awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

I didn’t intend to post today…

Haven’t been writing as much. I feel so much better when I do. I feel connected to God more acutely when I write.  But even though it’s hard for me to admit, because I have a tendency to devalue myself and talk not so nicely about myself (out-loud and in my head), I connect better with Heather when I am writing than any other time. It helps me remember who I am and what I believe at my core. I see more clearly that I haven’t been living out what I know to be true for me, and every so often, that I totally am and can pause to celebrate that. There is always so much pulling at me that distracts me from writing. A lot of it is really good and necessary stuff, but when I don’t make it a priority to write, my cheese starts to slip off my cracker 😜. I get a little ticky and anxious and grouchy and unsettled in my innards. I usually can’t put my finger on what is causing me to be out of alignment until I write an new blog. The feeling of relief and satisfaction that I am doing what I think God has given me to do is one of the few times I feel a sense of fulfillment and peace. I have a knowing, centered pace/peace about life.

Today, while I was working out and reviewing the dozens of tasks I had to do for work and worrying if they would pan out and stressing about the fact that there is a crack in my Kayak I have to fix and where the heck is that duct tape? and wondering if my college age kids might not be going to college this fall because of COVID…I had an epiphany. Maybe I need to write everyday to keep my sanity. Even if I don’t publish it for anyone to read (which is exactly what I intended to do with this blog, but I just can’t help myself!).

person using typewriter
Photo by Min An on Pexels.com

Typing is therapeutic for me. On a side note, my dad worked for IBM when I was younger so we always had a typewriter at our home. When I was a sophomore I got the chicken pox and was, well, quarantined for a week or so. I decided to teach myself how to type. I really wanted to type without looking so I would type the poems plastered all over my bulletin board on the wall I stared at while at my type writer. Because, you know, sophomore girls love their deep, romantic poetry. I also typed, “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country” about a 700 times as suggested in some manual I read about learning how to type. Between that week of practice and my time in the hospital using my new I Pad, my fingers are like lightning! Writing with a pen is not even an option for journaling-I am way too impatient for it. My thoughts come so fast, my pen could never keep up. I really hate it, actually.

Anyway-enough of that. I don’t know what I am telling you any of this, other than it helps keep me accountable when I say things out loud and to others. I need to write. I need to write for myself. I need to write to you occasionally because I think a few people are encouraged and feel less alone when I do and that’s enough of a reason. So I give you permission to ask me if I am doing what I said I am going to do: write it all down, get it out, see it on paper how I have compromised or grown. Maybe you could join me. It doesn’t matter if no one else reads it. Just get your thoughts, fears, failures, joys and embarrassing stories out of your head somehow.

See, now that wasn’t so hard, Heather. I feel so much better.

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Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, grace, gratitude

“Go to your rooms!”

When the pandemic first arrived and our government gave us the “stay at home order” suggestion 🙃, my husband’s friend said something like “It’s sort of like God looked down at all of our meanness and fighting and hate and said, ‘That’s enough! Everyone…go to your rooms!”. I am not sure of the soundness of that theology, but it sure feels like it was an order given to not only keep us safe, but on a soul-level, give us time to reflect on what really matters. And some of us did that with a passion. Some people started blogs, businesses and served the heck out of there community. Some spent quality time with kids that they found out were pretty cool and interesting now that they slowed down long enough to notice. Some of us, often me, whined and complained and watched the clock, making plans for all we would do when we were sprung from our confinement. Some became more and more hostile, wound up, angry at the world and the unrest and restrictions. Some were overtaken by their addiction or violence toward those who they were supposed to be keeping safe by quarantining. Some grieved the loss of a senior year, a wedding date, or a graduation with people who had supported their college career. Some felt grateful to finally have a good excuse to take life down a notch and breathe.

I know there are many more reactions to this isolation, but today, we are facing the aftermath. One would think and hope that we would be so grateful to be back to “normal” that we would be skippy and respond kindly to everyone we see. But, as we have experienced, that has not been the case. Riots and raging have picked up practically the day we were “released”.

Things are not as they are supposed to be. In the world. In our state. In our city. In us.

And that is really the problem, isn’t it? We get so wound up about not being able to get our nails done and our hair colored that we perhaps, miss our FGO (friggin’ growth opportunity). I don’t stand here to judge. I drove 4 hours to Missouri to get my hair colored, for pete’s sake! I am just saying that what we learned during that time, what we could have learned, was a priceless gift, even though it stunk at the time.

I am reading (and by reading, I mean, I read the intro this morning) a book by Rob Bell. About a half a page into it I decided it wasn’t something I would keep reading tomorrow, until I got to the other half of the page. He gave what I am trying to say a Poignant Punch. Let me give you a bit of background so it might hit you the same way it hit me

He was summarizing the story of Cain and Abel. You have probably heard of them, the first brothers in the Bible who followed in their parent’s (Adam and Eve) sinful footsteps. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him. Cain knew immediately that he would be busted, so he fled. As a result he “went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, East of Eden (I know, you’re thinking, “I too will stop reading this boring history lesson”, but-wait for it….).

Notice, Cain left and went East of Eden.

Rob Bell then points out, “There is a place called Eden, a paradise, a state of being in which everything is in its right place. A place where the favor and peace of God rest on everything.

And Cain is not there. He’s East of there.

It’s not just that he’s East of where the was created to live, but he’s actually settling there, building a city, putting down roots. The land of his wandering has become the location of his home. And then several chapters later, the Bible says that the whole world had one language and a common speech ‘as people moved eastward.’
The writer, or writers,  of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor, is insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning humans are moving in the wrong direction.”

Now, many of you know I am from California. So this idea of living “east” of where we are meant to live makes me smile (and feel desperate to return to my west coast roots). I grew up all along the west coast; born in Utah, lived in Washington, Montana, Oregon and California. I love my friends and life in Illinois, but I still don’t feel quite settled. Quite home in my skin and in my soul. I am living “east” of where I long to be.

The world is not the same as it was a few months ago. Before COVID. IT’s not the same as it was a few days ago, before the racism and riots. It’s not even the same as it was when I went to bed last night. As I slept, more has happened and more is coming.

What’s a girl to do? What’s any human soul to do?

I think there is really only one good option; Go West! The phrase “Go West young man!” Is a type of spurring. Almost a battle charge for adventure and newness and doing life with a new spirit of awe and wonder. Going West is a metaphor for getting back to your roots, the roots God established in you.

adult background ball shaped blur
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The roots that ground you and anchor you and make you feel at home. That you are in the right place and you know it in your core.

This is not a new charge. I am just saying it in a different way than thousands before me have attempted to say it. We can’t change the world unless we ourselves are changed. The reality is that the we can’t just wish for a kinder world. We have to become more kind. We can’t just hope for a more inclusive and gracious community. We ourselves have to become more inclusive and gracious. We can’t just dream about a church/school/workplace that loves everyone always. We ourselves have to love everyone always.

You catch my drift. I have been living too far EAST of where I am supposed to be and where things were meant to be. It’s time to head WEST. It’s always best when we go these kinds of places together. Wanna come with?

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Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Junk drawers, closets and character defects

As I have mentioned before, I am a Realtor. I have shown hundreds of houses over the past 4 years. And should you ever decide to sell your house, spoiler alert, we will open your closets and junk drawer (or drawers). We try our best to give people a reasonable notice before a showing, but the reality is that sometimes we happen upon your house while looking at another and our clients want to see it; preferably right now or in the immediate future. Since we encourage our sellers to never turn down a showing, this leads to a fair amount of panic on the seller’s part and the quickest way to tidy up, is by shoving things in the nearest closet or drawer. And while it works for a one time showing, it’s a poor plan for a long term solution to organization. Eventually you have to remove that toy, laundry basket, backpack or item of clothing that doesn’t really belong there.

i think it’s safe to say that we all have a closet or a drawer that has accumulated random items over time and is threatening to overflow the next time the door is opened. One friend of mine said her junk drawer was so full that the contents were forced out the back of the drawer into the cabinet below. She discovered it when she found her toddler, who was playing with in the Tupperware cupboard was entertaining herself with random, not so child-friendly items from the junk drawer above! A sure sign that the time has come to exert some effort sorting out what belongs in there and removing what doesn’t.

For me, this is a helpful visual for what happens when I don’t deal with my emotions or reactions to my circumstances in a healthy, head-on way. I get my little feelings hurt, my ego takes a shot to the head, a loved one is in pain, I fail at something that’s important to me, a friend betrays a trust, I hurt someone I care about, I act like a selfish brat, etc. I develop character defects. I often don’t take the time necessary to reflect and pray and give it to God. Instead, I toss it in the drawer/closet because I am too lazy-or terrified-to hold it in my hand, name it for what it is, and either discard or put it in it’s rightful place (in God’s hands is the best place I have found thus far). Because if I don’t, if I keep shoving it in, it’s only a matter of time before something big happens that tops off the drawers’ capacity for holding all the junk you thought was safely and soundly hidden away. Or someone else opens that door or drawer and all hell breaks loose; stuff (like anger, harsh words, craziness or crying) is spilling out on to innocent people that were just the proverbial straw that broke the camels back.

While it’s challenging to fully address every emotion or circumstance at it comes at us, it’s paramount that we don’t neglect it for long. I have a couple closets and a junk drawer that sing my name like a haunting siren’s song every time I walk past. I have been ignoring them for far too long and now they are causing me great anxiety, maybe greater anxiety than they should because instead of asking myself, “does this belong in here?”, I just throw it in and pray to God it will shut without issue.

I could learn a couple things about myself using this analogy. One: Stashing the junk away without thought or consideration will eventually catch up with me. i can deal with it one hurt or confounding problem at a time, or I can deal with a plethora of them when they burst out on their own, often without fair warning, harming me or other innocent bystanders who were just looking for some scotch tape.

Two: When you get rid if the stuff you don’t need, it becomes easier to access the stuff you do. There have been many times that I have needed a small screwdriver or measuring tape, which I know for a fact are somewhere in my junk drawer, and after rummaging for several minutes have had to walk all the way to my basement (sigh) and get one from the tool box. The junk that shouldn’t be in there (i.e. Bars of soap, 7 pair of scissors, toilet bowl bleach pod, lotion, gum wrappers, and 47 pens) keeps me from finding the items I really need. The interesting thing is, when I sort my junk drawer, most of it actually goes back in. That’s the cool part. Once I take it out, I look at it and determine if it is worthlessness or dangerous and should be taken out of the drawer. If it is useful and necessary, I put it back in an organized fashion, easily available for when it’s purpose calls.

I love this summarized thought from a book called “Courage to Change (p.65)”:

“We don’t ask God to add anything, but rather to take away the things we do not need. I found that every single defect that was removed had been hiding an asset. I didn’t lose myself at all. Instead, as I let go of the things I didn’t need, I made room for my strengths, skills, and feelings to become more fully a part of my life. I take comfort in this, because it reminds me that everything I need is already present…God knows exactly what I need and has already given it to me. My job is to keep it simple and ask for God’s help in relieving me of the extra stuff-the shortcomings that keep me tied down.”

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, thinking

Swipe left…

Not that I have used them personally, but because I try my best to not bury my head in the technological sand just because I am 49 (…and happily married, I might add), I know a thing or two about dating sites. Bear with me…

The one thing I know is that at least one site allows you to swipe the picture on the screen to the right if you are interested and may revisit their profile later, or swipe left if you (by merely looking at someones face/body/body parts) give that person a thumbs down. You basically move them to your “trash”. It sounds insane when you say it like that, right? Well, before you get too worked up about it, let me assure you that I am just using this as a metaphor to help you have a visual for how to control your thoughts without letting them control you.

I mentioned awhile back that I was reading a book about how to Detox your brain. While I still have miles to go, I have tried to come up with ways to get this done, because my thoughts-my negative, destructive and degrading thoughts-often hijack my mind and create stress and anxiety and fear. For some reason, this idea popped in my head a couple days ago and I have been attempting to utilize it, sorting through my thoughts as the pop up. I am still in the process of tweaking it, but I’ll give you the gist.

When any thought pops in my head, I am trying to discipline myself to ask a couple questions about it. The first is: “Is it my thought or my business?”. This question is easy to answer and can eliminate huge amounts of time and energy I might otherwise give it. Let’s say, for example, I am with a group friends and one of them brings up a subject that I know is a sensitive issue and might trigger anger in another friend. Typically, I would immediately feel some tension and perhaps try to figure out how I can smooth out or fix what has just happened. But, if I ask the question, “Is this my thought or my business?”, the answer is clearly NO. So I give it to God. I swipe left. I “trash” it and mind my own business, leaving me to enjoy my friends for exactly who they are and where they are at that moment. Or how about when I notice I am fretting about what some one else is or might be angry/frustrated/worried/stressed about? “Is this my thought?”. Nope. It is a thought that belongs to them alone and I don’t have to give it any attention or let it effect my serenity. I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it.

The next question I added after I had been practicing this for a couple days: “Can I control it?”. This one is pretty cut and dry. You can’t? You know what to do with it!

The last and biggest question you will have to decide for yourself, as long as it falls into a similar vein as this: “Is it beneficial, kind and true?”. If you have a relationship with God, you can simply ask “Is this from God?”, because that will automatically alert you to all the good thoughts that God imparts and represents (His thoughts and ways are lovely, kind, nonjudgmental, gracious, forgiving, compassionate, empathetic, honest, uplifting, encouraging, gentle, etc.). I definitely need to ask this question so I can better relate to people in my world; my family but also my clients, my friends and people God puts in my path as I go through my day. But the main reason I started this practice was to eliminate repetitive thoughts I have about myself that are very much NOT “beneficial, kind or or true”. When I have thoughts, which are often subtle and sheepish but have razor sharp teeth, like “I’ll never get better at…”, or “I don’t think I will ever be able to…” or “I am always going to struggle with….”, I have to put them to the question test. 9/10 times my thoughts fail that test. But instead of continuing down the mental, emotional and physically draining path these thoughts try to take me on, or worse yet, beat myself up for having them in the first place, I now have a tool. If the answer to my question is “NO”, I give it to God. I swipe left. I trash it. I move on and replace those thoughts with the God’s instructions:

“Finally brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-Think about such things.” (Philippians 4:8)

Swipe left my friends…

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

I’ve hit the wall! (…or is it hitting me?)

I am writing today because I need it. Badly. In Runner’s Speak, I have “hit the wall”. For a runner, that means they have been running for a lengthy period of time and have depleted their glycogen levels and feel like they are potentially going to keel over or “bonk out” (I learned that phrase just this morning while googling “hitting the wall”). In Heather terms, the phrases still apply. Don’t get excited, I haven’t been running again or anything (been there done that). But I feel like I started a few life “races” and was plugging away nicely until the past couple of weeks. I have lost my breath, my energy, and my sight for why I started the races in the first place.

In the beginning, I was excited and hopeful and experiencing just enough success to continue with a smile and a skip in my step, but this past week I started to feel a heaviness coming over me as a result of doing a lot of “footwork” with no results in sight. I am struggling to continue picking up my feet and continuing to do the “footwork” necessary to finish the marathon.

Do you ever feel that way? Please tell me you do, and I’ll just go ahead and apologize now for wishing that on you. It’s just that I have also been convincing myself that no one else has this problem and that makes the discouragement feel that much deeper.

I was reminded the other day of a blog I wrote on “waiting” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/05/07/waiting/ ). I used to wait on blood work and test results and the green light to go back in the hospital for Chemo. One would think that I would be a little more grateful and patient with anything else I have to wait for ever again. But alas, I have to operate in the “today”, and today I am waiting for other things. Luckily they are much less daunting than life or literal death, but I guess my mind has moved on from that possibility.

I am writing today to remind myself of what I already know. That’s usually how it works for me. What I already know, is that life is not about the end results, it’s what happens in that space between that equal “living”. The end result may or may not manifest itself, at least in the ways we predict or hope for. I may work like a boss at my job and never sell another house. I may meet with dozens of people to promote my book or secure a speaking engagement or draw people to my site with results I may never see or know about. I may pray numerous prayers for people I love and yet continue to live in that mysterious unknown about the answers one way or another. If I forget this and start living as if God or people owe me recompense for all my efforts, I end up where I am today; frustrated, tired, and frankly, mad. Mad that my equation isn’t working.

While I am in the space between, while I am doing the “footwork”, I have to ruthlessly remind myself to ask, “What am I learning? Who am I helping? How am I growing? Where can I be of service?”. The “footwork”, as I define it, is every activity and thought that contributes to reaching that goal. And here’s the good and bad news: the most important component is not the goal, it’s the footwork. Whether I like that news or not, it’s still true. I have no control over the outcome or the length of time it takes to get there. I can either complain and wait impatiently in anxious and frustrated expectation, or can accept life on life’s terms and as it comes; one moment at a time. The moments, as we know, are all we have to work with. Where I am is all I have to work with just now.

Dear God-I need your help to live in the moments. Help me get my “second wind” that comes after I have endured the daily, monotonous, seemingly unfruitful present, and pushed myself beyond what I feel is possible, wise or worthwhile. Help me to remember that you alone-and your purposes in the space between-are my continuous and consistent reward.

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, identity, Relationships, Serenity, Trust

49er (almost 50 but not quite!)

Tomorrow is my birthday. It’s not the big 5-0, but I will be turning the number only one year away from that. I can hardly stand to even talk about that right now. So let’s just look backwards instead. I remember when I turned 30 I was sorely disappointed because in my twenties I envisioned myself being a “wise woman of God” by the time I arrived at that mile marker. Needless to say, that was “no-go”. I remember my 40th birthday well. A group of ladies went out to dinner with me at Indigo restaurant. It was a special time. My husband and I also celebrated our 40th by going to Grand Cayman for a week! It was awesome, but, side note, as I opened the doors on the veranda of our hotel room at the Ritz Carlton…again, on my FORTIETH birthday….there was a supermodel doing a photo shoot right below us. In a swimsuit. Sprawling across a speedboat. Posing and working the camera with great fervor. She was there for some sort of supermodel convention that would begin in a couple days. Supermodels trickled in throughout the week. I remember laying on the beach as they literally carried said supermodel across the sand to her next shoot about 20 feet away from me. Perrrrfect.

I had sort of blocked out that part of my birthday history until just now….

So, back to my original reason for writing. It’s not to get you to tell me happy birthday tomorrow. It’s about what I have come to understand about life and birthdays: God’s plan is better than mine. It would be easy for me to get pretty sad if I think about the fact that 50% of those friends that celebrated me on my 40th birthday are no longer in my life. Or when I recollect that after my 40th birthday my life pretty much imploded (or exploded?) and has been a serious learning curve ever since. Up until that point of my life I don’t think I ever really knew the pangs of betrayal, heartbreak, terror, rage or despair. I guess I was lucky to not experience it until 40, and for that I am grateful.

But here I am, 9 years later, and I have new eyes to see with as a result of what God has brought me through. I am still not the “wise woman of God” I had wished to turn into when I was 30. But that’s ok. What I am, or in the process of becoming, is more joyful, more humble, more content, more relaxed, more vulnerable and authentic. I am also becoming less of a few things: less judgmental, less angry, less fearful, less insistent on my own way. I have come to realize that though I would not have chosen to go through the struggles I have faced in the past almost-decade, God used them to mold me into a person I finally like. I finally feel like I am leaning in to what He wants for me instead of trying to manipulate him into giving me what I think will make me happy.

I had to go through the fire to reap the benefits of the refinement that comes only through the intense heat of extreme circumstances. There is no other way but through if you want the serenity that comes from trusting God in every single event, challenge, opportunity, accident or heartache that comes your way. Don’t get me wrong, I certainly was not bravely challenging the storm to “bring it on!” most of the time. But I didn’t give up or curl up. I trudged away. I found new friends to celebrate with these past few years. Though I had to say goodbye to many relationships, I have added more than double what I lost. My life is richer now as a result. I would say that I know and interact with at least 100 more people that have blessed my world, all as a result of circumstances that seemed as if they would be the figurative and even literal death of me.

When I was reading Oswald Chambers this morning, I skipped ahead to the reading for my birthday. Here’s what I read and what I will do my best to remember until I turn 50 (at which point we can chat about whatever new revelations God has brought my way…):

“If a man or woman is called of God, it does not matter how untoward (read: horrific, undesirable, agonizing, disappointing, sucky, etc.) fcircumstances are, every force that has been at work will tell for God’s purpose in the end. If you agree with God’s purpose He will bring not only your conscious life, but all the deeper regions of your life which you cannot get at, into harmony.”

Thank you God. Happy Birthday to me.

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

“Vacation, all I ever wanted…”🎼🎤

I don’t know why I haven’t written for so long. Well, actually, yes I do. I think I allowed myself to believe a lie. I convinced myself, unintentionally of course, that if I didn’t have anything new and enlightening to talk about I shouldn’t bother. If God wasn’t shining a sunbeam down on me and writing a message on the wall, then why bore anyone with my drivel. Well lucky for you 😝 I’ve come to my senses. And how exactly did that happen, you ask? Let me explain.

Some of you know that this summer, my daughter Emma, spent time serving at a camp in Oregon. So it was just Bennett and Blake and I here. Made for a pretty quiet house with no girl for me to jabber with! On August 9th Bennett and Blake drove to Las Vegas where Bennett will live with family for the next year or so. I flew out Saturday and met them there. I spent the next Morning with an “escapee” from Springfield who moved there a few years ago. Then we hung with my in-laws (grandparents and Blake’s sister and fam) and headed to the strip for dinner that night. The next morning Blake and Bennett and I drove to LA, checked in to our hotel and I headed to the airport to pick up Emma who flew in from her summer in Oregon. We all spent 5 days there visiting our son Berkeley and were joined later in the week by his sweet girlfriend Kinze. After doing Disney (meeting up with some other “escapees” from Springfield), Laguna beach and Paramount Studios (where Berk works), Emma, Bennett, Blake and I headed to Napa, California to see my parents, my siblings and their children. Oh, and for the record, we drove 4 hours from Vegas to LA, spent about a jillion hours in LA traffic during the week (Lord, have mercy), and drove 6 hours to Napa before we flew back to St. Louis and then drove 2 hours home. The next day Emma started school and we headed back to catch up at our jobs. We had fun fun fun but does anyone else feel exhausted from just reviewing that schedule? It’s not even that it was exhausting, it’s that during times of extreme busyness and positive distractions, I tend forget some of the priorities that keep my soul on track.

So, when I think I have nothing new to say, I am right. But that is no reason to stop writing. Being on vacation for 10 days reminds me of a core truth about myself, and maybe some of you can relate: repetition/routine=reflection/remembering. You see, when I am on vacation, my daily routine goes out the window. Things aren’t normal, because “I’m on vacation.” My time clock is off and am out later than normal, I am sleeping with 4 people in the same hotel room and eating and drinking foods that are not on my regular diet and I have little to no time alone. I forget to take my vitamin that I have taken every other day of the year without even thinking about it and forget to take off my eye make up at night which, as a woman, should never ever happen🙃. Routine of working out is easily discarded and my morning reading regiment is postponed until I return back to “normal life”. It’s like I take a vacation from everything that’s good for me in order to “celebrate” being on vacation! Which of course, sounds insane now that I type it out.

Here’s the thing; I am painfully human and have an astounding capacity to forget. If I don’t have routine and set aside time to reflect on and review what I say I believe or want to change or improve on, those principles and goals become a vapor and disappear into thin air. when I regularly write and read what I write, I am reminded of what I believe. I remember that even though I say in every other blog that trying to manipulate God or other people to get them to do what I want is no good, it takes me about 2 days/hours to live out the opposite (just one of many recurring themes).

Though it’s not ideal to do vacation without all the good routine/reflection, it’s drastically more dangerous to get in to such a pattern of neglect, busyness, distraction, avoidance, ignorance, etc. at home. For me, it is imperative that I set aside time, intentionally and without waver, to do what I know is good for my body, mind and soul. What I repeat, I learn from, even if by accident. I form habits for healthy and positive and beautiful living through repetition, review and reflection.

I had a wonderful vacation. I am sad to be home in some ways because I am reminded that we are minus 2 boys that are on the other side of the country. And living in reality is much harder than the blissful denial that defines “vacation Heather”. And yet, I know that even though every-day-life is rarely glamorous, It’s here that I grow. I slow down a bit, I integrate routine and discipline back into my daily living. I remind myself that it’s ok to read and re-read books on the same dang topics. It’s ok to write and repeat myself. I am never so advanced that I will not need to be regularly reminded of what I believe and how I then should act. I can not afford to take a vacation from that.

awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Detoxing my mind…(Who’s Your Inner Critic part 2)

My brain kinda hurts already, just thinking about thinking. A couple months ago I attended a conference and heard a Cognitive Neuroscientist speak about detoxing our minds. She says we do this by ridding our brains, or rather, retraining our thoughts, to eliminate toxic thinking patterns. Perhaps that talk is what has got me reflecting on how I talk to myself in my mind. Last time I wrote I told you about my inner critic, Miss Mary Poppins, who whispers judgment and harshness and criticism to me. I have listened to those words for so long that the repetitive nature of them has created neuropathways in my brain. Caroline Leaf showed actual pictures of the inside of a brain and what happens when a person has a thought. It fires up like a short squiggly line in your brain with every idea. Over and over this little zap occurs. But here’s the kicker, if the same thought is repeated over and over again, it wears an actual groove in your brain and eventually forms a little cluster of thoughts that get rooted in your mind, making it easier for them to happen the next time.

I have a few pathways that have been forged and frequently travelled over the years. There are two main ones that I want to tell you about today, but I know for sure that there are dozens more.

One recurring thought I have is some version of the following: “What is wrong with me?”. I can already hear my counselor saying to me, as he always does, “there’s nothing wrong with you.” I usually just blow him off and continue to tell him about something negative, childish or dumb that I did or thought. Instead of giving myself grace or permission to be less than perfect or a mere human, I beat myself up in my head about mistakes, failures or shortcomings. The more I have these kinds of thoughts, the more I believe them to be true about me. I am pretty certain I have a mass the size of an apple in my brain on this one.

The other pathway that I’m sure  leads to a mass the size of a grapefruit (just thought i would be consistent since all doctors seem to relate tumors to a size of fruit to illustrate severity!) is “I’m bad.” I don’t say it quite like that every time, of course, because that would be too obvious. I use Mary Poppin’s type words and phrases so it sounds intelligent and well thought through and much much more convincing. Again, my counselor calls me on it when I say something like, “I know I’m bad, but I…”. He reminds me for the thousandth time, “You’re not bad.”

The fact that I preface what I tell a counselor who, in theory, is paid to not judge me (at least on the outside), with “I know this is bad” tells me even more about how I think of myself. What does it say, you ask? It tells me that I often talk/think negatively about myself because I care too much what other people think of me. Think about that for a moment…I have a twisted belief in me that if I point out the “bad” in me to others ahead of time, then maybe they will be less hard on me or feel bad for doing so. If I just say it to myself, maybe I can avoid criticism or correction from others. I beat them to the punch, in essence.

Not to confirm what I am saying about myself, but that seems “bad”! The one positive thing I will say is that I’ve improved over the years. 12 Step programs and cancer and faith have helped that happen. I remember a long time ago (in galaxy far far away) in my marriage I did that a lot to avoid “getting in trouble” or just prevent my husband from finding out I wasn’t perfect (I’m sure he would have been shocked!). Basically, it’s a form of trying to control or manipulate what someone else thinks about me. Image Management, if you will. I would audibly beat myself up when I forgot to drop off a payment, send a lunch to school, or backed in to my husband’s cute red sports car with my minivan (hypothetically speaking, of course). I did this to hopefully prevent someone I loved from thinking ill of me or being, God forbid, mad or frustrated.

I don’t really know the root of all the reasons I tend to have lots of little zappy negative squiggles in my mind, but I am working on doing something to unravel them. I am becoming mindful enough to correct Mary Poppins and replace her words with kind, accepting, gracious, loving words that come from God. Words that I would whisper tenderly to those I love the most.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, grace

Who’s your inner critic?

You may have heard the saying, “hurt (adjective) people-hurt (verb) people”. I recently read through some notes I took from a speaker that had the quote, “free (adjective) people-free (verb) people”. Even though at my core I believe God’s grace received gives me the gift of being free at all times, I don’t always feel or live in that freedom. Sometimes I choose to sit in the jail cell even when the door to freedom is standing wide open. I guess the idea is that we often operate alongside and influence those we encounter based on what state we are currently living in. So, regarding my particular state, I would have to say I am a “wanna be”. And “wanna be free” people can often help other “wanna be free” people be, well, free. Or more acutely, I am a “wanna live free” person. Being free and living free are worlds apart. If you are one of those people, maybe you can join me in learning how to do this.

…I am laughing at myself, because at the end of that last sentence I started to type “better”. And therein lies the obstacle to why I don’t feel free in my head: I have terrible trouble accepting who am and being ok with me. With letting myself be enough of (fill in the blank). I am constantly trying to be better than I am right now. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, unless you berate and frown upon the person you are presently. How I talk to myself is so subtly abusive that I don’t even notice it most of the time. But the words and the beliefs those thoughts create in my brain-actual neuropathways-keep me from living light.

Maybe I am being too vague. Maybe it will help to have a visual. A few months ago I was privileged to do a book study with a group of women in leadership in Springfield. One of the weeks, our assignment was to characterize our “inner critic” and give him or her a name. Without thinking very long about it, I identified her as Mary Poppins. I am a pseudo-expert on her character, based on the fact that I have seen the original Disney flick approximately 79 times. When my 23 yr old son was about 4, he was obsessed with the “Step in Time” song/dance. You know, the one where Burt (Dick Van Dyke) dances on the rooftops with Chimney Sweeps? My son would place couch pillows on the floor (these were the chimney tops) and leap from pillow to pillow with a long duster (the kind you use to clean spider webs and such from the ceilings of your home), mimicking the choreography. I tell you that adorable story to validate my Mary Poppins expertise. Anyway…here’s the relation. I find Mary Poppins to be slightly intimidating, arrogant, judgmental and have exceedingly high expectations of others. She’s also a bit cra cra if the truth be told. Several times in the movie she takes the kids on some wild adventure and when they try to tell their father about it she denies it ever happened saying something like “we did nothing of the sort!” (Or some other funky English phrase).

When the voice in my head tell me I am not enough (didn’t manage my time well enough to get the dishes/laundry/phone calls/appointments made, am not working out often enough or eating well enough, that I should have give more attention to my kids and given them more responsibility and hugged them more, etc.), she sound like Mary Poppins. She has a nice English accent, which we all know makes everything sound more romantic and pleasant even when it’s not. She doesn’t curse or accuse in a way that causes me to tell her to take a hike. She simply points out all the ways I don’t measure up. It’s a running monologue, background static that seeps into my subconscious until I eventually accept those ideas as truth. Once the are solidified, she moves on to other areas so there is never a moment of rest.

Maybe you are ready to call 911 and send them over to have me take to the hospital for evaluation. Or maybe you could take a moment and ponder what your inner critic is saying to you. What’s his/her name? What kind of lies is he whispering, or shouting, to you throughout your day? What kind of truths can you cling to that can be used to combat that voice? How can you put her in her place-in a time-out, if you will-and replace her words of bondage and criticism with ones of freedom and acceptance.

My intention is to pay attention to my thoughts, evaluate if they are true and from God, who loves me and created me and accepts me exactly where I am today, or if they are from Mary Poppins who thinks she’s “got me”. I intend to listen for the voice of truth and counter her lies by acknowledging that I am doing the best I can with what I have at any given time. And so is everyone else, for that matter. I get pretty worked up when I think of cruel or hurtful things other people have said to or about me. To quote Marianne Williamson in A Return to Love, “whatever abuse they gave us was often mild compared to the way we abuse ourselves today. It’s true that your mother might have said repeatedly, ‘You’ll never be able to do that, dear.’ But now you say to yourself, ‘You’re a jerk. You never do it right. You blew it. I hate you.’ They might have been mean, but we’re vicious.” This type of self-loathing is destructive and deadly. It is the root of all that is bad in us and in the world. She points out that all this emotional energy has to go somewhere. “So we sabotage.We drink. We do drugs. We control. We obsess. We codepend. We overeat. We hide. We attack. The form of dysfunction is irrelevant. We can find a lot of different ways to express how much we hate ourselves.”

Without being hard on myself and therefore responding counter-productively to this whole blog, I do want to say that i am going to do what it takes to silence Miss Mary Poppins. I need a new voice in my head. I need to listen for God’s soft whisper and mix it with the kind and gentle part of my own spirit. The one that gives me a break for not being perfect and tells me to rest in who I am at this current moment. That tells me I am always enough. And so are you.

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.