Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

Boneless and Skinless

“In the same way a piece of bone-in, skin-on chicken will always be juicier and more flavorful than its boneless, skinless counterpart, fish benefits from keeping its protective skin and bones.”

Now that’a a good “hook” to kick off a blog, right? Hang with me…

Even though I generally buy my chicken boneless and skinless”, we all know that it releases the most flavor and maintains moisture better when it is cooked together with the bone and skin. Seems to be sort of the opposite to bring out flavor in the fish. Whichever way you frame it, I think we can agree that having bones and skin involved=better.

On various occasions in my past, and even as recent as the past few weeks, I feel like I have been walking around without them. I am “boneless and skinless”. This is a phenomenon that happens from my inside out when especially emotional situations enter my life and don’t leave in a timely fashion. I cling to the book of Psalms during these periods because David, who wrote the majority of them, does a lot of pleading with God to come quickly to his rescue because he is “poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint”(Psalm 22. ). I love, or at least understand, that metaphor. when my heart is wrecked and my mind orbits around a wound 24 hours a day without relief, I feel like my very structure is incapable of “doing the next right thing” that’s needs doing. Laundry=too hard. Dinner=way too hard. Making a phone call=too much. And being “present” with people I am with?=not happening. It’s all just so much work. I physically can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other sometimes.

And what about skinless? That’s a painful one. In Psalm 73:26 another Psalmist talks about his “flesh/skin failing” as a result of his suffering. Sometimes, and maybe you have had your own experience with this, I feel like I am literally walking around without my skin on. Everything and everyone that brushes against me during the day feels “extra”. Extra harsh, extra tender, extra soft, extra scathing. “It’s not you, it’s me”, as the saying goes. I am raw and sinewy and exposed to outside elements in the most vulnerable and cringy way. I really hate being like this. It makes me feel not only emotional, but weak. Crying in front of people is something I hate to do but it seems to happen a lot in this kind of season. I don’t think people around me mind (what? She’s human??), but I certainly don’t like to let my guard down like this!

When I read the Psalms, I don’t always get the answers I want to hear (although, and I ‘m not proud to admit it, but sometimes I read and re-read the ones where God finally brings down justice on David’s enemies 😬). I do, however, observe a posture that David seems to circle back to over and over, and I hear a common refrain that keeps me from completely imploding (which is what happens when one tries to live life without proper bones and skin).

First-after David begs God to help him (and whines a bit about his unfair circumstances), he remembers his track record. Or should I say, God’s track record. He says things like:

*For you have been my hope, O Sovereign God, my confidence since my youth
*Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again
*For you have delivered me from death, and my feet from stumbling.
*If your word had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction
*I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.

Second, He gives us the solution: Trust in God.

*In you our fathers put their trust.; they trusted and you delivered them.They cried out to you (God) and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (Ps. 22:4,5)
*The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy (Ps 28:7)
*Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)
*When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? (Ps. 56:3,4)
*Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you (Ps. 143:8)
*But I trust you o lord. You are my God, my times are in your hands (Ps. 31:14,15)

Have you been doing life “boneless and skinless”? Me too. We are not chickens. It’s not healthier this way. Maybe we can do what David did; remember God’s track record and how he has shown up for us in the past. And maybe it will help us both if we read through some of the Psalms I listed above and then wait patiently for God to restore us to physical, emotional and spiritual health.

What have we got to lose?

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

Things I learned the hard way…

When I refer to things I “learned” the hard way, I mean that in the truest sense of word; to gain knowledge or understanding by study, instruction or experience. It’s important that you know that I don’t mean to imply that I have mastered any of what I am about to share with you. It’s more of an exercise in putting some pretty excruciating and embarrassing scenarios and revelations on paper in order that it might help someone. It’s quite possible that I am the someone that most needs help today…

We learn best in hindsight, unfortunately. I really wish I could have been more aware of the growth opportunities in the midst of my pain, but sometimes it takes the rear view mirror perspective to truly appreciate the the wisdom hard circumstances provide if we are willing to receive it. In the interest of time and attention span, I’ll limit today’s lessons to a small handful of items so as not to overwhelm either of us (my heart is already racing, just thinking about some of the experiences that brought me to my awareness in these areas…)

1. I can be “scary”. I finally get it. I have been told this in a variety of ways over the past 30 years but always had a defensive argument for how that is ridiculous. how could I possibly be scary to anyone!?!  I now understand, after years of keeping potential friends away, losing many valued friends and being confronted by some real friends who loved me enough to risk pointing this out to my scary-self. The root of it was a result of expectations that I put on myself and others that were impossible to live by. That attitude resulted in my friends feeling a sense of being judged, being not enough, being a disappointment. If no one, not even me, can fulfill these expectations, everyone loses. I have done a lot of soul-searching and found that when I “live and let live” and focus on myself and doing my job (which is to take care of myself and not try to do God’s job and work on other people) I can actually maintain some long-term, intimate relationships.

2. “I care way too much about what you think of me.” This is really an awareness that I have to keep in check regularly. When I get unfit spiritually, I start making idols out of the people around me (whether or not I like or know them). My identity and self-worth become dependent not on God, but on what I think others are thinking about me. That is a dangerous lens to view myself through considering much of it is based on your brokenness mixed in with mine. It’s hard to see anything clearly with that standard and makes for some pretty unstable self-esteem and security. I didn’t always see this as a problem and am grateful, having been in a twelve-step program the past 6 years, that I am beginning to get a handle on it. I used to put all my eggs in the baskets of people who were not capable, because only God is capable, of meeting my needs and giving me my identity. After years of suffering I finally stopped blaming them and transferred my eggs to God’s basket (can’t deny that I occasionally steal them back until it get’s painful again).

3. “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.” ‘Tis true. In spite of the fact that I tend to trash myself (telling myself I am a bad friend, bad Christian, bad mom, bad wife), I think about myself an awful lot. I can obsess about my woes and worries and completely forget that anyone else could use a word, a text, a call, an hug, a simple smile. Self-consumption is a sickness that I haven’t always recognized in me. I think Leukemia was a really good remedy for that kind of sickness. Even in the midst of a pretty terrifying threat of dying and potential for absolute self-absorption, I chose to write and share hope and strength with others. That was only a God-inspired decision that I take no credit for at all.

4. “I can be right or I can be happy.” Apparently I was born with or cultivated a very vibrant and stubborn “justice gene”. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. If in the right context, God can do a lot with this genetic wiring. But if it goes astray, it manifests itself in an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward groups or individuals. Neither of which are productive or feel very loving to the recipient. When I am sure I am right on something I feel compelled to prove it (feeling like I have to “win”) and the recipient often feels as if their views or needs are disregarded and devalued. I almost never see it that way and am therefore shocked when I get a strong pushback. I have most certainly not entirely recovered from this, but am at least willing to acknowledge that I have the propensity to go there and don’t argue my “way” nearly as long as I used to. 😬

5. “I am a wimp”. I have an embarrassing memory of a conversation I had between a friend and I several years ago (like 20 years, so give me a slight break). She asked me why I never drank before I was 21 or did drugs or had sex before I was married. I told her I thought it was because I wasn’t afraid to do the “hard thing.” It’s actually a “hard thing: for me to even get those words out;  it’s so arrogant. And so far from reality, now that I can see myself a tiny bit more clearly. As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I am afraid of practically everything! And I wasn’t any better back then. Just a bit dumber (is that a word?). I actually think I have an extra large aversion to “hard things”. I mean, I won’t even go downstairs to put my laundry in because it’s too far and the very thought of even planning a meal or following a recipe makes me want to start fasting. I work out the shortest time necessary and eat as much as possible without crossing the line into excess. I text and email instead of call because that is easier. My whole life revolves around doing what is easy. Who am I trying to fool? Today, the answer is “no one”. I am fully aware that I am doing the best I can for now and so is everyone else. I am not special. I only do hard because I have to, not because I want to or am up for the challenge. Most people do. I used to take pride in my “uprightness”, whatever that is, and now, I am just glad to be upright and not in jail (ok, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point). I have been humbled once or twice, and continue to be reminded that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”

So there you have it. That is the tip of the ice berg on what I have had to learn the hard way. Maybe sometime soon we will get to what’s underneath all of that-consider yourself warned.

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Putting the cart before the horse”

Maybe you are better than me, but sometimes, I forget things. Sometimes I forget where I put my sunglasses (which are on my head) and forget where I set my phone (frantically searching for it while talking on…my phone). Yesterday I ran off to show a house, forgetting to remind my son to take the chicken out of the oven (good thing it is spring now and we can open our windows!) and I can only remember to take my vitamins consistently for about 4 days in a row. After that, I have a tendency to forget that my general health care sort of needs a regular boost.

But what I find most disturbing are the soul-level things that can be forgotten even when I believe them in my deepest parts. It’s especially in-my-face when I read a little book I wrote and think, “Oh ya! I forgot I believe that! Maybe I should practice living as if I really do!”

This morning I was reading from a book called “Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True self” by Richard Rohr. He brought up an analogy that gave me a phrase that perfectly describes what it looks like when we forget. In this case, the forgetting involves what happens when I “put the cart before the horse.” When I put the “cart”, my cart, with it’s load of trash and treasures and decorated like it’s going to be in a parade, before the “horsepower” itself. Rohr says that the “horsepower” is precisely our primal (elemental, vital, central) union with God. When I get ahead of God, it’s as pre-post-erous as expecting a cart (with essentially no power in and of itself) to pull the horse. You ain’t gettin’ nowhere like that.

I love that when I looked up the phrase “putting the cart before the horse”, wikipedia told me that “preposterous” was a one word description for just such an action. “Pre” means before or front and “post” means at the end or in the back. So when something that should be in front is in the back and vice verse, that is preposterous! In case you are sleepy today (or I am being as clear as mud), this means that when I get out in front of God, not only in the wrong position but trying to do all the work, I demonstrate a lack of faith and trust and reliance on His power and His will. My EGO ( some say a good acrostic for that is “Edging God Out”) keeps me running and striving and exhausted, trying to provide my own horsepower for all of life’s experiences, good and bad. Sometimes I forget I am not that powerful.

Rohr reminds us that “the horse does all the work. Your work is of another kind; to stay calmly and happily on the road and not get back into the harness.” St. Teresa of Avila used a similar metaphor when she described how you can either keep digging the channel or find the actual spring and let it just flow toward you, in you, and from you. “Her entire mystical theology is about finding that Inner Flow and not wasting time digging trenches.”

Have you, too, forgotten? Forgotten that God is the ultimate Source, the horsepower that makes it possible for us live and move and have our Being? Forgotten that it’s not about works, but about grace and connection to God’s own heart first and foremost? Forgotten that he bids us to come to him because His burden is light and he will give us rest from the weariness of trying to pull our own cart?

If you tend to forget, like I so often do, may this be the day you remind yourself to remember all you have forgotten.

Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

“Do it afraid”

The more I think about fear, the more I realize that there are many nuances to it and that it’s going to take a few blogs to make a dent in any of it. Today I want to process something out-loud regarding the kind of fear that makes the most obvious sense: fear of doing something scary. The circumstances that are “scary” differ from person to person, but we all have one or two items we could hang in this closet. Sometimes they are as superficial as fear of riding a roller coaster and sometimes they are as personal as fear of intimacy, vulnerability, self-reflection, etc.

And speaking of roller coasters, let me tell you a little story that has helped me get a better handle on my ability to address my fears. Since I was in college my husband (then boyfriend) have been going to Silver Dollar City almost every year. It’s an old fashioned them park in Branson Missouri, and I mostly go for the Carmel apples, fresh fried pork rinds and funnel cakes. They also have a few rides, including about 3 terrifying roller coasters. One is called the Powder Keg which blasts you off from 0-90 in about 3 seconds. I love-hate it.

Every time we go there we have the same discussion.

Before:
Me: I don’t think I am going to go on the roller coasters this time.
Husband: Yes you are.
Me: No. I am not. I am too old and too scared. My tummy hurts and my heart is pounding just looking at them.
Husband: You’re going.
Me: No I’m not.
Husband: You only have to go once.
Me: Fine. (Sweating/nauseous /terrified)

During:
Me: Holding my breath. Then screaming until my kids tell me to hush. Then cursing under my breath until the ride is over.

Afterwards:
Me: That. Was sooooo scary! (Nervously laughing)
Husband: What did I tell you!?
Me: Let’s go again right now!

By the end of the day I go back to these roller coasters when there is no line and while my family is in the gift shop, I ride them over and over and over by myself or with my daughter who sort of has the same love-hate relationship with roller coasters as I do.

Some of our fears have to be addressed with this same strategy. You have probably heard the saying, “Courage is fear that has said it’s prayers.” I have a note on my bulletin board at work that reminds that the first step in overcoming fear is to “move my muscles”. Sometimes, as a mentor of mine tells me, you have to just “do it afraid.” You are scared to go on a roller coaster? That’s understandable. Do it afraid. You are scared to make those phone calls at work? Totally legitimate. Do it afraid. You are hesitant to be real/authentic/tender with someone who you love? Pefectly reasonable. Do it afraid. Move your muscles. Say a prayer, invite God in and ask him to go ahead of you, and do it afraid.

What you might find is what I discovered after I forced myself to “do it afraid” when I went on those roller coasters. The more you do it, the easier it gets to do it again. And, that even though you are still a tiny bit apprehensive at first, you have a sense of exhilaration in the end, if nothing else but from feeling proud of yourself for not letting your fear get the best of you.
In order to live a life not dominated by fear, we need to understand that a little fear is normal, but we can overcome those fears by acknowledging how we feel, and “doing it afraid”. Eventually we will develop a track record of confidence and success and trust in the powerful process and results that come from not allowing fear to immobilize us.

(Just talking about fear-and roller coasters-is literally causing my heart to race right now. But here I am 😳)

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

“Terrification”

When my 22-year-old son, Berkeley, was about 2, he had an irrational (yet adorable) fear of “fuzzies”. Now that I think about it, maybe my house-keeping was lacking, because the “fuzzies” he was referring to were little balls of lint. If one made it’s way out from under the couch or was stuck to an item of clothing, he would panic and scream “Fuzzy! Fuzzy! Fuzzy!”. And while we’re on the fear-note, my kids and my husband all share a heightened fear of spiders. Spiders don’t just get stepped on or squished in our home, they get tortured, often with poisonous spray or a combo of fire and hairspray if time allows.

I am not particularly frightened of the usual suspects; snakes, spiders, public speaking, the dark, clowns, or fuzzies. But here is what I have come to realize about what I do fear: I am often afraid of pretty much everything else. Well, that might be a slight exaggeration, but let me tell you, it’s a lot. And most of the things I fear are about as rational as a fear of fuzzies.

Recently, quite by accident or divine direction, I came across some writings that helped me put some of my thoughts on fear into better words than I have been able to express on my own. See if some of them ring true for you:

*”The problem isn’t that we’re lost or apathetic, narcissistic or materialistic. The problem is we’re terrified…A lot of us know we have what it takes-the looks, the education, the talent, the credentials. But in certain areas we’re paralyzed. We’re not being stopped by something on the outside, but by something on the inside. Our oppression is internal…We’re just afraid, period. Our fear is free-floating. “

“Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking other people don’t have as much fear as we do, which only makes us more afraid. Maybe they know something we don’t know. Maybe we’re missing a chromosome.” 😂

“Fear is to love as darkness is to light. It’s a terrible absence of what we need in order to survive. It’s a place we go where all hell breaks loose.”

“God is not the author of fear. You are.”

On my way to work, almost every day for the past month or so, I tell Siri to “play ‘Fear, He is a Liar’ on U-Tube”. It ends about the time I pull into the office parking lot. I have to remind myself before I walk in the office and through-out my day, that “Fear, He is a liar”. I have to remind myself that the antithesis of fear is love and for me, Trusting that God knows better than I do how my day, my life, should play out. He knows that what I want is not always what I need. Even though I am not always 100% satisfied with the way my life is at that moment, I am still terrified that it will change or be taken away.  I believe that fear is at the root of most everything that is at unrest in my spirit (my anxieties and worries and hauntings) and the source of all my egomaniacal behaviors ( that’s the intellectual phrase for bragging, posturing, image-managing).

I don’t like having fear. It feels weak. It feels weak because it is weak. And even though it can be a powerful force that keeps me immobilized with insecurity, worry, hyper controlling and self-focused thinking, It is not all-powerful. There is a power greater than fear. I have found that power to be my God. He tells me that “perfect love casts out fear”. That’s definitely something worth unpacking because otherwise fear will get the better of me and hold me back from living in freedom, serenity, and unwavering trust.

Now that I have unearthed this idea that maybe we might all share a common struggle with terrification (a pseudo-intellectual word I made up meaning “a state of being terrified instead of terrific” ), I am going to sign off and think on this for a few days. Feel free to weigh in. More to come.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Serenity, Special ed pre school

“Make Good Choices👍” (From the “Everything I need to know I learned in Special-Ed Preschool” series)

Some of my biggest life-lessons have come as a result of working for a few years with Special Ed pre-schoolers. As a 48 year old with a full-time job, a published author and a mother of 3 almost-grown children, that’s saying something. The “something” that is says is that at my core, I still need the simplicity of pre-school principles in order to address my emotional, relational and spiritual challenges. If I ever master the basics, I’ll be sure to let you know.

So, without further ado, I bring you another entry of “Everything I Need to know I Learned in Special-Ed Preschool”.

I tell you what, it’s been about 4 years since I worked at that school and I can still picture their adorable faces and hear their tiny voices in my head. One life-skill we worked very intentionally to teach them is the importance of making good choices. We regularly said to them, about a thousand times in a 2 hour time frame, “Make good choices” and accompanied that instruction with a smile and symbolic “thumbs up”. It occasionally made a difference, but it also took tattling to a whole different level. I distinctly remember a little boy finding me during play time and proudly informing me that so-and-so had made a “bad choice”, accompanied with a symbolic ‘thumbs down” gesture. Bless his precious pre-school heart…

This weekend, out of the blue (or maybe not so much, since I was thinking not-loving thoughts about and being extra critical of myself), I had a revolutionary thought. Remember the days (sadly, a fad that has waned a bit) when people wore WWJD? bracelets and put said stickers on their cars? It is an acronym for “What Would Jesus Do?”. And regardless of what you believe about him in a spiritual/salvation sense, I think most of us can agree that if we could indeed model our life and love patterns after Jesus, we would be pretty darn pleasant people. So, back to my revolutionary thought; Maybe it would be a better practice to ask myself WWJT?. “What Would Jesus Think?”. Because, my brain has a hard time deciding what exactly Jesus would do. Would he really work-out or tan or spend $5 on a coffee drink or kill time by wandering through Target? It’s a confusing question for me (like I said, I learn a lot from pre-schoolers so that should make perfect sense to you). But what I am fairly certain I can answer “yes” or “no” to is about what kind of thoughts I allow myself to entertain. It’s one thing for a thought to come through my mind, but whether I choose to let it in again or ruminate on it should depend on my answer to that question.

In other words, or in pre-school lingo, that means I have to “make good thought-choices”. Not that I am in the clear entirely about my not-so-nice thoughts about others, but I have found that my most destructive and anti-like-Jesus thinking is more about my thoughts about myself. In fact, even when my negative thoughts start off being about others, they usually circle back around to me (the EGO is a powerful monster). When I have jealous or covetous thoughts about another persons success at work or their material possessions, the root of those thoughts goes back to me feeling like somehow I have failed or don’t measure up. My thoughts quickly beat and batter myself over my perceived failure. I have a hundred more examples, but I think you get my point.

But most of all, it is worth posing the WWJT? Question to all the self-thoughts that cycle through my head minute by minute. I think part of the reason this idea was triggered in me this weekend was because I sang at church. I regularly doubt myself and my talents, comparing them to others who seem to be more confident and blessed with more natural vocal abilities. That’s when it occurred to me that these were not thoughts that I believe Jesus would have about himself. I can’t imagine that Jesus would tell himself that he stunk at what he was doing or that he wasn’t as good as that person so he might as well quit. I don’t believe he would complain about the body God had blessed him with or whine because his Father didn’t answer his prayers the way he expected him to or in the time slot he felt would work best for everyone. And here’s a good one, I don’t believe Jesus would worry in his mind about what his employer or co-workers think of him. He would do his best and forget the rest. What they thought of him ultimately had no bearing on his calling. I don’t even believe he would stress about what other people believe about him or if was who he said he was, knowing that they are in the hands of God himself who desires that each person should have an intimate relationship with Him. He just focused on loving God and loving people. He probably didn’t spend time obsessing about his problems, telling himself that things usually turn out bad for him so why bother expecting God to show up. Pretty sure he didn’t have thoughts like I often do: “I’m so stupid-lazy-forgetful-insensitive-worthless”. And this haunting thought that I am not enough (not spiritual enough, not thin enough, not smart enough, not tidy enough, not attentive enough, not serving enough, etc.) is not something I imagine he would entertain.

If I can learn to catch myself quickly, as all my thoughts creep in, and ask myself WWJT?, I just might be able to finally give myself a break. Maybe I can relax and trust God for my well-being, my affirmation and my identity. Maybe I can learn from Jesus’ way of thinking, how to think kinder, gentler thoughts about myself and my world.

What do ya think? Time for another kind of bracelet? WWJT? 🤔

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

I’m OK. You’re (not) OK. That’s OK.

At first, I was struggling about what to say this morning. When I do my morning reading, I usually get a nudging or prompting from God about what to write about. More often than not, it is something I am personally working through, and it leans heavily toward ways my thinking has gone haywire. Today, just when I thought perhaps I had nothing to say, I connected the dots and in no time at all was snuggled on the couch with my IPad.

Let’s connect the dots together. Lately I have been having a hard time with being OK even when those around me are not OK (or at least not OK in the ways I want them to be OK). This way of living is disturbing to me. And that is an important and intentional way to say it: It is disturbing to me. Not to others. To me. When I allow what others do or say (or don’t do or say) to affect my peace of mind, I am allowing my own happiness and well-being to be determined by forces outside of myself. Depending on other people being OK for my OK-ness is dangerous, unsettling and exhausting.

I was reminded of this as I was lying in bed last night, not sleeping. I generally fall asleep pretty easily, but my son has had some issues getting to sleep so of course, like a responsible mother, I was laying in bed worrying about that on his behalf. Do you ever feel like that? That somehow fretting about those we care about is a requirement to prove ( To who? Not exactly sure.) that you really and truly care about them? This example is pretty minor. You can imagine what it can look like when people I know and love are in actual turmoil or battling a potentially terminal disease. It seems preposterous to consider that I could have a peaceful, happy and God forbid, fun, day or life when such circumstances are attached to people I care about.

I belong to a Recovery group that works the 12 Steps. The first step addresses this exact challenge (admitting you are powerless over ________ and that your life has become unmanageable) and I have read it out loud and studied it inside and out for about 6 years. And it’s still hard! You wanna know why? Because it is and always will be hard. Sometimes I act as if I will win if I just manage that thing, person or situation to death. But, because I am now aware of the solution, this mindset isn’t impossible to combat when I use the tools I have been introduced to. Here is a bit of that solution from some of the literature I draw from:

“…life is unmanageable whenever we lose perspective about what is and is not our responsibility. We take offense at actions that have nothing to do with us. Or we intervene where it is inappropriate and neglect our legitimate obligations to ourselves and others. Our misplaced concern for others becomes intrusive, meddling, resented, and doomed to failure. Instead of helping those we care about, we demonstrate a lack of respect for them or create discourse in our relationships.

When our preoccupation with others distracts us from our responsibilities to attend to our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health, we suffer. Our health and self-esteem decline. we become incapable of accepting reality, coping with change, or finding happiness.”

If you have been “preoccupied” in your mind with a loved one’s troubles or choices (whether they will make good ones or have already made ones you don’t agree with, which doesn’t always equal “bad”, by the way), neglecting your own health (forgetting to eat, over-eating, losing sleep, finding yourself immobilized or unable to have fun) or find yourself minding their business without invitation ( while forgetting to “mind” your own), it might be time to press “pause”. Pause in a quiet space and talk with God about what his will is for you. For you and only you. So much of the time I know I am missing it because my Being is consumed by the sayings and doings of others.

I have to learn to continually “let go and let God” take care of the people, places and things that are legitimately out of my control. I have a responsibility to live my one and only life with joy and passion and hope. I can be happy even when those I love are not. I can have a good day when those I care about are having a hard day. I can have peace in my soul even when others are at unrest and distressed.It’s called “detachment: separating myself emotionally and spiritually from other people”. It doesn’t mean I am irresponsible, indifferent, calloused or flippant about what others are experiencing. I can pray for them and extend kindness and love and appropriate help when it is welcomed. But ultimately, my serenity and contentment come from within me and can remain even when seas of anxiety and pain and stress swirl around me. It is indeed responsible, healthy, possible and desirable for me to be OK, even if you are not.

OK? OK.

Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Three days before cancer…

Tomorrow marks 4 years to the day I was diagnosed with Leukemia. I suppose it didn’t arrive that day, but I was blissfully ignorant of it until 4:00 February 6th, when a doctor from Simmons Cancer Institute told me over the phone that my blood work, done that morning, indicated that I had Leukemia and I should go straight to the hospital. They already had a bed reserved for me.

For obvious reasons, I have been reflecting on that day, and actually, even more so on the days leading up to that day. Before I get into what I can learn from my experience, I want to share a few miracles that led up to February 6th, making it possible for me to survive Leukemia and not be taken by it. Some of you might not realize what a close call it was. When I spoke to the oncologist after arriving at the hospital around 5:00 (one hour after they informed me of this diagnosis), he told me that at the rate my white blood cells were reproducing combined with the fact I had no immune system, no platelets and no red blood cells, if I hadn’t come in that day, I would most likely not have lived to see next week.

So, let’s rewind a couple of weeks. I was in California visiting my family. My mom and sister and I went on a hike. I literally had to stop every 20 feet or so and catch my breath. My heart was pounding out of my chest. I figured I was just out of shape (because the Leukemia hadn’t presented itself yet but still had some weird symptoms, I had been diagnosed with Rheumatoid arthritis) from slacking on my workouts. In actuality, I had no red blood cells, which stores your oxygen. Of course, I would not be shown up by my mom and sister so I pushed through and made it to the top. It’s a miracle I didn’t have a heart attack!

Also a miracle: I flew on an airplane with no immune system and didn’t contract even one virus, any of which could have killed me!

While I was in California, I got an email from a friend who I hadn’t seen for several months. She asked about getting together sometime and instead of it being weeks or months before we could coordinate our schedules as sometimes happens, we made a date to meet on Wednesday of the upcoming week. By the time I met with her, I was so discouraged about my symptoms ( I think I knew in my heart I did not just have Rheumatoid Arthritis) that I decided to just ignore it for awhile and pick it back up. I was tired of trying to figure it out. But, when I met with my friend, I told her about all the little red dots on my body and bruises on my forearms, just from resting them on the armrest on the plane ride home. I whined a lot about having to eat differently because I had Rheumatoid Arthritis. She said that her son had a blood infection when he was small and it had similar symptoms to mine. By the end of the day, thanks to Web MD, I was convinced that I had it. I was back in the game of trying to figure out what was going on with my body. I would have ignored it had I not met with her and her son hadn’t had something similar. I remember her telling me that I should see a hematologist. I didn’t know until later, as I went to my Oncologist, that they go hand in hand. And, Leukemia is a blood cancer. Miracle #3.

The next day was Thursday and I was scheduled to clean a house. It was getting harder and harder to function because every movement caused my heart to race. I distinctly remember contemplating if my client would notice if I didn’t vacuum the upstairs that week because I was pretty sure carrying the vacuum up from the basement might do me in. I realized that this was ridiculous since I was a fairly in-shape 45-year-old! I called to make an appointment to see my doctor. I made it clear that I didn’t want to see a nurse practitioner, only my real doctor, because I suspected something was seriously wrong with me. She told me he could not see me for a week. I said that was fine, but after telling her my symptoms, she said, “Hold on a minute. Let me see if you can get you in earlier because of your heart issues.” I was on hold so long that I eventually hung up. She called me back and told me he would see me the next morning, Friday, February 6th. Miracle #4.

I remember that day like it was yesterday and forever ago at the same time. I remember going to a Real Estate training, leaving early and telling the instructor I would be back after my appointment. I didn’t go back to Real Estate for 8 months. I remember sitting in the waiting room with my husband (who I made go with me to bully the doctor into listening to me better). I remember him demanding a complete blood count, and my doctor be befuddled about what might be going on with me. As a side note, I’m no doctor, but if someone told me they had red dots and bruises on their body (no platelets) their heart was pounding out of their chest when they bent over to pick something up (no red blood cells) and had other chronic symptoms that never seemed to get better (no immune system) I would tell you to get a CBC stat to make sure they didn’t have Leukemia. Anyway…I digress. Needless to say, we don’t go to that doctor anymore.

When I got home, I was tired and discouraged. Not really worried, just done. Done with trying to diagnose myself and feeling like no one else could. I slept for 3 hours. I woke about 3:00, did a couple chores around the house and got “the call” at 4:00. I sat at my kitchen table in shock as they told me the news. I didn’t freak out or anything. In fact, I didn’t even call my husband. I called a doctor friend of mine to find out if he knew any good Oncologists because I had just been told I had Leukemia. He said he didn’t and I remember saying, “Hmmm, maybe I should call Blake.” He concurred. Blake came flying in as I was packing to go to the hospital. What exactly does one pack for an open ended trip to the hospital? While I packed my husband called the doctor back to get better information. Apparently I wasn’t able to communicate effectively in my current state. We called a friend to come pick up Bennett and Emma had already left for a friend’s house for a sleepover. As we got in the car I wondered out loud how long I would be in the hospital. My husband said, “Thirty days”. That’s when it started to get real. It ended up being 35 due to the fact that I got a secondary infection that almost killed me, but that’s a story for another time.

Pretty sure that all of that story wasn’t necessary to recount in order to make my point today, but bear with me because I really need to talk about it. It helps me be grateful for where I am and where I am not.

When I go through all these precursors to cancer D-Day, I am not only thankful that we caught it in time and for all the miracles leading up to it, but I am acutely aware that I took for granted life as I knew it before Leukemia. On any given day I can certainly find something to worry and complain about, and boy, do I! But after cancer came, I would reflect on my health prior to that and how often I not only didn’t appreciate it, but whined about it (I am so tired, so sore, so fat….)! For a lot of us, we don’t know what we’ve got til’ it’s gone. We complain about our kids not being focused enough on school, until they are caught with drugs or alcohol. We just don’t think we can make it through one more day of work with those people, until we get fired and can’t find another job. We hate on our bodies when we are young and don’t realize how good we looked until we are old and 20 lbs heavier. We battle feeling taking advantage of and unappreciated by our children until they move out and we feel lonely and long for someone to take care of and cook for.

You get the idea. It is extremely hard to live in the moment and savor it. My friend always asks me, when I am complaining or panicking about my life circumstances, “”Is everything OK right now? Then everything is OK.” In other words, today is all we have, and tomorrow could be drastically different. If we knew what was coming would we have a different attitude? Maybe. Hopefully. But even though God cares about all our problems, there are always people who have it worse, and today or tomorrow “those people” might be you. So, just for today, try to focus on what is at hand. I really wish I would have tried better to enjoy my last few days before cancer hijacked my life. Have you ever had that type of regret?

Today, when I find myself worrying or complaining about people or situations in my life, I think “at least I don’t have Leukemia. I can shower by myself and go to the grocery store and eat fresh fruit. I don’t need a walker or a shower chair and all my food doesn’t taste like metal. I don’t have to stay in the hospital 6 days at a time, I get to do my own cleaning, and I don’t have to give myself a daily shot in the stomach.” Try inserting some of your own words in there: At least my kids aren’t on drugs, at least I don’t have diabetes, at least he’s not drinking today, at least I have a job, legs that work, eyes that see, ears that hear, a car to drive, a house to heat, food to cook, and the list goes on. Maybe that’s a good prayer that will keep us all a bit more grateful and sound less bratty: At least I have/don’t have______________.Thank you, God. Amen”

Today, I am just grateful to be here

Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

More on predicting the future (in case you have been arguing with me…)

This blog is for those of you who read my post last week and have been arguing in your head ever since. If you haven’t read it yet, take a minute to do that before you finish this or it might not make very much sense.

The previous blog was about how we have a human habit of getting ahead of ourselves and preparing for every possible (usually bad) outcome. We waste hours, perhaps days, of our lives occupying our minds with potential solutions to problems that may or may not ever come to pass. My answer for you was to stay out of the future. Be present and quit trying to plan how you might respond to events you have predicted with your limited knowledge and ability.

But some of you start questioning the irresponsibility of not thinking about the future. I mean, anyone knows that if you want to achieve a goal, you have to set one! You have to have a plan. You can’t just hope you will have enough money to go on vacation next summer or assume that the hotel you want will be available when you just show up expecting a room. Some forward thinking is necessary if we are to be functioning vs frustrating members of society.
Even though it might sound like I am contradicting myself, hang with me for a few…

A few months ago I had lunch with a very motivated and successful business woman who gets more done in a day than I do in a week, and with a fresh happy attitude and mounds of energy. It was hard to have a consistent conversation because every other person that walked by knew her and wanted to stop and say hello. I was fascinated. She was meeting with me to help me figure out how to promote my book, shortly after it was published. As we talked about several topics I write about in my blogs, this particular one came up. She thought about it a minute and said that she understood we should give it all up to God and not try to live in the future, but asked “how do we do that if we have meetings and events and conferences to plan? What does that look like?”.

I sat there for a minute and I feel like God gave me an answer that might help her, but for sure helped me: “Hold it loosely”.

James 4:13,14 says “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…what you ought to say is, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ In other words, “Hold it loosely.”

It’s OK to plan. It’s probably necessary to plan most things. Sometimes even far in advance. Part of dreaming and hoping means pondering what the future might look like. But, what I have learned is that I don’t always know what I need or what is best for me. On multiple occasions I have not gotten what I wanted, been sore at God and the world about it, only to find that if I had gotten my way, it would have been disastrous! And there have also been many times that the results I did get, even though I had planned differently, turned out to be better than anything I could have concocted with my small scope of vision.

So relax. I am not advocating that we all live like hippies and give no thought to the future. But, as you plan, get God in there. That part is imperative. Make plans along with God, asking for him to show you his way and his will instead of doing it your way and asking him to bless it after the fact. And once you have made said plans/goal/resolutions, hold them loosely. God may have something entirely different and most likely better than anything you could imagine.

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Back to the Future”

By now you know I live in the Midwest. Last week they (“they” being meteorologists who in my opinion have one of the worst jobs ever, being as most of what they forecast rarely happens as they predict, resulting in frustrated and disappointed people around the planet…or maybe that was just me) told us we should expect 5-8 inches of snow. Based on this prediction, Open Houses, conferences, sporting events, yoga classes, concerts and bridal showers were cancelled all over Springfield. My son works at a grocery store and he said that based on the crowd you would think people were preparing for the Apocalypse. Apparently people planned to survive on bread, milk and booze. Ya know, the staples of a well-rounded diet. My son was planning a trip out of town so he left a day early to avoid the “hazardous road conditions”. My husband and I and both sets of grandparents made him a bit crazy with all the tips and warnings about driving in the snow, how to contact AAA in case they slid into a ditch and made him pack blankets, gloves and a hat in his car because you just don’t know what might happen!

Well, let me tell you what did happen. Nothin’. Nada. Zilch. Not only did we not get 5-8 inches and 35 mph winds, what did drop pretty much blew away or melted immediately. So, enough weather talk, because I think you catch my drift 😂…when we predict the future and base our current behavior on what we assume the outcome will be, we are usually in for some disappointment. Not only that, lwe rob the present of it’s joy because our minds are occupied with planning our reactions to future events that may or may not happen.

As usual, when I start thinking about such topics, like I did the day we got zero snow, life provides me with an opportunity or two to learn a lesson. I have to tell you that I am not super happy about it. In fact, I got very little sleep last night because I was very busy formulating all the ways that I will respond to a variety of potential scenarios. I knew it wasn’t helpful or healthy but I just couldn’t seem to shut my mind off.  I tried to turn it over to God, but I just kept taking it back. I let fear and worry about all the obstacles that could arise in the next few days steal my serenity and my sanity. I obsessed about the various possible outcomes of the situation as if I had no other option.

I hope that I am unique in this behavior, but I have a feeling I am not. I smiled when a phrase, a classic movie title actually, came to me regarding this tendency to fret about events that don’t exist: “Back to the Future”. I need to train my mind and choose not to let it to go “Back to (worrying about and trying to predict) the Future”. I would say I made a teensy bit of progress last night and this morning. In the night I tried to focus on being grateful that certain tough circumstances are no longer a part of my life. Instead of a gratitude list for what “is”, sometimes it is more beneficial for me to make one for what “isn’t”. That helped keep my mind stay occupied and my heart be thankful. The other thing I did was look up some readings on Letting Go, Control, and Living in the Present in one of my Recovery books. Then, I looked up a song on U-Tube about Fear being a Liar. Not only did the lyrics give me some relief (Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath, stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar. He will rob your rest, steal your happiness. Cast your fear in the fire, ‘cause fear, he is a liar. -Zach Williams), but the video of people in truly hopeless situations gave me perspective on my own and made me cry and cry. This softened my senses to what many others struggle with and took the focus off of myself and my problems.

I still don’t know how my situation will resolve, but I am choosing not to try to “figure it out” ahead of time. I have done my part and have no control over what other people do or say. One of the lines from a book I read this morning really helped ground me in the truth of the matter:

“Part of me gambles that by worrying in advance, bad news will be easier to face if it comes. But worrying will not protect me from the future. It will just keep me from living here and now…I needn’t explore how I’ll feel about something that might occur in the future. I don’t actually know how I’ll feel, and it may never happen. So when I feel myself leaving the present, I’ll remind myself that the future is not today’s problem.” (Courage to Change p15)

Today is all we have to work with. I don’t want to miss it by going “Back to the Future.”