Faith/Spirituality, fear, Patience/waiting, resentment

Waiting for Christmas (to be over?)

We are in the Advent season. In this case, Advent is a religious term meaning “expectant waiting”, in case you have heard that term your whole life and are embarrassed to admit that you don’t know what that actually means. Specifically, it refers to the days of December leading up to Christmas. I love how author Jan Richardson eloquently puts it; “Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting.”

As I read about Advent last week, I was a taken aback by my reaction. It went something like “Oh I’m waiting alright. Waiting for Christmas to be over!”. Maybe it’s because I am the slightest bit tired of the work required to redecorate my entire house for a month’s enjoyment. And maybe it’s a tiny bit about the fact that my kids are teenagers now and doing the usual Christmas tradition activities are a chore to them ( Looking at lights with mom and dad? Boring. Going to Festival of trees? Yawn. Frosting sugar cookies? Laborious. Hanging Christmas ornaments? Tedious.) It’s also possible that the past few Christmas’s haven’t gone swimmingly and my expectations for this time of year aren’t necessarily as hopeful as I wish they were at Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I am just holding my breath, tying to “make it through” without incident or trauma (like Leukemia, for example…).

Maybe you have a similar something going on. When kids are little and excited it can be contagious. It definitely helps distract from what our hearts tend to reflect on during the holidays. The Christmas season, like no other season, definitely embodies the words of the famous Christmas carol, “the hopes and fears of all the years” that circle and weigh and even haunt us. Our expectations are either through the roof (I mean, after all, look around at all these happy people going to parties and spending extravagantly and baking cookies with and for their friends and family) or they are in the pit (Christmas means disappointment, poor behavior from relatives, relational strain, or painful memories of the year our parent lost a job or we lost a parent or our parents split up, or or or…) . Nothing ignites our fear (what if this Christmas isn’t like those of Christmas past? Or what if it is?) and confounds our hopes (should we dare to hope for joy, celebration, or the feelings of “Christmas spirit?) like the ringing in of the first Christmas song in the department store the day after Thanksgiving. It has begun. How much longer before it can be over?

Even though many of us or “waiting for Christmas to be over”, most of us don’t really want to live that way. We long to have that childlike anticipation about Santa coming or what’s inside that weird-shaped box under the tree. I don’t know if it’s really possibly for us to recapture that kind of enthusiasm, but I do believe that with a little, or large, tweak in our attitude and approach to Christmas, we can learn to enjoy it in a fresh way this year. And I am talking mostly to myself…

So here’s one thought…let’s take the words of “Oh little town of Bethlehem” one step further. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” It is my belief, though clearly I struggle keeping it at the forefront of my life, that God came in human flesh at Christmas to fulfill my hopes and squelch my fears. Because he came, I can dare to hope. Hope for a different future, hope for a softer spirit, hope for a fresh start, hope for new patterns of living that produce a life I can embrace and cherish. And I can give him my fear. He came to cast out our fear of the future and also our fears created by the failures and damage done by us or to us in our past.

This doesn’t have to be a season we merely endure so we can get on with the new year. This can be a season of healing and gratitude if we take the time to remember what the gift of Christmas truly is: God in flesh. Who fills everything in every way. Advent, the waiting, can be a time to suspend all that is ordinary and bleak, and hover over the truth of what we can expect with confidence this Christmas: that God didn’t just enter our world as a baby on that first Christmas, he stayed. God is with is. Immanuel. And he is in the business of making us whole and feel wholly loved. Giving us hope, and casting out fear.

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness

Jesus’ “birthday month”

I have a dear friend whose husband celebrates (and semi-requires his family to celebrate) his birthday, not just on his special day, but all month long. “His birthday month starts today,” my friend will inform me. It’s a busy time for everyone involved. Even though other activities occur out of necessity during that month, there is an over-arching theme that permeates each day’s responsibilities: the celebration of his birth and his existence in every regard. My friend is a good woman so even though she occasionally rolls her eyes, she cooperates and engages with what I would say, a pretty positive attitude.

I thought of this as I was doing my pre-Christmas-day reading. The book has dated readings and I started to panic a little when I realized I was on day 4 already! Every time I read it I will know exactly how many days (read: days to shop and get everything mailed and send out Christmas cards and bake cookies) are left until “the” day arrives. We all know Christmas isn’t just about the 24th and 25th of December. Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus’ birth, starts December 1st (and the bustle of Christmas in the retail world starts about a month before that!).

Jesus gets a birthday month…just like my friend’s husband. But I have to say, that even though it’s Jesus’ birthday, I have a natural inclination to make it about me. Let’s just take a minute to pretend that my friend treated her husband the way I treat Jesus during his birthday month. How honored will her husband feel if she regularly complains about the hassle of decorating or planning for or shopping for his party? Will her kids and family sense her love for them if she is cranky and short-tempered because this birthday thing is just getting to be a bit much? Will her actions and words during this month draw people into wishing they knew this amazing man who she has carved out her precious time to celebrate? Would her husband feel blessed and cared for if she didn’t do or buy anything she knew he really loved during this time, only doing what was fun and easy for her?

Does the God of the universe, who came to earth as a tiny baby so I could be free from sin and shame and loneliness and hopelessness, really “feel the love” from me during his birthday month? Have I been whining and complaining about decorating for Christmas? (Yes) Have I chosen to give him what he truly wants (forgiveness and grace and compassion extended to others) rather than what is fun or easy for me? Does my attitude about the Christmas season (Jesus’ birthday month) reflect well on him? Will others want to celebrate him also because of how I honor him with my words and actions? Have I made his birthday a month about me and mine rather than making him the common thread that runs through the Christmas carols, Christmas programs,  Christmas movies, Christmas presents, Christmas dinner and Christmas clean-up?

So, just a couple thoughts as you scurry through the next few weeks. First off, no, you cannot declare that you too shall have “birthday month”, because that sounds like a phenomenal idea to you. Second-we’re only 4 days in, so it’s not too late to start the party. Start putting your focus where (on whom) it belongs. Start doing the things Jesus likes because after all, it’s his birthday month. Start being mindful of how much you love him and acknowledge your gratitude for his unconditional love and selfless sacrifice. Start forgiving mean people who have hurt you on purpose or on accident. Start smiling. Stop complaining.

Stop waiting for Christmas to be over

(blog on that topic coming soon…)

**This is dedicated to my friend’s husband who shall remain nameless unless of course you helped him celebrate his birthday last month 😉

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

Maybe not writing for a couple weeks has a direct correlation to the fact that I am struggling. Which came first? Who knows. What exactly am I struggling with? Well, ironically, during this Thanksgiving season-it’s gratitude. At a time of year when even the most curmudgeonly people seem to pull out something to be grateful for, I am just not feeling it.

You have probably heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts”, but even when I make a gratitude list or encounter dear people I know I am thankful for, the facts remain and the feelings ( read: warm, kind, sweet, tender) don’t match.

I figured out that my attitude sort of stinks on this whole”thankfulness” topic while I was doing some reflective reading yesterday. The book has dated entries and this reading started with the same repetitious reminders that the author has addressed for the past 7 days: “be thankful in all circumstances”, “thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity”, “thank God frequently”, “thankfulness is a language of love”, “thanksgiving puts you in a proper relationship with God,” “fill your heart and mind with thankfulness”, “when your mind is occupied with thankfulness, you have no time for worrying or complaining.” Blah, Blah Blah. You get the idea. I was shocked at my response when I realized she was still stuck on this topic; a big eye roll. I mean, Thanksgiving is over lady! Let’s move on already!

I give you permission to pause it here and decide whether you want to continue reading what my bratty-sounding self has to say (maybe ever again!)…

For those of you who are still with me-I just have to say that I am not proud of this posture and it makes me feel like I have no right to write anything at all until I get my junk together. But I have learned a couple of things from writing a few hundred blogs. One, when I stop writing regularly, bad things happen in my soul (since the majority of what I write helps me first and you second. I can’t give away what I don’t possess). And two, when I share the stuff I am most ashamed to share, that’s when people seem to connect the most. I suppose I understand. I feel weird and isolated and crazy most of the time, and I don’t always find hope when I hear motivating talk from someone whose life seems spotless and never appears to struggle with “temporary insanity”-being tempted to live counter to what they know to be true in their heart. I just don’t relate and despair and self-pity take over.

So-what am I gonna do about my lack of “happy” feelings and my pessimistic, prickly emotions? Well, as I have said, awareness is the first step in making some changes. Now that I I am aware, I can make some phone calls and dialogue with people and God. And I can know that “this too shall pass”, because sometimes we just get in a funk for no apparent reason and we don’t have to flog ourselves over it.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll do what I need to do to get “better”. But even though I started this blog to confess my grouchy, juvenile attitude and maybe give some insight into how to “fix” it, I think that God has other intentions for it. What I hope you hear, is that “you’re not alone.” I am still here for you, still as messed up as ever, and I will walk next to you as we “trudge this happy road to destiny” together. Never, ever forget that.

Uncategorized

“Thanksgetting”

This is a post I wrote two years ago. I am itching to write this morning but baking and family are calling for my attention. So, here is some food for thought today. And its fat and calorie free…because if you are like me, you will need that margin as you graze and gorge for the next few days. 🙂 Love to you all. Couldn’t be more grateful for you.

One more thought ( you know I can’t help myself when my fingers get going on this keyboard)…Today. Decide what your primary purpose is and stick to it. Determine to be the best daughter, son, husband, wife, friend, relative, mother or father you can be and leave the rest to God. Live and let live. You live the way God wants you to and let others live how they are living today. They are doing the best they can with what they have. Relax and look for all the things you have to be grateful for instead of focusing on that pesky, irritating, drunk, irrational, loud, negative, bossy, controlling person at the Thanksgiving celebration location you will attend today. And just in case you have a pattern of being the person I described above, just for today, try to live in God’s will and plan for you. A plan that calls you to be gentle and kind in spirit. Loving others where they are at and minding your own business rather than theirs. Watching your words and holding them in if they might harm or hurt. Be who God made you to be and be patient with those who are still becoming enlightened to his way of life. And be grateful for what is before you. Who God has put in your life. It is all good.

 

THANKSGETTING (2015)

I don’t know if this is an official thing, but it should be: I think I have a “Thanksgiving-Food-Hangover”. Even though Thanksgiving itself was only ONE day and ONE meal, I have actually eaten Thanksgiving food in some form or fashion for the past FOUR days! When diet experts estimate the number of calories the average person consumes on Thanksgiving, I think, Oh, that’s not too terrible.” The main problem comes when we eat that meal about 7 more times after Thanksgiving! One of the ways I justified how much I ate this year was to remind myself that I raked 20 bags of leaves, all by myself, the day before. I am positive that I burned enough calories to carry over in to the next day. While I was raking, I put my headphones on and listened to Pandora. Since I am cheap, I have to listen to the bottom level (read: free) of music which includes occasional, very loud, commercials. I heard a commercial for a popular cell phone company advertising their deals for “Thanksgetting.” I could hardly believe my ears. I mean, I know this is typically how most of us think, but they actually had the guts to put a name to it! So, let’s just break this down a bit…

We call it Thanksgiving: a time to GIVE thanks. But really, if I am honest, i am a bit more focused on the “getting” part than the “giving” part. I like to think of myself as a pretty grateful, thankful person, but the when it comes down to it, I have to admit that my thankfulness is rather dependent on “getting” my way or “getting” what I want. I am very happy and grateful to get a new car or house or job. I am also quick to shoot up a prayer of thanks when my kids starts on the basketball team or when my daughter gets an A on that math test or my son gets in to the college of his choice. But how do I respond when I DON’T get what I want and DON’T get my way? Is my spirit still full of “thanks-giving” when I don’t get the job? Do I pout or feel ripped off or do I trust that it’s possible that God knows what I need better than I do? How do I act when my car breaks down or worse yet, when my kids don’t get what I think they deserve? Do I grumble? Do I throw a fit? Or do I thank God for the opportunity for us all to grow and learn through this and develeop the character that is only built through hardship. Throuh NOT getting what we want.

It’s been about 15 years, but I distinctly remember a friend of mine giving me some new insight into an old, often quoted verse. “Consider it all joy whenever you face trials of many kind, for the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” James 1:1 Did you catch that first word? CONSIDER. It means, “to regard (someone or something) as having a specified quality.” It means that even though it isn’t the typical response to trials, I can choose to CONSIDER it all JOY. I can only do this when I decide that I will GIVE THANKS, and develop the habit if “Thanks-giving” rather than “Thanks-gettting.” You may have heard the saying, “nothing is either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” We have a choice to consider our daily challenges opportunites for growth or to consider them a burden. It’s that simple. I have no control over my circumstances, but I absolutely have control of how I react to them. I learned this in a very real way when I had Leukemia. And if I can respond with joy and Thanksgiving in THAT scenario, i am pretty sure that any situation that arises can be an opportunity for “Thanks-giving”, if I “consider” it so. Continue reading ““Thanksgetting””

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, identity, insecurity, Trust

Post-Secret (or “what’s your secret?”)

I read a book in August, laying on the fake beach in downtown Chicago while my daughter and her friends went to Lollapalooza. This, for a 48 year old female who has almost fully raised three children and survived cancer, packs all the fun and excitement I need to thoroughly enjoy myself. Of course, it was some heavy content: Stephen Kings young adult book “Gwendy’s Button Box”. I read all 164 widely spaced pages in 2 days (don’t judge….I am a slow and simple reader). I have already talked about one of the books major themes in my blog on “English as a second Language” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/09/13/english-as-a-second-language/). I have been saving up the second one for a time that felt just right…now is that time I guess.

Let me give you the sentence from the book that has been stuck in my mind since August:

“Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.”

Gwendy has this thought as she becomes aware of the tremendous pressure she lives with after being given a box covered with buttons that hold power to control her immediate surroundings and even on the other side of the world. She has to keep it safe from others who might find it and use it for evil, as well as keep it safe from her own whims, fancies or resentment fantasies. She has been given strict instructions by the giver not to let anyone know about the box. It becomes a veritable weight-a constant burden and distraction as she tires to go about her life, trying to look and act normal. She is ever mindful, even as she dates and succeeds in school and sports, of her box and it’s safety, always worrying someone might find it or telling tales to her loved ones about where she is going so they won’t know she is checking on the box. The secret consumes her every thought.

Take a moment, or several, to think your your “box”, your biggest, scariest and darkest secret.

Does it “weigh on your mind and take up space in the world”? It probably won’t take you long to identify it, because it’s just always right there. Even when you are fooling others, you are not fooling yourself. And it is slowly crushing you. Robbing you of your freedom and your joy. Causing you to be imprisoned by your fear that someone might figure our your hiding spot. You can’t let people too close because wonder if you slip up or let yourself be vulnerable and you give away it’s hiding place. You have imagined it over and over-the potential outcomes if this should happen: people might think you’re an ogre, a hypocrite, a monster, a victim, someone unlovable, disgusting, unredeemable, unforgivable, unworthy. They might reject and shame you. These possibilities keep your resolve to hide it in strong force. You protect it at all costs. And that cost is pretty high.

What reignited my thoughts on this topic, was an event my husband arranged for us to attend last month. I thought more people were aware of this New York Times best seller than there actually are. When I told people we were going to hear Frank Warren, the author of the “Post-Secret” book at the college, most had never heard of him or the book. We have had this book as a coffee table book for at least 10 years. And fun fact that I learned at the event: Frank Warren grew up in Springfield, Illinois (any of you Springfielders know him?). Here’s the premise: in 2004 he passed out post cards to strangers with his home address on it, inviting them to share a secret. The only rules were that “it had to be true and it had to be something they had never shared with anyone before.” It’s also anonymous. After the first week he posted a few of them online and had 1,000 views. After week two he posted a few more and had 10,000 views. After week three, there were 100,000 viewers. The rest is history. Look it up. Today he has millions of postcards, filling an entire room, stacked almost to the ceiling.

I attended this event the night before I was to do one of my first “talks” to a local group of about 50 women. It reinforced that what I say and why I write is not only necessary for me, but for countless others who have often thought, “I am the only one.” The despair that comes from feeling like we are alone in our brokenness, our pain, our secrets, is crushing. It causes physical and mental illness, loneliness and even death in our churches, our schools and our town every single day. When we have secrets and keep them we slowly deteriorate. In Recovery programs there is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets.” You cannot work the 12 steps successfully without passing through the steps that help you puke that junk out and let someone love you in spite of them. We have to reveal our secrets to God (which is redundant, since I believe He already knows), ourselves (which means we have to be alone with ourselves and reflect once in awhile) and to another person (the key to freedom and release).

Frank Warren continues to offer hope by giving people this same opportunity. He says, “secrets have stories; they can also offer truths. After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us.”

At the end of the event he opened up 2 microphones and invited people to share their Post-Secret live. There were lines curled around the corner and at one point he had to cut it off for sake of time. People were brave and cried and hugged perfect strangers, and some, their best friend who they had kept this secret from. That is the reality of our world. Even though some of us have what we consider a “best friend”, we are still in hiding and living in shame and fear, always trying to figure out the safest hiding place for our secret.

So, maybe today is the day of freedom for you. Or at least the beginning of it. Maybe you could start by sharing it anonymously with Frank (Post-Secret 13345 Copper Ridge Rd/ Germantown, Maryland 20874). But eventually, I think sharing it with a person with skin in who can look you in the eye and tell you “you’re not alone and you are still worthy of love”, will give you the most freedom. You have to be discerning about who that person is. Discretion is important, as well as the potential impact on the other person. Unloading the burden of your secret onto someone else who might be devastated by it, is not loving or wise. Pray about it. Seek counsel. Your goal must be for you to be free, but not at the expense of putting someone else into captivity.

I want to close this out by sharing a quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I practically have it memorized, because I think it applies to anyone willing to expose the darkest places of their past in order to bring light and warmth to their present:

“We should be only too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seems worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession we have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them” (and for ourselves, I might add).

(A portion of all Post-Secret proceeds having been going to Suicide Prevention since the first of 5 books published in 2005. Don’t let your secret bring you to such a place…)

Faith/Spirituality, grace, Serenity

Jedi-Mind Treatment

The other day, after trying to talk both of us off the ledge of a particularly frustrating situation, my husband asked me, “why do you always see the bright side?”. That’s when I had to confess that even though I just rattled off a bunch of “bright side” jargon, I actually woke up on the Dark Side that very morning. After a few decades, I have finally learned that when I am disturbed, short-tempered, or enraged at minor inconveniences, things that don’t go my way or let say, heavy objects falling off the table directly on my big toe, it’s a pretty strong sign that there is something boiling inside me (and it’s probably been percolating for an unrecognized-while ).

What is even more disturbing, is how quickly my mood, my outlook on my circumstances can vacillate from one end of the continuum to the other. That morning, I was having a toddler-seque tantrum over some pretty lame “stuff”, which triggered me to go on a rant to God about how my life was a phat joke and nothing ever goes my way and why does everyone else seem to get what they want but I certainly never do!?!?!

I knew even as I was driving that I was setting myself up to feel stupid for my lack of perspective. You see, I was driving to a hearing for a young man who has been in jail-has not seen the literal light of day-for a year. The lesson I was about to be served hung out there, taunting me, but I still couldn’t manage to pull myself together. I just kept mouthing off, right up to the point where I put my two quarters into the parking meter for the guy parked behind me! Just one more bit of evidence that my life was indeed jinxed by God (thinking about this in hind sight is pretty comical, not to mention embarrassing).

And then God, who I frequently doubt and question about whether or not he gives a lick about me my meager little life, showed up in lights. As I sat in that courtroom with 2 others, we silently begged God to do what was best for this young man, but let him know what we really wanted was freedom. We prayed that he fill this judge with mercy. And guess what? In spite of every single bit of evidence that made his lawyer’s request sound like a long shot (he had already told us as much) and completely impractical, absurd, unlikely and possibly even dangerous, she approved it. I can’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that an hour later, he got his picture taken outside, with the brilliant fall sunshine beaming down on his pale skin.

I have never witnessed a miracle this directly. I felt like God did some sort of Jedi-Mind-Treatment on the courtroom that day. Ya know, like in Star Wars when the guards as Obi-Wan for Luke and his companions identification he says, “You don’t need to see their identification” and the guards respond “We don’t need to see their identification, move along!”. That’s how the Jedi-Mind-Treatment works, and that’s how crazy it was that this dear boy walked out of that courtroom to a new type of freedom. Made no sense at all; God’s crazy like that.

And in the afterglow of experiencing this miracle, it only took me about 2 hours to swing back to the Dark Side over something if such little significance I won’t even bother to bring it up.

In all this, I guess my point is that, as I have mentioned before, we are all broken and jacked-up and human, and this is most likely going to happen again and again and again. I am not proud of how easily I lose perspective and how demanding and childish and ungrateful I can be. But maybe God understands us better than we think. He knows I love him madly, but occasionally behave badly. And He extends that same mercy to me that I witnessed Him extending through that Judge. And He extends it to you too.

“His mercies are new every morning…every day it’s true, He makes all his mercies new.”

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, fear, grace, Growth, identity, leadership

True North or North-ish?

This is an excerpt from a talk I did last week at Illlinois Women in Leadership event. Even if you are not a woman from Illinois or not a woman at all, I would hope you could find something helpful in it…

 

So, since we only have about 15 to 20 minutes together, I figure it’s best if we just bypass the formalities and just cut to the chase. Since the overarching theme of my book is vulnerability, we might as well begin with less glamorous and rather embarrassing nuance of the back-story of my journey here today. When Mia invited me to speak at this event a couple of months ago, my immediate answer was yes! I would love to! SO I came to the luncheon last month to get a feel for how this event runs and meet some of you. I still felt fairly confident, until Kelly Hurst, the speaker, opened her mouth.Suddenly My answer changed. I started to panic and frantically scanned the room for Linda Jones so I could tell her with my eyes, “I’ve changed my mind! I don’t want to do this anymore!”. I instantly compared myself to her and determined that I did not measure up. How could I compete with that? As if that were the point of any of this.

I tell you this story because, in a nutshell, that’s what I do. That’s what I write about. The parts of me that are messed up and immature and hard to say outloud. I share what I have learned and how I have learned it; and apparently I learn life’s most important lessons through suffering. Through Circumstances that don’t go my way. Through hitting bottom and fighting my way back up. But ya know what else I have learned by sharing it on paper? i am not the only one. OTHER people have responded and confirmed that I am not alone in my crazy, My insecurities and my failures. So I keep writing. Because even though my disease of Leukemia is in remission, my disease of the SOUL is chronic. I have PLENTY of material, let me tell you!

Before I got cancer in 2015 and simultaneously battled with a family member’s addiction, I would say I was a decent leader. I read leadership books and went to leadership conferences and launched and maintained several women’s study groups at church for 20 years. I wasn’t TERRIBLE at it but I do feel that sometimes there are things about ourselves, our soul and our character, that can only be discovered when the fire comes. There is simply no other way to face them.

You may have heard the leadership refer to a book that was chosen to encapsulate this year’s IWIL theme. It’s called True North. I would say that prior to 2015, before I was forced to face my True and broken self, I lived a life that was North-ish. On paper I had a few skills, credentials and experiences that seemed to define a leader, but there were some deeper ingredients to leadership that I was lacking. They are actually both on the list of the key components True North identifies as necessary to be an authentic leader: The first is Self-Awareness.

My book is called Soul-Selfie because prior to my world being turned upside down by some pretty horrific circumstances, I spent a lot more time taking pictures of other peoples’ lives and either judging their bad behavior or, if they seemed to have it more together than me, trying to emulate them. When I came face to face with diseases of cancer, a loved one’s addiction and the abrupt abandonment of many life-long friends as a result, I somehow managed to turn that camera back on myself. Through these snapshots, these “selfies”, I became acutely aware of my own disease of the soul, marked by control, worry, fear, greed, jealousy and judmentalism, just to name a few. I realized that working on myself is a full-time job. These Soul-Selfies were the key to getting to the root of all the character defects that that were inhibiting my ability to effectively lead others anywhere that mattered.

Being self-aware, means we are intentional about regularly gauging our mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health. As a person who is fairly driven and admittedly often obsessed with being productive, I have to get pretty sick in these areas before I give myself permission to shut down. To take necessary rest and recovery time. Leukemia is one pretty effective way to do it, though I don’t recommend it. But it’s VITAL that we remember to assess these areas in us, or we will end up like so many leaders-dried up, exhausted and empty. I heard a story a few years ago that still threatens my serenity to this day. A speaker was talking about how a few years before, she said goodbye to her kids as they went off to school, went inside and got in bed and didn’t get up for 6 months! A full-on breakdown in every area descended on her out of nowhere-or so she thought. But she had been burning the candle at both ends and ignoring all signs and symptoms that might have helped her prevent such a breakdown. My counselor, when he is encouraging me to pay attention to myself and do the work necessary to stay “fit” in my head and heart, reminds me that I will do it it at some point, and I can either do it standing up or laying down; while doing regular life or lying in a hospital bed. But I will do it. He suggests that since I have already done it laying down once, I might want to take extra precaution to make sure it doesn’t have to happen again.

But as a good friend always say, “I don’t have to live that way anymore.” Today I do it differently. Or at least try to. Today I lead by being real, honest and steadfast through life’s trials, not by trying to be impressive or eloquent or more put together than anybody else. I am paying better attention to myself. I am acutely aware that being and becoming a leader is an inside job.
Another major component of leadership addressed in True North is the importance of having a support team. Through some pretty painful experiences over the past several years, I have learned that a support team does not just cheer you on in your leadership quest and applaud your successes and accomplishments, rather they come alongside you when you are at your weakest. When you have screwed it up and strayed off the path and have confessed that you are actually scared out of your mind and intimidated by others most of the time. They celebrate with you or cry with you or, if you give them permission, will tell you when you are being a jack-Marack. You know what I mean. That support team will also curl up next to you and cup your face in their hands, looks you dead in the eye and tell you that “your not the only one”and that who you are today is “enough”. They remind you again and again that when you lead with vulnerability and humility and authenticity, people will follow.

So let’s start wrapping this gift up… when we share our story in a way that might inspire, motivate, awaken or draw others out of their trance, we call that leadership. But the reality is, that as I stand up here and speak, you are witnessing the end result of countless hours of thought and prayer and introspection and wrestling (and just a tiny bit of crying). And all leadership ultimately starts like that. in private and in a series of tiny, yet profound decisions and actions. You have probably heard the saying: ‘romance starts in the kitchen” meaning, a person is crazy if they think that how they treat a partner throughout the day-whether or not they take out the trash help with dinner or dishes or baths-has no correlation between the intimacy they should expect in the bedroom that night. The foreplay starts at breakfast, whether we know it or not. In the same way, leadership is not about the end result, whether or not we “score” at the end of the day. It starts on the couch with a cup of coffee at 6:30 in the morning (ok, who am I kidding-more like 7 after I have hit snooze 5 or 6 times) where you sit in quiet prayer and mediation or read from authors who challenge and encourage you. Or at night when you review your day and determine where you might need to make an amends to someone you snapped at or inwardly rolled your eyes at that morning. Or when you choose to tell the truth instead of telling a lie in order to save face. Or when you listen, really listen to that friend who is struggling and tell her you know how she feels, that you struggle too. Or when you respond with a smile and a kind spirit to that co-worker who just seems to stomp on your last nerve on a daily basis. Or when you celebrate the good in other people’s lives instead feeling jealous or ripped off. Or when you choose to let your rotten circumstances make you better rather than bitter. Or when you learn that you are the only person you are ultimately responsible for, and give other people the dignity of being themselves, even when they don’t do things your way.😝

My point is-taking regular Soul-Selfies keeps us rooted in the soil that helps us flourish as a leader. Who we are when no one’s looking matters first. It trumps every skill or credential or positive review. As they say, it takes years to develop and establish a reputation as an effective and memorable leader, but only seconds to destroy it. Our character and our actions are permanent. And in order to lead in the way that I think most of us in this room desire to lead, we have to be self aware and surround ourselves with people who know our deepest flaws and love us anyway. Men and women who help us resurrect our dead or dying places to spur others on in strength and redemption. We have to use the good, the bad and the ugly to inspire a movement of women who lead with a power and a passion that is unbreakable.

I have some books here today. One of my favorite things about it is the cover. It’s a collage of my support team. Readers, friends and family who walk along side me and help my compass continue to point to it’s true north. Every single picture is a selfie. A few of my doctors are even on it. Most of which apparently spend a lot more time investing in saving people’s lives than learning how take selfies with their I Phone…whatever. I think I had to take a selfie with my oncologist and then edit me out. Hey-we can’t all be good at everything.

It’s really important for me to tell you, that even though it’s sort of my story, this isn’t a book about ME. It’s about YOU. Or rather, a book about ME AND YOU and how we are all in this together. It’s a book that will help you establish the foundation on which you build your leadership. I am a realtor also, and one thing I have seen over and over in negotiating contracts, is that if the foundation of a home is compromised, all bets are off. Nothing sends buyers running for the hills more than a crack or bulge in the foundation. If that can’t or won’t be remedied by the seller, buyers will just keep looking. If your foundation, which is to say, your character and identity, is not firm, Is not solid, your leadership will be fleeting at best. Because the truth has an uncanny way of rising to the surface, no matter how hard we work to disguise it or distract people with our fancy words or sparkly personalities. Who you are when no one’s looking will not stay a secret forever. You may be very very busy. From what I have heard around these tables, I am convinced we are busier and more productive than most people out there. But in that busyness, be mindful that our success as a leader, at least in the long run, has to be grounded in our humility and willingness to look inward regularly and learn from others. Daily reflection of some sort is crucial if we want to stand the test of time and pressure from such a calling, If we want our legacy to incite a burning IN others as opposed to a burning UP of ourselves and all we are passionate about.

I try my best not to boss people around, but I do want to boss you a bit about how to read it. It’s designed to be a daily reading of sorts. Each entry is one or two pages long because that’s about as long as I can focus. My vision for you is that you keep it next to your bed or your favorite chair with a pen resting on top. I want you to read it and underline it and practice what it says. If that means you read the same entry every day for a week, so be it. When you are done reading the whole book, repeat. I know it sounds weird, but occasionally I read myself and just weep as if I have never read it before. As if it weren’t my own life I was getting a glimpse of. I would think, “If only I could be as wise and discerning as her…”. On a side note, you know you have a real problem when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re STILL not good enough ( I wrote an entire blog on that topic!). ANYWAY- I have several books in my little library that I regularly order for other people, because I guard with vigilance my own personal copy. Some of them are practically falling apart or have every sentenced underlined from 10 years of re-reading. I now have to resort to using various colored pens, in order to differentiate the time frame in which I underline significant words or powerful sections. That’s what I want your book to look like. Like I said, This book is a compilation of the first hundred-ish blogs I wrote when I got Leukemia. When you get your fill of the book, You can go to heathercarterwrites.com to read a couple hundred more. The disease of leukemia is what GOT me writing. The disease of the soul is what KEEPS me writing.

The Book can be found on Amazon or I will be selling and signing them here for 10$. I especially love to sign them for anyone you know who is currently battling cancer or the family Disease of addiction. I don’t promote this book to make money. In fact, last time I checked I am in the hole because I just keep giving books away!

I published this book so I can get this specific message to as many people as possible: that we are all recovering from something, whether it’s the disease of cancer, addiction or the disease of soul that haunts us all. But there is always hope and you are not alone. So I hope you will either read the book or just go to my site and read the blogs. And think of who you might know who would be encouraged by someone who has been there, done that.

So, one final thought: As I was prepping this morning, I read this quote and I want to put it in your head as we leave here today, because there’s a chance that some of you know you have the makings of a leader, but are holding back, waiting for people or your situation to change in order for you to act on it. But please hear me, “never allow the thought, ‘I am of no use where I am’, because you certainly can be of no use where you are not.”

Wherever God has dumped you down in your current circumstances, this is where your leadership journey begins.

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

Pull yourself together!

“Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.”
-Elizabeth Taylor

Recently a friend gave me an adorable make-up pouch with that quote on it. I do whole-heartedly agree that lipstick is the cornerstone of all cosmetic collections, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s been some wildness going on in my head and heart lately, and today, as I admitted to God that I felt like I was going insane, He narrowed the tornado in my head down to the eye and in one word revealed the problem: control (or lack there-of).

You see, I have this chronic disease of trying to control; of trying to make people places and things around me OK so I can be OK. This approach leaves very little time and energy to enjoy my own life and explore what God has designed me to be and keeps me focused on, and actually obsessed, with the behavior, choices, lifestyle, successes, failures, problems, disappointments, and fears of people around me. Usually the ones I love the most. The problem is tow-fold, however. I am not the only one who suffers in this scenario. No one likes to feel that they are responsible for someone else’s well-being. And no one likes to be told-or as I like to say “encouraged”-to live their life according to someone elses’ plan. As a result, they end up feeling resentful and disrespected and certainly not loved.

After I prayed (more like “cried out” or “vented”) about how I felt like I was going crazy and simple could not handle all the problems and challenges my loved ones are facing, God finally showed up. Or should I say, I finally hit my bottom and surrendered, admitting that my way wasn’t working and He could finally get a word in…ya, maybe that’s more like it. A few quotes from my Recovery reading for today that helped me see clearly why my peace of mind had blown clean away:

“Surrender does not mean submission-it means I’m willing to stop fighting reality, to stop trying to do God’s part, and to do my own.”

“The best way I’ve found to invite serenity is to recognize that the world is in good hands.”

“Today I can be grateful that the earth will continue to revolve without any help from me. I am free to live my own life, safe in the knowledge that a Higher Power is taking care of the world, my loved ones and myself.”

“There is only one person I am responsible for, and that is me. There is only one person who can make my life as full as possible-that too, is me…today I will keep hands off and keep my focus where it belongs, on me.”

After I went to the index and read every single reading on surrender and control (about 10 readings-apparently other people struggle with this same disease), I had clarity for the first time in a long time. At the bottom of the page for today’s reading I wrote, “it feels irresponsible to enjoy my life unless my loved ones are enjoying theirs.” This belief is one I need to kick-out if I am ever to embrace and find joy in my one and only life.

I have to remember that God doesn’t have grandkids, He just has kids. And when I try to impose my Will on others, either directly by offering advice they didn’t ask for or indirectly (by praying to God that He do with them what I want done) then I am interfering with His perfect plan for them and missing out on His beautiful, exhilarating and personal plan for me.

It shoudn’t suprise me that when I went to my reading for today, Oswald Chambers entitled today’s entry, “Pull Yourself Together.” He wrote that in 1935, waaaaay before Elizabeth Taylor. His point was basically, “God is God and you are not.” And He’s “got this.”

awareness, Brokenness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth, identity

Down to go up

My brain is hurting a little. I have been reading (and I am still in the introduction after a couple of weeks) a book called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It makes perfect sense and at the same time is really hard to explain. The concept is profoundly simple, but it is stretching my mind to figure out how to narrow down such a huge concept into 500 words or less. I’ll try to summarize it  and then I suggest you just go buy the book.

The author, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, poses the possibility that there are two halves of life, and that the second half comes when we move from surviving to thriving. It doesn’t mean that it will happen exactly halfway through our life-time, obviously. In Richard Rohr for Dummies lingo (since this is the only way I know to explain or understand him) it means that the thriving part of life comes after we play the first half of the survival game, regroup, refocus and refresh during a symbolic “half-time”, and then burst out, guns-blazing, into the second half.

It’s during this second-half living that we discover “the task within the task,” or what Rohr calls “what we are doing when we are doing what we are doing.” Life becomes more acutely about the how than the what. How we go about our daily duties and fulfill our responsibilities. Are we focused on the results more than the integrity of how we get there? If so, we are still stuck in first-half living. Mere survival. As Rohr puts it, “integrity largely has to do with purifying our intentions and a growing honesty about our actual motives. It is hard work. Most often we do’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks”. In laymens terms, “ya gotta go down to go up.”

Ugh. I don’t like that. And I suspect I have lost a few of you as well. Many of us want to live with this “second-half” mindset, but at the same time, also want comfortable habits, a steady income, and stress/problem free lives. If getting to this second-half living is a result of being purified and strengthened through trials, we’d rather stay in the locker room, thank you very much.

Well, fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t usually have a choice in the matter. Some kind of falling, what Rohr calls a “necessary suffering” is programmed into the journey. It’s not that suffering or failure might happen, it’s that it will happen, and to you! These are all part of the human journey whether we like it or not. The question for each of us is how we choose to react to it. Will we dig our heals in, straining to maintain life as we have always done it. Desperate to fight it off or avoid rocking the boat we have been sailing for the first half of our lives?

Or do we choose to embrace the opportunity to embark on a new adventure? An expedition of uncharted territory? We fall into this new way of living. You have to go down to go up, as they say. But it’s worth the risk.

I know this, because I have done it. Or it has been done unto me (not to be confused with being done to me). I have been faced with many sorrows, betrayals, upheavals, and the literal threat of death itself. Am I different as a result? You bet your bippy I am. But I am not just different, I am new. I still struggle with many of the same character defects, but today I have perspective and new tools to approach the second half of my life with a new pair of glasses. The “lenses” through which I view life have been drastically altered. And as much as I hate to say it out loud, I know that I know that I know that I it has only come as a result of suffering. I am who I am because of what I have had to dredge through. And even though I don’t wish it to come again, I also don’t resent or regret any of it.

It has made me who I am today and most of the time, I kinda like the new me.
(Dangit-that was 726 words 😕)

awareness, Brokenness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

You are aware….(or are you?)

I started off thinking I was going to talk about attitude adjustment. Not that I need one, or anything. Just in case someone else might need one and hey, I’m here to serve. 😉 But as I did a few readings, I realized I need to back it up a bit and talk about the first step in adjusting and attitude: awareness. It’s been awhile since I read the way I used to, where I read 3 dated entries from 3 different books. Today I decided to do that and as you can probably guess, the word aware/awareness literally popped up in every single one. It makes me smile when God makes the message so obvious. He must’ve known I needed extra assistance today…

AWARENESS: That’s the word of the day. Write it down and then ask yourself, or a few friends, family members or co-workers, “how aware are you?”. Are you aware of the areas of your character, your behavior, your perspective on your circumstances that need attention?  Would you or those you ask say that maybe, just maybe, there are one or two things about your attitude that could use some tweaking?

Until we are aware of what needs to change in us, there will be no growth. Becoming aware isn’t easy. The best, or at least the most preferred and softest way, to spur change is through a gentle whisper or nudge from God to pursue it. Sometimes that is called feeling “convicted”. God has some work to do on you and he has let you know in a way you are ready to accept and spend time working on.

But alas, most of us have to come to this awareness by being jolted out of our ignorant stupor by something akin to being hit by a Mack Truck. We are going along, feeling like we are pretty awesome, when a spouse, a child, a friend or mentor expresses concern or displeasure about a particular character defect in us. It stings and we are wounded at first, then angry and defensive, but in the end are at least willing to entertain the possibility that we aren’t as awesome as we thought. The process of rooting out, fine tuning and tweaking our weaknesses begins.

Probably the most effective and horrific way we become aware of our messed-up-selves, is through an enemy. This just makes my skin crawl. it’s excruciating to be sent truth through the mouth of someone who doesn’t love us or want the best for us. There goal is to hurt or maim, but if we are able to ask ourselves the hard question, “is there any truth to what they are saying about me?”, we might see, or become aware, that our selfishness, arrogance, impatience, abruptness, indifference, or thoughtless words were part of what sculpted this enemy.

Sometimes, when I read over past blog posts or a few chapters of my book, I see strong, repeated patterns regarding worry, fear, control, judmentalism. I think, “What is wrong with me that I don’t seem to be able to apply the truths I write about and get better once and for all!?”. I am a work in progress for sure. But without being confronted with the hard circumstances of betrayal, addiction, cancer and other challenges that have come my way over the past few years, I don’t think I would even be aware that those demons were lurking inside me. And without awareness there is no hope of transformation. And even though change is hard, and often slow, I would rather be aware of where my life-attitudes need adjustment than to be clueless, ignorant and in denial.

All this change and growth takes time. And usually they are tiny and subtle. But as my recovery book says, “gradually, and at first imperceptibly, our outlook (attitude) shifts”. But time is a gift. “Time offers me evidence” that what I am doing is working. This evidence of changed behavior over time, provides reinforcement and “strong support in times of doubt and helps boost my courage in times of fear.”

It gave me chills when, reading with great anticipation, I came across the word “awareness” in my September 18th entry of Jesus calling. I knew immediately that this line was offering the principle that makes all of the above possible. Author Sarah Young uses Jesus’ words in scripture to say “It is so important to stay in communication with Me, living in thankful awareness of My Presence.” Without a dependent and grateful relationship with a Being who can do miracles, even in me, I will just be spinning my wheels and remain indefinitely stuck in my oblivion.