Addiction, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality

English as a second language…

Tonight I am teaching a portion of an “English as a second language” class at a local community college. I am excited and nervous due to the obvious fact that I am not an English teacher and still battle being convinced that I am a “real writer”.

I have gone around and around in my mind about what to say, what to read and whether I should just feign illness and save us all a lot of embarrassment. But, alas, I think I have settled on a couple things I write about that I find to be universally true, regardless of what language you are fluent in.

First, and I plan to test this tonight with college students from around the world, I believe that we are all affected by the disease of cancer, addiction and plages of the heart. I am fairly certain that we don’t get a pass just because we don’t live in America. In fact, it is precisely because some don’t live in America that they may battle these diseases and then some. We are, as we know, pretty spoiled here in America when it comes right down to it. But the comradery that comes from shared pain or trials bridges any language barrier. As different as our cultures might be from one another, our humanity, our longings, our sorrows and our dreams bond us at our roots, where all growth and fresh life begins.

And second, I want to impress upon them, and upon all my readers, that their “voice”, in any language, has the power to influence their own personal world and the world at large. Last month I read a creepy little book by Stephen King called “Gwendy’s Button Box”. I haven’t done any research, on purpose, to find out what statement King was trying to make about the Box covered in buttons (buttons Gwendy could push at her discretion to make good, bad or tragic things happen). But here is what it represents to me: power to influence. The button box, which on the last page King reveals is symbolic of the girl’s typewriter, is a tool that can be used to share words, stories and insights that are positive, negative or downright terrible.

No matter what language you speak, the language of your heart will always shine through. What message are you sending when you type? When you text? When you post? Is it a positive one that gives strength and life to the receiver? Or is it a terrible one, shredding someone’s reputation or stealing joy and hope from those who read? From your very fingertips you proclaim edicts that have power to wound or heal.

Learning to speak English if you live in an English speaking country (just like anyone living in a country that doesn’t speak English should follow suit and learn the native tongue) is important because your “voice” is important. What you have to say and being clear in how you say it matters.

But your soul-message, which comes from the heart of who you are, matters above all things. The reason I keep writing and speaking wherever and whenever I am asked, is to help all people find and stay connected to their own personal message, no matter where they live or what their dialect.
***(This post is being posted post event…and remember the “test” I told you about? They passed with flying colors. It has been confirmed that people from Thailand, Venezuela, Mexico, El Salvador, Peru, the Congo and the Ivory Coast have also been affected by the diseases of alcoholism, cancer and plagues of the heart.

We are indeed all in this together.

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

An exception to the yoga rule

I don’t have any hard evidence for this, but I believe it to be true in most cases; for every rule/principle, there is an exception. And here’s mine in regards to the Yoga blog I wrote a couple days ago (read now if you missed it or this will make no sense): Even though that blog implored you to be fully present in your moments, there are simply some moments (phases, stretches, seasons) in your life when you need to be somewhere else. In your mind, that is.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it, but as I was playing the devil’s advocate to being fully engaged in our lives as they are happening, I realized that there have been some experiences in my own life that were I not able to get outside of and beyond my immediate circumstances by going somewhere else in my mind, I would have shriveled up, withered away or been left for dead.

When I was diagnosed with Leukemia is obviously the biggest exception to this rule. I still accepted the reality of my circumstances (which is vital for living differently in spite of them), but I chose to focus and spend my energy hoping for the future and making beauty out of the pile of ashes that was handed to me. When negative, cruel or hurtful people spoke words to me (or about me or my family members) I chose to listen to anything that I needed to address in myself and discard the rest. I could decide to not embrace or receive hate and instead listen to the words of grace and mercy that God and those I love “speak” over me.

Maybe a parent or a spouse has abused you verbally or physically. Do not live in those moments. Accept them as reality, get outside help when necessary, and by every and all means, reject those attempts to damage and scar your soul and self-worth. Or maybe it’s more subtle. Maybe a boss or coworker or a so-called friend regularly criticizes, critiques or oppresses you. Do not engage. Do not receive it into your Being.
I am sure there are many, many more examples of horrid situations that you could fill in here. But hopefully you hear me when I give you this exception to the rules of engagement. Sometimes you have to live above and beyond the immediate circumstances so you don’t give up hope or internalize lies disguised as truth.

When it comes to moments like this, it’s OK if you can’t touch your toes. 👣

Addiction, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Reading myself

In one week I am doing a reading and book signing at a local Cafe (Cafe MOXO- 411 E Adams St. Springfield, IL) from 4:00-6:00pm…Come see me with a couple friends! I have done a book signing before, but never a “reading”. I am not really sure what that part is going to look like, to be honest. I am certain, however, that this will require me to “read” my own work. And I am terrified and sort of nauseous just thinking about it. I have a couple fears that I am sure you will find perfectly understandable. One, that I will find typos and that will make me crazy. I proof-read everything dozens of times, but I am only human. And WORD doesn’t seem to be any smarter or more observant than I am! And two, that my writing actually stinks. That I was given the ultimate cancer pass and people were just being polite because “bless her heart, she has cancer and has convinced herself that she can write.”

So I keep putting it off because not only do I have to read what I have written, I also have to talk about it. Oh dear, I just realized a new fear-I have to speak in front of people! If you know me, you I know i have done this many times before, but now I can’t ramble or joke or muddle my way through it like a ditzy blonde (I think I feel a fever coming on…🤒).

Let me run a few things by you, and maybe I will be a bit more confident and ready to put myself out there by next Wednesday. If I give you the inside scoop on what I plan to say, do you promise you will still come to hear me? (I need to see your familiar, smiling faces….)

1.This is not my cancer story. This is a book I wrote about me that is ultimately about you. It started off as an informative blog about my Leukemia status, and quickly moved to our shared diseases of worry, fear, control, etc. I don’t think any of us saw that coming. I was shocked, and maybe you were too, that what I wrote from a hospital bed could touch, challenge or inspire someone in their everyday life.

2. Cancer, addiction and the disease of the soul levels the playing field. We all battle these deadly diseases at some level. If we keep this at the forefront of our mind and spirit, we can stop walking around like we are better than or worse than the people around us. We all struggle with something that is trying to get the best of us, perhaps even kill us. We are not unique in our “condition”. We are most definitely not the only one fighting our particular battle. We can embrace the comradery that comes from knowing and believing that we are “not the only one”.

3. You are worthy now. Just typing that truth makes my eyes well up with tears. Maybe it’s because I forget it so often or that I suspect that you do too. We are all working so blasted hard to be ok. To be enough. To be accepted and loved. To be “in”. But as a friend of mine says pretty regularly, “we are never gonna be anything more than human.” Life is a series of trials and errors and lessons. And class is never over. But, we can rest in the assurance that even though we will most definitely never arrive at perfection, we are exactly who are are supposed to be at this very moment. We are, as vulnerability researcher Brene Brown puts it, “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love an belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

4. I love you. You heard me. I truly do. One of my core values can be summed up in a reading from Recovery literature: “Though you may not like all of us, you will love us in a very special way, the same way we already love you.” Isn’t that the truth? We aren’t going to like everyone, but if we keep in mind that we every person on this planet is battling to recover from the effects of horrific diseases such as cancer, addiction and a plethora of plagues that are trying to destroy our souls, we can maintain a love that surpasses like.

5. God’s got this. Whatever your understanding of God is, it is imperative that you invite him to do life with you. Or I guess, that you join him in doing your life. He knows and sees, and that’s not a threat. It’s a promise. As important as it is for us to rely on each other, it is vital that we “get God in there”. Turn your will and your circumstances over to him every moment of every day. Remember the mantra I wrote about a few months back: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.”

So…That should get us started, don’t ya think? I hope I see you there. Who do you know whose heart could use a message like this?

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?

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality

A Divine Shearing

We make countless appointments without giving a second thought about how it will fit into the divine plan for the universe. We act as if we are making them because the time slot and day of the week is convenient for us. Thank goodness that even though we make random choices without considering God whatsoever, He still sticks to the plan. Luckily, we still get to be a part of it. I was reminded of this yesterday when I showed up for my appointment to get my very long, grown out (and gray-laced) hair colored.

I settled myself in my swively little chair and spun myself around (because yes, I am like a 3 yr. old). I hadn’t noticed that there was only one other client in the salon besides me. I froze my spinning self when I saw it: the back of her head was splotchy, a smattering of long brown tendrils, intermixed with sections of bare, smooth scalp. The clippers were already sliding up one side and down the other. I didn’t speak. Or I couldn’t speak, maybe. I remembered vividly the day I lost my blond (dread) locks. I think a weed eater might have been more efficient than the clippers at that juncture. As you may know, I had a TON of hair, long and thick. It never had a chance to get thin and sparse and blotchy because a cocktail of Leukemia Chemo and being intubated and heavily drugged up in ICU did the job for me in only one week. We tried to pour an entire bottle of conditioner on it to detangle and brush it out, but it was too little too late. But enough about my sad hair loss story (thank you for obliging my trip down memory/leukemia lane)…

I waited until the job was done before I spoke up. While I was waiting I had pulled up a lovely picture of me; cue-ball bald. When she turned her chair to face the mirror, to see herself for the first time as the stereotypical cancer patient, I asked her if she would mind if I showed her something. At her nod, I showed her my photo and said, “this was me three years ago.” Then we both burst into tears and hugged a lot longer than one usually hugs a complete stranger. We spent time talking about cancer and how it came and how mine had gone and we believed hers will too.

It was a sentimental and sacred experience. A “God-thing” as I like to call it. One that I think she needed and I know I needed. Because, and this is really my point of telling you this, I absolutely cling to what I have read in recovery literature, “that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.” I write about this a lot. In fact, it’s the very reason I started writing and keep writing. If we cannot use our excruciating experiences, crappy circumstances or our struggles and successes with battling the chronic plagues of the hearth (fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, etc.), it’s all for naught. Some choose to shrivel up and wallow in self-pity and despair and bitterness. I have seen it and been tempted to go there. But what I have found, is that the alternative for the shriveling and wallowing, though it may not be easy, is to shed some light in the dark tunnel of someone else’s battle with the same.

That’s how God redeems the trauma. The illness. The divorce. The death. The addiction. The rebellion.

Some of you have come out of the dark into the light. So shine the light of hope on others who can’t yet see it. And you both will be blessed.

Some of you, maybe the majority of you, live your days like an Alaskan in December, with about 6 hours of daylight and the rest if the time in sheer blackness. You have glimmers of hope here and there, but are keenly aware that even though the sun peeks out on occasion, the darkness is daunting and certain. And yet, even when the bright side of life is fleeting for now, you at least get intermittent relief from the clouds cover. Don’t believe the lie that you have to wait until “summer” to share your strength and hope you have occasionally experienced, even during your personal cold, harsh “winter”.

God has comforted me in my turmoil. In my cancer days for sure, but also in the before and after. As you may have noted, life is tough, always. God comforts me in my affliction so that I in turn can comfort someone else. He helps me learn from my circumstances so that I can say, “you’re not the only one and there is hope” to those who are suffering.

“When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light.” -Oswald Chambers

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

EVERYTHING

The church I go to has a Word: Everyone. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome. Everyone matters to God and to the church. There are no exceptions (which, I guess the word Everyone implies…). I love that theme, that reminder. As I was thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that my blog has a similar theme. If our churches theme is Everyone, my writing theme is Everything. In the past I wrote about how my blog was about “Nothing”, sort of like the sitcom Seinfeld. In reality, though, both my blog and Seinfeld are about both: Nothing and Everything simultaneously. They address and poke fun and bring to our attention the commonality amount humans. There are everyday events that often go unnoticed but when pointed out, are mutually hilarious and sometimes painful.

I write about Nothing (my insightful blog about “Squirrels” comes to mind) to highlight how, if we are paying attention, we can grow and learn from Everything. Nothing has to be wasted, even the crappy crap (repeated for emphasis), if we can embrace the bigger picture. If we maintain perspective when we are tempted to lose it.

This week I should have everything completed on my end for getting my book published. I have been working on this strenuously for the past few weeks, editing, re-wording, defining my audience, my keywords and my overall message. See if you relate to any of the key words I listed: cancer, leukemia, disease, anxiety, fear, control, spirituality, faith, addiction, recovery, shame. Maybe just a couple? But when it comes right down to it, there is one key word that is over-arching message that I want people to hear-HOPE. Amidst all the “yuck”, there is relief.

A personal, intimate connection with God is the relief and solution to all that is bent and broken in and around us. And let’s face it, if we aren’t broken yet, most of us are at least bent. The other day I heard the 90s song “Bent”  and sincerely could not stop feeling a deep sadness most of the day. The chorus is the cry of so many people: “Can you help me? I’m bent. I’m so scared that I’ll never get put back together.” A version of that plea is found in Psalm 22:11,14: “God, do not be far off, for trouble is near! I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” On any given day, someone I know, often me, is uttering these desperate words.

I write to bring light to these dark places. I have been through  just a couple things that lend some credibility to this practice. This choice. And it’s a brave choice, should I choose to make it; to see God’s goodness in Everything. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens is good. It means that I can find the beauty in the bad. I can spot heroism in the horror. I can celebrate unity in spite of the ugliness. It isn’t easy and it isn’t natural. It takes a lot of work, at first. But eventually it becomes your default setting. You have to rewire how you think so it matches how God thinks.

And let me also say, though it might sound selfish at first, that I do this primarily for me. When I do it so that I can have peace and find rest in my deepest parts, it doesn’t matter how other people respond or react or behave. If I can learn from Everything, then those things are irrelevant. This frees me to react and respond and behave in a way I can live with and be proud of. I can live with the hope of healing, even when I am broken, disjointed and bent.

A “mantra’ is a “word or group of words believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.” It is traditionally repeated in one’s mind to aid concentration on a particular belief one wishes to focus on. I would encourage you to use this verse as a mantra as you go about your daily trials/tasks/chores/responsibilities/decisions/relationships/celebrations/victories:

“In God we live and move and have our Being.”

Or,  say it more like a prayer to Him;
“In You I live and move and have my Being”.

Choose to see God, to find Hope, in Everything.

 

 

Addiction, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

No more games

I am finally ready to admit it out loud: we are not a game playing family. There. It’s out there. For years we have tried to be game players. When my kids were younger we really tried to make this a fun family activity, even though we knew from the get-go that it would ultimately end in crying and blaming and possibly throwing of tiny little game pieces- and that was just from the parents! 😜 As a whole, none of us Get any enjoyment fromplaying board games. For a few years we humored the grandparents and played games like Uno or Kings in the Corner, but even that has died out recently. I myself don’t really hate cards, but you can only play so many games of solitaire. You really need more than one person to participate for any other type of game to be successful.

So, it’s official. We don’t like games. But I have to tell you that despite my disdain for games, I find myself inadvertently participating in certain games without even realizing I am playing. Usually it is happens when I disagree with someone else’s behavior or ideas or choices. Instead of letting them figure things out for themselves, I roll the dice when I stick my nose in their business and try to control or change the outcome. And even though I claim to be a “non-gamer”, I try to impose my will on them and force them to play my game by my rules. This is received with a resistance that is similar to what happens when I have tried to make my kids play board games when they’d rather be doing anything else.

Then, and this is where the real danger comes in, there are the games I get sucked into playing by those who love to play certain kinds of games.When someone wants to argue with me or provoke me and get a reaction out of me, I often find myself playing with them, even after I have declared myself to be game-free. Here’s what it looks like: Someone tries to engage me in something that really has nothing to do with me. Or they try to provoke me and get a reaction out of me or prove that I am wrong about something. I tell them I don’t want to argue about it, but continue to engage, discuss it or defend myself.

When I do this it’s like telling someone I don’t want to play catch. They ignore me and throw me the ball anyway. I catch it, throw it back, and repeat that I don’t want to play their game. This continues over and over until I realize, I am playing. The only way to let them know I am not playing is to let the ball roll past me the next time they throw it. Just like you can’t play tug-o-war unless you both people pick up the rope, you can’t have an argument unless more than one person is actively engaged in it. If I refuse to play, the game is over quickly.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you never have reasonable conversations or disagreements with people. That’s part of life. I am talking about the times where it is truly not even about you or someone is acting selfish, hateful, irrational, angry, resentful, stubborn, arrogant or affected by substances that might make a mature discussion impossible. You can choose not to play. You can detach with love, separating yourself emotionally and spiritually from the other person. You don’t have to own their emotions or take responsibility for the fact that they have them (even if they insist you are the cause). And most importantly, you don’t have to “win.” Because you can’t.

A helpful response that I have heard suggested is to pleasantly say, “you may be right”, and walk away. That doesn’t mean they are right or that you think they are, but it acknowledges that the feelings and thoughts they are having are real for them. It gives them dignity, and often, that is all they were looking for in the first place. I have also heard it said that “most people don’t necessarily want to have their own way, they just want to have their own way considered.”

You have mostly likely heard the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, the “things” we cannot change are other people and how they think or feel. The “thing” we can change is ourselves and whether or not we get involved in the unhealthy games that others try to rope us in to playing.

God, today, give us the courage to focus on ourselves and make the choice to not catch that ball or pick up that rope.

 

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Cancer, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Goals”

At first glance, how I spent my day yesterday (bleeding over into today) might might appear like laziness or procrastination. And trust me, my skills are stellar in those two areas. In the past, I would have been all over this opportunity to get things in order and get back to regular life. Kill off the Christmas tree once and for all and vacuum up the tiny pine needles strewn about the house, after falling off of family member’s socks. Christmas is over and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. We have had extra visitors in our house (and at this point, my very own 21 college-student-home-on-break, qualifies as a visitor) since before December 25th. And as much as I do love it, no routine, lots of people and opinions and plans can make me a little ticky after awhile. Yesterday was a prime opportunity to get the house cleaned up and back to normal. All the kids were sleeping, relatives were gone and husband was reading in another room of the house. I had the perfect window.

But then I read something that caused me to do it differently this year. I chose to squelch my urge to organize and engage in what the author called a holy “afterglow”, this space between the crazy of Christmas and the celebration of the New Year. It reminds me of the Recovery saying that has benefited me often (when I slow down long enough to do it): Pause. Pray. Proceed. The idea is that when you are tempted to act, usually rashly or emotionally, you play it different. Instead of barreling ahead with that angry phone call, posting a passive aggressive snippet on Facebook, or letting your words fly out your mouth without caution or control or compassion, you Pause. You Pray and invite God into it. And then you proceed (hopefully on to something more productive or healing for everyone).

This is a practice that is not only useful for the biggies, but for every attitude or thought or word that crosses our consciousness, all day, everyday. Today, I am using it as a guide as I reflect on last year and prepare for the year to come. In dozens of ways, i failed to accomplish my physical, emotional and spiritual goals. I truly wish I could say I ended this year a little more advanced in these areas. My standards for myself tend to be a bit high. But regardless of the little progress I did make, I am left wanting more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. God has designed us to move forward. But, In the past, I would make very specific goals that were based on the hype and energy of the promise of a new year, only to abandon most of them and feel like a loser for doing so by February.

Today I am different. Maybe it’s from the battle with disease of Leukemia. Or the family disease of addiction seeking to steal, kill and destroy our family. Or leaving a church family after 20 years. Or losing many many relationships with people I thought were my forever friends. Or my son going off to college and my two teenagers getting their driver’s license. Not maybe. Probably. But those are just a handful of hard times that changed me. There are also countless blessings that have contributed to this “different” in me. Maybe it’s the new friends God has brought me as a result of Leukemia and addiction and having to find a new church family. Or maybe it’s from the snuffing out of old habits and thought patterns that don’t serve me anymore. Or maybe it’s because I am finally convinced that God, in His infinite wisdom about what I need verses what I want, can be trusted with my future.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there’s a thing wrong with setting goals for yourself. Or with reflecting on ways we could have done it better in the past. But don’t hang your hat there. I can learn from my past and be prepared for the future. But ultimately I need to live a little bit longer in the Pause. Look back, look ahead, but don’t forget to Pray and invite God in before you Proceed. What I have found, and why my goals are a little more in flex than they used to be, is that what God has planned for my future will most likely look drastically different than my personal, calculated plans. I can remind myself of His faithfulness when I reflect on all the ways He took care of me even when life didn’t seem to cooperate last year. If am open, I can learn and grow and flourish this coming year, especially when I let God lead me, as opposed to the other way around.

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

Let your light so shine

It’s that time of year again. Time to pull out my Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, Christmas Devotional (read my blog “Painter of light” from December 2015 to refresh your memory on his story). I have been reading this every year for about 25 years. Sometimes I lose steam after Christmas, and even though the book takes me all the way up to the New Year, I often stop reading it after December 25th. This year I decided to start at the end to see what I have been missing all these years.

It’s fitting for the Painter of Light to end his book with some insights from Matthew 5:14-16. If you remember the children’s Sunday School song “This little light of mine (I’m gonna let it shine)”, this is where it comes from. It says,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

…no pressure. Just be a beacon of God’s love for all to see. Let the way you live your life, by how you love and forgive and serve your friends and family and enemies, illuminate the lives of others so that they are compelled to turn to God in worship. Right…easier said than done. What about the days where am tired and overwhelmed and stressed out so I snap at my kids, tailgate the slow-poke in front of me and post something passive aggressive about my nemesis on facebook? The reality is that I am a work in process. My light “so shines” sometimes, and at others it barely peeking out, like the thin line of the sun right before it sets in the west. Kinkade points out that he thinks “that’s exactly why many people end up hiding their lights under a basket. Who feels equal to the task of lighting the world?”

To illustrate his point, he talks about lamps, and how they can be made out of pretty much anything. As long as the guts of it can produce electricity and have a place to screw in a bulb, you can make a lamp out of a cowboy boot, a vase, a typewriter, a coffee-pot, or even a worn out, beat-up, thrown in the dumpster lamp that used to work marvelously. When you read stories from the Bible, it’s crystal clear that God is able and most-likely apt to turn the most unlikely people into sources of light. He mentions leaders like Moses (a murderer), Jospeh (a brat brother who was thrown into a pit by his own brothers), and David (a mere boy and later, an adulterer and also a murderer). And then there’s me and you. Need I say more?

If this is true, then how do we go about shining despite our inadequacies? I think the key is a recovery principle I hear often: acceptance is that answer to all our problems. We have to accept the hard, sad fact; we are inadequate. As Kinkade says, “we have to realize that we’re not the ones doing the shining. We’re merely the lamp base, an earthen vessel that has been rewired to shine. Our job is to stay plugged in to the light and to let it flow through us, not to gleam under our own power.”

One way our light “so shines” is when we accept with thanks the gift of who we are. Instead of wishing we were different or better at certain things, we can be grateful for what is in our hand. What we have to work with. Accepting ourselves where we are at can be a hard decision for a lot of us. Many of us struggle with chronic pain, chronic relapse, chronic worry/fear, or chronic sin patterns. W can’t fathom how, or why, God would want to rewire us to be useful for Him in any way. Wouldn’t he rather just buy a brand new lamp thats cleaned up and pretty?

As I read this devotional, I do it with a less naive spirit than I used to. In case you don’t recall, Thomas Kinkade died of a drug overdose several years ago. Every entry I read causes me to reflect on what he might have been battling in his head at the time. Here’s the painful quote an article posted about his death at age 54 on April 6, 2012: “Who could have imagined that behind so many contented visions of peace, harmony and nauseating goodness lay just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity, fueled by those ever-ready stooges, Valium and alcohol?”

“Just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity.”  But even though that’s how it ended, it isn’t the end of his influence in the world. That wasn’t the only part of his story. His mistakes are not the only thing he brought to this world. I am still reading his words, millions of people still hang his inspiring paintings, ones painted as representations of what Thomas longed for. What we all long for. To bring light to this dark world. We just have to believe that our story is more than the sum of our failures and shortcomings. Our job is to stay plugged in to God, the Source of all light, and let Him use us in spite of them.

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

My drug of choice

Just based on principle, I probably shouldn’t be writing right now. But I feel like the only way to clear my head is to reason things out on “paper” so I don’t go insane. Sauturdays are hard for me be cause there is no routine. No agenda. And my family seems to be fine with that. But I am not. I have a hard time relaxing and put expectations on myself, which often spill over and soak my family, to be productive.

Productivity is my drug of choice. I can be held captive by it and render myself immobilized if I don’t engage in it. Once I get a hit from it, I can feel the tension leave and the relief come. I am acutely aware of it on this cold, windy Saturday morning. I have no obligations and have ample time to read and write and relax with my coffee. And yet, on the way to my spot on the sofa, I felt the overwhelming pull to “get a few things done”. I did all the dishes while the coffee brewed (because God forbid I waste time simply waiting). Then I scurried from counter-top to counter-top, picking up stray objects and trying to figure out where they belong. After I got my coffee, I headed to the living room and decided I could quickly sort through the videos, DVDs and books stored in the TV stand. About an hour after I set out to read and pray I was finally situated. I sat there, books in lap, coffee in hand, feeling like I had earned the right to finally just “be”.

I don’t know when this mindset took over my thinking. I remember talking to one of my teachers when I was in high school about his summer plans. He said that he made it a point to do one productive thing each day of his summer break. At the time, that seemed very noble and wise. So apparently my productivity addiction had not kicked in yet. Now, I think, “ONE thing?!?! Really? If I am not feeling productive most of my day I feel like I am failing.” Even when I am relaxing, I don’t feel very relaxed. I was watching TV in bed last night. TV. Bed. Both relaxing by nature. But at one point I realized I was tense and my shoulders were raised up and tight. I just seem to have trouble letting myself do something “unproductive” and enjoy it. I am not bragging either. That’s not a good character trait to have. No one likes to be uptight. No one likes to be around people who are uptight.

I think a lot of this dependence I have on being productive stems from a false belief that I adopted somewhere along the way in my faith journey. I am still unlearning the notion that somehow my good behavior my accomplishments and my responsible choices are what God is looking for from me. While those things can’t be thrown out the window entirely, they are not the basis for being in right standing with God. He alone does that for me. I have spent many years learning how to think differently. Obviously, the transformation process is slow. One step forward, two steps back.

Today, I am determined to try to relax and be present when I have the opportunity to do so, rather than feel like I should be doing something different like clean or sort or work. I am getting ready to run errands with my teenage daughter (and what, I ask , could be more relaxing than that!? 😜). I have a lot to do around the house ( tasks I have made up to feel productive) but instead, I am going to ride with her and practice being present. Practice being grateful that she invited me. Practice being “unproductive” and being OK with it. I think it’s exactly what God wants from me.