We are learning about the early explorers in homeschool this quarter. Leif Erickson, Christopher Columbus, Ponce de Leon, and all of the other crazies that left their homes in search of gold. We pull up the old Carta Marina on a Google Search. Creatures writhing and three times the size of the ship that sails on them stretch across the sea expanse. The “Sea of Darkness,” as they termed it, was a very real thing to these sailors. Boarding a ship was not just an act of duty; it was an act of bravery.
I assigned the 2nd grader here a task of creating her own Carta Marina — what imaginary sea monsters would she place in the teeming waters? She draws a “sea killer,” red-winged and fanged.
“When people are in the water, she grabs them with her claws and drags them into the depths,” her eyes are wide. She has impeccable hearing and sight, she goes on, arms gesticulating. “She swims fast and far without tiring. She finds them and grabs them, pulls them way down...and eats them for dinner.”
“Oh my,” I say. I was picturing a dragon, or some simple octopus with 10 eyes, but this is far more terrifying.
I see her red-winged lady killer and laugh. And it’s only today I realize that I too have drawn up my own sea of darkness and have filled it with all kinds of creatures. The what ifs and should haves, they dids and I dids, no ones and everyones. One special dragon of all the things I should’ve done differently but cannot undo and the creature below the surface that threatens with her tail as if to say “This all could end tomorrow” or “No one really likes you anyway.”
I have my own Carta Marina and it hangs inside my head.
When I can’t seem to get my vision clear, when the afternoon fog seems so thick that I can’t seem to do anything worthwhile, I bake. It has taken me 32 years to realize this is what I do. But today as my hands are tossing oats and brown sugar and butter, and I can actually feel myself waking up mentally and physically, I realize this is something I love. I don’t even always intend to eat what I make. I bank on having friends or company stop by in hopes I can pawn off my sweets on them. Or I hope my husband is feeling particularly dessert-prone this evening.
It seems it’s taken me 32 years to realize a few of these things. The things that seem to rejuvenate me faster than a cup of coffee.
(Ok, maybe that’s not entirely true. Since ditching coffee a few months ago, anytime I sneak a cup, my entire sleep schedule is altered for days until my husband says, “Is this the coffee still?” YES IT’S THE COFFEE WHY WHY CAN YOU TELL MAYBE I’LL GET UP AND CLEAN NOW OR WRITE A BOOK. WHY ARE YOU TIRED? IT’S 2 AM!? WHAT SHOULD WE DO FOR CHRISTMAS 2020?)
Here’s the thing — I genuinely forget that I enjoy some simple things. Hello, this should be a no-brainer. Feeling low? Do something you enjoy doing! This is basically the slogan of every self-improvement 101 class.
But I’m not a fan of self-improvement. Self-esteem doesn’t do it for me. I don’t want to feel better about myself, not in that way. I want to know that even when I feel unworthy or unseen, I’m still loved; that the smoldering wick will not be put out within me.
Oh but today, today as I’m sweating and red-faced on the elliptical and listening to Brene Brown and Elizabeth Gilbert talk about being a narcissist in depression, I felt a very familiar nudge. The Spirit that says — hey, listen up. There’s truth here.
Because when my shoulders start to slump and my days drag, and I start to lose sight of who I am, what I’m called to do and what my purpose is, I wear a cloak of sadness and fear like my favorite sweater from when I was 17 (which yes, I do have. From Ireland. It’s itchy and scratchy but I love it and no, I will not give it to Goodwill.)
So there I am, salsa chicken in the crockpot and I’m dumping a pile of cinnamon-and-sugared apples into a pie crust and I feel lighter. I do. I feel like God has given me a simple joy in seeing a bunch of random ingredients come together into a pie dish just for the joy of enjoying this battered world for a few scrumptious minutes.
A narcissist in depression says this — I cannot be compassionate toward myself. I cannot extend grace to my broken pieces. I cannot be whole again. I cannot enjoy the simple things. The world is too dark. Healing is not for me. My comfort is in my tears and isolation. And when I’m there, I will confirm in myself all of the destructive things I tell myself.
*waves* Hi. Yes that’s me.
A few months ago, I did something silly but really helpful. I started a “Mood Booster” list. I started it because I know the genes in me. I have a list of people in my family who have battled anxiety and depression and have medicated with food, alcohol, work, you name it and I am no different from them. When the gray skies stick around for a few extra days, or the news headlines remind me again that this world is shattering at its fragile edges, or I get on the scale and see that yes, going to the gym has to happen because that number is not sitting right with me (or it is because hello hips), I have this list at my fingertips. I don’t ever check anything off of it. I just look at it.
Because Lord knows sometimes the days are long. And with the haunt of fear always eager to drag me down, I’m never short of anything to think of. It’s not as simple as “think of something else”. No, this is a fight of not being drowned in that sea of darkness. This is a fight with my own imaginary creatures. This is a fight with myself — my own instinct that says I cannot, will not and won’t ever be free. The one that says “Leave me alone. This is my destiny.” with a map unrolled over my eyes. It’s my being convinced that I have to grow comfortable with the foggy seas and that somehow I’m special and must navigate these crashing waves alone. It's navel-gazing at its best, asking why no one seems to care while I'm the one staring at the sea floor.
This fight feels a whole lot familiar to a fisherman who only saw the sea of Darkness but for a moment saw the King of Light.
So here’s the thing — you probably have a list too. How often do you reference it? For lack of a better analogy, that list is my map. It points me back to blue skies. And the list is not just about making me happy. It’s about reconnecting me with the person Christ is calling me to be — centered and grounded in Him. Whole and complete in all that He has given me. At rest within a world of chaos because my hope is anchored in Him. Going back to the basics and taking my cues from Mary and just CHILLING OUT for a quick minute when everything else in me wants to work for it.
The list is what keeps my brain from forgetting that I can make it through the day from 2-5 p.m. It reminds me that I like poetry, and poetry in small doses, read while stirring a pot of sauce is better than no poetry at all. It is the lexicon of my sometimes starved soul. It’s little things like:
water your flowers and look at them,
open up the windows,
listen to Vivaldi,
follow the one minute rule,
check something simple off the list,
finish reading Harry Potter already for goodness sake,
get some more sleep,
listen to a podcast,
bake a pie.
Bake a pie. It’s that simple isn’t it? But then I remember, out on these open seas, pies remind me that I love baking. Knowing I love the kitchen reminds me that I love creating. Creating reminds me that I’m in the hands of a capable and creative God, who sees no dead ends or afternoon fog. Cooking reminds me that in a life full of assorted things and sometimes stained recipes and forgotten measurements, the best baker can still make it turn out. Raw turns into sweet. Hard turns soft. Cold turns warm. Transformation, not by some pep talk but by a Creator who knows all the pieces to make things work. Well now, we're not talking about pies anymore at all, are we?
So, I don’t know what creatures lurk on your Carta Marina. Maybe it would be good to name them. Draw it out and see their names and watch as they sink into the shadows when you sail on by. I don’t know what’s on your list, but whatever it is, if it takes your vision off of the sea and onto Christ, do more of it.
As for me? I’m going to pour a cup of tea (on the list) and sit with my husband (on the list) and give thanks for all the tiny, minuscule things that didn’t happen, did happen or will never happen again.