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.

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.

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Serenity, Trust

Pull yourself together!

“Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.”
-Elizabeth Taylor

Recently a friend gave me an adorable make-up pouch with that quote on it. I do whole-heartedly agree that lipstick is the cornerstone of all cosmetic collections, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s been some wildness going on in my head and heart lately, and today, as I admitted to God that I felt like I was going insane, He narrowed the tornado in my head down to the eye and in one word revealed the problem: control (or lack there-of).

You see, I have this chronic disease of trying to control; of trying to make people places and things around me OK so I can be OK. This approach leaves very little time and energy to enjoy my own life and explore what God has designed me to be and keeps me focused on, and actually obsessed, with the behavior, choices, lifestyle, successes, failures, problems, disappointments, and fears of people around me. Usually the ones I love the most. The problem is tow-fold, however. I am not the only one who suffers in this scenario. No one likes to feel that they are responsible for someone else’s well-being. And no one likes to be told-or as I like to say “encouraged”-to live their life according to someone elses’ plan. As a result, they end up feeling resentful and disrespected and certainly not loved.

After I prayed (more like “cried out” or “vented”) about how I felt like I was going crazy and simple could not handle all the problems and challenges my loved ones are facing, God finally showed up. Or should I say, I finally hit my bottom and surrendered, admitting that my way wasn’t working and He could finally get a word in…ya, maybe that’s more like it. A few quotes from my Recovery reading for today that helped me see clearly why my peace of mind had blown clean away:

“Surrender does not mean submission-it means I’m willing to stop fighting reality, to stop trying to do God’s part, and to do my own.”

“The best way I’ve found to invite serenity is to recognize that the world is in good hands.”

“Today I can be grateful that the earth will continue to revolve without any help from me. I am free to live my own life, safe in the knowledge that a Higher Power is taking care of the world, my loved ones and myself.”

“There is only one person I am responsible for, and that is me. There is only one person who can make my life as full as possible-that too, is me…today I will keep hands off and keep my focus where it belongs, on me.”

After I went to the index and read every single reading on surrender and control (about 10 readings-apparently other people struggle with this same disease), I had clarity for the first time in a long time. At the bottom of the page for today’s reading I wrote, “it feels irresponsible to enjoy my life unless my loved ones are enjoying theirs.” This belief is one I need to kick-out if I am ever to embrace and find joy in my one and only life.

I have to remember that God doesn’t have grandkids, He just has kids. And when I try to impose my Will on others, either directly by offering advice they didn’t ask for or indirectly (by praying to God that He do with them what I want done) then I am interfering with His perfect plan for them and missing out on His beautiful, exhilarating and personal plan for me.

It shoudn’t suprise me that when I went to my reading for today, Oswald Chambers entitled today’s entry, “Pull Yourself Together.” He wrote that in 1935, waaaaay before Elizabeth Taylor. His point was basically, “God is God and you are not.” And He’s “got this.”

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

An exception to the yoga rule

I don’t have any hard evidence for this, but I believe it to be true in most cases; for every rule/principle, there is an exception. And here’s mine in regards to the Yoga blog I wrote a couple days ago (read now if you missed it or this will make no sense): Even though that blog implored you to be fully present in your moments, there are simply some moments (phases, stretches, seasons) in your life when you need to be somewhere else. In your mind, that is.

I don’t know if I’ll be able to explain it, but as I was playing the devil’s advocate to being fully engaged in our lives as they are happening, I realized that there have been some experiences in my own life that were I not able to get outside of and beyond my immediate circumstances by going somewhere else in my mind, I would have shriveled up, withered away or been left for dead.

When I was diagnosed with Leukemia is obviously the biggest exception to this rule. I still accepted the reality of my circumstances (which is vital for living differently in spite of them), but I chose to focus and spend my energy hoping for the future and making beauty out of the pile of ashes that was handed to me. When negative, cruel or hurtful people spoke words to me (or about me or my family members) I chose to listen to anything that I needed to address in myself and discard the rest. I could decide to not embrace or receive hate and instead listen to the words of grace and mercy that God and those I love “speak” over me.

Maybe a parent or a spouse has abused you verbally or physically. Do not live in those moments. Accept them as reality, get outside help when necessary, and by every and all means, reject those attempts to damage and scar your soul and self-worth. Or maybe it’s more subtle. Maybe a boss or coworker or a so-called friend regularly criticizes, critiques or oppresses you. Do not engage. Do not receive it into your Being.
I am sure there are many, many more examples of horrid situations that you could fill in here. But hopefully you hear me when I give you this exception to the rules of engagement. Sometimes you have to live above and beyond the immediate circumstances so you don’t give up hope or internalize lies disguised as truth.

When it comes to moments like this, it’s OK if you can’t touch your toes. 👣

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, identity, insecurity, resentment, Serenity, Trust

My “past-life”

In my “past-life”, August was always an exciting month. For many years our church was a part of being a host site for the annual Global Leadership Summit. A couple of those years I was able to travel and attend the live event in Chicago that was simulcast around the world. The energy of thousands of leaders in one place was electric and exhilarating! It was right up my motivational alley. Over the years, I have heard speakers like Rick Warren, John Maxwell, Seth Godin and even Bono! World changers and influencers of the highest caliber. When I wok up this morning, I felt a bit nostalgic, and then sad, and upon further reflection (with a few tears and extensive reading/meditation), grateful.

I haven’t been a part of these Summits or of the church world as I used to know it for about 6 years now. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest and author, in his book Falling Upward, takes the reader on a journey “to give us understanding of how the heartbreaks, disappointments, and first loves of life are actually the stepping stones to the spiritual joys that the second half of life has in store for us.” I believe this because I have lived this. Not just in the ways my “outer” world changed: losing a church family support system virtually over-night, waging war on addiction in our family system, down-sizing my home by half, and entering the work force full-time after 10 years of stay-at-home-mom employment. Oh, and at about the time I was able to accept and embrace this “new normal”, I was diagnosed with Leukemia. No need to expand on the ramifications of that

I am not telling you those things to try to get sympathy. I am telling you because as I have reflected on the “me” I was in the “first-half” of my life and the “me” I am now, I know without question that my soul is stronger, more peaceful, more aware of God’s plan in the world, more compassionate, and most definitely less judgmental, self-grandiose, ego driven and “works” oriented. I am learning to live content with where I am at, both physically ( my body, my house, my city, my job, etc.) and spiritually (my soul-level components that will forever need morphing and tweaking, for as long as I live). And I know that this way of living, a new and better way, has come to me through the “necessary sufferings” of failure, sin, disease, and great and heavy loss.

Even though I would never choose to re-live those circumstances and situations that rooted out the character defects and instilled in me a new and different valuation model for success, I also don’t wish them away or resent them. I know that I know that I know that they are the very tools used chip away all that I didn’t need to get to the shape and splendor of what was underneath. The real and true Me.

I haven’t “arrived”. Don’t get me wrong. And, lest you think I am bragging about this “transformation”, please refer to previous blogs where I confess to such insanities as resenting an entire town because someone who hurt me lives there and how I have had to refrain from running mean people down with my car. 😡😜 This change certainly didn’t happen over night. It has taken me years to make any noticeable progress. There is much more whittling that needs to be done. I haven’t payed my “disaster dues” so that it will now be smooth sailing from here on out. But like I said, the Me of my “past-life”, which is still a valuable me and was exactly where I was supposed to be at the time, looks very different than the Me of today, at least from the inside out. If you knew me before, you may or may not see the difference, depending on how close we were then and are now.

That Leadership Summit really takes me back to the days when I thrived on thriving. The more excitement and rubbing shoulders with important people and having connections with influential leaders the better. I wanted to be part of that world so badly. I desperately longed for and prayed for and expected God to do “big things” through me. My dreams and goals were huge and I carried a lot of unrest and fear and frenzy about whether those things would ever actually happen. How could I go on if they didn’t? I didn’t want to fail God by just being “average” or “ordinary”. That was for spiritual sissies!

Well, as luck, and fate, and Life would have it, my world flipped upside down and Hallelujah-I don’t have to live that way anymore. In the after-life of the after-math, I don’t worry about being enough for God or others. I know God accepts and loves me where I am and that gives me the perspective to care less about being enough for others. I prefer to serve special ed pre-schoolers or visit one-on-one with someone battling the diseases of addiction or cancer or plagues of the heart. I don’t care if my friends are influential or rich or in shape. I look for friends who are honest and authentic and full of faith but I also love to be available to extend God’s grace to those who are angry with God and people and can’t seem to get themselves together. Really, whoever God puts before me from day to day. Whether it’s a Soul-Selfie reading where people are complimentary and kind or with a client who is grouchy and difficult and rude. My only job is to keep my side of the street clean and serve whoever comes my way.

As a result of how God and I have worked through and walked through heartache, loss, betrayal, change (oh, so much change), trials, and a literal near-death experience, I can look back with fondness and gratitude for where I am today. For who I am today. Pain and sorrow can either make you bitter or better. With God’s help and grace, I chose, and choose, better.

My hope and prayer is that, today, you will choose better too.

Addiction, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Reading myself

In one week I am doing a reading and book signing at a local Cafe (Cafe MOXO- 411 E Adams St. Springfield, IL) from 4:00-6:00pm…Come see me with a couple friends! I have done a book signing before, but never a “reading”. I am not really sure what that part is going to look like, to be honest. I am certain, however, that this will require me to “read” my own work. And I am terrified and sort of nauseous just thinking about it. I have a couple fears that I am sure you will find perfectly understandable. One, that I will find typos and that will make me crazy. I proof-read everything dozens of times, but I am only human. And WORD doesn’t seem to be any smarter or more observant than I am! And two, that my writing actually stinks. That I was given the ultimate cancer pass and people were just being polite because “bless her heart, she has cancer and has convinced herself that she can write.”

So I keep putting it off because not only do I have to read what I have written, I also have to talk about it. Oh dear, I just realized a new fear-I have to speak in front of people! If you know me, you I know i have done this many times before, but now I can’t ramble or joke or muddle my way through it like a ditzy blonde (I think I feel a fever coming on…🤒).

Let me run a few things by you, and maybe I will be a bit more confident and ready to put myself out there by next Wednesday. If I give you the inside scoop on what I plan to say, do you promise you will still come to hear me? (I need to see your familiar, smiling faces….)

1.This is not my cancer story. This is a book I wrote about me that is ultimately about you. It started off as an informative blog about my Leukemia status, and quickly moved to our shared diseases of worry, fear, control, etc. I don’t think any of us saw that coming. I was shocked, and maybe you were too, that what I wrote from a hospital bed could touch, challenge or inspire someone in their everyday life.

2. Cancer, addiction and the disease of the soul levels the playing field. We all battle these deadly diseases at some level. If we keep this at the forefront of our mind and spirit, we can stop walking around like we are better than or worse than the people around us. We all struggle with something that is trying to get the best of us, perhaps even kill us. We are not unique in our “condition”. We are most definitely not the only one fighting our particular battle. We can embrace the comradery that comes from knowing and believing that we are “not the only one”.

3. You are worthy now. Just typing that truth makes my eyes well up with tears. Maybe it’s because I forget it so often or that I suspect that you do too. We are all working so blasted hard to be ok. To be enough. To be accepted and loved. To be “in”. But as a friend of mine says pretty regularly, “we are never gonna be anything more than human.” Life is a series of trials and errors and lessons. And class is never over. But, we can rest in the assurance that even though we will most definitely never arrive at perfection, we are exactly who are are supposed to be at this very moment. We are, as vulnerability researcher Brene Brown puts it, “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love an belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

4. I love you. You heard me. I truly do. One of my core values can be summed up in a reading from Recovery literature: “Though you may not like all of us, you will love us in a very special way, the same way we already love you.” Isn’t that the truth? We aren’t going to like everyone, but if we keep in mind that we every person on this planet is battling to recover from the effects of horrific diseases such as cancer, addiction and a plethora of plagues that are trying to destroy our souls, we can maintain a love that surpasses like.

5. God’s got this. Whatever your understanding of God is, it is imperative that you invite him to do life with you. Or I guess, that you join him in doing your life. He knows and sees, and that’s not a threat. It’s a promise. As important as it is for us to rely on each other, it is vital that we “get God in there”. Turn your will and your circumstances over to him every moment of every day. Remember the mantra I wrote about a few months back: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.”

So…That should get us started, don’t ya think? I hope I see you there. Who do you know whose heart could use a message like this?

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

Rules are made to be broken

For some reason, while I was taking my in-laws to the airport last week, I made a comment about how I was a “rule follower”. I was a little surprised that they seemed very surprised that I thought this about myself. They didn’t share my assessment. It might have something to do with a couple maneuvers I made to get them to the airport on time, claiming that certain traffic laws were merely suggestions. At any rate, I guess I should explain that even though I many not agree with or follow certain rules, there are a couple rules I have about myself that I can’t seem to not follow, even though they aren’t necessarily based in reality or contribute to healthy, whole-hearted living.

Lately, I have been writing about finding my “skip” again. Learning how to “play” and live a light-hearted and joyful everyday life. I’d say I am making a little progress, in case you were wondering how it’s going. But I realized that I have established a couple Rules when it comes to my “play-time”. When I keep these rules, I find it hard to truly engage, relax and fully enjoy what I am doing and who I am doing it with.

One of the rules is for me, and I have mentioned it before. This rule tells me that I have to earn the right to play. It’s the Cinderella syndrome: until I have scrubbed the floors, dusted, vacuumed, mowed, helped kids with homework, cooked dinner, sold 3 houses, and helped out at church, I can’t go to the Ball. And if somehow I managed to get there, but hadn’t finished all my tasks, I couldn’t dare enjoy myself while I was there. I had to think about all that wasn’t done yet and all I had yet to do. I had to hold on to the guilt of taking care of myself and letting somethings go. I couldn’t dare just admit that I simply can’t keep the pace I have set for myself. I had to admit that I wasn’t Wonder Woman and that once in awhile I just had to take a break and let my hair down, and no one was going to suffer. I don’t know where I got this rule exactly. But I have been letting the rule rule me for far too long. It’s time for an uprising.

The other or rule I have is for you- for my friends, family and people who I “play” with. This one can be illustrated with a real-life example from my past. Several, as in about 10-15 years ago, I organized a game to play with a group of our friends. I am from Napa, as many of you know, and this was a Napa Valley board game. I had purchased the wines from the wineries on the board that one might land on, as well as educational information about the wines that, naturally, they would want to learn about with acute attentiveness on a Friday night…with a large group of friends….while drinking wine. Needless to say, my expectations of the evening did not end up matching the reality of it. But boy, they were having a blast! They were not, however, cooperating with my rules about how they were supposed to be having this so called “fun”. I remember being quite incensed. Wounded. Hurt. Taking it personal and pouting that they weren’t “doing it right” (read: “doing it my way”). I didn’t enjoy myself at all because they weren’t playing by my rules.

When I follow such a rule, I give other people the power to ruin my day. To steal my joy, as I often put it. And, I might add, I will not be invited to many events that require a light-hearted, easy going, relaxed presence. It hurts everyone when I try to control other people and dictate their manner of fun-ness. No one can truly engage in life-giving play when Mrs. Bossy Pants is around. Especially me.

Since, at my core of cores, I don’t really like rules, may I make a suggestion? Whatever rules you are following, that you have made up from the broken, wounded, controlling, fearful, anxious places in your soul, annul them today. Are they about how you give or are willing to receive love? How you speak to others and yourself? How you share? How you think about yourself, or God or others? What you expect from your life and the people in it?  Whatever rules you have been playing by, if they rob you of the ability to live peaceful, happy, and free, obliterate them. Declare them invalid.

THESE RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN.

Faith/Spirituality, fear

I predict…

Last week I did a book signing at a local coffee shop. What a wonderful, and humbling experience! As usual, my blog brain was churning away as I did something for the first time in my life. There aren’t many things I can say that about as a 47 yr old woman. For better or for worse, there is a lot of “sameness” to life. But, I have never done a book signing before, and oh yeah, I’ve never written a book before either. Interesting…

But that’s really not what I want to talk about this morning. There’s something else that happened that day that reminds me of the reason I keep writing: I’m still pretty messed up in my head. In my soul. Soul-Selfies are necessary for me because it’s a full time job, rooting out the thoughts and character defects in me that hold me back from being whole-hearted. Here’s the revelation I had that day (the very day, mind you, that I was autographing a book addressing that exact topic in a dozen different ways. Sigh 😔).

I originally set up my signing station in one of the 3 rooms available. There were about 10 different leather armchairs scattered around so people could relax, drink and visit. I was sitting within inches of them. I knew that if anyone sat in them, I would overhear first hand, classified information without even trying. This thought made me uncomfortable. Eventually, a woman came by with her coffee. She saw my spread of books and flyers but smiled and walked on by and sat in the chair as far away from me as possible.

It started immediately. That voice in my head that told me exactly what this woman was thinking, and of course, it was about me. I just knew she was irritated that I was sitting so close to her and she wouldn’t be able to have a private conversation (with her friend that I predicted would be there soon). I knew that she was getting annoyed with me as I greeted each customer as they came in the door to her right. She was wishing I would shut up already. I even skipped greeting a few people because I didn’t want to bother her. After 10 minutes of this, I decided that if I wanted to be considerate to her and anyone else who joined her, I should move to another room. So I did.

Ahh. Freedom to not bug anyone and greet people to my heart’s content! However, before I left the other room I gave her a sample page of one of my blogs and a flyer about the book. I told her I was moving so people in that room wouldn’t “feel like I was dropping in on their conversations, ha ha.” She just smiled and took the papers.

After about two hours I had made some good connections with people, passed out sample blogs and flyers and sold three books to perfect strangers. That woman was one of them.

As soon as she came to my table I knew I was going to have to write about it. I mean, really!? The very person I was fearful of, who I assumed (a dangerous engagement) was irritated by my mere presence which triggered my move to an entirely different room, she was the one to buy a book. God is hilarious. And ironic, in this case.

How often have I done this to myself? Done this to others? I put words and thoughts in their head ad act as if they are true. It not only is pretty arrogant, thinking I am all-knowing like God himself, but it also takes away the dignity of letting others think and own their own thoughts or act in a way that is new or healthy. I may think I know what is in their mind or what they will say to me, but the reality is, I don’t.

If I I put my energy into keeping watch over my own thoughts, I won’t have to waste it on making up thoughts to put in other people’s heads. Especially about me. And am I so self-centered that I think a total stranger, or even my friends, are thinking about me at all? Maybe someone’s apparent irritation isn’t because they are frustrated or bothered by me. Maybe they have had a hard day at home or work. Or maybe they just have an angry resting face!
It just sounds so ridiculous when I write it all down. As I said, this is why I keep writing. It isn’t because I have it all figured out, it’s because I have a long way to go. If you think you might have a ways to go yourself, please join me. At least we will be in good company.😘

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

Are you coming on the Expedition?

I am going on a journey. If you want to come with me we can call it an Expedition (which sounds much more adventurous!): a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose. I told you in my last blog (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/05/30/i-left-it-in-montana/ ) that I am going to get my “skip” back. If you have noticed that yours has gone missing too, then stay connected for at least the next few entries and maybe we can rediscover it.

As I said, incorporating “play” into the daily minutia of life is challenging for me. And that’s putting it mildly. My plan is to explore some areas of my life and heart that have squelched my playful, light and fun self. I am very aware that I will need God’s spirit as my guide and as luck/fate would have it, He showed up right on time.

I am singing at church this weekend, and as usual, after I practice the songs ahead of time and sing them 3 or 4 times at rehearsal, I sing them in my sleep! Last night I was restless and woke up several times. I can typically choose from a plethora of things to worry about as soon as wake, but last night, since I had been at rehearsal earlier that evening, my first thoughts went to the lyrics of the songs.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the titles were as follows: Your Promises, I Surrender, Build My Life and Trust It All. Here are some of the phrases that came effortlessly to my mind:

“Doesn’t matter what I feel. Doesn’t matter what I see. My hope will always be, Your promises to me. Now I’m casting out all fear, for your love has set me free, my hope will always be, Your promises to me.”

“You are everything, everything. You are all I need, all I need. I trust it all to you.”

“My life is in your hands…I trust it all…I trust it all to. My dreams and all my plans…I trust it all, I trust it all.”

“I surrender, I surrender, I surrender all to you.”

“I will build my life upon your love, you are a firm foundation. I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.”

So-here’s what that taught me about light-hearted play and getting my skip back: it’s exhausting to try to skip when you’re carrying something ( or things) heavy. When I was young, playing was effortless because I wasn’t carrying around a collection of worries, fears, burdens, hurts and resentments. I have been collecting them over the years. Oh sure, I give God the stuff that I know without a doubt I can’t lift, but keep all the “little” items and try to carry them myself. I wouldn’t want to over-tax an all-powerful God.

As a result, my ability to skip has been depleted. SO-Step ( do not read “rule”, because these are merely my ideas and are probably flawed, like me ) #1 for getting my skip back, is to trust God and let him take care of my circumstances, my loved ones, my enemies, my efforts and their outcomes. If I can unload what was never mine to carry, I will be off to a good start. Are you comin?

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

Certain Uncertainty (A.k.a Berkeley’s graduating)

I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Southern California trying to block out an obnoxious talk show on the TV. I am trying to wrap my brain around the reality that my oldest son, Berkeley, is graduating from college tomorrow night (for those of you who know him, pause to let that sink in for a moment…). He is graduating with a degree in Cinema Arts and Film so you can probably deduce that he will be hanging around Southern California a bit longer. Springfield, Illinois is not a hotbed of opportunity for utilizing said degree. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that we are all feeling just a little anxious and occasionally scared to death about his future. That’s pretty normal for a kid whose life has been subject to grades and deadlines for projects and papers for the past 16 years. What’s a boy to do now?

The fear that threatens to steal my sleep is arrested when I remember, and believe, that even though the future is uncertain, God is not. My buddy Oswald Chambers laid it out for me in words that give me clarity and comfort: “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.” I am so obsessed with and insistent on knowing. Knowing why this or that happened, what is going on now and what is coming or not coming my way. I ruthlessly pursue omniscience (being “all-knowing” like God himself).

A friend of mine reminds me regularly that “either God is, or he isn’t”. In other words, either you can trust him for everything or nothing at all. If I can’t trust him with my future, or the future of those I love, then trusting him for the present is a joke.

My job is to draw close to God. To put myself under his care every day in every situation with everyone I love and everyone I have trouble loving. All I can manage is this present moment, and even that seems questionable at times. I am hardly ever certain, even of what I am doing at that very moment. But what I can know, and all I really have to know, is who God is and that he is trustworthy. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel apprehensive about that once in a while. My human nature still tempts me to play God.

Around our house, there is a running joke aimed cruelly at me (and maybe a few of my friends), that I am “not always right, but always certain.” I may be completely off-base or flat-out wrong, but I will fight tooth and nail to get my way or have others acknowledge that I know what the heck I am talking about. No comment. But, what I really really long to be, is certain in uncertainty. Certain of God in the face of an uncertain future. Jesus said, “Believe also in me”, not “believe certain things about me.”

I will try to practice what Oswald suggests:

“leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. remain loyal to Him.”