Wednesday, April 03, 2013

D Is for Diabetes

Here we are on Day 4 of the A to Z Blogging Challenge, my friends, and it's time for me to tell you about one of the most important (and hated) aspects of my life: diabetes. I have it.

And as we diabetics like to say, "But it doesn't have me."

Or does it?

Some days it really does feel as if diabetes has me by the throat. It chokes off the quick flow of thoughts, stifles creativity, and zaps my energy on those days.

Other days? My management of this chronic condition works as it's supposed to. Avoiding high-carbohydrate foods, drinking lots of liquids, checking my blood glucose levels throughout the day, moving around a bit more, and taking the right amount of insulin at the right time all add up to a day of feeling better and thinking well. That's definitely a day to celebrate!

Now before you tell me you've heard of this fantastic method for getting me off of insulin, I'll let ya in on an important fact: I have type 1 diabetes. And this "version" is quite different from the type 2 diabetes that your Granny Dolores or Great-uncle Delbert has. I didn't get diabetes because I ate too much candy or too many handfuls of potato chips. It didn't arrive in my life because I weighed too much. Nope. I developed diabetes at the tender age of almost 11 years old, and it happened because my body started attacking itself. Although researchers have found that there is likely a genetic component to some people's developing type 2 diabetes, I think it's almost definite that type 1 IS about one's genes — autoimmune diseases are like that.

Thus (and read this part several times if you need to) MY PANCREAS DOES NOT MAKE INSULIN; therefore, I have to take insulin to replace it. The good news is that in the 1920s Drs. Frederick Banting and Charles Best figured out how to extract insulin and make it into a form that diabetics can inject. From then on, diabetes didn't have to be a death sentence. So many developments have been made in the past 93 years, including the insulin pump and the continuous glucose monitor, both of which I have.

Of course, diabetes is not the worst condition to have -- it's not cancer. But it definitely is tough to have. At least I am not alone -- my family, friends, teachers, bosses, and coworkers through the years have been so supportive, plus I know that my Heavenly Father has purpose for all the things I go through, even if I don't always understand what that purpose is.

C Is for Community

Image Credit: Najac, rue et chateau, Aveyron;
Bibliothèque de Toulouse.
No, not the TV show. Sorry to disappoint you. ;)

I recently joined a Facebook (FB) group for writers. I wasn't sure exactly what I was getting into. But I was pleasantly surprised, even delighted, to discover that the group members encourage one another; help one another by offering advice, suggestions, and recommended reads or tools; and celebrate one another's victories and growth. Congenial, convivial company. (Truly, today's letter is C! Haha!)

I'm discovering that such community is crucial to surviving as any kind of artist. (Writers are artists too!) Knowing that you aren't alone in loving the aroma of a new paperback and dreaming of one day being the author of your own paperback can reinvigorate that flagging will-to-write (or paint, sculpt, stamp, sew, strum, yodel, belt, etc.). It helps to have a pal or a colleague who will tell you to "just do it" or who will check in with you and ask if you've made progress today on the goals you've set for yourself. Even your ideas get infusions of new life after sharing hopes, dreams, and frustrations with your fellow artists.
Image Credit: word cloud made by me
at Wordle™

So in that spirit, I'll share here some of the recent gems of advice from the Writers Unite FB group:
* "It's never too late to learn—you don't have to know everything when you first start." — Amy M.
* "Everything is a learning process, and the learning never ends." — Adrian S.
* "Keep writing until the words come." — Jamie K.
* "Don't be afraid to let your characters turn into who they want to be instead of who you planned for them to be." — Sirena R.
* "Find a community." — Susan K. H.
* "There's no such thing as 'writers ceiling.'" — Annette S.
* "Work at it even when you don't 'feel' inspired." — Michelle W.
* "Inspiration doesn't come unless you send it an invitation." — Adrian S.
* "Put writing on your calendar, and do it until it becomes a habit." — Laura R.
* "Quit waiting, and make it happen." — Sundi Jo G.
* "Writing is hard. Blocks are inevitable. Write through them." — Stephanie C.
* "Doing multiple rewrites doesn't mean you're a bad writer; it means you're a writer who wants to write something others will really enjoy reading." — Susie F.
* "No one will love your writing unless you love it first." — Gabriel Gadfly

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

B Is for Belief

Today's "A to Z Blogging Challenge" brings us to the letter B. And I knew I'd blog on belief, but this post has taken a bit different direction.

Experts in nutrition tell us that we are what we eat. But do we realize that also we are what we believe?

Image Credit: U. S. National Archives
Through most of my preteen and teenage years, I rejected the compliments I received. And I didn't realize the damage I was doing to myself. It's only now as an adult that I know I have reaped as I have sown — I long watered the seeds of negativity spoken into my life or the weeds of self-deprecation that I had allowed to creep into my thinking. I have had an entire garden of weeds to pull up; some of those negativity-plants have had long, stubborn roots that required more than just a quick jerk to pull up out of the soil of my thinking.

Image Credit: U. S. National Archives
I'm not sure why believing compliments that others have given me through the years has been so hard for me. Am I too sensitive? Perhaps so.

Do I consider those who have complimented me to be liars? Well, no, I don't. Do I think they're deluded about me? Not exactly. Then if they are telling the truth about what they see in me, why don't I believe those statements? Why don't I let them take root in my life?

Even more important to ask: why do I more readily believe criticism, especially the discouraging kind?

It's as if one takes the comments — whether merely offhand or intentional — and nourishes them as gardener would do with a cherished plant, hoping for a beautiful bloom to burst forth in the spring. But those criticisms do not produce beautiful blossoms, especially when magnified beyond whatever aspect was meant as constructive feedback. Ugly comments spoken in mean tones can become weeds — even invasive species — to the person who is too apt to believe them.

Image Credit: National Agricultural Library, U. S. Dept. of Agriculture

Nurturing negativity in your own life is all about what you're choosing to believe. That's one of the numerous truths I've learned since becoming a Christian.* And the good news (other than Jesus' birth, life, death, and resurrection and what all those events mean for humankind) is that I now know I have freedom — to believe that I have worth... and a worth that I don't have to drum up from inside. I don't have to try to manufacture it on my own. That sense of worth comes from knowing that not only am I a cherished creation of my Heavenly Father but also that I am His child.

His love frees up me up to believe what He says about me, and He gives me not only the will to pull up the lie-weeds in my mental garden but also the strength to do so. And the perseverance to keep going back to His Word and sowing those truth-seeds and watering them in my life.

* I have a blog post drafted in which I tell my story. When I publish it, I'll link to it here on this one.

Monday, April 01, 2013

A Is for Ardent

Have you ever tried to learn the names of a group of people within about 10 to 15 minutes? Well, my friends over at the Nashville Rescue Mission and I have done so, several times over the past almost 12 years that I've been volunteering there monthly with the Christ-centered addiction-recovery program.

Image Credit: Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
I plan the ice-breaker activities each month and play "emcee." And one of my favorite games to pull out of my planning toolkit is the one in which each person chooses an adjective to describe himself and the word must begin with the same letter as his first name. So, since my first name actually is Andrea (I go by Andi a lot), my word needed to begin with A. And you would think that after several years of using this ice-breaker activity, I'd come up with another word to describe myself, but I haven't. My word is ardent.

Webster's defines ardent as "characterized by warmth of feeling expressed in eager zealous support or activity." Initially, I've considered my describing myself as ardent to be more about how passionate I can be about different things. Anyone who knows me will will attest to my passion for well-proofread writing (grammar, spelling, and punctuation are important, people!), my daily dosages of coffee, dark chocolate, and the use of the indicator signal (when driving). But I realize now (as in - as of writing this blog post!) that ardent really applies even more to the way I enjoy encouraging others — becoming someone's ardent supporter, even if it's for the few moments that I get to talk to the person.

Philippians 4:13 plaque
Image Credit: WallBling (Etsy store)

The richest times spent at the mission among the men who are working so hard to put their lives back together (and learning that it's more about surrender than it is about control) are those when one listens to their stories, whether of their current struggles or their recent victories. And in those moments, I most enjoy speaking encouragement and truth into the person's life — those messages of "You can trust that God has good plans for you" or "I can tell that you have a love for ______ and a gift in ______. I could see you as doing {this job} or having {that vocation}." I love shining a light on the possibilities for the future that God has for the person I'm speaking to, weaving together the Scripture(s) that come to mind and the observations I've made about him throughout the evening and encouraging him to believe that God will use the gifts and talents and passions He's placed in that person's design, to His glory.

So since the word ardent applies to me so well (I can be rather demonstrative or dramatic in the right contexts), I'll keep using it each time I have the men and my fellow ministry team members participate in this game/activity. It's such a great word!

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Faith, art, and life

This blog post began life as a revision of a first draft of a poem that I wrote two days after becoming a Christian (almost 16 years ago), and for a while, the post seemed to click along... until I came to the section of the poem that transitions into what feels to me to be more Christianese-y than a more natural, organic, and lyrical expression of whatever I was experiencing that day. I was hoping I could transform the poem and then use it to help show you what I have spoken of recently to some other writers — my seeming? apparent? lack of vocabulary for describing the wonders of the life I entered into on August 10, 1997. It's been almost 16 years, and to this day, my vocabulary and my "poetry muscles" seem to still be inadequate. It's as if my writing ability and my spiritual nature are several removes from each other.

When I explain to fellow writers that I am a Christian and that that reality/truth informs all that I am, because it is at the core of who I am, they encourage me to keep writing — the Christians remind me that indeed the experience (of not only the moment of decision [accepting Christ as Savior and Lord] but also the string of moments that is the lifelong journey of following Christ) is ineffable; the others, that blocks/obstacles in writing come to all writers (I am not alone).

This feels messy, this trying to tell you what is on my mind and in my heart. I struggle against the brain fog that comes with the blood sugar level fluctuations I have daily (I'm a type 1 diabetic [on insulin until there's a cure!]). I fight with my own perfectionism. I run and hide from self-assigned tasks such as this one (write about how your faith informs your art/creativity). My pride gets in the way. I'm in a feedback loop, and I can't get out!! ;)

ENOUGH, Elena. Just write.

It also occurs to me that as today is Easter, it might be time for what I wrote about back then to have some sort of birth here. Let's see where it goes.


Part 1

Futures still live uncertain lives,
though feet now walk solid ground
or dangle over strong arms
carrying this heart through the dim.
Spiders still spin webs to catch
a possible wandering meal.
This worm now grows —
the chrysalis is inside
and a butterfly will emerge.

But has the poetry died
with the sorrow transformed?

Is there a permission slip handed out —
"Now allowed" — to connect with the ones-too-good,
previously avoided (reluctantly,
from fear of low appraisal)?

Perhaps, if poetry stays and lives,
does it fall into a fire
that burns off the chaff
and leaves the tried-and-true metaphors?

Cannot a new language
coincide with this new life?


Part 2

There is no cemetery for the old lives
of the reborn...
Perhaps it is best that we do not mourn
their passing.

But shout aloud!
Throw glittered confetti!
A new creature has arrived!

Sing "Hallelujah!"
Trumpets, sound!
The blood of the Lamb makes the sinner

Red roses and white lilies
for the newborn,
not the dead.

This is no funeral
but a birthing...

Praise Him with glad heart and ready mind
and open hand

to sing
to learn
to show

His perfect love.

I can't carry the sarcasm any
the weight of many stones takes up strength
intended for the burden of prayer.

Hope, a sapling,
grows stronger with time.
Faith, a mountain,
proves unshakeable in the trials of wind.
Love, a river, flows to quench the thirst of the sapling
and to shape the mountain.


Not finished by far, but now I see more possibilities. Why do I see them now? I think it's (in part) because I was willing to show this to you, the reader, to stop hiding behind so much anonymity. And I say this not to ask for a pat on the back... but to let you in a bit on the creative process. Maybe. I mean, it's not that I don't want to let you in... but that I'm not sure how to say it so that you can really, really see it. Ya know?

I don't understand it all — why a writer feels compelled to write... the exact animus that inhabits each of us who MUST put pen to paper, fingers to keyboard, fingertip to tablet or smartphone... why *I* must write.

But we writers do it — we show up, and we write. Maybe not as often as we intend. Maybe not as often as our readers would like. Maybe not as beautifully, gracefully, seemingly effortlessly as our alternate-universe selves envision. But we do it. And in that doing, that writing, we live and breathe and  (yes) move and have our being.

I cannot remember clearly a time when I didn't feel compelled to put a writing tool to paper. (I've been doodling my name since I gained the fine motor skills necessary, learned the alphabet, and grasped how to physically make those letters appear.) I began writing in earnest when I was 14 years old. That means I've spent almost 23.5 years either writing or struggling to write or feeling awful that I wasn't writing. This whatever-it-is (desire?) is in my bones. And it's been part of me far longer than the time I've been a Christian... so maybe that's why it felt so odd to me when it seemed as if in pledging allegiance to my King, I had given up something I never thought to sacrifice — my writing self.

I wish you could see the tears as I write this... feel the burning in my limbs... sense the soaring in my heart... as I realize that it must be no coincidence that I write about this subject today, of all days, and that a bit of an epiphany comes to me —> God didn't want my writing self to die and remain in a proverbial grave: He wants it as a living sacrifice. And that I don't have to keep carrying the burden of What is *this* supposed to be? How do I do *this*? — He carries it for me. He is my Cornerstone.

And that is why life, faith, art, and creativity are all inextricably linked for me. All that He is, living in and through me — somehow... in ways I don't even know how to describe in words — at the same time births and grows all that He ever designed me to be. And that's all I have to be.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Blogging from A to Z: April 2013 Edition

"E" Is for Elena
Badge by Jeremy [Retro-Zombie]
How many times have I tried blogging challenges? I've lost count now. But this time I'm in earnest. EARNEST, I tell you!!

Here's how it works:
1. Write 26 blog entries in the month of April, one for every letter of the English alphabet.
2. Publish on April 1 and then subsequently on every day of April except the Sundays.
3. Each day's entry should somehow relate to something that starts with the letter for that day, whether a word, an idea, a food, a topic, anything!

So how will I interpret this challenge? I still haven't figured that part out yet. I was thinking an entire month's worth of blog posts inspired by various adjectives. But then, what about the nouns? Oh, dear... a wordsmith in a quandary. (Hey, quandaries on April 19? Maybe so!)

I'm learning that I'm far more experience-oriented than I am goal-oriented, so I'm giving myself the leeway/freedom to just see what I feel like writing. Just that simple. Nothing fancy or special. Just "butt in chair, and write!" as often as possible.

The beautiful thing is that (and I mention this for full disclosure) I can use Blogger's faboo feature that allows you to schedule posts to publish when you want them to. Well, w00t, w00t! to that, right? Right. :)

Which leads me to this: whether you're new to blogging or an old pro, new to blog-reading or the most rabid blog reader out there, lemme let you in on a little secret — it's really OK to blog in batches. It really is. A blogger won't go to Blogosphere Jail. {Elena, remember that!!}

If you've stumbled across this blog, I hope you'll come back Monday, when the fun begins.

Thanks for reading!
~ Elena ~