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.

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!