Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Back to the Future”

By now you know I live in the Midwest. Last week they (“they” being meteorologists who in my opinion have one of the worst jobs ever, being as most of what they forecast rarely happens as they predict, resulting in frustrated and disappointed people around the planet…or maybe that was just me) told us we should expect 5-8 inches of snow. Based on this prediction, Open Houses, conferences, sporting events, yoga classes, concerts and bridal showers were cancelled all over Springfield. My son works at a grocery store and he said that based on the crowd you would think people were preparing for the Apocalypse. Apparently people planned to survive on bread, milk and booze. Ya know, the staples of a well-rounded diet. My son was planning a trip out of town so he left a day early to avoid the “hazardous road conditions”. My husband and I and both sets of grandparents made him a bit crazy with all the tips and warnings about driving in the snow, how to contact AAA in case they slid into a ditch and made him pack blankets, gloves and a hat in his car because you just don’t know what might happen!

Well, let me tell you what did happen. Nothin’. Nada. Zilch. Not only did we not get 5-8 inches and 35 mph winds, what did drop pretty much blew away or melted immediately. So, enough weather talk, because I think you catch my drift 😂…when we predict the future and base our current behavior on what we assume the outcome will be, we are usually in for some disappointment. Not only that, lwe rob the present of it’s joy because our minds are occupied with planning our reactions to future events that may or may not happen.

As usual, when I start thinking about such topics, like I did the day we got zero snow, life provides me with an opportunity or two to learn a lesson. I have to tell you that I am not super happy about it. In fact, I got very little sleep last night because I was very busy formulating all the ways that I will respond to a variety of potential scenarios. I knew it wasn’t helpful or healthy but I just couldn’t seem to shut my mind off.  I tried to turn it over to God, but I just kept taking it back. I let fear and worry about all the obstacles that could arise in the next few days steal my serenity and my sanity. I obsessed about the various possible outcomes of the situation as if I had no other option.

I hope that I am unique in this behavior, but I have a feeling I am not. I smiled when a phrase, a classic movie title actually, came to me regarding this tendency to fret about events that don’t exist: “Back to the Future”. I need to train my mind and choose not to let it to go “Back to (worrying about and trying to predict) the Future”. I would say I made a teensy bit of progress last night and this morning. In the night I tried to focus on being grateful that certain tough circumstances are no longer a part of my life. Instead of a gratitude list for what “is”, sometimes it is more beneficial for me to make one for what “isn’t”. That helped keep my mind stay occupied and my heart be thankful. The other thing I did was look up some readings on Letting Go, Control, and Living in the Present in one of my Recovery books. Then, I looked up a song on U-Tube about Fear being a Liar. Not only did the lyrics give me some relief (Fear, he is a liar. He will take your breath, stop you in your steps. Fear, he is a liar. He will rob your rest, steal your happiness. Cast your fear in the fire, ‘cause fear, he is a liar. -Zach Williams), but the video of people in truly hopeless situations gave me perspective on my own and made me cry and cry. This softened my senses to what many others struggle with and took the focus off of myself and my problems.

I still don’t know how my situation will resolve, but I am choosing not to try to “figure it out” ahead of time. I have done my part and have no control over what other people do or say. One of the lines from a book I read this morning really helped ground me in the truth of the matter:

“Part of me gambles that by worrying in advance, bad news will be easier to face if it comes. But worrying will not protect me from the future. It will just keep me from living here and now…I needn’t explore how I’ll feel about something that might occur in the future. I don’t actually know how I’ll feel, and it may never happen. So when I feel myself leaving the present, I’ll remind myself that the future is not today’s problem.” (Courage to Change p15)

Today is all we have to work with. I don’t want to miss it by going “Back to the Future.”

Addiction, Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

Extraction!

I don’t usually write at 4:30 in the afternoon, but today I am a little off because I got a tooth extracted this morning. I went in at 7:00 am and left at 9:45. I have mentioned before that I am a big baby when it comes to dental work. My heart rate rises and even during the shots I am clawing the arms of the chair and my whole body is tense. It didn’t help that a kid was getting his tooth pulled in the room next to me. He was crying and wailing, which was pretty much what I was afraid might happen when they started yanking on my tooth! I wished I would have brought my headphones because the breaking and grinding was sort of making me go insane. I actually asked them to turn up the Mumford and Sons radios station that was playing. At least I could sing along in my head! The dentist was patient and luckily, strong. The roots to my tooth were so wound around the bone that the dentist had to pull on it with all her might for an hour to get it out. When the last piece finally released I thought she might do a post-touchdown dance!

All that was pretty un-fun. But here is the worst part; they don’t put my fake tooth in for 4-6 months! There is nothing there, an no, you can’t see it! I feel so “hillbilly-ish” I can hardly stand it. Apparently it has to heal or something dumb like that, then they can screw a fake tooth into the piece they just drilled in to my jaw (anyone feeling light-headed just talking about this?).

My point in all this isn’t to get sympathy (though I totally earned it!). I had to let my brain go somewhere different while I was waiting for all that to be done, so naturally I thought about how that pleasant situation could relate somehow to life. For starters, I remember a friend sharing that she had some trauma as a young woman that damaged her heart, her body and her tooth. She has been wrestling with the effects of this event for almost 20 years. Awhile ago, she finally had the damaged tooth extracted and shared with me how she used it as an opportunity to make it a symbolic extraction of not only the tooth, but all the pain, nightmares, fears, insecurities and anger that she had been battling for years. I decided to give it a shot.

I pictured God as the dentist, trying his hardest to extract the rotten, unnecessary or no longer needed defects of character out of me. I know without a doubt that even though I know it needs to happen, there is something in me that holds on to those things for dear life. I am like those roots, twisted and tight and clinging with all my might to the very things that can set me free. Relieve me of pain. Help me move on in health and lightness.

And about these defects of character…recovery rooms define them as “assets that have lost proportion.” When we get out of touch with God, listen to wrong voices, are self absorbed and egocentric, or are effected by the disease of addiction in whatever form it presents itself, we often let the very things that once served us well, morph into behaviors or thought patterns that are dangerous to ourselves and our relationships with others. Our job however, and thank God for this, is not to figure out which ones need to go and how to make them go. Our job is simply to turn them over to God and let him decide the where, when, what and how of it. This may sound lazy to some of you, but if you think you are in control of what gets removed and the rate at which it goes, you might be deceiving yourself a bit.

Giving it to God lets a great weight fall from your shoulders.

One last thing; just like the area where my tooth is missing (sigh) has to heal for several months in order for a new tooth to be installed, so do you. You have to give time time. After the old ways, the useless and sometimes harmful ways are extracted, a period of healing and preparing and regenerating needs to happen before the new can be installed in you. Enjoy that time. Rest. Recover. Be patient. Be present. Be grateful. But be ready, because he is about to do something new and beautiful in you when you are ready for it.

I promise it will be worth the wait.

Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Faith/Spirituality, Serenity

What’s on your index card?

As I have mentioned before, I do some yoga in the mornings. If I am coherent enough to remember, I lean an index card against the coffee table leg with a meditation to focus on and keep my mind from running ahead into the rest of my day. the other day I fired up my laptop with the video, set up my card and my mat and lit a candle. As I prepared for my first position, my mind started to fret over a few things left undone and and things I was afraid I would forget to do in the future. Luckily, I remembered, after a few minutes of worrying, to re-center my mind on my day’s mantra. I glanced over at the index card for the words I knew would give me perspective: It was upside down and backwards.

Well, that sounds about right. How much of my life is lived with me either forgetting about that card entirely, or operating with it upside down and backwards? I have several cards to choose from each morning. Each has some truth that reminds me of what I believe to be true, or want to be true in my life. Phrases like, “Do not worry about the past or the future. Each moment is enough for now. BE PRESENT” , “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let him”, or “Me and the people I know and love are exactly where we are supposed to be right now. We are all ENOUGH.” But doggonit if I don’t forget them as soon as I roll up my yoga mat.

Over the past several years I have had to gather some new beliefs and tools and practices to manage some extreme challenges in my own little world. I read and review and talk about these principles with friends and at recovery meetings. But it doesn’t take much to let my serenity slip subtly away. It doesn’t take a catastrophe to make me forget what I know is the best way to live and behave. It only takes a slight distraction. That distraction can be a too-busy schedule with no time set aside to reflect and pray. Or it can be a person I choose to focus on fixing rather than taking care of my own over-all needs. And it can definitely be all the “cares of this world”, as Jesus put it, that vie for my attention and trick me into thinking that much of what I think matters, simply doesn’t.

This week I picked up a book. It’s actually my book about my life written by me. I am fascinated! If only I could be like that girl, I’d be amazing! And to quote myself, “when you compare yourself with yourself and you’re still not good enough, you know your in trouble!”. I would read an entry and think to myself, “Yes! I forgot that I believe that! I haven’t been living as if I do, that’s for dang sure.”

Here’s the deal; most of us know what we believe to be true and how we ought to live, love and act. If you don’t, start there. But if you do, you are probably also keenly aware, especially at the beginning of a new year, that you have a strong tendency, like I do, to forget to return to those beliefs and ways of living that you know will help you be your best and highest self, living in harmony and unity with yourself, God and others.

Yes, my index card, with an reminder of what I believe, was (and often is) upside down and backwards. But the goal is to keep referring back to those cards. First figure out what you need to put on your “cards” and harken back ( that’s fancy talk for “remember to look at it ya ding dong!) to it over and over as you go through your days. There will be times the words will be embedded on your heart and mind with unwavering clarity, while other times your card might be crumpled on the floor of your car or mixed in with a bunch of junk on your kitchen counter. But remember to look for it when you sense yourself getting out of step. Aimless. Grumpy. Discouraged. Heavy. Anxious. Fearful. Angry.

None of us can do this perfectly all the time. But my prayer for me and for you is that we will notice less and less space between the unrest and the solution when remember to return to our roots. To the core of what we know we believe.

Harken back to what’s on your “index card.”

Control, Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness, grace

A huge mistake! (Followed by “God is my refuge”)

I have been reading through my book to collect quotes for my Soul-Selfettes (posted on Instagram and FB in between full blog posts). And it happened, one of my worst fears came true. I found a HUGE mistake! I haven’t actually read my book in book form yet because I was afraid of this exact thing! Spelling and grammar are the worst culprits, but this one was even worse. I  wrote a blog in May 2015 and quoted myself from an earlier blog I wrote on April 21st. Only I couldn’t remember reading that entry in the book. When I looked back, I was horrified to realize it wasn’t in there!!! Seriously, what are the odds that the ONE blog that gets left out is the one I refer to and quote from an entry a month later? Slim my friends. Slim. So, anyway, now that I have recovered from being thoroughly annoyed with myself, I thought I’d re-post. If you have the book, just prints and stick in it’s chronological home. Humor me. 😜

 

April 21, 2015    God is my refuge

I spent yesterday weeding through all the things that have accumulated in my house over the past two months. It was a pretty big task and A LOT of decisions about where to put things. I haven’t had to make any “every day” decisions for a very long time. My brain hurt. One of the blessings of sorting through cards and gifts and lotions etc. was that I was able to read through some special notes people have given us. Warmed my heart all over again. One letter I found, though, was a note to Blake that someone ( thank you, friend, if you are reading this) had written to him soon after he left Hope. It was a letter and with it there was a poem. It was called: REFUGEE. I have always heard God referred to as a REFUGE, but never put two and two together (it’s a problem that plagues me) and realized that if He is my REFUGE, than I am the REFUGEE. Psalm 46:1 says, “God is our REFUGE and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear.” Just to clarify, a REFUGE is defined as “Shelter that provides protection from danger or distress. ” A REFUGEE is defined as “a person who flees TO a POWER to escape danger…” . No one FLEES to a country or a power who is more dangerous or harmful than the enemy they are running from. It has to be a destination guaranteed to protect and defend to make it worth the risk of fleeing. Yet I seem to do this all the time. I tend to forget that people, places and things are not powerful enough to provide me with a “shelter to provide protection from danger and distress.” Only God is loving enough. Big enough. Wise enough. I love the response in Psalm 46 when the Psalmist has reflected on how powerful and magnificent God is..He/She says, OH! CLAP YOUR HANDS, ALL YOU PEOPLE!!!! Celebrate and rejoice. God is your REFUGE.

The final lines from our friend’s poem say:

There, the sky is near as near can be, and we are not afraid to ask:

“If you will be my REFUGE Lord,

Then shall I be your REFUGEE?”

Faith/Spirituality, grace

“When is enough enough?

My yoga mediation for today was “today I am ENOUGH, and I trust you with my future”. Mine are always some sort of reminder to “get God in there” as I start my day. This one is particularly powerful for me at Christmastime, a time when I feel sub-par in multiple areas. Maybe you have been feeling it too. I have caught myself worrying that I don’t have enough money to buy this or enough to pay for that (now that I just swiped my credit card). I am certain I don’t have enough hours in my day to finish my shopping and get everything wrapped in the next 6 days. I feel like I am not a good enough friend or neighbor because I haven’t baked one cookie or Christmasy treat for them, or for my own family, for that matter. I haven’t celebrated enough with people I care about, I haven’t spent enough time sitting quietly in my living room enjoying my Christmas tree and I haven’t done enough holiday activities or engaged in enough of our usual Christmas traditions. I haven’t reflected enough on the real reason for the season. My home doesn’t look enough like a Martha Stuart catalogue. I haven’t sent enough Christmas cards out (ok-so zero Christmas cards is legitimately “not enough”) and I am scared to death that I’ll realize on Christmas Eve that I don’t have enough presents for one of my kids (because we all know everything has to be even). Oh, and did I mention that lately I haven’t gotten enough sleep or eaten enough fruits and vegetables or worked out enough? Sigh…

You might say that I need to relax and lighten up. Take it easy on myself, for pete’s sake. You might be right.

But isn’t this the battle we all feel drawn to engage in during this single month of the year? we feel like the answer to the question “when is enough enough?” Is “never” when it comes to the scramble of the holidays.

One of the reasons I do not feel “enough” is because I compare myself with others and determine I don’t measure up. The other is because my expectations are unreasonable, unrealistic and unattainable. when I focus on trying to meet such expectations, I feel less than. Like a failure. Like not enough.
Today (and I will try not to wish I had practiced this meditation soon enough to enjoy this season more fully) I will remind myself again and again and again that who I am and what I have done is enough. It’s enough for me and enough for others and most certainly enough for God.

Faith/Spirituality, fear, Patience/waiting, resentment

Waiting for Christmas (to be over?)

We are in the Advent season. In this case, Advent is a religious term meaning “expectant waiting”, in case you have heard that term your whole life and are embarrassed to admit that you don’t know what that actually means. Specifically, it refers to the days of December leading up to Christmas. I love how author Jan Richardson eloquently puts it; “Advent is a dance set to the rhythm of waiting.”

As I read about Advent last week, I was a taken aback by my reaction. It went something like “Oh I’m waiting alright. Waiting for Christmas to be over!”. Maybe it’s because I am the slightest bit tired of the work required to redecorate my entire house for a month’s enjoyment. And maybe it’s a tiny bit about the fact that my kids are teenagers now and doing the usual Christmas tradition activities are a chore to them ( Looking at lights with mom and dad? Boring. Going to Festival of trees? Yawn. Frosting sugar cookies? Laborious. Hanging Christmas ornaments? Tedious.) It’s also possible that the past few Christmas’s haven’t gone swimmingly and my expectations for this time of year aren’t necessarily as hopeful as I wish they were at Christmas. Sometimes I feel like I am just holding my breath, tying to “make it through” without incident or trauma (like Leukemia, for example…).

Maybe you have a similar something going on. When kids are little and excited it can be contagious. It definitely helps distract from what our hearts tend to reflect on during the holidays. The Christmas season, like no other season, definitely embodies the words of the famous Christmas carol, “the hopes and fears of all the years” that circle and weigh and even haunt us. Our expectations are either through the roof (I mean, after all, look around at all these happy people going to parties and spending extravagantly and baking cookies with and for their friends and family) or they are in the pit (Christmas means disappointment, poor behavior from relatives, relational strain, or painful memories of the year our parent lost a job or we lost a parent or our parents split up, or or or…) . Nothing ignites our fear (what if this Christmas isn’t like those of Christmas past? Or what if it is?) and confounds our hopes (should we dare to hope for joy, celebration, or the feelings of “Christmas spirit?) like the ringing in of the first Christmas song in the department store the day after Thanksgiving. It has begun. How much longer before it can be over?

Even though many of us or “waiting for Christmas to be over”, most of us don’t really want to live that way. We long to have that childlike anticipation about Santa coming or what’s inside that weird-shaped box under the tree. I don’t know if it’s really possibly for us to recapture that kind of enthusiasm, but I do believe that with a little, or large, tweak in our attitude and approach to Christmas, we can learn to enjoy it in a fresh way this year. And I am talking mostly to myself…

So here’s one thought…let’s take the words of “Oh little town of Bethlehem” one step further. “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in Thee tonight.” It is my belief, though clearly I struggle keeping it at the forefront of my life, that God came in human flesh at Christmas to fulfill my hopes and squelch my fears. Because he came, I can dare to hope. Hope for a different future, hope for a softer spirit, hope for a fresh start, hope for new patterns of living that produce a life I can embrace and cherish. And I can give him my fear. He came to cast out our fear of the future and also our fears created by the failures and damage done by us or to us in our past.

This doesn’t have to be a season we merely endure so we can get on with the new year. This can be a season of healing and gratitude if we take the time to remember what the gift of Christmas truly is: God in flesh. Who fills everything in every way. Advent, the waiting, can be a time to suspend all that is ordinary and bleak, and hover over the truth of what we can expect with confidence this Christmas: that God didn’t just enter our world as a baby on that first Christmas, he stayed. God is with is. Immanuel. And he is in the business of making us whole and feel wholly loved. Giving us hope, and casting out fear.

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness

Jesus’ “birthday month”

I have a dear friend whose husband celebrates (and semi-requires his family to celebrate) his birthday, not just on his special day, but all month long. “His birthday month starts today,” my friend will inform me. It’s a busy time for everyone involved. Even though other activities occur out of necessity during that month, there is an over-arching theme that permeates each day’s responsibilities: the celebration of his birth and his existence in every regard. My friend is a good woman so even though she occasionally rolls her eyes, she cooperates and engages with what I would say, a pretty positive attitude.

I thought of this as I was doing my pre-Christmas-day reading. The book has dated readings and I started to panic a little when I realized I was on day 4 already! Every time I read it I will know exactly how many days (read: days to shop and get everything mailed and send out Christmas cards and bake cookies) are left until “the” day arrives. We all know Christmas isn’t just about the 24th and 25th of December. Advent, the time of preparation for Jesus’ birth, starts December 1st (and the bustle of Christmas in the retail world starts about a month before that!).

Jesus gets a birthday month…just like my friend’s husband. But I have to say, that even though it’s Jesus’ birthday, I have a natural inclination to make it about me. Let’s just take a minute to pretend that my friend treated her husband the way I treat Jesus during his birthday month. How honored will her husband feel if she regularly complains about the hassle of decorating or planning for or shopping for his party? Will her kids and family sense her love for them if she is cranky and short-tempered because this birthday thing is just getting to be a bit much? Will her actions and words during this month draw people into wishing they knew this amazing man who she has carved out her precious time to celebrate? Would her husband feel blessed and cared for if she didn’t do or buy anything she knew he really loved during this time, only doing what was fun and easy for her?

Does the God of the universe, who came to earth as a tiny baby so I could be free from sin and shame and loneliness and hopelessness, really “feel the love” from me during his birthday month? Have I been whining and complaining about decorating for Christmas? (Yes) Have I chosen to give him what he truly wants (forgiveness and grace and compassion extended to others) rather than what is fun or easy for me? Does my attitude about the Christmas season (Jesus’ birthday month) reflect well on him? Will others want to celebrate him also because of how I honor him with my words and actions? Have I made his birthday a month about me and mine rather than making him the common thread that runs through the Christmas carols, Christmas programs,  Christmas movies, Christmas presents, Christmas dinner and Christmas clean-up?

So, just a couple thoughts as you scurry through the next few weeks. First off, no, you cannot declare that you too shall have “birthday month”, because that sounds like a phenomenal idea to you. Second-we’re only 4 days in, so it’s not too late to start the party. Start putting your focus where (on whom) it belongs. Start doing the things Jesus likes because after all, it’s his birthday month. Start being mindful of how much you love him and acknowledge your gratitude for his unconditional love and selfless sacrifice. Start forgiving mean people who have hurt you on purpose or on accident. Start smiling. Stop complaining.

Stop waiting for Christmas to be over

(blog on that topic coming soon…)

**This is dedicated to my friend’s husband who shall remain nameless unless of course you helped him celebrate his birthday last month 😉

awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

Maybe not writing for a couple weeks has a direct correlation to the fact that I am struggling. Which came first? Who knows. What exactly am I struggling with? Well, ironically, during this Thanksgiving season-it’s gratitude. At a time of year when even the most curmudgeonly people seem to pull out something to be grateful for, I am just not feeling it.

You have probably heard it said that “feelings aren’t facts”, but even when I make a gratitude list or encounter dear people I know I am thankful for, the facts remain and the feelings ( read: warm, kind, sweet, tender) don’t match.

I figured out that my attitude sort of stinks on this whole”thankfulness” topic while I was doing some reflective reading yesterday. The book has dated entries and this reading started with the same repetitious reminders that the author has addressed for the past 7 days: “be thankful in all circumstances”, “thankfulness takes the sting out of adversity”, “thank God frequently”, “thankfulness is a language of love”, “thanksgiving puts you in a proper relationship with God,” “fill your heart and mind with thankfulness”, “when your mind is occupied with thankfulness, you have no time for worrying or complaining.” Blah, Blah Blah. You get the idea. I was shocked at my response when I realized she was still stuck on this topic; a big eye roll. I mean, Thanksgiving is over lady! Let’s move on already!

I give you permission to pause it here and decide whether you want to continue reading what my bratty-sounding self has to say (maybe ever again!)…

For those of you who are still with me-I just have to say that I am not proud of this posture and it makes me feel like I have no right to write anything at all until I get my junk together. But I have learned a couple of things from writing a few hundred blogs. One, when I stop writing regularly, bad things happen in my soul (since the majority of what I write helps me first and you second. I can’t give away what I don’t possess). And two, when I share the stuff I am most ashamed to share, that’s when people seem to connect the most. I suppose I understand. I feel weird and isolated and crazy most of the time, and I don’t always find hope when I hear motivating talk from someone whose life seems spotless and never appears to struggle with “temporary insanity”-being tempted to live counter to what they know to be true in their heart. I just don’t relate and despair and self-pity take over.

So-what am I gonna do about my lack of “happy” feelings and my pessimistic, prickly emotions? Well, as I have said, awareness is the first step in making some changes. Now that I I am aware, I can make some phone calls and dialogue with people and God. And I can know that “this too shall pass”, because sometimes we just get in a funk for no apparent reason and we don’t have to flog ourselves over it.

Don’t worry about me. I’ll do what I need to do to get “better”. But even though I started this blog to confess my grouchy, juvenile attitude and maybe give some insight into how to “fix” it, I think that God has other intentions for it. What I hope you hear, is that “you’re not alone.” I am still here for you, still as messed up as ever, and I will walk next to you as we “trudge this happy road to destiny” together. Never, ever forget that.

Faith/Spirituality, grace, Serenity

Jedi-Mind Treatment

The other day, after trying to talk both of us off the ledge of a particularly frustrating situation, my husband asked me, “why do you always see the bright side?”. That’s when I had to confess that even though I just rattled off a bunch of “bright side” jargon, I actually woke up on the Dark Side that very morning. After a few decades, I have finally learned that when I am disturbed, short-tempered, or enraged at minor inconveniences, things that don’t go my way or let say, heavy objects falling off the table directly on my big toe, it’s a pretty strong sign that there is something boiling inside me (and it’s probably been percolating for an unrecognized-while ).

What is even more disturbing, is how quickly my mood, my outlook on my circumstances can vacillate from one end of the continuum to the other. That morning, I was having a toddler-seque tantrum over some pretty lame “stuff”, which triggered me to go on a rant to God about how my life was a phat joke and nothing ever goes my way and why does everyone else seem to get what they want but I certainly never do!?!?!

I knew even as I was driving that I was setting myself up to feel stupid for my lack of perspective. You see, I was driving to a hearing for a young man who has been in jail-has not seen the literal light of day-for a year. The lesson I was about to be served hung out there, taunting me, but I still couldn’t manage to pull myself together. I just kept mouthing off, right up to the point where I put my two quarters into the parking meter for the guy parked behind me! Just one more bit of evidence that my life was indeed jinxed by God (thinking about this in hind sight is pretty comical, not to mention embarrassing).

And then God, who I frequently doubt and question about whether or not he gives a lick about me my meager little life, showed up in lights. As I sat in that courtroom with 2 others, we silently begged God to do what was best for this young man, but let him know what we really wanted was freedom. We prayed that he fill this judge with mercy. And guess what? In spite of every single bit of evidence that made his lawyer’s request sound like a long shot (he had already told us as much) and completely impractical, absurd, unlikely and possibly even dangerous, she approved it. I can’t go into too much detail, but let’s just say that an hour later, he got his picture taken outside, with the brilliant fall sunshine beaming down on his pale skin.

I have never witnessed a miracle this directly. I felt like God did some sort of Jedi-Mind-Treatment on the courtroom that day. Ya know, like in Star Wars when the guards as Obi-Wan for Luke and his companions identification he says, “You don’t need to see their identification” and the guards respond “We don’t need to see their identification, move along!”. That’s how the Jedi-Mind-Treatment works, and that’s how crazy it was that this dear boy walked out of that courtroom to a new type of freedom. Made no sense at all; God’s crazy like that.

And in the afterglow of experiencing this miracle, it only took me about 2 hours to swing back to the Dark Side over something if such little significance I won’t even bother to bring it up.

In all this, I guess my point is that, as I have mentioned before, we are all broken and jacked-up and human, and this is most likely going to happen again and again and again. I am not proud of how easily I lose perspective and how demanding and childish and ungrateful I can be. But maybe God understands us better than we think. He knows I love him madly, but occasionally behave badly. And He extends that same mercy to me that I witnessed Him extending through that Judge. And He extends it to you too.

“His mercies are new every morning…every day it’s true, He makes all his mercies new.”

awareness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, fear, grace, Growth, identity, leadership

True North or North-ish?

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 outloud. 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 judmentalism, 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 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, looks you dead in the eye and tell you that “your 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 mediation 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 it’s 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.