple work of following God.

What simple work are you avoiding?  What is the next step you need to take in your race of endurance?

Photo from Pexels.com

Today Is a Tool – Mindset Monday

I am growing.  Whatever is in my path today is a tool.

Working through depression has taught me that mindset is everything, and I can choose my mindset.  It’s not always an easy choice, and I don’t always make the best choice, but it is indeed a choice.

Real life doesn’t run perfectly according to plan.  In fact, the more I plan my days, the more God seems to enjoy showing me my plans are nothing compared to his.  I can view the kinks in my schedule as obstacles, or I can see them as tools.

Traffic is an opportunity to practice patience (and mercy…); an unexpected phone call presents a chance to develop a relationship; emergent issues at work sharpen my professional skills.

If I look at whatever comes my way as a tool to sharpen my skills or develop my resiliency, then I control how my brain accepts the obstacle.  It’s an opportunity instead of an obstacle.  It’s a good or neutral thing instead of a harbinger of doom.  I control the narrative instead of depression brain.  Depression brain works more like Eeyore, which is fine some days, but it’s no place to live every day.

Choosing the narrative also keeps me from being the victim of circumstances.  I can’t control my circumstances, but I can control how I react to them.

I don’t have to eat a metric ton of chocolate because I had a bad day at work.  I can choose to eat a half-ton instead, or none at all, and find a way to learn from the bad so I don’t keep repeating it.  I know it sounds hopelessly optimistic, and extremely Miltonian to my fellow lit junkies, but I can make myself miserable or happy based on how I think about something. Taking every thought captive to make it obedient to Christ is definitely a Biblical perspective on positive thinking (2 Corinthians 10:5).

No one else can say enough good things about me for me to believe it if I don’t already believe for myself: that I’m a beautiful person and a talented writer and anything else that’s true about me.  No one else can fill you up if you aren’t seeking your identity from your Creator and believing what he says about you: you are a beloved, chosen child of God.

It has taken me years of repeating that to myself and building on it to get out of depression brain mode all the time.  Mindset and how I talk to myself have been the biggest game changers in my coping toolbox.  I choose to listen to and repeat the positive until I believe it.  I choose to give less volume and air time to the negative.  I choose to evaluate and learn from negatives as a tool instead of letting them be an obstacle.

It’s simple work.  But it’s not easy work.  It gets easier as I go, but it was hard work changing my thought patterns.  It’s also ongoing work that I can never slack up on – depression brain is just waiting for me to fall asleep at the wheel and run me right back into the mess I’ve worked through.  As long as I keep growing, I won’t be crashing out of the race.

How do you see obstacles in your plans?  What thought patterns do you need to change to grow from them instead of letting them hold you back?

You Survived!

Yesterday was hard, but you survived.  Today is a new day.

Stock photo from Adobe

There are variations of this thought in my journal all the time.  The Navy SEALs famously say, “The only easy day was yesterday.”  While experience bears this out – every day presents new challenges and new skills to develop that would definitely have made yesterday somewhat easier in retrospect – sometimes yesterday just sucked and there’s no getting around it.

But… Yesterday is done; it’s officially history now.  Even better, you survived and made it to today, so good job, you.

Now that yesterday’s ordeal is over, how can you improve today by applying something you learned yesterday?

If you deal with depression, surviving today could be as simple as deciding to keep living and to get out of bed.  If that’s where you are, that’s solid work.  Improving might be seeking out a counselor or going for a walk in the sun.

Stock photo from Adobe

When your days are super hard, everything feels impossible, so just focus on doing 1% better today than you did yesterday.  1% isn’t that much.  If you survived yesterday, chances are great that 1% more today will not kill you, either – and you’ll be a little better off.  Just focus on one single thing you can improve on today and let yesterday go.

“…I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”

Philippians 3:13-14

Paul reminded the Philippians that we have to let go of the past in order to move forward.  Moving forward is far more important than looking back.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t deal with your past and make peace with it; it just means that whatever your past holds, your present and your future depend on the actions you take today.  Yesterday may still be delivering consequences today, but your actions today aren’t dependent on what you did yesterday.

Stock photo from Adobe

Every action or inaction is a choice you’re making, no matter how intentional you are about those decisions.  When you face today as a new set of decisions – each one an opportunity to be 1% better – it’s easier to not just survive but also grow.

We can’t improve yesterday, but your life tomorrow can be better if you improve on today.

How can you be 1% better today?

Take the Mulligan – Three Things Thursday

Because I am not a golfer (despite my putt-putt grandstanding) I looked up the word “mulligan” to be sure I was spelling it correctly and not misusing the term.  I discovered on Dictionary.com (Mulligan Definition) that mulligan refers to a stew made up of whatever happens to be lying around as well as the more common – at least in my orbit – do-over term from the world of golf.  The mulligan has a fun backstory if you love etymology like I do, and possibly refers to two different golfers named Mulligan who for different reasons requested to take another shot at the first hole (Mulligan Origin Story).

Apparently, there are some occasions in the PGA official rules that require a mulligan, and one player this year has been penalized for not taking his mulligan shot (Pro Golfer Penalized for NOT Taking a Mulligan).  If you have read my blog for a while and are suddenly worried that I’m turning to sports writing, never fear: the mulligan references are just the perfect illustration for how I’ve been feeling about my writing and my life in general lately.

Photo from Pexels.com

#1 – As both Misters Mulligan could attest, there’s no harm or shame in asking for another shot.

I’ve started and stopped this blog so many times that it will be a minor miracle if anyone comes back to read since I’ve been rambling for such a long time.  I feel like I haven’t had a good grip on what I should be writing, and I haven’t made time to do any real writing for several months.  I feel no lack of guilt and shame about that since the one consistent gift God has given me and put me in a place to use is my writing.

Here’s what I need to remember about that shame: it’s not from God.  It’s a wretched emotion that blocks me from writing and sharing again here on Mabbat, and it does nothing productive in my life.  What is from God?  The guilt of conviction that asks me to start again, to pick up where I left off and turn away from whatever was holding me back from his purposes – that’s from God.  He gives each of us new mercies every morning to start the day fresh with him (Lamentations 3:23).

Every day is a mulligan.  We get new mercies every day.  Whatever you are facing that seems insurmountable, tell it the truth that God is starting every day new with you, and all that old baggage need not ride along for your mulligan today.

Photo from Pexels.com

#2 – As Jesper Parnevik discovered, sometimes you HAVE to take a mulligan.  It’s in the rules.

Do you ever feel like you’re fighting the same battles over and over again?  I do.  I am always making the same to-do list for days on end because I don’t accurately plan for the time each task will take in the real world.  (I am much more efficient in Anne-land without any interruptions or people or…)  I feel like I will always be cycling in and out of depression, and every loop back into it knocks me off track and requires another run at rebuilding good habits (because maybe this time I will be so well established in my routines that depression brain can’t knock me on my duff – it’s a brave thought, at least).  I have been on and off again so many times with diet and exercise that there’s not a diet plan out there I haven’t read about and at least briefly considered.

All that guilt and shame I described about neglecting writing?  It’s equally applicable to my habits, my depression brain, my healthy weight management, and any other aspect of my life that feels like it runs on repeat mode.  And the shame is equally destructive to all those things, too.  But guess what?  New mercies apply here, too.

Not only that, but there are very real obstacles we run into that require us to take a mulligan.  Like depression.  And loss.  Or life changes like job transfers, budget shortfalls, aging, and a million other things we’ll encounter as long as we’re alive on this earth.

We can try to play through, but ignoring the need to take another shot will end up penalizing us somewhere down the road.  Lining up a new shot with fresh perspective doesn’t make you a failure, but failing to restart and floundering where you are could.

Take the mulligan, get a read on the new shot, and get moving.  You only fail if you give up.

Photo from Pexels.com

#3 – We are all a mulligan stew of our lived experiences and the lessons we’ve learned from them.

I could list a lot of things I regret saying or doing.  I imagine we all can.  But I don’t think we should spend much time on the regret.  Everything I’ve lived through has made me who I am today, and if I could go back and change the things I regret, I wouldn’t, because they’re all a part of me now.  Who would I be if I hadn’t learned the lessons those regrets taught me?  Who would I be now without walking through all those years of loss?  It’s taken a long time to get here, to feel this free and this strong.  I’m not going back.

It’s not the regrets that built who I am today, though; it’s what I learned from living through them.  Remembering that I was cruel to someone who didn’t deserve it in middle school still pushes me to encourage and build up others instead of gossiping.  Living through the worst of my depression brain taught me to ask for help when I’m struggling and to offer a lifeline to anyone I can.  I have never been nor will ever be perfect.

I’m a hodgepodge stew of lessons learned, hopes, dreams, failed good intentions, faith in the God of new mercies, and so much coffee.  What makes my particular stew tasty rather than bitter is the salt and light of faith that has given me fresh starts and God’s big-picture perspectives when I’ve needed them.

Here are three things for you to ponder this Thursday:

What kind of mulligan stew are you?

Where do you need to take a mulligan today?

How does the knowledge that God provides new mercies for everyone every day change your opinion of taking a mulligan?

Progress Is Progress – Mindset Monday

Progress is progress. Keep moving and never give up.

Do you ever feel like you’re stuck on a hamster wheel and never really getting anywhere with any of the things you want to accomplish in your life?  Me, neither.  Ha!

I think we all feel like this at some point whether we admit to it publicly or not.  Today’s Mindset Monday comes from my planner on a day when nothing had gone right for at least a week.  At least that’s what I thought until I sat down and reviewed my daily evaluations in my planner.

I felt like I had done nothing to speak of because I had nothing to mark off my goal checklist.  What I saw when I spent some time reviewing what I had accomplished that wasn’t written on my goal work list was not as insignificant as it felt when I was feeling mopey about it.  I had taken care of my household, worked, done some writing, and mostly stuck to my food and exercise plan.  That was plenty!

It may have felt like nothing was happening when I looked at what I had done on my book writing, but I was still making progress there, too.  It just wasn’t the lightening pace I had set for myself when I planned out my goals.

The Little Engine That Could book cover print
This print was a gift from a college professor who always pushed us to try new things because you’ll never grow if you don’t. It’s hung in my home by my desk ever since.

I’ve been taking a new approach to goal setting and achievement for this season of my life.  I’m not setting deadline dates as often.  If there’s no outside reason for a deadline, I’m leaving it open ended rather than pacing it out on a calendar.

Think of goals as a roadmap rather than a timeline.

I’m still going to get to the end destination, but my pace won’t always be the same or predictable.  Some days I can speed down the highway at 90 miles an hour, while others I’m on a leisurely stroll.  Both are getting me closer to the goal result, and I need to be happy that I’m moving towards it, even when it feels like a snail could outrun me.

With parenting and work and volunteering at church, I’m just not in a space in my life right now to narrowly focus on much else.  Whether I like it or not, that means writing more than my daily journal pages will be the thing that slides down the list of important things to do.  That’s okay, because it won’t always be like that.

In fact, here’s a story of a woman who published her first novel at the age of 95.

https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/ohio/articles/2019-03-16/after-years-of-writing-woman-publishes-1st-novel-at-95

She never quit.  It took her 63 years to write her novel, and she did it.  She is my hero and a brilliant example that you’re too old or too late until you’re dead.  Whatever it is you’ve been avoiding because you think you don’t have time or will never be able to finish it, just start.  Start with something small and then just chip away at it little at a time until you’ve achieved your goal.

You can’t accomplish anything if you never start.  It may be slow and feel all kinds of ugly, but slow and ugly progress is still progress.  You only fail if you give up.

A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief

A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief by Anne Weil

I’ve been procrastinating this step for months. I’d like to say something like, “I’ve been so busy with other things that I just couldn’t get this together until now,” but the truth is, I’ve been avoiding this part of the book publishing process. Like a good INFJ, I know that if I never put my book out into the world, I won’t be disappointed or hurt if it “fails.”

My definition of failure is all wrong, though. If I only want commercial success, I may indeed fail. If I want to fulfill my mission and share my story, then the only failure is to never publish. So…..

I am ready to write book proposals, and I would love some beta readers. If you’re interested in being a test subject, I need to hear from you. First, sign up for the e-mail list. You can do that here:

https://mabbat.blog/join-the-mabbat-mailing-list/

I’ll draw 5 subscriber names at random to send the beta copy to. Then, I need to hear from you again after you read the book. I’ll send a few questions to gather feedback, and you can add any additional comments that you think will strengthen the book.

When you subscribe to the mailing list, you’ll receive a free copy of a Colossians creative Bible study workbook. If you’ve already signed up, you’re already in the drawing. (You may also be wondering why you bothered to sign up since you haven’t been getting anything from me. I promise I have material scheduled to go out the rest of the month, so thanks for your patience!) You’ll also recieve two e-mails a week from me – one with creative Bible study material, and one with prompts to practice your art skills. Of course, you can unsubscribe at any time.

I’d really love your feedback and support. Thanks for walking with me through this journey so far!

Every Day Is New

This Mindset Monday is a great reminder that every day is a new day.  Whatever happened yesterday is gone, and you can only work through today.  It sounds like fortune cookie advice, but it doesn’t make it any less true.  We can only live right now – not in the past or the future.  We can certainly remember the past, and we can plan for the future, but we live one day at a time in the present moment.

As an introvert who deals with depression, I can ruminate on the past like it’s my job.  I can lay awake at night replaying conversations and kicking myself for being an idiot or saying the wrong thing (because at two in the morning, I know exactly what I should have said twelve hours earlier).  I can still recall the horror and shame I felt about making fun of someone publicly in middle school (that was a looong time ago, friends) if I let myself dwell on my past.  Bottom line: that mode of thinking sucks.

It’s destructive in so many ways, not least of them being it cripples the way I see myself now and in the future.  It discounts the grace of God to remove my sin from me, as far as the east is from the west.

Living in the past isn’t living; it’s dwelling on something I can’t change in a way that hinders me from moving forward.  I may suffer consequences from choices I made in the past, but that doesn’t define who I am in this moment.  That doesn’t change the fact that I can only work from here, now and keep improving.

As much as the past is no place to live, I am equally good at getting my head caught in the clouds of future planning.  So much so, that I can plan every pound I should lose and how down to the daily menu and workout level, but in doing so end up planning and planning and planning and never stepping into action.  Or I plan too aggressively and can’t accomplish all those plans in the timeframe I allotted and end up feeling like a failure when I don’t measure up to a crazy standard I set for myself.

It’s easy to get excited about planning a goal, but living in the future is just as torturous as living in the past: I can see the thing I want to accomplish, but I’m planning all the time and never doing the grunt work to get there.

So, how do we focus on the here and now without forsaking goals and planning or never honoring the past?  We remember that every day is new.

Every day is a new opportunity to wake up and start again.  Maybe that restart is just to keep going because you’re on track.  Maybe your restart is more like a reboot with a new objective.  The goal with this mindset is just to focus clearly on today, and work through it without getting lost in the weeds of past and future.  It’s grace to let yesterday go and try again.  It’s freeing to let tomorrow go and just do the work of today.

I love these verses from Isaiah because it’s God saying, “Look, that other stuff we just talked about – that was yesterday.  You just wait and see what I’ll do next.  In fact, I’m already working on it, so buckle up, buttercup, and see what happens.” (Obviously, I’m paraphrasing and taking a little creative license.  Although, I’m pretty sure, “Buckle up, buttercup,” is frighteningly accurate in my own life.)

If God never stops moving forward with his work and his plan, why should we?  While God is never limited by time or space, we are, and we should use those limitations as tools to focus on the thing right in front of us first and best.  The things we do in this moment lay the groundwork for what comes next, and if we never get to work in this day, tomorrow’s work will be a mess.

Live today, then let it go.  Every day is new.  Today is a new day, and I must start it new and fresh without the lenses of yesterday and tomorrow filtering out the purpose in today.

I Am, So I Will

I AM

In my planner every day, I fill in the answer to, “If I were a life coach, I would tell myself…”  Sometimes these sage bits of advice to myself are as simple as, “Don’t suck,” and sometimes they are slightly more nuanced.  As I was thinking about what I should be sharing on the blog and in the Mabbat FB group, I decided maybe some of my “life coach” advice could be helpful to someone else.  So, I decided to run with a theme for the start of the week: Mindset Monday.

This week’s mindset is a statement I wrote as my own life coach, and I have used it every day since as motivation.  I’ve actually written it as encouragement to answer the “If I get stuck, I will keep going by…” question every single day for several months.

I am a writer, so I will write.

I don’t have to publish a book to call myself a writer.  I write a lot, and I love to write, so I am a writer.  Writers write.  It’s what they do.  I am a writer, so I will write.  When I get stuck, when in doubt, when nothing feels like it’s working… write.  It can be that simple.

So you’re not a writer, and you think at this moment I’ve lost my mind, and this has nothing to do with mindset.  But consider that all of the things we want to do are just about that simple.  You want to run a 5k race?  You will have to train, but the simplest form of that is to think, “I am a runner, so I will run.”  Of course, you may want to work through a training plan, but at the most basic level, to be the thing, you have to do the thing.  If you run, you are by definition a runner.

Hello I am Getting Things Done

I am a painter.  I am a writer.  I am a poet.  I am a teacher.  I am an athlete.

I do none of those things as my day job, but those are all things that I claim to be because of what I do.  All except that last one.  I have been an athlete, but I am currently out of shape.  I need to lose weight and exercise to be healthier and to be the best version of me I can be for my family.  I have created some training goals and plans, so I am training myself to say, “I am an athlete, so I will workout and feed my body well.”  I can’t really claim to be an athlete as an out of shape blob, so once I say it, I need to follow my motivational statement with action.  As soon as I start working through my training plan, I will be an athlete.  I will be someone who is working out to complete a goal race.

My “I am” statements are simple visualization exercises.  It’s a great way to motivate yourself and see yourself and think of yourself as the thing you want to be.  I am an athlete the second I put on my running shoes and hit the street in the morning.  I won’t be an elite athlete, nor will I look graceful or fit as I begin the journey.  But I’ll be some version of an athlete.

This year I will be an athlete.

How many dreams do we hold back on working for because we think we won’t be good enough to lay claim to the title?  At what point can you claim a title?

I hesitated for years to call myself a writer and feel comfortable saying it out loud to other people.  I felt like maybe I should whisper it, or maybe they would ask how many books I’d published and then I’d be banished and ridiculed for pretending to be a writer.  I wish I could tell myself then what I know now.  I am a writer.  I have always been a writer.  I don’t have to justify that to anyone except God who gave me the gift of stringing words together into sentences.

You don’t have to justify yourself either.  There are things in life we can claim because we have the formal training or certification cards to prove it.  For example, I am a scuba diver.  I have multiple certifications to prove it.  Soon, I’ll be a certified Hazardous Materials Technician, and I’ll have a piece of paper to prove it.  (It’s related to my day job, and it’s been so much fun to learn.)  Here’s the thing about the HazMat Tech certification: I may have a paper that says it, but I’m extremely unlikely to be out in a suit and SCBA working.  I will not be claiming HazMat Tech on my resume, even at work.

I’m not a writer because there is some licensing agency that official certifies writers; I’m a writer because that’s how God wired my brain.  I’m an athlete because I’m naturally competitive, and I’m training to run a race.  I’m a painter because I paint.  None of those things are invalidated by my skill level.  I’m a good writer; I’m an average painter; I’m a lousy athlete.

I’ll never improve if I don’t practice.  I’ll never practice if I think the things I want to be are unattainable.  If my dreams are never to be reached, what’s the point in trying?  That’s how my brain works without, “I am _____, so I will _____.”

I challenge you to think through the goals and dreams you’ve let slide.  Is there one you want to pick up and run with?  What will it take for you to make it happen?  What’s the main thing you’ll need to do or to practice?  What’s your “I am” statement?  I’d love to encourage you on your journey if you want to share it.  You can comment here, and you can join the Mabbat FB group for a more private setting and regular encouragement.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/

I am a dogicorn, so I will be magical.

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.