A Time To Move On

Sometimes reminders to grow come as a gentle nudge. Other times they smack you upside the head.

It’s sort of the same way that God sometimes speaks to you in a still small voice and other times He uses a trumpet blast.

This past weekend the Rabbi in my Messianic church gave a message about keeping your eyes on the end goal; on what the “song-writer” of your life has planned for you. The part of this message that really stood out to me is what he said about moving on from grief. He started by reading this verse:

Yahweh said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him from being king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil, and go. I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite; for I have provided a king for myself among his sons.” (1 Sam. 16:1, WEB)

Because of Saul’s disobedience and pride, God rejected him and moved on to the next step in His plan. He gave the prophet Samuel time to grieve Saul, since there is “a time to mourn” (Ecc. 3:4), but now God expected him to move on. Similarly, in our lives, there is a season to mourn when something bad happens. However, we’re not meant to stay there.

I was already thinking about my breakup that happened 4 months ago when the rabbi started talking about this subject, and then he specifically used a relationship ending as an example. So when he said, “There are a few people here who really need to hear this message” I felt like I was definitely one of them.

How long will you keep grieving over something that is past and can’t be fixed or recovered? he asked. We need to look to the end, trusting God has better plans and a new season waiting for us. There are times when our situations have to come to a point where things look dead before God can raise up something else that will produce fruit. And all of this ties-in to my own blog post from Saturday, “Are You Growing Or Shrinking?”

I’m starting to feel like God’s trying to get my attention. Read more

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Anxiety Kitty: The Not-So-Surprising Way Pets Improve Mental Health

Remember that nervous cat I adopted a few months ago who spent all his time hiding under couches and beds or in closets? (click here to read “Lessons From My Nervous Cat”). My plan was to pour as much patience, love, and understanding into his life as I want people to show me when I’m scared. I wanted to show him that he had a safe home now.

Well, it’s working. Flynn is turning into quite the friendly cat, especially with me but also with the rest of the people he sees every day. And he’s even getting better around non-family members. We had several people over for dinner last night for a total of 14 humans around. Flynn hid when they were all in the house together, but after we sat down to dinner (some outside and some in the dining room) he actually wandered around out in the open and let people he didn’t know pet him.

After doing some research, I learned that clicker training is the one thing people have found that helps anxious cats settle down and feel safe. No one knows why teaching a cat to do simple tricks on command combats anxiety, but it does. My theory is that when the cat gets positive reinforcement for certain actions the additional structure helps make them feel secure. Whatever the reason, it’s adorable. It’s mostly about teaching him to do things he was already doing on command (touch my fingers, come when called, jump on and off chairs, and stand on his hind legs). The “stand” command is everyone’s favorite. He’s just so cute!

Anxiety Kitty | marissabaker.wordpress.com

As I’ve helped Flynn with his anxiety, he’s been helping me with mine. Before a lunch date a few weeks ago (the first since my breakup), he spent the whole morning following me around and checking in on me. Every few minutes while I was working at my desk he’d hop out of the window and walk over to “talk” with me and have his head rubbed. And when I walked into a different room he followed. Since then, he’s kept that pattern up most of the days my anxiety has spiked.

I’m honestly shocked how in-tune he is with my emotional state. A few days ago I was working on a guest post sharing my testimony about anxiety (I’ll share a link here when it goes live) and I hit a point in my writings where I just burst into tears sitting at my desk. I went for a walk outside and when I came back Flynn walked around my feet crying until I responded to him. He actually let me pick him up and hold him for a good 30 seconds (he hates being cuddled and usually wiggles as soon as you pick him up). Then a little while later when I was journaling and crying he spotted me, ran into the room, jumped up on the bed with me and stayed there purring until someone else came home. The only other times he sits on my bed with me is late at night, so this was really outside his normal behavior.

We’ve also discovered another shared love: old books. I collect Grosset & Dunlap series books (like Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Tom Swift, Rick Brant, and others). I found two bags full of books I needed for my collection at a book sale on Friday and they’re in really good shape. Flynn acted like the bags were full of catnip. He dove into the Hardy Boys bag head first and rolled around on the books until I pulled him out and tied the bag shut so he wouldn’t damage them. Then he climbed into the bag that I’d had Rick Brant books in earlier. He looked almost as happy with the books as I am.

Anxiety Kitty | marissabaker.wordpress.com

There’s just something comforting about sharing my home with a fluffy critter. Cats are my choice, but I’m sure other pet owners can relate whether they love dogs, rabbits, gerbils, or even non-fluffy pets. People are happier and healthier around animals. In fact, one survey found that 74% of pet owners reported mental health improvements from pet ownership.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America says, “pets and therapy animals can help alleviate stress, anxiety, depression, and feelings of loneliness and social isolation.” That’s so true for me. Adopting Flynn and starting counseling are the two biggest things that have helped me deal with my anxiety this year, as well as my post-breakup grief. I know pet ownership isn’t for everyone, and would never tell you to get a pet if you’re not sure you could take care of it. But for those of us who can have pets, they can be a huge help when you’re going through something.

You don’t need to have a mental health issue to benefit from caring for an animal. For example, I suggested in my post on developing Sensing as an INFJ or INTJ that pets can help ground these personality types in the real world. INxJ types are normally a bit out-of-touch with the physical world and there’s nothing like knowing some other life form needs you in order to stay alive and happy to get you out of your own head for a while. Whatever your personality type, pets can be a huge blessing.

What about you? Do you have an animal friend who helps you when you’re struggling with something?

Why There Isn’t A Blog Post

It’s been hard for me to come up with Monday posts lately. I’ve actually skipped several weeks in the past few months. I have a few ideas saved, but Sunday (when I usually write Monday’s posts) rolls around and I have zero energy to write them. I can’t focus on “Avoiding ‘Us vs. Them’ Mentality When Studying Personality Types” right now. And I’m not yet at the point where I can write “Tips For INFJs Going Through Heartbreak.” But I didn’t really want to share what’s going on with me either. So I just let the posting schedule slip.

I guess I’m going to share it now, though. My boyfriend and I broke up a little over a month ago. The cat I wrote about two weeks ago ran away the last day of March. And if you rank anxiety on a 0-10 scale (0 being none and 10 being a panic attack), mine last week was hovering at 3-4 and jumped up to a 9 one morning.  I feel like my life is unraveling and my mind keeps swirling through weird thought patterns.

  • Update: I wrote this Sunday evening and Monday morning before the blog post went live my cat came home! He was there when I woke up, hungry for food and attention. Praise the Lord, for He is good and answers prayers even about missing kitties!

If I take a mental step back, it’s clear my life isn’t really spiraling out of control. The breakup was emotional, but we both decided we didn’t really see a future in the relationship so we agreed to end it and stay friendly. I feel terrible that I still haven’t been able to find my poor little kitty, but there wasn’t much I could do about it (wind rattled open two locked doors leading out through the garage — what are the odds?!). And I am seeing a counselor to work through my anxiety, so for the first time since my inaugural panic attack over 10 years ago I’m getting help.

But knowing that breaking up was the right thing to do, that I can’t control whether or not my cat comes home, and that I’m working toward healing and coping doesn’t really help me feel like writing. At least not writing anything to share on this blog, other than typing up my weekly Bible studies. So that’s why there isn’t a real post today. And there wasn’t one three weeks ago.

I almost just skipped this Monday again, too. But sometimes I think it’s good to let people know things aren’t really okay. If we all just go through life keeping up this “I’m fine, how are you?” facade, then no one gets the chance to be authentic or to experience authenticity in other people. And if we believe that everyone else is “fine,” then we can feel guilty for the times when we’re not at all fine. So it’s okay to share when you’re not fine. To stop hiding and invite people to share in your tears as well as your triumphs. Because it’s okay if I’m struggling. And it’s okay if you’re struggling, too. We’ll get through this together.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com

One Week To A Better You

My friend Cody is launching a startup business called Affirmations Coffee. Part of that project involves an encouraging blog and a short e-book titled Be Awesome: One Week To A Better You. You can get the e-book by supporting his Kickstarter, along with some other really cool rewards like this mug:

Affirmations Coffee Kickstarter

I’ve been curious about the e-book for a while now, so when Cody asked me to review it for my blog I jumped at the chance. It’s a motivational 30-page devotional with repeatable weekly tasks to help you move forward in life. I spent a week working through the book and writing down something for each day.

Survey Sunday

Sunday’s task is to plan out a schedule for the rest of your week. I’ve been using The Freelance Planner to help keep track of assignments each week, so I spent some time Sunday morning filling out my main goals for the week. Mine is a very different sort of planner than the one recommended in the e-book so my planning took a less detailed form, but it was helpful to actually fill out all the days at the beginning of the week (something I don’t always do). I also spent some time journaling that morning — a habit I’ve been meaning to get back into.

Motivation Monday

E-Book review: One Week To A Better You | marissabaker.wordpress.comMonday’s challenge is to think about what motivates you to achieve your goals. For me, it’s often quotes, scriptures, or songs that resonate with something deep inside.

This might seem odd to non-writers, but for quite some time one of the most motivating things I’ve encountered has been the song “Non-Stop” from Hamilton. That picture on the left is hanging over my desk right now, alongside John Keats’ poem “When I have fears that I may cease to be.” I suppose you could say I’m motivated by the idea that I’m running out of time to write all the stories, articles, and studies overflowing my mind.

Tranquility Tuesday

I already have a morning routine designed to build focus and calm, so Tranquility Tuesday started out with prayer, yoga, breakfast/reading (yes, those go together), and Bible study. We all need to take time for ourselves and I find that’s a good way to start every day if I want to be more productive and engaged.

Wisdom Wednesday

The Wednesday chapter reminds us to actively seek wisdom. As I mentioned before, I start every morning with Bible study so I suppose I could have just left it at that. Because of today’s theme, though, I determined to spend some extra time taking in other peoples’ perspectives, knowledge, and experience. I began reading an Enneagram book because I’ve heard the theory layers well with Myers-Briggs to give more complete pictures of personality. I took some time to read deep-thinking posts from other bloggers. And I read a chapter in Proverbs before bed.

Thankful Thursday

E-Book review: One Week To A Better You | marissabaker.wordpress.com

For today’s focus, I made a list of five things I’m thankful for. It’s not necessarily my top 5 (more like what came to mind first that morning). I’m thankful for

  • The Lord’s love and the fact that He offers us the chance to be friends with Him
  • My blog readers, family, and friends
  • Having the opportunity to dance and to help teach dance at my Messianic Congregation
  • Books. Every single one of the 1,100+ on my shelf, plus others
  • My boyfriend ❤

Fearless Friday

I really didn’t know what to do with this day. The books says to go outside your comfort zone and overcome a fear. But Friday is a whirlwind of article due-dates, blog scheduling, and baking for Shabbat. How’m I supposed to find time to identify a specific fear and conquer it today!? (somewhat ironically, I started feeling anxious just thinking about it.)

One line did resonate with me, though: “Live purposefully, not fearfully.” So my goal for Fearless Friday became not letting the little fears and anxieties that pop-up throughout the day control me.

Sabbath Saturday

Ah, the Sabbath. My favorite day of the week. Most of the day isn’t particularly “restful” for me since I leave at 9:15 to get to my morning church and pretty much go non-stop until getting home from my afternoon church around 5 or 6 that evening, but it’s a wonderful time of learning more about God and fellowshipping with brethren. And the Saturday that I worked through this book, I had a chance to spend some time after church chatting with two friends and my sister at a coffee shop, then come home and spend time with both my siblings.


I enjoyed this e-book’s daily suggestion to take time and focus on connecting with God and exploring an aspect of personal growth. You can get the book and support Cody’s Kickstarter at the same time for just $5. I also highly recommend you follow Cody’s blog and Facebook page. His positive, encouraging focus is something I think many of you would enjoy reading and appreciate seeing in your inbox or Facebook feed.

Once again, here’s the link to his Kickstarter:

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Giving Yourself Permission to Take Up Space

I’m 5 feet 6 inches tall (about 168 cm for my readers on the metric system). When I was a teenager I decided that was about 3 inches too tall for some reason ostensibly connected with Joe Hardy (yes, the fictional character. I know — I needed more real friends). That’s not the only reason I do things to make myself look smaller, but it’s one of the stranger ones. In general, though, being taller than other people simply makes me feel awkward. And even though I’ve explored that feeling before in a creative non-fiction class in college, I really wasn’t sure why.

Recently, I’ve been asked why I use body language that makes me look small. That question made me  take another look at why I’m doing what I do. I hunch my shoulders. I sit in corners of sofas. I cross my arms and legs or ankles. Or I have my hands together nervously fiddling with my fingers. Part of this is unconscious but I’m often aware of it as well. I know I make myself smaller and sometimes I do it on purpose, especially if I feel nervous or threatened. I suppose I’m saying with my body language, “Don’t notice me. Don’t hurt me.” And this sort of thing has become instinctive for me.

Giving Yourself Permission to Take Up Space | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Photo credit: “Shy” by Karel Macalik, CC BY via Flickr

One of my more vivid childhood memories is of being enrolled in a summer school program and hiding under the playground equipment from the other kids. My experiences there played a large role in why my parents chose to homeschool. In some ways, that scared little girl is still part of me and hiding is still my default move. But, as someone recently reminded me, fear isn’t a good way to live your life. I feel like it’s time for a change. Read more