Doing New Things – Three Things Thursday

For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.

Isaiah 43:19 NLT
That moment when you break 18 eggs all at one time 😱

Friends, this week has been a constant mess, from breaking an entire carton of eggs to fighting with the tiny human about school work and getting chili oil in my eyes. Normally at this point in a week like this, I’d be done – so over it that I would just cruise through with the minimum effort needed to get to the weekend so at least the schoolwork arguments would end for a few days.

BUT…

I only cried when I got chili oil in my eyes.  I didn’t even lose my crap when the dog took a nap in actual crap and tried to come inside with crap all over her shoulder.  And all those eggs I broke Monday?  We had delightful quiches for breakfast this morning.  (Yes, I just said “delightful” about quiche, and I feel just as weird about it as you do now.)  I feel okay in spite of all the mess, and that’s a new thing for me.

I finally feel like there is a very real pathway through the desert for me, and there is a river flowing through the dry wasteland that is depression brain (besides the chili oil tears from my eyes).  So here are the three things you should know this Thursday:

1. There is always hope.

I know from my own experience that it doesn’t always feel like it.  I haven’t ever really been suicidal, but I’d be lying if I said I’ve never thought the world would be better off without me.  But that was a lie from the pit of Hell that is never something God would say to you or want you to say to yourself.  We are each specially designed by God and valuable as his work of art and destined to fulfill his purpose in our lives.  Never stop believing that.

2. I had to make changes for the better in every aspect of my life and be consistent with those daily actions to see this giant improvement.

I started with a few things and built on it, but God isn’t just interested in our spiritual health.  He wants us to be healthy and strong in our bodies, our minds, our relationships, our work, and our faith.  You may have to address the biggest fire first, but it takes a whole being approach to reap the biggest change rewards.

3. At some point, I will relapse and have depression symptoms again.

I’ve dealt with it long enough to recognize that I will not be one of those people who has an episode or two and then gets over it.  I will need to treat depression like a chronic disease for the rest of my life.  It sounds a tiny bit depressing just saying that like a fact, but it is a fact, and acknowledging the fact means I can manage it like any other chronic illness can be managed.  I can expect good times, and I can expect relapses.  It’s just a fact of life, so when it happens I can remember that it won’t last forever and it’s just part of the illness (not a mental or moral defect).

So, when life cracks all your eggs, make a delightful quiche.  And when life cross contaminates your paper towel with chili oil that you then wipe your eyes with, may your tears form rivers in the dry wastelands and may your milk be cold and close at hand.

It’s a good thing they’re cute.

WIP Wednesday 9/2/20

I try to show an art or writing related WIP when I share these, but this week, my biggest WIP is me. I try to be transparent about my mental health struggles so that other people may feel safer to share their own problems or at least know they aren’t alone, so this week the WIP is me.

My average morning face

Right now, after months of social distancing, it’s hard not to feel alone. The constant changes in our work and school environments, the stress of dealing with the threat of a mysterious illness, the ever growing cacophony of political posts and angry people on social media… It’s all taking a toll on me, and I know I’m not the only one. The tragic loss of someone I’ve counted as a friend several weeks ago reminded me that I need to take my mental health seriously as the potential life-threatening disease depression can be.

This summer I already made myself a list of things I knew my counselor would tell me to do, and I’ve been trying to do them daily. Last week, I added a diet element to it that’s shown a lot of potential in the few limited clinical trials that have been done. This week, I sat down and wrote out care plans for daily preventive care, acute symptom care (when I start feeling mental and physical symptoms of stress, depression, or anxiety), and rescue care (when it’s all a bit too much, and I need immediate relief).

After several months of intentionally doing my “preventive protocol,” I can definitely say it’s helping me stay on more equal mental footing. The addition of the diet angle and the mental safety net of having plans written out with behavioral triggers to put them into action has been a huge and quick improvement, enough so that I’m committing to sticking with the diet plan for the foreseeable future.

Sometimes, the WIP is me.

And that’s a good thing. I am a valuable creation of God, and I am worthy of taking care of myself. Depression brain wants to tell us that we have no value, no worth, nothing to offer. That’s just not true.

You are valuable, you are loved, and you are worthy of being your own WIP, too. What do you need to start doing today to grow and feel better?

The Best Laid Plans… Mindset Monday

Today will not go as perfectly planned.  In fact, it’s already off the rails.  Do your best.  Don’t quit.  Good is good enough.

I am horrible with schedules.  Being on time is ridiculously hard for me (and harder for the rest of my family, so you can imagine getting out the door with our crew is LOADS of fun), which everyone who knows me well has experienced.  I wish I could be one of those people who could shrug it off, but I also feel it deeply like a moral failure.  (It’s also SUPER fun to be a perfectionist but not also a Type A organized person…)

When I’m being an organized person and using my daily planner, I rough out the time allotment for each task in half hour increments, and I shoot for that as I work through the day.  BUT, I have yet to ever complete a perfectly planned day perfectly.  It never happens.  It probably never will happen.  BUT, it doesn’t stop me from trying.

I know the definition of insanity is to try the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome, so I tweak my approach once in a while.  I’m not completely crazy – just a little nuts most of the time… 

No matter how hard I try, something is going to derail my perfect planner day.

I’m generally resilient enough to adapt and still get the big things done (see last week’s post about prioritizing tasks), but one of the worst perfectionist personality traits is the desire to just chuck it all if it can’t be done perfectly.  I have those days once in a while, and I have to make myself finish the day.  It’s usually not pretty.  I probably act more childish than my child about it.

This train isn’t even trying.

Most of the time, a quick gut check is enough to remind me what’s important, and I just roll with it.  Wherever you go, there you are.  So if the derailed perfect plan train takes me hallway around the world, that’s fine: I’ll see new sights.  I have been described more than once as “unflappable.”

Some days, I am flappable.  I need to be reminded that not quitting may be the best I can do, and that’s okay.  I just need to do the best I can in that moment, even if it’s not the best I could have done in other circumstances.  I keep trying to work my way to being perfect, but I can’t be.  The truth is, without grace, my whole life is a runaway train, and there’s not a thing I can do about it.

That’s a tough pill for a perfectionist to swallow, but it’s the grace that Jesus taught over and over.

“But the Lord said to her, ‘My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!  There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.’” Luke 10:41-42

“Then Jesus said, ‘Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.’”  Matthew 11:28-30

I’m not saying we shouldn’t work hard or pay attention to the details – God wants us to offer our best when we work – but I am saying sometimes we get wrapped up in the wrong details.  I can get honed in on a particular set of circumstances and miss the big picture.

Forget the rails, just hang on!

In the next few weeks leading up to school start dates (or not starting, or partial weeks, or whatever the plan is today), we’re all going to need grace to make it work.  Some of us may need a lot of help to make it work.  My teacher and school administrator friends are going to need so, so, so much prayer from us and grace from their classroom parents just to stay sane.  We’re all going to need resiliency and (say it with me this time) grace to make it through the semester when the only constant is change.

I’ll be telling myself over and over to step back and find the one thing worth being concerned about and going hard after that.  Here’s a secret: it’s always going to be loving God and loving people.  That’s always the big picture, and it never changes.  Let’s hang on to that while our perfect schedule trains ride off the rails into new territory.  I bet the scenery will be worth it.

Three Things Thursday – I Wrote a Book! Edition

Three Things Thursday – I Wrote a Book! Edition

#1.  I haven’t been very active here on the blog for several months, but I was getting the final editing and design touches completed on “A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief.”  So I may not have been very productive at writing much else, but I’m ALL DONE WITH THE BOOOOOOOOOOOK!!!!!

#2.  I think the most constant childhood dream job I ever had, whether I admitted it to anyone or not, was that I wanted to be an author.  I feel like I’ve been able to call myself a writer for quite some time because I write a lot even though most of what I write will never see the light of day.  But the title of “author” felt reserved for special people who actually publish books.  Well, today is a special day for me because the print edition is now live on Amazon. (A few days early!)

I am officially an author, which is such an incredible feeling, though I’m arguably no more or less special than I was before.  (Some of you who know me well can attest to the fact that I often act like a special kind of goober, and that is unchanged – now I’m just a goober author.)  As an official author, I have an official author page now on Amazon, too, which you are welcome to check out here“A Psalmist’s Guide to Grief” should be linked on that page, or you can click through the title, too.  Right now it’s only on Amazon’s platform, but I will be looking further out now that the heavy lifting is done.

#3. I have one giant favor to ask.  If you do read the book, I would be extremely grateful if you would leave a review.  It will help the book’s rank in searches.  To be completely transparent, it would hopefully help sales, but the bigger picture is it would widen the field of people who might actually see it on Amazon (and eventually beyond) who might need to hear the same things I needed to hear from God.  I honestly don’t care much about the sales, but I do hope to help as many people as possible walk through grief with better coping tools than I had.

There’s still a lot of work to do to keep promoting and finding good local places to sell and all those things that go along with actually selling a book once it’s written, but today is a day to CELEBRATE!  Since real parties are not exactly happening right now, let’s party virtually – share your favorite happy dance/party/anything fun GIF in the comments.

Thank you, friends, for all your support to get to this point!  These extra exclamation points are for you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

WIP Wednesday – 7/29/20

I like to process what I read when I study the Bible several different ways when I have time to really dig in. I try to read a commentary to see new angles, I take notes, and then I write and draw something that expresses what I learned and need to apply.

Today’s WIP is my doodle-notes page from Colossians 3. The text of what I wrote is below the picture.

I stand here every day in front of this closet and consider all the things I have to wear. I examine the clothes and think about how they will fit my mood or my activity or the way my body feels today. But really, I make a choice every day about what I put on and what I take off and what never even makes it to my closet for consideration in the first place. I must choose mercy and love and humility and kindness.

I must take off anger and greed and envy like dirty clothes and leave them in the heap of things that no longer suit this new creation of Christ, bathed anew in morning mercies.

Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us together in perfect harmony.

Colossians 3:12, 14

One Thing at a Time – Mindset Monday

Everything can’t happen at once; it’s all a process, a one-step-at-a-time journey.

My brain is terrible at processing and accepting the fact that I can really only do one thing at a time.  At any moment, if you peeked into my brain and asked what it was thinking about, the answer is probably, “Everything.”  What do I want to write about?  Everything.  What do I want to paint?  All the things.  What task should I start to declutter and organize the house?  Everything again.  What project should I finish next for work?  So.  Many.  Things.  When do I want to do all these things?  Right now.  All of it.  Now.

Did I say do it all right now yet?  Because that what my brain thinks is possible if you ask it.

I have finally gotten proof copies of my book and read through it on paper one last time for a final edit, and it’s all ready to go for an official launch date of August 1.  The hardest part of writing the book and getting it ready for publication was making myself sit down and work methodically.  I spent probably a year outlining and researching, another two years after that writing the first half, one more year just getting the rough draft done already, and then it took me over a year to edit and format.  It sounds like a labor of love that took time to come together, and there’s some small truth to that.

Mostly, though, my brain has the attention span of a fruit fly when it comes to finishing big things.  I’ll get excited and dive into the deep end of learning everything I can about the new thing, and then, BOOM: shiny spot on the wall.

There’s a joke that if you want to find the writers at a coffee shop, you just have to shine a light on the wall, and they’ll all come to it.

Time to learn all about that new shiny spot.  But I still want to publish that first shiny thing and paint the shiny squirrel, and don’t forget about learning to play that instrument and organizing the sock drawer.

I can almost reach it!

I understand that the shiny squirrel problem is common to writers/creatives, and I understand why if their brains are wired like mine.  I love to tell stories in my writing and art, and everything around me has a story begging to be told.  It’s hard to focus on just one at a time when I can hear so many whispering to me.

Behold! The glorious shiny chicken hero!

I also know plenty of non-writers who suffer from the shiny chicken affliction, and I understand them, too, if their brains are anything like mine.  You see the possibilities of what could be done, and maybe you see most of the steps to make it happen.  None of them are too hard for you to handle, and there’s absolutely no reason why you can’t tackle that project.

Unless you also have to operate in the real world, as most of us do…

We have multiple claims to our time even when we’re not running on a tight schedule.  If you have family, friends, pets, a home, a job, a church, a hobby or two (or ten…), an illness to manage, or any other aspect of operating as a grownup, then you have competing demands on your time and energy.

And you have limits to your time and energy.  It’s the ugly truth of humanity that we are limited creatures.  Maybe in heaven we can do everything at once, but this side of the pearly gates, we have to manage with a linear time structure and limited energy resources.  We have to prioritize and choose what gets those limited resources.

The frustrating part of that is whatever we don’t choose will suffer, or at the very least remain on hold until we have the time to focus on it.  What do you do when you feel like the choice comes down to career or purpose or family?  How do you choose when they’re all valuable?

How do we choose what gets our focus?

This part is the silver lining to me.  In making decisions about my priorities, I have to choose so carefully that I must limit my field of vision to just the most important things for that span of time.  If I made the decision that those things were the most important tasks, it gives my shiny spot/squirrel/chicken finder permission to put on some blinders for a while so I can see just what’s in front of me.  Prioritizing gets me over the hurdle of feeling like everything has to happen all at once.

Prioritizing makes me think harder about what my real values are and whether what I’m planning to work on or spend time doing reflects those values.  I can say I value my daughter, but if I never spent time with her, my actions would demonstrate otherwise.  (Sounds a lot like James 2:14-18…)  Choosing my tasks with this big picture view ensures that I am intentionally living within my faith and moral code.  It also limits my focus to a few big tasks each day so that I work with all my effort rather than in random spurts.

One step at a time isn’t all bad.

One shiny step at a time…

I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to completely ignore shiny spots on the wall, and it’s certainly inevitable that a shiny squirrel or two will run past the blinders.  It’s not chicken-proof, but my mental tool to get back on task is to allow the thought to pop in my head for a second.  Even if it’s ridiculous, I write it in an idea journal (or make a note on my phone if the journal isn’t handy) to save it for later.  When I have time to take the blinders off, I can always go back and look at the shiny chicken later.  The idea journal gives my brain permission to see a shiny spot, record it, and then get back on task quickly.  I can let the new idea go for a while because I know it’s safe in the journal.

What mental tricks or tools do you use to stay on task?

Gratuitous naked chicken.
Because what is seen cannot be unseen, and if I had to see it, so do you.

WordPaint – Three Things Thursday

Today’s profile is a woman who started out as a coworker, became a friend, and is always a force of nature.  I admire Emily Johnson for her drive, her commitment to faith, and her brilliant smile that can light up a room.

I highly suggest falling in as a recruit. You get a rank and all the product updates!

Most recently, Emily launched WordPaint Cosmetics where she blends (See what I did there?) a fabulous line of cosmetics with her faith in one of the most creative concepts I’ve ever seen.  I am very much in love with her web site, and you will be, too.  While you’re there, definitely shop the Armory, and be sure to read the other pages.  It’s so good and so fun and so smart.  (There’s your three things, in case you were wondering.)

I’m always amazed by the creative works of people when I can see they are doing exactly what God designed them to do. Knowing Emily and working with her for years, I love seeing her shine with purpose. It’s beautiful.

You can follow Emily’s WordPaint HQ on Facebook (@WordPaintHQ) and on her WordPaint Headquarters web site.

Literary Healing Arts – WIP Wednesday

Salaam Green, maybe more than anyone I know, recognizes that we are all works in progress, and she uses her gifts to help others heal and grow.  I first found Salaam’s writing work in a Facebook group for writers, the See Jane Write Network.  I instantly fell in love with her storytelling and the images her words spun up in my head.

As a writer who loves to encourage people to be creative and use that creativity to grow, I dearly love Salaam’s work of using journaling to heal. She founded the Literary Healing Arts Foundation as a way to help people write their healing into reality. Please check out her web site for the Literary Healing Arts Foundation. You’ll find her blog and a page with prompts as well as a way to submit writing for healing feedback.

You can also find Salaam on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/salaam.green), Instagram (@redcouchwriters), and Twitter (@salaamgreen1).

Amplify – Mindset Monday

I stumbled upon a celebrity social media post about doing the #AmplifyMelanatedVoicesChallenge this week. (I saw it on Glennon Doyle’s Facebook page, and it was created by @blackandembodied and @jessicawilson.msrd) The idea is that you mute your own voice and amplify the voices of black women. I can think of no better way to process what’s happening in the nation right now. Writers write to understand the world, and I will journal like crazy, but what I should share publicly is something that could actually make a difference rather than add more words to the cacophony of the moment.

I think the best place for me to start is to amplify the women in my life who have helped me, who nurture me with their talents or acceptance or friendship on a daily basis. Monday is usually when I write about a mental health mindset tool, so today is all about a friend whose life work is the mental health of others.

Danna Perdue-Melton is one of the kindest, funniest, and smartest women I know. I love every minute we get to spend together. She’s also a licensed counselor who works with children, adolescents, and adults with issues related to anxiety, depression, toxic stress, trauma and PTSD.

You can find information about Danna’s counseling services here:

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/therapists/danna-perdue-melton-hoover-al/742154

You can also follow her on Instagram @dannamp or Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/danna.perduemelton) for daily encouragement. I love her posts, and she encourages me every day through them. Her friendship is a gift I treasure, and her counseling work and encouragement is a treasure for everyone.

https://www.facebook.com/YWCACentralAlabama/