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.

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Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Recovery, Relationships

What’s NOT on your calendar?

Believe it or not, I am not too old to remember myself as a college freshman. I remember that I was very young, very naive, very excited, not always right but always certain. My passion and zest for life combined with a lot of new information and education (at a bible college) was, on occasion, a recipe for a smidge of “know-it-all-ism”. But I’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs. I revered my professors and consumed books they recommended with fervor and an open spirit, ready to put into practice anything they suggested that sounded reasonable.

In one of my classes, we were assigned a book about how to manage your inner and outer world. Not only how to keep track of and stay in control of your daily schedule, but how what you did each day reflected who you were; what your outsides were saying about your insides. That’s the gist of it. I admired the author and took his suggestions to heart, applying and reflecting on the principles he outlined for a successful Christian life, marked by integrity and discipline.

Think of my shock and disappointment when, not long after we read this book for that class, it came to light that this author had been caught in an extra-marital affair. You can probably imagine the conversation among freshman bible college students who, for all practical purposes, know very little about “real life” yet. We thought we knew an awful lot though, and judged likewise. There was no understanding or compassion for that author and, due to the nature of his book topic, he set himself up to be mocked accordingly: “So, what did his daily planner look like?: 9:00 meeting 10:00 bible reading 11:30 adulterous rendezvous 1:00 lunch etc.?” We just couldn’t wrap our minds around how such duplicitousness was possible.

Fast forward 29 years. I feel like I should make a formal apology. Not because what he did was ok. But because I have seen countless times in my own life where I lived in that same duplicity. Times where I claimed, and even believed, I was walking in the light of God’s Will but was simultaneously living in flat out sin. Sometimes it was in obvious ways. Other times it was in less discernible ways, but still a blatant refusal to live an “inner life that matched my outer”.

Let’s look at it like this: I think that author, who challenged readers to ask themselves, “what’s on my calendar?”, might have been better off asking, “what’s not on my calendar?” And I think we might be better off asking the same. Maybe you can relate to what I am saying better if I use a food analogy. Whether you have dieted or not, you have probably heard that a common suggestion for people trying to lose weight is that they write down everything they eat during the day. Everything. The obvious goal is that this method will prevent you from eating junk because you know you will have to write it down and the shame of having to do that will cause you to eat fruits and vegetables instead. But the fatal flaw of human nature is that we are sneaky little things and we tend to find a loophole. When someone does snarf on a Twinkie or eat a half a bag of chips, they conveniently forget to write that down. Even when meals are planned out ahead of time, which is often suggested, rarely does someone cheating on a diet go back later and fill in the gaps with “2 Cadbury cream eggs, 11 french fries, and a glass of wine.”

The point is, maybe we should train ourselves to look regularly at what’s not on our calendar. What are the subtle ways that, in hindsight, we are undermining how we say we want to live and what we say we believe about how to go about doing so. It’s easy enough to review our day in big picture mode. But that doesn’t always highlight the details-what’s in the background. Recently, I have been working on Step 10 of a recovery program. The principle is one I think anyone could learn from: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” A quote from a reading on this step points out that “the wise have always known that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.” We could prevent much suffering and heart-ache for ourselves and those we love if we would make a habit of this daily reading between the lines. What happened in the gaps, when no one was looking? Perhaps we should look for areas where we have been self-centered, jealous, prideful, judgmental, angry, vindictive, bragadocious, sharp-tongued, arrogant, unforgiving, fearful, short-tempered, or lustful. Any of these, in word or deed, are deadly. They may not kill you immediately, but over time, if they go un-checked, they will lead you to those dark, secret places that you would never write down in your day-timer or schedule as a reminder on your mobile device.

Please hear me on this. This is an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself for the sake of growth and guarding your heart. Looking back on your day can help you identify areas that you strayed from what you know to be true of who you are or want to be in your soul of souls, it is not a time set aside for self-flogging.

But hear me on this as well; if you ignore the maintenance of your soul, the rot will come. The axiom of the “slow fade” is tried and true. That author did not set out to deceive his readers. He simply ignored and avoided a regular review of the subtle seeds of envy (of someone else’s life, or wife), pride (I am above that sort of thing), and lust (meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways). Most people don’t set out to steal money from their employer (it started with fear, selfishness, and greed that went unchecked for too long) or physically harm or kill another person (festering rage and unresolved resentments grew too big for them to contain). You get the idea.

So I am asking you, and I ask that you ask yourself on a daily basis,

“what’s NOT on your calendar?”

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

Your own weird anniversary

I have admitted to you in the past, that I tend to put an abnormally high value on significant dates. Birthdays for sure, but anniversaries of any kind also fit nicely into my mild disorder. And I’m not talking about the kind of anniversaries they make hallmark cards for. Unfortunately, most of the anniversaries are not ones that anyone would want to celebrate, because they, as a general rule, mark a day (or hour) in time that a traumatic event changed the course of my unsuspecting life. February 6th, 2015 was one such day. It was the day I sat in my kitchen while a doctor informed me, over the phone, that I had Leukemia.

For the past 3 years I have been acutely aware of the coming and going of this particular date. Each year, I feel the need to do something on that exact day that helps me recognize it. I know it sounds weird that I want to remember that day at all. My family sure doesn’t. On the first anniversary of my diagnosis, I made my kids and husband go eat at the hospital with me. I spent so much time there that it felt like a good way to celebrate not being there anymore. They were less than enthusiastic about this. Apparently they would prefer to forget any of it happened at all. It was horrific and hard for them and they have no interest in “celebrating” anything to do with it. But for me, as the person who was fully “invested” in it non-stop for 7 months and sat in a hospital bed for 70 days, it was necessary to go back. To relive, in a sense. To even honor and revere the events of that daunting day. Because today, though Leukemia changed my life forever, it holds no power over me.

This year, on my 3 year anniversary of being diagnosed, I decided not to involve my family in my weird little commemoration. I went to lunch by myself at the hospital cafeteria, like I had done dozens of times during my treatments. Then I went up to 2E, the floor where I had stayed in 10 different rooms over 7 months. Now, at the risk of implying that the world revolves around me, I find it interesting that it is being remodeled and on that exact day, actually about that hour, they officially closed and locked the doors. Everyone had been moved to a different floor. No more walking, again, the floors that I had paced a thousand times, trying to keep my strength up. Nothing would ever look the same and I had no more visual to bring me back to that point in time that feels frozen, sealed off, set apart.

I made my way up to the 4th floor, where they had re-stationed all the nurses. I knew I needed to connect with them. Thank them, on this anniversary, for their compassion and kindness. I got to see three of the nurses who were there for me during my entire 7 month battle. One of the nurses I saw that day was also on shift the night we came in 3 years before; fully in shock and shook to our core. She just kept telling us that it was going to be ok. This is just a bump in the road and we were all going to get past it. Just a little detour. I don’t know why, but I believed her. How else could I move forward?

Today we are indeed past it. But make no mistake, it will never be something I will chose to forget. It’s impossible. The reason I feel compelled to look back and remember, is because I am aware (on some days, more than others) that God used the disease of cancer to root out a cancer in me that has nothing to do with cancer. If you have read any of my blogs, by now, you know exactly what I mean by that. To date, I have written (the ability to write is a gift I was given by God only upon my diagnosis) over 400 blogs addressing the common diseases of the heart and the various remedies I have found to combat them. So, even though my battle with Leukemia is over, my battle against fear, worry, anger, and control is chronic. It takes daily doses of prayer, meditation and vulnerability with God and you all, to have any kind of success in combatting such plagues.

Looking back reminds me that God and I have a track record. When I trust Him, He shows up. When I ask him to help me learn from the hard stuff, He accommodates. When I beg him for peace in the midst of painful experiences, He comforts me. When I allow Him, He uses my dark and embarrassing past to encourage friends, family and strangers who thought they were unique in their depravity.

Don’t be afraid to look back, but don’t live there. Do it with a sense of awe and reverence and gratitude for where you are now. You are exactly who and where you are supposed to be. If you don’t have one already, God wants to develop a track record of trust with you, starting today. Let this date (write down: February 22nd, 2018) mark the day you chose to let Him use your whole life, the good the bad and the ugly, to bring His light and love and hope to desperate and hurting people.

…Now you have your own weird little anniversary to celebrate 🤗

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

EVERYTHING

The church I go to has a Word: Everyone. Everyone is invited. Everyone is welcome. Everyone matters to God and to the church. There are no exceptions (which, I guess the word Everyone implies…). I love that theme, that reminder. As I was thinking about this the other day, it occurred to me that my blog has a similar theme. If our churches theme is Everyone, my writing theme is Everything. In the past I wrote about how my blog was about “Nothing”, sort of like the sitcom Seinfeld. In reality, though, both my blog and Seinfeld are about both: Nothing and Everything simultaneously. They address and poke fun and bring to our attention the commonality amount humans. There are everyday events that often go unnoticed but when pointed out, are mutually hilarious and sometimes painful.

I write about Nothing (my insightful blog about “Squirrels” comes to mind) to highlight how, if we are paying attention, we can grow and learn from Everything. Nothing has to be wasted, even the crappy crap (repeated for emphasis), if we can embrace the bigger picture. If we maintain perspective when we are tempted to lose it.

This week I should have everything completed on my end for getting my book published. I have been working on this strenuously for the past few weeks, editing, re-wording, defining my audience, my keywords and my overall message. See if you relate to any of the key words I listed: cancer, leukemia, disease, anxiety, fear, control, spirituality, faith, addiction, recovery, shame. Maybe just a couple? But when it comes right down to it, there is one key word that is over-arching message that I want people to hear-HOPE. Amidst all the “yuck”, there is relief.

A personal, intimate connection with God is the relief and solution to all that is bent and broken in and around us. And let’s face it, if we aren’t broken yet, most of us are at least bent. The other day I heard the 90s song “Bent”  and sincerely could not stop feeling a deep sadness most of the day. The chorus is the cry of so many people: “Can you help me? I’m bent. I’m so scared that I’ll never get put back together.” A version of that plea is found in Psalm 22:11,14: “God, do not be far off, for trouble is near! I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me…my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth.” On any given day, someone I know, often me, is uttering these desperate words.

I write to bring light to these dark places. I have been through  just a couple things that lend some credibility to this practice. This choice. And it’s a brave choice, should I choose to make it; to see God’s goodness in Everything. That doesn’t mean that everything that happens is good. It means that I can find the beauty in the bad. I can spot heroism in the horror. I can celebrate unity in spite of the ugliness. It isn’t easy and it isn’t natural. It takes a lot of work, at first. But eventually it becomes your default setting. You have to rewire how you think so it matches how God thinks.

And let me also say, though it might sound selfish at first, that I do this primarily for me. When I do it so that I can have peace and find rest in my deepest parts, it doesn’t matter how other people respond or react or behave. If I can learn from Everything, then those things are irrelevant. This frees me to react and respond and behave in a way I can live with and be proud of. I can live with the hope of healing, even when I am broken, disjointed and bent.

A “mantra’ is a “word or group of words believed by practitioners to have psychological and spiritual powers.” It is traditionally repeated in one’s mind to aid concentration on a particular belief one wishes to focus on. I would encourage you to use this verse as a mantra as you go about your daily trials/tasks/chores/responsibilities/decisions/relationships/celebrations/victories:

“In God we live and move and have our Being.”

Or,  say it more like a prayer to Him;
“In You I live and move and have my Being”.

Choose to see God, to find Hope, in Everything.

 

 

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

FOCUS!

I have a lot to do today. A lot of odds and ends; phone calls and appointments to make, follow ups on work and school activities, straightening after a weekend of ignoring household duties. All these duties are causing me to feel a bit flustered in my head and frozen on the couch, unable to sort everything out and make a go of any of it. From past experience (read: from doing it the wrong way over and over until I learned a bit of a lesson) I know that my day would continue on like this unless I pause and pray and “get God in there.” So I forced myself to pick up some books and start reading, getting out of my head and listening to what God might have to say to me.

I read a couple entries in my usual books and then one in a book I started reading again after a 14 year respite. It’s called “Jesus Life coach” by Laura Beth Jones. Every chapter starts off with the phrase, “With Jesus as your Life Coach you will…”. On this particular day’s reading it said that I would “Keep My Focus.” Well, that would certainly be helpful on this fine, snowy, scatter-brained Monday morning. Jones is a motivational writer and speaker, so she her main point is about finding that one thing that keeps you going and eliminating all distractions that prevent you from staying on task and being successful.  She uses Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission, ya know, to save the planet, as motivation for us to also stay focused on what we are called to do or be in this life.

I am not arguing with her, since most organizations sink or swim based on knowing what there one thing is. But as a woman who is, at best, average at most endeavors, I have always struggled to identify my one thing. I am the quintessential “Jackof-all-trades, master of none.”

But then…

I moved on to my next reading by author Sarah Young, who writes using God’s words to us from scripture. And I kid you not-this was her opening sentence for January 29th: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON ME (caps all hers)…let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to me…I will guard you and keep you in constant peace as you focus your mind on me.”

Bless God’s heart. He knows I don’t have it in me to read between the lines today. He had to repeat himself and capitalize it. Lucky for me, and maybe you, I didn’t miss the point. At least this was the point I believe he was making for me: His will for me and for my life IS the “one thing.” It overrides every other venture, goal or practice.

Think back on your life thus far. You have had gone down multiple paths that took large amounts of your time and energy and passion. Most of them were probably very good things. But we are, by nature, continuously changing and morphing. What used to light your fire just doesn’t do it for you anymore. That’s ok. It’s meant to be that way. So to hang your sign on any one door is unreasonable. There’s an ebb and flow to life that needs to be leaned in to.

There is only one constant. One over-arching awareness that must influence our every thought: God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. It must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives. Sometimes we have to discern His will for us in some pretty serious ways. But what I have found is that most days I just have to live out his will for me in all the tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters of my day. How did I react to the snippy sales clerk? Did I let that rude driver steal my serenity? Did my car breaking down cause me to question God’s love for me? And what about in our relationships?  Did I respond with compassion toward my discouraged teenager? Did I reach out to the friend who lost her job? Her husband? Her identity? Did I make a phone call to someone I know who is depressed or discouraged?

In the midst of all my muddled striving to make a big difference in this world, my consistent focus on God and seeking his will for me must be crystal clear.  What I accomplish in this world is significant, but also temporary and fleeting. My primary purpose, my one thing,  is to let God’s Will for me totally dominate (rule, govern, direct, be in the driver’s seat, be at the helm of, rule the roost, wear the pants 😉).<<
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Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

The secret

Almost 2,000 years ago, a guy named Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.” One might ask, how hard could his life have been in 62AD? The guy wasn’t married and didn’t have kids (need I say more?). He wasn’t slandered on social media or demeaned in the tabloids. However, a bit of history tells us he did endure a few minor inconveniences. During his short time of ministry, after God intervened and transformed him from a murderer to a missionary, he was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (most of them on more than one occasion). He was in danger from “rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and religious leaders.” He often went without food, sleep, water and clothing. Oh, and then there’s the anxiety from trying to spread the good news of God’s love to a people who he used to persecute and kill for believing that very thing. OK-I guess his trials and stressors might “win” over mine.

But somehow, Paul was able to find the secret to being content in all these circumstances. He credits two beliefs; 1) that he can do all things through Him, God, who give him strength and 2) he trusts that God will meet all his needs according to his glorious riches in Jesus. What amazing faith and assurance he had!

Still, I have to be honest with you about something. Even though I say I believe what Paul believes, those two “secrets” I mentioned above, I don’t alway live like I do. I don’t act as if I really believe those words for myself. In fact, here’s the reality of what I think much of the time:

I don’t want God to take care of me so I can be OK no matter what my circumstances,
I want him to make my circumstances OK so I can easily take care of myself.

That’s pretty embarrassing to say out loud. I really wish I was better than that. But my humanness and desire to be comfortable and happy and for everyone around me to behave and flourish, really gets in the way of trusting God no matter what. Being content no matter what. It’s scary when I realize that mostly I just want God to orchestrate my life so I don’t need Him so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be easier for Him anyway? He has a lot of people to help, after all. Would it be so hard to just set me on a comfortable cruising speed and let me manage things myself?

Trying to wrap this up seems a little redundant. It’s not like we haven’t figured out what must be done. There is no new information. Life is good. And sometimes it’s not. End of story. I can either complain about the times times that are “not” or turn to God for strength to get through them, trusting that He will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches. I can forget about Him when circumstances are good or I can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. I can choose to live with a grateful heart.

Whether my circumstances are pleasant or pressing, depending on God and staying in tight communication with Him are the only solutions that help me tap in to Paul’s “secret” to contentment.

 

 

Addiction, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

No more games

I am finally ready to admit it out loud: we are not a game playing family. There. It’s out there. For years we have tried to be game players. When my kids were younger we really tried to make this a fun family activity, even though we knew from the get-go that it would ultimately end in crying and blaming and possibly throwing of tiny little game pieces- and that was just from the parents! 😜 As a whole, none of us Get any enjoyment fromplaying board games. For a few years we humored the grandparents and played games like Uno or Kings in the Corner, but even that has died out recently. I myself don’t really hate cards, but you can only play so many games of solitaire. You really need more than one person to participate for any other type of game to be successful.

So, it’s official. We don’t like games. But I have to tell you that despite my disdain for games, I find myself inadvertently participating in certain games without even realizing I am playing. Usually it is happens when I disagree with someone else’s behavior or ideas or choices. Instead of letting them figure things out for themselves, I roll the dice when I stick my nose in their business and try to control or change the outcome. And even though I claim to be a “non-gamer”, I try to impose my will on them and force them to play my game by my rules. This is received with a resistance that is similar to what happens when I have tried to make my kids play board games when they’d rather be doing anything else.

Then, and this is where the real danger comes in, there are the games I get sucked into playing by those who love to play certain kinds of games.When someone wants to argue with me or provoke me and get a reaction out of me, I often find myself playing with them, even after I have declared myself to be game-free. Here’s what it looks like: Someone tries to engage me in something that really has nothing to do with me. Or they try to provoke me and get a reaction out of me or prove that I am wrong about something. I tell them I don’t want to argue about it, but continue to engage, discuss it or defend myself.

When I do this it’s like telling someone I don’t want to play catch. They ignore me and throw me the ball anyway. I catch it, throw it back, and repeat that I don’t want to play their game. This continues over and over until I realize, I am playing. The only way to let them know I am not playing is to let the ball roll past me the next time they throw it. Just like you can’t play tug-o-war unless you both people pick up the rope, you can’t have an argument unless more than one person is actively engaged in it. If I refuse to play, the game is over quickly.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you never have reasonable conversations or disagreements with people. That’s part of life. I am talking about the times where it is truly not even about you or someone is acting selfish, hateful, irrational, angry, resentful, stubborn, arrogant or affected by substances that might make a mature discussion impossible. You can choose not to play. You can detach with love, separating yourself emotionally and spiritually from the other person. You don’t have to own their emotions or take responsibility for the fact that they have them (even if they insist you are the cause). And most importantly, you don’t have to “win.” Because you can’t.

A helpful response that I have heard suggested is to pleasantly say, “you may be right”, and walk away. That doesn’t mean they are right or that you think they are, but it acknowledges that the feelings and thoughts they are having are real for them. It gives them dignity, and often, that is all they were looking for in the first place. I have also heard it said that “most people don’t necessarily want to have their own way, they just want to have their own way considered.”

You have mostly likely heard the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, the “things” we cannot change are other people and how they think or feel. The “thing” we can change is ourselves and whether or not we get involved in the unhealthy games that others try to rope us in to playing.

God, today, give us the courage to focus on ourselves and make the choice to not catch that ball or pick up that rope.