The Potter- A Poem

The Potter
~A Poem by Melanie Moscicki
Mending the Soul 2014

Another year,
a million tears,
so many times she’s tried
To fix the broken little girl,
she buried deep inside.

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He says to her,
“Come follow me,
I’ll make you new again”
but the walls she built are far too strong
to ever let Him in.

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She hears the sounds of laughter,
of joy she’s never known
Could it be? A girl like SHE
should live on LOVE-alone?

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So many scars from trusting
cracks from being dropped,
cast aside as nothing
but an empty, broken pot.

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But He says He’s a potter…
The best there ever was,
and He says I’m HIS daughter…
and His work has just begun.

At the Bottom

Here I am at the bottom again. Depression moves in swirls and waves most of the time and each day I dodge the waves and try to ride the swirls. If I could learn to recognize when I’m caught in a wave, I might be able to see more swirls. But in the wave, the swirls seem unreal. The good things that are swirls seem small and insignificant- fake even.

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First comes that pleading to God to help me- straighten me out- get me back on track. Then comes the self-loathing. “I used to be better than this.” And the worry. “How do I get out of this?” All the while the riptide is shredding and shredding each piece of me.

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Finally, I am at the bottom, the muck and the weeds surrounding me, and it’s an odd place. At the bottom, I can’t see the swirls or the waves. It’s just me stuck in the quicksand and having to deal with it.

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At the bottom I am like a lump. There is nothing redeeming about me. I have accomplished nothing. That being- that person -I used to be with the self confidence and nice clothes and polished up social skills isn’t me at the bottom. She is just a figment – a has-been. Some would call this a crisis, but it’s bigger than that. It’s a nothingness.

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As a lump I should have no feelings of inadequacy- no regret- no falseness, because I am only clay. I don’t look like anything, I have no expectations, because at the bottom you can only see the bottom.

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Yes, ripped up in those waves that came before, there were mistakes that put me on the bottom, a wrong decision, a bad medicine combo, a relentless negative narrative that tells me I don’t deserve anything. A heartless barrage of should and musts that are never met.

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After days, hours, minutes at the bottom I spot a tiny little swirl. Is it an opportunity? Because I am this lump, could I be formed into something different- maybe not even something better which is what the world would expect from one on the bottom, but something different? Surely that would take a lot of work, because I am at the bottom. And how does that work even begin?

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“So I went down to the potter’s shop and found him making something on his wheel. And as I watched, the clay vessel in his hands became flawed and unusable. So, the potter started again with the same clay. He crushed and squeezed and shaped it into another vessel that was to his liking. In that moment again I heard God’s word for his rebellious people. Oh, people of Israel can I not do the same to you as this potter has done? You are like clay in my hands- I will mold you as I see fit.” Jeremiah 3-6

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The potter started “with the same clay.” He didn’t throw it away and get some good fresh stuff, some brand-new baby straight from the womb to start a life free from regret and shame and mistakes.

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Is the work to turn the clay into something “Of his liking” the job of the clay? Is the clay expected to fashion itself into a beautiful vase or statue of magnificence? No, the work begins with the potter and the clay just has to allow itself to be transformed.

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I see the swirl- the opportunity- to allow God to do something with me to His liking. I could take my lumpy arms and start to etch out a nice big long “To Do” list of what it will take for me to be that woman I was- or to be different from her. But I won’t. Not today, sitting at the bottom, I trust the Potter. I trust God to make me to his liking- what could be better than to be admired by God?

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So, my prayer is for Him to take full control of my life. I will again ride the swirls, but in a way that God sees me riding them. I will still be crashed by waves, but God will use them to shape me to His liking.

My job is to be the clay.

My Soul will be Satisfied

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 63. It is a testament of love to God. It is an example of praise that sings a love song to the Lord. In fact, it has been sung in a love song by Shane and Shane.

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You may read the Bible every day as part of your devotions or you may read it like it’s a “can’t put down” novel. I would encourage you to step into the story and let it entrance you like that Number One Bestseller. I can’t help but step into Psalm 63 because it’s so lovely.

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“Oh God my God how I search for you! How I thirst for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water. How I long to find you! How I wish I could go into your sanctuary and see you strength and glory, for your love and kindness are better to me than life itself. How I praise you” Psalm 63:1-3

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Aren’t there days when you feel you are empty? Parched from the weariness of life? Or maybe you just don’t know what’s ahead of you. This Psalm can be used as a mindfulness exercise. When we move into purposeful mindfulness with God, we seek Him, search for Him to fill our spirit.

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As we find Him, we lift our hands in prayer, bless Him, and just be with Him.

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“I will bless you as long as I live, lifting up my hands to you in prayer. At last I shall be satisfied; I will praise you with great joy.” Psalm 63:4-5
Oh, to be satisfied right where we are! That is the end result of Mindfulness. What could be better than being satisfied and living in the now as God has created for us?

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“Often at night I lie in bed and remember you, meditating on your greatness till morning smiles through my window. You have been my constant helper; therefore, I sing for joy under the protection of your wings. My soul clings to you; your right hand reaches down and holds me up.” Psalm 63:6-8

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There are plenty of nights that I can’t sleep and I lay there just ruminating about the things I have to do or the things I did, or sometimes just in hopelessness and grief. I focus on God with my breathing: Breathe in “Praise” breathe out “God.” I count my blessings and gratitude’s until I finally fall asleep under His gentle wings.

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The chapter ends with typical Psalm fashion about how our enemies will go down because of the strength of God. Don’t skip over this. You may not have enemies at your door with arrows, but you may, like me, have thoughts that are self-deprecating or self-destructive. This Psalm tells us that there is no room for that when you’re praising God. In the last verse the Psalm states that the cheaters and deceivers will be silenced.

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Believe me when I tell you that I am my own worst enemy, but this promise from Psalm 63 is like a balm on my negative thoughts. God has me in the palm of His hand. I am under His wings and His hand is at my back. Who am I to tell myself any different?

Values

I have this re-occurring dream that I cannot find my car. I think it is in a certain parking lot, but there are barriers to me getting to that area. I walk around trying to find a way to get in and when I do, my car isn’t there. In these dreams there are lots of obstacles that I find in my way. I just want to get home.

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I think the interpretation is that I don’t have a way to get where I want to. I am feeling trapped. Now that I’m not working, I have had a feeling of being untethered and have aimlessly been going through my days deciding what to do when I feel like doing it. I realized that I wasn’t feeling productive and I was lonely.

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“True to your Word, you let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction.” Psalm 23:3

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What I need are values to live by. Tenets that help me to determine the things I should and want to do in my life. Value are ideals or principles that are important to us. It’s not like you choose your values and set up an action plan and do it and it’s over. It’s setting up the ideals that you want to live by and creating actions that exemplify them. It’s living the good life with some self-direction!

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God should be a part of this exercise because who knows you better than he does? His guidance and direction can lead you to see things that you can’t see for yourself. I started me values list with a mindfulness exercise asking God to show me areas in my life that need to be fulfilled. Values are our guiding compass and those of us who love God know that He is in charge of that compass. If we live like Jesus we will be fulfilled.

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I referred to the DBT section on Values and created some of my own in order to have a life worth living:
• Choose to be Spiritual
• Attend to family relationships
• Reconnect with friends
• Contribute
• Take care of myself physically

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Carnegie Mellon has a PDF about determining your values, It starts with a very long list of core values from which you choose the ones that apply to you. The thought is to write it down or highlight without thinking too hard about it. Next you group together similar values to make a list of no more than five categories. Than choose one work from each list that best identifies the value you want in your life.

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I used the Carnegie Mellon PDF along with the DBT list to come up with my core values. Now it’s up to me to make sure the things I do each day match up with these values. I wrote out some beginning steps for each of the values and saved the list in my phone Notes app so I can refer to it easily and I shared it with my therapist.

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Being spiritual to me is going to church, doing daily devotionals and reading uplifting and positive books. Prayer also plays a big part in leading a spiritual life. I know God has purpose for me and by praying and communing with Him I can find that purpose. Meanwhile I can take steps to improve my day to day living.

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I can attend to my family relationships by being a support to my husband and providing direction and friendship with my children. I can keep contact with family far away by phone. One of the things I decided to do was make a budget for my daughter to help her navigate her financial life. I am going out to lunch with my daughter Hillary this week. I also decided to meet my husband for lunch regularly and do at least one fun thing every weekend like going to a movie.

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I called up an old friend and set up a lunch date and scheduled myself to work the local food pantry. I’ve been baking more which is something I enjoy, and my family appreciates.

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When I was at church I saw a notice on the bulletin board for volunteering at a local hospital. I took down the number, called it and am now working on my application packet. I went to my doctor to have her fill out her section, I contacted friend and asked them to fill out the references section and soon I will have a complete packet to bring to the hospital for an interview.

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Contribution is a big part of my values. I think if I can give back, have purpose, that a lot of my depression can be thwarted. I also believe that God is leading me this way. My therapist tells me that volunteering is key. That I could find fulfillment as well as create a commitment to which I am depended on.

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I’ll keep you posted!

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“So you’ll go out in joy, you’ll be led into a whole and complete life. The mountains and hills will lead the parade, bursting with song. Al the trees of the forest will join the procession, exuberant with applause.” Isaiah 55:12

Build a Life Worth Living

The true goal of DBT is to build a “Life worth living.” You begin by simply avoid “avoiding.” How many times have we avoided doing what we know needs to be done? Some people call it procrastinating, but for some of us, it is avoidance. We purposely avoid the things we don’t want to do but need to do. There are changes we might need to make in order to build the life we want.

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To begin, we choose our values. I choose to be close to God. I value my relationship with Him so I make room for Him in my life. I want to be productive, so I make a schedule of things that need to be done at home such as organizing, cleaning, doing laundry. I want a good relationship with my family, so I plan time to focus on each of them like going out to eat and baking for them. I want to be part of a group doing good so I go to church and sign up at the local food pantry.

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The idea is to pick just one thing to start in order to avoid “avoiding.” If you don’t know where to start, ask God to gently show you where to make changes in your life. Spend some time in mindful communion with Him. You may be avoiding working on your finances for instance. You need a budget, but you have been putting it off. You may need to do something even harder than that, like working on a broken relationship.

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DBT has a list of values. Here are some examples:
• Attend to relationships by repairing old relationships or reaching out for new ones. Work on new ones or end destructive ones.
• Be part of a group. This could be to help you have a sense of belonging and having close and satisfying relationships with others.
• Achieve things in life by working through your goals and the steps needed to keep the goals part of your life.
• Live a life of pleasure and satisfaction. What’s important to you? Make it a part of your life. Enjoy your work and seek out events that make you happy.
• Be a spiritual person. Discern and do the will of God and find lasting meaning in your life.
• Be secure by living in safe surroundings and be physically healthy and fit.
• Have integrity by being honest and standing up for your beliefs. Pay your debts to others and repair damages you’ve caused.
• Contribute to the larger community by helping those in need and committing to a cause that shares your beliefs and values.

Once you’ve identified your values, select one thing, set some small goals to start working on it. You want this value to become a part of your life, but have been struggling, so it may not be easy to start. Choose a step that you can do right now and a couple more that you can do tomorrow and the next day, or next week.

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Working to live by your values can be hard, but the results can be a meaningful life and build a sense of accomplishment. Plan to be successful at it. In order to do that your initial goals may be very small steps, but you can increase the difficulty over time. You don’t need to berate yourself when things don’t work out as you’ve planned but rather encourage yourself to adjust your goals as needed to reach your end result.

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Meet difficult situations head on by thinking through them as a cope ahead strategy. What will be difficult about doing something? Write it down without judgement and name your emotions that you will feel. Determine which coping skills might work by writing down in detail how you will handle the situation, then imagine yourself in the situation and rehearse how you will cope with it.

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I haven’t written about all of the coping skills in DBT, just the ones that have helped me so far. If you want to practice DBT, I suggest you join a group with a facilitator. There is so much to learn from other’s experiences. Choose a group that meets once a week, you don’t want to speed through this, you want to have time to work on the skills in between sessions.

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The DBT manual is available online from many sources. Just type in DBT or Dialectic Behavior Therapy into the search bar of your favorite book seller.

In Memorium

He was a funny guy, always cracking jokes. He liked to hunt, my son did, and fish. He liked the Vikings and the Wild, two Minnesota sports teams. “In Memorium” is something a mother shouldn’t have to write about her child.
One day I came home and found my computer torn apart; It had stopped working and Tyler was trying to fix it. At the time he died, years later, he was building a computer from parts he bought on the internet.
It was four years ago, yesterday, that he died in a single car crash. At the funeral the pastor didn’t have a lot of information about Tyler so he kept repeating the stuff he did know, father, husband, sportsman. I wanted to get up and say something, but I was inconsolable. That is a regret I have, couldn’t I have pulled myself together enough to tell everyone about the real Tyler?
He loved to work on cars. He had a mustang in his garage that he was rebuilding. He worked at a junk yard, which he loved, and he was making a life for himself and his wife and kids.
Yesterday I had a bed day. Knowing my girls had chosen to stay busy with their friends made it easier for me to stay in bed. I slept most of the day. My husband stayed home from work to be with me. The goal was to get through the day-period.
When Tyler was little he was a wild child. I remember he almost bit off my thumb when I brought him to kindergarten. Authority had never been his thing. He wasn’t a bad kid, he just wanted to do things his way. He eventually got used to school and I met with his teachers regularly, so I could keep up on what he should be doing.
In first grade the kids got together and wrote down the answer to “What is a Mother?” The list of their answers came home for Mother’s Day. While most kids wrote endearing things like “She reads to me.” And “She gets me toys.” Tyler took a different route and got technical, “She has bones in her back to hold her head up.” I remember laughing so hard I cried! Always the technical thinker!
Once when he was grounded for sneaking out we took away his cable connection. Tyler found a way to go deep into the crawl space and splinter off our cord. Ta-da! Cable again. It must have been hard for him when I divorced his father and then again when I re-married. My first husband was a strict disciplinarian and Tyler had grown up under this mighty control. Suddenly, the control wasn’t there, and he tried to get away with a lot of stuff.
He had to figure out how to navigate in this new world, and it wasn’t easy for him. A short stint living with his father didn’t work out. How I wish I would have lived closer so I could help him find his way, we had moved to Ohio and Tyler stayed with his aunt. But he found his way, making a life for himself, having two children and marrying his wife. He had a house and all of his hobbies. He had a good job and provided well for them.
Tyler was good with his hands. At one point he helped build an addition onto my sister’s house, working side by side with his uncle.

His cousin Brody was one of his best friends. He would be happy to know that Brody is married with a family now. Once when he and Brody were little, they went across the road to a cemetery and decided to push down tombstones, which in itself is bad, but Brody got caught underneath one and my sister had to go rescue him.
These are the funny things I remember-and most of all I loved him so much! He went to church with me and we prayed for each other. Occasionally a song would tear my heart and I would cry. “Why are you crying, Mommy?” The little voice would ask with his hand on my arm.
Would he ask that now? Why I am crying? He knows how much I miss him and love him. I could barely move away from his body during the visitation. I wanted one last chance for him to know this.

Smudge Pots

When I was little we used to go to my Auntie Mabel’s house in Sunrise, Minnesota. She and my Uncle Elmer lived on a farm and we towed our sleep-in trailer there a couple weekends of every month. It was glorious. I can still smell the baking rye bread in my mind.

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When we got there my Auntie would have little bags for each of us kids filled with pennies nickels and dimes along with a brightly colored rubber ball. I loved that place! There were flowers everywhere and around the side was a small waterfall. And kittens- oh my goodness! So many kittens roaming the yard. My Auntie would bring out pans of milk and call “Kitty, Kitty” and they would come running.

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At night we would like to sit outside but the mosquitos were in the billions. Maybe you know that Minnesotans call the Mosquito their “state bird.” My Uncle Elmer would set up smudge pots which would smoke around us and keep the mosquitos at bay.

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I have an aromatic diffuser in my office. When a few drops of calming oil is placed in a bit of water a wonderful steamy aroma sprays out. The result is that the aromatics give me a sense of feeling. Their names are “Om”, “Bliss”, “Solace”. This reminded me of the smudge pots, but instead of keeping mosquitos away, the diffuser enhances good mood and therefore chases away bad ones.

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The “smudge pot” in my office helps me when I am trying to be more mindful because I imagine the steam carrying away the emotions that sometimes end up swirling around my brain when I am trying to be closer to Jesus.

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I am trying to build my mastery of mindfulness. In DBT “Building Mastery” is described as planning to do one thing everyday to build a sense of accomplishment. To me that is getting out of ruminating and stepping away from my lack of self-worth. Doing something difficult but not impossible such as a mindfulness exercise. Even if I escape my emotions for a few minutes I consider this a success.

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DBT asks us to gradually increase the difficulty over time and look for a challenge. The most challenging thing for me is to replace my thoughts of unworthiness with thoughts that describe me as Jesus sees me. I am a soul at His disposal open to Him to fill me with my destiny, my purpose.

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He helps me see what values are important to me and in mindfulness I am able to identify that value and set some goals to work on related to this value. The value I am working through is taking care of myself. I have not been eating well, either no eating at all or eating junk foods and what I would call nutritionally void foods. I might use alcohol to change my mood instead of exercising my mindfulness muscles. Invariably the alcohol leads to further depression. I can’t escape my thoughts of “What am I here for?”

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When people are depressed they sometimes let go of doing the things they know will keep them healthy- even as simple as eating. The DBT practice of “PLEASE” is taking care of yourself, doing the things that keep your body going even as your mind is ruminating.
“PL”: Treat Physical Illness- See a doctor when needed. Take your medicine and take care of your body.
“E”: Balance eating – Stay away from food that make you overly emotional. Don’t over or under eat, eat mindfully.
“A”: Avoid Mood Altering Substances- Use alcohol in moderation and stay off illicit drugs.
“S”: Balance Sleep- Keep a consistent sleep schedule and aim to 7-9 hours of sleep a night.
“E”: Exercise- Do some form of activity everyday and build up to 20 minutes per day.

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These things may seem so basic, but it’s important to take care of your mind by taking care of your body. People with Depression or other mental illnesses sometimes don’t feel like showering or walking or eating. It’s important to be on schedule with these things.

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Aromatics is one way of being kind to myself. Some small enjoyment. Oftentimes I am stuck in my head and I don’t have then energy to take care of myself. I don’t want to shower, I don’t want to eat, but then I power up my smudge pot and something changes.

Peace

I long for peace against me anxiety. I long for the comfort of Purpose. Many times, I go through my day wondering what purpose I have, what to do that has meaning. What can I possibly give this world of myself?

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Times like these I breathe in and out and consult Wise Mind (God.) Mindfulness is about living in the now-not the future-not the past-not the wonders of purpose, more, the wonders of “being.” I imagine myself surrounded by God’s love. I feel the power as I breathe. I let my mind wander acknowledging the feelings and thoughts as they pass. I am enveloped in love.

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“..The Lord’s unfailing love surrounds the man who trusts in Him.” Psalm 31:10

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We all long for peace, no one wants heartache and worry. Though we may have many trials, we can take a moment and evoke peace through Mindfulness of God. Rumi said, “The wound is where the light enters you.” This remind me of Jesus’ wounds. He gave Himself so that we may have light and, in my mindfulness, I feel that light shining through my wounds.

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In my mindfulness I feel the peace seeping through the scars. Jesus left us with peace. The first thing He said to his disciples after His resurrection was, “Peace be with you.” How many times do we hurry along our day frazzled and tense without evoking this peace?

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It takes focus to be mindful. Do your thoughts wander when you pray? It may be Wise Mind (God) showing you what to pray. Pray about whatever your mind in telling you but be aware that God might just be telling you to stop your mind from wandering and focus! You can watch the thoughts go by and maintain your focus, or you can pray about the thoughts. Nothing is too small for God to hear.

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It all depends on what you are trying to do. Are you emptying your mind so you can accept God’s peace or are you praying in order to be close to God and release your anxious thoughts unto Him?

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If you are emptying your mind, you may want to close your eyes and focus on your breath. Watch the thoughts pass but don’t linger on them and re-focus on your breath. Invite God’s peace into your heart, staying there with it as long as you like. Each time a thought comes into your head, watch it pass. I heard it once described like a train of thoughts. The train goes by but it doesn’t have to stop at a boxcar of thought. You don’t need o board the train- you are just watching it and re-focusing on peace.

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If you are praying to release anxious thoughts, then pray about each thought that comes into your mind. Consider why these thoughts are coming up and pray to be let go of the stress. You must guard your thoughts and not let negative thoughts take root and put limitations on what God wants you to be. Allow Him to water the seeds He’s planted and ignore the seeds your negative thoughts have sown.

Pretend

“Your worst battle is between what you know and what you feel.” I read that on Twitter: Amazing Facts @factsoup. Ain’t it the truth! I’m always battling what I feel. I have a good life but I’m anxious. I watch the beauty of my backyard from my porch but I’m depressed.

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I’m always fighting to be the “ideal.” Smart, funny, honest, well-spoken, in charge, respected, but in reality, I say the wrong things; I’m not always smart and I’m not sure that anyone would respect my handling of this jumbled up life that became mine. I’ve begun to think of that jumble as a patchwork quilt. Some patches have tears, some have smiles, some are black with depression and some have a cartoon bubble of laughs, “Ha ha ha!”

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In DBT we look to change the emotions we do not want. There are skills to look at emotions as just emotions, passing by. We make a choice to be mindful of current emotions, act on them and problem solve or do not act on the emotion urge and consider opposite action.

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I read a novel called “Pretending to Dance” by Diane Chamberlain. In it the father is a psychiatrist that practices “Pretend Therapy” in which you pretend you are happy or that you love something that you hate or are afraid of. Although this is a fiction novel, the premise of pretending seemed like a smart idea to me.

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It’s kind of like my “Be a Word” strategy where I pick a word that encompasses what I want to be and then all day I try to become that word. It’s practicing opposite action where you do the opposite of what you’re feeling like doing when what you feel like doing might be harmful or not the best choice. This is easier said than done and like all DBT skills it takes practice, a practice I have not yet beat.

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But that doesn’t stop me from trying to beat it. It doesn’t stop me from looking at the true facts of my life instead of the feelings. From separating my feelings from me. They do not define me!

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It’s getting a grip on reality by making a choice to put aside those debilitating emotions and embrace the day. Staying happy and enjoying being with God is a choice. God created us with an enormous capacity to enjoy Him. Don’t let things that people say or do rob you of your happiness.

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Start to pretend to see the beauty of something and mindfully allow emotions to come and go. In some of my Mindfulness exercises I take a Bible verse and play it out in my mind, inserting myself into the story. That’s a form of pretending. But it can be so meaningful as you imagine yourself sitting with Jesus or walking on water.

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You may think that true facts and pretending are opposite things, but when your emotions don’t fit the facts of the situation, pretending you feel as the true facts deem you should feel is really embracing reality and fending off those lying thoughts.

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Does your mind always go to the worst conclusion? That’s a negative form of pretending. You are pretending you know the outcome and expecting the worst. Isn’t it easier and more calming to let Jesus take on worrying about your future? We don’t have to pretend that He already knows what’s in store for us because we know He does. His word tells us not to worry about the future. His word tells us that we can be calm in His presence. No need to pretend at that!

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Emotions don’t always fit the facts. The facts are what’s going on right now-not what might happen in the future. My sister Sherri is going through the worst surgery of her life. She has an aggressive tumor and needs to have her jaw removed. She will be in ICU, she will have to have a feeding tube, she will need to learn to swallow and talk all over again. A million things could go wrong, but Sherri is determined to beat the odds. She will beat the timeframe of the feeding tube. She will beat the amount of time she stays in the hospital. She will beat the goals to swallow and talk. She says she is “above average.”

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I guess you could say she is pretending that she will overcome the odds. Pretending can lead to action which leads to reality. Faith is a big part of her life. Sure, she could be wallowing in self-pity and thinking the worst, but the facts are that the worst hasn’t happened and may never happen. With her positive mindset and her faith, the odds are with her.

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“Have faith in God. I tell you the truth, you can say to this mountain, ‘May you be lifted up and thrown into the sea,’ and it will happen. But you must really believe it will happen and have no doubt in your heart.” Mark, 11:22-23

Crisis Survival

You are in crises when the situation is highly stressful, and you feel like you must act on or resolve the crises right now. It’s an intense feeling, one you can’t shake unless you do something this moment.

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It may be intense anger. You want to lash out at someone-something immediately, so you can feel better. It may be desolation. You want to end the feeling by using drugs or alcohol- anything that will make you feel better.

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It’s really hard to stop yourself. This is crises and one thing to keep in mind (if you can) is it’s usually short term. DBT states that crises survival skills (known as Distress Tolerance) should be used when:
1. You have intense pain that cannot be helped quickly
2. You want to act on your emotions, but it will only make things worse.
3. Emotion mind threatens to overwhelm you and you need to stay “skillful.”
4. You are overwhelmed yet demands must be met.
5. Arousal is extreme, but problems can’t be solved immediately.

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A really effective skill to use is called STOP. I’ve used it in times of anger when I wanted to lash out at my job. I wasn’t being treated right. I wanted to get angry at everyone. I wanted to say things I would regret. I just wanted to feel better- to justify myself.
The STOP skill works like this:
Stop. Do not react. Freeze and don’t move a muscle. Stay in control. Your emotions are telling you to act, but before you do, just STOP.
Take a step back. Take a break, a deep breath, take yourself out of the situation. Even for just a moment, do not act impulsively.
Observe. This one can be hard, but you have to notice what you are thinking and feeling as if you are watching it like a movie. What is the situation? What are your feelings about it? What are others saying or doing?
Proceed Mindfully. Act with awareness. Which actions will make it better and which actions will make it worse?

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Once we left for vacation on the anniversary of my son’s death. We thought it would be good to get away during that time especially since I didn’t handle the previous anniversaries so well. In the car I had a panic attack. The STOP skill helped me to take a step back and observe what was happening to my body. I took deep breaths and the attack seemed to end quicker than normal. I didn’t cope by using anything and I waited it out. I know in my Wise Mind that it would end. It always does.

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Distress Tolerance skills are especially helpful when we are out of control. Once I was so distraught during a therapy session that I was crying uncontrollably. My therapist chose to use a skill called TIP. Which is controlling through temperature, intense exercise or paced breathing with paired muscle relaxation.

We chose the temperature route and she got a pitcher of ice which I placed on my forehead with a paper towel. This calmed me down fast as the change of temperature changed my body chemistry. Fifteen to thirty seconds should be enough time for this “dive reflex” to set in. Some members of my DBT group have also used ice on their wrists or they held their breath and submerged their faces in cold water. As you do this, your blood flow is redirected to your heart and brain. This is for use when you are having a very strong, distressing emotion.

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Intense exercise can be used in the same way. Do some jumping jacks even if it’s for a short amount of time. Or run down the street and back. Expend your energy on something physical. People who run regularly often say that it makes them feel good, gets the endorphins going. This is the same principle.

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Paced breathing is slowing down your breath. Breathe deeply and breathe out more slowly than you breathe in. Pair this with muscle relaxation. As you breathe in tense your muscles. Notice where the tension is and say “Relax” in your mind as you breathe out. Let go of the tension and notice the difference in your body. Do a body scan while using this skill by starting with tensing your hands, then your lower and upper arms etc.

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It’s good to have these skills in your toolkit so when you are in distress you can try them and use whatever works.