awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

Things I learned the hard way…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

“Putting the cart before the horse”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Terrification”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

Extraction!

I don’t usually write at 4:30 in the afternoon, but today I am a little off because I got a tooth extracted this morning. I went in at 7:00 am and left at 9:45. I have mentioned before that I am a big baby when it comes to dental work. My heart rate rises and even during the shots I am clawing the arms of the chair and my whole body is tense. It didn’t help that a kid was getting his tooth pulled in the room next to me. He was crying and wailing, which was pretty much what I was afraid might happen when they started yanking on my tooth! I wished I would have brought my headphones because the breaking and grinding was sort of making me go insane. I actually asked them to turn up the Mumford and Sons radios station that was playing. At least I could sing along in my head! The dentist was patient and luckily, strong. The roots to my tooth were so wound around the bone that the dentist had to pull on it with all her might for an hour to get it out. When the last piece finally released I thought she might do a post-touchdown dance!

All that was pretty un-fun. But here is the worst part; they don’t put my fake tooth in for 4-6 months! There is nothing there, an no, you can’t see it! I feel so “hillbilly-ish” I can hardly stand it. Apparently it has to heal or something dumb like that, then they can screw a fake tooth into the piece they just drilled in to my jaw (anyone feeling light-headed just talking about this?).

My point in all this isn’t to get sympathy (though I totally earned it!). I had to let my brain go somewhere different while I was waiting for all that to be done, so naturally I thought about how that pleasant situation could relate somehow to life. For starters, I remember a friend sharing that she had some trauma as a young woman that damaged her heart, her body and her tooth. She has been wrestling with the effects of this event for almost 20 years. Awhile ago, she finally had the damaged tooth extracted and shared with me how she used it as an opportunity to make it a symbolic extraction of not only the tooth, but all the pain, nightmares, fears, insecurities and anger that she had been battling for years. I decided to give it a shot.

I pictured God as the dentist, trying his hardest to extract the rotten, unnecessary or no longer needed defects of character out of me. I know without a doubt that even though I know it needs to happen, there is something in me that holds on to those things for dear life. I am like those roots, twisted and tight and clinging with all my might to the very things that can set me free. Relieve me of pain. Help me move on in health and lightness.

And about these defects of character…recovery rooms define them as “assets that have lost proportion.” When we get out of touch with God, listen to wrong voices, are self absorbed and egocentric, or are effected by the disease of addiction in whatever form it presents itself, we often let the very things that once served us well, morph into behaviors or thought patterns that are dangerous to ourselves and our relationships with others. Our job however, and thank God for this, is not to figure out which ones need to go and how to make them go. Our job is simply to turn them over to God and let him decide the where, when, what and how of it. This may sound lazy to some of you, but if you think you are in control of what gets removed and the rate at which it goes, you might be deceiving yourself a bit.

Giving it to God lets a great weight fall from your shoulders.

One last thing; just like the area where my tooth is missing (sigh) has to heal for several months in order for a new tooth to be installed, so do you. You have to give time time. After the old ways, the useless and sometimes harmful ways are extracted, a period of healing and preparing and regenerating needs to happen before the new can be installed in you. Enjoy that time. Rest. Recover. Be patient. Be present. Be grateful. But be ready, because he is about to do something new and beautiful in you when you are ready for it.

I promise it will be worth the wait.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

What’s on your index card?

As I have mentioned before, I do some yoga in the mornings. If I am coherent enough to remember, I lean an index card against the coffee table leg with a meditation to focus on and keep my mind from running ahead into the rest of my day. the other day I fired up my laptop with the video, set up my card and my mat and lit a candle. As I prepared for my first position, my mind started to fret over a few things left undone and and things I was afraid I would forget to do in the future. Luckily, I remembered, after a few minutes of worrying, to re-center my mind on my day’s mantra. I glanced over at the index card for the words I knew would give me perspective: It was upside down and backwards.

Well, that sounds about right. How much of my life is lived with me either forgetting about that card entirely, or operating with it upside down and backwards? I have several cards to choose from each morning. Each has some truth that reminds me of what I believe to be true, or want to be true in my life. Phrases like, “Do not worry about the past or the future. Each moment is enough for now. BE PRESENT” , “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him”, or “Me and the people I know and love are exactly where we are supposed to be right now. We are all ENOUGH.” But doggonit if I don’t forget them as soon as I roll up my yoga mat.

Over the past several years I have had to gather some new beliefs and tools and practices to manage some extreme challenges in my own little world. I read and review and talk about these principles with friends and at recovery meetings. But it doesn’t take much to let my serenity slip subtly away. It doesn’t take a catastrophe to make me forget what I know is the best way to live and behave. It only takes a slight distraction. That distraction can be a too-busy schedule with no time set aside to reflect and pray. Or it can be a person I choose to focus on fixing rather than taking care of my own over-all needs. And it can definitely be all the “cares of this world”, as Jesus put it, that vie for my attention and trick me into thinking that much of what I think matters, simply doesn’t.

This week I picked up a book. It’s actually my book about my life written by me. I am fascinated! If only I could be like that girl, I’d be amazing! And to quote myself, “when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re still not good enough, you know your in trouble!”. I would read an entry and think to myself, “Yes! I forgot that I believe that! I haven’t been living as if I do, that’s for dang sure.”

Here’s the deal; most of us know what we believe to be true and how we ought to live, love and act. If you don’t, start there. But if you do, you are probably also keenly aware, especially at the beginning of a new year, that you have a strong tendency, like I do, to forget to return to those beliefs and ways of living that you know will help you be your best and highest self, living in harmony and unity with yourself, God and others.

Yes, my index card, with an reminder of what I believe, was (and often is) upside down and backwards. But the goal is to keep referring back to those cards. First figure out what you need to put on your “cards” and harken back ( that’s fancy talk for “remember to look at it ya ding dong!) to it over and over as you go through your days. There will be times the words will be embedded on your heart and mind with unwavering clarity, while other times your card might be crumpled on the floor of your car or mixed in with a bunch of junk on your kitchen counter. But remember to look for it when you sense yourself getting out of step. Aimless. Grumpy. Discouraged. Heavy. Anxious. Fearful. Angry.

None of us can do this perfectly all the time. But my prayer for me and for you is that we will notice less and less space between the unrest and the solution when remember to return to our roots. To the core of what we know we believe.

Harken back to what’s on your “index card.”

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.

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…)

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.

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 😕)