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

My Mini Miracle

I hope I can tell this story-this actual event-with description that, in the end, takes your breath away. I doubt that’s possible, but hopefully God will overwrite my measly words and help you see with eyes that catch the miracle of it all.

But first, before the miracle, I want to confess that I was battling fear, doubt, and honestly, irritation at the circumstances in my life. I didn’t say it out loud, but in my head, I was blaming God for the majority of it. Questioning why things seemed to be piling up like we were being punished for something. There are some major life decisions that we are trying to navigate with finances and kid’s college decisions and timelines, sprinkled with a plethora of minor expenses and frustration to fill in any potential gaps of serenity; my daughter got her first speeding ticket which will require a court visit and supervision, both me and my son had rock chips in our windshields that needed to be addressed, and on top of a few other similar issues, my daughter called me to say that she had lost her car key (her 200 car key because of the fancy keys they make these days) on the bike path where she had just covered approx 2 miles.

This felt like proverbial straw that broke the camels back. She had already walked a bit of bike path but still hadn’t found it and had to go to work. So, since I was going to go for a bike ride later that day, I told her I would just go now and see if I can find the key. There was a pretty good chance it had been run over or knocked into the tall grass that lined both sides of the path.

Let me just give you a few bullet points so as not to bore you any further with the details leading up to the moment of impact, the moment God grabbed my face in His hands to make sure I heard Him.

-Drove home from work (20 minutes)

-Change into my biking attire (about 15 minutes)

-Fill my water bottle, locate my head phones, my helmet and head back in the house a few times to get gum, use the bathroom and break the news to my husband about the lost key (about 10 more minutes)

-Ride to the bike bath (7 minutes)

-Choose between 2 entrances to the bike path, figuring it would be the best one for retracing my daughter’s steps

-Ask God, even though I have been being sort of a brat to Him, to please show me where the key is. Please, Please, Please. Please don’t let me spend the rest of my afternoon pacing the path for a tiny key with not even a keychain on it to make it stand out. Help me find it and find it quickly. Amen.

As I came up out of the wooded path, I stopped to look both ways so as not to be plowed down by another biker. The next events happened in about 20 seconds.

two black and brass colored keys with fob
Photo by Brett Jordan on Pexels.com

I looked to my right and saw 2 women riding towards me. They were talking to each other so I knew they would hear me (usually I see single riders with headphones turned up so loud it would be a waste of words). As they passed me I yelled out, “Hey! If you see a key on the path let me know!”. I figured it was worth a shot to at least have someone else keeping their eye out for it. They both slammed on their brakes and came to a stop about 20 feet from where I stood. They said, “Yes! We did see a key when we rode by earlier.” Then they pointed to the ground, exactly where they stopped: “And there it is.”

We all shared a twilight zone, God Thing, goose-bumps up your spine moment together.

I mean, just think about how all of that had to line up. It blows my mind, the details of it. If I had come out of the woods even 5 seconds earlier or later, I’d probably still be wandering around out there with a flashlight and a metal detector.

What God was trying to say to me was not lost; “Heather. With my track record of taking care of you, do you really not trust that I see you and hear you? If I care enough to show you straight up where that tiny key is on a 2 mile stretch of road, within seconds of reaching the bike path, don’t you think I am taking care of the bigger, more important and life altering details of your life?”

I came home elated and overwhelmed with how He chose to express this to me. I sometimes need a wake up call. I need God to get my attention like a parent does to a frenzied out-of-control toddler who has had too much sugar but desperately needs a nap. Sometimes you just have to grab em’, hold em’ tight and force them to be still.

Fortunately, even though it’s embarrassing to admit my lack of trust in God’s plan for me and my family and those I love and even our city and state and world, I know that I am not the only one who struggles to remember that he sees and hears and knows what I need better than I ever will. How do I know this? Because Jesus talked about it while he was teaching us what God is like. When he gave instructions to his disciples, he said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid, you are worth more than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10:29-31). And earlier he tells them, “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or real or store away in barns, and yet your Heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a sing hour to his life?” (Matthew 6:26,27)

A few years ago, and this part of a whole spirit-ordained experience that I will tell you about another time, a waitress/angel at a hotel cafe sang “His eye is on the sparrow” to my husband after plopping herself down and hearing our “story”.

This old gospel song tells of of God’s tender attentiveness to us:

Why should I feel discouraged,/Why should the shadows come,
Why should my heart feel lonely/And long for Heav’n and home?

…Let not your heart be troubled/His tender word I hear,
And resting on His goodness/I lose my doubts and fears

…Whenever I am tempted,/Whenever clouds arise,
When songs give place to sighing,/When hope within me dies..

I sing because I’m happy. I sing because I’m free.
His eye is on the sparrow,/And I know he watches me.
He watches (over) me. He watches (over) you. He sees you. He sees your sadness, your struggle, your doubts, your joys, your longings, your fear, your broken heart. He knows your circumstances and your trials and the decisions you need to make. He feels the oppression and the discrimination and the injustice you have experienced. And he is beside you to lead and guide and comfort and heal. We do not have a God who is calloused or unfamiliar with what we need. We can trust Him to care for us just as he does that tiny sparrow-and much much more.

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Brokenness, Comparision, Faith/Spirituality, freedom, Growth, identity

The comparison trap

I love it when a good blog topic comes together! I always know I am supposed to write about something when I get this kind of affirmation from God. Let me tell you what led up to me sitting on my couch talking out-loud about one of my hugest character defects: Comparison. If you ever struggle with feeling less-than or better-than, you are in good company and I hope you can learn a couple things that might alleviate some of the pain that comes from living with the emotionally detrimental effects of comparing yourself to others.

None of this is a new battle for me, I just have become excruciatingly aware of the damage it has on my serenity through some recent and serious comparison “opportunities”. As a result, while driving 3 hours to Missouri, I finally listened to some CDs a friend gave me about a year ago ( sorry, girl!). There were 6 CDs hammering home “The Power of Vulnerability” by Brene’ Brown, a Shame Researcher. Ya, I know, just some light travel entertainment. She said a lot of poignant junk that I could definitively benefit from, but one particular phrase that stood out was, “comparison kills vulnerability.” According to her, comparison is the number one blocker of real, authentic relationships with others and peace with oneself. I knew immediately this was an area of growth that was gonna involve some retraining and rewiring of my default setting: comparing myself to practically everyone.

This new information had been marinating in my mind for a few days when I had a revelation one morning while jogging on the treadmill next to some “real” runners. Well, that’s what myself told myself. I was running with all my might and felt a little like my heart was going to burst. I was about a stride away from just flying off the back of the treadmill into the people on the rowers-who I am pretty sure were staring at my backside and feeling sorry for me (“bless her heart…she thinks she is a runner:). The people on either side of me were clipping along at a much more rigorous pace and yet they were smiling, talking and hardly sweating or breathing hard. What gives? This is when the slogan I have often quoted to myself but not totally bought into, apparently, came to mind: “Don’t judge your insides by other people’s outsides”. This is exactly how it works; I feel something or know something inside me and determine I am a mess, a failure, a loser, because people around me (in my office, at the gym, at my church, and on the guru of all vulnerability killers, social media) SEEM to be just fine and dandy. They don’t seem to be “huffin’ and puffin’”. Their life looks glamorous, their kids and husband appear successful and kind and amazing. None of my internal reaction to what goes on in my dark, insecure, egocentric, judgmental, embarrassing insides makes me want to share anything with people who I perceive as having it all together based on what they portray on the outside.

The final “sign” to me that this is an area I could stand to do some work on, came when I sat down to write about it. I had piddled around so long that I ran out of time so I decided to just do my daily reading in my Recovery book and revisit this blog another time. I opened to the page for February 13th and just started crying. Here were some of the phrases:

-Comparing myself to others was a defect of character that plagued me all my life.
-I didn’t like myself because I wasn’t living up to what I believed to be true about others.
-I (now) know that my growth can’t be compared with anyone else’s…I have learned that I can’t judge my insides with other people’s outsides. We’re all doing the best we can.

Another reading earlier in February points out that when we live like we are are on a ladder, “everyone above me-to be feared or envied-or below me-to be pitied”, we kill vulnerability. We sacrifice our chance to have authentic, meaningful relationships with others and ourselves. We ante-up or work to protect our secrets and flaws. We can’t relax and just be our whole-hearted selves. We end up lonely and exhausted.

photo of woman climbing on ladder
Photo by Samantha Garrote on Pexels.com

And by we, I mean me. Though I have a hunch I might not be alone in this Comparison trap. In order to get out if it, I plan to change my belief and expectations about who I wish I was and who I am meant to be. I have to own my own story and stand firm in the knowledge that I am exactly who and where God wants me to be today.  I am enough. And so are you.

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Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

Junk drawers, closets and character defects

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

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

pexels-karolina-grabowska-4219101

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

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

I could learn a couple things about myself using this analogy.

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

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

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

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

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Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

A note to you…

I’ve been stalling. Since Nine O’clock this morning I have been stalling. I know I want to write something but for lots of reasons that you don’t need to know, I keep coming up with other “‘necessary and spiritual” things that require my attention. I almost always write first thing in the morning, mainly because by the time I hit 3:00 PM on most days, I’ve ceased caring about doing anything productive or addressing anything that might hurt my brain. Nevertheless, here I sit in my writing spot on my blue couch, feet perched on my coffee-stained table, thinking out loud on paper so I can get a grasp on some of my recent hauntings.

I have a couple things on my mind, but today a new special something has cropped up. Might as well share it, since those other hauntings will no doubt hover around until I reason them out with you another fine day. Here’s how this blog came about…

I have recently determined to follow through with connecting with a few women who I would like to get to know a bit better. They seem like people I could laugh with, learn from and maybe even encourage if God chooses to use me in that way. I reached out to them and set up times to get together. I met with one of them today. A morning meeting lasted until this afternoon and my heart is so full. When I write, one of my main goals (aside from unloading and unpacking all my craziness on paper for my own sanity) is to help those who read feel less alone. Less weird. Less defeated. Less hopeless, afraid that they will never change or grow or heal. Today, this woman did that for me. I came home refreshed and lighter and less of all the things I long to alleviate in you.

Not only did I come home with a new energy and hopeful spirit, I sat for a few minutes to reflect on the fact that had my life not been a virtual roller coaster of chaos and challenges that seemed to crash relentlessly for years, I may not have ever even met this woman. I may never have met you, or come to the kind of relationship we now have. I write and you read (can’t imagine why, other than I know first hand the gift of realizing you’re “not the only one) and we have a special bond. I can feel it. Even when just one of you comments, I know I am doing what God has prepped me to do. Without the messiness and grittiness of cancer and family addiction and upheaval of almost my entire social network in one fell shwoop, we would still be strangers or superficial acquaintances. All that stuff really sucked (Sorry mom! A Nicer-lady-like word doesn’t really do it justice 😬 ) and at times I wished every bit of it would go away and my life would go back to “normal”. But God…He had other plans for me. For all of us.

During times when I feel self-pity calling me to curl up and isolate from all humans outside my house, I review a list I once made. A list of all the people I have met or reconnected with in a new way since everything flipped upside down 8 years ago. There are at least 100 people on it. I could probably add more if I sat down today and reevaluated. My point is, without going through the stuff that I thought was ruining my life, I may have never met or enhanced my relationships with those of you who saved my life.

When I came home from my marathon get-to-know-ya meeting today, I picked up a book by Anne Lamott and read the final chapter before I put it back on its’ place on the shelf. I got to the bottom of the page and read, “she was diagnosed with Leukemia”. Lamott spent the rest of the chapter talking about her friend’s life and the memorial service that her friend actually attended, insisting she be present for the celebration before she died. After I cried like a baby for a minute or two, I smiled and prayed a grateful prayer for being allowed to live. I don’t know why I didn’t die. I know for sure it was not of my doing. Plenty of sweeter, kinder less needy, selfish and bossy people die all the time. That’s confusing to me but I am certainly not pointing this out to God just now.

February 6, 2020 will mark 5 years since my Leukemia Diagnosis. I am “all clear”, whatever that means. It’s an appropriate time to sit here, where I have sat about 1,000 times with books and IPad at my fingertips and say “thank you”. ‘Thank you” to God. ‘Thank you” to you. We go through what we go through so we can help others get through the same. God does not waste any of it. Remember that. Always remember that.

awareness, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality

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

My brain kinda hurts already, just thinking about thinking. A couple months ago I attended a conference and heard a Cognitive Neuroscientist speak about detoxing our minds. She says we do this by ridding our brains, or rather, retraining our thoughts, to eliminate toxic thinking patterns. Perhaps that talk is what has got me reflecting on how I talk to myself in my mind. Last time I wrote I told you about my inner critic, Miss Mary Poppins, who whispers judgment and harshness and criticism to me. I have listened to those words for so long that the repetitive nature of them has created neuropathways in my brain.

MARY POPPINS, Julie Andrews, 1964

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.

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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 “wannabe”. And “wannabe free” people can often help other “wannabe 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 I 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 that 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.

MARY POPPINS, Julie Andrews, 1964

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 cray-cray 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 tells me I am not enough (didn’t manage my time well enough to get the dishes/laundry/phone calls/appointments made, I am not working out often enough or eating well enough, that I should have given more attention to my kids and given them more responsibility and hugged them more, etc.), she sounds 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 they 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 taken 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.

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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 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?

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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.