Wasting Time

Have you ever known you should be doing something – something that calls you, begs you to give it a voice – but you just can’t.

20180611 Wasting Time-PicI can’t even put words to why I am procrastinating, but in spite of hearing God call me to write and paint, I will often actively ignore that gentle nudge and do something else.  It may be a good thing I’m doing (decluttering the house, catching up on work, solving crossword puzzles, searching Pinterest for tiny human craft ideas…), but it is not what I should be doing.  And I know it because whatever I’m doing doesn’t satisfy the longing I’m feeling, and I add to that longing a small unsettled feeling in my soul.  I need to keep house and work and take care of my people and myself, but I also must answer God when he prompts me to write or draw or glue (just as long as he doesn’t tell me to glitter – pretty sure glitter is the tiny human’s spiritual gift anyway).

The thing about me avoiding what I know I should do is ridiculous in so many ways because I love “to art.” (Why isn’t art a verb??  It is now for me.)  I love writing, I love creating, and I love putting all of that together.  Yet I have put off relaunching the blog for over a year.  I’m just getting back to completing paintings I started over a year ago, and I have two books that I need to sit down with and finish so I can decide how to proceed with publishing.  Why am I putting off these things that I love and very much want to do?

I have two answers that both apply to my procrastination.  First, I am afraid.

You may not believe me, but I am very much an introvert, and I fit very neatly into the INFJ category every time I take the Meyers-Briggs personality test.  I take criticism super personally, so putting anything out for public viewing is nerve-wracking every time.  Every post.  Every sketch.  Every word.  They all become so easy to obsess over and put my value in: if people like this blog post, then they like me.  I know it’s a mental and spiritual trap, but it’s an easy one to get caught up in.  Which leads me to…

Second, I get caught in Satan’s plans to distract me from what really matters.

If I’m not arting when I know I should, I’m not using a gift God gave me to glorify him.  If I hang any of my value on what someone else thinks of what I create, I am letting Satan take away my God-given value as a child of God.  And I am wasting the time I’ve been given here on earth.

When God gives you a gift, you will be called to use it; everything you do to avoid it is just wasting time.  Very carefully notice that I am not saying that everything else that you do is a waste of time.  If you are a functional adult, you know that there are other things that will occupy your time – earning a paycheck, for instance  – and none of those things are a waste of time.  All of us are given a gift of some kind to use, and we will all be accountable to God for the way that we used them.  If you just read that and thought, “I don’t have a gift,” or, “I’m not good at anything,” STOP.  Stop it.  You have a gift, and I will be dedicating some time to helping you discover your gift in future posts.  But for now, rest assured that you are gifted.  You may not be a painter or a writer or a musician, but you might be an engineer, a baker, an organizer, a mathematician, a runner, a listener…  God made us each unique, and the gifts he gives are as varied as we are.  Don’t let comparison convince you that you are not equally gifted because your gift is less publicly obvious than someone else’s.  That, too, is a waste of time.

If you’ve noticed that I so far am mostly confessing that I’m currently guilty of wasting time, you’re right.  Now that I’ve written this far, I realize that I’m not offering any solutions or practical admonitions or observations.  I am simply confessing.  And committing.  I commit to change the way I approach my arting and blogging, and I am asking you to join me on the journey.  My commitment to you is that I will art somehow daily, and I will be working on the blog continuously as I do so.  I have a few plans ready to implement now and a few ideas that are kind of huge and scary.  I want you to keep me accountable.  I am publicly proclaiming these plans so that I will be bound to complete them, having now committed to doing so.  If you notice me slacking off, please call me on it – hold my feet to the fire, as it were.  I’m tired of wasting time.

For Whom the Bell Tolls

This wasn’t the topic I had planned to write about today, but I know I can’t shake this without writing it out.  This week has been full of loss all around me, and, even though I have known none of the people who died personally, I find myself grieving nonetheless.  Several of my friends lost fathers.  Two famous creators died of suicide.  I feel the weight of grief in my communities, both locally and online, and it is heavy on my soul right now.  The bell is tolling for me.

For Whom the Bell Tolls - Web SizeTwo of my friends who lost their fathers are Christ followers who are comforted by the fact that they will see their fathers soon enough in heaven with Jesus.  They are embarking on a new chapter in their stories without main characters who played vital roles in their lives up to now.  No doubt the new chapters will continue to tell their fathers’ stories in the legacies that they left in these two beautiful souls.  That may eventually be some earthly comfort after the shock and pain fade a bit.

The world’s loss of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain in a week’s time is certainly tragic, as are some of the public’s reactions in the comments sections of the news articles reporting their deaths.  I am by no means a mental health expert, but I am a person who is surviving the mental illness of depression.  Some people are quick to point out that suicide is a selfish act, leaving devastated loved ones in its wake.  While that may be accurate from a mentally healthy perspective, healthy, rational people do not commit suicide.  Sick people do.  Others have pointed out that both Spade and Bourdain had much to live for with successful careers and wealth.  Depression is not a disease that discriminates between rich and poor, successful and not.  You may be more prone to depression if your circumstances are difficult, but you are not exempt because your circumstances are better.

Depression that isn’t a passing reaction to loss or life upheavals is just as much a chemical, physical illness as cancer or diabetes.  Depression isn’t simply a mental state one can just snap out of.  Maybe it’s hard to think of as a disease because we can’t physically see its effects like we can with cancer.  It’s easy to assume someone is lazy or unmotivated or has anger management issues or drinks too much without seeing the underlying disease because the sick person appears physically whole.  We also use the same word to name episodic depression and chronic depression, major depression and mild depression.  We don’t do this with diseases like cancer that have specific names for specific types of cancer, even though they all float under the header of “cancer.”

Someone can tell you that they had melanoma or breast cancer, but they can’t tell you they had liver or kidney depression; they can’t even narrow it to a physical place in the brain, even though major and chronic depression physically and chemically alter your brain.

The symptoms of depression are generally not physical and are not often recognized as depression.  Some of the symptoms even appear to be character flaws rather than signs of a disease: sadness, anger, sleeping too much, isolation, overeating, not eating at all, drinking too much, misusing prescription drugs, lack of motivation…  One at a time, these problems may be a character flaw that can be corrected, but more than one symptom or symptoms that linger for more than a few weeks may be a serious mental health issue.

My opinion is that because so many symptoms of depression are seen as character flaws individually, the stigma surrounding depression is rooted in the belief that one could just start forming new habits and counteract the bad stuff.

We tend to think the same thing about alcoholics and drug users: “Just stop drinking. That’ll fix it.”  Except it won’t.  Behavior modifications and the development of healthy coping skills will help depression symptoms, but it may not be enough to keep the disease in check.  You may need medication – I did – or therapy – I do that, too – or maybe you need inpatient care for a while.  Never feel ashamed for seeking help.  If you are depressed, tell someone.  At least tell a friend if seeking medical help feels impossible.  There is no shame in seeking to treat a medical condition, which is exactly what depression is.  We would never tell someone with cancer to just get up and exercise and eat healthier and expect them to be okay.  We wouldn’t tell someone with diabetes to skip the insulin and eat all the sugar they want because their disease is all in their head.  We wouldn’t tell someone with scoliosis to stand up straight and get over it.

We don’t vilify people who die of cancer: we talk about them in warrior terms.  “He fought to the end, but it was too advanced.”  Why are we willing to vilify people who die of depression?  We are fighting for our lives, too.

Of course, suicide isn’t a solution, and it’s selfish, and it’s probably more painful for the surviving loved ones who will face some hard questions and issues in their grief.  But depression lies.  It tells you that you don’t matter – that nothing matters – and suicidal depression is more insidious in its lies because it tells you that the world will be better off without you, and you will be better off dead.  We don’t blame someone with a physical disease when their body is ravaged, but we will not hesitate to comment when someone’s mind is ravaged enough to quit fighting the disease.  Do you see the problem with the general public’s thinking here?

So how do we shift our culture?  How do we combat depression as a public health issue?  Honestly, I don’t know how to do that systemically.  I do know how to begin locally: be kind, be present.

God created us as social beings; we were made for connection to each other.  We can’t screen for depression and suicidal thoughts like we can for colon cancer and high blood pressure, but we can maintain connections with other people.  If you’d like to prevent depression and suicide as issues in your own mental health, plug in somewhere.  Find a group of people you can relate to and start relating.  Find at least one person that you can share anything with and not fear judgment.

If you already have those connections, good job.  You have one more job, though – go out and make connections and be a friend for those who are struggling to connect.  How can you recognize someone struggling to connect?  You probably can’t.  You should just assume everyone is in need of a friend.  That’s the gig if you want to be a decent human.

Once you start connecting well, you should start to recognize when someone you know is acting differently.  It doesn’t always mean mental instability, but it might be the only visible sign of trouble.  We humans don’t like to admit our weaknesses to each other.  I am in no way saying that you are responsible for preventing suicide in your network of connections and that you should be on constant alert for tiny shifts in behavior among your loved ones.  Just as someone with cancer must be responsible for adhering to a treatment program, someone with depression must be responsible for getting treatment and following their prescribed protocols.

But we are all responsible to each other as the body of Christ to care for our wounded and ill.  We are called to support each other if we are to thrive.  Suicide is preventable, and we can all do our part to lift one another up.

Here are some general resources for more information about suicide prevention:

https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/

https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml

https://themighty.com/suicide-prevention-resources/

https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/suicide_prevention/

http://www.sprc.org/resources-programs

 

Let’s Get on with It

com·mence  [kəˈmens]

VERB

commences (third person present) · commenced (past tense) · commenced (past participle) · commencing (present participle)

  1. begin; start.

“his design team commenced work” · “a public inquiry is due to commence on the 16th”

synonyms: begin · start · start off · get down to business · get the ball rolling · get going · get under way · get off the ground · make a start on · set about · go about · enter on · embark on · launch into · lead off · get down to · set in motion · ring up the curtain on · open · initiate · institute · inaugurate · go ahead · get cracking on · get stuck into · kick off · get the show on the road · get weaving (on)

from the Oxford Dictionaries

 

In this season of commencement addresses, I realize that I most often see graduations – commencements – as an ending.  In my own life, commencement speeches have marked the end of high school, the end of college, the end…  But “the end” is the antonym listed in the Oxford Dictionaries under “commencement.”

I find the synonyms to be much more lively: “begin, start off, get down to business, get the ball rolling…”  I have let my writing ball drift of late.  The last few years have been full of wonderful projects, but I keep longing to write and to finish some long overdue projects – to get back to work on Mabbat and shape it into a better tool – not just for me, but for other people who are working through their own baggage.

So today marks a commencement: I am commencing the blog again, and I am commencing with my editorial schedule to finish the works that have been languishing in idea purgatory.

My plans for Mabbat include writing about dealing with loss and depression and how to work through them with healthy coping skills.  I also can’t write without sharing my faith, so I plan to continue to share posts about what I’m reading in my Bible study and how it applies to our daily lives.  And I want to share my passion for developing artistic work in everyone’s life.  God calls us all to create, and I have not been living up to my creative potential by using well the gifts he has given me to write and to paint and to do the “artsy-fartsy stuff,” as my husband so eloquently describes it.

I’d like to stand boldly in my best super hero pose and say that my floundering and procrastinating ends here and will never return, but this is real life.  I know there will be ebbs and flows, but I do want to look back and say that this commencement moment is where I really honed the discipline it takes to write well and productively.  I’m asking you to join me on your own journey.  Find your artistic gift, develop it, and share it.  That’s what Mabbat will be about.  We’re going to get the ball rolling now.

If you’d like to jump in, I have created a Mabbat Facebook group that you can join where I will share daily prompts.  It is a closed group, so it will be moderated, and I hope you feel confident enough to share your work in progress.  You are always welcome to post in the comments here on the blog as well, but that is public domain, so I understand if you’re hesitant to interact much here.  My door is always open, and on the web, that looks like an e-mail address and a FB group for now.  (Maybe soon that will look like some live gathering events to meet face to face and share in person.)  So let’s get down to business!

Biased

I am a middle-class white Christian woman living in Alabama. I am not looking to add to the chaos and clamor surrounding every discussion of race I have heard in the country and in my state for the last two years.  I certainly have no wiser words to add than have already been said.  We have provable systemic problems that need to be corrected. We have men and women in police uniforms being targeted and maligned for the actions of a few bad actors. We have men and women of color who are right to point out that there is inherent discrimination, and they are right to fear the “system” as it exists. I only want to add an admission to this discussion that bias exists, and it isn’t the same as racism.

How do I know this (besides the hundreds of well-researched studies and papers about this very topic)? Because I saw it in my own thought process this week. Having jumped back on the writing wagon with both feet, I have been working on a book about processing grief, and I’m plotting a novel to write after I finish the grief project. In my free brain time, like commuting, I have been dreaming up characters and mapping the town for my novel; I imagine their faces, and I give them personalities and quirks and voices. I was running through my cast of characters a few days ago, and this realization slapped me into rethinking my characters: everyone I had imagined was white. Every. Single. One.

I imagined a world that I limited without even realizing it. I restricted the beauty available to my made up world by unwittingly restricting it to a single color. That certainly doesn’t reflect my life – I have a workplace and professional network full of vibrant and diverse people; I have served and socialized with and taught people from all over the world; and I have people I consider family whose skin is very different from mine. But I failed to incorporate that into any of my major characters, not because I am racist but because I am biased. I based many of the basics about my characters on family and people I have known in similar towns, and most of my family is white. That is what I naturally imagined first, which isn’t inherently bad or wrong, but it does reflect my natural bias.

Bias isn’t inherently bad, either, but unchecked and unexamined, it becomes racism or sexism or any other ism out there. I am not advocating for any particular activism or group here. I think it’s wonderful to be part of a group that is helping people, but I also believe activism happens best on a personal basis. I can only control my own thoughts and actions, and I have limited influence on anyone else’s thoughts and actions. I have seen every side of the current political system try to shout the other side down, and I have seen them fail to persuade the masses outside their own party to fall in line with their thinking. For what it’s worth, I think both major parties are wrong right now. And I think both sides are hurting right now over the election results and the responses to it. As a nation we aren’t seeing past our biases.

My only goal in sharing this is to encourage you to closely examine your own biases and to share them honestly with someone once you see them for what they are. If you are like the majority of the country, you aren’t racist, but you might be filtering the news and politics through a biased lens. I work hard to find news reports from every angle to break up the echo chamber that’s so easy to fall into on social media and by sticking to a single source for news. I try to empathize with every side in a story and to wait for facts before choosing a side. In spite of this effort, I realized I am still biased. I say this with no shame and no guilt, but I also know that I must be vigilant to see things from the perspective of “other.” No matter what category your race or gender or age or anything else puts you in, you are implicitly biased; it appears to be a fact of human nature to seek out same and avoid other.

We all just have to work hard to love other as much as we love same. It’s as easy and as impossible as that.

Winging It

My life most always feels like some terribly planned improvisational film experiment; I am enough of a type A personality to want things to be done perfectly but not enough type A to get it all done, much less perfectly. I am a lister – I make lists of things to do, things to pack, crafts to finish, things I want to write about, things I’d like to draw, stuff to donate, stuff to organize… Lists are my way of sorting the chaos in my brain and feeling like I have some level of control. Sometimes they feel like a quantifiable measure of the success or failure of my day – more things marked off, good; not enough things marked off, bad. I usually sit down at the beginning of the week and plan out each day’s list from the Master List of Things I Hope to Complete Before I Die or Jesus Comes Back.

Having a plan makes me feel settled, even if I know I will only ever do about half of what I wanted to accomplish. Most of the time, though, I am just desperately winging it. Somehow over the last few weeks in my Bible reading, verses about God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time (that’s a much more impressive list title than mine…) keep cropping up. Exhibit A: “For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because this was his plan from before the beginning of time – to show us his grace through Christ Jesus.” 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT

We humans tend to crave direction and attempt to discover God’s plan for our lives, and maybe especially because of the pain and loss I’ve experienced, my eyes are glued to passages about God’s plan. I want desperately to know that what I’m dealing with has meaning. Exhibit A sums up the plan: to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. This verse makes it abundantly clear that the death and resurrection of Jesus was God’s plan all along, not just a backup plan when Mosaic law failed to perfect us. Maybe I’m alone in this, but a lot of the ways that I was taught about the Old Testament made it feel like merely prologue or cultural and historical context for Jesus, like a failed experiment in making people right with a system of laws and sacrifice until Jesus came. Paul makes it plain to Timothy that Jesus was always the plan – even in the Old Testament. The law serves to show us our imperfections and to point us to the only one who can make us whole and right.

So maybe in literary terms this makes the Old Testament a prologue to grace, but that’s a pretty shallow interpretation. Throughout the books of the Old Testament, there are stories of God’s grace and redemption (Hello, Abraham, Jacob, Samson, and David to name a very few!). Hebrews tells us that everyone who followed God in faith even before Jesus was revealed was redeemed as part of the plan. God’s grace has always been the plan.

How does this translate to my need for a daily plan and my desire to know that all of the crap in my life means something? The short answer is it means that my lists and my purpose boil down to two things: to know God and to make him known. Yes, I have work to do that doesn’t feel like it matters in the grand scheme of God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time, but my obedience and my work signal my obedience to God and (when I get it right) show a God of order and (when I get it wrong) show a God of grace and new chances. In my daily life, it also means that my plans are temporal, so when God puts something eternal before me, it trumps my to-do list every time. By eternal things, I mean conversations that encourage family or friends, opportunities to help someone in need, moments to just sit down and be with my husband and daughter, time spent praying and studying God’s word.

In the long-term view, my purpose on earth is always just to know God and to make him known. That’s the only answer that matters. Of course, I want to know that I had ten miscarriages for some more noble reason – that my story of struggle comforted hundreds of thousands of women and inspired them to bravely move forward. That is my human pride wanting to feel important and justified here on earth. The truth is, it’s malarkey. I know that I have occasionally written some words that have helped someone else, and I wouldn’t be writing this blog had I not needed an outlet. I have been in a position to comfort others and to offer some advice for those trying to comfort a loved one. Those things matter, but only in the context of the big picture. I have seen God’s grace in my struggle, and I have done my best to share that. Knowing the metrics of how that has specifically impacted the world is pretty much just keeping score; it demeans God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time by putting it in my human grasp.

Here’s the thing about knowing that God has a Plan from before the Beginning of Time and that I have my miniscule role to play within it: sometimes this just pisses me off. There’s no gentler way to say that. If I think about me as the center of that plan, I get angry that there was no better way in my life to know God or to make him known other than to experience ten miscarriages. Really? One or two wouldn’t suffice? The only answer to that rage and frustration is to know that my only reason for anything is to find Christ in the midst of it and to cling to his grace. Something we often gloss over in Christianity is that Jesus was both fully God and fully man. It’s easy to imagine God being perfect and being a perfect sacrifice; it’s really hard to imagine a fully human brain willing to die a horribly painful death. We all have internal dialogue – what must the conversation in Jesus’s head have sounded like when he thought about God’s Plan from before the Beginning of Time? Really? This is the only way to accomplish your plan? But fully human Jesus stuck to the plan anyway and radically changed the perspective from which we all should view our plans.

Know these two things wherever you are today: Jesus has been where you are, and God never wings it.

How’s Your Grumpy?

Last month I had a week full of the common aches and pains of life – a pulled muscle, a migraine, mild insomnia, achy knees… And I was grumpy. So very grumpy. By that Wednesday I figured I had logged at least ten hours in the kitchen over a three day span; I had picked up the house at least four times (because I’ve been on a mission to keep the house in better order, even though no one else is…), and I was tired and feeling funky. I’m sure hormones were a factor in the funk, but mostly it was a week that I spent taking care of the house and everyone else while ignoring basic self-care.

I was focused on the to-do list and not doing things that I need to maintain a little bit of sanity, like exercise, writing, and crafting with the tiny human. I plopped down on the bed and exhaled all of that grumpy as one long huffy sigh, and my husband asked, “What’s wrong?” Every time he asks this question, all of the things run through my head in an incoherent stream of consciousness jumble, and I want to say, “Everything. Everything is wrong,” as I try to list all of the mess in my head. But I pause to inhale and let the inner dialogue slow just enough to form a coherent sentence. “My head hurts; that muscle in my back is still sore. I’m tired because I haven’t slept well in a week, and I’m very grumpy.”

I would love to tell you that identifying the actual problems made me realize I should slow down and take better care of myself. That night I tried to go to bed earlier, and I felt better physically the next morning. Before we got up, my husband ran through a checklist. “How’s your back?”

“Mostly better, but still a little sore.”

“How’s your head?”

“Better.”

“How’s your grumpy?”

My grumpy was still going strong. Knowing that it was at least partially a hormone cycle issue made it easier to work through because I could tell myself there was a clear end in sight, but I had to focus on ungrumpification for a few days. Maybe I will always fight depression. Maybe all of us feel bouts of mild depression, and I’m more aware now when it happens to me. But my new found power of awareness is useless if I don’t take better, healthier steps to address my grumpy when it happens. With great power comes great responsibility. And we are responsible for taking care of ourselves, too.

It’s easy to forget when we are faced with taking care of family, taking care of work, taking care of home… I cycle through great periods of self-care and then long droughts. I struggle to fit everything I need and want to do in a day, so I let the “non-essentials” slide. Those things are what keep me healthy and strong, though, so they really are essentials if I want to keep my grumpy in check and stay productive. I’m working harder to keep the essentials prioritized so that I can tackle the task list without resenting the largely thankless work of housekeeping and parenting and work. It’s a work in progress; I think it will be a lifetime job.

How’s your grumpy? If it’s running amok, check in with yourself, and be honest with yourself about what you are doing to stay healthy mentally, emotionally, and physically. If you don’t have a single thing in your daily to-do list that strengthens your body and your soul, add something and do it first. I have learned that I will never exercise at night if I skipped it in the morning, so I have to do it in the morning. Same thing with Bible study and prayer time. Guess what the first two things in my morning routine are now? If you’re struggling to make that happen, find a friend to check in with who will lovingly hold you accountable for taking care of yourself. I have two such wonderful women in my life, and I trust them to tell me truth even when I don’t want to hear it and make excuses. I rely on their encouragement, and I try to be the same type of friend for them.

If you’re struggling to find a friend to trust, please let me know. Maybe we need to form a support group for grumpies. Find a way to keep your grumpy from controlling your days, and don’t do it alone. You are a precious Child of God, and he made you to be full of life and abiding joy. If you don’t feel full of life and joy more days than not (not all days will feel like that – crap happens to everyone), then your grumpy may be in charge. Don’t let it win. You are not your grumpy. You are beautiful and valuable and worth taking care of.