Faith/Spirituality

Swipe right…

If you read my last entry, “Swipe left” (if you haven’t, pause and read it now, then come on back!), you may be wondering, “So, when do we get to swipe right?”. Well, the obvious answer, is any thought that is good, wholesome, uplifting, kind, positive, etc. gets a swift swipe to the right. But this week, as I was putting my inner swiping APP into practice, I came across some thoughts that I wasn’t exactly sure what to do with. They weren’t bad thoughts, so swiping left didn’t seem fair.

In dating world, you swipe right when you want to revisit someone’s profile at a later point. You are categorizing people either as potential future dating material or a hard and fast “no chance” to the left (nothing like basing your relational happiness on looks, right?). You then sit down and look a little closer into the self-described profile for similarities and intrigue and then keep or reject those also. This is how I would encourage you to view any thought that pulls you away from the present. Is it realistic to expect that  while I am working out at 6:15 in the morning I won’t think about tasks that are coming up that day? Probably not. But as they come up, I can acknowledge them and swipe them to the right, revisiting them when I get to work and have time to give them my full attention.

We should not be surprised by the tendency to let our minds wander to tasks/worries/obligations/fears that have nothing to do with what we are doing at the present moment. There is so much to distract us in this world. We tend to idolize people who can multi-task. They seem efficient and successful. But when we are doing one thing while being preoccupied with another, we literally miss out on  actual life. I once heard the phrase, “Where we are is our only option just now.”

Sometimes I actually plan to do one thing while thinking about something else! I will plan to write a blog in my head or figure out vacation plans while I am working out or sitting in a meeting I am supposed to be paying attention to. I will plan to go to my kid’s sporting event and take books to catch up on whenever my kid isn’t playing 😏. Sometimes it’s not too big of a deal. But other times, it absolutely robs me of connecting with people I love. Sometimes I am sitting with a friend for coffee and thinking about the people I need to get in touch with regarding seeing houses. Or I am hanging with my husband but not really present because I am fretting over my future and whether or not I will do this or that next week. You get the idea. It’s not that I never need to consider the thoughts that are distracting me from being fully in the moment with who is in front of me. They are often important and necessary.  But I create much stress and anxiety for myself when I am not fully engaged in the present. I can’t embrace what God has brought my way if I am rehearsing or regretting what has already occurred or strategizing and worrying about what might occur in the future.

So-add this to your practice. When thoughts arise that are legitimate and need further analysis, swipe those suckers to the right. Save them for later. Save them for a time when you can sit and give them your undivided attention. Don’t let them drag you out of the present or keep you from experiencing life on life’s terms. Practice the art of living in the now.

Swipe right, my friends.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, thinking

Swipe left…

Not that I have used them personally, but because I try my best to not bury my head in the technological sand just because I am 49 (…and happily married, I might add), I know a thing or two about dating sites. Bear with me…

The one thing I know is that at least one site allows you to swipe the picture on the screen to the right if you are interested and may revisit their profile later, or swipe left if you (by merely looking at someones face/body/body parts) give that person a thumbs down. You basically move them to your “trash”. It sounds insane when you say it like that, right? Well, before you get too worked up about it, let me assure you that I am just using this as a metaphor to help you have a visual for how to control your thoughts without letting them control you.

I mentioned awhile back that I was reading a book about how to Detox your brain. While I still have miles to go, I have tried to come up with ways to get this done, because my thoughts-my negative, destructive and degrading thoughts-often hijack my mind and create stress and anxiety and fear. For some reason, this idea popped in my head a couple days ago and I have been attempting to utilize it, sorting through my thoughts as the pop up. I am still in the process of tweaking it, but I’ll give you the gist.

When any thought pops in my head, I am trying to discipline myself to ask a couple questions about it. The first is: “Is it my thought or my business?”. This question is easy to answer and can eliminate huge amounts of time and energy I might otherwise give it. Let’s say, for example, I am with a group friends and one of them brings up a subject that I know is a sensitive issue and might trigger anger in another friend. Typically, I would immediately feel some tension and perhaps try to figure out how I can smooth out or fix what has just happened. But, if I ask the question, “Is this my thought or my business?”, the answer is clearly NO. So I give it to God. I swipe left. I “trash” it and mind my own business, leaving me to enjoy my friends for exactly who they are and where they are at that moment. Or how about when I notice I am fretting about what some one else is or might be angry/frustrated/worried/stressed about? “Is this my thought?”. Nope. It is a thought that belongs to them alone and I don’t have to give it any attention or let it effect my serenity. I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it.

The next question I added after I had been practicing this for a couple days: “Can I control it?”. This one is pretty cut and dry. You can’t? You know what to do with it!

The last and biggest question you will have to decide for yourself, as long as it falls into a similar vein as this: “Is it beneficial, kind and true?”. If you have a relationship with God, you can simply ask “Is this from God?”, because that will automatically alert you to all the good thoughts that God imparts and represents (His thoughts and ways are lovely, kind, nonjudgmental, gracious, forgiving, compassionate, empathetic, honest, uplifting, encouraging, gentle, etc.). I definitely need to ask this question so I can better relate to people in my world; my family but also my clients, my friends and people God puts in my path as I go through my day. But the main reason I started this practice was to eliminate repetitive thoughts I have about myself that are very much NOT “beneficial, kind or or true”. When I have thoughts, which are often subtle and sheepish but have razor sharp teeth, like “I’ll never get better at…”, or “I don’t think I will ever be able to…” or “I am always going to struggle with….”, I have to put them to the question test. 9/10 times my thoughts fail that test. But instead of continuing down the mental, emotional and physically draining path these thoughts try to take me on, or worse yet, beat myself up for having them in the first place, I now have a tool. If the answer to my question is “NO”, I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it. I move on and replace those thoughts with the God’s instructions:

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-Think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Swipe left my friends…

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

I’ve hit the wall! (…or is it hitting me?)

I am writing today because I need it. Badly. In Runner’s Speak, I have “hit the wall”. For a runner, that means they have been running for a lengthy period of time and have depleted their glycogen levels and feel like they are potentially going to keel over or “bonk out” (I learned that phrase just this morning while googling “hitting the wall”). In Heather terms, the phrases still apply. Don’t get excited, I haven’t been running again or anything (been there done that). But I feel like I started a few life “races” and was plugging away nicely until the past couple of weeks. I have lost my breath, my energy, and my sight for why I started the races in the first place.

In the beginning, I was excited and hopeful and experiencing just enough success to continue with a smile and a skip in my step, but this past week I started to feel a heaviness coming over me as a result of doing a lot of “footwork” with no results in sight. I am struggling to continue picking up my feet and continuing to do the “footwork” necessary to finish the marathon.

Do you ever feel that way? Please tell me you do, and I’ll just go ahead and apologize now for wishing that on you. It’s just that I have also been convincing myself that no one else has this problem and that makes the discouragement feel that much deeper.

I was reminded the other day of a blog I wrote on “waiting” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/05/07/waiting/ ). I used to wait on blood work and test results and the green light to go back in the hospital for Chemo. One would think that I would be a little more grateful and patient with anything else I have to wait for ever again. But alas, I have to operate in the “today”, and today I am waiting for other things. Luckily they are much less daunting than life or literal death, but I guess my mind has moved on from that possibility.

I am writing today to remind myself of what I already know. That’s usually how it works for me. What I already know, is that life is not about the end results, it’s what happens in that space between that equal “living”. The end result may or may not manifest itself, at least in the ways we predict or hope for. I may work like a boss at my job and never sell another house. I may meet with dozens of people to promote my book or secure a speaking engagement or draw people to my site with results I may never see or know about. I may pray numerous prayers for people I love and yet continue to live in that mysterious unknown about the answers one way or another. If I forget this and start living as if God or people owe me recompense for all my efforts, I end up where I am today; frustrated, tired, and frankly, mad. Mad that my equation isn’t working.

While I am in the space between, while I am doing the “footwork”, I have to ruthlessly remind myself to ask, “What am I learning? Who am I helping? How am I growing? Where can I be of service?”. The “footwork”, as I define it, is every activity and thought that contributes to reaching that goal. And here’s the good and bad news: the most important component is not the goal, it’s the footwork. Whether I like that news or not, it’s still true. I have no control over the outcome or the length of time it takes to get there. I can either complain and wait impatiently in anxious and frustrated expectation, or can accept life on life’s terms and as it comes; one moment at a time. The moments, as we know, are all we have to work with. Where I am is all I have to work with just now.

Dear God-I need your help to live in the moments. Help me get my “second wind” that comes after I have endured the daily, monotonous, seemingly unfruitful present, and pushed myself beyond what I feel is possible, wise or worthwhile. Help me to remember that you alone-and your purposes in the space between-are my continuous and consistent reward.

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness

“Gimme some-whole-ness”

It’s probably not a coincidence that I came up with an idea to write a blog on “unwholesome talk” while I was running (or trying to run) on a treadmill. Remember how in my book I talk about how the doctors made a note on my medical chart that says “she runs marathons”? Well, I did run two half marathons right before I got Leukemia but haven’t run since. Thus the “unwholesome talk” blog epiphany. It wasn’t like I was letting the profanity fly or anything, but I was definitely abusing myself mentally and verbally: “What is wrong with me?” “Everyone else is running-I’m so out of shape!” “That girl next to me is just showing off!” “I’ll never be as fast or thin as her, and she looks about 10 years older than me!”. You get the idea.

There is a biblical principle in Ephesians 4:29 warning us to “not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful…that it may benefit those who listen.” Well guess what, I was listening to myself and it was not helpful at all. I used to think this verse was mostly addressing flat out cussing or mean-speech and potentially some pretty dirty and outright judgmental gossip. But that’s just the obvious stuff. Most people, even those who don’t really have a commitment to living like Jesus asks us to, believe that kind of talk is detrimental to all involved. It’s that sneaky self-talk that we tend to accept without challenge.

The synonyms for “unwholesome” help me understand the damage this kind of talk can bring about: destructive, damaging, poisonous, harmful, ruinous, injurious, unnourishing. On the contrary, “wholesome” is defined as conducive or valuable to our physical, mental or moral well-being. And I would add our spiritual well-being as well. You have heard of the golden rule (which also originates from God’s plan for how we should love each other in Matthew 22:39): Love your neighbor/others as you love yourself. The problem is, most of us do. When we are cruel, critical, judgmental and harsh with others, it is most likely because we are cruel, critical, judgmental and harsh on ourselves. Our self-talk is “unwholesome”. Practically, this means I have keep to my thoughts and words in check, mostly when I am frustrated or disappointed in myself. I need to catch and redirect phrases like “I am such an idiot!”, “I’ll never be able to ….”, “I am always screwing that up”, “I can’t seem to remember anything or keep details straight” (that’s one of my favorites-I try to blame the Chemo but apparently Leukemia chemo doesn’t have that side effect. Whatever), or “I will never be __________ enough”.

The kind of talk I participate in with and about others starts with how I talk to myself.  I have to ask myself if my silent and out-loud words bring “some-whole-ness” to my life? If the answer is yes, then I am on the right track and it will be much more natural for me to bring “some-whole-ness” to others when I open my mouth. As usual, if I want to bring love, joy, peace and happiness the world around me, it has to begin with me taking tender, thoughtful and gracious care of myself. My wholesome talk has to start with me.

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, identity, Relationships, Serenity, Trust

49er (almost 50 but not quite!)

Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s not the big 5-0, but I will be turning the number only one year away from that. I can hardly stand to even talk about that right now. So let’s just look backwards instead. I remember when I turned 30 I was sorely disappointed because in my twenties I envisioned myself being a “wise woman of God” by the time I arrived at that mile marker. Needless to say, that was “no-go”. I remember my 40th birthday well. A group of ladies went out to dinner with me at Indigo restaurant. It was a special time. My husband and I also celebrated our 40th by going to Grand Cayman for a week! It was awesome, but, side note, as I opened the doors on the veranda of our hotel room at the Ritz Carlton…again, on my FORTIETH birthday….there was a supermodel doing a photo shoot right below us. In a swimsuit. Sprawling across a speedboat. Posing and working the camera with great fervor. She was there for some sort of supermodel convention that would begin in a couple days. Supermodels trickled in throughout the week. I remember laying on the beach as they literally carried said supermodel across the sand to her next shoot about 20 feet away from me. Perrrrfect.

I had sort of blocked out that part of my birthday history until just now….

So, back to my original reason for writing. It’s not to get you to tell me happy birthday tomorrow. It’s about what I have come to understand about life and birthdays: God’s plan is better than mine. It would be easy for me to get pretty sad if I think about the fact that 50% of those friends that celebrated me on my 40th birthday are no longer in my life. Or when I recollect that after my 40th birthday my life pretty much imploded (or exploded?) and has been a serious learning curve ever since. Up until that point of my life I don’t think I ever really knew the pangs of betrayal, heartbreak, terror, rage or despair. I guess I was lucky to not experience it until 40, and for that I am grateful.

But here I am, 9 years later, and I have new eyes to see with as a result of what God has brought me through. I am still not the “wise woman of God” I had wished to turn into when I was 30. But that’s ok. What I am, or in the process of becoming, is more joyful, more humble, more content, more relaxed, more vulnerable and authentic. I am also becoming less of a few things: less judgmental, less angry, less fearful, less insistent on my own way. I have come to realize that though I would not have chosen to go through the struggles I have faced in the past almost-decade, God used them to mold me into a person I finally like. I finally feel like I am leaning in to what He wants for me instead of trying to manipulate him into giving me what I think will make me happy.

I had to go through the fire to reap the benefits of the refinement that comes only through the intense heat of extreme circumstances. There is no other way but through if you want the serenity that comes from trusting God in every single event, challenge, opportunity, accident or heartache that comes your way. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly was not bravely challenging the storm to “bring it on!” most of the time. But I didn’t give up or curl up. I trudged away. I found new friends to celebrate with these past few years. Though I had to say goodbye to many relationships, I have added more than double what I lost. My life is richer now as a result. I would say that I know and interact with at least 100 more people that have blessed my world, all as a result of circumstances that seemed as if they would be the figurative and even literal death of me.

When I was reading Oswald Chambers this morning, I skipped ahead to the reading for my birthday. Here’s what I read and what I will do my best to remember until I turn 50 (at which point we can chat about whatever new revelations God has brought my way…):

“If a man or woman is called of God, it does not matter how untoward (read: horrific, undesirable, agonizing, disappointing, sucky, etc.) fcircumstances are, every force that has been at work will tell for God’s purpose in the end. If you agree with God’s purpose He will bring not only your conscious life, but all the deeper regions of your life which you cannot get at, into harmony.”

Thank you God. Happy Birthday to me.

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”🎼🎤

I don’t know why I haven’t written for so long. Well, actually, yes I do. I think I allowed myself to believe a lie. I convinced myself, unintentionally of course, that if I didn’t have anything new and enlightening to talk about I shouldn’t bother. If God wasn’t shining a sunbeam down on me and writing a message on the wall, then why bore anyone with my drivel. Well lucky for you 😝 I’ve come to my senses. And how exactly did that happen, you ask? Let me explain.

Some of you know that this summer, my daughter Emma, spent time serving at a camp in Oregon. So it was just Bennett and Blake and I here. Made for a pretty quiet house with no girl for me to jabber with! On August 9th Bennett and Blake drove to Las Vegas where Bennett will live with family for the next year or so. I flew out Saturday and met them there. I spent the next Morning with an “escapee” from Springfield who moved there a few years ago. Then we hung with my in-laws (grandparents and Blake’s sister and fam) and headed to the strip for dinner that night. The next morning Blake and Bennett and I drove to LA, checked in to our hotel and I headed to the airport to pick up Emma who flew in from her summer in Oregon. We all spent 5 days there visiting our son Berkeley and were joined later in the week by his sweet girlfriend Kinze. After doing Disney (meeting up with some other “escapees” from Springfield), Laguna beach and Paramount Studios (where Berk works), Emma, Bennett, Blake and I headed to Napa, California to see my parents, my siblings and their children. Oh, and for the record, we drove 4 hours from Vegas to LA, spent about a jillion hours in LA traffic during the week (Lord, have mercy), and drove 6 hours to Napa before we flew back to St. Louis and then drove 2 hours home. The next day Emma started school and we headed back to catch up at our jobs. We had fun fun fun but does anyone else feel exhausted from just reviewing that schedule? It’s not even that it was exhausting, it’s that during times of extreme busyness and positive distractions, I tend forget some of the priorities that keep my soul on track.

So, when I think I have nothing new to say, I am right. But that is no reason to stop writing. Being on vacation for 10 days reminds me of a core truth about myself, and maybe some of you can relate: repetition/routine=reflection/remembering. You see, when I am on vacation, my daily routine goes out the window. Things aren’t normal, because “I’m on vacation.” My time clock is off and am out later than normal, I am sleeping with 4 people in the same hotel room and eating and drinking foods that are not on my regular diet and I have little to no time alone. I forget to take my vitamin that I have taken every other day of the year without even thinking about it and forget to take off my eye make up at night which, as a woman, should never ever happen🙃. Routine of working out is easily discarded and my morning reading regiment is postponed until I return back to “normal life”. It’s like I take a vacation from everything that’s good for me in order to “celebrate” being on vacation! Which of course, sounds insane now that I type it out.

Here’s the thing; I am painfully human and have an astounding capacity to forget. If I don’t have routine and set aside time to reflect on and review what I say I believe or want to change or improve on, those principles and goals become a vapor and disappear into thin air. when I regularly write and read what I write, I am reminded of what I believe. I remember that even though I say in every other blog that trying to manipulate God or other people to get them to do what I want is no good, it takes me about 2 days/hours to live out the opposite (just one of many recurring themes).

Though it’s not ideal to do vacation without all the good routine/reflection, it’s drastically more dangerous to get in to such a pattern of neglect, busyness, distraction, avoidance, ignorance, etc. at home. For me, it is imperative that I set aside time, intentionally and without waver, to do what I know is good for my body, mind and soul. What I repeat, I learn from, even if by accident. I form habits for healthy and positive and beautiful living through repetition, review and reflection.

I had a wonderful vacation. I am sad to be home in some ways because I am reminded that we are minus 2 boys that are on the other side of the country. And living in reality is much harder than the blissful denial that defines “vacation Heather”. And yet, I know that even though every-day-life is rarely glamorous, It’s here that I grow. I slow down a bit, I integrate routine and discipline back into my daily living. I remind myself that it’s ok to read and re-read books on the same dang topics. It’s ok to write and repeat myself. I am never so advanced that I will not need to be regularly reminded of what I believe and how I then should act. I can not afford to take a vacation from that.

Faith/Spirituality, identity, Uncategorized

Mental “Woolgathering”

At the risk of offending any Shepherds, I am going to take the concept of wool-gathering a bit out of context because, well, I am determined to use the idea to clarify the dangers of a lackadaisical mind. The concept of mental “woolgathering” typically refers to a mind given to daydreaming or idle/fanciful thinking. Nothing ultimately wrong with that if done on occasion and when you aren’t supposed to be focused on learning something important or listening attentively to someone you care about. But here’s where I tend to get myself into trouble with it: the gathering part. You see, our minds are active, having thousands of thoughts every few seconds. And as innocent as most of those may seem, there are thoughts that repeat, that we “gather”, that can give us brain damage.

“Woolgathering” is derived from the activity of people who would scour bushes and fences, collecting the wool the sheep left behind after rubbing against or getting snagged on them. I imagine they would then take it to someone who would use it to make blankets or clothing. The more wool you accumulate, the bigger the blanket you could make.

I feel like this is a perfect metaphor for what happens in my mind if I am not mindful about what I am allowing to enter it. No thoughts are harmless, especially if they are repeated and have to do with worry, fears, doubts about my self-worth or whether I am “enough”(you fill in the blank for what you wonder if you are enough of). When I am not intentional about what I think (whatever is good, whatever is lovely, whatever is kind, pure, positive, etc.), if I allow thoughts that are untrue or negative about me or others, and dwell on them or ruminate on them, I am “gathering wool.” Each additional thought adds more wool to a blanket of guilt/shame/pessimism/cynicism/disdain/arrogance/judgmentalism. It’s a blanket that covers and smothers.

It’s pretty challenging to never have a thought that shouldn’t be there; a thought that can accumulate and destroy us over time. Our best hope, maybe, is that when we come across a nasty piece of wool, to pick it up, acknowledge it for what it is, open our hand, and let it blow away. What we think about repetitively becomes our reality. It can define who we are, how we act and even cause physical harm to our bodies.

We were created to choose what we allow ourselves to think about. Or at least dwell on. It takes lots of intentional practice to create a new default setting in our brain. One where our first thoughts are the thoughts of God: wise, discerning, compassionate, selfless, tender, loving. But our nature is “transformed by the renewing of our minds” (Romans 12:2).

So pay attention to what wool you have been gathering. Maybe you need to pull that loose strand at the end of some pretty ugly blankets you have been knitting for years. Let each one unravel and free you from the weight. Keep pulling until it disappears. Refuse to gather any more wool to add to it or start over. Guard your mind. Let the thoughts that do not come from God blow away. Eventually, you will learn to not pick them up at all. Eventually you will learn to only gather the good stuff. Remember,”as a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” (Proverbs23:7)

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Celebrating Emma…

On July 20th, our only daughter turned 18. Kind of a big deal, I’d say. Helping her celebrate took some creativity on our part and I have to say, it was one of the best birthdays I have ever had. 😂 I realize it wasn’t my birthday, but the joy of celebrating hers was better than celebrating my own! You see, she is currently living in Oregon for the summer. So, not only is she 1,718 miles away, she can only have her phone on weekends and had to leave the camp for the weekend of her birthday because it was being used for a retreat. But, leave it to Emma, she has made many friends already and arranged to go home with a new friend for the weekend. She had told me she didn’t want any gifts because her pile of gifts, between me and grandparents, was already getting pretty big and she was afraid she wouldn’t be able to get them home! I listened a little bit but knew she would want a little something to open on her birthday so I sent a small package of unique and small gifts and arranged for it to arrive at the home where she was staying. As we talked (after she got her phone back!) she mentioned how excited she was when she realized she would be able to take an actual bath (in private in a clean tub, vs group-shared showers at the camp). Enter Amazon Prime 2 day shipping. I immediately hopped on the site and sent a box of Bath Bombs to the home for delivery on her actual birthday. And this is my favorite gift of all: I spoke with her friend’s mom and arranged for her to pick up the most decadent and glorious dessert on the planet and Emma’s favorite, a Mud Pie from Baskin and Robbins.

During her birthday weekend, she went to Canon Beach, a place I have visited when I lived in Oregon as a child. This gave me such joy, seeing her share in a beautiful place that I could picture and remember. She also visited Multnomah Falls, another place I had been several times when I was young and have fond memories of.

I have been wondering about why I enjoyed Emma’s birthday so much, considering I didn’t get to see her or hug her or eat even one slice that Mud Pie. It’s obvious that I love her and want her to feel celebrated, which I believe she did, but my joy in it comes from doing something for someone I love dearly so that she feels how special she is to me. How valuable she is and how much energy and effort I put in to making her day unique but also with the familiarities of home.

It has occurred to me that this is how God surely feels about me and the good gifts he sets before me everyday. Sometimes I ask for them, but sometimes I don’t, and he gives them anyway-and he loves it! Sometimes, like Emma, I am content to live with what I have and he surprises me with blessings I didn’t even know I wanted-and he feels giddy with satisfaction that he has made my day. Any time I appreciate nature and the creation he has set before me to enjoy, he feels my pleasure and it warms his heart. And when I am grateful for the gifts, the answers to prayer and the surprise answers I didn’t think to ask for, he is deeply, warmly and fully satisfied.

God loves me as I love Emma. In helping her feel loved on her birthday, from Illinois to Oregon, I got a tiny glimpse of God’s intense and sweet love for me and can honestly say to him, “Now I know how you feel. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Detoxing my mind…(Who’s Your Inner Critic part 2)

My brain kinda hurts already, just thinking about thinking. A couple months ago I attended a conference and heard a Cognitive Neuroscientist speak about detoxing our minds. She says we do this by ridding our brains, or rather, retraining our thoughts, to eliminate toxic thinking patterns. Perhaps that talk is what has got me reflecting on how I talk to myself in my mind. Last time I wrote I told you about my inner critic, Miss Mary Poppins, who whispers judgment and harshness and criticism to me. I have listened to those words for so long that the repetitive nature of them has created neuropathways in my brain. Caroline Leaf showed actual pictures of the inside of a brain and what happens when a person has a thought. It fires up like a short squiggly line in your brain with every idea. Over and over this little zap occurs. But here’s the kicker, if the same thought is repeated over and over again, it wears an actual groove in your brain and eventually forms a little cluster of thoughts that get rooted in your mind, making it easier for them to happen the next time.

I have a few pathways that have been forged and frequently travelled over the years. There are two main ones that I want to tell you about today, but I know for sure that there are dozens more.

One recurring thought I have is some version of the following: “What is wrong with me?”. I can already hear my counselor saying to me, as he always does, “there’s nothing wrong with you.” I usually just blow him off and continue to tell him about something negative, childish or dumb that I did or thought. Instead of giving myself grace or permission to be less than perfect or a mere human, I beat myself up in my head about mistakes, failures or shortcomings. The more I have these kinds of thoughts, the more I believe them to be true about me. I am pretty certain I have a mass the size of an apple in my brain on this one.

The other pathway that I’m sure  leads to a mass the size of a grapefruit (just thought i would be consistent since all doctors seem to relate tumors to a size of fruit to illustrate severity!) is “I’m bad.” I don’t say it quite like that every time, of course, because that would be too obvious. I use Mary Poppin’s type words and phrases so it sounds intelligent and well thought through and much much more convincing. Again, my counselor calls me on it when I say something like, “I know I’m bad, but I…”. He reminds me for the thousandth time, “You’re not bad.”

The fact that I preface what I tell a counselor who, in theory, is paid to not judge me (at least on the outside), with “I know this is bad” tells me even more about how I think of myself. What does it say, you ask? It tells me that I often talk/think negatively about myself because I care too much what other people think of me. Think about that for a moment…I have a twisted belief in me that if I point out the “bad” in me to others ahead of time, then maybe they will be less hard on me or feel bad for doing so. If I just say it to myself, maybe I can avoid criticism or correction from others. I beat them to the punch, in essence.

Not to confirm what I am saying about myself, but that seems “bad”! The one positive thing I will say is that I’ve improved over the years. 12 Step programs and cancer and faith have helped that happen. I remember a long time ago (in galaxy far far away) in my marriage I did that a lot to avoid “getting in trouble” or just prevent my husband from finding out I wasn’t perfect (I’m sure he would have been shocked!). Basically, it’s a form of trying to control or manipulate what someone else thinks about me. Image Management, if you will. I would audibly beat myself up when I forgot to drop off a payment, send a lunch to school, or backed in to my husband’s cute red sports car with my minivan (hypothetically speaking, of course). I did this to hopefully prevent someone I loved from thinking ill of me or being, God forbid, mad or frustrated.

I don’t really know the root of all the reasons I tend to have lots of little zappy negative squiggles in my mind, but I am working on doing something to unravel them. I am becoming mindful enough to correct Mary Poppins and replace her words with kind, accepting, gracious, loving words that come from God. Words that I would whisper tenderly to those I love the most.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, grace

Who’s your inner critic?

You may have heard the saying, “hurt (adjective) people-hurt (verb) people”. I recently read through some notes I took from a speaker that had the quote, “free (adjective) people-free (verb) people”. Even though at my core I believe God’s grace received gives me the gift of being free at all times, I don’t always feel or live in that freedom. Sometimes I choose to sit in the jail cell even when the door to freedom is standing wide open. I guess the idea is that we often operate alongside and influence those we encounter based on what state we are currently living in. So, regarding my particular state, I would have to say I am a “wanna be”. And “wanna be free” people can often help other “wanna be free” people be, well, free. Or more acutely, I am a “wanna live free” person. Being free and living free are worlds apart. If you are one of those people, maybe you can join me in learning how to do this.

…I am laughing at myself, because at the end of that last sentence I started to type “better”. And therein lies the obstacle to why I don’t feel free in my head: I have terrible trouble accepting who am and being ok with me. With letting myself be enough of (fill in the blank). I am constantly trying to be better than I am right now. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you berate and frown upon the person you are presently. How I talk to myself is so subtly abusive that I don’t even notice it most of the time. But the words and the beliefs those thoughts create in my brain-actual neuropathways-keep me from living light.

Maybe I am being too vague. Maybe it will help to have a visual. A few months ago I was privileged to do a book study with a group of women in leadership in Springfield. One of the weeks, our assignment was to characterize our “inner critic” and give him or her a name. Without thinking very long about it, I identified her as Mary Poppins. I am a pseudo-expert on her character, based on the fact that I have seen the original Disney flick approximately 79 times. When my 23 yr old son was about 4, he was obsessed with the “Step in Time” song/dance. You know, the one where Burt (Dick Van Dyke) dances on the rooftops with Chimney Sweeps? My son would place couch pillows on the floor (these were the chimney tops) and leap from pillow to pillow with a long duster (the kind you use to clean spider webs and such from the ceilings of your home), mimicking the choreography. I tell you that adorable story to validate my Mary Poppins expertise. Anyway…here’s the relation. I find Mary Poppins to be slightly intimidating, arrogant, judgmental and have exceedingly high expectations of others. She’s also a bit cra cra if the truth be told. Several times in the movie she takes the kids on some wild adventure and when they try to tell their father about it she denies it ever happened saying something like “we did nothing of the sort!” (Or some other funky English phrase).

When the voice in my head tell me I am not enough (didn’t manage my time well enough to get the dishes/laundry/phone calls/appointments made, am not working out often enough or eating well enough, that I should have give more attention to my kids and given them more responsibility and hugged them more, etc.), she sound like Mary Poppins. She has a nice English accent, which we all know makes everything sound more romantic and pleasant even when it’s not. She doesn’t curse or accuse in a way that causes me to tell her to take a hike. She simply points out all the ways I don’t measure up. It’s a running monologue, background static that seeps into my subconscious until I eventually accept those ideas as truth. Once the are solidified, she moves on to other areas so there is never a moment of rest.

Maybe you are ready to call 911 and send them over to have me take to the hospital for evaluation. Or maybe you could take a moment and ponder what your inner critic is saying to you. What’s his/her name? What kind of lies is he whispering, or shouting, to you throughout your day? What kind of truths can you cling to that can be used to combat that voice? How can you put her in her place-in a time-out, if you will-and replace her words of bondage and criticism with ones of freedom and acceptance.

My intention is to pay attention to my thoughts, evaluate if they are true and from God, who loves me and created me and accepts me exactly where I am today, or if they are from Mary Poppins who thinks she’s “got me”. I intend to listen for the voice of truth and counter her lies by acknowledging that I am doing the best I can with what I have at any given time. And so is everyone else, for that matter. I get pretty worked up when I think of cruel or hurtful things other people have said to or about me. To quote Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, “whatever abuse they gave us was often mild compared to the way we abuse ourselves today. It’s true that your mother might have said repeatedly, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, dear.’ But now you say to yourself, ‘You’re a jerk. You never do it right. You blew it. I hate you.’ They might have been mean, but we’re vicious.” This type of self-loathing is destructive and deadly. It is the root of all that is bad in us and in the world. She points out that all this emotional energy has to go somewhere. “So we sabotage.We drink. We do drugs. We control. We obsess. We codepend. We overeat. We hide. We attack. The form of dysfunction is irrelevant. We can find a lot of different ways to express how much we hate ourselves.”

Without being hard on myself and therefore responding counter-productively to this whole blog, I do want to say that i am going to do what it takes to silence Miss Mary Poppins. I need a new voice in my head. I need to listen for God’s soft whisper and mix it with the kind and gentle part of my own spirit. The one that gives me a break for not being perfect and tells me to rest in who I am at this current moment. That tells me I am always enough. And so are you.