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

 

You Earn Your Body

“Your earn your body.” – At Least a Hundred Motivational Posters/Memes

Superman working out
*This is not me – just to be clear. This guy is awesome, and this photo and more can be found on pexels.com

It’s no secret I’m overweight and out of shape.  I’m working on exercising more and just trying to change habits to healthier versions of what they are now.  It’s also no secret that it’s hard to get a ball rolling uphill, and that’s what I’m facing on the exercise front mentally right now.  So, I’ve been putting pictures of healthy, exercising people on my planner’s monthly vision board as a visual cue.

As I searched for images, I kept running across variations on a quote to the effect of, “You earn your body,” and I thought, “Oh, yes, this is true!”  I have earned every inch of my current dress size by my habits, and to earn a stronger body, I will have to change my daily routines.  “I will earn my new healthy body,” I thought excitedly.

And then I stopped, and a new thought occurred to me: “I have earned this body.”

But this time it wasn’t a negative thought.  I realized that this body is the result of surviving when I thought nothing could be worse than the bottomless loss I was living through.

This body nourished a tiny human and continues to care for my family the best that it can.  This body is teaching me when I need to slow down, when I can run, and when I am stuck in anxiety and overwhelm – as long as I listen to it.

This body has lived through unhealthy coping mechanisms, but it’s still here, still standing, still smiling.  I’ll take that.

 

Eat a Live Frog

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day.”  Mark Twain

photo by johannes plenio from pexels
Photo by Johannes Plenio from Pexels

I am trying so hard to get motivated, but it’s a struggle.  I know it’s at least a little related to depression because it is improving; it’s still just so hard.  I would prefer to be one with the couch even though I know it’s the least healthy choice I can make.  Instead, I have been trying to just keep moving as much as possible, and I have attempted to follow Mr. Twain’s sage advice.

Frogs for breakfast are delicious.

Actually, no part of that is delicious.  Or fun.  But it’s adulting in the face of an overwhelming desire not to, which is a win against depression brain.  I’ve been trying to “eat a frog” or tackle the thing I want to do least in any given day first so that I get it over and done with.  I’m not succeeding every day, but I have managed to complete multiple tasks that had previously been sitting for several months.

I’m back at the keyboard more regularly, so hopefully that will mean regularity on the blog.  I’d like to promise you that I’m back for good on a regular schedule, but I won’t.  I can’t.  I don’t know when something will take me out at the knees and knock me silent again.  I tend to drop everything but survival mode when I’m overwhelmed, and, even though it was lovely, that’s where I was over the holidays.

I do have some plans mapped out for Mabbat, and I know God keeps telling me to write.  My goal for the year is to be faithful to be more disciplined at my writing so that God can use that work for his glory.  In fact, “disciplined” was the word I chose for the year, so I guess “Eat a frog,” will be my mantra.

What do you do when you need motivation?  What’s the best advice you have to offer from your personal experience for someone struggling like me to get moving?

Be the Turtle

I make no secret of that fact that my current body status is officially fat and out of shape.  I have been working on building better habits for about a month now, but I’m not doing anything strict or steep or sudden.  I tend to go all-or-nothing into things, and diet and exercise have always been two of those things.  Like most people who need to lose weight, I start a plan, and it involves working out every day and eating on a strict regimen of counting calories and/or macros (the amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats in one’s daily meal plan).  I can maintain it for a few weeks, but then I blow it and binge.  I’ve started to recognize that I tend to binge eat on occasions that my emotions are a wreck or my stress levels are off the charts, so when I combine the tendency to binge eat with the stress of maintaining a perfect diet and exercise program cold turkey, I’m going to be “clean” for a few weeks, eat my weight in chocolate and cheese for a month, and hate myself for all of it forever.

It’s a cycle I’m working hard to break this time.  Instead of plotting out my exercise plan and expected weight loss and then being disappointed when I don’t meet my goals, I’m working on a single habit at a time.  If I happen to do something I plan to build into a habit before I can add it to my habit tracker, fantastic, but I’m not going to push myself to cultivate all the good habits all at once.  I’ve really never done this kind of plan before – I guess because I feel like I will either do it all, or none of it matters.  So, my habit tracker currently has three daily items on it: drink at least 100 oz. of water, clean the kitchen, and write.  I need to add a whole lot more to that routine, but I’m actually doing a good job of eating well, exercising, and trying not to let the house explode.  I’m just not pressuring myself to do those things until I’m solid on these three things first.

It seems to be working in that I’ve lost nearly ten pounds since I started tracking my water intake, my kitchen has been clean most nights except for one week, and I’m writing regularly, with a solid chance of completing NaNoWriMo successfully for the first time.  It’s super tempting to let my excitement over those things spill over into adding all of the things onto the daily habit tracker so I can see the progress on each of those routines.  But I know I’ll fail the second I do.  Slow and steady wins the race.  Progress not perfection.  Be the turtle, not the hare.  This is my new mantra.  In fact, I think I’ll just shorten it to “Be the turtle.”

I may fail in this endeavor, too, but I can at least say that right now, this time feels different.  The slow start lets me celebrate what goes well, and I am quicker to offer myself grace on the things that aren’t on my list yet.  Didn’t exercise today?  No problem: it doesn’t require a check mark on the habit tracker, so I’ll worry about that next week.  For a list motivated person and a perfectionist (I NEED all those boxes checked!), this is actually working.  The reality of why it’s working is that those habits are building blocks for other things, so if I drink a gallon of water a day, I’m not drinking anything but water and coffee, and I’m not eating as much.  It’s slowed down the binge tendency because I’m too busy drinking water to eat a pint of ice cream.  If I set the generic goal of “write” every day, I’m not setting a word count goal.  Some days I really don’t have the capacity to do more than just add a sentence to a WIP, and occasionally all I have done is typed a title for future blog post and called it a day.  But most days, I sit down to type at least one sentence, and my writing brain kicks in, and I’m at nearly a thousand words before I stopped to take a sip of water.  With my kitchen clean at night, I walk into the kitchen in the morning without thinking, “Uggh.  That’s gross.  I’ll do it later,” so I’m starting with a clean slate and sometimes manage to pick up or clean up in another spot so it will match the kitchen.

I just won’t make myself accountable on the checklist for those things all at one time.  Once they are second nature, then I can start tracking laundry and exercise and drawing.  Be the turtle.

I know I’m not the only one who goes after things like a fanatic only to fall and give up after a few rounds of the fanatic-flop cycle.  What works for you?  Comment and share your best methods of slow and steady change.  It’s tempting to go full hare, but science is on the turtle’s side.  We make and keep new good habits when we don’t try to do too many at one time.  Be the turtle.  I promise you’ll get there!

What Are You So Afraid of?

I was asked to video myself giving a minute or so “Why you should attend…” talk a while ago.  I’m old enough that selfies are generally something my peer group mocks mercilessly, and I’m extremely unlikely to take a selfie unless it’s with a good friend or my daughter because I feel so self-conscious selfie-ing.  In spite of years on stage doing crazy things, that video was one of the scariest things I’d ever done.  The wild part about that is, if you put me on a stage to say the exact same thing to a room full of people, I would have felt completely at ease.  But to send a video out into the interwebs means that the bit was filmed without any live feedback, and I had to wait to see if anyone liked the post.  A live audience offers subtle clues before they throw rotten tomatoes, so that’s a gig I can handle.

The same thing happens when I write.  I feel fairly confident when I sit down to publish a blog post; it’s a short work, it’s easy enough to take down or edit if it bombed once I publish it, and there are really only a few opinions I worry about.  Blog work feels a lot like stage work.  It’s a fairly quick feedback loop.  Not too scary – just enough nerves to keep me frosty.  I feel a bit of terror for a few seconds after I click on “publish,” and some days I stalk the stats page when I’m searching for approval, but the anxiety vanishes pretty quickly.

I thought the selfie video was terrifying until I decided to ask about a dozen people for feedback on a book project I’ve been working on for several years now.  At that point, I had the entire thing roughed out as an outline, and the first chapter was pretty polished.  (As of Saturday, the first draft is officially complete!)  I’ve told a few people what I’m working on, but I haven’t been excitedly announcing that I’m working on a book.  Someone may ask to see it if I tell them what I’m doing.  If they see it, they may read it.  And if they read it, they may not like it.  If they don’t like it, they may not like me…  It’s the horrid adult introvert version of “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie!”

I was effectively paralyzed for the better part of a year because I’m afraid if I finish and publish a book, it won’t be good and no one will like it; therefore no one will like me.  It’s better to just say, “I’m working on a book,” and you’ll all think I sound very authorly, even though I’m not being the author God called me to be.  The most miserable part about that is that I’m telling God I don’t trust him to fulfill what he called me to do.  I know I’m supposed to be writing; he’s given me a wellspring of creativity for ideas; I have three things right now that are bigger works I know I am called to finish.  When I avoid working on the book, I feel pressure to work on it.  Sometimes I feel guilty, and I know it’s a guilty feeling from God because it comes with the desire to correct it and focus on the work he’s given me.  (Theologically speaking, that classifies this feeling as conviction rather than just guilt.  Guilt without a prompt to put yourself back under God’s direction is not from God.)

And so we come to a late hour, wherein I had decided to choose a group of people I trusted and whose opinions I highly valued and set up a Facebook message.  I had the group listed, and I was under the false impression that attachments in Messenger would operate like e-mail attachments.  I clicked on the attachment and prepared to write my message, then ponder whether or not to send it (and probably chicken out…).  Except Messenger doesn’t work at all like e-mail, so when I clicked on the attachment, it sent it.  I was not ready for that.  I may have panicked a little – enough that I couldn’t breathe for at least a minute.  And then I realized I sent a random attachment to a dozen or so people with zero explanation.  All my plans to carefully craft a request for feedback were out the window.  I furiously typed an explanation and went in search of chocolate to assuage my heart palpitations.

But nothing horrible happened.  I didn’t die.  No one ridiculed me or ended our friendship, no matter what they thought of my work.  I had let my fear control me until my Facebook Messenger ineptitude forced me to confront it.  That in itself was freeing.  Receiving several words of encouragement was incredible.

I’m always going to struggle with criticism because it’s in my perfectionist nature to take it personally, but if I’m writing from the ideas God gives me, I only need to worry about what he thinks; no other audience matters.

What about you?  What are you afraid to do but know you should be doing?  What’s stopping you from taking action and facing the fear?  How likely is it that the horrible scenario in your head will actually happen if you act?  What can you do to help you move closer to facing that fear?

Sideswiped

I wrote this in September, but I wasn’t ready to share it I guess.  Today feels appropriate on Pregnancy and Infant Loss Memorial Day:

Eleven years.  Our first pregnancy loss was 11 years ago last week.  On Labor Day weekend 2007 (You see the wretched coincidence, too, right?  Believe it or not, it only just occurred to me.), I checked into the hospital for surgery, my husband protecting me when I was too small to speak up for myself, a pastor friend praying with us before the procedure – like last rites for a tiny soul we won’t meet this side of eternity – and then me looking up at my doctor’s masked face and hoping that it was all as unreal as it felt.

Eleven years ago, I woke up from anesthesia and went home to recover from surgery, and eventually over the last eleven years, I’ve recovered emotionally and spiritually, too.  At least I think I have.  It’s hard to feel “recovered” when I feel like I do today.  I usually feel the weight of the magnitude of our ten loses on that first baby’s due date, which is April 1, so to feel the sudden heaviness of it now was an unwelcome surprise.  I can prepare for what I know I’ll feel each April.  I couldn’t be ready for this fresh hell.  I don’t know what else to label this depth of sadness and grief.

It felt important to write out and to share, even though it hurts, and even though I may short out my laptop if I cry on it any more.  I don’t really want to talk to anyone about this moment of pain, but I know I must express it, or it will fester and kill me slowly from the inside.  I’ve locked away the grief before, and that’s a miserable way to exist.  So I am letting it go.  I am letting myself feel the pain so that it can run its course and heal up again.  I am not letting myself wallow in it or letting it stop me from living; retreating for a day or two is fine, probably even healthy, but more than that and depression brain will take over.  I am at least in a place that’s healthy enough to recognize that what I’m feeling now will pass, and that I know living in a fleeting feeling for too long will put me in an unhealthy place.

I’ve been saying that we have dealt with the pain of loss and grief for ten years, but to realize that it’s now officially over a decade is… hard.  I’m a writer – I know there should be more words, better descriptors, something more than hard… But that’s all I’ve got.  Right this minute, it makes my brain go numb to think about.  It feels like every emotion associated with grief pops up at one time, so my brain shuts down.  That’s why it’s taken me almost a week to even mull it over long enough to write down the bones of this current pain.  Writing it out, now that I can, gives me a skeleton frame to flesh out as I purge the emotions.

I’m not naïve enough to think that I had finally conquered the grief, so it would just live in it’s little corner of my heart and never come out of its cage.  I know it can escape and jump into my consciousness at any moment.  I guess I just felt like I knew when to expect the regular intervals of escape attempts, so being sideswiped when I thought I had my crap together is… hard.  I honestly feel pretty broken.  What I don’t feel is defeated.  I know that feeling the hurt all over again isn’t a sign of weakness.  It doesn’t mean I’m losing ground.  It only means I’m human.

I’m a human who has experienced horrible loss and pain, just as many of you have.  It’s not more horrific than anyone else’s pain, but it is unique to my experience.  And my experience of learning how to heal the gaping wounds is what tells me I’m going to be fine in a few days.  It may hurt like hell, but I can use the tools I have assembled to cope with this fresh outbreak, and I can grow through it.  I can use this reminder that time won’t erase grief to feel deeper empathy for the people around me who are struggling through a new loss or mired in an old wound like me.

This moment is reminding me that my only hope is in Jesus.  He is very literally the only true hope I have that I will not only see my lost children in heaven, but that they are safe and loved and cared for in his arms.  The are whole and perfect and wonderful, and one day we will praise God together.  Their lives, however briefly they physically existed are important to God, and their story matters.

I can express all of this through the artistic skills God has given me, which turns this clump of words here into catharsis, healing, and a way to shine the little light I have on the path for anyone else who needs to find their way through grief and depression.  If that is you right now, reach out and grab a lamp; find a foothold, no matter how tiny, and climb up a little.  Ask God to send you more light, more air, and go seek it out.  Write out your pain to release it.  Draw whatever emotions are running under the surface so you can address them.  Bring them out into the light and tell them the truth: you are stronger than the pain because God is for you.PILM Graphic