Faith, Mental Health

A welcoming church for battling anxiety

I was reading the book Quiet by Susan Cain (affiliate link) and she talked about how church isn’t really designed for introverts. She brought up many good points, and as I read that section, I began to think of how many times church also isn’t built for people with anxiety.

You see, when my anxiety began to ramp up, I had to drastically change my life in order to keep living it. Only having so many spoons (so much energy) to give and all that. Which factors in to all the things I weigh when attending church (or really, just about any gathering of people. But for the purposes of this blogpost, church).

Disclaimer: This list is not intended to be representative of ALL people who battle anxiety, nor is it intended as a demand that all churches offer these items. That’s not realistic or beneficial. Every church offers different things, which is good because every individual has different needs. And most importantly: the answer is not one size fits all, but about digging into relationship to learn what helps and what hinders.

Instead, this is to show the myriad of seemingly small things that make a HUGE difference in serving the people around you. Perhaps this will open the discussion of how churches and gatherings can be more inviting for those who battle mental illness.

So without further ado….

Frivolous-seeming items that I consider at church, not for the spiritual aspect, but for my own mental health:

  1. Drinks being allowed in the sanctuary: Chai lattes are my liquid calm. I’ve written all about it before, but basically, a combination of the cozy warmth and the placebo effect makes it calming for anxiety-indiucing situations.
  2. Seating isn’t dictated: I need to sit near the back on an end seat ideally, for a quick escape, or at least so I don’t feel trapped. That “everyone come to the front” thing terrifies me. Worse, twice at church events I’ve had an usher ask me to move into the center of the row to make it easier for those who arrive late, which I can understand from their perspective, but I came early to have the seat that I need. (This ironically makes me think of the parable in Luke 14:7-11 of “taking the worst seat at the table so you can be honored and invited to a good seat”.) A church that doesn’t bring up seating is best for me – which usually means a church that is full enough to not be spread too thin, but not so full as to be packed in to every last seat.
  3. Chairs, not pews: With pews, people can crowd your space. With chairs, I can be a little more certain that my personal bubble remains in tact.
  4. No congregational parts that everyone “just knows” except me: Lots of churches you have to know to recite a certain thing at a certain time or stand or sit or whatever at a certain time. Ritual. It’s a beautiful thing. But, if it’s not a ritual I’m already familiar with, if I don’t already know those queues, I’m not ready to learn them. I need to stick to the structures I already know.
  5. Punctual/structured, know what to expect: In contradiction to the above, churches that switch it up every time or start really late or the “don’t have a plan” wing-it stuff… Panic! I’m a paradox, okay?
  6. Small groups stay small with consistent people, location, time, punctual: Related to the above, I need to know what to expect. Same people, same place, sticking to the times we’ve set. Deviations from the plan are gonna take up a spoon (my energy).
  7. More than one-stall bathrooms: Y’all, one-stall bathrooms are hard to go cry or have a panic attack in. Bathrooms are the safe place, until they’re not because there’s a line of people outside waiting for this one stall and they KNOW you’ve been in there for 10 minutes and either you or your bowels are in distress. Multiple stalls give the freedom to stick around if needed with people still cycling through the line to not figure out you’ve been in there forever trying to avoid panic.
  8. People arrive early for chat rather than chatting after service: I don’t have the spoons (energy) after service to stick around. That’s why I show up early, when I still have the energy to attempt socializing.
  9. No welcome/greet time midservice: Please do not ask me to welcome people around me during service. Both the introvert and the panic in me can’t handle it. There’s no time to connect with the person on a meaningful level, & I can only interact with so many strangers in a day before panic sets in, so this is a real bummer of a way to hit that quota. I heard of a church that takes a break midservice for people to refill their coffee – that naturally builds in casual conversation without putting pressure on anyone to awkwardly approach another and act like instant bffs. I think it’d be cool if more churches implemented that model.
  10. Loose dress code: I need comfy calming clothes for my bad days – if I have to be fancy or if I have to wear jeans/tshirt to fit in with the crowd, that’s not enough. (Note: sorry to break it to you, but jeans are not relaxing material.) Also, I try “stacking” my out-and-about anxiety-inducing activities to better utilize the small energy I have to give each day, so if I can show up in gym clothes with a tunic over them, even better.
  11. Lots going on during worship: I imagine this one especially doesn’t apply to everyone. For me, if there’s a strong bass or drumbeat, or if there’s a flag waving, or a dancer, or a loud harmony, or a painter or violin or something unique – all the better for me. I need something to hone in on that keeps me grounded, and somehow, those things do it.
  12. Open style of worship: Where people are welcome to sit, stand, cry, kneel, sing or not, whatever. I can’t always stand. I sometimes will cry. If I’m the only one sitting and crying, I won’t exactly feel like it’s an appropriate atmosphere for me.
  13. Kind theology on topics of healing and demonic oppression: If I’m going to bring up anxiety and be told I have demons or be told I don’t have enough faith, that’s gonna be rough. Note: The latter has come up in every church setting I’ve been in, but at the very least I try to avoid it when possible.
  14. Has Kleenexes, can handle expressions of emotion: Once again, sometimes I’m gonna be sobbing. This helps.
  15. Meetings don’t go past 7:30pm: You laugh now, but wait til you ask me to hang out in the evening. Then you’ll give me “the look” I’ve grown so familiar with. Sleep, super early sleep, helps me manage my anxiety that night and the next day. I know, I’m like a grandma, (my friends who know Japanese say “obaa-chan mitai” which literally means “like a grandma”). But if society wants to put up with me the next morn, it’s gotta be that way.
  16. Less about doing, more about being: I know, both are important. Absolutely. But if the church is constantly pushing socialization and volunteer opportunities, I can only spread myself so thin and interact with so many people before I give out. I want involvement, but in manageable chunks.
  17. People come and go through the service: If everyone sits/stands in their place the entire service, I’m gonna feel real uncomfortable with my leaving for the bathroom (for “regular” reasons or for panic, both happen frequently) or leaving the building early because my anxiety can’t take it that day. When other people take bathroom breaks, take their kids in and out, leave early for a lunch meeting, go grab coffee midservice – anything to normalize the coming and going during the service – I feel more free to do the same without being conspicuous or judged as a heathen or whatever.
  18. Honest lyrics, not just happy happy: Ya know that song “You’re never gonna let me down”? Ughhh, sorry ’bout it, but God is gonna let ya down at some point. Because His ways are higher and all that, we’re not always gonna see eye to eye with Him. And I’m all about the happy happy joy joy lyrics in moderation, but if our worship can also acknowledge the depths of suffering and grief and God’s presence through it, I’m gonna feel a whole lot more like I can relate to the content and worship and a whole lot more like I’m not an imposter Christian for not feeling happy all the time.
  19. Avoiding too much of the “it’s not about your comfort” lectures: It’s not. I know that, and I do need reminded of that sometimes. But I also spend countless hours of my life stretching outside my comfort zone to do seemingly small things because they’re good for me. And I think of the verses that talk about not being a barrier to those approaching God (Matthew 23:4, 13), the seemingly moral standards that actually have nothing to do with holiness and can hinder it instead. Those are the things I pay attention to for my own life, like this list here, and I hope to remove any barriers I put up for others as well.

Bonus idea that I’ve only seen once but I wish every church would adopt: Over the past year or two or something, my pastor has begun emailing congregants every week right before the weekend, just a super short email of who’s leading worship, what we’ll be talking about, and any special events that are going on that week (communion, potluck, outreach, etc.). Not some big professional marketing email or anything, but something quick and personable. And remember: I want to know what to expect, to mentally prepare myself or whatever. So this new thing he started, the bomb-diggety. 10/10 would recommend.

Disclaimer: This list is not intended to be representative of ALL people who battle anxiety, nor is it intended as a demand that all churches offer these items. Every church offers different things, which is good because every individual has different needs. Rather than a critique, I actually hope this mostly calls attention to ways that seemingly small things in the church are serving individuals in large ways. In the meantime, if this also opens a dialogue of how churches can serve their attendees in new ways, I am happy with that as well.

So, what about you? Are there seemingly small things that really serve you in a big way at church? Is there something you see a need for in your church that you can offer? Are you providing a safe space for individuals to discuss small changes you’ve never seen a need for? Comment below and let me know your thoughts.

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for the Creatives

4 steps to the creative process

  1. It starts with an idea. A spark. Inspiration. Like attending a creative arts conference or a lego art exhibit. That was my summer. 

  2. Then it’s about building in the routine. Not daily necessarily, just consistently. This year, I have a friend building her writing routine alongside me, you might remember her from the prior blogpost: Jenn. 

  3. And always, it’s about growth. Learning from those ahead of you. I want to use the gifts I’ve been given well – I don’t want to take the responsibility and the trust lightly. I always want to tell the best story I can and get it in front of those who will truly connect with it. 

    That’s why this year I’m investing in the Created to Thrive mentoring program of Matt Tommey’s. I’ll be studying and improving every week, and hopefully you’ll get to see it. 

And amidst all that, and amidst “regular life” stuff of chores and errands and dayjob and family and friends…there’s the 4th step: rest. When I really get going, that’s the piece that I can let go too easily. 

9 months. No, I don’t mean to birth a baby or a book. 9 months to recover from birthing a book. On October 23, “I Know You Like a Murder” will be 1 years old. A couple months of post-publication work, then the beginning of this year I was burnt out. I had no bookish goals for the year because I didn’t want to push myself again.

But I can now say it takes 9 months to bounce back and try to spend every waking moment working on writers life again. This time, I’m trying to build in rest better. Friends are helping me gauge when I’m slacking and when I’m resting. Next time I proceed more carefully, find rest throughout the process, and bounce back quicker.

What’s your best tip to building rest into your hectic life? Comment below and teach me your secrets. And which step of the creative process are you working on? 

Central IL, Showcasing other Creatives

Lego Art

There are probably a thousand ways I could take this post:

  • Think like a kid
  • Creativity outside the box – ahem, and inside the block 😉
  • Exposing yourself to new art mediums to jumpstart your own creativity
  • The importance of making art accessible to everyone

…just to name a few. But, some things speak better than my words can. I went to the lego art exhibit by Nathan Sawaya and took in his art and his words. Inspiration for anyone, but especially creatives. Take a look:

Nathan Sawaya often had captions next to each sculpture, about being an artist. Every artist should get a chance to read those, if nothing more to remind ourselves we’re not alone trying outrageous ideas to see what happens. Like this one:

If the exhibit comes to your area, go. If he speaks in your area, probably go, though unfortunately I missed his local presentation due to another obligation.

And if he doesn’t come to you, here’s another option: I was so mesmerized by his art as well as his words, that I immediately picked up his book Art of the Brick (affiliate link). If you want a book that fuels your creativity that’s a bit different from your other books that fuel your creativity, maybe check it out for amazing artwork of course, as well as great stories about his artistic career. Here is one of my favorite endearing snippets that made me laugh:

An inspiration to us all 🙂 Check out Nathan Sawaya in person or in book form if you’re interested. And either way, find some new and different art to fuel your own creations.

Central IL, Faith

Karitos 2019

Yes, I’m telling you about something that happened this summer, but #throwbackthursday mmkay? 🙂

For five years now, I’ve been attending the Karitos Christian creative arts conference in the greater Chicago area. This year it was in Streator IL, closer than ever to my house as it’s usually much further north.

(I’m pictured with author Olivia J. Bennett and flagger/author Kim Kouski. Check out Olivia’s book A Cactus in the Valley and Kim’s fantasy novel Hidden Secrets (those are affiliate links – I may receive a portion of sales).

I’ve written past posts about Karitos and what I’m learning there, but here’s overall what keeps bringing me back:

  • a gathering of creatives
  • creating together in all art forms
  • worshipping God and figuring out how their art fits into that

You can find that first one a number of places. The other 2 are harder to come by. If you can find a place that combines the things you love, go.

Photography by Kim Kouski on our way to the event

You can find a thousand writers conferences, but one that includes dancers and visual artists and actors and filmmakers and musicians and…. All those together feed off of each other into an amazing creative experience.

And, while I don’t write within the Christian genre, it’s beautiful to find a place where my giftings can contribute to my faith community and my worship.

And now, a couple exciting milestones of mine with this year’s event:

A couple amazing things happened for me personally this year.

The past 3 years I’ve been assisting with the Literary Arts department, and as of last year, I’m the department head for Literary Arts. This was my first Karitos that I was responsible for making Literary Arts workshops happen, and it was a delight to see it all turn out. To be able to step into ministry in a way that uses my passion and giftings is such a privilege.

And the other thing: Last year’s Karitos, I took Angel’s selfpublishing workshop. This year, my book was in the Karitos bookstore alongside hers. We got a photo to document our excitement…

Check out Angel’s devotional, Love’s Great Design (affiliate link).

So that was my experience at this year’s Karitos. And we’re already on to planning the next! Maybe Karitos 2020 will have you in it? 😉

for the Creatives

Find your own Jenn

Creators and Dreamers: 
Get you a friend as committed as you are. I say that lightly, but sincerely I know that’s not an easy thing to come by. But let me tell you: If you do, you become catalysts for each other.

Meet Jenn. I mean, she’s not here, but she’s usually in my living room about once a month as we frantically type away the day, mostly only stopping for a chitchat at lunch.

And now, she’s waking up early to get an hour of writing in before work every. single. workday. Y’all, she one-upped me!

But that’s okay, because I need someone to one-up me right now. I need that reminder of the hunger. Not that I lost it, just that it’s been laying low for a bit.

This month, I’m going to join Jenn some mornings, and we are gonna get things done. By the end of this month, I’ll have a routine more solidified and probably a selfie to share with you, so brace yourself. But until then…

Find your own Jenn. Someone with a similar goal and a similar drive. Whatever commitment level you’re at, get someone right there with you, and keep each other going. It’s powerful. 

It’s not easy to find a Jenn, so if you have one, treasure that! And, maybe tell me about your Jenn in the comments 🙂

for the Bookworms

5 things to add to your bookmarketing toolkit

  1. Enthusiasm: being passionate about your work sells. If you’re not excited about it, why should anyone else be? And if others are excited about your work – readers, friends, or even your family – even better. Because if others are excited about your work, that builds credibility as they share their enthusiasm through posts, reviews, social media interactions, and in person discussions.
  2. A catchy title: You need to get their attention before they can even consider making a purchase.
  3. A quality cover: People want to buy something that they feel good about having in their home and becoming part of the image they present to the world. Your book can be the best story in the world, but there’s more than that. “Do I want to be known as the type of person that purchases this item?” each reader will have to subconsciously answer, and the cover is more a factor for that decision than the content inside the book. Let your cover make that answer a resounding “yes”.
  4. Delight: What’s one thing that will make the purchase more than just a purchase? What will bring the reader delight?
  5. A unique experience: What sets your sale apart from buying any other book or item out there?

Overall, remember that every reader is purchasing identity and delight. If you find how your product is offering that, you’ll be 5 steps ahead in your marketing plans.

for the Creatives

On taking creative risks

The end of last year I heard 3 sermons in a row, and from different speakers, about God rewarding risk (referencing the parable of the talents). It seemed like apt timing with me taking a risk and publishing a quirky meta short story. Niche in every sense. And nearly a year later, I regret nothing. I might have chosen different marketing avenues, but that’s about it.

More recently I’ve heard a teaching about God rewarding risk, from Alex Marestaing referencing when Jonathan said “Let’s go to the camp of those foreigners. Maybe the Lord will use us to defeat them” (1 Samuel 14:6, ESV). Key word “maybe.” Jonathan didn’t know. He took a risk.

One artist trope is that we have to quit our dayjob to build a successful artist career. That’s the only way we have adequate time to get our business off the ground…right? A few weeks ago I was reading “Originals” (affiliate link) about how nonconformists move the world, and studies actually show that businesses tend to be more successful when the entrepreneur kept their dayjob for awhile. (Read the book for exact details and figures and such.) Because the pressure was off, they could take the time to build something solid. Adam Grant, author of Originals, talked about how instead of taking a risk in every area of life, taking one great risk (like launching an artistic career) while playing it extra cautious in other areas to balance it all out. One great calculated risk.

Back to Alex Marestaing’s teaching. (I know, I’m all over the place, you love it 😛 ). I don’t remember the words he used, but he talked about how Jonathan didn’t know the outcome, but he knew God’s character, so it was a calculated risk.

Calculated risk. I like that. Because taking a risk sounds brave and daring and adventurous, but this little homebody wants to think through all the minute details and move ahead with caution. I like hearing that I can have both. But it still comes back to taking a risk. Artists still gotta jump at some point – or, more like at multiple points – in building their creative life.

This whole “risk” message coming back into my life right now, I’ll be honest, I don’t have a big booklaunch or a big anything in my plans. So what does the “big risk” messaging mean this time? I don’t know. But I’m making myself ready for when it shows itself.

Tell me: Are you more on the calculated side, or more of the risk taker? Which do you tend toward and which do you need to grow in today? Stepping out in risk, or taking a moment to calculate?

for the Creatives

The one thing that makes or breaks my marketing

Almost a year of selling “I Know You Like a Murder”. I’m no marketing expert by any means. But I googled and read books & articles and experimented. And thought I’d share the results so you can learn from them.

In my last post for patrons I gave my most successful marketing tactic. But there’s another strategy that makes those tactics possible in the first place, a strategy that I first learned from Ksenia Anske.

But first, let me tell you what marketing I tried, and I’ll also speculate as to why it helped or didn’t (although I could be off in my guesses):

  • Facebook/Twitter ads: I think for these to be successful, you have to actually know how to use them. Take a class or something. I tried a bit of money in both without learning how to use them first, so I got 0 sales.
  • Blog Tour: I hired a recommended successful blog tour company. Got hundreds of posts from book bloggers across the web. And got few sales. I think because my book was too niche, and it may have been more successful if it was a more widely read genre.
  • Book reviewers: I love book reviewers. Their service to the book community – readers and authors alike – is so appreciated and so valued. I sent books out (upon request, don’t just send them haphazardly) and received positive & negative reviews. Both positive and negative reviews are so important, because honest reviews are important. While I did not see tangible results, reviews in general are a book’s lifeline, so indirectly I am sure these pushed interested readers into buying readers (and let’s be honest, into non-buying readers if the book wasn’t for them, that’s important too. No one wants to waste time reading a book that isn’t for them.)
  • Book booths at area events: This has been one of my more successful, when I’m at the right place with the right people.
  • Preorders: Lots of posts about launch and lots of hype about finally publishing. This was very successful for a first-time author learning the ropes.
  • Book launch party: This was my most successful event so far. I sold in one day the same I’d sold through the entire preorder season.

But these aren’t strategies. These are just tools.

Can you spot the difference? What’s the difference between the items in that list that made the first half less successful than the last half?

You. Readers. Fans. Fans of my writing, or even just fans of my existence (I think they’d rather be called friends, but ya know…)

The book launch party was a success because of you. The crime scene tape idea came from one of you. Your fanart inspired and brought about the collectors cards.

Online preorders were a success because of you. Seriously, I calculated and most strangers’ purchases have come from your excitement. So what if the author is excited about their own work, I want to know if somebody else is, right? (I exaggerate, because an author’s excitement also sells btw.) Your attendance, your facebook likes, comments, shares, posts, your purchases – those drove sales more than any work I put in.

Your voice makes a difference to my creative career. So thank you. Thank you for celebrating with me and being with me in this journey.

In your creative pursuits, don’t discount the excitement of those around you. Count it a privilege and an honor, because not every artist gets that. And count it more valuable than anything you can purchase, because you can’t purchase enthusiasm and that’s what sells.

Sure, I learned a lot from studying Lady Gaga’s marketing (become a patron to read more about Lady Gaga marketing). But no matter what, remember it still all starts with you.

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My most successful marketing strategy

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