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. 😚

 

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

“Me too”

I suspect that the title of this blog will attract almost as many random hits as my blog entitled “Let’s talk about Trump” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2017/01/10/lets-talk-about-trump/ ). To be specific, I guess I should have entitled this “You Too? Me Too.” Before I settled on “Soul-Selfie” for my book, that was one of the titles I was seriously considering. In light of the current “Me Too” movement, where women are taking a stand against sexual harassment and violence, I can see how God went ahead of me and directed my final decision. Of course, it’s not that I am opposed to this movement, it’s just that I want to maintain the integrity of my unique message and audience the same way they do theirs.

However, I think the reason I had for considering that title is the same reason the “Me Too” movement is so powerful. The disrespectful, harmful and hurtful treatment of women has been going on for decades. It isn’t new. The spark that fueled the current fire is that one person heard of another person’s suffering, and in spite of their fear, spoke out in courage: “That happened to Me Too.” The power, no matter what the subject, is in identifying with someone else in their pain. Letting them know that they are not alone. That even though it’s scary and sometimes embarrassing to admit, we are willing to come along side them and walk through it together.

What’s your ME TOO?

*You battle/battled cancer? ME TOO
*You love or are an alcoholic/addict? ME TOO
*Your kid is struggling with depression? ME TOO
*You wonder if there really is a God? ME TOO
*You feel envious of your friend’s stuff/kids/husband/wife/house? ME TOO
*You are nervous that everyone will figure out you are a fraud at your job? ME TOO
*You regularly battle feelings of rage/hate/anger/resentment? ME TOO
*You sometimes wonder if everyone would be better off if you were dead? ME TOO
*You compare your body to others and feel “less than”? ME TOO
*You are addicted to control/manipulation/obsessing about other people? ME TOO
*You never feel like you are “enough”? ME TOO
*You tend to medicate yourself with food/meds/movies/TV/exercise/work/alcohol? ME TOO
*You are discontent in your marriage and thinking of bailing/cheating/fantasizing? ME TOO
*You think you are unredeemable and unforgivable? ME TOO
*You are exhausted from trying to hustle for your self-worth? ME TOO

I am sure you could add to this list. I don’t identify with all of the above, but I have met people who do, so you are already in good company (yes, I meant to use the word “good”).

Let me tell you a short story. My blood is already starting to heat up, just thinking about it. I promised myself not to use a name or details so as not to use my blog as a form of retribution (although, I had a really spicy one typed out in my head, in extra large and bold font, for a few days before God calmed my spirit). I had reached out via text and social media to a woman who I didn’t know regarding something I needed help with. I wanted to make a connection and had been told she could possibly help make that happen. Now, granted, I was in California at the time. My son had just graduated from college and we were at that moment helping him move in to a house, where he would be living. In California. Indefinitely. 1,611 miles from his momma. It’s possible my emotions were on high alert and the fear/stress/anxiety levels were at their peak. Then the text came. Her response to my request for help in making a connection. It was not nice. Not kind. Not helpful and actually, accusatory (she actually used the word “accosted” regarding my request) and, well, mean. I immediately felt sick to my stomach. It triggered the heightened emotions I was doing my best to stuff. I cried and also wanted to throw some of my son’s belongings I was supposed to be unpacking. I haven’t felt that mad for a very very  long time.
At first I though I was just being over-sensitive and tried to tell myself that the opinion or reaction from someone who would talk that way to a stranger (although, one that knew several of the same friends) didn’t matter and I should just write it off and move on. It took me a lot of turning it over to God to not let it hijack every bit of my strength and serenity. But, this morning, as I was reflecting on how to write about this “You Too? Me Too?” Topic, I figured out why her reaction just kicks me in the gut every time I think about it: It’s the complete opposite of what I have written about in 300+ blogs and a published book. It’s the complete opposite of helping someone else when I have the means/experience to identify with them. It’s the complete opposite of being “in this together”. With that approach to life, and sadly, there are many out there who share it, life is too hard. Too much. Too lonely.

I have always had a version of this trait in me. It’s not always about something noble.  I have always looked for ways to connect with people, to find a common ground. “You lived in St. Lake city? I was born there!” “You love Neil Diamond? He’s my favorite!” Now we should be friends forever. 😉

I believe we were created to be united. To serve others. To come alongside and be real and kind with all God’s people. And by “God’s people”, I mean “people”. When we are guarded, protective (of our stuff and our hearts), defensive, suspicious or self-invested, we live as perpetual victims. As if our circumstances are unique and we are in it alone. Looking out only for ourselves.

I am sure that woman didn’t develop that attitude over night. And her story is probably hard and sad in one way or another (I want to believe that she spoke out of her own fear/hurt/trauma). But so is yours. And so is mine. We still have a choice as to how we respond to others. As fellow travelers in this universe, we have the responsibility to treat others with kindness, respect, compassion and love regardless of how others have treated us in the past or the present. You can say “no” with the same tenderness you can say “yes”.

If I suffer or struggle, and God has comforted me, it is so I can in turn extend that comfort to someone else who suffers or struggles with the same. I think that the power behind “Me Too” grows when we identify with each other’s brokenness, reminding each other that there is always hope, and we are all in this together.

What’s your “You Too? ME TOO.”? Who can you share your experience, strength and hope with today?

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Within reach

This one has been in my notebook as a possible blog for a few months. I can’t write as fast as ideas come to my mind so I outline them and save them for a time when they can be discussed from personal experience. I think today is the day for this one…

Regardless of how old you are, I am sure you have seen or heard of The Andy Griffith Show. I watched it a bit when I was little, mostly with my grandma. It was either that or Hollywood Squares 😜. There was a character on the show name Otis. He was the town drunk who spent regular time in the county jail. However, it wasn’t until recently that someone pointed out to me that Otis also had keys to the county court house and keys to the jail cell. He would often lock himself in and then hang the keys outside the cell, within reach. Totally missed that as a 10 yr old. In one episode, he even brought a suit to the cell and hung it up before going on a bender that night. He would need it to get dressed for church in the morning.

I am sure you are way ahead of me, but I just love this visual of what it looks like to keep ourselves locked up! It seems absurd that someone would remain in jail even though the keys to get our are in plain site and are easy to grab. But, embarrassingly, I do this all the time. I think I might be doing it today, which is why I need to finally write this out. Reason it out with you all and maybe have the guts to use the keys.

Sometimes my cell is a situation or a relationship. But more often than not, it’s a mindset. A dark, dank, cold and hopeless place that I am choosing to live in, even when I know there is light and hope on the other side of the bars. Why is that?

I think there are a couple pretty understandable reasons why I am often more comfortable being locked up (angry, resentful, destructive, distracted, immobilized, etc.) than exercising my right to get free.

The most consistent answer in my case, is fear. At least when I am engaging in circumstances and emotions and relationships that I am familiar with, I know what to expect and there are few surprises. Even if I don’t like where I am at, I am comfortable with how to behave and react while I am there. To leave the confines of my cell, I am opening myself up to new challenges and feelings that I may not know how to handle. I don’t seem to be able to put my trust in God to take care of me when the new and different and healthy come my way. So I leave the keys hanging.

But there’s also a humiliating and ugly answer for staying locked up, and that is for sympathy. I want to feel sorry for myself and I want others to feel sorry for me too. I may have a number of solutions at my disposal, but I refuse to use them. I don’t do the reading or make the phone call or take the action. Instead, I come up with 101 reasons why those things won’t work. The reality is, I get something out of staying locked up. I can feel sad for myself and manipulate others into feeling sad for me also. It’s self-pity in its most heinous form.

Does anyone else have experience with keeping themselves incarcerated? I hate to admit this out loud, but I am becoming more and more aware that even though my default setting when I feel stuck or trapped in a situation, relationship or mindset is to blame everyone or everything around me, the truth is that I am the one choosing to stay in the cell. The keys are there for the taking. It’s no one else’s fault but mine if I let them dangle.

I have a choice. I have the responsibility. I am the only one who can turn the key (get the help I need, call that friend, pray that prayer, share my story, apply those principles, take that action) and set myself free.

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

I know what you’re thinking…

I know what you will think when I get started on my topic for today. Well, I think I know. I assume that I know. I have convinced myself that I know and that I am right. Which is why my brain has talked myself into feeling fear about saying what I need to say today. What I have told myself that what you will think, every last one of you, is “not that topic again! That girl seriously needs to learn how to manage this already. She clearly isn’t practicing what she herself has written about dozens of times already. If she is still struggling with it, why am I even reading this blog anymore?”. Or something to that effect.

I don’t know if you are thinking all that or not. There’s a teensy chance that I might be putting words in your mouth based on my own insecurities and expectations of myself to “grow up already”. Either way, after doing some reading and praying (read: pleading with God to relieve my anxiety) I decided that even if you think all those things about me, He is still asking me to write about my battle with worry. It helps me clear my head and every single time, I have heard from at least one person whom it has also helped.

So, yes. I have found myself in a fluster of fretting lately. I am worrying about nothing and everything. From the smallest, most insignificant matter all the way up to the cosmic circumstances that may never even come to pass. In the past few months I have had some pretty big, legitimate things that tempt me to overthink, hyper-control and wring my hands over. But lately, some of those things have worked themselves out, or God has worked them out, and guess what? Still worrying! The other day, it dawned on me that my worry is like an alien spawn; it needs a host. It can’t survive on it’s own so it attaches itself to random people, places and things that may or may not be worthy of the intense levels of worry glomming onto it. Instead of this alien life-force of anxiety shrivelling and dying once it’s current host is unavailable, it just seems to moves on to something else for sustenance.

For me, it looks something like this: “Once this house closes/once this quarter of school is over for my kids/once we pay off that bill/once that job is secured/once I am declared ‘cured’ then I won’t have a thing to worry about! Then I will finally feel relieved and relaxed.” What actually happens, is that as soon as one of those stressors is resolved, my worry attaches itself to the nearest available host and continues to grow and thrive. Maybe even produce little babies of worry who branch out and find unsuspecting hosts like if my husbands favorite team wins/if I’ll ever fit in jeans I wore when I was 30/and what I imagine readers are thinking about me. 🙃

I am guessing that this is why God instructs us not to worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow can worry about itself. He also may have observed over the course of history, that people down here are drawn to worry/fear/attempts to control on a pretty regularly basis. More than likely, I am not alone in wrestling with it’s recurrence.

But I have to say, that even though I am speaking of worry, my greatest enemy and signature sin de jour (or tous les jours=not just “of the day” but “EVERYDAY”), what I want you to walk away with today is something much bigger.

Author Anna Shipton pointed out something about King David, the dude from the Bible who wrote the Majority of the Psalms, and his sufferings that prompted most of them. Not only did David suffer at the hands of his enemies, one of which used to be his BFF, he also had a few other issues like adultery and ordering the murder of that woman’s husband. Kind of big deals. And yet, God used all of it to inspire David to express his remorse, his repentances, his despair and even his rage throughout this semi-schizophrenic rant of thoughts in the Psalms. He reminds me a little of myself in that he vacillates between faith and fear. Between absolute confidence in God’s continual presence and inner groanings that question why God has seemingly abandoned him. Anyone familiar?

So, I guess that’s why, in spite of my fear that you all would think that Heather just can’t seem to get it together and that this whole “God-thing” she talks about ad nausea clearly doesn’t work, I decided to go ahead and write. It’s the reason I started writing in the first place: I was weak and sick. But I do believe, even on my hardest and darkest days, that He is strong. Shipton points out (In a book called “Streams in the Desert”), how deprived we would be had David gotten hung up on his failures, tragedies and shortcomings and refused to write: “One stinging sorrow spared would have been one blessing missed and unclaimed. One difficulty or danger escaped-how great would have been our loss! The thrilling psalms where God’s people today find expression for their grief or praise might never have been known.”

I am sure I don’t have to point out that I am aware I am no King David and the impact of my words are nowhere near what we receive from him through God’s perfect Word, but I am grateful that I can follow David’s example by sharing my real, raw, broken, doubting self without it subtracting from the hope I carry in a God who sees and hears and heals. I hope you can find it in you to do the same.

*Sign up under “email me” to receive new posts via email