Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Relationships

Here’s to you, Vismay…

On July 17, 2015 I wrote a blog called “Take a Deep Breath.” The over-arching theme was  about how God “book-ended” my leukemia journey by providing me an encounter that allowed me to close out my treatments in a meaningful way. You can read it in my book or in the archives, but basically, on the last day of chemo (hopefully ever) I went out to eat with my mom. We walked into the cantina (because the last day of chemo calls for fajitas and margaritas, naturally) and the only people there besides us were two men eating dinner, who just happened to be one of the residents who was there at the beginning of my journey (that’s the conservative and positive word for “roller coaster of terror and tears”) and the resident who checked me out-for-good just hours before. Seven whole months after our lives as we knew it came to a screeching hault.  I believe God was telling me that he “knows and sees” every tiny detail of my life. He also knows I am a total sucker for these kind of coincidences, or “God-things”, as I like to call them. I am not making that story up and I am not making up what I am about to tell you now…

The impact of having Leukemia didn’t end when I left the hospital for the last time. It just marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I continue to write about how our common disease of the soul is a connecting, on-going battle. My book was officially available for purchase 2 days ago. It begins less than a month after my leukemia diagnosis (I apologize in advance for my rough writing skills at that time. Don’t judge…) and covers 100ish entries. I have written 300+ to date. I didn’t plan for my vacation to start this way, but God knew it was coming. I suspect He was a little giddy with anticipation, knowing what was about to happen. I am currently sitting on an airplane headed to Napa to spend time with my parents, my siblings and their families and a couple college friends. I am choosing to use this to celebrate that the book-work is done (for now…) and hope to relax and refresh. And if that was where the story ended it would be a good one. But that God…He’s so extra. As I sat on the plane I was visiting with some local friends sitting behind me who were also headed to California. I knew they were aware of my leukemia and had prayed for me, keeping up on my blogs on occasion. I told them my book was officially done, available on Amazon and gave them a couple business cards with my blog link on it. Then, the man sitting literally across the aisle from me (practically on my lap on these puddle jumper planes) says, “You’re Heather Carter. I thought I recognized you.” I had thought he looked familiar (in all fairness, he didn’t have a beard when I saw him last, and I had a lot less hair, as in none). His name is Vismay. He was rounding on his first day of Residency when I plopped, frightened and fragile, onto the Oncology unit of Memorial Hospital.

So-I am sitting here emotional and overwhelmed with gratitude and affection. It takes me right back to the beginning of it all.  You see, while the doctors and nurses changed every day for the first 30 days I was in the hospital (yah, the first 30), the residents were consistent. Their faces were my only constant. They held my hand and smiled and offered a security I desperately needed. I specifically remember Vismay being my translator one day when I was in ICU, with new doctors and nurses, confused and terrified. Someone needed to explain to me why an infectious disease doctor was talking to me and what in the blue-blazes he was saying. I squeezed the life out of his hand and implored him with my eyes (I wasn’t able to speak after being intubated for several days) to translate. I remember looking at the doctor (on the right side of my bed), trying to make sense of what he was saying, and then looking to Vismay (on the left side of my bed) for translation.  Lucky him.  However, I will say that every patient he had after me was probably a cake walk!

He is sleeping now, and I sincerely want to get him a blanket and pillow and a drink and ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. I probably won’t, because I’m not a complete lunatic. But I so wish I could give back in a way that shows the significance of what his presence meant to me 3 years ago, and what it means to me to see him again today.

So, to quote myself from my very own book 😉😬,

“Book-ends: the beginning and the end-the front and the back, with all kinds of stories sandwiched in-between.”

God is again showing me:

*That He is paying attention to the details of my life and wants me to know it.

*That He wrapped it all up like a sweet, thoughtful gift, so that I can open it and use it to help me and help others as I move on to write new stories.

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, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality

A Divine Shearing

We make countless appointments without giving a second thought about how it will fit into the divine plan for the universe. We act as if we are making them because the time slot and day of the week is convenient for us. Thank goodness that even though we make random choices without considering God whatsoever, He still sticks to the plan. Luckily, we still get to be a part of it. I was reminded of this yesterday when I showed up for my appointment to get my very long, grown out (and gray-laced) hair colored.

I settled myself in my swively little chair and spun myself around (because yes, I am like a 3 yr. old). I hadn’t noticed that there was only one other client in the salon besides me. I froze my spinning self when I saw it: the back of her head was splotchy, a smattering of long brown tendrils, intermixed with sections of bare, smooth scalp. The clippers were already sliding up one side and down the other. I didn’t speak. Or I couldn’t speak, maybe. I remembered vividly the day I lost my blond (dread) locks. I think a weed eater might have been more efficient than the clippers at that juncture. As you may know, I had a TON of hair, long and thick. It never had a chance to get thin and sparse and blotchy because a cocktail of Leukemia Chemo and being intubated and heavily drugged up in ICU did the job for me in only one week. We tried to pour an entire bottle of conditioner on it to detangle and brush it out, but it was too little too late. But enough about my sad hair loss story (thank you for obliging my trip down memory/leukemia lane)…

I waited until the job was done before I spoke up. While I was waiting I had pulled up a lovely picture of me; cue-ball bald. When she turned her chair to face the mirror, to see herself for the first time as the stereotypical cancer patient, I asked her if she would mind if I showed her something. At her nod, I showed her my photo and said, “this was me three years ago.” Then we both burst into tears and hugged a lot longer than one usually hugs a complete stranger. We spent time talking about cancer and how it came and how mine had gone and we believed hers will too.

It was a sentimental and sacred experience. A “God-thing” as I like to call it. One that I think she needed and I know I needed. Because, and this is really my point of telling you this, I absolutely cling to what I have read in recovery literature, “that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession you have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them.” I write about this a lot. In fact, it’s the very reason I started writing and keep writing. If we cannot use our excruciating experiences, crappy circumstances or our struggles and successes with battling the chronic plagues of the hearth (fear, anger, resentment, jealousy, etc.), it’s all for naught. Some choose to shrivel up and wallow in self-pity and despair and bitterness. I have seen it and been tempted to go there. But what I have found, is that the alternative for the shriveling and wallowing, though it may not be easy, is to shed some light in the dark tunnel of someone else’s battle with the same.

That’s how God redeems the trauma. The illness. The divorce. The death. The addiction. The rebellion.

Some of you have come out of the dark into the light. So shine the light of hope on others who can’t yet see it. And you both will be blessed.

Some of you, maybe the majority of you, live your days like an Alaskan in December, with about 6 hours of daylight and the rest if the time in sheer blackness. You have glimmers of hope here and there, but are keenly aware that even though the sun peeks out on occasion, the darkness is daunting and certain. And yet, even when the bright side of life is fleeting for now, you at least get intermittent relief from the clouds cover. Don’t believe the lie that you have to wait until “summer” to share your strength and hope you have occasionally experienced, even during your personal cold, harsh “winter”.

God has comforted me in my turmoil. In my cancer days for sure, but also in the before and after. As you may have noted, life is tough, always. God comforts me in my affliction so that I in turn can comfort someone else. He helps me learn from my circumstances so that I can say, “you’re not the only one and there is hope” to those who are suffering.

“When you are in the dark, listen, and God will give you a very precious message for someone else when you get into the light.” -Oswald Chambers

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, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Smells ring bells”

I just love the smell of a freshly lit cigarette in a hot car. Yes, really. It reminds me of when I was little and spent time with my grandma. I remember riding in her Cadillac in California while I jabbered and she smoked and listened. I actually have her piano in my house, which apparently she antiqued herself, most likely while smoking. On hot, muggy days in Illinois, I can sometimes smell hints of lingering smoke that must be mingled in with the paint. Neither of these are scents you would call pleasant or find as a featured fragrance at the Yankee Candle store, but for me, they trigger many emotions and happy memories of my grandma who has long since passed.

While I doing some research to give validation to my personal connectedness with certain sells, I came across an article called “Smells Ring Bells…” I was surprised to learn that “incoming smells are first processed by the olfactory bulb, which starts inside the nose and runs along the bottom of the brain…it has direct connection to two brain areas that are strongly implicated in emotion and memory, Interestingly, visual, auditory (sound), and tactile (touch) information do not pass through these brain areas.” So, apparently it wasn’t unusual or weird that when I took a tour of my new work facility a few years ago, I started crying when I got to the wood-working shop (though the guy giving me the tour might have thought otherwise). My grandfather was a cabinet maker and when I was young, I spent a lot of time running around his shop, stirring sawdust. Just getting a whiff of that scent took me back to those times and brought me to tears.

We have all them; the smells that ring our bells. But they are not always bells of celebration and joy. Sometimes, the bells they ring seem to be indicative of doom or mourning. I read of a War Vet who would have strong emotional and physical reactions to the smell of diesel prominent from his time of active service. Haunting memories of death and tragedy flooded in.  Often the smells make little sense to anyone but us. Maybe it’s the smell of a certain cologne that an abusive father, husband or boyfriend wore that makes you freeze up inside. Or the stench of alcohol that takes you back to that scared little boy or girl who couldn’t rouse their parent. Or the fresh smell of lilies that take you to the morning you stood beside your mother’s casket.

You know the smells that trigger you. The emotions and memories, whether good or bad, can feel as real as the day they happened. This is good news and bad news, depending on the smell. Is it a sweet aroma or a stench? The feelings are very real, even if the events happened years before. But it’s important to remind yourself, that feelings aren’t facts. Acknowledging the feelings that knock on the door of your awareness is crucial. Let them in. Feel them fully. Accept them. Then let them go.

If the feelings are negative, remind yourself that they don’t have power over you unless you dwell on them and let them tyrannize you. They are feelings not facts.

If the feelings are positive, remind yourself that those too are not facts. Enjoy the memories and special feelings but don’t live there or pine to go back in time to “better days”.

There are more scents on the horizon for you. Some will be lovely and some will stink like raw meat. Don’t ignore how they make you feel, but do remember to keep moving forward. Feel the feelings of the past but live in today. Be open to what God has for you in this present, real world.

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

“Goals”

At first glance, how I spent my day yesterday (bleeding over into today) might might appear like laziness or procrastination. And trust me, my skills are stellar in those two areas. In the past, I would have been all over this opportunity to get things in order and get back to regular life. Kill off the Christmas tree once and for all and vacuum up the tiny pine needles strewn about the house, after falling off of family member’s socks. Christmas is over and tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. We have had extra visitors in our house (and at this point, my very own 21 college-student-home-on-break, qualifies as a visitor) since before December 25th. And as much as I do love it, no routine, lots of people and opinions and plans can make me a little ticky after awhile. Yesterday was a prime opportunity to get the house cleaned up and back to normal. All the kids were sleeping, relatives were gone and husband was reading in another room of the house. I had the perfect window.

But then I read something that caused me to do it differently this year. I chose to squelch my urge to organize and engage in what the author called a holy “afterglow”, this space between the crazy of Christmas and the celebration of the New Year. It reminds me of the Recovery saying that has benefited me often (when I slow down long enough to do it): Pause. Pray. Proceed. The idea is that when you are tempted to act, usually rashly or emotionally, you play it different. Instead of barreling ahead with that angry phone call, posting a passive aggressive snippet on Facebook, or letting your words fly out your mouth without caution or control or compassion, you Pause. You Pray and invite God into it. And then you proceed (hopefully on to something more productive or healing for everyone).

This is a practice that is not only useful for the biggies, but for every attitude or thought or word that crosses our consciousness, all day, everyday. Today, I am using it as a guide as I reflect on last year and prepare for the year to come. In dozens of ways, i failed to accomplish my physical, emotional and spiritual goals. I truly wish I could say I ended this year a little more advanced in these areas. My standards for myself tend to be a bit high. But regardless of the little progress I did make, I am left wanting more. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing. God has designed us to move forward. But, In the past, I would make very specific goals that were based on the hype and energy of the promise of a new year, only to abandon most of them and feel like a loser for doing so by February.

Today I am different. Maybe it’s from the battle with disease of Leukemia. Or the family disease of addiction seeking to steal, kill and destroy our family. Or leaving a church family after 20 years. Or losing many many relationships with people I thought were my forever friends. Or my son going off to college and my two teenagers getting their driver’s license. Not maybe. Probably. But those are just a handful of hard times that changed me. There are also countless blessings that have contributed to this “different” in me. Maybe it’s the new friends God has brought me as a result of Leukemia and addiction and having to find a new church family. Or maybe it’s from the snuffing out of old habits and thought patterns that don’t serve me anymore. Or maybe it’s because I am finally convinced that God, in His infinite wisdom about what I need verses what I want, can be trusted with my future.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t believe there’s a thing wrong with setting goals for yourself. Or with reflecting on ways we could have done it better in the past. But don’t hang your hat there. I can learn from my past and be prepared for the future. But ultimately I need to live a little bit longer in the Pause. Look back, look ahead, but don’t forget to Pray and invite God in before you Proceed. What I have found, and why my goals are a little more in flex than they used to be, is that what God has planned for my future will most likely look drastically different than my personal, calculated plans. I can remind myself of His faithfulness when I reflect on all the ways He took care of me even when life didn’t seem to cooperate last year. If am open, I can learn and grow and flourish this coming year, especially when I let God lead me, as opposed to the other way around.

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

Timing is everything

“The waiting is hardest part.” -Tom Petty (1950-2017)

It feels like it’s been a long time since I wrote last. Which is interesteing to me since I have been reflecting on the concept of “time and timing” over the past few days. These thoughts on timing came to me in a very profound and illuminating way as I sat on my couch…admiring my fingernails. They are rockin’ right now! They are long and strong and borderline dangerous to myself and others. But, this hasn’t been the case for the past two years. I think it was the chemo that caused my nails to be flimsy and splitting. They hardly grew at all, but if they did, they would soon peel or break. The perplexing thing is, I haven’t even been doing anything to remedy that problem. And all of a sudden, they are back to normal. It’s like my body finally got rid of whatever was in me that was causing them to shatter. Nothing profound, it was simply “time”.

Since then, everything I read seems to point me to time and timing. The longer I live, the more aware I am that so much of life is all about timing. Which is unfortunate, because I want what I want and I usually want it right now. I want to work out and be in shape by tomorrow or at least by the weekend. I want to read a self-help book and be organized, efficient and succcessful by the time I finish chapter one. And those are the simple wants. I also want to pray for the people I am worried or stressed about and see results in a reasonable amount of time (I like to be fair and give God a few weeks). I try my best to understand why some people seem to get “better” quicker than others. Whether it’s from cancer or mental illness or addiction or any kind of stronghold. The big question for me seems to be “how long, Oh Lord?”.

There is a saying in Recovery Programs that has a good answer for those who lament not arriving in the Program sooner. Someone new thinks of all the years they suffered alone, without any tools or people who understood their pain. An old-timer will tell them,  “you got here right on time.” Because timing is everything. If you show up before your soul is reading and willing to hear and receive help, it will fall on deaf ears. I think it’s this way in all of life, really. The Bible uses a couple phrases that indicate that there is a time for everything (not only from the populace song from Ecclesiastes and John Lennon telling us there is a time be born, a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, etc.). One is “the fullness of time” and the other is “for such a time as this”. Both imply that there are certain events and attitudes that have to be established before something can happen. Until all the pieces are in place, the results won’t come.

We have such limited knowledge and access to what those pieces look like. They are an accumulation of interactions, relationships, behaviors and choices of thousands of people. We are interwoven with one another in ways we will never know, yet will still be effected by. The ripples run far and wide.

This is helpful for me to remember because, as I said, I like to see some progress. I hate waiting (check out a previous blog on how i am a terrible Waiter). I read something the other day (because, of course, God gave me about 4 different readings that all addressed “time”. He is funny like that!) where the author said, “How often I still find myself impatient with the pace of life.  But today, when things don’t happen according to my schedule, I can accept that there may be a reason…I can keep in mind that waiting time does have to mean wasted time. Even times of stillness have lessons to teach me…I can accept the pace of change today, knowing it will bring both times of active involvement and periods of quiet waiting.”

My need to be in control severely hinders me from being a better Waiter. I want to control how other people change, how my circumstances change, how I change and most importantly at what rate it all happens. My need for immediate gratification doesn’t help either. “Now” is one of my favorite words.

An expert from Streams in the Desert says it this way: “Waiting on him exercises your gift of grace and tests your faith. Therefore, continue to wait in hope, for though the promise may linger, it will never come too late”. When I try to rush results or manipulate circumstances to go my way or on my agenda, I show complete lack of trust in God’s plan and demonstrate and exaggerated view of my own. Today I will let God set the pace.

But I trust in you, O lord; I say “you are my God, my times are in your hands.”
Psalm 31:14,15