Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality

A Divine Sheering

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. As I spun around, I froze 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.

 

 

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

FOCUS!

I have a lot to do today. A lot of odds and ends; phone calls and appointments to make, follow ups on work and school activities, straightening after a weekend of ignoring household duties. All these duties are causing me to feel a bit flustered in my head and frozen on the couch, unable to sort everything out and make a go of any of it. From past experience (read: from doing it the wrong way over and over until I learned a bit of a lesson) I know that my day would continue on like this unless I pause and pray and “get God in there.” So I forced myself to pick up some books and start reading, getting out of my head and listening to what God might have to say to me.

I read a couple entries in my usual books and then one in a book I started reading again after a 14 year respite. It’s called “Jesus Life coach” by Laura Beth Jones. Every chapter starts off with the phrase, “With Jesus as your Life Coach you will…”. On this particular day’s reading it said that I would “Keep My Focus.” Well, that would certainly be helpful on this fine, snowy, scatter-brained Monday morning. Jones is a motivational writer and speaker, so she her main point is about finding that one thing that keeps you going and eliminating all distractions that prevent you from staying on task and being successful.  She uses Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission, ya know, to save the planet, as motivation for us to also stay focused on what we are called to do or be in this life.

I am not arguing with her, since most organizations sink or swim based on knowing what there one thing is. But as a woman who is, at best, average at most endeavors, I have always struggled to identify my one thing. I am the quintessential “Jackof-all-trades, master of none.”

But then…

I moved on to my next reading by author Sarah Young, who writes using God’s words to us from scripture. And I kid you not-this was her opening sentence for January 29th: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON ME (caps all hers)…let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to me…I will guard you and keep you in constant peace as you focus your mind on me.”

Bless God’s heart. He knows I don’t have it in me to read between the lines today. He had to repeat himself and capitalize it. Lucky for me, and maybe you, I didn’t miss the point. At least this was the point I believe he was making for me: His will for me and for my life IS the “one thing.” It overrides every other venture, goal or practice.

Think back on your life thus far. You have had gone down multiple paths that took large amounts of your time and energy and passion. Most of them were probably very good things. But we are, by nature, continuously changing and morphing. What used to light your fire just doesn’t do it for you anymore. That’s ok. It’s meant to be that way. So to hang your sign on any one door is unreasonable. There’s an ebb and flow to life that needs to be leaned in to.

There is only one constant. One over-arching awareness that must influence our every thought: God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. It must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives. Sometimes we have to discern His will for us in some pretty serious ways. But what I have found is that most days I just have to live out his will for me in all the tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters of my day. How did I react to the snippy sales clerk? Did I let that rude driver steal my serenity? Did my car breaking down cause me to question God’s love for me? And what about in our relationships?  Did I respond with compassion toward my discouraged teenager? Did I reach out to the friend who lost her job? Her husband? Her identity? Did I make a phone call to someone I know who is depressed or discouraged?

In the midst of all my muddled striving to make a big difference in this world, my consistent focus on God and seeking his will for me must be crystal clear.  What I accomplish in this world is significant, but also temporary and fleeting. My primary purpose, my one thing,  is to let God’s Will for me totally dominate (rule, govern, direct, be in the driver’s seat, be at the helm of, rule the roost, wear the pants 😉).<<
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Anxiety/Worry, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Smells ring bells”

I just love the smell of a freshly lit cigarette in a hot car. Yes, really. It reminds me of when I was little and spent time with my grandma. I remember riding in her Cadillac in California while I jabbered and she smoked and listened. I actually have her piano in my house, which apparently she antiqued herself, most likely while smoking. On hot, muggy days in Illinois, I can sometimes smell hints of lingering smoke that must be mingled in with the paint. Neither of these are scents you would call pleasant or find as a featured fragrance at the Yankee Candle store, but for me, they trigger many emotions and happy memories of my grandma who has long since passed.

While I doing some research to give validation to my personal connectedness with certain sells, I came across an article called “Smells Ring Bells…” I was surprised to learn that “incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain…it has direct connection to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory, Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas.” So, apparently it wasn’t unusual or weird that when I took a tour of my new work facility a few years ago, I started crying when I got to the wood-working shop (though the guy giving me the tour might have thought otherwise). My grandfather was a cabinet maker and when I was young, I spent a lot of time running around his shop, stirring sawdust. Just getting a whiff of that scent took me back to those times and brought me to tears.

We have all them; the smells that ring our bells. But they are not always bells of celebration and joy. Sometimes, the bells they ring seem to be indicative of doom or mourning. I read of a War Vet who would have strong emotional and physical reactions to the smell of diesel prominent from his time of active service. Haunting memories of death and tragedy flooded in.  Often the smells make little sense to anyone but us. Maybe it’s the smell of a certain cologne that an abusive father, husband or boyfriend wore that makes you freeze up inside. Or the stench of alcohol that takes you back to that scared little boy or girl who couldn’t rouse their parent. Or the fresh smell of lilies that take you to the morning you stood beside your mother’s casket.

You know the smells that trigger you. The emotions and memories, whether good or bad, can feel as real as the day they happened. This is good news and bad news, depending on the smell. Is it a sweet aroma or a stench? The feelings are very real, even if the events happened years before. But it’s important to remind yourself, that feelings aren’t facts. Acknowledging the feelings that knock on the door of your awareness is crucial. Let them in. Feel them fully. Accept them. Then let them go.

If the feelings are negative, remind yourself that they don’t have power over you unless you dwell on them and let them tyrannize you. They are feelings not facts.

If the feelings are positive, remind yourself that those too are not facts. Enjoy the memories and special feelings but don’t live there or pine to go back in time to “better days”.

There are more scents on the horizon for you. Some will be lovely and some will stink like raw meat. Don’t ignore how they make you feel, but do remember to keep moving forward. Feel the feelings of the past but live in today. Be open to what God has for you in this present, real world.

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

The secret

Almost 2,000 years ago, a guy named Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.” One might ask, how hard could his life have been in 62AD? The guy wasn’t married and didn’t have kids (need I say more?). He wasn’t slandered on social media or demeaned in the tabloids. However, a bit of history tells us he did endure a few minor inconveniences. During his short time of ministry, after God intervened and transformed him from a murderer to a missionary, he was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (most of them on more than one occasion). He was in danger from “rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and religious leaders.” He often went without food, sleep, water and clothing. Oh, and then there’s the anxiety from trying to spread the good news of God’s love to a people who he used to persecute and kill for believing that very thing. OK-I guess his trials and stressors might “win” over mine.

But somehow, Paul was able to find the secret to being content in all these circumstances. He credits two beliefs; 1) that he can do all things through Him, God, who give him strength and 2) he trusts that God will meet all his needs according to his glorious riches in Jesus. What amazing faith and assurance he had!

Still, I have to be honest with you about something. Even though I say I believe what Paul believes, those two “secrets” I mentioned above, I don’t alway live like I do. I don’t act as if I really believe those words for myself. In fact, here’s the reality of what I think much of the time:

I don’t want God to take care of me so I can be OK no matter what my circumstances,
I want him to make my circumstances OK so I can easily take care of myself.

That’s pretty embarrassing to say out loud. I really wish I was better than that. But my humanness and desire to be comfortable and happy and for everyone around me to behave and flourish, really gets in the way of trusting God no matter what. Being content no matter what. It’s scary when I realize that mostly I just want God to orchestrate my life so I don’t need Him so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be easier for Him anyway? He has a lot of people to help, after all. Would it be so hard to just set me on a comfortable cruising speed and let me manage things myself?

Trying to wrap this up seems a little redundant. It’s not like we haven’t figured out what must be done. There is no new information. Life is good. And sometimes it’s not. End of story. I can either complain about the times times that are “not” or turn to God for strength to get through them, trusting that He will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches. I can forget about Him when circumstances are good or I can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. I can choose to live with a grateful heart.

Whether my circumstances are pleasant or pressing, depending on God and staying in tight communication with Him are the only solutions that help me tap in to Paul’s “secret” to contentment.

 

 

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

Surefire weight-loss plan

Let’s get straight to the point. Today, I feel heavy. But not nearly as heavy as I did yesterday. I am referring to excess weight, but not the fat kind; the heart kind. I was feeling overwhelmed with obsessive thoughts about everything and everyone in my life that I can’t control. Worry and fear and a healthy dose of self-pity were paralyzing me. I couldn’t muster one positive thought or tap into even a tiny a nugget of hope. I read and prayed furiously, looking for something, anything, that might give me some relief from the despair that was consuming me.

Like I said, I am a bit lighter today. After a morning of asking God for help, he showed me, or reminded me, of a song. This memory was triggered by an entry by Sarah Young in my daily reading:

God says to us “Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self- pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened. Heaviness is not of my kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.”

This message was sorely needed for me, but it’s a message I know in my head already. It wasn’t enough just to know the truth. I had to practice something different. And that “different” was revealed to me when I brought up the words to a song from my past: Garments of Praise.

The chorus begins:  Put on the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness.

As I began to explore what that might mean for me, what promise I could cling to so I could lighten up, I began the process of shedding the weight. I thought about writing it down as soon as it occurred to me what I needed to do. But then, I decided to actually do it so I could give some evidence of success (clearly, I still had my doubts about whether this simple plan would help at all). So what did I do? I stopped. I stopped praying for God to help or fix all the things/people that I wanted him to change/improve/empower, and I intentionally fixed my gaze on Him. I began by putting on the Garment of Praise song (Robin Marks) and sang with all my heart (the end of it has sort of an Irish jig feel, so you can even do a bit of River-dancing/clogging if you’re in decent shape!). The song has words that helped me express my desire to be comforted and refreshed and healed:

Make these broken weary bones
Rise to dance again
Wet this dry and thirsty land
With a river
Lord our eyes are fixed on you
We are waiting
For your garland of grace
As we praise your name

But it’s very hard to praise someone, namely God, when you are consumed with yourself. Throughout the Bible, praise is often is associated with sacrifice. If that seems weird to you, let me explain. Psalm 116:17 says “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord” and Hebrews 13:15 says “…let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Many times, I don’t feel like praising God because the pain or sorrow or hurt is so intense. These feelings require me to make a sacrifice. Sacrifice means, as author Terry Law puts it, “doing something you don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing. It’s giving up your own desires for the benefit of someone else.” And in this case, when I give God my sacrifice of praise, I choose to focus on 2 things: 1) His attributes. His power, love, compassion, grace, guidance, etc. 2) His track record. His history of how he has been good and faithful and shown up for you in countless, priceless ways. I believe that even if you are still skeptical of or even angry with God, you will have some stories to recount if you think hard enough.

I sacrificed what I felt like doing (worrying, fretting, trying to fix manage and control) and instead, fixed my mind, and voice, on who He is and what he has already done for me. It’s the difference between listening to a sad breakup song about lost love vs a song expressing the power of love and the excitement and energy that comes from being in that relationship.

There are several ways to praise/worship God. I like to sing, so that’s the main way that I engage in it. God doesn’t really care if you can hold a pitch though, so even if you can’t, don’t let that stop you! I also like to read various Psalms and adopt those words to help direct my thoughts. If you aren’t much for reading or singing, try writing down a gratitude list about who he is: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, kind, gracious, radical, extravagant. He is our rescuer, our provider, our savior, our voice of truth. Or maybe make a list of all the ways he has shown up for you in the past. Review the successes and times where you chose to trust and turn things over to him. Note how much better they turned out than when you tried to depend on your own self-sufficiency.

I have been practicing a variety of all these since yesterday. Today is not perfect, but my heart is in better shape than it was yesterday. And for the record, nothing has changed in my circumstances. The adjustment has been where I am choosing to put my energy. Instead of wasting it on trying to control the uncontrollable (i.e. Trying to do God’s job for Him), I am making the sacrifice of praise in the ways laid out above.

In a society of chronic dieting, I think this might prove to be the best rapid “weight-loss” plan on the market. Care to trade a garment of praise for that spirit of heaviness? Could you stand to shed a few?

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.

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Trash Talk

Our city has a pre-Christmas tradition. Since 1989 an event called the “Festival of Trees” takes place at the fairgrounds. Various local companies decorate (or hire someone to decorate) an artificial tree, and other companies purchase it for an exorbitant amounts of money which is then donated to a local hospital. There is always a theme. Some follow it and some don’t. But there is always one common thread, extravagance. Sometimes, the trees are so elaborate and over-the-top that you can’t even see the branches. We have been attending this as a family for the past 18 years, since our first-born was able to enjoy it. And though the themes change from year to year, there is one consistent reaction that have without fail. I want to go home and throw out all my Christmas decorations and start over.

Compared to the creativity and newness and modern decor displayed at the Festival of Trees, my house looks like a 2nd grade craft project gone bad. It looks like Christmas bomb went off, and most of the items are pushing 20+ years old. Let’s just take a little inventory as I sit in my living room. My chairs are adorned with two pillows that my mother-in-law cross-stiched (which I love, but are not exactly current decor). Moving around the room I see children’s Christmas books (belonging to my kids but also my husband and I from our childhood), 2 wooden Santas painted by my aunt in the 90’s, a stuffed stocking ornament I apparently thought I could handle making as a sewing-challenged college student, Holiday CD’s (with nothing to play them on), and then there’s the best one. Blocks of wood painted by yours truly that spell out N.O.E.L on one side and with snowmen painted on the other. They are unique because in my first house, the posts to my 4 poster bed were too tall for the ceiling (possibly because my first “house” was a trailer in married-student housing 🙂 ), so my husband’s grandparents and I carefully sawed off the ends to make it fit. I hated to throw them away, so I repurposed them.

In short, I compare my hodge-podge, dated and home-made decor to the glamour and sparkle and innovative decor of the Festival of Trees. But in the end, as I sit in my cozy living room surrounded by all this, I have to say that I love my house at Christmas. I really do. And by now I am sure you can see where I am going with all of this. Comparing myself to other people has always been a point of contention with me and God. I can quickly get caught in the trap of wishing I were someone different. Wishing my gifts were different. Or my circumstances were better and easier. Or that my kids were as successful as their kids seem to be. Or that I was as good of a writer or singer as that girl. Or that my thighs were as thin as hers. And those are just the ways I am discontent outwardly. There’s also the temptation to be dissatisfied with my innards. Hard on myself for my character defects and jealous that so-and-so doesn’t’ seem to battle with doubt or impatience or anxiety or fear.

But when I sit and read and pray and really listen to the voice of truth, I hear God whispering to me sweetly, that talk like that is trash. It is not from Him. His words to me is that he cherishes me for exactly who I am at this very moment. Sure, there might be some junk he might like to purge eventually, but as sit before Him right this very minute, I am valuable. I am valuable even though my decor is not sparkly or modern or expensive or well-placed. Even though most of me is more like my ornaments, made of felt and glue and popsicle sticks or Disney/Star Wars figures with missing or super-glued on arms, He loves me. He cherishes me. He does not wish I was someone different or more put-together. He would pay, and has paid, an exorbitant amount for this broken, aging, mis-matched soul. This is the very good news the angels brought at the first Christmas. And it is the very good news I bring to you, sweet friend, today. He loves you for exactly who you are and where you are as you sit and read this right now. Do you hear me? Right now.

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Inside Out

I’ve heard it said that our outer world is often a reflection of our inner world. Which is to say that the symptoms of inner chaos and clutter and lack of focus can alert us to what is happening in our souls. I believe that and have found it to be true on more days than I care to admit. However, there is a big “but” attached to the solution to that…

And I almost fell for it last week. Outer chaos may very well be indication that there is something askew on the inside, the “but” of is that no amount of order, organization, updating or putting your house/office/bank account/room/desk/car/yard in order can substitute for addressing what’s festering in your soul. The unrest can only be settled from the inside out.

In the past couple of weeks I have been in the process of moving my college-age son out of his room in the basement and moving my 17 yr. old into it. This requires total upheaval and storing and sorting of two entire rooms and years of accumulated memorabilia. Once I competed that task we also rearranged and distributed furniture and electronics from the toy room and then painted and re-accumulated re-fabbed furniture (by me) to put in the newly painted (also by me) guest room that used to belong to my 17 year old. Near the end of the madness, I actually caught myself feeling hopeful because it was almost over, and thinking, “hang in there, Heather. Once you this all organized and completed everything is going to be OK”. The busy-ness and exhaustion and feelings of subtle anxiousness will melt away. Well, I am 99.9% done with this over-haul and guess what? I am not 99.9% better.

Here’s what I learned: If I don’t want to face certain situations or feelings, staying busy with projects and people and entertainment are excellent distractions. If I am afraid of looking at how I might need to change or adapt or what I might need to let go of, a good make-over ( on my body or my home) works wonders. But eventually, when it’s all said and done, I am left with me, myself and I to deal with.

I was thinking about this while running errands today. This problem manifests itself a couple of different ways in me. There are times when I over-schedule and allow very little margin so that I don’t have time to think about areas that are upsetting to me. It’s called avoidance. I go to coffee and the store and work later than I should and watch movies until I can’t keep my eyes open. I know there is something causing me to feel unsettled but don’t have the heart to handle it in a healthy way just yet. Then there are other times where I go a couple weeks in a frenzy of meetings and events and appointments before it occurs to me that maybe my unrest and lack of serenity might be coming from somewhere deep in my soul and is trying to flag me down. It’s flailing and floundering and needs attention; stat!

Even now, as I write and reflect, I can feel the pull of productivity and validation through maintaining a full schedule. Through getting stuff done. Sitting here on this couch, sharing and looking inward is simply unacceptable (is what my brain is telling me). But my spirit, God’s spirit whispering to me, tells me otherwise. That how I go through life is more important than the what. And I can’t do the what well if the how of my soul is running around like the Tasmanian Devil. I’m just sayin’.

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

God is repetitive

A couple weeks ago I was In Hawaii. Sigh….

As we drove to the beach on our last day there, my mom and I had a discussion about Hawaiian words. How I can’t pronounce any of them properly, for starters. I mean, how would you pronounce Kapaa or Poipu or Lihue? (However you said it, I can pretty much guarantee that’s not it). I might as well have been trying to speak French. Also, as we went through the spelling of the various cities and areas we visited, we noticed a few things. There are some letters they rarely if ever use ( s, t, and r for example) and some that they use repeatedly (k,w,p,m and lots and lots of vowels).

Fast forward about an hour as we were laying in the sun. We started talking about a study my mom was doing. It happened to be written by one of my favorite authors, Beth Moore. This led us to bring up Anne Lamott, another favorite author of mine. I told my mom that a couple people have told me that my writing reminds them of hers. My interpretation of that compliment is that it’s mostly because we are both pretty honest about our own messed up selves and tend to land on similar topics like grace and love and vulnerability. But there is a huge difference in that she is a real writer who uses smart words and creative and intentional descriptive sentences that are simply way out of my league. My blogs are like the Walmart version of her Ralph Lauren writing. And that’s when it hit me and made me laugh out loud; I am like the Hawaiian version of Anne Lamott! There are just some words and letters she uses that I will never, ever be able to use. And most of all, I am Hawaiian in that I repeat the same few words over and over and over. I use words like “like” and “thing” and “very” and “soooo much”. My descriptive repertoire (I had to look up how to spell that!) is sorely lacking and simplistic.

My vocabulary is not the only thing that is repetitive. The more I write, the more I see the pattern. My topics are also repetitious. Any given blog you read will address issues with worry, anxiety, trust, fear, control, grace and acceptance. And to be honest, while that used to cause me to feel dumb and narrow, I now feel like I am good company. Because you know who else is repetitive? God. And if this is one way I can be more like Him, I’ll take it. If you have ever read the Bible, or even if you haven’t, you should know that even though there are approximately 807,361 words used in the Bible, they tend to highlight certain themes over and over and over in different ways. The main two topics that run throughout the Bible are 1) love God and 2) love people. God also regularly address how we should handle worry, anxiety, fear, control and how to live a life of peace and contentment as we trust His will over our own. It’s rather repetitious when you get right down to it.

I repeat myself because I struggle with the same tendencies on a regular basis. The tendency to let worry and fear dominate, resulting in complete lack of trust in God’s plan for me and the world around me. The tendency to control; to force solutions so that life works out the way I want it to and the people around me live up to my expectations. The tendency to withhold unconditional love and grace and judge others as if I were the great “I AM”. From what I have heard from readers, I am not alone in these tendencies.

But God has gone ahead of us and given us His words of comfort and wisdom to help us navigate this repetitious life-cycle we are riding. He gives us the tools and promises to find relief from these areas, if we choose to use them. He knows its a life long battle for us, which is why He repeats Himself. He tells us the answers in a thousand different ways so He can get His main messages to us across in just the way we need to hear it.

I have a strong tendency to forget to keep the main things the main things. Thank God He is repetitive.