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.”

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Within reach

This one has been in my notebook as a possible blog for a few months. I can’t write as fast as ideas come to my mind so I outline them and save them for a time when they can be discussed from personal experience. I think today is the day for this one…

Regardless of how old you are, I am sure you have seen or heard of The Andy Griffith Show. I watched it a bit when I was little, mostly with my grandma. It was either that or Hollywood Squares 😜. There was a character on the show name Otis. He was the town drunk who spent regular time in the county jail. However, it wasn’t until recently that someone pointed out to me that Otis also had keys to the county court house and keys to the jail cell. He would often lock himself in and then hang the keys outside the cell, within reach. Totally missed that as a 10 yr old. In one episode, he even brought a suit to the cell and hung it up before going on a bender that night. He would need it to get dressed for church in the morning.

I am sure you are way ahead of me, but I just love this visual of what it looks like to keep ourselves locked up! It seems absurd that someone would remain in jail even though the keys to get our are in plain site and are easy to grab. But, embarrassingly, I do this all the time. I think I might be doing it today, which is why I need to finally write this out. Reason it out with you all and maybe have the guts to use the keys.

Sometimes my cell is a situation or a relationship. But more often than not, it’s a mindset. A dark, dank, cold and hopeless place that I am choosing to live in, even when I know there is light and hope on the other side of the bars. Why is that?

I think there are a couple pretty understandable reasons why I am often more comfortable being locked up (angry, resentful, destructive, distracted, immobilized, etc.) than exercising my right to get free.

The most consistent answer in my case, is fear. At least when I am engaging in circumstances and emotions and relationships that I am familiar with, I know what to expect and there are few surprises. Even if I don’t like where I am at, I am comfortable with how to behave and react while I am there. To leave the confines of my cell, I am opening myself up to new challenges and feelings that I may not know how to handle. I don’t seem to be able to put my trust in God to take care of me when the new and different and healthy come my way. So I leave the keys hanging.

But there’s also a humiliating and ugly answer for staying locked up, and that is for sympathy. I want to feel sorry for myself and I want others to feel sorry for me too. I may have a number of solutions at my disposal, but I refuse to use them. I don’t do the reading or make the phone call or take the action. Instead, I come up with 101 reasons why those things won’t work. The reality is, I get something out of staying locked up. I can feel sad for myself and manipulate others into feeling sad for me also. It’s self-pity in its most heinous form.

Does anyone else have experience with keeping themselves incarcerated? I hate to admit this out loud, but I am becoming more and more aware that even though my default setting when I feel stuck or trapped in a situation, relationship or mindset is to blame everyone or everything around me, the truth is that I am the one choosing to stay in the cell. The keys are there for the taking. It’s no one else’s fault but mine if I let them dangle.

I have a choice. I have the responsibility. I am the only one who can turn the key (get the help I need, call that friend, pray that prayer, share my story, apply those principles, take that action) and set myself free.

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

I know what you’re thinking…

I know what you will think when I get started on my topic for today. Well, I think I know. I assume that I know. I have convinced myself that I know and that I am right. Which is why my brain has talked myself into feeling fear about saying what I need to say today. What I have told myself that what you will think, every last one of you, is “not that topic again! That girl seriously needs to learn how to manage this already. She clearly isn’t practicing what she herself has written about dozens of times already. If she is still struggling with it, why am I even reading this blog anymore?”. Or something to that effect.

I don’t know if you are thinking all that or not. There’s a teensy chance that I might be putting words in your mouth based on my own insecurities and expectations of myself to “grow up already”. Either way, after doing some reading and praying (read: pleading with God to relieve my anxiety) I decided that even if you think all those things about me, He is still asking me to write about my battle with worry. It helps me clear my head and every single time, I have heard from at least one person whom it has also helped.

So, yes. I have found myself in a fluster of fretting lately. I am worrying about nothing and everything. From the smallest, most insignificant matter all the way up to the cosmic circumstances that may never even come to pass. In the past few months I have had some pretty big, legitimate things that tempt me to overthink, hyper-control and wring my hands over. But lately, some of those things have worked themselves out, or God has worked them out, and guess what? Still worrying! The other day, it dawned on me that my worry is like an alien spawn; it needs a host. It can’t survive on it’s own so it attaches itself to random people, places and things that may or may not be worthy of the intense levels of worry glomming onto it. Instead of this alien life-force of anxiety shrivelling and dying once it’s current host is unavailable, it just seems to moves on to something else for sustenance.

For me, it looks something like this: “Once this house closes/once this quarter of school is over for my kids/once we pay off that bill/once that job is secured/once I am declared ‘cured’ then I won’t have a thing to worry about! Then I will finally feel relieved and relaxed.” What actually happens, is that as soon as one of those stressors is resolved, my worry attaches itself to the nearest available host and continues to grow and thrive. Maybe even produce little babies of worry who branch out and find unsuspecting hosts like if my husbands favorite team wins/if I’ll ever fit in jeans I wore when I was 30/and what I imagine readers are thinking about me. 🙃

I am guessing that this is why God instructs us not to worry about tomorrow, that tomorrow can worry about itself. He also may have observed over the course of history, that people down here are drawn to worry/fear/attempts to control on a pretty regularly basis. More than likely, I am not alone in wrestling with it’s recurrence.

But I have to say, that even though I am speaking of worry, my greatest enemy and signature sin de jour (or tous les jours=not just “of the day” but “EVERYDAY”), what I want you to walk away with today is something much bigger.

Author Anna Shipton pointed out something about King David, the dude from the Bible who wrote the Majority of the Psalms, and his sufferings that prompted most of them. Not only did David suffer at the hands of his enemies, one of which used to be his BFF, he also had a few other issues like adultery and ordering the murder of that woman’s husband. Kind of big deals. And yet, God used all of it to inspire David to express his remorse, his repentances, his despair and even his rage throughout this semi-schizophrenic rant of thoughts in the Psalms. He reminds me a little of myself in that he vacillates between faith and fear. Between absolute confidence in God’s continual presence and inner groanings that question why God has seemingly abandoned him. Anyone familiar?

So, I guess that’s why, in spite of my fear that you all would think that Heather just can’t seem to get it together and that this whole “God-thing” she talks about ad nausea clearly doesn’t work, I decided to go ahead and write. It’s the reason I started writing in the first place: I was weak and sick. But I do believe, even on my hardest and darkest days, that He is strong. Shipton points out (In a book called “Streams in the Desert”), how deprived we would be had David gotten hung up on his failures, tragedies and shortcomings and refused to write: “One stinging sorrow spared would have been one blessing missed and unclaimed. One difficulty or danger escaped-how great would have been our loss! The thrilling psalms where God’s people today find expression for their grief or praise might never have been known.”

I am sure I don’t have to point out that I am aware I am no King David and the impact of my words are nowhere near what we receive from him through God’s perfect Word, but I am grateful that I can follow David’s example by sharing my real, raw, broken, doubting self without it subtracting from the hope I carry in a God who sees and hears and heals. I hope you can find it in you to do the same.

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

“Act as if”

“Easier said than done”, or in my case, “easier blogged than believed”. It’s ever so much easier for me to write about wise ways to live than it is to actually live them out in my daily life. The other day my son came in the room while I was working and asked what I was doing. I told him I was editing my book to get it ready for publication. His response? “You’re writing a book?” I told him that indeed I was and that maybe he should read a few of my blogs sometime. His next response? “I don’t need to read it. I live it.” I suggested that he go ahead and read it because my blogging self is much wiser and more put-together than the mom sitting before him.

In any case, I am embarrassed to admit how different my written responses and my natural life responses can be. Today I am choosing to do it differently. I caught myself early in the day, so thankfully, I just might be able to have a day that I don’t end up regretting by bedtime. I found myself anxious and worried about a variety of things that are not going my way (translation: things are not going the way I think they should go for those around me). I don’t understand decisions or actions that have effected or been made my people I love. And to be honest, I am sort of honked-off about it. Well, at first I was sad. I cried a little and did a lot of whimpering and whining in God’s direction (I’ll get to the part about how I am doing it different in a minute).

I’d been planning to write this morning, so this was really throwing a wrench in my plan for a lighter subject. But as usual, God uses my poor reactions and bratty behavior to help other people either avoid it for themselves or help them realize “they’re not the only one.”

So, to get to the point of how I am choosing to do it differently…
I choose to “act as if.” I will “act as if” I actually trust God and His plan. His plan for me and for those I love, and even for those I don’t like very much. I used to think that meant I was being inauthentic or fake. But I have come to understand it as a gesture of gratitude and trust.  An acknowledgement of the track record that God and I have developed. One in which he actually does take care of me. Every. Single. Time.

I can write/say that I trust that God knows the big picture and has a plan that is bigger than the details of my life. I can write/say that sometimes difficult circumstances and disappointments can lead me to maturity and growth that can be experienced in no other way. I can write/say that I can live with a sense of joy and serenity, even when my life doesn’t look like what I wish it looked like. I can write/say that I don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in order to feel secure. But…when push comes to shove, I have to confess to you that I have spent many a day tangled up in knots of fear, worry, anxiety and despair. I forget to “act as if” all my words, whether written or spoken, are actually true.

As I said, today I choose to try a different route. One that might lead me to the peace that passes understanding. And if I practice “acting as if”  often enough, it will bridge the gap between how I want to live and how actually live. And maybe I won’t have to “act” anymore.

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

Your own weird anniversary

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

EVERYTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Anxiety/Worry, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

“Smells ring bells”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The secret

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

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

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

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

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

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

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