You Do You – How to Find Your Creative Gifts

Writing and arting are the ways I best express myself, and I use those as outlets for spiritual growth and emotional healing.  (I know “arting” is not a verb, but here’s the post that made it a verb for me: https://wordpress.com/post/mabbat.blog/974 )  I am passionate about encouraging people to find their own creative gifts to grow spiritually and emotionally, so I want to write more about how to do that practically.  Not everyone is made to write or paint, but we are all made to be artists in our own unique ways.

What is your artistic gift?  If you just snorted/laughed/rolled your eyes, I promise you this: you are creative in some way, and that is your art.  As a creation of God, you are called to share your art and use it to reflect God’s creativity and grace.

My husband and I are total opposites in our creative outlets.  He hates writing and generally avoids all things “artsy-fartsy.”  But if you put the man at the controls of a wrecker, he will come alive with a special kind of energy.  I can see his brain working through the wreck scene, calculating angles and weights, and making a plan to clear the road as quickly and safely as is humanly possible.  That is clearly his artistic gift, and his natural leadership abilities are a gift that complement his talent in applied physics.  The intentional practice of our talents is a spiritual discipline in the same way that prayer and Bible reading are.  In my husband’s case, that faithful practice has opened doors to work with incredible people and to share his faith with people who wouldn’t listen to a preacher or set foot in a church.

So, how do you find your artistic gift?  I imagine books could be (indeed, have been…) written on the subject, but I’m only going to offer a measly blog post.  Actually, I’m only going to offer two questions: what are you good at doing, and what do you love doing?

The answer to both may be the same activity, which is probably your answer, but if you struggle to answer either of those questions, let’s dig a little deeper.

What are you good at doing?  If you automatically answer, “nothing,” you need to look more closely.  What do you do that feels as natural and simple as breathing that other people struggle with?  Put another way, what do you do that people often remark that they wish they could do as well as you?  It’s very likely that you don’t see that thing as a talent because it is just so easy for you.

Do you organize people or files or data well?  Do you cook without measuring because you just know how to make food?  What is it that you do that makes you feel like you’re “in the zone” or like your body and brain are totally engaged?  If you’re totally at a loss to answer this question, ask your family and friends what they think you’re good at.  I’ll bet that you’ll be surprised to find that it’s something you’ve never even considered to be remarkable.

What do you love to do (whether you are good at it or not)?  What makes you feel happiest and most alive when you do it?  What makes your brain feel like the most cells are working at top speed?  What makes you feel competent and strong?

This one is not a question anyone else can really help you with, but you know the answer if you think about it honestly.  For example, I do not love to clean.  Anything.  At all.  It is not a natural desire for me, nor is it something that makes me happy to do.  I see it as a necessary evil, actually.  But give me paint and canvas, and I am a happy woman.  It doesn’t matter if I paint a masterpiece because the simple act of putting paint on the brush shuts down all other thought but the color directly in front of me.  It’s meditative.  It’s an act of creation that always fills me with joy.

If you have given our two questions some thought, and you’re still not sure what your gifts are, try out a few things.  Take an art class or a dance class or a cooking class.  Start writing in a journal.  Take note of the skills you use in your job and work to develop those.

The thing about creativity is that it’s not limited to a single outlet.  Our gifts can change over time, too.

I used to dance, and I was pretty good at it.  If I laced up my pointe shoes now, I would surely die, or at least break my body in at least three places.  While I still enjoy dancing, my skillset has changed, and I am not working to develop my dance.  I am working to continue developing my writing skills and my visual art skills.  I’m old enough that those are probably two things I’ll focus on the rest of my life without outgrowing, but I also know that I plan to work on other things that I love to do but may be less talented at naturally.

Our ability to develop gifts into artistic expression will also go through seasons of varying productivity levels.  Don’t panic if you don’t have as much time as someone else to invest.  Maybe daily practice isn’t possible, but another regular interval is.  Do what you can with what you have as often as you can.  Sometimes that will be hours a day; sometimes that will be once a week if you’re lucky.  As the parent of a tiny human who also has a day job, I know that a daily schedule can be daunting.

Don’t be daunted.  Be encouraged by the time that you do have with your art.  You do you.

WIP Wednesday on Friday

Because school started, and I can’t keep my crap together this week…

I am VERY slowly, but surely working my way chapter at a time through the book of Romans in the Bible. With each chapter, I read through, note the verses that stand out to me, and then boil it down to the “bottom line.” I choose the verse that most clearly states the main theme of the chapter and write it down somewhere on my blank page. As I sit with that verse a while, I draw what comes to mind as I meditate, and then I write a poem that reflects that meditation. I also go back to the verses that I marked and write more about them (I use the SOAP method for that, for the very few of you who wondered.) in a journal file on my computer.

It’s an intensive process on a single section of scripture, but I found that I was often reading the Bible every day on autopilot. This process forces me to slow down and digest the words more slowly. Slow is hard for me because I’m not often patient with creative work – once I have an idea, I want it done. I also keep walking away from this work and only coming back to it in spurts because it doesn’t feel as instantly rewarding as a quick sketch or single poem. But God has used this work to show me how to dig deeper into his word and his love, so I’m really silly for putting it off. Turns out I’m a work in progress, too. 🙂

And because the poem is hard to read in the photo, here’s the text:

Oh, how often I’ve failed

Crumbled in the face of temptation

The, oh, how I’ll beg

For mercy

For a fresh start

For life

But I must not believe you

As I try harder, work more, to make you love me

But that isn’t your way

You want truth

You want repentance

You want faith

So watch me open my hands

And let go of my desire to control

To earn your love, to claim myself

So I can believe

So you can make me new

So I can be free

Not Today, Satan

For several weeks, I feel like I am in a slow-motion time warp – everything around me is moving at regular speed, and I am moving through glass, seeing everything flash by while I fight to just get one foot in front of the other.  I honestly felt so defeated after fighting with my tiny human about tooth brushing tonight, that I just sat down and cried.  Because everything feels like a fight.  I’m spinning my wheels in so many places in my life, that the only thing moving me forward right now may be time itself.  As in, I have to have the tiny human at school next week, on time, and it’s just a matter of the calendar.  That happens on Wednesday whether I’m ready or not.  Tomorrow will come because time is moving at regular speed whether I move or not.

I can feel the depression brain whispering that I should just give up because I’m not accomplishing anything I’ve set out to do, and no amount of work is making a dent in the house getting cleaned.  No amount of work is going to get me caught up at work or on my writing or on the dozens of projects dawdling in craft purgatory on my dining room table or on getting back in shape or….  The list feels infinite, and I feel incapable and overwhelmed.  Depression brains tells me to just sit down and eat, maybe watch some television or go to bed.

I recognize that depression brain is a liar.  I’m not stuck, and I’m not incapable of change or progress.  Depression brain is literally a voice from hell, and tonight, it felt like Satan himself was whispering to my soul.  The difference in tonight and so many other times is that I could see it for it was: a lie designed to stop me.  Stop me from what?  I’m not sure exactly.  I don’t know if it’s pride or just the same clarity of vision that told me tonight’s depression brain was whispering directly from Hell itself, but I feel like it was to try to stop me from writing.  I have had a gazillion important things to get done that have taken my focus and time away from writing.  The time warp is happening because I am overwhelmed by  the things that keep stacking up on me at home and at work.  Satan doesn’t want me to move, which must mean that God has something important for me to do, someone important for me to reach.  I have no idea what that is or who that will be, but I do know that if I sit down and eat and shut off my brain, I won’t be doing anything except dying slowly and painfully and miserably in the clutches of depression brain.

That won’t be happening tonight because God heard me when I cried out to him and showed me the truth that depression brain is a liar and that I can get up and get moving.  It still hurts like hell.  I want to quit, and I want to move forward.  Right now I want to move forward more, but that doesn’t stop the part of me that wants to quit.  No matter how badly I want to ignore depression brain and just get going, it’s still there, and I still have to fight it every day.  I want to fight, and I need to fight.  I also desperately need to remember that I’m not fighting alone because God is with me, in me, and fighting for me.  He has already won the only battle that matters, but this battle is still important to him because I am important to him.  Tonight I could see that this particular battle with depression brain was a spiritual one.

If you have read much of anything I’ve published on the blog, you know that I am not often going to speak about spiritual warfare because it sounds a little crazy, and we humans, especially church attending humans, tend to give the devil a little more credit than the devil is due by attributing everything negative to spiritual warfare.  I’m also never, ever going to say that depression is a spiritual battle than one can overcome with enough prayer and faith – that is malarkey on a level I can’t express with mere words.  God can absolutely heal anyone of any disease, but he most often doesn’t without the use of earthly medical interventions.

If you have depression, you are not suffering with the disease because you weren’t faithful enough.  You may or may not be able to pray hard enough to get over your depression, just as someone with cancer probably won’t merely pray and be made healthy.  I do believe that illness of every kind exists because the world fell into sin with Adam and Eve, and we will only be made whole and healthy in the presence of God.  So very clearly understand that not all of my depression has been this “easy” to fight.  God gave me the tools to get to a healthier place through counseling, medicine, and strong relationships, and those are the tools that made it possible for me to see Satan at work on me tonight.

It’s not overstating it to say that he was the voice in my head telling me to just give up.  I would be overstating his power if I decided to listen and quit.  Once I could see the truth, the decision was mine and Satan’s power was gone, even if I made the wrong choice.  I would certainly have been enlarging his influence over my depression brain if I gave up, but I couldn’t have said, “The devil made me do it.”  I’ve given up plenty of times.  Only recently do I seem to be standing up more quickly more often.

I wish with all my heart that God would take my depression brain completely out; just take it away.  Haven’t I dealt with it long enough?  This turmoil is so painful, and I don’t make excellent decisions when I’m feeling wounded.  I eat too much.  I get cranky with the people I love.  I stop writing.  I stop arting.  Sometimes I physically ache.  But sometimes I win.  I write.  I paint.  I laugh with the people I love and hug them tight.  I exercise and eat normal human portions.  I talk to God and listen to him.  I’m actually off my antidepressant and not wanting to kick people in the shins all the time.

I know that I will struggle with depression all my life.  It’s not because I wasn’t well loved as a child, or because I’m not well loved now, or because some need isn’t being met.  None of that is true.  I have a chronic mental illness that flares up from time to time but is generally under control now – as long as I keep doing the work to keep me in good mental health.  It may at some point in the future require medication again.  I can beg God all I want to miraculously take it from me, but I know he won’t.  He will provide me with the tools, and he will give me flashes of clarity like he did tonight when I need to see a glimpse of him – to just hold on to the hem of his robe for a moment, as it were.  I saw tonight, heard it almost as clearly as if he had spoken the words out loud: my path is to continue to stand up and fight and to keep writing about it.

Years ago I heard him speak the same thing to me in the midst of all of our pregnancy losses, “I can give you what you want now, or you can wait and have exactly what I planned for you.”  We have the most amazing tiny human now, and if you’ve ever met her, you know she is something incredible.  I don’t know where this path ends exactly, but I trust God to take me to something greater than I could ever have imagined for myself.

If you have depression, how does your depression brain lie to you?  Maybe you don’t struggle with depression but you’ve felt like something drags you down, too.  What do you struggle with?  What things hold you back?  How do you recognize that depression brain or whatever is holding you back is lying to you?  Do you trust God to fight for you and to lead you to something incredible?  If not, what do you think it would take for you to move forward?  If you don’t want to comment here but need a friendly pair of eyes to “listen” as you work some of those things out, my inbox is always open at mabbatblog@gmail.com.

Colossians 2 – How the Bible Can Help with Depression

In the Mabbat Facebook group, I’ve been posting a Bible study guide each week, and right now, we’re in Colossians chapter 2.  (Here’s the link if you want to check that out: https://www.facebook.com/groups/773975689656609/?ref=bookmarks  It’s going up in weekly installments in the Facebook group, and then I’ll post it as an e-book after we’ve completed it in the group – more on that to come next month!)  Each week, there are a few notes, and then there’s space on the page for you to do some creative assignments to deepen your study of God’s word.  I’ve discovered as I write the Bible study prompts that there are some things I would love to add but don’t really have the room for if I stay focused.  So I decided to share those here on the blog.

Oftentimes as I’m reading the Bible, I find ideas that correlate with things I’ve learned in therapy.  I don’t know why that surprises me, because I firmly believe that God gave us the Bible as a blueprint for living the best lives we can.

20180716-Colossians 2 on DepressionIn Colossians 2:2, Paul expresses a desire for the church members to be “knit together by strong ties of love” before he expresses his desire for them “to have complete confidence that they understand God’s mysterious plan.”  As a lifelong church member, this felt backwards to me until I spent time thinking through it.  Aren’t we supposed to have Jesus first and only?  Isn’t he sufficient for all our needs?  Yes, but… Our standard church answers leave a lot unexamined.  Jesus gives us the tools we need, and he will faithfully meet our needs, but we aren’t absolved from investing a little elbow grease in the process.

Paul wanted the church at Colossae to be bound together in love to provide an environment that fosters learning, trust, and care for one another – an environment that will encourage confidence in the knowledge of God.  As I breathed in that verse, I understood that we can’t see Christ’s love unless we are expressing it and receiving it, and that is the primary function of the church – to be a network of Jesus’s love and grace.

How does this fit in with depression coping skills?  I’m glad you asked.  Strong relationships are key in combatting depression.  There are plenty of scientific studies (as well as every therapist I’ve seen) that tell us the more connected we are to other people, the lower our risk of depression and substance abuse.  If you have depression, think about your symptoms.  Do you find that you pull away from people and, however unintentionally, isolate yourself?  Do you drop out of activities with other people that you enjoy?  Do you back out of engagements with family and friends?

Paul knew it was vital for the church to have strong, loving relationships to understand the fullness of God’s love, and it’s vital for our daily lives, too.  Especially if you battle depression.

So how do you do this when you are in the throes of grief and depression?  First, let someone in.  Find at least one friend that you can trust, and open the door.  Share with them, and listen when they need to share.  Then add another friend.  Then join a group – maybe go to a class you enjoy and start meeting the class members, or go to your local church and join a small group or Bible study class.  Slowly expand your circle and invest in those relationships.  In my experience, the more connected I am to my family, to my circle of friends, and to my church, the better I feel and the easier it is to get out of a funk when I fall into one.

20180716-Colossians 2-7Another verse that grabbed me in Colossians 2 is verse 7.  It’s a beautiful image to think about: “Let your roots grow down into him…”  It’s also a solid way to build a foundation for faith.  First, establish roots, then build, then grow, and then overflow.

That’s not just a solid way to develop faith, but it’s also a solid way to build mental health.

You need roots – some basic skills to recognize depression in your life and some basic skills to combat your symptoms (a treatment and/or maintenance plan).  Once you have that, then you can start building up your coping skills and work towards a “new normal” as your symptoms stabilize.  Then you will grow stronger, and then you’ll be able to share and help others.  The thing about this setup is that you can never neglect any of the stages; they’re all continual and build on each other.  As soon as you skip a step (ignore your roots, say), the entire thing (your mental health) comes crashing down.

This may be less dire for episodic depression and acute grief that will pass once the circumstances shift, but if you struggle with depression as an ongoing issue, you know you need to keep your eye on the ball and not ignore the things that keep you healthy.  I have recently been able to stop my antidepressant medication, but I can feel it when I let stress build up and skip the things that make me feel sane, like exercise, eating well, writing, and art.  When I see my cues – a short temper, complete lack of motivation, and a desire to eat all of the chocolate in the world – I know it’s time to evaluate and get back to basics of self-care.  Sometimes, I know it’s time to check in with my therapist.

What does your root structure look like?  Do you have a solid foundation of self-care and coping skills?  What does your life look like when you are “overflow” stage?  If you’re not there, what will it take for you to get on the right track?

*I am not a professional therapist or counselor, so I don’t offer this as a replacement for professional care.  If you are dealing with depression, please talk to your doctor and make a plan to begin healing.  I believe that Jesus can heal us, but I also know that he gave us tools like doctors and psychologists to help us when we need it.  If you are not getting better through prayer and healthy habits, please seek professional help.  I hope if nothing else, I hope my example can help remove the stigma that so often shadows mental health issues in our churches.  If you don’t know where to start, contact me, and I’ll be happy to help you locate resources in your area.

“In the Fields Today”

20180701 In the Fields TodayMy body has been crouched in this furrow for so long

That my view is narrowed

To just the dirt in my hands and the plant in front of me.

This plant is sturdy.

The stalk is strong, the roots stronger.

But what of the seedlings around it?

This small patch of field is dry and shriveled.

How can one plant be good, while the rest languish?

Didn’t they have the same care, the same sun?

This is not my concern,

Just as the weeds will wait for a more discerning eye to sort.

Shaking the dirt from my hands, I rise.

My view widens.

There are rows and rows as far as my sight stretches.

Some are lushly green; others are wilting.

My hands reach out to another furrow,

Somehow knowing

Without words or commands that the farmer needs them there.

I follow to find more rows, more need.

I feel the satisfaction of fingers immersed in rich soil.

The farmer wants me here.

I kneel into the work, and the panorama of rows tightens

To the one plant before me.