Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Within reach

This one has been in my notebook as a possible blog for a few months. I can’t write as fast as ideas come to my mind so I outline them and save them for a time when they can be discussed from personal experience. I think today is the day for this one…

Regardless of how old you are, I am sure you have seen or heard of The Andy Griffith Show. I watched it a bit when I was little, mostly with my grandma. It was either that or Hollywood Squares 😜. There was a character on the show name Otis. He was the town drunk who spent regular time in the county jail. However, it wasn’t until recently that someone pointed out to me that Otis also had keys to the county court house and keys to the jail cell. He would often lock himself in and then hang the keys outside the cell, within reach. Totally missed that as a 10 yr old. In one episode, he even brought a suit to the cell and hung it up before going on a bender that night. He would need it to get dressed for church in the morning.

I am sure you are way ahead of me, but I just love this visual of what it looks like to keep ourselves locked up! It seems absurd that someone would remain in jail even though the keys to get our are in plain site and are easy to grab. But, embarrassingly, I do this all the time. I think I might be doing it today, which is why I need to finally write this out. Reason it out with you all and maybe have the guts to use the keys.

Sometimes my cell is a situation or a relationship. But more often than not, it’s a mindset. A dark, dank, cold and hopeless place that I am choosing to live in, even when I know there is light and hope on the other side of the bars. Why is that?

I think there are a couple pretty understandable reasons why I am often more comfortable being locked up (angry, resentful, destructive, distracted, immobilized, etc.) than exercising my right to get free.

The most consistent answer in my case, is fear. At least when I am engaging in circumstances and emotions and relationships that I am familiar with, I know what to expect and there are few surprises. Even if I don’t like where I am at, I am comfortable with how to behave and react while I am there. To leave the confines of my cell, I am opening myself up to new challenges and feelings that I may not know how to handle. I don’t seem to be able to put my trust in God to take care of me when the new and different and healthy come my way. So I leave the keys hanging.

But there’s also a humiliating and ugly answer for staying locked up, and that is for sympathy. I want to feel sorry for myself and I want others to feel sorry for me too. I may have a number of solutions at my disposal, but I refuse to use them. I don’t do the reading or make the phone call or take the action. Instead, I come up with 101 reasons why those things won’t work. The reality is, I get something out of staying locked up. I can feel sad for myself and manipulate others into feeling sad for me also. It’s self-pity in its most heinous form.

Does anyone else have experience with keeping themselves incarcerated? I hate to admit this out loud, but I am becoming more and more aware that even though my default setting when I feel stuck or trapped in a situation, relationship or mindset is to blame everyone or everything around me, the truth is that I am the one choosing to stay in the cell. The keys are there for the taking. It’s no one else’s fault but mine if I let them dangle.

I have a choice. I have the responsibility. I am the only one who can turn the key (get the help I need, call that friend, pray that prayer, share my story, apply those principles, take that action) and set myself free.

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Everybody just calm down…

I’ve been trying something new lately. In the morning, before I get out of bed, I put on a 6-10 minute mediation and spend some time getting mentally and spiritually prepared for the day (it doesn’t hurt that I also get to lay there for an extra few minutes…I’m a mixed bag of motives). This morning, about a minute into this practice, my time was hijacked by a persistent cat trying to claw its way into my daughter’s bedroom. It was the equivalent to a person knocking and knocking without pause. My cat, Sunny Day, is adorable and cuddly and extremely old and this morning, very annoying. I tried to continue to focus on the words of the meditation and the music and allowing God’s spirit to enlighten me, but all I kept thinking was that I wanted to strangle my cat and scream at my daughter to just let her in already! Eventually I had to quit and go open the door. It felt useless to lay there and fight it. I gave up.

Instead, I went to my spot on the couch, in an upright position (curse you, Sunny Day!) to do some reading. Per usual, as I was reading Brene’ Brown, she just happened to be addressing the importance of cultivating calm and stillness of mind and heart; meditation. I think most of us can agree that there are great benefits of doing so. Having just written a bit about just such a topic a few days ago, I was especially intrigued by something the she pointed out about one of our biggest obstacles to actually following through with this practice: fear. She points at that “if we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up”.

The truth is, that even though I know the importance of quieting myself and being still before my God, the very idea of “creating an emotional clearing” for Him to speak or soothe gives me much anxiety. In trying to incorporate a practice to help me less anxious, I end up feeling restless and jumpy because I so do not like to be still. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid of what He might say if we get alone together. Afraid he might tell me to “go” do something or “stop” doing something or worse, do “nothing”. Just let Him take care of it and just chill out for a half-second.

I have a friend (and it’s probably not you, but it might sound like you) who says that when she is home alone, she turns all the TVs on because she hates it when it’s quiet. She can’t handle it. She’s terrified of silence. So as she cleans or works from room to room, her mind is consistently distracted and occupied with other people’s problems, drama, or scandal. She can focus on someone else’s junk and intentionally leave no “clearing” or space for silent reflection on her own life. I can be guilty of that in my own ways. Endlessly searching for a decent song on the radio while driving to my next appointment, 3 minutes away. Laying in bed, scrolling through Netflix to find my next new series to occupy my mind until sleep comes. Scouring websites to find an essential oil that will help me lose post-cancer weight (there isn’t one, btw…). You might be able to throw in a couple examples I haven’t even thought of!

My point is this: do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to slow down. To get un-busy. To be alone. To be quiet in your own home, in your own head. In order to do this, it is imperative that you choose to believe that God loves you, knows you and longs to just “be” there with you. God isn’t waiting to get you alone so He can shame you or lecture you. Most of us do that to ourselves pretty effectively when we slow down enough to reflect on our behavior or attitudes. But God is not like that. He is kind and gentle of heart. And though he may bring to mind a stronghold (some character defect that “holds you strong”) he wants to relieve you of, He is always gracious, generous, and forgiving. We don’t have to be nervous about being alone with Him. You may very well hear a tender whisper telling you you are OK just as you are. That who you are today is enough. That where you are today is exactly where He intends for you to be. Take it one moment at a time and He will be with you.

It occurs to me that most of my attempts at quiet reflection are similar to my time in bed this morning, with Sunny Day relentlessly pawing at my daughter’s door. Life is distracting. As they say, “the struggle is real.” We can’t control whether random thoughts, unwelcomed emotions, or self-accusations come pounding on the door of our mind when we try to shut them out. All we can do is keep getting back to the business of ignoring them and putting our energy into focusing on what we love, what we are grateful for, and that God hears and sees us. He cherishes us. In doing that, we let go of fear and embrace the “peace that passes understanding”.

In Isaiah 30:15 God says to His people, “When you come to me, you will find rest and safety. When you are quiet and trust Me, you will find strength.” Remember that we are His people too.

Faith/Spirituality

A Wide-Angle lens

Lately I have been reading books with various perspectives on prayer and meditation. As I say those words, my guess is that if you lean more towards unconventional spirituality, the word “prayer” makes you feel slightly uncomfortable and perhaps even a bit tempted to skip this reading. If your spiritual practices lend themselves towards organized religion and church attendance and you “do devotions” on a regular basis, the word “meditation” may set you on edge or cause you to feel unsettled about where I am going with this.

Everyone do some deep breathing and relax. You know by now that I am not in the business of freaking people out or pushing my own ideas on anyone ( sadly, I haven’t always been that way 😜 ). I simply want to share a recent “ah-ha” moment I had regarding both of these concepts. A few scales of confusion regarding these vast, vague and mysterious practices fell from my eyes, and I was able to get a clearer vision of what they look like when I integrate them into my daily life.

I am about to give you a snapshot of prayer and meditation that I hope helps you the way it has helped me to take a step closer to being able to apply these practices with a bit more clarity than you had before.

Some of you might know that I am a realtor (this is relevant, I promise…). Because of this, I have learned how to take quality pictures of homes when I list them. At first, I had a fairly nice camera that I used with the lens that came with it. The problem was, it is very hard to take any kind of usable photo of a tiny bathroom. I could get a really good shot of the toilet or bathtub, but not both in the same photo. I was informed by my photographer friends that I needed to get a differennt lens. A wide-angle lens. This would allow me to stand in the same spot, with the same camera, but adjust the lens so I could pan out and get a broader perspective, capturing all the magnificence of the, um, bathroom.

In short simplicity, this is an illustration of prayer. Richard Rohr calls it “a positive widening of your lens for a better picture.” It is an “alternative processing system.” Somehow, many well-intended religious people have turned it into what Rohr describes as a “pious practice or exercise that you carried out with the same old mind and from your usual self-centered position…This practice was supposed to ‘please’ God somehow. God needed us to talk to Him or Her, I guess. Prayer was something you did when you otherwise felt helpless.”

Prayer can be juxtaposed with the word meditation, both referring to an entirely different way of processing life. Prayer/meditation is “lens”, the “wide-angle lens” that helps us to see the bigger picture of an otherwise narrow view of circumstances. And instead of seeing people with our blurry, tainted and selfish-absorbed lens, we can use prayer/meditation to see them through God’s lens. One that takes into account that their immediate behavior may be the reaction to and consequence of deep rooted resentments, abuses and feelings of abandonment or loss.

These practices take work. It is no easy task to invite God to “be thou our vision”. Rohr says “it always takes a bit of time to widen the lens, and therefore the screen, of life. One goes through serious withdrawal pains for a while until the screen is widened to a high-definition screen.” Most of us pray about what we want for us and what we want for others. It takes discipline and a conscious decision to “turn our will and our life over to the care of God” and let Him decide. To let what He wants for us and what He wants for others be the guinding principle of prayer and meditation.

When we widen our lens, we can see the world more clearly because we are aware that God’s lens is bigger and fuller and crisper than any prayer uttered from our limited, self-centered, ego-centric vantage point. Our perspective changes when we see through this lens of prayer and meditation. Views that were otherwise confined to itty-bitty spaces become fully developed to display  the “reality” of how God intends for us to see the world.

And, you might also be interested to know that the real value of a camera, is the lens. I recently purchased a lens for my son, who regularly sells old camera parts for new and better ones on eBay, that cost almost 5 times as much as the camera itself. Because, it’s the quality and scope of the lens that produces the best pictures, not the camera (anyone else feel like a cheap camera in need of an upgrade?).

We have been given the ability to connect with the God of the universe, through the gift of prayer and of meditation, so that we can see and experience life with the mind and heart, and wide-angle lens, of the One who sees All, knows All, and is All.

 

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality

“I’ll be peace”

In the 90’s there was a movie that came out called “What About Bob?”. Anyone seen it? I saw it approximately 5 times, at the dollar theatre, in college. And I have probably seen it at least 5 more times at home and with my kids since then. One of my favorite scenes is when psychiatrist Richard Dryfus comes raging into his 10-yr-old son’s bedroom where he and Billy Murray (a patient of Dryfus, operating on more of a 10-yr-old level) are laughing and rough housing. He yells at them, “I want some peace and quiet!” At first they freeze, stifling their giggles, and then one of them says, “Ok-I’ll be quiet.” And the other, with a smirk, says, “I’ll be peace.” 😂

I was remembering this scene as I was reflecting on the longing I have for peace. I want to “be peace” too. Naturally, I had to look it up, and my favorite definition is “freedom from disturbance; quiet and tranquility.” The reason I was ruminating on the idea of peace was because the last several entries I have read in my daily reading all mentioned it repeatedly. Apparently, I am not the only one who wants/needs peace.

I do think, though, that I may desire it at an unreasonable level. I mean, there is no end to list of areas I wish peace could reign. I want peace in my heart and head (peace of mind, serenity if spirit). I want peace within my home (among my children, God help us, and my spouse). I want peace with my friends, my clients, my co-workers, store clerks and fellow drivers. I also want all of those same people to have peace with each other. And for my kids to have peace with all their classmates. I want peace between me and God and I want everyone I know and everyone they know to also have peace with God. Do you think I am being unrealistic? Maybe just a touch.

But honestly, I don’t think I am alone in my wishing for peace. In fact, that seems to be the dominating desire of God’s heart as well. If you recall, the greatest commandment in the Old and New Testament is “Love God. Love People.” Love is at the very root of peace. God sent Jesus to this world to live and to die so that we can finally be at peace with God himself. Jesus made it possible for us to be one with God again, taking on himself the sin that once separated us. Freeing us to live in harmony with God.

You may have heard someone point out that the words “do not fear” appear 365 times in the Bible. Once for every day of the calendar year. It doesn’t sound as cool, but the word “peace” actually appears approximately 429 times. Once for every day of the year and then some. Why? Because I am not the only one obsessed with having, giving, promoting, organizing, and communicating the significance of living in peace. God definitely was. And this is just my opinion, so take what you like and leave the rest, but I believe you can sum up the theme of the entire bible with that one word. Peace.

God has put that same desire in us. Think of all we do to acquire peace. We pray and meditate. We too often medicate. We take vacations and get massages and take yoga classes. We pay psychologists and listen to speakers and pastors and podcasts. We read self-help books and bibles and horoscopes. We even fight wars and sign treaties. Some of these things work for us and some don’t. But our desire to be right, to be at peace, with ourselves and our neighbors and our God is something we were designed to want.

So I guess I don’t have to feel bad for my preoccupation with peace. I think I am in good company. I realize I am barely scratching the surface of the fullness of this beautiful word. But I hope it prompts you to contemplate your level of peace (with yourself, others and God) and what legitimate and illegitimate ways you have been trying to obtain it.

-Peace out, my friend ✌️ (that’s slang for “Grace and peace to you”, for anyone over 40 or without teenager children)

 

Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Napa Strong (or “A Walk in the Clouds”)

I have been home from sunny Napa Valley for 4 days now. Since I got home to Illinois we have had spells of sunshine, thunderstorms and on Easter, it snowed. I just need you to feel sorry for me for a minute or two…

I had beautiful trip last week. My mom and 2 college friends and I spent a week “playing”. We toured wineries, ate exquisite food and stayed up way past a responsible bedtime watching movies and eating a variety of salty and sweet snacks. Every night for five nights. It was heavenly.

One afternoon we headed up Mt. Veeder to one of my favorite wineries: Hess. It is a rustic winery located up a windy, narrow road, nestled in the side of the mountain, making you feel like you’re in Tuscany. I love this winery because it also boasts a 3 story art museum, making it worth the trip to it’s isolated location, away from most other wineries in the valley (perhaps to give tourists something to do between tasting lots of wine and driving down a curvy road?).  On the drive up, there were several vineyards along the hillside. I mentioned to my crew that I thought I remembered the movie “A Walk in the Clouds” (with Keanu Reeves) was filmed there. Anyone else remember that one? If you never saw it, or don’t want to admit that you did, there is a scene where a vineyard catches on fire. The fire roars through the vines and ends with the vineyard being destroyed completely. Everyone is devastated.

When I brought this up, my mom said that my when my dad saw that movie, he was a bit put off because “vineyards don’t burn like that.” Not realistic, in other words. And lest you think my dad’s wisdom may not carry enough weight for those of you who don’t know him, this exact fact was confirmed when we were doing our tasting at the winery. We asked if this is where “A Walk in the Clouds” was filmed and he didn’t miss a beat. Before he even answered our question he went on a rant about how inauthentic it was because “vineyards don’t catch on fire like that!” I was confused about that because everyone (who didn’t live in Napa) had been panicking about the Napa fires that ravaged the Valley in October, worrying about the future of the hundreds of wineries in the area. But now that I think about it, there wasn’t much coverage about the vineyards themselves being threatened (maybe from the smoke and ash, but not the fire). Those of us who don’t live there worried about that, but locals knew better.

So why is that? And how did I grow up in Napa and miss that vital bit of information??? I was perplexed about this and started to ask more questions and read a bit about it. From what I gathered, there are two important characteristics of a well-maintained vineyard that protect it and keep it from going up in flames; it is irrigated and free of debris.

Naturally, my blog brain went to town. If we are like this vineyard, often threatened by flames of tragedy and trials and trouble, we too need to be irrigated and free of debris.

Irrigation is different from just being watered. It is a slow, steady releasing of moisture so that a perfect balance of wet and dry is maintained at all times. It’s not like how I water my yard in the summer: Green grass. Hot weather. Forget to water. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Green grass. Forget to water. Brown grass. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Too late. Dead grass. Irrigation prevents those extremes and keeps a nice steady flow going, protecting it from the flames that surround it. I have mentioned before that our best defense against outside stressors is to keep in daily (meaning, all-day-every-day) communication with God. He needs to be our supernatural drip system. Sure we can come to him after period of dryness and get ourselves greened up, but the roller coaster of drought and panic-watering is exhausting and doesn’t give us that general sense of peace and poise that marks the life of one who is continually looking to God as their sustenance and protection. This means we can be connected to him throughout our day-trusting him, seeing others through his eyes, and interpreting circumstances with his perspective. It is much more effective than doing life on our own until the fire starts to threaten us and then trying to keep it at bay with “buckets of water”. If we stay irrigated, communing with God day in and day out, we don’t need to fear the fires that otherwise threaten us when we get dried up.

Free of debris. I love that. Keeping our lives free from the debris and clutter that distracts us from keeping our vineyard safe. This could include so many parts of living in our world, it’s hard to put my finger on anything particular. Maybe it’s different for everyone. Do you have character defects (selfishness, self-righteousness, greed, envy, self-pity, dishonesty, etc.) that are attracting the flames? Or maybe it’s all good stuff, just in the wrong order. Instead of God, Heather, Blake, my kids and then everyone else, I sometimes live like it’s Heather, everyone else, Blake, my kids, and then God. Keeping God as my top priority keeps the debris away. Or maybe it’s just outright sin. Is your life cluttered and ready to go up in flames due to an affair, a shady business deal, an arrogant, divisive attitude at your church, an abusive tongue that is devastating your wife/husband/kids? Whatever your debris is, rid yourself of it. Clear it out quickly and finally. It is dangerous and invites the fires that God longs to protect you from.

During the fires that threatened everyone in the Napa Valley, one of my family members, who is an amazing artist, created a logo for t-shirts, stickers and hats that were sold to raise funds to help the families who lost their homes. It said “Napa Strong”. So that’s my charge to you and to me. A Mantra, if you will. Be “Napa Strong”. Use that phrase to remind yourself that you (the vineyard) will maintain a natural fire-wall if you keep your self “irrigated and free of debris”.

Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Relationships

Here’s to you, Vismay…

On July 17, 2015 I wrote a blog called “Take a Deep Breath.” The over-arching theme was  about how God “book-ended” my leukemia journey by providing me an encounter that allowed me to close out my treatments in a meaningful way. You can read it in my book or in the archives, but basically, on the last day of chemo (hopefully ever) I went out to eat with my mom. We walked into the cantina (because the last day of chemo calls for fajitas and margaritas, naturally) and the only people there besides us were two men eating dinner, who just happened to be one of the residents who was there at the beginning of my journey (that’s the conservative and positive word for “roller coaster of terror and tears”) and the resident who checked me out-for-good just hours before. Seven whole months after our lives as we knew it came to a screeching hault.  I believe God was telling me that he “knows and sees” every tiny detail of my life. He also knows I am a total sucker for these kind of coincidences, or “God-things”, as I like to call them. I am not making that story up and I am not making up what I am about to tell you now…

The impact of having Leukemia didn’t end when I left the hospital for the last time. It just marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I continue to write about how our common disease of the soul is a connecting, on-going battle. My book was officially available for purchase 2 days ago. It begins less than a month after my leukemia diagnosis (I apologize in advance for my rough writing skills at that time. Don’t judge…) and covers 100ish entries. I have written 300+ to date. I didn’t plan for my vacation to start this way, but God knew it was coming. I suspect He was a little giddy with anticipation, knowing what was about to happen. I am currently sitting on an airplane headed to Napa to spend time with my parents, my siblings and their families and a couple college friends. I am choosing to use this to celebrate that the book-work is done (for now…) and hope to relax and refresh. And if that was where the story ended it would be a good one. But that God…He’s so extra. As I sat on the plane I was visiting with some local friends sitting behind me who were also headed to California. I knew they were aware of my leukemia and had prayed for me, keeping up on my blogs on occasion. I told them my book was officially done, available on Amazon and gave them a couple business cards with my blog link on it. Then, the man sitting literally across the aisle from me (practically on my lap on these puddle jumper planes) says, “You’re Heather Carter. I thought I recognized you.” I had thought he looked familiar (in all fairness, he didn’t have a beard when I saw him last, and I had a lot less hair, as in none). His name is Vismay. He was rounding on his first day of Residency when I plopped, frightened and fragile, onto the Oncology unit of Memorial Hospital.

So-I am sitting here emotional and overwhelmed with gratitude and affection. It takes me right back to the beginning of it all.  You see, while the doctors and nurses changed every day for the first 30 days I was in the hospital (yah, the first 30), the residents were consistent. Their faces were my only constant. They held my hand and smiled and offered a security I desperately needed. I specifically remember Vismay being my translator one day when I was in ICU, with new doctors and nurses, confused and terrified. Someone needed to explain to me why an infectious disease doctor was talking to me and what in the blue-blazes he was saying. I squeezed the life out of his hand and implored him with my eyes (I wasn’t able to speak after being intubated for several days) to translate. I remember looking at the doctor (on the right side of my bed), trying to make sense of what he was saying, and then looking to Vismay (on the left side of my bed) for translation.  Lucky him.  However, I will say that every patient he had after me was probably a cake walk!

He is sleeping now, and I sincerely want to get him a blanket and pillow and a drink and ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. I probably won’t, because I’m not a complete lunatic. But I so wish I could give back in a way that shows the significance of what his presence meant to me 3 years ago, and what it means to me to see him again today.

So, to quote myself from my very own book 😉😬,

“Book-ends: the beginning and the end-the front and the back, with all kinds of stories sandwiched in-between.”

God is again showing me:

*That He is paying attention to the details of my life and wants me to know it.

*That He wrapped it all up like a sweet, thoughtful gift, so that I can open it and use it to help me and help others as I move on to write new stories.

 

Faith/Spirituality

You can now order your copies of Soul-Selfie!

It’s finally here! You can search Soul-Selfie or even Heather Carter on Amazon and it will take you to my book! (And also some really cute “Carter’s” baby socks 😉)

https://www.amazon.com/Soul-Selfie-broken-together-Heather-Carter/dp/1546517863/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1521823201&sr=8-1&keywords=soul+selfie&dpID=41Vm0Fk-%252BsL&preST=_SY291_BO1,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

I know what you’re thinking…

I know what you will think when I get started on my topic for today. Well, I think I know. I assume that I know. I have convinced myself that I know and that I am right. Which is why my brain has talked myself into feeling fear about saying what I need to say today. What I have told myself that what you will think, every last one of you, is “not that topic again! That girl seriously needs to learn how to manage this already. She clearly isn’t practicing what she herself has written about dozens of times already. If she is still struggling with it, why am I even reading this blog anymore?”. Or something to that effect.

I don’t know if you are thinking all that or not. There’s a teensy chance that I might be putting words in your mouth based on my own insecurities and expectations of myself to “grow up already”. Either way, after doing some reading and praying (read: pleading with God to relieve my anxiety) I decided that even if you think all those things about me, He is still asking me to write about my battle with worry. It helps me clear my head and every single time, I have heard from at least one person whom it has also helped.

So, yes. I have found myself in a fluster of fretting lately. I am worrying about nothing and everything. From the smallest, most insignificant matter all the way up to the cosmic circumstances that may never even come to pass. In the past few months I have had some pretty big, legitimate things that tempt me to overthink, hyper-control and wring my hands over. But lately, some of those things have worked themselves out, or God has worked them out, and guess what? Still worrying! The other day, it dawned on me that my worry is like an alien spawn; it needs a host. It can’t survive on it’s own so it attaches itself to random people, places and things that may or may not be worthy of the intense levels of worry glomming onto it. Instead of this alien life-force of anxiety shrivelling and dying once it’s current host is unavailable, it just seems to moves on to something else for sustenance.

For me, it looks something like this: “Once this house closes/once this quarter of school is over for my kids/once we pay off that bill/once that job is secured/once I am declared ‘cured’ then I won’t have a thing to worry about! Then I will finally feel relieved and relaxed.” What actually happens, is that as soon as one of those stressors is resolved, my worry attaches itself to the nearest available host and continues to grow and thrive. Maybe even produce little babies of worry who branch out and find unsuspecting hosts like if my husbands favorite team wins/if I’ll ever fit in jeans I wore when I was 30/and what I imagine readers are thinking about me. 🙃

I am guessing that this is why God instructs us not to worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow can worry about itself. He also may have observed over the course of history, that people down here are drawn to worry/fear/attempts to control on a pretty regularly basis. More than likely, I am not alone in wrestling with it’s recurrence.

But I have to say, that even though I am speaking of worry, my greatest enemy and signature sin de jour (or tous les jours=not just “of the day” but “EVERYDAY”), what I want you to walk away with today is something much bigger.

Author Anna Shipton pointed out something about King David, the dude from the Bible who wrote the Majority of the Psalms, and his sufferings that prompted most of them. Not only did David suffer at the hands of his enemies, one of which used to be his BFF, he also had a few other issues like adultery and ordering the murder of that woman’s husband. Kind of big deals. And yet, God used all of it to inspire David to express his remorse, his repentances, his despair and even his rage throughout this semi-schizophrenic rant of thoughts in the Psalms. He reminds me a little of myself in that he vacillates between faith and fear. Between absolute confidence in God’s continual presence and inner groanings that question why God has seemingly abandoned him. Anyone familiar?

So, I guess that’s why, in spite of my fear that you all would think that Heather just can’t seem to get it together and that this whole “God-thing” she talks about ad nausea clearly doesn’t work, I decided to go ahead and write. It’s the reason I started writing in the first place: I was weak and sick. But I do believe, even on my hardest and darkest days, that He is strong. Shipton points out (In a book called “Streams in the Desert”), how deprived we would be had David gotten hung up on his failures, tragedies and shortcomings and refused to write: “One stinging sorrow spared would have been one blessing missed and unclaimed. One difficulty or danger escaped-how great would have been our loss! The thrilling psalms where God’s people today find expression for their grief or praise might never have been known.”

I am sure I don’t have to point out that I am aware I am no King David and the impact of my words are nowhere near what we receive from him through God’s perfect Word, but I am grateful that I can follow David’s example by sharing my real, raw, broken, doubting self without it subtracting from the hope I carry in a God who sees and hears and heals. I hope you can find it in you to do the same.

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Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

The “Good mood of the soul”

I really wanted to write about sleep this morning. Probably because “spring forward” was 4 days ago and I am extra-tired from waking up in darkness and laying awake, unable to get to sleep at my normal bedtime. However, as I started reading this morning, I noticed a recurring them running through each author’s insights: Joy. So, as it goes in so much of life, sleep will have to wait.

I love how Methodist pastor Anne Robertson explains joy. She says that ancient Greeks described joy (chairo, in Greek) as “the good mood of the soul.” What a full description for such an indescribable sense of being. It’s not a feeling, stirred by kind circumstances and memorable and cherished events. Joy, unlike happiness, can be a state we live in even when actual happiness is impossible. Brene’ Brown says, “I’d like to experience more happiness, but I want to live from a place of gratitude and joy.”

And that seems to be one of the key ingredients to living a life marked by joy; gratitude. I realize this sounds simplistic, but when we keep in mind that “it could be worse”, we will alleviate much of the complaining we do about our current circumstances. When we choose to focus on the good in our lives, or even absence of the bad, we are choosing to live in joy. We don’t have to think very long, to come up with people we know who live or have lived through horrific circumstances and tragedies with an aura of joy radiating from their spirit. Nor do we have to think too hard to bring to mind someone we know who lives in a constant state of ingratitude and joyless-ness, even as they float through circumstances most people would envy. It’s about attitude, and gratitude. It’s about perspective and choosing to see through the lenses that God prescribes, rather than our own smudged, scratched and smeared pair of glasses.

Only with God’s vision see clearly and face the endless flow of problems of this life with good cheer. In His presence we have a joy-a peaceful and restful state of soul and spirit-that no one can take from us (John 16:22) and that no turn of events can threaten.

Joy, it seems, is found most commonly in, well, the common. I remember very clearly my first “outing” when I was finally released to be out in public after my leukemia treatments. I had been neutropenic (having no immune system and susceptible to any and every disease) for weeks and was finally free to leave my house. I went to Hyvee. To a grocery store. And I could not have been more grateful. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had a deep appreciation for the very activity I used to dread; grocery shopping. What had previously been a drudgery, was now a luxury. My perspective had changed. I was fully present and engaged in my day to day, mundane life because I had been rescued from death’s doorstep.

Now…I was lucky. Because it is far easier to have this amazing perspective when you have been taken to the edge of actual death. But it can still be done. And I highly recommend that you learn it today by choice, rather than having to learn it in the pressure-cooker of heartache, tragedy or pain. If we seek joy in the small gifts of everyday living-in the tucking in of a child, the observation of nature, the delightful taste of a well-prepared meal, the aroma of coffee in the morning, the fact that you can drink and bathe with running water, and the thousands of tiny blessings we take for granted-we might actually obtain it.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the wind. But joy doesn’t have to be. It can be your underlying “constant”. The stillness of soul that comes from a heart bent toward unconditional gratitude. Without joy, we live deflated and defeated. We pump ourselves up with activity and vacations and entertainment and accomplishments, but when those things wane or falter, we are left lifeless and flat. Our remedy, our prescription, for living in joy, is gratitude.

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize

how good things really are.”         -Marianne Williamson