Make Your Mark!

MakeYourMark

I had the opportunity on Wednesday night to speak at a live show hosted by my friend, Kinyo. My family and I drove to San Antonio for me to be part of the panel of guests.

PanelatKPL8:17:2016

I also got to share a bit of my story of how my art has evolved from doodles to something that matters to other people. It was a great night and a great opportunity to meet some new people.

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Several people spoke with me afterwards to say that they were inspired by what I shared about my art journey, so I wanted to share some of the resources that have helped bring me to this point.

That night, I talked about the basic drawing books by Ed Emberley. Emberley’s “Make a World” was given to my son when he was younger, and I learned a lot about drawing from that one.

MakeAWorld

Later, by chance, I happened upon a copy of Stefanie Corfee’s “Creative Doodling & Beyond.” That book really opened my eyes to ways that my drawings and doodles could be meaningful gifts and keepsakes.

CreativeDoodling

Then I found Joanne Sharpe’s book, “The Art of Whimsical Lettering” which helped me see my own handwriting as worth cultivating for use in my art. Before that, I kept thinking I had to learn some fancy calligraphy or complicated fonts, but Joanne Sharpe helped me see my own handwriting as uniquely my expression and an art form all its own.

WhimsicalLettering
Somewhere along the way, I also discovered a website called Daisy Yellow Art by Tammy Garcia (http://daisyyellowart.com). This site is a treasure trove of inspiration and instructions for art and art journaling. The emphasis at Daisy Yellow Art is on the doing–the process rather than on the results. I would say that this mentality has been key in helping me with my relentlessness in doing art on a regular basis.

If the idea of expressing yourself artistically appeals to you, maybe some of these resources could be helpful to you. But most of all, please know that there isn’t some secret formula to personal expression. There aren’t hard and fast rules that dictate how you should express yourself. Just begin. Just make your mark.

This Brain of Mine

BrainofMine

I had some concerning dizzy spells pop up in December. These persisted for weeks and weeks. The dizziness was so persistent and intense that I stopped driving for a couple of months just to be on the safe side. I went to various doctors and had lots of tests to try to find out what was going on. We finally got to the bottom of it, but December through February were difficult months with all of the dizziness, doctors, and medical appointments.

It was difficult to know what was going on and whether the dizzy spells were anything truly worrisome or just one of the non-life-threatening quirks of being me. Considering my infertility saga, my ongoing issues with depression and anxiety, and my IBS, I seem to have a lot of non-life-threatening quirks of being me.

I’ve had dizzy spells like this in the past and I’ve seen doctors about them in the past and never really got answers about why I was having dizzy spells. All the obvious causes were ruled out. I was healthy–wasn’t that great?! But it’s frustrating to be told that my tests are “normal,” when the dizziness in my head has me feeling really off-kilter. I don’t consider “off-kilter” to be a normally functioning state.

Nobody ever said it, but whenever I got my dizziness checked out in the past, I always felt like the implication of the “normal” test results was, “it’s all in your head.”

In time the dizziness would pass on its own and I would go back to normal functioning, not really clear about how or why I got back there, but grateful that the dizziness was gone. Life would go on for weeks or months at a time before another dizzy spell would come on.

Sometimes the spells would come just once and then be gone and that would be the end of it. Other times, the dizziness would come in spell after spell, over and over, multiple times a day, for days at a time. These times were more rare, but always got my attention in a way that forced my hand to seek medical attention whether I wanted to or not.

It was one of those spell-after-spell, day-after-day times that crept up back in December. I felt this dizzy offensive provoking me to go to my doctor but I resisted it ever as hard as I could. I did not want to go through one more round of tests that would all come back normal. I knew the message I would hear was that this was all in my head.

But, I tell you, there is something wonderful about community, about family, about my dear husband, in particular. He saw the way I was suffering from my dizziness, the way I was barely making it through each day, and he urged me to get it checked out. So I did.

I started with our family medical practice and right away something felt different about the care I was getting. After describing some of my symptoms, I asked the doctor, “Does that make sense?”

“Anything you say makes sense,” he replied. “It doesn’t fit what I know to diagnose, but anything you say makes sense.”

To me, him saying, “Anything you say makes sense,” were the most important words of the entire appointment. It was as if he said to me, “I believe you. What you’re experiencing is real. It’s not just in your head.” Well, that’s what I heard anyway. Those words encouraged me to persevere from there to the Ear, Nose, and Throat specialist (ENT) to which I was referred.

The ENT I saw was also very supportive and encouraging and gave me that same, “I believe you” vibe. I was so very grateful for his approach. He ordered some tests. Those turned out to be normal except for one having to do with my balance system. Nonetheless, the ENT felt strongly that my symptoms indicated a neurological cause, so he referred me to a neurologist.

That’s when things got serious. I mean, I thought I might have an inner ear problem, and now all of a suddenly, we’re talking about my brain!

A lot of doctors will tell you to stay away from the internet. “Don’t google your symptoms,” they say. And I know a lot of folks freak out when they read about diseases on the internet because they imagine the worst.

But I’m not one of those people. The internet is my friend and it’s a very helpful and informative friend at that. I read medical articles with a grain of salt and only look at trusted medical websites.

Reading about symptoms and causes helps me get a better understanding of what I might and might not be dealing with; this gives me peace and helps me take charge of my health instead of just waiting around for my next appointment. So I was thrilled when my ENT offered a couple of possible neurological causes of dizziness and suggested I look them up online.

There are a lot of neurological causes of dizziness. Some of them are pretty serious, even life-threatening. It was good to know about these–even the life-threatening ones. Quickly I realized that a lot of the worst neurological causes of dizziness didn’t fit my symptoms, so that was a relief.

Still, my dizziness remained a bit of a mystery to me.

When I saw the neurologist the first time she keyed in on some really obvious things about my health situation:

  1. I wasn’t getting enough sleep.
  2. I was way over-caffeinated.
  3. I had a history of migraines–since I was 8 years old.

“You’re a migraine sufferer,” she said. “You’ve had migraines since you were…” she looked at my chart, “8 years old,” she looked up and held eye contact with me.

“This is a hand you’ve been dealt in life,” she laid one hand inside the other as if holding a poker hand. “As a migraine sufferer your body is very sensitive to things like sleep habits, and how much caffeine you consume.”

And so she ordered me to get more sleep and wean myself off of all caffeine. Then she prescribed a new medication that is supposed to be really good for treating the dizziness associated with migraines.

She also ordered blood work, an EEG, and an MRI. She had to rule out all those serious and life-threatening neurological causes of dizziness, you know?

The EEG and MRI were loads of fun. And the price was right too! (Read those two sentences with a heavy dose of sarcasm.)

I felt pretty weary with all the tests I was doing. I had this growing understanding that my migraines were a bigger factor in my overall health than I had ever realized. I was frustrated that the doctors who investigated my dizziness in the past never linked it to my migraines! I was ready to just go with that diagnosis and not have to go through all the tests. But once we had set this neurological testing in motion, I had to see it through.

Finally though, when the blood work, EEG, and MRI results came back, everything was normal. There was nothing life-threatening wrong that we found! And that was great news!

So that meant we could be sure about the “dizziness associated with migraine” diagnosis. It was a relief to finally have a firm diagnosis for my dizziness. And it was a relief to know that if there was something going on with my brain, it was related to a condition of mine of which I am already aware.

Still, there was a part of me that felt embarrassed. Even though it was confirmed by a real medical doctor–a brain specialist even–that the cause of my dizziness wasn’t “all in my head,” the cause was something pretty obvious. I mean, I felt like I should have figured that out! My migraines are the longest-running, non-life-threatening quirk of being me of which I’m aware. Migraines have been part of my life since I was 8 years old!

I felt guilty for all that I put my family through just to find out that I needed to take better care of myself because I had been dealt the “migraine sufferer” hand in life. I actually already knew that in a way. I had done some work on identifying migraine triggers in the past and was really disciplined about those I knew about. I just didn’t realize how much my sleep patterns and over-caffeinating were messing with me. And I didn’t realize that the dizziness was a symptom of my migraines.

It was sobering to realize how out-of-control I had let my health become.

Since I started seeing the neurologist, I’ve worked hard at the changes to my sleep habits and caffeine consumption that the she ordered.

I can be a bit of an absent-minded professor type and forget to eat or sleep when I’m supposed to. I get easily absorbed and hyper-focused on one thing and forget about everything else around me. To get a project done, I would often end up working at late hours and consuming a lot of caffeine to see it through.

I thought this was all just fine, despite the fact that I was tired all the time.

At first, changing this pattern felt like an imposition on myself. I didn’t want to be bothered with a schedule! I’m a free spirit!

It was important to stop thinking about the changes as an imposition and to reframe this work as me learning to love myself (that old song by Whitney Houston, “The Greatest Love of All,” with the lyric about “learning to love yourself,” has been the soundtrack in the back of my mind). I needed to accept the non-life-threatening quirk of my migraines as an integral part of who I am and love myself enough to give myself the care that a migraine sufferer needs.

So I’ve been sleeping more and better and feeling more rested than I have in years. I dutifully weaned myself completely off of caffeine and my neurologist approved me to add back in one thing with caffeine per day. With my sleep habits being better, I don’t even miss the caffeine. I’ve also discovered a whole world of herbal teas that are naturally caffeine-free and simply wonderful.

The dizzy spells are down to once-in-a-while rather than the spell-after-spell, day-after-day, and for that I am truly grateful. And I’m glad that I know now how important my sleep habits are in the overall picture of my health, you know, as a migraine sufferer.

Learning to love myself has also meant lightening up about not figuring this out sooner. Even the neurologist said that the medical community is still learning about dizziness associated with migraine.

It’s hard work, but I’m trying to take care of myself the best I can, non-life-threatening quirks and all. I’m learning to love myself, to love this brain of mine, and to play fair with this migraine-sufferer hand I’ve been dealt.

My Resolution for 2016

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I thought I wasn’t a resolution kind of person, but I’m actually finding a way to make the New Year’s Resolution thing work for me. Last year my resolution was to doodle more and call it art. And that worked because it was something that my heart and soul needed!

Resolutions that don’t work for me are those that my inner critic “shoulds” me into. I know I should exercise more, I should get out more, I should keep my temper in check, and I should write X number of words everyday.

Oh, I should do a great many things.

Whenever I’ve based resolutions on these kinds of “shoulds,” two things generally happen: (1) I fail quickly, and (2) I feel even worse about myself when I don’t measure up.

There are always going to be the “shoulds” of life and they are relentless. Even if I successfully fulfilled one of the “shoulds,” there would be another and another and another. I could run myself ragged trying desperately to be who I think I should be and do what I think I should do.

It is an exercise in futility. And is the fast-track to burnout.

I think I’m still recovering from my burnout of 2014–that was a year with a lot of “shoulds” and I ended up dropping a lot of things by the end of that year.

I’ve tried since that year of burnout to pick back up only the things that I can’t not do. Maybe that’s a weird way to say it but it makes sense in my head. I mean, there are all kinds of influences that tell me what I should do, but there is often a still, small voice that gives me sweet inspiration. These are the things I can’t not do because if I don’t do them, then my heart and soul atrophy, and wilt.

When I follow what the “shoulds” tell me, good may come of it. But just as likely I will feel run ragged.

But when I listen to that still, small voice and do what I’m inspired by it to do, then good always comes of it. That goodness is sometimes just something that happens in my own spirit–joy, relief, energy, vision, etc. But most often that goodness radiates out to others who see or hear what I’ve done or who I interact with after having done it.

With all of this in mind, I am making my 2016 resolution as inspired by that still, small voice.

Oh, the “shoulds” clamored at me as the calendar was beginning to turn. They wanted to weigh in with their demands of how I ought to be better, smarter, kinder, more social, and so on. And they make some good points.

It was tricky, but I let those “shoulds” recede into their din.

I focused in on what my heart and soul truly need in this new year. Then I came up with something beautiful and rich and life-giving. It is so simple as almost to be ignored for its profoundness. I know now that the single, most important resolution I can make is…

Create and call it therapy.

This is somewhat of an extension of last year’s resolution, yet it is more broad to account for the various forms of creativity I enjoy. At the same time, this year’s resolution is more specific–that the purpose of creating is to be therapeutic for me.

I wrote once before about how ranging so broadly creatively has made it hard to feel like I have something to “show” for myself. But creating for the sake of therapy frees me from worry about where any of it will end up, and allows me to create whatever I need to whenever I need to.

There is part of this resolution that sounds a bit selfish. And I really don’t want to be selfish. Relationships and the connectedness of us all are very important to me. It’s just that I know that when I am creating art/music/writing, that it shifts my spirit in a way that helps me relate better.

When I let myself be dominated by my inner critic–“shoulding” all over myself–I feel worse about myself and I behave worse toward others. I sometimes shut down and withdraw altogether even in relationships that are the most important to me.

I assure you, even if this new resolution sounds selfish, it has all of our best interests at its heart.

May you too find the resolve to do that which nourishes your heart and soul in this new year!

No Crying He Makes?

Away in a Manger used to be my favorite Christmas hymn and I still think it’s a lovely tune. But I have become critical of it on account of the “no crying he makes” line.

NoCrying

I mean, are we really saying that Jesus wouldn’t have cried? It’s a sign of health when a baby cries; a baby communicates his or her needs through crying!

If* the incarnation of God in Christ Jesus is real, then Jesus cried as a baby.

But this year my son noted that Away in a Manger is kinda babyish. And that prompted me to reflect some more on the lyrics and melody. I gave it some thought and I realized it’s a lullaby. So, yeah, maybe it is kinda babyish.

But also, it occurred to me that as a lullaby, its purpose is to quell cries, to calm a baby or young child.

With that, I thought maybe the line about “no crying he makes” is actually be more of a hope or vision of the lyricist. I mean, as much as we might want scream, “hey kid, knock it off with the crying already!”, that’s only gonna terrorize the infant worse. A positive, future projection of a cessation of crying all packaged in a soothing song is much more gracious.

So, maybe the songwriter never was trying to claim that the baby Jesus wasn’t a crier, rather that he was. He really cried. Because he was a real baby. And babies cry.

And would they please stop already!?

_______

*Of course, I believe it is.

Here, There, Everywhere, and Right Where I Belong

Lately I’ve felt like I’m all over the place and yet have little to “show” for myself. And oddly enough, I’m increasingly okay with that. Somehow the seemingly different directions I’m going are all part of what amounts to my vocation. And the “measurable” marks of vocational “success” are most often the temporal things that are not really at the core of what I’m about anyway.

I’m still writing, but a lot of my writing time lately is for projects that are months or even years from publication. And I haven’t had any new writing contracts since the work I did for Augsburg Fortress over a year ago.

Okay, I admit getting another writing contract is a “measurable” that I do covet. But in my heart of hearts, I want my writing to serve a purpose, to speak grace and love and truth and beauty to people’s hearts. If the contracts aren’t coming through to be able to do that, then I’m just gonna keep plugging away, slow and steady on projects that I believe can do that someday.

The big surprise for me this year has been how I have branched out musically. I’ve always loved to sing, but never quite found an instrument I could really make my own…until this year.

I got my first guitar when I was 14. I got it to impress a boy I liked because he played guitar. That didn’t work out very well because I wasn’t serious about the instrument and somehow boys can tell these things.

Well, I worked on guitar in fits and starts over the years and eventually had to replace my old one. I got a nice Washburn for a good price because it had a “finish flaw.” But I think my Henrietta (the guitar) is beautiful just the way she is.

I picked up Henrietta this year to play in a band at the church where I was serving as an interim minister at the time. I was just singing with them at first, but then when they found out I had a guitar, I wasn’t going to hear the end of it unless I started playing too. And since the folks at that church and in that band are some of my favorite people on this earth, it was the safest place I could imagine to try at something I wasn’t too sure about.

Two things happened with the guitar that surprised me. First, I was able to recall way more than I expected. And secondly, my coordination improved more quickly than I would’ve ever thought possible. I really can’t stress enough how much the band’s support, encouragement, and gentle advice bolstered my confidence.

But as much as I was becoming more comfortable with Henrietta…it was when I bought my first ukulele, Cornelius (named after Yukon Cornelius in Rudolf the Red-nose Reindeer), in April that this music thing got even more interesting. I learned how to play Cornelius really quickly. The band members embracing this new instrumental voice was just the encouragement I needed to really take off with the uke. Now, it’s to the point where I feel like the ukulele is practically an extension of myself. It’s pretty cool.

GuacamoleUkuleleArt

Art by Jennifer Clark Tinker for day #26 of the Daisy Yellow 2015 Index-Card-A-Day challenge

With being in the band and playing my instruments and being around music so much, I also got into some songwriting. A lot of songwriting actually. I had written songs in the past, but now with my ukulele confidence, I’m actually playing songs I’ve written in public! And I’m loving every minute of that.

I’ve even brought Cornelius into the pulpit with me a few times when I’ve preached and that has been really well received. See what I mean about all these apparently diverging paths all being part of my vocation?

And then there’s the art thing. It was my New Year’s Resolution to doodle more and call it art. And I have. And it is. And it is wonderful! Having art as a regular part of my life has been really therapeutic for me in a lot of ways. The process itself has so many benefits. And the products are just getting better and better the more I practice!

My big art adventure was in June & July when I took the Index-Card-a-Day challenge hosted by Tammy Garcia of Daisy Yellow. The deal was that we were supposed to make art on an index card every day during those two months. Tammy provided daily prompts and lots of inspiration and encouragement. And I am proud to say that I met that challenge!

I’ve been posting my doodles/art on social media and I have been really surprised at how many people have told me how much they enjoy my art. Some of it has distinctively Christian themes, but some of it just happy or silly or just abstract. But it is connecting with people in ways that I would never have expected. And so somehow fulfilling that resolution has been another important component of my vocation.

So, I’m doing a lot of different things creatively and sometimes I’ve worried that I’m ranging too broadly. But somehow all of it has been meaningful, not just to me, but to others as well. Since connecting with people is my main thing, then even as all-over-the-place as I feel, somehow wherever this is that I am is exactly where I need to be.

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