Faith/Spirituality, fear

I predict…

Last week I did a book signing at a local coffee shop. What a wonderful, and humbling experience! As usual, my blog brain was churning away as I did something for the first time in my life. There aren’t many things I can say that about as a 47 yr old woman. For better or for worse, there is a lot of “sameness” to life. But, I have never done a book signing before, and oh yeah, I’ve never written a book before either. Interesting…

But that’s really not what I want to talk about this morning. There’s something else that happened that day that reminds me of the reason I keep writing: I’m still pretty messed up in my head. In my soul. Soul-Selfies are necessary for me because it’s a full time job, rooting out the thoughts and character defects in me that hold me back from being whole-hearted. Here’s the revelation I had that day (the very day, mind you, that I was autographing a book addressing that exact topic in a dozen different ways. Sigh 😔).

I originally set up my signing station in one of the 3 rooms available. There were about 10 different leather armchairs scattered around so people could relax, drink and visit. I was sitting within inches of them. I knew that if anyone sat in them, I would overhear first hand, classified information without even trying. This thought made me uncomfortable. Eventually, a woman came by with her coffee. She saw my spread of books and flyers but smiled and walked on by and sat in the chair as far away from me as possible.

It started immediately. That voice in my head that told me exactly what this woman was thinking, and of course, it was about me. I just knew she was irritated that I was sitting so close to her and she wouldn’t be able to have a private conversation (with her friend that I predicted would be there soon). I knew that she was getting annoyed with me as I greeted each customer as they came in the door to her right. She was wishing I would shut up already. I even skipped greeting a few people because I didn’t want to bother her. After 10 minutes of this, I decided that if I wanted to be considerate to her and anyone else who joined her, I should move to another room. So I did.

Ahh. Freedom to not bug anyone and greet people to my heart’s content! However, before I left the other room I gave her a sample page of one of my blogs and a flyer about the book. I told her I was moving so people in that room wouldn’t “feel like I was dropping in on their conversations, ha ha.” She just smiled and took the papers.

After about two hours I had made some good connections with people, passed out sample blogs and flyers and sold three books to perfect strangers. That woman was one of them.

As soon as she came to my table I knew I was going to have to write about it. I mean, really!? The very person I was fearful of, who I assumed (a dangerous engagement) was irritated by my mere presence which triggered my move to an entirely different room, she was the one to buy a book. God is hilarious. And ironic, in this case.

How often have I done this to myself? Done this to others? I put words and thoughts in their head ad act as if they are true. It not only is pretty arrogant, thinking I am all-knowing like God himself, but it also takes away the dignity of letting others think and own their own thoughts or act in a way that is new or healthy. I may think I know what is in their mind or what they will say to me, but the reality is, I don’t.

If I I put my energy into keeping watch over my own thoughts, I won’t have to waste it on making up thoughts to put in other people’s heads. Especially about me. And am I so self-centered that I think a total stranger, or even my friends, are thinking about me at all? Maybe someone’s apparent irritation isn’t because they are frustrated or bothered by me. Maybe they have had a hard day at home or work. Or maybe they just have an angry resting face!
It just sounds so ridiculous when I write it all down. As I said, this is why I keep writing. It isn’t because I have it all figured out, it’s because I have a long way to go. If you think you might have a ways to go yourself, please join me. At least we will be in good company.😘

Faith/Spirituality

Are you a dead ball?

So, I have been focusing on re-learning how to play. Maybe I have been practicing a little too much, because I haven’t written in over a week!?!?

If you were to look at my life from the outside, it would be hard to make a case that I don’t know how to play. In the past couple years I have travelled to Paris, Hawaii, California, Las Vegas, Missouri and Michigan (hey, it’s not Illinois so those last two still count!). I have gone to concerts, sat poolside at friend’s houses and made day trips to shop in St. Louis and Chicago. I’ve attended plays, laughed myself silly at a Seinfeld show and hosted numbers of girls-only patio parties and dinners around my dining room table. To an outsider, this might seem like evidence that I haven’t forgotten everything about how to play.

And yet…

Playing is not just about being present at the activity, it’s about being present in the activity. Big difference. I have been thinking about this world “in” and how it relates to play. My mind keeps going to baseball terminology. Even if you are not a baseball fan, you probably understand the basics enough to track with me for the next couple paragraphs.

Baseball is a game that people play (I know…profound insight, H). For the purpose of this blog, let’s pretend you are the ball. I think it’s fair to say that ball is a crucial part of the baseball experience. But the ball has a job to do in order for the game to be played. It can’t just lay on the pitching mound or in the dugout or sit in the 2nd baseman’s mitt. It has to be an active participant. The ball has to be “in play”. If a player hits it outside the lines into foul territory, it is considered “out of play”. Don’t you just love it? What a perfect metaphor for how we must play! It’s not enough to just show up for the activity. We have to be present and engaged in it. We have to be “in play”, otherwise the game is not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s not fulfilling it’s purpose.

So much of the time, I am attending the game but I am not “in play”. In Recovery, we remind ourselves to “keep our head with our hands.” It means that we remind ourselves to keep our mind where our body is. To focus our attention and love and laughter on the current moment without letting our brain wander off, rehashing what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen next week. I have participated in many “play-full” activities over the past few years, but too often have been outwardly present while inwardly “out of play”.

It’s not complicated. I can probably just shut up now. You get the gist. Again-being at vs being in…Two tiny words. At. In. But whichever one you choose to embrace will either inhibit or enhance your ability to play.

One last thought on the baseball front…
You remember what they call a ball when it is “out of play” right?Dead”.
But thank God the opposite is also true.
Only when you are “in play” can you be “live” and get your game on.

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

Are you coming on the Expedition?

I am going on a journey. If you want to come with me we can call it an Expedition (which sounds much more adventurous!): a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose. I told you in my last blog (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/05/30/i-left-it-in-montana/ ) that I am going to get my “skip” back. If you have noticed that yours has gone missing too, then stay connected for at least the next few entries and maybe we can rediscover it.

As I said, incorporating “play” into the daily minutia of life is challenging for me. And that’s putting it mildly. My plan is to explore some areas of my life and heart that have squelched my playful, light and fun self. I am very aware that I will need God’s spirit as my guide and as luck/fate would have it, He showed up right on time.

I am singing at church this weekend, and as usual, after I practice the songs ahead of time and sing them 3 or 4 times at rehearsal, I sing them in my sleep! Last night I was restless and woke up several times. I can typically choose from a plethora of things to worry about as soon as wake, but last night, since I had been at rehearsal earlier that evening, my first thoughts went to the lyrics of the songs.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the titles were as follows: Your Promises, I Surrender, Build My Life and Trust It All. Here are some of the phrases that came effortlessly to my mind:

“Doesn’t matter what I feel. Doesn’t matter what I see. My hope will always be, Your promises to me. Now I’m casting out all fear, for your love has set me free, my hope will always be, Your promises to me.”

“You are everything, everything. You are all I need, all I need. I trust it all to you.”

“My life is in your hands…I trust it all…I trust it all to. My dreams and all my plans…I trust it all, I trust it all.”

“I surrender, I surrender, I surrender all to you.”

“I will build my life upon your love, you are a firm foundation. I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.”

So-here’s what that taught me about light-hearted play and getting my skip back: it’s exhausting to try to skip when you’re carrying something ( or things) heavy. When I was young, playing was effortless because I wasn’t carrying around a collection of worries, fears, burdens, hurts and resentments. I have been collecting them over the years. Oh sure, I give God the stuff that I know without a doubt I can’t lift, but keep all the “little” items and try to carry them myself. I wouldn’t want to over-tax an all-powerful God.

As a result, my ability to skip has been depleted. SO-Step ( do not read “rule”, because these are merely my ideas and are probably flawed, like me ) #1 for getting my skip back, is to trust God and let him take care of my circumstances, my loved ones, my enemies, my efforts and their outcomes. If I can unload what was never mine to carry, I will be off to a good start. Are you comin?

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

I left it in Montana

If I could go back in time and experience my life again, I know exactly where, and when, I’d go. Without a doubt, the time in my life that I felt the most free and happy was during my years in Helena, Montana. I lived there from kindergarten through 3rd grade. I lived next door, on a private lane in the mountains, to my best friend and her two brothers. When my mind goes to that time of my life, it’s not just those valuable relationships that stand out. If I had to come up with one word to defined those years it would be Play.

Sometimes I wonder if I left my creative brain in Montana. I haven’t been able to play like that since. I played with freedom and fierceness. We built forts (with real wood, hammers and nails) and learned to snow ski in the gully behind our houses-both slalom and bunny Slope. Sometimes one of us would say, “Hey, you wanna play motorcycles?”. It’s exactly what you would think; a bunch of kids running up and down the gully pretending to be riding a motorcycle (in Montana this was more of a dirt bike) with all the accompanying sound effects (I always admired how the boys could do that sound with their mouth that made is sound so authentic). We wore ourselves out until the sun went down. When Halloween came, we would pull all our candy and create a candy store in her basement, displaying the mini candy bars under plastic record player covers. We played “Bears” with our stuffed bears, dressing them in my baby sisters clothes and putting them to bed on suitcase with a pillow on top. We played light as a feather, stiff as a board, listened to the band KISS (I don’t think my mom knew that 😳), conned our brothers into eating dirt that looked like brownies, and tormented each other at sleepovers (hand in the water, shaving cream in the palm of hand with a tickle on the face, the usual). I didn’t have to work at playing and never felt an ounce of guilt for doing it.

A lot has changed since I left Montana. A lot has changed in me. I am not sure when it happened, but I lost that sense of play that used to come so naturally to me. Somehow I started following a rule and have been following it ever since: Here it is: you have to earn your play-time.

I talked about this in my blog a couple days ago. I have this voice in my head that tells me that Play is a reward or celebration of something good; closing on a house or two, losing a few pounds, my kids getting out of school (or starting school after summer break!) or having a birthday. It also tells me that I have permission to play as a consolation for or comfort for something bad; the sale of a house falls through, my kids being demanding and driving me crazy, gaining a few pounds, or, having a birthday 😜.

You get the idea. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure, it is never about play for play’s sake. Even if I schedule a fun event or vacation, I feel like I have to kick it in to gear so I can earn my right to relax. No wonder my heart has become so heavy. When life becomes about being productive and impressive and efficient, there is little room for creativity and light hearted play. And, I have found that even when I am playing, I am not really present. I am always thinking about what’s next or what just happened or grieving that my play-time is almost over (as if I won’t get another opportunity for months!).

Man, I sound messed up. But awareness is the first step toward recovery. I think I need a 12-step program designed for people who have forgotten how to have fun. Brene’ Brown, a researcher, author and speaker talks about Play being essential to living a “whole-hearted” life. She said she was perplexed and a little put-out when she interviewed who she considered to be whole-hearted people and discovered that they “fooled around” a lot. It took her some time to put a name to this frivolous “hanging out and doing fun things”. The idea was so foreign to her that she didn’t even recognize it as Play. She says “we’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of time…spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.” Sobering words for someone who has forgotten how to play.

Reading is good. Praying is good. Meditation is good. Serving is good. Working is good. Learning is good. And so is playing. I hardly know what that looks like as a 47 year old woman, but I intend to seek God, learn from others who do it well and often, and recover my ability to play. Somewhere along the way I lost my skip, and I am determined to get it back.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

“Why I hate Me, in a nutshell”

It’s been three years since my thoughtful, sweet and honest friend picked me up for an “outing” when I had Leukemia. As soon as I got in the car she said, “so, here’s why I hate you, in a nutshell.” (I encourage you to read that blog entry before continuing. It’ll make my whining seem less, uh, whiney. https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/06/08/why-i-hate-you-in-a-nutshell/ ) After listening and thanking her for her kind words, I asked her to outline her grievances and email them to me. She had some excellent points that I think we could all learn from.

Lately I have been rolling around the idea of taking this particular blog “on the road”. Maybe a mini version of a TED talk (maybe a HEATH talk?). As I re-read it this morning and was reminded of all the “benefits” of having Leukemia (aside from the fact that its a potentially terminal disease) I too began to feel a bit jealous of my past self. And I understood my friend a bit better. I thought, “I get it, girl! I hate me too!”. So, in no particular order, here’s “Why I hate me, in a nutshell.”

1. I hate me because people were standing in line to take care of all my chores. We all gained weight because of the yummy meals brought in at least 3 times a week. We could hardly eat fast enough before more food came. It was heavenly. And, side note, we felt obligated (read: giddy) to eat whatever they brought, even if it was drenched in gravy and laced with butter. They cleaned my house better than I ever clean it and there wasn’t one weed in my currently weed infested backyard. The pure luxury of these acts of love and service bring a nostalgic, grateful, and longing tear to my eye.

2. I hate me because I didn’t have to tell people I was sick. It was obvious. I was a 44 year old with a 100 yr old body and no hair. People felt sad for me. As a result, when I went out in public, people were nicer. When you shed a few pounds and grow our your blonde hair (ok-it really grew back in dark but I color it blonde -so sue me), people are indifferent and sometimes judgmental or rude. It’s a weird shift and it makes me miss my bald head and my walker. I really like it when strangers talk kindly to me.

3. I hate me because I had great perspective and joy in spite of hardship. I think this one is particularly bothersome to me because in the face of a deadly disease I was able to maintain hope and happiness in a way that I struggle with today, when I DON’T have life-threatening disease. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t, for example, take it personal when the person in front of me made me miss the light because they were texting. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

4. I hate me because I had one thing to worry about: getting well. When I returned a call, attended an event, emailed a teacher or did some light house work, I was a hero. If I didn’t do any of those things, everyone was understanding. Now, if I forget to reply to a text or neglect my laundry or let me grass grow too long, I just don’t seem to get that same compassionate reaction. Now, I have many many things to focus on and everyone, especially me, expects me to get it all done right and in a timely manner. It’s a lot of pressure, I tell ya!

5. I hate myself because I had permission to take care of myself. From others, but mostly from myself. I took naps when I needed them. I listened to my body and what it needed, instead of ignoring it and plowing ahead in spite of feeling run down or sick. I took time out to read and study and watch movies that inspired me or made me laugh. I was in-tuned to what I needed to stay physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy and I took steps to make sure that was happening.

6. I hate myself because for 7 glorious months, I got to eat whatever I wanted without guilt. Shallow yes, but still, it was lovely.

7. I hate myself because I had the ultimate “play pass”. I have this problem (which will probably result in an entire blog in the near future): I think I have to earn the right to “play”. I do this by telling myself I deserve to have fun because I have earned either by having a hard day or having a day worth celebrating. Either way, my “play pass” is contingent on merit. Enjoyable activities are conditional for me.

8. I hate myself because I didn’t “should” on myself. I was able to live in the moment. To truly “be” with the people I was with and embrace whatever was happening at the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next or feel like I “should” be doing something other than what I was doing at that exact moment. I was present in the present.

9. I hate myself because I got to spend 6 days out of every month in the hospital. I know that sounds absurd, and maybe 6 days a month might be sort of excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to want a few days to lay in bed, sleep, read, watch TV and push a button whenever I want to eat? You can’t tell me that isn’t the least bit appealing to some of you.

10. I hate myself because I liked myself better back then. I gave myself a break from being all things to all people. I gave my body a break to let it be real. Instead of complaining about it’s imperfections, I cherished the blood in my veins and had a party when my platelets did their job right! I was less selfish with my time and less stingy with my affection and affirming, tender words. I was more tolerant of people who texted at stoplights because who knows what pain they are in? I felt hopeful and extended that hope to people around me. I felt God’s presence in a way that I have been missing lately. It was so natural when I was dying.

 

So, I say to my friend, “I get it.” When I look back and compare the Me of then to the Me of today, I too am envious. If only I could live like that with ease like I did 3 years ago. Obviously, I am not a lunatic. I see the insanity piece of wishing I had Leukemia. I hope you are tracking with me when I share the list above. There are a couple truths that I have to first accept and then cling to in order to not hate my current self:

One; living real, raw, messy, everyday life is, in fact, harder than having Leukemia. It doesn’t let up. No one gives you a pass or permission to slack off or be a jack-marack. It’s consistently painful and challenging and stressful and exhausting. And yet we all are expected to smile and nod and plug away. We are all suffering heart ache or grief or disappointment at any given moment, yet the sales clerk, or your spouse or boss or children or best friend, don’t seem to treat you with tenderness and empathy you yearn for. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and just as gentle with others. As I may have mentioned in a book I just wrote, we are all in this together.

Two: God gives me what I need when I need it. I would have never in a million years thought I could live through cancer with any kind of grace or joy. But clearly, I did. And now I am acting like God is big enough for cancer but not big enough for handling adolescents, husbands, jobs, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, etc. I don’t believe that He isn’t powerful enough help me handle these areas. The real issue is that I don’t ask him to. I approach these challenges as if I have enough talent, smarts and hutspa to manage them on my own. I act as if “I’ve got this” when the truth is, I sincerely don’t. I need God’s perfect guidance, wisdom, perspective and plan in order to live like I did when I had Leukemia.

In reality, I love that girl and long to be that girl today. With God’s help, we can all be like her. 😚

 

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

“Me too”

I suspect that the title of this blog will attract almost as many random hits as my blog entitled “Let’s talk about Trump” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2017/01/10/lets-talk-about-trump/ ). To be specific, I guess I should have entitled this “You Too? Me Too.” Before I settled on “Soul-Selfie” for my book, that was one of the titles I was seriously considering. In light of the current “Me Too” movement, where women are taking a stand against sexual harassment and violence, I can see how God went ahead of me and directed my final decision. Of course, it’s not that I am opposed to this movement, it’s just that I want to maintain the integrity of my unique message and audience the same way they do theirs.

However, I think the reason I had for considering that title is the same reason the “Me Too” movement is so powerful. The disrespectful, harmful and hurtful treatment of women has been going on for decades. It isn’t new. the spark that fueled the current fire is that one person heard of another person’s suffering, and in spite of their fear, spoke out in courage: “That happened to Me Too.” The power, no matter what the subject, is in identifying with someone else in their pain. Letting them know that they are not alone. That even though it’s scary and sometimes embarrassing to admit, we are willing to come along side them and walk through it together.

What’s your ME TOO?

*You battle/battled cancer? ME TOO
*You love or are an alcoholic/addict? ME TOO
*Your kid is struggling with depression? ME TOO
*You wonder if there really is a God? ME TOO
*You feel envious of your friend’s stuff/kids/husband/wife/house? ME TOO
*You are nervous that everyone will figure out you are a fraud at your job? ME TOO
*You regularly battle feelings of rage/hate/anger/resentment? ME TOO
*You sometimes wonder if everyone would be better off if you were dead? ME TOO
*You compare your body to others and feel “less than”? ME TOO
*You are addicted to control/manipulation/obsessing about other people? ME TOO
*You never feel like you are “enough”? ME TOO
*You tend to medicate yourself with food/meds/movies/TV/exercise/work/alcohol? ME TOO
*You are discontent in your marriage and thinking of bailing/cheating/fantasizing? ME TOO
*You think you are unredeemable and unforgivable? ME TOO
*You are exhausted from trying to hustle for your self-worth? ME TOO

I am sure you could add to this list. I don’t identify with all of the above, but I have met people who do, so you are already in good company (yes, I meant to use the word “good”).

Let me tell you a short story. My blood is already starting to heat up, just thinking about it. I promised myself not to use a name or details so as not to use my blog as a form of retribution (although, I had a really spicy one typed out in my head, in extra large and bold font, for a few days before God calmed my spirit). I had reached out via text and social media to a woman who I didn’t know regarding something I needed help with. I wanted to make a connection and had been told she could possibly help make that happen. Now, granted, I was in California at the time. My son had just graduated from college and we were at that moment helping him move in to a house, where he would be living. In California. Indefinitely. 1,611 miles from his momma. It’s possible my emotions were on high alert and the fear/stress/anxiety levels were at their peak. Then the text came. Her response to my request for help in making a connection. It was not nice. Not kind. Not helpful and actually, accusatory (she actually used the word “accosted” regarding my request) and, well, mean. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. It triggered the heightened emotions I was doing my best to stuff. I cried and also wanted to throw some of my son’s belongings I was supposed to be unpacking. I haven’t felt that mad for a very very  long time.
At first I though I was just being over-sensitive and tried to tell myself that the opinion or reaction from someone who would talk that way to a stranger (although, one that knew several of the same friends) didn’t matter and I should just write it off and move on. It took me a lot of turning it over to God to not let it hijack every bit of my strength and serenity. But, this morning, as I was reflecting on how to write about this “You Too? Me Too?” Topic, I figured out why her reaction just kicks me in the gut every time I think about it: It’s the complete opposite of what I have written about in 300+ blogs and a published book. It’s the complete opposite of helping someone else when I have the means/experience to identify with them. It’s the complete opposite of being “in this together”. With that approach to life, and sadly, there are many out there who share it, life is too hard. Too much. Too lonely.

I have always had a version of this trait in me. It’s not always about something noble.  I have always looked for ways to connect with people, to find a common ground. “You lived in St. Lake city? I was born there!” “You love Neil Diamond? He’s my favorite!” Now we should be friends forever. 😉

I believe we were created to be united. To serve others. To come alongside and be real and kind with all God’s people. And by “God’s people”, I mean “people”. When we are guarded, protective (of our stuff and our hearts), defensive, suspicious or self-invested, we live as perpetual victims. As if our circumstances are unique and we are in it alone. Looking out only for ourselves.

I am sure that woman didn’t develop that attitude over night. And her story is probably hard and sad in one way or another (I want to believe that she spoke out of her own fear/hurt/trauma). But so is yours. And so is mine. We still have a choice as to how we respond to others. As fellow travelers in this universe, we have the responsibility to treat others with kindness, respect, compassion and love regardless of how others have treated us in the past or the present. You can say “no” with the same tenderness you can say “yes”.

If I suffer or struggle, and God has comforted me, it is so I can in turn extend that comfort to someone else who suffers or struggles with the same. I think that the power behind “Me Too” grows when we identify with each other’s brokenness, reminding each other that there is always hope, and we are all in this together.

What’s your “You Too? ME TOO.”? Who can you share your experience, strength and hope with today?

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

Certain Uncertainty (A.k.a Berkeley’s graduating)

I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Southern California trying to block out an obnoxious talk show on the TV. I am trying to wrap my brain around the reality that my oldest son, Berkeley, is graduating from college tomorrow night (for those of you who know him, pause to let that sink in for a moment…). He is graduating with a degree in Cinema Arts and Film so you can probably deduce that he will be hanging around Southern California a bit longer. Springfield, Illinois is not a hotbed of opportunity for utilizing said degree. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that we are all feeling just a little anxious and occasionally scared to death about his future. That’s pretty normal for a kid whose life has been subject to grades and deadlines for projects and papers for the past 16 years. What’s a boy to do now?

The fear that threatens to steal my sleep is arrested when I remember, and believe, that even though the future is uncertain, God is not. My buddy Oswald Chambers laid it out for me in words that give me clarity and comfort: “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.” I am so obsessed with and insistent on knowing. Knowing why this or that happened, what is going on now and what is coming or not coming my way. I ruthlessly pursue omniscience (being “all-knowing” like God himself).

A friend of mine reminds me regularly that “either God is, or he isn’t”. In other words, either you can trust him for everything or nothing at all. If I can’t trust him with my future, or the future of those I love, then trusting him for the present is a joke.

My job is to draw close to God. To put myself under his care every day in every situation with everyone I love and everyone I have trouble loving. All I can manage is this present moment, and even that seems questionable at times. I am hardly ever certain, even of what I am doing at that very moment. But what I can know, and all I really have to know, is who God is and that he is trustworthy. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel apprehensive about that once in a while. My human nature still tempts me to play God.

Around our house, there is a running joke aimed cruelly at me (and maybe a few of my friends), that I am “not always right, but always certain.” I may be completely off-base or flat-out wrong, but I will fight tooth and nail to get my way or have others acknowledge that I know what the heck I am talking about. No comment. But, what I really really long to be, is certain in uncertainty. Certain of God in the face of an uncertain future. Jesus said, “Believe also in me”, not “believe certain things about me.”

I will try to practice what Oswald suggests:

“leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. remain loyal to Him.”

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.