From Eden's Dirt

Hope through despair. Faith through fear.

Author: Melanie Makovsky (page 1 of 2)

Essentials of Self Care: Rule of Life

This is the fourth post in my Essentials of Self Care series. To read more on this topic, choose one of the following posts:

Sleep

Breathe

Own Your Time

If I had to choose an adjective to describe what life feels like in 2019, I might pick busy, or hurried, or even instant. I’ve been a legal adult for twenty years now, and in that time I’ve observed a steady and alarming progression in the average person’s expectations about how long something should take. For example, twenty years ago my mom had to start her Christmas shopping in October. She had to start that early because the approach of Christmas meant squeezing in shopping trips to the mall or the outlet center, and she already had a busy schedule. If she didn’t want to make the time for one more shopping trip, her other (and sometimes favorite) option was catalog shopping. But to do that she needed to find the type of catalog she needed, find an appropriate gift within it, and then either fill out and mail an order form to the company or call a customer sales phone number and wait on hold for a live person to take her order. And no matter which option she chose, she had to wait for the item she’d order to be prepared, packaged, and shipped, which usually took several weeks.

In contrast from the 90s, I start my Christmas shopping on Black Friday. I rarely buy anything that I need to leave the house for. Most of my shopping happens in one huge Amazon Prime order. I get gifts for everyone that way, because Amazon has pretty much everything, and I don’t have to fix myself up, leave the house, or drive anywhere to get it. I even order most of the stocking stuffers I buy. On Black Friday, or shortly after, I put in one huge Amazon Prime order, click on which of the saved credit cards I want to use for the entire order, and I’m done. I order photo Christmas cards the same way every year from photo storage and gift sites, who often have an option that could allow me to input all the addresses of my Christmas card recipients, so that the company itself will print, address, stamp, and mail all of my cards for me, without me ever even having to touch one on paper.

Amazon, and similar sites that strive to challenge Amazon’s online shopping empire, have taken over so much of our shopping business that small business owners, or even franchised brick-and-mortar store owners, are struggling to survive. The fact that we even have that term, brick-and-mortar stores, speaks to our growing need for instant retail gratification. Interestingly, even though we don’t yet have our hands on the new prize, we get that instant gratification at the point that we order it. “Add to cart” is therapeutic, and when that package shows up on my front porch, its like a shopping orgasm.

Believe me, I’m not about to preach at you about buying local or supporting small businesses. I mean, you should, and so should I, but obviously I fall into the instant gratification trap too, and not just with retail therapy. Five years ago I was obese, a result of several years of bingeing on sugary, fatty, and salty foods. King-size candy bars worked better and faster than antidepressants.

As important as all these things are, I’m not going to write an entire post about things you shouldn’t do, at least not this time. If I’ve learned anything from parenting autistic kids and being a former binge eater, it’s that people eliminate unhealthy behaviors a lot more easily when they can focus on adding healthy ones. That’s where the concept of a Rule of Life comes in.

I first encountered the idea of a Rule of Life in Ruth Haley Barton’s book Sacred Rhythms: Arranging Our Lives for Spiritual Transformation, but Barton didn’t invent the term. A Rule of Life originally referred to a set of guidelines for monastic life. The C.S. Lewis institute describes Rule of Life as “an intentional pattern of spiritual disciplines that provides structure and direction for growth in holiness.” In other words, it’s a commitment to engage regularly in a routine of spiritual disciplines with the goal of growing closer and closer to God.

In a previous post in my Essentials of Self Care series I suggested that we can better ensure that we are living according to our personal values and priorities by analyzing our day-to-day schedules and routines and then adjusting them until the things we spend the most time on are a reflection of those values. It’s a simple concept, but it isn’t easy to achieve because there are countless sources of stimulation that fight for our attention all day long. A Rule of Life can be one way to adapt our lives toward our values, or more specifically, toward a continually deepening relationship with our Creator God. No matter how much we do to practice Christian values, no matter how many ministries we volunteer for, no matter how many times we talk to someone about Jesus, if we don’t build a deeply personal connection with God, our faith is at risk. So yes, I’m talking about reading your Bible, about praying, about your “quiet time”. You can go to Bible studies and prayer meetings (please do!), but no group event or ministry can serve as a substitute for a daily personal connection with our Lord.

There are roughly a bajillion Bible verses that describe the importance of a personal relationship with God. (For starters, try John 1:10-13, Jeremiah 29:11, Revelation 3:20, and Hebrews 11:6.) Believers tend to throw around that term, “a personal relationship with God,” without clearly defining it, but you can get a better idea of what a personal relationship with God looks like if you replace “God” with a flesh and blood person’s name. For example, I know for sure that I want to have a personal relationship with my husband. Although Eric definitely isn’t God, I love him, I want to continue loving him, and I want to do things that build up our love for each other and the relationship we’ve built for the last twenty years. That describes, vaguely anyway, what I see as the goal of a continually deepening personal relationship with Eric. The next question I can ask myself is “What can I do on a regular basis to make our love for each other last and to continually grow in closeness and love with each other?”

The answers to that question would depend on Eric’s individual characteristics, along with my own, and actions and words that I know from our past together can bring us closer together. The things on this list, and the commitment to practice them on a regular and frequent basis, would be a “rule of life” for my marriage.

Just as my list of practices that deepen my relationship with my husband are likely different than yours, our Rules of Life that guide our committed daily connection with God will differ as well. But there are some essential qualities that define a rule of life, as well as essential practices that God teaches us to use as we walk with Him everyday.

To begin with, the concept of a Rule of Life implies a commitment to practice a set of spiritual disciplines, or to do certain relationship-building things, on a daily basis. In her book Barton provides her own Rule of Life as an example, but not an exact model. Barton’s Rule of Life consists of a daily routine of “quiet time” with God, but also includes weekly and monthly commitments for longer periods of focused time alone with God. So, while your daily Rule of Life practice might consist of Bible reading, devotional reading, and prayer every morning, it’s also a good idea to include actions like Sabbath practice, personal retreats, and periods of quiet, that can connect you more deeply and for longer periods of time with our Father.

My Rule of Life includes daily Bible reading, both in the context of a topical study and a Bible-in-a-year reading plan.  The Bible isn’t a history textbook, a poetry collection, or a good novel, and God never intended us to read it once and put it back on the shelf. Unlike any other book, the Bible is God’s revelation to us of who He is. Just as you wouldn’t expect to remain close to a friend without listening to his words, you can’t stop reading God’s Word to you. No matter how many times you’ve read it, even every word, spending time reading your Bible everyday will never be a waste (Isaiah 55:11). So make daily Bible reading not just a goal, but a unwavering commitment.

I do take advantage of daily devotional books, and for the last years I have found that reading through certain devotional writings by calendar day every year helps to connect me with God’s story in my own life. I’ve been reading Charles Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening every year for about ten years now, and I continue to gain insight and awe from his reflections. If you want to use a devotional but don’t know what to pick, I would suggest starting with a well-loved classic like Spurgeon’s or My Utmost for His Highest, by Oswald Chambers. Then, in addition to a classic devotion book, find a newer book that appeals to you by its topic, intended audience, goal, or writing style.

Prayer, meditation, and writing are also essentials for me, because they engage not just my eyes on the page and my knowledge of God’s character, but my own response to what He has shown me, both by His Word and by my relentless daily connection with Him. Both prayer and meditation open my heart and mind to God, and just as significantly, close my mind to outside distractions. That’s easier said than done, of course. There are many days when my daily time with God is interrupted by children, pets, a to-do list, an oven timer, or a phone notification. Eliminate and reduce distractions as much as you can – turn off your phone, close the door, find something to keep the kids busy, and let the people around you know that this part of your time is for God alone. But know also that God recognizes that you aren’t in control of what is going on around you, and in this too there is forgiveness. The more often you practice this time of quiet, mindful prayer the more those around you will see its value in your life, and the better you’ll get at reducing any interference.

For now anyway, I’m not going to attempt to tell you how to pray, how to meditate, or how and what to write during your time with God. These practices are deeply personal, deeply emotional, and deeply individual. Who am I to say that what I get out of prayer journaling is any better than what you get out of, say, praying the rosary? I can’t, because God knows us so well that not only does He listen to any type of dedicated prayer, but I believe He actually wants you to pray in the way that is most meaningful and connected for you. God isn’t limited to only certain types of communication.

If you’re at a loss and simply can’t find a method of prayer that connects you to God, know that I’ve been there too, more than once. There have been periods of dryness in my connection with God when prayer feels like talking to the ceiling. In hindsight I’ve realized that this often happens when I am withholding something about myself that God wants to change, but that may not be the case for you. So if you need me to tell you what to do, try this: silence. Schedule your prayer time for a time when you can be completely alone, with as little noise and distraction as possible. Get up at 2AM, pray, and go back to sleep if that’s all that works for you. Find your silence, set yourself up to stay both comfortable and alert, and then close your eyes, asking God to speak to you. Breathe deep and wait for a while. See what happens. It’s not easy.

Above all, a Rule of Life is a commitment to learn and grow with intentional action and thought. If you’ve ever learned a skill by hand – playing an instrument, running a marathon, riding a bike, or fixing a car – you know that commitment, attention, and routine can come together to give you a deeper understanding and a closer relationship, even with an action or object. A Rule of Life connects us with God in a similar way, but unlike a bike or a trail or a violin, God is waiting to connect with us in a love relationship that can grow infinitely deeper and more beautiful.

Photos by Clark Young, Jan Kolar, Luisa Scheting, Ben White, Heather Mount, Samantha Sofia, and Aaron Burde via Unsplash.

Just Before Dawn

(a poem)

How good it is when people praise

with grasses green and sunny days,

when all is calm and all is bright

there is no fear of darker nights.

But when heaven’s comforts are on earth

what value has the Savior’s birth?

If from earthly burdens freed

what more of heaven would we need?

How good it is when people groan

longing for a joy unknown,

when life is pain and bodies weak,

the present dark, the future bleak.

For without hurt and fear and loss

what value is the Savior’s cross?

If there were no reason for His death

singing praise would be a waste of breath.

Perhaps the darkness on this earth

can show us what the light is worth.

Hatred, poverty, disease, and sin

can mark the spot where the light begins.

When pain is constant and grief profound,

when our feet are tired, and we hit the ground,

then on our knees, we look up and find

Love excelling, Love divine.

  • May 1, 2019

Photos by Ryan Hutton and Solaiman Hossen via Unsplash

A Calling to Stewardship: We’ve paved paradise and filled it with trash.

As a kid, I took for granted the idea that our food, in some way or another, came from the land. I grew up on a farm that my family owned for three generations, so food, and the land that produced it, was literally all around me. It was a long time before I really thought about the fact that not everyone could pick a peach off a tree and eat it in August, or an apple in September, or a pumpkin in October. That was everyday reality for me.

I also learned pretty quickly that just because my dad knew how to coax a plant or tree to produce berries or fruit didn’t mean he had complete control. Peach trees would blossom in the early spring, but a shift to colder weather could bring frost in April, killing the blossoms and the fruit that would have grown from them.

God created the earth and its fruit for our use (Gen. 2:15), and mankind’s very first sin was to abuse that gift through disobedience. But instead of taking back the land He’d created from nothing, God instead put it into our hands to care for and toil over. The land is still our food, whether we grow a tomato ourselves or buy sauce in a can at the grocery store. Yet, with each generation and advancement in agriculture, food production and packaging, distribution, and availability we’ve become more physically separated from the land itself. We haven’t just stopped visiting farms. Most of the time we don’t even know where to find one.

It’s the same with the untamed land around us. Wilderness is hard to even imagine sometimes. As our population grows, so does our need for homes, schools, stores, and businesses. We’ve set nature aside so that what land we have that isn’t consumed by the needs of people is segregated into public parks and preserves, many of which are tamed to meet our needs as well. We take out the nature to add parking lots, bathrooms, souvenir shops. We pave walking trails so that they’re easier on our feet.

None of this is wrong, but it is unsustainable.

When I give one of my kids a gift, particularly one that costs me valuable time and money, I’m hurt when they don’t treat it as a valuable possession. My youngest son loves stuffed animals and values them more than his other toys. He wakes up with back or neck pain some mornings because he sleeps with so many that he runs out of room to lay down comfortably. So when I find one of his stuffies dirty, left out in the rain, or lost altogether, it hurts my feelings a bit. He says he loves it, he plays with it, and he uses it, but despite that he has failed to properly care for it and protect it.

In recent years God has opened my eyes to see that, like my son and his stuffed animals, we tend to use His gifts to us to satisfy our own desires without also taking responsibility to ensure that they are properly cared for. I am annoyed when I go to an amusement park or outdoor eating area and find the trash can overflowing, spilling dirty paper cups and plastic spoons onto the ground, but I don’t take the time to connect that thought to where all this trash will go after someone cleans it up — to a landfill that covers acres of ground, and is itself overflowing.

When I finish eating I go to a big box store. I buy myself a t-shirt because it’s cute and only costs $5. I don’t think about the other 20 cute t-shirts I already own, how easily the thin fabric will tear, leading me to throw this t-shirt in the trash bin, then the garbage truck, then the landfill. I don’t consider whether or not this t-shirt may have been sewn by a child younger than my own, working in a sweatshop, who may never be able to afford the $5 t-shirt that I’ll only wear twice.

It’s big, this problem. It’s everywhere. It hurts to think about it. It makes me want to plug my ears, close my eyes, and pretend I don’t know it’s there.

Which is exactly what we’ve been doing for about the last six generations.

It’s time to stop.

*This is the first post of my new series, A Calling to Stewardship. I invite you to help me treasure the world God created for use and commanded us to work (Gen. 3:19). Let me open your eyes so that you too can see the love of your Creator in every rock, every tree, every animal, and every person.*

Art based on The Lion King produced by tigon at DeviantArt, with my words added.

In Dreams I Rise

(a poem)

In dreams I rise.

Not fly. Not soar.

Just rise.

Suddenly, magically,

By no effort of my own,

I am taken up. Weightless.

But I can still see the ground.

I float out of a busy church,

Then down a city street, three stories up.

No one sees. No one cares.

Their lives continue on the ground,

But I am free.

In the sky I am never weary.

I don’t need to analyze every thought or feeling.

There is no need to think of sorrows,

Of imperfect relationships,

Of pain.

When I float I have no fear of dementia,

Or addiction, or mental illness.

I am alone in the sky; there is no expectation of sanity.

In rising my muscles will never grow sore,

My head won’t ache, I won’t grow dizzy.

I will never wake up in the dark, scared and upset,

Coated in sweat like paint, yet frozen in a coldness that comes from fear.

There’s no need for sleep in the sky.

On earth I am heavy, hurt, weak, and afraid.

When I rise I am carried in graceful hands.

On the ground I toil, carrying my burdens in my mind and body.

I carry rocks for people who can’t carry their own,

And the fight, and the weight of expectations and responsibility grind me slowly and painfully into the ground.

Gravity itself is my sorrow.

The sky, you see, is where I belong,

And my cells are homesick.

Someday I will rise and never come down.

Until then I will walk.

Written by Melanie Makovsky

Photos by Bryan Minear, Ankush Minda, Palash Jain, and Alessio Lin.

My Snowy Day

Have you ever read The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats? It’s a beautiful picture book that I loved reading to my children when they were younger. In all of Keats’ books, both the art and the story reflect the joy and wonder of childhood in their simplicity, while also showing the struggle that a child must navigate as he begins to encounter his own need to adjust emotionally to the world’s imperfections.

In The Snowy Day, a little boy named Peter is overjoyed to wake up to find a deep covering of snow blanketing his urban neighborhood. As you might suspect, he is immediately drawn to the magic of the snow, running out into its depths in his little red snowsuit. He plays alone, performing the little scientific experiments that young children use so openly as they explore their world. He whacks a snow-covered tree with a stick until a pile of snow falls onto his head. He makes footprints in patterns. And, of course, he rolls snowballs.

Yet, after some time, Peter grows tired of his games and uncomfortable in the cold, and wants to go back to his warm home. Yet the snow is precious and new and fun, and he doesn’t want to leave it either. In his dilemma, he decides to roll a small snowball, just big enough to fit in his coat pocket, and then he goes inside. After a warm bath, however, Peter is dismayed to find that his snowball has disappeared, leaving only a wet coat pocket behind.

This weekend, by the grace of God and my husband, Eric, I am spending time alone at a retreat center located near the beach in San Diego. (I’m not going to tell you where exactly. This place is my secret piece of heaven, and I don’t want to share.) I’m here to rest, read, pray, and recharge my batteries, and I get to be here all the way until Monday. This, to me, is the ultimate measure of selfcare, not quite a vacation, but an indulgence in my own inner world, with time to fill only with the things that feed my soul. But the hard part, the damper on my private party, is that, on Monday, I will, in fact, go home.

I came here once before not quite two years ago, and it was one of the best things I’d ever done for myself. Solo retreats are an amazing way to get in touch with God and listen to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and the idea is that, after my God-and-me honeymoon, I can return home with a fresh outlook and a cleansed spirit. And, after my last visit here, that did happen. But my launch back into reality didn’t feel too good after my return home. I pulled in the driveway with an indescribable peace in my heart, and I was anxious to embrace my kids and my husband, to give them the new, best self that I’d uncovered. Then I opened the front door.

All three kids and my husband were home, and all 3 were in full, energetic swing. My elder son had an appointment that day to tour a meterological station in partial fulfillment of a Boy Scout merit badge. When I walked in, he needed to be there in ten minutes, and the station was twenty minutes away. Eric was trying to help him focus on what he needed to wear and bring along, as well as the types of questions he should ask, and in the midst of this my younger son was playing, chattering, and requesting attention. My daughter, who attended an online middle school at the time, was using her school-issued computer, struggling to complete her work in all the commotion. I was dismayed to say the least. All of this was (is) just a typical day in our crazy family life, but after my three days in solitude, the impact of this uproar on my sensory systems was overwhelming. I was able to greet everyone with hugs and kisses and listen to their reports of events that happened while I was gone, but within a few hours, my mind and body shut down. I ended up in bed with a multi-day migraine.

As I sit here again now, the discomfort of that reunion and the frustration I felt toward myself and toward my normal life sits in my mind, and I know I want to avoid that shock on Monday. But I don’t know how to translate the peace and tranquility I experience in this environment into the everyday life I lead. My precious snowball of solitude and quiet can only survive under the right conditions. When I take it out of its natural environment, it will melt. Like Peter, all I’ll have left is a wet pocket.

Learning to balance caring for others, caring for myself, growing my relationship with God and allowing Him to determine the values I will live out, and trying to enjoy the whole process is a never-ending balancing act. I am constantly questioning where and when one of these priorities should stop and another should begin. Ultimately I should be living them all out simultaneously, and certainly I am, but the time factor eludes me. When I need to practice my care for others, should I be sitting down, playing a game or having a talk with my kids? Going on a date with my husband? Keeping my house clean? Cooking a favorite meal? Planning and executing a family outing? Am I really caring for them if I’m cooking a meal and they’re in the other room? Since I’m pretty much the only one in the house who likes things clean and organized, is sweeping the floor an act of caring for my family, or caring for myself? When I’m feeling tired, sick, or resentful, should I continue sweeping the floor because I love them, or should I take a break? Is it too self-indulgent to take a 3 hour nap on Sunday afternoon? Is Eric out there in the living room thinking I’m lazy and growing resentful because I’m napping and he’s not? I definitely see the wisdom in putting on my own self care oxygen mask first before helping others, but I never seem to get enough air. Perhaps if I stopped overthinking it all I could breathe more deeply.

Like Peter, I want to keep my snowball. Having just the snowball isn’t quite as great as having all the snow, but keeping it means that I have a piece of that joy to hold onto any time I want. But, just as Peter wasn’t able to keep the snowball from melting in the warmth of his house, I can’t seem to carry the warmth and peace that I receive in solitude into my active life and my relationships. It disintegrates.

I want to know the secret to keeping the snowball. I want my self care practices to enhance and give depth and meaning to my work and my relationships. Instead I feel like the busyness of life too quickly drains my supply of inner peace.

For now, though, I will stop worrying about how to hang onto the snowball. For the next three days, I’ll just enjoy the snow.

Photo by Aaron Burden. Pictures by Ezra Jack Keats.

Essentials of Self Care: Own Your Time

This is the third installment in my Essentials of Self Care series. To view the earlier installments, choose a link:

Essentials of Self Care: Sleep

Essentials of Self Care: Breathe

Essentials of Self Care: Rule of Life.

I’ve written a lot about self care in the past. It’s important to me because I want others to know what I didn’t. I believe that one of the reasons I now suffer from chronic illnesses, mental and physical, is that I didn’t make time for self care in my earlier years as an adult, and especially after I became a mother. It wasn’t until I developed chronic migraines and other pain that anyone told me that self care needed to be more than remembering to eat right, brush my teeth, and take a shower once in a while.

In the fall of 2016, after several months of extreme anxiety, constant head and muscle pain, dizziness, and nausea, I saw my current primary care doctor for the first time. She asked me about my life, and the first thing I told her was that I was the at-home mother of two teens with autism. I didn’t get to tell her any more. She stopped me, saying, “No wonder you have migraines. I think all of this is happening because of constant stress and anxiety. Your body can’t manage it anymore.” I don’t tell you this here to make the claim that all chronic illness and pain is a result of stress. But stress is a big complicating factor, and it seems like so many people, myself included, feel stressed, but don’t feel like they have the time to relieve it. It’s not that I don’t want stress relief, it’s that any time that I spend caring for myself is time that I don’t spend doing something else that’s important. Like so many other women, I put my own needs last.

Self Portrait

I made changes after that, but I’ve come to the conclusion that, while self care allows me to cope with and enjoy my life, it’s too late for me to be completely healthy again. God may work a miracle for me, and I pray for one often. I am not discounting His desire and ability to make me well. But accepting that my body is tired helps me feel like my self care is worthwhile.

I don’t want others to get to this point where I am. I’m 37 right now, but I often joke that it feels like 87. I’m tired to the point of exhaustion almost all the time; in fact, if I don’t feel tired I tend to worry about what might be wrong. I take 10 pills every morning. While many other women are in much worse condition, I can emphatically tell you that I regret not allowing myself the time for proper self care, especially the kind that provides a release from tension and anxiety.

Here’s What I Wish I’d Known:

You own your time. Every hour of every day in this comparably short life is yours to invest. God has entrusted us with years of life here, and those years are made up of hours. I may be stating the obvious here, but this is something I didn’t know, or chose to ignore, for most of my adult life, and especially after I had children. But I chose that. Or it could be said that I chose not to own my time, allowing all the things around me to own it instead, and in my mind, I had no choice but to be dragged along behind the flow of my own life.

But there are 3 things you can accept and act on if you’re going to make the minutes of your life purposeful and healthy.

Time will pass whether you’re mindfully living your life by faith or allowing the flow to sweep you where it will. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon writes, “All the streams flow to the sea, yet the sea is never full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.” Don’t get caught in the cycle of the tides. Instead, try this:

1. Know your values.

If you can’t clearly define what you value, chances are you aren’t valuing those things. Our values are what shape us, and without them, our efforts are futile, or at least misplaced (Ecclesiastes 2:21).

Spend time in thought, prayer, and meditation, asking God to show you what is most valuable to you and what putting these things first would look like in your life. Give this time. I suggest several days of thought and prayer. When you feel like you know your answer, write down 3-5 values that God is calling you to live your life by. It may help to post this list somewhere where you will see it often.

2. Examine your current investments.

Take out your planner, datebook, Google Calendar, or whatever you use to keep track of your personal schedule. Page backwards. What did you spend most of your time on over the last days, weeks, and months? What values do these things convey? Think about the things you don’t write down as well — sleep, meals and meal preparation, self care, child care, carpools, and commutes. Where is your time going? Do most of your activities accurately reflect your values, or does your calendar represent your preoccupations?

Come up with a way to ensure that the majority of your time is used doing things that contribute to and build upon your values and the things you most love.



3. Leave a margin.

Even when you’ve adjusted your schedule and your lifestyle to properly invest in what you most value, it’s essential to plan for down time. It sounds a bit paradoxical, but if you fill every hour of your time and don’t leave plenty of blank space in your life, you’ll burn out. Leaving margin in your schedule allows a space for the unexpected, whether that ends up being taking your kids out for pizza or sitting in unexpected traffic. Down time is also a great way to ensure that you can invest in self care when you need it most.

God calls us all to intentionally live in a way that reflects His love to others, and also to ourselves. You may believe that certain actions are valuable, and are what God intends for your life, but if your day-to-day activities don’t reflect that, it means that you’re putting other things ahead of them. Just as important, if you’re spending all of your time chasing after what you value, and none of it caring for yourself and enjoying what you already have, you’ve missed the point.

Allow God to show you where He wants you to invest your precious energy, and when He wants you to rest and recharge. He doesn’t call us to a life of endless toil and striving. He calls us to a life of peace.

Photos by Kristopher Roller, Daoudi Aissa, Mikito Tateisi, and Milada Vigerova via Unsplash.

Emotional Constipation

I’ve never been good at holding anything back. A big part of my life story involves my big emotions and my tendency to dump them on others. I feel the most guilt about negative emotions, of course. Emotional tirades have been an issue for me since childhood. When I didn’t get what I wanted I let people know. One of my earliest memories is of going, or maybe being sent to, my room crying this loud yelling cry that I’m really good at. (Yes, still.) As I made my way to my room after some kind of argument with my mother I heard my father say in a frustrated voice, “What’s the tragedy now?” And he was right. He was right that I acted like everything was a tragedy, and he was right to be frustrated by that. I know because this is one of those situations where my parents got some payback. My kids do it too. My boys in particular are both especially good at building entire mountain ranges out of a few mole hills.

              Of course as I’ve grown I’ve learned that people don’t want to hear my tragedies. Frustrated comments like the one my dad made peppered my childhood, but when I got older and my problems got bigger, and I still threw my big emotions around, the emotions themselves became my problems. I had no problem crying loudly in the hallway in high school when my boyfriend broke my heart, but the snickers and mocking remarks of passersby still sting to this day, and I doubt my presentation was very attractive for my boyfriend either. Yet whenever I tried to hold back, whenever I just kept the feelings inside, or wrote them in my journal without telling someone else, I kept feeling them twenty-four hours a day. I just carried them around with me and I was constantly aware of them. I’m not someone who can pretend these things aren’t there. So then, when more bad things happened, I added more big emotions to the heap of others sitting inside me, and I felt ALL of them at once. Over time the emotions became impacted. I’m not talking about years of piling these things up; I never lasted that long without exploding. But the emotional constipation hurt like crazy, and when I finally got it out, it felt great.

Until it didn’t, of course. Because no one wanted to hear how bad I felt. I get that. It’s never comfortable when someone unloads a pile on you, even when nothing you’ve done is in the pile. The problem is that because I feel every emotion in a big way, when those big emotions get impacted, those hurts start telling me what to do and who I am. I start wanting to hurt people, sometimes even physically. I start thinking about how much I hate certain types of behavior that hurt me, and then I see it in everyone I meet. I become paranoid. Why is he looking at me like that? Does she think I’m too fat to be wearing this? Maybe my husband is cheating. I bet he is. That’s why he doesn’t like it when I rummage through his bags. I’m so ugly. No one should still get zits at 37. I know it – I’m sick. I have cancer, or an auto immune disease. I have psoriasis, so it’s definitely auto immune. WebMD says I need emergency treatment. But the people in the emergency room always send me home. I irritate them. They don’t care about me because I suck. I’m a waste of oxygen.

              The problem with emotional shit is that it can talk, and the more of it there is sitting inside me, the more it tells me. Nothing it tells me is good, and nothing it tells me is truth. But that doesn’t stop me from believing it. The messages my piled up emotions send me are like those radio commercials for car dealerships. They always make sure to include a catchy jingle that you’ll hate, but will still become an ear worm, repeating itself over and over in your brain. Emotions love to talk shit about me, and I’m the only one they talk to.

Why am I writing this? Why, for goodness sake, would I ever want to write this out and give this information to the general public? Who cares? Anyone who reads it will think I’m a wacko.

I’m writing this because I’m not wacko. I’m human.

Finally, we begin to see that all people, including ourselves, are to some extent emotionally ill as well as frequently wrong, and then we approach true tolerance and see what real love for our fellows actually means. It will become more and more evident as we go forward that it is pointless to become angry, or to get hurt by people who, like us, are suffering from the pains of growing up.”

 

This is not a quote from a famous blogger or a motivational speaker. As far as I know these words have never appeared in a TED talk. Those words were written by a member of AA, in a book originally published in 1952. This is not new information, and it wasn’t written by a millennial.

When you find information like this, information that is timeless, it’s easier to trust it as truth. Emotional backup isn’t my condition; it’s the human condition. There’s a post that bops around on social media that says something like, “Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you don’t know about.” That’s the truth. Kindness, politeness, humility, and open-mindedness can take us a long way, and so can being carefully honest about our true feelings.

I’ve done a lot of thinking and research to learn how I can be emotionally open and honest without getting myself into trouble, along with how I can avoid interpersonal troubles in the first place. I know what works for me, but that’s for another post. Here’s my encouragement to you: Be honest about what you are feeling, but be prudent with your honesty. Practice boundaries. Think carefully about how another person will react to what you need to say, and judge accordingly. Don’t let it all out without being mindful about when, where, and who hears it. I’m not suggesting you develop emotional diarrhea. I’m suggesting that we all learn to express our feelings, that we learn how to do it in a way that enables us to begin healing but without indiscriminately hurting those around us. I’m also suggesting that, if someone close to you dumps their emotions, try not to take it too personally. Recognize that what someone else says, even in an attempt to intentionally hurt you, reveals more about the speaker than it does the audience. Give them, and yourself, some grace. Life is hard.

I’m suggesting a steady diet of emotional fiber. I’m suggesting tolerance of other people’s emotional digestion. I’m suggesting that, if you know you are emotionally constipated, take that load to an open-minded friend, a mentor, or a therapist. Don’t take an emotional dump on the person that hurt you.

              Shit stinks. So do painful emotions. But when they’re flowing in a healthy way, and when we encourage others to keep them flowing in a healthy way, we’ll all feel a lot more comfortable.

 

Photos by rawpixel, Jason Roswell, Anna Dziubinska, and Hien Olviera via Unsplash.

Faith is a Verb.

I’m a control freak. I’m 37 years old, and I should know better by now, but in my heart I still believe that if I work hard enough everything will work out exactly the way I want it to. If I scold the kids the right way, take away the video games one more time, spend the right amount of quality time instilling in them my infinite wisdom, and pray really hard, they’ll start to show more respect, do all their homework, and go to bed on time all on their own. And if I see the right doctors, get the right tests, take the right pills, and do the right self care , I’ll be healthy and vibrant and happy, right? Yeah, I know.

I am way too old to believe this crap, but I’m out here hustling like it’s true anyway. Maybe that’s because what I really believe, and what I really fear, is that the opposite is true too. If I don’t use the right kind of discipline, don’t take the right pills, and don’t have the right kind of faith, my life, and I, will fall apart. And that’s when the really scary shit will happen.

Faith in Christ is about believing, not doing. But faith is this nebulous thing I can’t pin down. Telling me to “have faith” when I’m struggling is worse than telling me to just love my kids while they are literally trying to kill each other. What does it even mean?

I can show love, I can feel love, but how do I show or feel faith in a way that actually changes anything? It’s so easy to tell someone to pray, to take one day at a time, and to trust that God will work it all out when you’re not the one taking a suicidal child to the ER. When you are, one day at a time isn’t fast enough.

I’ve been an avid reader of She Reads Truth for about seven years now, almost from the beginning of the ministry. I follow along with their series of Bible passages and daily devotional readings as a matter of course now; they are the key component of my private devotions and quiet time each day. Right now they are featuring a study of Hebrews, and yesterday we arrived at Hebrews 11, the famous “hall of faith” passage. If you’re not familiar with this passage, in it the writer calls faith “the assurance of what is hoped for, the conviction or what is not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Pretty strong words, and a pretty high calling. But the writer then goes on to offer us proof —

By faith, Abel offered to God a better sacrifice than Cain did, and he was approved” (11:4).

“By faith, Noah built an ark,” saving his family, and mankind (11:7).

“By faith, Abraham set out for a place that was his inheritance,” without actually knowing where that place was (11:8).

And it goes on. Fourteen men and two women make it into God’s list of legends. They’re impressive and awe-inspiring. But yesterday writer Claire Gibson drew my attention beyond the list of names to the verbs:

Abel offered.

Noah built.

Sarah received.

Moses refused.

Rahab welcomed.

I’m a huge fan of verbs. They’re often little words, but they pack a lot of meaning and information. As a writing tutor I often find myself encouraging students to choose active and specific verbs that concisely express the action they’re describing. “Instead of saying, ‘It was a sunny day,'” I tell them, “try saying, ‘The sunshine warmed my skin.'” After all, anyone can say how something was, but when I tell you that the sun warmed my skin, you can feel it too.

Verbs are action. These people in Hebrews, in the “hall of faith,” were people, and they’re not on this list because they have something I don’t. I have faith. But what am I doing with it?

I’m saved by faith (Luke 7:50), but what am I doing about that?

Actually, I’m doing a lot about it.

I’m getting my kids up and taking them to school, because I want them to have wisdom (Proverbs 3:13). I’m teaching them about Jesus, because He’s the light of the world (John 8:12). I’m loving my imperfect husband , because we are one flesh (Mark 10:6-9). I’m studying the Bible, because it’s God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16), and sharing my faith, because Christ called me to (Matthew 28:19-20). I’m caring for my mind and body, because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19). I’m worshipping, because He is worthy of my praise (1 Chronicles 6:23-25).

Don’t make the same mistake I did when I read Hebrews 11. I looked at that list, all those people and what they did because they had faith, and I assumed I just wasn’t among them. They had so much faith, and they risked so much, because they trusted God.

But I do too, and chances are, so do you. I know that I’m doing my best to do the things He calls me to do. I know He calls me to these things because He says so in His Word, and because He encourages me when I pray. And I know I’m doing my best because I’m asking Him to work through me, and it’s His work, not mine, that performs miracles. I don’t need to be intimidated by the “hall of faith” because I’ve been inducted into it too.

By faith, Melanie lives her life as an act of worship. 

If you do too, smile. Relax. Be thankful. You’re doing life God’s way.

What are you doing “by faith”? Comment on this post by filling in the blank below.

By faith, _________________.

Life is Pain, Princess

Optimism is great and all, but let’s face it, it’s not going to stop bad things from happening. As a perspective on life, optimism encourages hope, gratitude, and positivity. But as a method for preventing or surviving bad stuff, it sucks.

              As a writer I definitely want to give my readers hope for the future, but you’re not going to get happy sunshine unicorns from me. That would do you a disservice because it’s not realistic, since denying that we have bad feelings that come from bad experiences doesn’t promote growth and healing, it promotes naivety. And it’s not who I am either. I don’t think I’m rude or even blunt, at least not all the time, but I am honest, and I encourage others to be so as well.

I love Inigo Montoya’s character in The Princess Bride. The handsome face and cute accent are part of it, but his loyalty and honesty are uplifting and bring a piece of reality into the fairy tale. But Inigo also makes me sad, in an uncomfortable way. His character’s back story is a side-plot in the movie, told only through his own words as he describes his quest to find the six-fingered man who killed his father. He is an intense and lovable figure, but he goes through life seeking only revenge for a painful loss in his past.

I like Inigo Montoya because I once felt like he does. I wasn’t a total pessimist, and I was often a fun and loving person to be around. But beyond fighting my demons, there wasn’t much more to life. I’m not even talking about my life before I met Jesus, or not just about my life before I met Jesus. Up until about three years ago, my main motivation for my decision-making and my actions and my goals was fear, and there are days now where it still is.

It would be easier for me to blame mental illness. Or childhood trauma. Or traumatic experiences in adulthood. Or bad genetics. Or the struggles of family and work and technology and creativity. I could describe myself here as a tragic artist, and it wouldn’t be totally inaccurate. I did lay in bed and cry over Don McLean’s song “Vincent” before I even reached puberty, and I did go to graduate school for a masters degree in a field that like only like 200 people on earth have even heard of. But I’m not a tragic artist, and I’m not a poor housewife, deprived of her creative outlet and opportunities to follow her dreams by demanding children who disrespect her. I’m not a genius locked away from a world that confuses my intelligence with insanity. I’m not a victim of abuse.

I’ve been all of these things, and I’ve treasured each of these roles in my heart. Just as Mary treasured the promises delivered by the angel Gabriel, I have cuddled and nurtured the bad things in my life, like ugly dollar store stuffed animals to a child who has never had one. But I didn’t have to. I had lots of great things in my life, and I always have. Yet I clung to my tragedy because my trauma and my pain was what I used to define myself. It was how I found meaning.

My meaning and purpose in life now is to follow God’s will for me in what I do and who I am. Three years ago, and maybe even ten years ago, I may have said the same thing, but it wasn’t true. It was an ideal, but it didn’t play out in reality, because I couldn’t take my eyes off of my fears long enough for me to experience any of the comfort or redemption that God was offering me. I knew Jesus was standing there, I knew He wanted me to come to Him, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the waves and the dark water.

              Depression and anxiety are nasty little beasts, and this is what they do to me. Even when I have the knowledge that my fears aren’t reality and that the circumstances that created them are long gone, and even when I know that my brain and my feelings can, in fact, lie to me, that knowledge only goes so far. It doesn’t stop the fear from being stronger. The fear that maybe I’m dying or this or that. The fear that I’m gradually going insane, and that it’s happening so slowly that no one but me will believe it’s true until it’s too late. The fear that my life really hasn’t been very worthwhile, and anyone else who could have been put in my place would have done just as well, or better, than I have. The fear that my kids are damaged, that my fears and my genetics have doomed them somehow. The fear that my husband is unhappy, that my worthlessness has spread to him, a sexually transmitted malaise. When I think about it, how could a 2000 year old Jewish man overcome all that?

              Of course, He did, and that’s the whole point. His whole point. That’s the Bible. But here’s my whole point. Just because He’s Jesus, and He’s mine, and I’m redeemed by His blood, doesn’t mean that I’m immune to fear. Nor does it mean that I should be, or that my faith is somehow less-than because I experience fear as a huge factor in my life. Mental illness isn’t faith illness, guys. Faith is about what I believe, what I know to be true without having to see it. Mental illness is about my brain. I know it’s there. I’ve had an MRI. I have a brain, among other internal organs. It looks normal because I don’t have the kind of mental illness that’s detectable through imaging (yet). But I know my brain is the cause of my mental illness, and while I’d love for you to pray for me to be free of it one day, I’m not mentally ill because my faith isn’t strong enough. Let’s just get that whole idea out of the way.

On the contrary, actually. My faith is strong because it has to be. Because I have demons. Because I am Legion, for they are many. Some call faith a crutch for the weak. Yep. I didn’t choose to be weak. There were periods of life when I didn’t know I could be stronger than I was, but I’ve always been weak in some ways. But the faith-is-a-crutch people have it backwards. I don’t have faith because I’m weak and need a crutch. I have a crutch because I choose to have faith. And without that crutch, without my faith, I’d be flat on my face. A lot of people have had similar problems to the ones I have, and I’m sure some of them have gotten through them without the crutch of faith. But why would I want to?

              Here’s the point that I’m finally getting to: my faith is strong because I need it to be. Like a muscle, I exercise my faith when I’m strong so that it can support me when I’m weak. I cultivate my relationship with my God everyday because knowing God more means that I’m more confident in who He is in my life, and how much He loves me and supports me, and that I can have faith in that when my brain is telling me that I’m worthless. I have faith because God teaches me to practice it, to invest in my relationship with my Love. I need to trust God, because I need a power greater than myself to get through life. I need faith because optimism, without God, is a fairy tale.

It’s Finally September!

Dear readers, I had every intention of posting this special surprise I have for you a whole two weeks ago, but life got in the way. I am really looking forward to spending this month focusing on taking care of our own bodies, minds, and spirits, but as it turns out, September didn’t come soon enough for me.

Sometimes it’s just so hard to admit our own limitations. I don’t necessarily want to keep my weaknesses a secret, but I do try to appear more resilient than I really am. While I truly believe that God places weaknesses and difficulties in my life to help me grow stronger in faith and show me my need for Him, I also believe that I need to take responsibility for my own wellbeing. When I’m tempted to believe that I’ll feel better if I just keep pushing myself I need the reminder that working harder can’t be my only plan of action for when things get tough. Even when I’m not sick I need to practice a consistent regimen of self care to keep myself from burning out. When I am sick I need to know what I can do to help myself heal emotionally, physically, and spiritually.

When we get on a plane we can always expect that the flight attendants will remind us that in an emergency we have access to oxygen from the masks that drop down from above our seats. But what would happen if they didn’t go through this explanation? If I’ve never been on a plane before I wouldn’t know what the oxygen mask was or how to use it. Even if I had flown before it’s possible that without that regular reminder I might panic and not remember what to do.

Self care tools are like the oxygen mask, and daily self care practice, even when life is going well, is like the flight attendants’ demonstration. Going through the routine of regular self care and learning what tools are at your disposal and how to use them to personalize your comfort is essential. Without self care you’ll still have oxygen, but you’ll definitely crash. It’s crucial. I know this from experience. 

It’s hard to know where to start if you’ve never made yourself a top priority. Chocolate and bubble baths aren’t everybody’s thing (and not mine either). But here’s where I can help you. I’ve put together a big list of self care activities for you to try — one for every day of September. And it’s completely free for you to receive right in your inbox. All this month you won’t have to think about what you can do to practice self care each day; it’s all there for you in a convenient little jpg file. I’ll be following along as well, and you can expect to get updates with ideas and encouragement throughout the week on Instagram and Facebook, along with weekly posts on my website to help you think more deeply and carefully about how you can make sure you’re able to be your best self for the people you love.

Yeah, I know, we’re already more than a week into September. It wasn’t my intention to leave you out to dry like this. The Self Care September calendar includes a suggested activity for all 30 days of the month, including the week that has already past. You have so many options on what to do about that though! You can pretend it’s September 1st and start there, giving yourself an excuse to carry your self care practice well into October (as you should). You can start on today’s date, whatever that happens to be, and plan on using the ideas from the days you missed to add in some extra self care time on the weekends or any day you find that you need it. It’s all up to you. All that’s really important is that you make this time for yourself.

Want to get started with me? Just type in your information below to receive your copy of my Self Care September calendar, follow From Eden’s Dirt on social media, and plan to interact with this community throughout the rest of the month. You are worth the time and effort it takes to practice good self care, and I promise that at the end of the month you’ll be glad you did.

Get your FREE Self Care September calendar and sign up for Self Care September updates here!

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