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.

Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

Boneless and Skinless

“In the same way a piece of bone-in, skin-on chicken will always be juicier and more flavorful than its boneless, skinless counterpart, fish benefits from keeping its protective skin and bones.”

Now that’a a good “hook” to kick off a blog, right? Hang with me…

Even though I generally buy my chicken boneless and skinless”, we all know that it releases the most flavor and maintains moisture better when it is cooked together with the bone and skin. Seems to be sort of the opposite to bring out flavor in the fish. Whichever way you frame it, I think we can agree that having bones and skin involved=better.

On various occasions in my past, and even as recent as the past few weeks, I feel like I have been walking around without them. I am “boneless and skinless”. This is a phenomenon that happens from my inside out when especially emotional situations enter my life and don’t leave in a timely fashion. I cling to the book of Psalms during these periods because David, who wrote the majority of them, does a lot of pleading with God to come quickly to his rescue because he is “poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint”(Psalm 22. ). I love, or at least understand, that metaphor. when my heart is wrecked and my mind orbits around a wound 24 hours a day without relief, I feel like my very structure is incapable of “doing the next right thing” that’s needs doing. Laundry=too hard. Dinner=way too hard. Making a phone call=too much. And being “present” with people I am with?=not happening. It’s all just so much work. I physically can’t seem to put one foot in front of the other sometimes.

And what about skinless? That’s a painful one. In Psalm 73:26 another Psalmist talks about his “flesh/skin failing” as a result of his suffering. Sometimes, and maybe you have had your own experience with this, I feel like I am literally walking around without my skin on. Everything and everyone that brushes against me during the day feels “extra”. Extra harsh, extra tender, extra soft, extra scathing. “It’s not you, it’s me”, as the saying goes. I am raw and sinewy and exposed to outside elements in the most vulnerable and cringy way. I really hate being like this. It makes me feel not only emotional, but weak. Crying in front of people is something I hate to do but it seems to happen a lot in this kind of season. I don’t think people around me mind (what? She’s human??), but I certainly don’t like to let my guard down like this!

When I read the Psalms, I don’t always get the answers I want to hear (although, and I ‘m not proud to admit it, but sometimes I read and re-read the ones where God finally brings down justice on David’s enemies 😬). I do, however, observe a posture that David seems to circle back to over and over, and I hear a common refrain that keeps me from completely imploding (which is what happens when one tries to live life without proper bones and skin).

First-after David begs God to help him (and whines a bit about his unfair circumstances), he remembers his track record. Or should I say, God’s track record. He says things like:

*For you have been my hope, O Sovereign God, my confidence since my youth
*Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again
*For you have delivered me from death, and my feet from stumbling.
*If your word had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction
*I was pushed back and about to fall, but the Lord helped me.

Second, He gives us the solution: Trust in God.

*In you our fathers put their trust.; they trusted and you delivered them.They cried out to you (God) and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. (Ps. 22:4,5)
*The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped. My heart leaps for joy (Ps 28:7)
*Be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10)
*When I am afraid, I will trust in you. In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I will not be afraid. What can mortal man do to me? (Ps. 56:3,4)
*Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you (Ps. 143:8)
*But I trust you o lord. You are my God, my times are in your hands (Ps. 31:14,15)

Have you been doing life “boneless and skinless”? Me too. We are not chickens. It’s not healthier this way. Maybe we can do what David did; remember God’s track record and how he has shown up for us in the past. And maybe it will help us both if we read through some of the Psalms I listed above and then wait patiently for God to restore us to physical, emotional and spiritual health.

What have we got to lose?

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

Down to go up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

awareness, Brokenness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth

You are aware….(or are you?)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An exception to the yoga rule

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

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

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

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

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

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, identity, insecurity, resentment, Serenity, Trust

My “past-life”

In my “past-life”, August was always an exciting month. For many years our church was a part of being a host site for the annual Global Leadership Summit. A couple of those years I was able to travel and attend the live event in Chicago that was simulcast around the world. The energy of thousands of leaders in one place was electric and exhilarating! It was right up my motivational alley. Over the years, I have heard speakers like Rick Warren, John Maxwell, Seth Godin and even Bono! World changers and influencers of the highest caliber. When I wok up this morning, I felt a bit nostalgic, and then sad, and upon further reflection (with a few tears and extensive reading/meditation), grateful.

I haven’t been a part of these Summits or of the church world as I used to know it for about 6 years now. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, in his book Falling Upward, takes the reader on a journey “to give us understanding of how the heartbreaks, disappointments, and first loves of life are actually the stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half of life has in store for us.” I believe this because I have lived this. Not just in the ways my “outer” world changed: losing a church family support system virtually over-night, waging war on addiction in our family system, down-sizing my home by half, and entering the work force full-time after 10 years of stay-at-home-mom employment. Oh, and at about the time I was able to accept and embrace this “new normal”, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. No need to expand on the ramifications of that

I am not telling you those things to try to get sympathy. I am telling you because as I have reflected on the “me” I was in the “first-half” of my life and the “me” I am now, I know without question that my soul is stronger, more peaceful, more aware of God’s plan in the world, more compassionate, and most definitely less judgmental, self-grandiose, ego driven and “works” oriented. I am learning to live content with where I am at, both physically ( my body, my house, my city, my job, etc.) and spiritually (my soul-level components that will forever need morphing and tweaking, for as long as I live). And I know that this way of living, a new and better way, has come to me through the “necessary sufferings” of failure, sin, disease, and great and heavy loss.

Even though I would never choose to re-live those circumstances and situations that rooted out the character defects and instilled in me a new and different valuation model for success, I also don’t wish them away or resent them. I know that I know that I know that they are the very tools used chip away all that I didn’t need to get to the shape and splendor of what was underneath. The real and true Me.

I haven’t “arrived”. Don’t get me wrong. And, lest you think I am bragging about this “transformation”, please refer to previous blogs where I confess to such insanities as resenting an entire town because someone who hurt me lives there and how I have had to refrain from running mean people down with my car. 😡😜 This change certainly didn’t happen over night. It has taken me years to make any noticeable progress. There is much more whittling that needs to be done. I haven’t payed my “disaster dues” so that it will now be smooth sailing from here on out. But like I said, the Me of my “past-life”, which is still a valuable me and was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time, looks very different than the Me of today, at least from the inside out. If you knew me before, you may or may not see the difference, depending on how close we were then and are now.

That Leadership Summit really takes me back to the days when I thrived on thriving. The more excitement and rubbing shoulders with important people and having connections with influential leaders the better. I wanted to be part of that world so badly. I desperately longed for and prayed for and expected God to do “big things” through me. My dreams and goals were huge and I carried a lot of unrest and fear and frenzy about whether those things would ever actually happen. How could I go on if they didn’t? I didn’t want to fail God by just being “average” or “ordinary”. That was for spiritual sissies!

Well, as luck, and fate, and Life would have it, my world flipped upside down and Hallelujah-I don’t have to live that way anymore. In the after-life of the after-math, I don’t worry about being enough for God or others. I know God accepts and loves me where I am and that gives me the perspective to care less about being enough for others. I prefer to serve special ed pre-schoolers or visit one-on-one with someone battling the diseases of addiction or cancer or plagues of the heart. I don’t care if my friends are influential or rich or in shape. I look for friends who are honest and authentic and full of faith but I also love to be available to extend God’s grace to those who are angry with God and people and can’t seem to get themselves together. Really, whoever God puts before me from day to day. Whether it’s a Soul-Selfie reading where people are complimentary and kind or with a client who is grouchy and difficult and rude. My only job is to keep my side of the street clean and serve whoever comes my way.

As a result of how God and I have worked through and walked through heartache, loss, betrayal, change (oh, so much change), trials, and a literal near-death experience, I can look back with fondness and gratitude for where I am today. For who I am today. Pain and sorrow can either make you bitter or better. With God’s help and grace, I chose, and choose, better.

My hope and prayer is that, today, you will choose better too.

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

Rules are made to be broken

For some reason, while I was taking my in-laws to the airport last week, I made a comment about how I was a “rule follower”. I was a little surprised that they seemed very surprised that I thought this about myself. They didn’t share my assessment. It might have something to do with a couple maneuvers I made to get them to the airport on time, claiming that certain traffic laws were merely suggestions. At any rate, I guess I should explain that even though I many not agree with or follow certain rules, there are a couple rules I have about myself that I can’t seem to not follow, even though they aren’t necessarily based in reality or contribute to healthy, whole-hearted living.

Lately, I have been writing about finding my “skip” again. Learning how to “play” and live a light-hearted and joyful everyday life. I’d say I am making a little progress, in case you were wondering how it’s going. But I realized that I have established a couple Rules when it comes to my “play-time”. When I keep these rules, I find it hard to truly engage, relax and fully enjoy what I am doing and who I am doing it with.

One of the rules is for me, and I have mentioned it before. This rule tells me that I have to earn the right to play. It’s the Cinderella syndrome: until I have scrubbed the floors, dusted, vacuumed, mowed, helped kids with homework, cooked dinner, sold 3 houses, and helped out at church, I can’t go to the Ball. And if somehow I managed to get there, but hadn’t finished all my tasks, I couldn’t dare enjoy myself while I was there. I had to think about all that wasn’t done yet and all I had yet to do. I had to hold on to the guilt of taking care of myself and letting somethings go. I couldn’t dare just admit that I simply can’t keep the pace I have set for myself. I had to admit that I wasn’t Wonder Woman and that once in awhile I just had to take a break and let my hair down, and no one was going to suffer. I don’t know where I got this rule exactly. But I have been letting the rule rule me for far too long. It’s time for an uprising.

The other or rule I have is for you- for my friends, family and people who I “play” with. This one can be illustrated with a real-life example from my past. Several, as in about 10-15 years ago, I organized a game to play with a group of our friends. I am from Napa, as many of you know, and this was a Napa Valley board game. I had purchased the wines from the wineries on the board that one might land on, as well as educational information about the wines that, naturally, they would want to learn about with acute attentiveness on a Friday night…with a large group of friends….while drinking wine. Needless to say, my expectations of the evening did not end up matching the reality of it. But boy, they were having a blast! They were not, however, cooperating with my rules about how they were supposed to be having this so called “fun”. I remember being quite incensed. Wounded. Hurt. Taking it personal and pouting that they weren’t “doing it right” (read: “doing it my way”). I didn’t enjoy myself at all because they weren’t playing by my rules.

When I follow such a rule, I give other people the power to ruin my day. To steal my joy, as I often put it. And, I might add, I will not be invited to many events that require a light-hearted, easy going, relaxed presence. It hurts everyone when I try to control other people and dictate their manner of fun-ness. No one can truly engage in life-giving play when Mrs. Bossy Pants is around. Especially me.

Since, at my core of cores, I don’t really like rules, may I make a suggestion? Whatever rules you are following, that you have made up from the broken, wounded, controlling, fearful, anxious places in your soul, annul them today. Are they about how you give or are willing to receive love? How you speak to others and yourself? How you share? How you think about yourself, or God or others? What you expect from your life and the people in it?  Whatever rules you have been playing by, if they rob you of the ability to live peaceful, happy, and free, obliterate them. Declare them invalid.

THESE RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

“Why I hate Me, in a nutshell”

It’s been three years since my thoughtful, sweet and honest friend picked me up for an “outing” when I had Leukemia. As soon as I got in the car she said, “so, here’s why I hate you, in a nutshell.” (I encourage you to read that blog entry before continuing. It’ll make my whining seem less, uh, whiney. https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/06/08/why-i-hate-you-in-a-nutshell/ ) After listening and thanking her for her kind words, I asked her to outline her grievances and email them to me. She had some excellent points that I think we could all learn from.

Lately I have been rolling around the idea of taking this particular blog “on the road”. Maybe a mini version of a TED talk (maybe a HEATH talk?). As I re-read it this morning and was reminded of all the “benefits” of having Leukemia (aside from the fact that its a potentially terminal disease) I too began to feel a bit jealous of my past self. And I understood my friend a bit better. I thought, “I get it, girl! I hate me too!”. So, in no particular order, here’s “Why I hate me, in a nutshell.”

1. I hate me because people were standing in line to take care of all my chores. We all gained weight because of the yummy meals brought in at least 3 times a week. We could hardly eat fast enough before more food came. It was heavenly. And, side note, we felt obligated (read: giddy) to eat whatever they brought, even if it was drenched in gravy and laced with butter. They cleaned my house better than I ever clean it and there wasn’t one weed in my currently weed infested backyard. The pure luxury of these acts of love and service bring a nostalgic, grateful, and longing tear to my eye.

2. I hate me because I didn’t have to tell people I was sick. It was obvious. I was a 44 year old with a 100 yr old body and no hair. People felt sad for me. As a result, when I went out in public, people were nicer. When you shed a few pounds and grow our your blonde hair (ok-it really grew back in dark but I color it blonde -so sue me), people are indifferent and sometimes judgmental or rude. It’s a weird shift and it makes me miss my bald head and my walker. I really like it when strangers talk kindly to me.

3. I hate me because I had great perspective and joy in spite of hardship. I think this one is particularly bothersome to me because in the face of a deadly disease I was able to maintain hope and happiness in a way that I struggle with today, when I DON’T have life-threatening disease. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t, for example, take it personal when the person in front of me made me miss the light because they were texting. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

4. I hate me because I had one thing to worry about: getting well. When I returned a call, attended an event, emailed a teacher or did some light house work, I was a hero. If I didn’t do any of those things, everyone was understanding. Now, if I forget to reply to a text or neglect my laundry or let me grass grow too long, I just don’t seem to get that same compassionate reaction. Now, I have many many things to focus on and everyone, especially me, expects me to get it all done right and in a timely manner. It’s a lot of pressure, I tell ya!

5. I hate myself because I had permission to take care of myself. From others, but mostly from myself. I took naps when I needed them. I listened to my body and what it needed, instead of ignoring it and plowing ahead in spite of feeling run down or sick. I took time out to read and study and watch movies that inspired me or made me laugh. I was in-tuned to what I needed to stay physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy and I took steps to make sure that was happening.

6. I hate myself because for 7 glorious months, I got to eat whatever I wanted without guilt. Shallow yes, but still, it was lovely.

7. I hate myself because I had the ultimate “play pass”. I have this problem (which will probably result in an entire blog in the near future): I think I have to earn the right to “play”. I do this by telling myself I deserve to have fun because I have earned either by having a hard day or having a day worth celebrating. Either way, my “play pass” is contingent on merit. Enjoyable activities are conditional for me.

8. I hate myself because I didn’t “should” on myself. I was able to live in the moment. To truly “be” with the people I was with and embrace whatever was happening at the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next or feel like I “should” be doing something other than what I was doing at that exact moment. I was present in the present.

9. I hate myself because I got to spend 6 days out of every month in the hospital. I know that sounds absurd, and maybe 6 days a month might be sort of excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to want a few days to lay in bed, sleep, read, watch TV and push a button whenever I want to eat? You can’t tell me that isn’t the least bit appealing to some of you.

10. I hate myself because I liked myself better back then. I gave myself a break from being all things to all people. I gave my body a break to let it be real. Instead of complaining about it’s imperfections, I cherished the blood in my veins and had a party when my platelets did their job right! I was less selfish with my time and less stingy with my affection and affirming, tender words. I was more tolerant of people who texted at stoplights because who knows what pain they are in? I felt hopeful and extended that hope to people around me. I felt God’s presence in a way that I have been missing lately. It was so natural when I was dying.

 

So, I say to my friend, “I get it.” When I look back and compare the Me of then to the Me of today, I too am envious. If only I could live like that with ease like I did 3 years ago. Obviously, I am not a lunatic. I see the insanity piece of wishing I had Leukemia. I hope you are tracking with me when I share the list above. There are a couple truths that I have to first accept and then cling to in order to not hate my current self:

One; living real, raw, messy, everyday life is, in fact, harder than having Leukemia. It doesn’t let up. No one gives you a pass or permission to slack off or be a jack-marack. It’s consistently painful and challenging and stressful and exhausting. And yet we all are expected to smile and nod and plug away. We are all suffering heart ache or grief or disappointment at any given moment, yet the sales clerk, or your spouse or boss or children or best friend, don’t seem to treat you with tenderness and empathy you yearn for. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and just as gentle with others. As I may have mentioned in a book I just wrote, we are all in this together.

Two: God gives me what I need when I need it. I would have never in a million years thought I could live through cancer with any kind of grace or joy. But clearly, I did. And now I am acting like God is big enough for cancer but not big enough for handling adolescents, husbands, jobs, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, etc. I don’t believe that He isn’t powerful enough help me handle these areas. The real issue is that I don’t ask him to. I approach these challenges as if I have enough talent, smarts and hutspa to manage them on my own. I act as if “I’ve got this” when the truth is, I sincerely don’t. I need God’s perfect guidance, wisdom, perspective and plan in order to live like I did when I had Leukemia.

In reality, I love that girl and long to be that girl today. With God’s help, we can all be like her. 😚