Cosmic Flowers of Hope – An AI Art Series

AI Art, Thoughts and Essays

Imagine the art world as a sea, and text-to-art technologies as the storm thrashing that sea. Cutting-edge art generators can transform a text prompt into a work of art. One major player, DALLE 2, takes only about twenty seconds for a generation.

Reactions to these technologies range from the delighted expectation of an art revolution to fear of apocalyptic disruption. When I first heard about text-to-art generators, my immediate response was consuming fear. As someone who based a large part of my identity on my artistic talents, I felt like DALLE and the like had stolen a part of me. I wanted nothing to do with art generators – until my God showed me they are nothing to fear.

Now I am excited to have a way to experiment with digital art that does not require expensive software and an abundance of skill and time. To be clear, these generators are not insta-art. They cannot read your mind and then spit out an exact match to what you envision. The process requires several generations and edits to the text prompt and the resulting images (in my experience). Still, when it comes to the artistic process, this technology is liberating.

Recently, I was granted an invitation to participate in DALLE 2’s expanded beta stage. Below is the fruit of my experimentation so far. In this art series, life and beauty blossom in the limitless expanse of the universe (symbolic of my own journey with art-generating technology).

Enjoy!

Hope and an Eternal Perspective

Anxiety & Depression

When it comes to mental health issues and recovery, hope is key. And hope only helps if hope comes from a reliable source that does not fail even when the storms of life hit. The source of one’s hope determines the durability of one’s hope. Hence one of the benefits of faith is an eternal perspective, from which sustaining hope can be drawn.

I have written before about how depression is one of my ongoing battles. Something that makes this struggle worse is when I research about and obsess on the dismal state of the world. Of course, focusing on this reinforces a sense of hopelessness. To make progress, I go back to the baseline of eternal hope that my faith (Christianity) offers. The idea of the renewal of all things, and a restoration of creation to a perfect state, in which there is justice and the ability to live a beautiful, eternal life – this is hope.

16 That is why we never give up. Though our bodies are dying, our spirits are being renewed every day. 17 For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever! 18 So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.” – 2 Corinthians 4:16-18

Healing: Isolating From the World’s Concerns

Anxiety & Depression

Isolating from the people we love and the passions and values that drive us during a depression episode is a not the best choice. Yet isolating from the world and its concerns can be healing.

For Christmas weekend I chose to isolate from the world. I focused exclusively on God, my family, and the pursuits that matter to me. Usually my anxiety compels me to stay aware of current affairs, so not satisfying the urge to look was quite difficult. Yet I didn’t give in. It was a battle to force myself to focus on what was the most valuable use of my time.

Not looking at the news – not devoting all my mental energy to what ails the world and my country – helped me in an unexpected way. I was struggling with an oncoming depressive episode – the gas was poured so to speak. All I had to do was light the fire by giving into my anxiety. However, for the first time in a long time, that did not happen.

Yes, it is important to stay aware of what is going on. However, there is a balance to be sought. I daresay what we value most and what drives us on should take up ninety-nine percent of our time. It gives less fuel to anxiety and depression, and it is far less time wasted on things we cannot change.

“Fix Your Eyes on Jesus,” Said the Well-meaning Christian

Thoughts and Essays

I have struggled with depression for years, and one piece of advice I often receive from well-meaning Christians is to “fix your eyes on Jesus.” Okay, thought I, how does that help me? Fixing my eyes on Jesus does not make the depression – the emotional agony – go away. In my mind, fixing my eyes on Jesus equated to looking at a stained-glass window at church. Yes, the window is a work of art, and maybe Jesus looks beautiful in it. But how does that help me on a practical level? It never made sense. It was so frustrating! 

Yet God showed me the missing half the story – the part where it helps me. Fixing my eyes on Jesus (instead of my depression and pain) is not a one-way act. It is a two-way exchange. For once I fix my thoughts and my heart on Jesus, He empowers me to deal with my depression. He strengthens me in my moment of need to get through the dark valley. “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being.” -Ephesians 3:16

“16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” -Ephesians 3:16-19

Through God-given faith, I am strengthened to face my present hardship: mental illness. He roots me in His love, and He becomes my Source of Strength to keep going – to heal. Then, together with the love and support of like-minded believers, I am enveloped in more of His love. The depth and reality of His love overwhelm the dark lies of depression. The cycle repeats, leading to greater healing and spiritual maturity. 

Fixing my gaze on Jesus is not just an empty platitude. To set my heart and thoughts on Jesus is to prime myself to receive His strengthening and to remind myself of His love that consumes all darkness. Amen.

Remember God in Your Depression

Anxiety & Depression

As my battle with depression continues, sometimes I feel bitterness setting in. I am tired of the struggle – tired of fighting to be, at a minimum, a functioning human being. I question the state of my mental health a lot. Why is this happening? Why does it sometimes seem to be getting worse, not better? Where is God in all of this? Does He care?

Today I listened to a meditation that reminded me that it’s okay to not be okay, but it is not okay to ignore God. Lately, this is something I have been guilty of. I get frustrated because I do not know the reasons for why I am going through depression. I turn away from the One I sometimes blame for my complicated mental health. Yet, in doing so, I push away from the one source of reliable strength I have.

God makes it clear that the way through this dark valley is by His strength, and not my own:

“We think you ought to know, dear brothers and sisters, about the trouble we went through in the province of Asia. We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it. 9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.” – 2 Corinthians 1:8-9

And in the Psalmist’s grief and desperation, he reached out to God rather than turning away:

“Turn to me and be gracious to me,
    for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Relieve the troubles of my heart
    and free me from my anguish.
18 Look on my affliction and my distress
    and take away all my sins.”

Psalm 25:16-18

So, I too will reach out, and learn to depend on my True Strength. I do not know all the reasons why, and I will not pretend to have unwavering faith, but I will stretch out my hand for God, and trust that He will guide me through as His Word says.

Depression Triggers: Insecurity

Anxiety & Depression

Insecurity: A Subtlety Dangerous Trigger

I am learning that insecurity triggers my depression. I often get distracted by what is outside of my sphere – by what has nothing to do with my life or what is important to me. I see what others have, or what they have accomplished, and the joy I have in my achievements diminishes. Insecurity rises, and I start to question the quality and worth of what I have accomplished. I question if my projects and passions are worth anything, and ultimately, if I do not make a conscious effort to stop myself, I spiral into questioning my self-worth.

Insecurity is not the most dramatic trigger I have, but the danger lies in how subtle of a trigger insecurity is, and how little it takes to activate it. My worst triggers – like certain kinds of headlines – I can easily spot and avoid. Insecurity is another matter entirely – it has a variety of causes, and it is not a trigger I can sidestep easily.

The Road to Getting Better

Insecurity is something I cannot avoid – I must face it and work through it for the overall improvement of my mental health. Some tactics I am using:

Conscious Distracting

I make a conscious effort to stop and take a moment to breathe. If needed, I switch to a different activity that will require my serious focus.

Detach and Refocus.

I remind myself of what is most important to me – being a daughter of God and helping/loving people – and how whatever has caused my feelings of insecurity actually has no bearing on my life and priorities. I do not have to let a moment of insecurity derail me. My meaning comes from what I value, and what I do to express those values. I am moving forward with what is important to me, and that is what matters most long-term and in this moment.

Leaning into the Word of God

I am a person of faith, and the Bible has been a major source of hope and comfort for me. I can focus on what I have yet not achieved, on the ways in which I believe I fall short, etc. or I can focus on God’s eternal words of reassurance.

Conclusion

It has taken me a long time to recognize insecurity as a trigger for my depression. However, being aware of the problem is the first giant step in solving the problem. I feel empowered to continue on my recovery journey, and using simple tactics like stopping and refocusing, I can overcome this.

Daily Devotions, Daily Healing

Anxiety & Depression
John 10:4 "After he has gathered his own flock, he walks ahead of them, and they follow him because they know his voice."

When coping with depression, the journey to healing is a daily trek. For believers, this means drawing close to God, daily, and leaning into His strength. Devotions, when pursued with a lover's fervency, become times of power and reassurance in the Father's presence. 

This time together leads to a sharpening of one's spiritual ears to God's Word, which produces greater confidence in and closeness to the One who rules the universe. The world is in a dark time, and the sources of hope in this life are, at best, fragile. I keep coming back to relying on God to ground me. When I hit rock-bottom, the Rock is my Foundation.

Yet, with depression, it is hard to summon the desire to engage in Bible reading or prayer. Sometimes devotions become merely a religious exercise, and the mundanity of routine dulls the impact. When I choose not to engage with God - when I choose to stay on the sidelines of my relationship with Him and use my depression as an excuse not to try - I work against my own mental wellbeing. It’s like taking antidepressants, but much more vital – devotions with God are just something I need to do each day.

But what do these daily devotions look like? For me, it is a conversation with God. For example, I was recently reading Psalm 139: 9-10: “If I ride on the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the furthest oceans, even there Your hand will guide me, and Your strength will support me.” Through these verses I believe God said to me, “My Strength is supporting you, and I will never leave you! I am guiding you through this to healing, even if you don’t feel it.”

That is the kind of supportive relationship that gives me hope for today, and the strength to continue on my journey of healing. I cannot stress enough the importance of daily devotions with God for believers. 

Hope in the Small Things

Anxiety & Depression
"I look up to the mountains—
    does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord,
   who made heaven and earth"

Psalm 121:1-2

On the weekends I go for long drives into the backcountry. It’s a time of peace and refreshing for my soul. I love to capture the beauty I find there. Is also is one of the few pursuits that still gives me a spark of joy in the season of depression I am in.

I started going down gravel roads in the mountains and in farming country. These are destinations off the beaten path that enable me to get more exclusive shots. I can also take time to be by myself and just breathe.

When walking through dark valleys that seem to have no end, these glimpses of light become all the more valuable. Small pleasures remind me of the existence of that light. These little reminders are why I’m still here despite the pain weighing on me. Even though I don’t see it or feel it, a brighter tomorrow is possible.

The Hope in Surrendering

Thoughts and Essays

As I write this, hurricane Ida is ravaging the Louisiana coast, and fires rage in California. Abroad, violence and tragedy continue to unfold in Afghanistan. My heart aches for Afghanistan’s people, and for the troops and their families. Coronavirus – with all the turmoil it brings – is resurging around the world. I am grateful that everything is currently fine in my Montana bubble, but I cannot ignore the pain and chaos I see everywhere else.

Dwelling on the declining state of the world will not help anyone who suffers from depression. It only reinforces the twin symptoms of feeling hopeless and lacking a desire to live. I also find myself questioning  God – where is He in the midst of world chaos?

I am, by nature, an over-thinker. I am in a profession that requires me to engage and problem solve every day. I cannot check out, if I want to do my job well and serve my coworkers with excellence. I carry this mode of thinking into every area of my life, including to places where it is not helpful. I worry about world events I have no control over, and that I, as one small individual, cannot fix. Sometimes it drives me mad.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is in the process of returning to his homeland when he hears that his brother, Esau, is coming to meet him with 400 armed men. (The brothers take the concept of a family feud to a new level.) One does not have to read between the lines to feel Jacob’s fear as he does everything he can to protect his family – he sends ahead multiple tribute gifts, and he divides his people into two groups and sends them across the river. Jacob reasons that if Esau attacks, maybe one group will survive.

During the night, Jacob alone remains on the other side of the river, where he wrestles with an angel (the text does not reveal the exact nature of the divine being Jacob encounters). Jacob does not retreat to blind faith, vaguely hoping that everything will be okay. Rather, his fight with the angel is a struggle with his faith and with his own fears – a bold confrontation of what troubles his soul.

In verse 28, Jacob has a breakthrough moment when the wrestling match concludes and the divine man renames him: “’Your name will no longer be Jacob,’ the man told him. ‘From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.'” Jacob resolved his doubts and stepped into faith, though he still had no control of the situation or its outcome. He knew God was in the midst of his situation – that the Lord of Heaven’s Armies ruled over his circumstances.

In Mark 12:41-44 is the story of the widow with her two coins:

“Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.'”

No details are given about what happened to the widow after she gave away the last of her money. She entrusted her future to God, and that is all Mark reveals. How many people today are in desperate circumstances, wondering what the future holds? Yet the choice of the widow stands: the complete surrender of everything – from personal circumstances to the uncertainties of current world circumstances – to God.

I lack the big picture view that omnipotent, omnipresent God has. I cannot fathom what divine purposes are being worked out through the present struggles across the globe, but I choose to surrender what I cannot control to the sovereignty, love, and wisdom of God.

Grief and Depression

Anxiety & Depression

A dear member of my church family passed away recently. He was a cornerstone in my community; he poured his life and love into my church, and into people and ministries far beyond the church walls. He was what one expects of a true Christian: someone who loved unconditionally the unloved, and who invested in the overlooked. He served with joy our community for decades before an aggressive cancer took him. He leaves behind a gaping hole in many hearts, especially in the hearts of those he mentored.

In this time of grief, I find myself wanting to withdraw and isolate. I already have depression, and I do not feel like I have the emotional energy to comfort others. I fear getting triggered and sinking into a dark depression pit. I have my own sadness to deal with, and I am plagued by the questions many have when someone dear dies. Why did a good man – a righteous man – die in such a horrible way?

Why would someone suffering from severe depression want to make themselves open to more sadness by sharing in others’ grief? Supporting others with their grief is no small ask, especially if one is vulnerable due to depression.

Yet Romans 12:15 says to “…mourn with those who mourn.” I didn’t feel like it, but I went to church last Sunday. There, they announced the passing of our church member to the congregation. This, of course, elicited tears all around. I found myself unable to restrain my tears, or to ignore those hurting around me. We hugged and comforted each other, as we choose to praise God anyway, and leaned into the hope of seeing this departed church remember again someday.

Instead of sinking into a season of deep depression, I let my sadness wash over me, and I embraced the shared grief of my church community. I started working through my tangled feelings instead of suppressing those feelings as is my habit. I drew strength from the comfort I received, and the fact that I was not grieving alone. Reaching out to share that grief with others is helping me to heal and move forward. What God says in 2 Corinthians 1: 4 is true: “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.”

The lesson is not to hide from or suppress grief because I am afraid of the impact it will have on my mental health. Avoiding grief will, ironically, bring about the damage to my mental health that I fear. Avoidance may be the easier option in the short-term, but I know the difficult feelings will spring up later, ready to poison my soul, if I don’t work through this. I also find that working through my grief with others I love and trust, and who were experiencing the same grief, expediates the healing process. I have a pool of strength and comfort to draw upon instead of trying to heal myself (when I already have emotional scars from depression).

If you have suffered loss in your life recently, or long ago, may God comfort you and surround you with a loving community to help you through.

Seeking Help: An Act of True Humility

Anxiety & Depression

True humility and fear of the LORD lead to riches, honor, and long life.” -Proverbs 22:4

One form of true humility is the ability to recognize when one needs help, and then having the will to seek out help. I am not referring to everyday situations, but to those dark moments of the soul when one realizes s/he cannot continue on in the same, broken condition. These are the moments when one is confronted with the reality of how fractured one’s internal world has become;  how broken one’s heart truly is. Maybe there is still some hope left, but the light is faint. The tragedies and difficulties of life can hammer one’s soul into this downcast state, as can constant struggles with mental health issues. Once one is in the figurative pit, one needs a helping hand to climb out again.

On my About page, I discuss how 2020 was the year that brought me to my knees. Prior to 2020, I was subject to the ravages of severe depression and anxiety for ten+ years. A combination of personal circumstances and my own reserved, but stubborn nature made my depression worse. I rejected fully the idea of getting help, rather, I ignored my problems. This approach didn’t help me, and my inner world kept falling to pieces. When 2020 came, and the outer world seemed to fall apart, I had no emotional strength left to help me cope.

Seeking help takes on a variety of forms. For me, the first step was admitting that I was getting worse, and that I didn’t know how to fix myself.  The second step was changing my mind about seeking out resources to help me, including therapy and medications. I also had to cultivate a willingness to lean into my relationship with God. His Word is full of comforts, but I had never allowed myself to rest on those comforts. I now know that part of fearing the Lord is to submit to His help and comfort; and to let His infinite strength carry me. A long life, with dignity and honor, is a hope I dare to have again.

If you struggle with depression, and you increasingly wonder how you will get through today, much less tomorrow, please get help. Do it for yourself, and the people who love you.