Haven’t been writing as much. I feel so much better when I do. I feel connected to God more acutely when I write. But even though it’s hard for me to admit, because I have a tendency to devalue myself and talk not so nicely about myself (out-loud and in my head), I connect better with Heather when I am writing than any other time. It helps me remember who I am and what I believe at my core. I see more clearly that I haven’t been living out what I know to be true for me, and every so often, that I totally am and can pause to celebrate that. There is always so much pulling at me that distracts me from writing. A lot of it is really good and necessary stuff, but when I don’t make it a priority to write, my cheese starts to slip off my cracker 😜. I get a little ticky and anxious and grouchy and unsettled in my innards. I usually can’t put my finger on what is causing me to be out of alignment until I write an new blog. The feeling of relief and satisfaction that I am doing what I think God has given me to do is one of the few times I feel a sense of fulfillment and peace. I have a knowing, centered pace/peace about life.
Today, while I was working out and reviewing the dozens of tasks I had to do for work and worrying if they would pan out and stressing about the fact that there is a crack in my Kayak I have to fix and where the heck is that duct tape? and wondering if my college age kids might not be going to college this fall because of COVID…I had an epiphany. Maybe I need to write everyday to keep my sanity. Even if I don’t publish it for anyone to read (which is exactly what I intended to do with this blog, but I just can’t help myself!).
Typing is therapeutic for me. On a side note, my dad worked for IBM when I was younger so we always had a typewriter at our home. When I was a sophomore I got the chicken pox and was, well, quarantined for a week or so. I decided to teach myself how to type. I really wanted to type without looking so I would type the poems plastered all over my bulletin board on the wall I stared at while at my type writer. Because, you know, sophomore girls love their deep, romantic poetry. I also typed, “now is the time for all good men to come to the aid of their country” about a 700 times as suggested in some manual I read about learning how to type. Between that week of practice and my time in the hospital using my new I Pad, my fingers are like lightning! Writing with a pen is not even an option for journaling-I am way too impatient for it. My thoughts come so fast, my pen could never keep up. I really hate it, actually.
Anyway-enough of that. I don’t know what I am telling you any of this, other than it helps keep me accountable when I say things out loud and to others.
I need to write. I need to write for myself. I need to write to you occasionally because I think a few people are encouraged and feel less alone when I do and that’s enough of a reason.
So I give you permission to ask me if I am doing what I said I am going to do: write it all down, get it out, see it on paper how I have compromised or grown. Maybe you could join me. It doesn’t matter if no one else reads it. Just get your thoughts, fears, failures, joys and embarrassing stories out of your head somehow.
See, now that wasn’t so hard, Heather. I feel so much better.
When the pandemic first arrived and our government gave us the “stay at home order” suggestion 🙃, my husband’s friend said something like “It’s sort of like God looked down at all of our meanness and fighting and hate and said, ‘That’s enough! Everyone…go to your rooms!”. I am not sure of the soundness of that theology, but it sure feels like it was an order given to not only keep us safe, but on a soul-level, give us time to reflect on what really matters. And some of us did that with a passion. Some people started blogs, businesses and served the heck out of there community. Some spent quality time with kids that they found out were pretty cool and interesting now that they slowed down long enough to notice. Some of us, often me, whined and complained and watched the clock, making plans for all we would do when we were sprung from our confinement. Some became more and more hostile, wound up, angry at the world and the unrest and restrictions. Some were overtaken by their addiction or violence toward those who they were supposed to be keeping safe by quarantining. Some grieved the loss of a senior year, a wedding date, or a graduation with people who had supported their college career. Some felt grateful to finally have a good excuse to take life down a notch and breathe.
I know there are many more reactions to this isolation, but today, we are facing the aftermath. One would think and hope that we would be so grateful to be back to “normal” that we would be skippy and respond kindly to everyone we see. But, as we have experienced, that has not been the case. Riots and raging have picked up practically the day we were “released”.
Things are not as they are supposed to be. In the world. In our state. In our city. In us.
And that is really the problem, isn’t it? We get so wound up about not being able to get our nails done and our hair colored that we perhaps, miss our FGO (friggin’ growth opportunity). I don’t stand here to judge. I drove 4 hours to Missouri to get my hair colored, for pete’s sake! I am just saying that what we learned during that time, what we could have learned, was a priceless gift, even though it stunk at the time.
I am reading (and by reading, I mean, I read the intro this morning) a book by Rob Bell. About a half a page into it I decided it wasn’t something I would keep reading tomorrow, until I got to the other half of the page. He gave what I am trying to say a Poignant Punch. Let me give you a bit of background so it might hit you the same way it hit me
He was summarizing the story of Cain and Abel. You have probably heard of them, the first brothers in the Bible who followed in their parent’s (Adam and Eve) sinful footsteps. Cain was jealous of his brother Abel and murdered him. Cain knew immediately that he would be busted, so he fled. As a result he “went out from the Lord’s presence and lived in the land of Nod, East of Eden (I know, you’re thinking, “I too will stop reading this boring history lesson”, but-wait for it….).
Notice, Cain left and went East of Eden.
Rob Bell then points out, “There is a place called Eden, a paradise, a state of being in which everything is in its right place. A place where the favor and peace of God rest on everything.
And Cain is not there. He’s East of there.
It’s not just that he’s East of where the was created to live, but he’s actually settling there, building a city, putting down roots. The land of his wandering has become the location of his home. And then several chapters later, the Bible says that the whole world had one language and a common speech ‘as people moved eastward.’
The writer, or writers, of Genesis keeps returning to this eastward metaphor, is insisting that something has gone terribly wrong with humanity, and that from the very beginning humans are moving in the wrong direction.”
Now, many of you know I am from California. So this idea of living “east” of where we are meant to live makes me smile (and feel desperate to return to my west coast roots). I grew up all along the west coast; born in Utah, lived in Washington, Montana, Oregon and California. I love my friends and life in Illinois, but I still don’t feel quite settled. Quite home in my skin and in my soul. I am living “east” of where I long to be.
The world is not the same as it was a few months ago. Before COVID. IT’s not the same as it was a few days ago, before the racism and riots. It’s not even the same as it was when I went to bed last night. As I slept, more has happened and more is coming.
What’s a girl to do? What’s any human soul to do?
I think there is really only one good option; Go West! The phrase “Go West young man!” Is a type of spurring. Almost a battle charge for adventure and newness and doing life with a new spirit of awe and wonder. Going West is a metaphor for getting back to your roots, the roots God established in you.
The roots that ground you and anchor you and make you feel at home. That you are in the right place and you know it in your core.
This is not a new charge. I am just saying it in a different way than thousands before me have attempted to say it. We can’t change the world unless we ourselves are changed. The reality is that the we can’t just wish for a kinder world. We have to become more kind. We can’t just hope for a more inclusive and gracious community. We ourselves have to become more inclusive and gracious. We can’t just dream about a church/school/workplace that loves everyone always. We ourselves have to love everyone always.
You catch my drift. I have been living too far EAST of where I am supposed to be and where things were meant to be. It’s time to head WEST. It’s always best when we go these kinds of places together. Wanna come with?
I think I am finally able to write. Since the Coronavirus hit, I have not been able. Not out of any grand preparation for isolation, but for the simple fact that I just had nothing productive to say. I was actually afraid I might do more harm than good if I opened my mouth about how I was feeling. At first, I was in denial. Felt nothing. Then the anger came. The layers of disappointment (and you can all fill in the many blanks that describe your personal areas of loss/disappointment/and important life events that have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely) were almost more than I could bear. I know they are rich people problems, but they are the ones we have nonetheless. I won’t bother to list mine, because I like to keep my blogs under 1,000 words 😬.
Next came the grief and sadness and feeling sorry for myself. I was crossing my arms stubbornly and ignoring God because who else could I blame? Yesterday, after processing and talking with friends and forcing myself to listen to teachers wiser and more grounded than me, I started to defrost. Now, everything makes me cry…but in a soft and ready to move forward kind of way.
Here are some of the inner conversations and revelations that helped me be able to type even one word. I hope something I say helps you wherever you are at today.
I started to be “willing to willing” to accept the reality of this virus and all it brought with it when I watched a Beth Moore lesson on “Breaking Free.” In a nutshell, she told a story about being in a third world country in a hotel lobby when the lights went out. She could hear chaos and yelling but not in English. Her husband was up in their room. She said she stood still, terrified, not knowing where to go and knew it would do no good to yell since no one could understand her. Then, she heard heavy feet coming down the cement staircase and walking towards her. She could tell it was a man, which scared her even more, and even though she knew no one would understand her, she said, “It’s me. I’m just standing here” (she had no idea what else to say!). He responded, “Baby, this is your man. You just stand right there and I’ll be there soon.” She just stood there like a little child, held out her arms and wiggled her fingers in the direction of his voice and repeated, “Come get me. Come get me. Come get me.” She said, “And sure enough, he came and got me.” Her point was, that there will be some times in our lives that as much as we believe and after all the places you have been with God, that things will seem dark and you don’t know where He is. You are terrified to even move, the darkness is so all consuming and you can’t even see the hand in front of your face. But, even though you can’t see where He is, HE KNOWS WHERE YOU ARE.
I have been having a hard time getting to God because of my fear, my anger, my sadness. But luckily, God still knows how to get to me when I call for him. I just kept praying, “Come get me. Come get me. Come get me.” And sure enough, he came and got me. Just being willing to ask him to come was enough to melt my heart and let him Him in again. Finally, I am (mildly) open to listening to what he can do in me and through me during this time.
Ya know, I think that’s enough for today. I have several more things to share, but just for today, I think that is enough. Until I asked him to “Come get me”, nothing else could get through to my heart. I’ll give you a day or two to ask him to “Come get” you too. Then we can chat some more. 😘
I don’t know why I haven’t written for so long. Well, actually, yes I do. I think I allowed myself to believe a lie. I convinced myself, unintentionally of course, that if I didn’t have anything new and enlightening to talk about I shouldn’t bother. If God wasn’t shining a sunbeam down on me and writing a message on the wall, then why bore anyone with my drivel. Well lucky for you 😝 I’ve come to my senses. And how exactly did that happen, you ask? Let me explain.
Some of you know that this summer, my daughter Emma, spent time serving at a camp in Oregon. So it was just Bennett and Blake and I here. Made for a pretty quiet house with no girl for me to jabber with! On August 9th Bennett and Blake drove to Las Vegas where Bennett will live with family for the next year or so. I flew out Saturday and met them there. I spent the next Morning with an “escapee” from Springfield who moved there a few years ago. Then we hung with my in-laws (grandparents and Blake’s sister and fam) and headed to the strip for dinner that night. The next morning Blake and Bennett and I drove to LA, checked in to our hotel and I headed to the airport to pick up Emma who flew in from her summer in Oregon. We all spent 5 days there visiting our son Berkeley and were joined later in the week by his sweet girlfriend Kinze. After doing Disney (meeting up with some other “escapees” from Springfield), Laguna beach and Paramount Studios (where Berk works), Emma, Bennett, Blake and I headed to Napa, California to see my parents, my siblings and their children. Oh, and for the record, we drove 4 hours from Vegas to LA, spent about a jillion hours in LA traffic during the week (Lord, have mercy), and drove 6 hours to Napa before we flew back to St. Louis and then drove 2 hours home. The next day Emma started school and we headed back to catch up at our jobs. We had fun fun fun but does anyone else feel exhausted from just reviewing that schedule? It’s not even that it was exhausting, it’s that during times of extreme busyness and positive distractions, I tend forget some of the priorities that keep my soul on track.
So, when I think I have nothing new to say, I am right. But that is no reason to stop writing. Being on vacation for 10 days reminds me of a core truth about myself, and maybe some of you can relate: repetition/routine=reflection/remembering. You see, when I am on vacation, my daily routine goes out the window. Things aren’t normal, because “I’m on vacation.” My time clock is off and am out later than normal, I am sleeping with 4 people in the same hotel room and eating and drinking foods that are not on my regular diet and I have little to no time alone. I forget to take my vitamin that I have taken every other day of the year without even thinking about it and forget to take off my eye make up at night which, as a woman, should never ever happen🙃. Routine of working out is easily discarded and my morning reading regiment is postponed until I return back to “normal life”. It’s like I take a vacation from everything that’s good for me in order to “celebrate” being on vacation! Which of course, sounds insane now that I type it out.
Here’s the thing; I am painfully human and have an astounding capacity to forget. If I don’t have routine and set aside time to reflect on and review what I say I believe or want to change or improve on, those principles and goals become a vapor and disappear into thin air. when I regularly write and read what I write, I am reminded of what I believe. I remember that even though I say in every other blog that trying to manipulate God or other people to get them to do what I want is no good, it takes me about 2 days/hours to live out the opposite (just one of many recurring themes).
Though it’s not ideal to do vacation without all the good routine/reflection, it’s drastically more dangerous to get in to such a pattern of neglect, busyness, distraction, avoidance, ignorance, etc. at home. For me, it is imperative that I set aside time, intentionally and without waver, to do what I know is good for my body, mind and soul. What I repeat, I learn from, even if by accident. I form habits for healthy and positive and beautiful living through repetition, review and reflection.
I had a wonderful vacation. I am sad to be home in some ways because I am reminded that we are minus 2 boys that are on the other side of the country. And living in reality is much harder than the blissful denial that defines “vacation Heather”. And yet, I know that even though every-day-life is rarely glamorous, It’s here that I grow. I slow down a bit, I integrate routine and discipline back into my daily living. I remind myself that it’s ok to read and re-read books on the same dang topics. It’s ok to write and repeat myself. I am never so advanced that I will not need to be regularly reminded of what I believe and how I then should act. I can not afford to take a vacation from that.
When I refer to things I “learned” the hard way, I mean that in the truest sense of word; to gain knowledge or understanding by study, instruction or experience. It’s important that you know that I don’t mean to imply that I have mastered any of what I am about to share with you. It’s more of an exercise in putting some pretty excruciating and embarrassing scenarios and revelations on paper in order that it might help someone. It’s quite possible that I am the someone that most needs help today…
We learn best in hindsight, unfortunately. I really wish I could have been more aware of the growth opportunities in the midst of my pain, but sometimes it takes the rear view mirror perspective to truly appreciate the the wisdom hard circumstances provide if we are willing to receive it. In the interest of time and attention span, I’ll limit today’s lessons to a small handful of items so as not to overwhelm either of us (my heart is already racing, just thinking about some of the experiences that brought me to my awareness in these areas…)
1. I can be “scary”. I finally get it. I have been told this in a variety of ways over the past 30 years but always had a defensive argument for how that is ridiculous. How could I possibly be scary to anyone!?! I now understand, after years of keeping potential friends away, losing many valued friends and being confronted by some real friends who loved me enough to risk pointing this out to my scary-self. The root of it was a result of expectations that I put on myself and others that were impossible to live by. That attitude resulted in my friends feeling a sense of being judged, being not enough, being a disappointment. If no one, not even me, can fulfill these expectations, everyone loses. I have done a lot of soul-searching and found that when I “live and let live” and focus on myself and doing my job (which is to take care of myself and not try to do God’s job and work on other people) I can actually maintain some long-term, intimate relationships.
2. “I care way too much about what you think of me.” This is really an awareness that I have to keep in check regularly.
When I get unfit spiritually, I start making idols out of the people around me (whether or not I like or know them). My identity and self-worth become dependent not on God, but on what I think others are thinking about me. That is a dangerous lens to view myself through, considering much of it is based on your brokenness mixed in with mine.
It’s hard to see anything clearly with that standard and makes for some pretty unstable self-esteem and security. I didn’t always see this as a problem and I am grateful, having been in a twelve-step program the past 6 years, that I am beginning to get a handle on it.
I used to put all my eggs in the baskets of people who were not capable (because only God is capable) of meeting my needs and giving me my identity. After years of suffering I finally stopped blaming them and transferred my eggs to God’s basket (can’t deny that I occasionally steal them back until it gets painful again).
3. “I’m not much but I’m all I think about.” ‘Tis true. In spite of the fact that I tend to trash myself (telling myself I am a bad friend, bad Christian, bad mom, bad wife), I think about myself an awful lot. I can obsess about my woes and worries and completely forget that anyone else could use a word, a text, a call, an hug, a simple smile. Self-consumption is a sickness that I haven’t always recognized in me. I think Leukemia was a really good remedy for that kind of sickness. Even in the midst of a pretty terrifying threat of dying and potential for absolute self-absorption, I chose to write and share hope and strength with others. That was only a God-inspired decision that I take no credit for at all.
4. “I can be right or I can be happy.” Apparently I was born with or cultivated a very vibrant and stubborn “justice gene”. This has gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion. If in the right context, God can do a lot with this genetic wiring. But if it goes astray, it manifests itself in an attitude of self-righteous superiority toward groups or individuals. Neither of which are productive or feel very loving to the recipient. When I am sure I am right on something I feel compelled to prove it (feeling like I have to “win”) and the recipient often feels as if their views or needs are disregarded and devalued. I almost never see it that way and am therefore shocked when I get a strong pushback. I have most certainly not entirely recovered from this, but am at least willing to acknowledge that I have the propensity to go there and don’t argue my “way” nearly as long as I used to. 😬
5. “I am a wimp”. I have an embarrassing memory of a conversation I had between a friend and I several years ago (like 20 years, so give me a slight break). She asked me why I never drank before I was 21 or did drugs or had sex before I was married. I told her I thought it was because I wasn’t afraid to do the “hard thing.” It’s actually a “hard thing” for me to even get those words out; it’s so arrogant. And so far from reality, now that I can see myself a tiny bit more clearly. As I mentioned a few blogs ago, I am afraid of practically everything! And I wasn’t any better back then. Just a bit dumber (is that a word?). I actually think I have an extra large aversion to “hard things”. I mean, I won’t even go downstairs to put my laundry in because it’s too far and the very thought of even planning a meal or following a recipe makes me want to start fasting. I work out the shortest time necessary and eat as much as possible without crossing the line into excess. I text and email instead of call because that is easier. My whole life revolves around doing what is easy. Who am I trying to fool? Today, the answer is “no one”. I am fully aware that I am doing the best I can for now and so is everyone else. I am not special. I only do hard because I have to, not because I want to or am up for the challenge. Most people do. I used to take pride in my “uprightness”, whatever that is, and now, I am just glad to be upright and not in jail (ok, that’s a little extreme, but you get my point). I have been humbled once or twice, and continue to be reminded that “there, but for the grace of God, go I.”
So there you have it. That is the tip of the iceberg on what I have had to learn the hard way. Maybe sometime soon we will get to what’s underneath all of that-consider yourself warned.
This is an excerpt from a talk I did last week at Illlinois Women in Leadership event. Even if you are not a woman from Illinois or not a woman at all, I would hope you could find something helpful in it…
So, since we only have about 15 to 20 minutes together, I figure it’s best if we just bypass the formalities and just cut to the chase. Since the overarching theme of my book is vulnerability, we might as well begin with less glamorous and rather embarrassing nuance of the back-story of my journey here today. When Mia invited me to speak at this event a couple of months ago, my immediate answer was yes! I would love to! SO I came to the luncheon last month to get a feel for how this event runs and meet some of you. I still felt fairly confident, until Kelly Hurst, the speaker, opened her mouth. Suddenly my answer changed. I started to panic and frantically scanned the room for Linda Jones so I could tell her with my eyes, “I’ve changed my mind! I don’t want to do this anymore!” I instantly compared myself to her and determined that I did not measure up. How could I compete with that? As if that were the point of any of this.
I tell you this story because, in a nutshell, that’s what I do. That’s what I write about. The parts of me that are messed up and immature and hard to say out loud. I share what I have learned and how I have learned it; and apparently I learn life’s most important lessons through suffering. Through circumstances that don’t go my way. Through hitting bottom and fighting my way back up. But ya know what else I have learned by sharing it on paper? I am not the only one. OTHER people have responded and confirmed that I am not alone in my crazy, my insecurities and my failures. So I keep writing. Because even though my disease of Leukemia is in remission, my disease of the SOUL is chronic. I have PLENTY of material, let me tell you!
Before I got cancer in 2015 and simultaneously battled with a family member’s addiction, I would say I was a decent leader. I read leadership books and went to leadership conferences and launched and maintained several women’s study groups at church for 20 years. I wasn’t TERRIBLE at it but I do feel that sometimes there are things about ourselves, our soul and our character, that can only be discovered when the fire comes. There is simply no other way to face them.
You may have heard the leadership refer to a book that was chosen to encapsulate this year’s IWIL theme. It’s called True North. I would say that prior to 2015, before I was forced to face my True and broken self, I lived a life that was North-ish. On paper I had a few skills, credentials and experiences that seemed to define a leader, but there were some deeper ingredients to leadership that I was lacking. They are actually both on the list of the key components True North identifies as necessary to be an authentic leader: The first is Self-Awareness.
My book is called Soul-Selfie because prior to my world being turned upside down by some pretty horrific circumstances, I spent a lot more time taking pictures of other peoples’ lives and either judging their bad behavior or, if they seemed to have it more together than me, trying to emulate them. When I came face to face with diseases of cancer, a loved one’s addiction and the abrupt abandonment of many life-long friends as a result, I somehow managed to turn that camera back on myself. Through these snapshots, these “selfies”, I became acutely aware of my own disease of the soul, marked by control, worry, fear, greed, jealousy and judgmentalism, just to name a few. I realized that working on myself is a full-time job. These Soul-Selfies were the key to getting to the root of all the character defects that that were inhibiting my ability to effectively lead others anywhere that mattered.
Being self-aware means we are intentional about regularly gauging our mental, spiritual, emotional and physical health. As a person who is fairly driven and admittedly often obsessed with being productive, I have to get pretty sick in these areas before I give myself permission to shut down, to take necessary rest and recovery time. Leukemia is one pretty effective way to do it, though I don’t recommend it. But it’s VITAL that we remember to assess these areas in us, or we will end up like so many leaders-dried up, exhausted and empty.
I heard a story a few years ago that still threatens my serenity to this day. A speaker was talking about how a few years before, she said goodbye to her kids as they went off to school, went inside and got in bed and didn’t get up for 6 months! A full-on breakdown in every area descended on her out of nowhere – or so she thought. But she had been burning the candle at both ends and ignoring all signs and symptoms that might have helped her prevent such a breakdown. My counselor, when he is encouraging me to pay attention to myself and do the work necessary to stay “fit” in my head and heart, reminds me that I will do it at some point, and I can either do it standing up or laying down; while doing regular life or lying in a hospital bed. But I will do it. He suggests that since I have already done it laying down once, I might want to take extra precaution to make sure it doesn’t have to happen again.
But as a good friend always say, “I don’t have to live that way anymore.” Today I do it differently. Or at least try to. Today I lead by being real, honest and steadfast through life’s trials, not by trying to be impressive or eloquent or more put together than anybody else. I am paying better attention to myself. I am acutely aware that being and becoming a leader is an inside job.
Another major component of leadership addressed in True North is the importance of having a support team. Through some pretty painful experiences over the past several years, I have learned that a support team does not just cheer you on in your leadership quest and applaud your successes and accomplishments, rather they come alongside you when you are at your weakest. When you have screwed it up and strayed off the path and have confessed that you are actually scared out of your mind and intimidated by others most of the time. They celebrate with you or cry with you or, if you give them permission, will tell you when you are being a jack-Marack. You know what I mean. That support team will also curl up next to you and cup your face in their hands, look you dead in the eye and tell you that “you’re not the only one” and that who you are today is “enough”. They remind you again and again that when you lead with vulnerability and humility and authenticity, people will follow.
So let’s start wrapping this gift up…
…when we share our story in a way that might inspire, motivate, awaken or draw others out of their trance, we call that leadership. But the reality is, that as I stand up here and speak, you are witnessing the end result of countless hours of thought and prayer and introspection and wrestling (and just a tiny bit of crying). And all leadership ultimately starts like that – in private and in a series of tiny, yet profound decisions and actions.
You have probably heard the saying: ‘romance starts in the kitchen” meaning, a person is crazy if they think that how they treat a partner throughout the day-whether or not they take out the trash help with dinner or dishes or baths has no correlation between the intimacy they should expect in the bedroom that night. The foreplay starts at breakfast, whether we know it or not. In the same way, leadership is not about the end result, whether or not we “score” at the end of the day. It starts on the couch with a cup of coffee at 6:30 in the morning (ok, who am I kidding-more like 7 after I have hit snooze 5 or 6 times) where you sit in quiet prayer and meditation or read from authors who challenge and encourage you. Or at night when you review your day and determine where you might need to make an amends to someone you snapped at or inwardly rolled your eyes at that morning. Or when you choose to tell the truth instead of telling a lie in order to save face. Or when you listen, really listen to that friend who is struggling and tell her you know how she feels, that you struggle too. Or when you respond with a smile and a kind spirit to that co-worker who just seems to stomp on your last nerve on a daily basis. Or when you celebrate the good in other people’s lives instead feeling jealous or ripped off. Or when you choose to let your rotten circumstances make you better rather than bitter. Or when you learn that you are the only person you are ultimately responsible for, and give other people the dignity of being themselves, even when they don’t do things your way.😝
My point is–taking regular Soul-Selfies keeps us rooted in the soil that helps us flourish as a leader. Who we are when no one’s looking matters first. It trumps every skill or credential or positive review. As they say, it takes years to develop and establish a reputation as an effective and memorable leader, but only seconds to destroy it. Our character and our actions are permanent.
And in order to lead in the way that I think most of us in this room desire to lead, we have to be self aware and surround ourselves with people who know our deepest flaws and love us anyway. Men and women who help us resurrect our dead or dying places to spur others on in strength and redemption. We have to use the good, the bad and the ugly to inspire a movement of women who lead with a power and a passion that is unbreakable.
I have some books here today. One of my favorite things about it is the cover. It’s a collage of my support team. Readers, friends and family who walk along side me and help my compass continue to point to its true north. Every single picture is a selfie. A few of my doctors are even on it. Most of which apparently spend a lot more time investing in saving people’s lives than learning how take selfies with their I Phone…whatever. I think I had to take a selfie with my oncologist and then edit me out. Hey, we can’t all be good at everything.
It’s really important for me to tell you, that even though it’s sort of my story, this isn’t a book about ME. It’s about YOU. Or rather, a book about ME AND YOU and how we are all in this together. It’s a book that will help you establish the foundation on which you build your leadership. I am a realtor also, and one thing I have seen over and over in negotiating contracts, is that if the foundation of a home is compromised, all bets are off. Nothing sends buyers running for the hills more than a crack or bulge in the foundation. If that can’t or won’t be remedied by the seller, buyers will just keep looking. If your foundation, which is to say, your character and identity, is not firm, is not solid, your leadership will be fleeting at best. Because the truth has an uncanny way of rising to the surface, no matter how hard we work to disguise it or distract people with our fancy words or sparkly personalities.
Who you are when no one’s looking will not stay a secret forever. You may be very, very busy. From what I have heard around these tables, I am convinced we are busier and more productive than most people out there.
But in that busyness, be mindful that our success as a leader, at least in the long run, has to be grounded in our humility and willingness to look inward regularly and learn from others. Daily reflection of some sort is crucial if we want to stand the test of time and pressure from such a calling, if we want our legacy to incite a burning IN others as opposed to a burning UP of ourselves and all we are passionate about.
I try my best not to boss people around, but I do want to boss you a bit about how to read it. It’s designed to be a daily reading of sorts. Each entry is one or two pages long because that’s about as long as I can focus. My vision for you is that you keep it next to your bed or your favorite chair with a pen resting on top. I want you to read it and underline it and practice what it says. If that means you read the same entry every day for a week, so be it. When you are done reading the whole book, repeat. I know it sounds weird, but occasionally I read myself and just weep as if I have never read it before. As if it weren’t my own life I was getting a glimpse of. I would think, “If only I could be as wise and discerning as her…”. On a side note, you know you have a real problem when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re STILL not good enough ( I wrote an entire blog on that topic!). ANYWAY- I have several books in my little library that I regularly order for other people, because I guard with vigilance my own personal copy. Some of them are practically falling apart or have every sentenced underlined from 10 years of re-reading. I now have to resort to using various colored pens, in order to differentiate the time frame in which I underline significant words or powerful sections. That’s what I want your book to look like. Like I said, This book is a compilation of the first hundred-ish blogs I wrote when I got Leukemia. When you get your fill of the book, you can go to heathercarterwrites.com to read a couple hundred more. The disease of leukemia is what GOT me writing. The disease of the soul is what KEEPS me writing.
The Book can be found on Amazon or I will be selling and signing them here for 10$. I especially love to sign them for anyone you know who is currently battling cancer or the family Disease of addiction. I don’t promote this book to make money. In fact, last time I checked I am in the hole because I just keep giving books away!
I published this book so I can get this specific message to as many people as possible: that we are all recovering from something, whether it’s the disease of cancer, addiction or the disease of soul that haunts us all. But there is always hope and you are not alone. So I hope you will either read the book or just go to my site and read the blogs. And think of who you might know who would be encouraged by someone who has been there, done that.
So, one final thought: As I was prepping this morning, I read this quote and I want to put it in your head as we leave here today, because there’s a chance that some of you know you have the makings of a leader, but are holding back, waiting for people or your situation to change in order for you to act on it. But please hear me, “never allow the thought, ‘I am of no use where I am’, because you certainly can be of no use where you are not.”
Wherever God has dumped you down in your current circumstances, this is where your leadership journey begins.
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 don’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 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 😕)
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.