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.

Faith/Spirituality, grace

Big Lots (or “you are worth it”)

When I write, just to be clear, I am writing from my heart, flaws and all. I have a certain understanding of life based on my experience and who I believe God to be. I don’t claim to be a scholar or “right” on theological issues. My husband, who has a masters degree in theology/philosophy and preached weekly for 20 years, always maintained the stance that even though he is speaking the truth on issues he believes in, there are plenty of other smart and spiritual leaders that believe and teach something different and even opposite. The best he, or I, can do is to remain humble and open and teachable about what we hold as truth.

I guess this is important for me to explain because, as I was preparing to write today, I looked up a scripture I thought supported what I wanted to emphasize and ended up thoroughly confused and doubtful after reading what several commentaries said about it. In the end, I decided I will write from what I believe to be true based on what I have learned and studied and experienced over the years. Take what you like and leave the rest.

So, since all that felt a bit serious, let us take a sharp left turn and talk about Big Lots (a Midwest chain specializing in closeout retail. Read “cheap”). Or maybe I should start from the beginning. I began my day like any other morning. I made my coffee and sat on my couch ready to read, meditate, and connect with God before the day got going. But before I picked up a book I sat and stared out the window for quite sometime. There was something going on inside me that made me resistant to praying, reading or focusing on my soul or the real stuff of life. I found myself compulsively checking my emails, and Facebook and decided I absolutely needed to order a couple things on Amazon. I then transitioned into work tasks that I told myself needed to get done immediately (even though it was 7:30 in the morning). Every single time I began to reach for a book or bring my attention to spiritual matters, I found something else to do. I did this for the next hour or so, just long enough to have to get ready to show a house to some clients. I said a quick, pinkie-swear prayer to God, telling Him I would check in with him later in the day, which never happened.

Anyone been in this place? Inwardly fleeing from God at every turn? I don’t even know why I was doing it, but it was an inner refusal and avoidance that was palpable.

so, fast forward to this morning as I woke, feeling compelled to make a gratitude list before I got out of bed. As I reviewed yesterday’s blessings, it dawned on me that even though I had pretty much chosen to just do my own thing and distract myself with the frivolous things of life, God did not leave me hanging. It reminded me of the verse from the book of 2 Timothy: If we are faithless, God will remain faithful.” I know that this is bigger than the little benefits I receive in a day, but sometimes that’s how he speaks to me the loudest. Even though I put my Will above his and wouldn’t still my mind and heart long enough to really listen to him, he showed up.

I just repainted my bedroom and got a new bedspread. It was sort of impromptu so I was trying to keep the costs low. I really needed (wanted) new white, furry pillows to match the blanket on the bed and new sheets (in the weirdest shade of Apricot you’ve ever seen). I never ever go to Big Lots but for some reason felt like I was supposed to check there. I’d already been everywhere else I could think to look. Not only did I find two pillows that exactly matched my blanket, sheets in the perfect shade of apricot, but I also found straws! I have driven an hour and a half to St. Louis just to buy IKEA straws because they are longer and thicker than the normal straws. I cannot find them anywhere else. Apparently IKEA has stopped selling them so I have been searching the internet and every grocery store in town to find some that work for my giant water cup. I found them at Big Lots. I bought 400 of them 😬.

As I reviewed my gratitude list, I also remembered other ways that God blessed me. I got a call from the hospital saying that they would carry my Soul-Selfie book in the gift shop! I wrote a contract on a house. My son had a promising job interview. And my teenage daughter agreed to go with me to Big Lots (a God-thing in more ways than one!).

So I added something else to my gratitude list. I am so grateful that even when I am not engaged in the things of God, He is always, always engaged with me. He knows and sees. He blesses because it’s in his nature to do so. I don’t have to earn or deserve his love, guidance, wisdom, attention, care, comfort, or blessings. He just gives those things to me because he loves me. I am his child and he thinks I am worth it. He thinks you are worth it too.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

“Why I hate Me, in a nutshell”

It’s been three years since my thoughtful, sweet and honest friend picked me up for an “outing” when I had Leukemia. As soon as I got in the car she said, “so, here’s why I hate you, in a nutshell.” (I encourage you to read that blog entry before continuing. It’ll make my whining seem less, uh, whiney. https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/06/08/why-i-hate-you-in-a-nutshell/ ) After listening and thanking her for her kind words, I asked her to outline her grievances and email them to me. She had some excellent points that I think we could all learn from.

Lately I have been rolling around the idea of taking this particular blog “on the road”. Maybe a mini version of a TED talk (maybe a HEATH talk?). As I re-read it this morning and was reminded of all the “benefits” of having Leukemia (aside from the fact that its a potentially terminal disease) I too began to feel a bit jealous of my past self. And I understood my friend a bit better. I thought, “I get it, girl! I hate me too!”. So, in no particular order, here’s “Why I hate me, in a nutshell.”

1. I hate me because people were standing in line to take care of all my chores. We all gained weight because of the yummy meals brought in at least 3 times a week. We could hardly eat fast enough before more food came. It was heavenly. And, side note, we felt obligated (read: giddy) to eat whatever they brought, even if it was drenched in gravy and laced with butter. They cleaned my house better than I ever clean it and there wasn’t one weed in my currently weed infested backyard. The pure luxury of these acts of love and service bring a nostalgic, grateful, and longing tear to my eye.

2. I hate me because I didn’t have to tell people I was sick. It was obvious. I was a 44 year old with a 100 yr old body and no hair. People felt sad for me. As a result, when I went out in public, people were nicer. When you shed a few pounds and grow our your blonde hair (ok-it really grew back in dark but I color it blonde -so sue me), people are indifferent and sometimes judgmental or rude. It’s a weird shift and it makes me miss my bald head and my walker. I really like it when strangers talk kindly to me.

3. I hate me because I had great perspective and joy in spite of hardship. I think this one is particularly bothersome to me because in the face of a deadly disease I was able to maintain hope and happiness in a way that I struggle with today, when I DON’T have life-threatening disease. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t, for example, take it personal when the person in front of me made me miss the light because they were texting. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

4. I hate me because I had one thing to worry about: getting well. When I returned a call, attended an event, emailed a teacher or did some light house work, I was a hero. If I didn’t do any of those things, everyone was understanding. Now, if I forget to reply to a text or neglect my laundry or let me grass grow too long, I just don’t seem to get that same compassionate reaction. Now, I have many many things to focus on and everyone, especially me, expects me to get it all done right and in a timely manner. It’s a lot of pressure, I tell ya!

5. I hate myself because I had permission to take care of myself. From others, but mostly from myself. I took naps when I needed them. I listened to my body and what it needed, instead of ignoring it and plowing ahead in spite of feeling run down or sick. I took time out to read and study and watch movies that inspired me or made me laugh. I was in-tuned to what I needed to stay physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy and I took steps to make sure that was happening.

6. I hate myself because for 7 glorious months, I got to eat whatever I wanted without guilt. Shallow yes, but still, it was lovely.

7. I hate myself because I had the ultimate “play pass”. I have this problem (which will probably result in an entire blog in the near future): I think I have to earn the right to “play”. I do this by telling myself I deserve to have fun because I have earned either by having a hard day or having a day worth celebrating. Either way, my “play pass” is contingent on merit. Enjoyable activities are conditional for me.

8. I hate myself because I didn’t “should” on myself. I was able to live in the moment. To truly “be” with the people I was with and embrace whatever was happening at the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next or feel like I “should” be doing something other than what I was doing at that exact moment. I was present in the present.

9. I hate myself because I got to spend 6 days out of every month in the hospital. I know that sounds absurd, and maybe 6 days a month might be sort of excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to want a few days to lay in bed, sleep, read, watch TV and push a button whenever I want to eat? You can’t tell me that isn’t the least bit appealing to some of you.

10. I hate myself because I liked myself better back then. I gave myself a break from being all things to all people. I gave my body a break to let it be real. Instead of complaining about it’s imperfections, I cherished the blood in my veins and had a party when my platelets did their job right! I was less selfish with my time and less stingy with my affection and affirming, tender words. I was more tolerant of people who texted at stoplights because who knows what pain they are in? I felt hopeful and extended that hope to people around me. I felt God’s presence in a way that I have been missing lately. It was so natural when I was dying.

 

So, I say to my friend, “I get it.” When I look back and compare the Me of then to the Me of today, I too am envious. If only I could live like that with ease like I did 3 years ago. Obviously, I am not a lunatic. I see the insanity piece of wishing I had Leukemia. I hope you are tracking with me when I share the list above. There are a couple truths that I have to first accept and then cling to in order to not hate my current self:

One; living real, raw, messy, everyday life is, in fact, harder than having Leukemia. It doesn’t let up. No one gives you a pass or permission to slack off or be a jack-marack. It’s consistently painful and challenging and stressful and exhausting. And yet we all are expected to smile and nod and plug away. We are all suffering heart ache or grief or disappointment at any given moment, yet the sales clerk, or your spouse or boss or children or best friend, don’t seem to treat you with tenderness and empathy you yearn for. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and just as gentle with others. As I may have mentioned in a book I just wrote, we are all in this together.

Two: God gives me what I need when I need it. I would have never in a million years thought I could live through cancer with any kind of grace or joy. But clearly, I did. And now I am acting like God is big enough for cancer but not big enough for handling adolescents, husbands, jobs, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, etc. I don’t believe that He isn’t powerful enough help me handle these areas. The real issue is that I don’t ask him to. I approach these challenges as if I have enough talent, smarts and hutspa to manage them on my own. I act as if “I’ve got this” when the truth is, I sincerely don’t. I need God’s perfect guidance, wisdom, perspective and plan in order to live like I did when I had Leukemia.

In reality, I love that girl and long to be that girl today. With God’s help, we can all be like her. 😚

 

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Recovery, Relationships

What’s NOT on your calendar?

Believe it or not, I am not too old to remember myself as a college freshman. I remember that I was very young, very naive, very excited, not always right but always certain. My passion and zest for life combined with a lot of new information and education (at a bible college) was, on occasion, a recipe for a smidge of “know-it-all-ism”. But I’ll come back to that in a few paragraphs. I revered my professors and consumed books they recommended with fervor and an open spirit, ready to put into practice anything they suggested that sounded reasonable.

In one of my classes, we were assigned a book about how to manage your inner and outer world. Not only how to keep track of and stay in control of your daily schedule, but how what you did each day reflected who you were; what your outsides were saying about your insides. That’s the gist of it. I admired the author and took his suggestions to heart, applying and reflecting on the principles he outlined for a successful Christian life, marked by integrity and discipline.

Think of my shock and disappointment when, not long after we read this book for that class, it came to light that this author had been caught in an extra-marital affair. You can probably imagine the conversation among freshman bible college students who, for all practical purposes, know very little about “real life” yet. We thought we knew an awful lot though, and judged likewise. There was no understanding or compassion for that author and, due to the nature of his book topic, he set himself up to be mocked accordingly: “So, what did his daily planner look like?: 9:00 meeting 10:00 bible reading 11:30 adulterous rendezvous 1:00 lunch etc.?” We just couldn’t wrap our minds around how such duplicitousness was possible.

Fast forward 29 years. I feel like I should make a formal apology. Not because what he did was ok. But because I have seen countless times in my own life where I lived in that same duplicity. Times where I claimed, and even believed, I was walking in the light of God’s Will but was simultaneously living in flat out sin. Sometimes it was in obvious ways. Other times it was in less discernible ways, but still a blatant refusal to live an “inner life that matched my outer”.

Let’s look at it like this: I think that author, who challenged readers to ask themselves, “what’s on my calendar?”, might have been better off asking, “what’s not on my calendar?” And I think we might be better off asking the same. Maybe you can relate to what I am saying better if I use a food analogy. Whether you have dieted or not, you have probably heard that a common suggestion for people trying to lose weight is that they write down everything they eat during the day. Everything. The obvious goal is that this method will prevent you from eating junk because you know you will have to write it down and the shame of having to do that will cause you to eat fruits and vegetables instead. But the fatal flaw of human nature is that we are sneaky little things and we tend to find a loophole. When someone does snarf on a Twinkie or eat a half a bag of chips, they conveniently forget to write that down. Even when meals are planned out ahead of time, which is often suggested, rarely does someone cheating on a diet go back later and fill in the gaps with “2 Cadbury cream eggs, 11 french fries, and a glass of wine.”

The point is, maybe we should train ourselves to look regularly at what’s not on our calendar. What are the subtle ways that, in hindsight, we are undermining how we say we want to live and what we say we believe about how to go about doing so. It’s easy enough to review our day in big picture mode. But that doesn’t always highlight the details-what’s in the background. Recently, I have been working on Step 10 of a recovery program. The principle is one I think anyone could learn from: “We continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” A quote from a reading on this step points out that “the wise have always known that no one can make much of his life until self-searching becomes a regular habit, until he is able to admit and accept what he finds, and until he patiently and persistently tries to correct what is wrong.” We could prevent much suffering and heart-ache for ourselves and those we love if we would make a habit of this daily reading between the lines. What happened in the gaps, when no one was looking? Perhaps we should look for areas where we have been self-centered, jealous, prideful, judgmental, angry, vindictive, bragadocious, sharp-tongued, arrogant, unforgiving, fearful, short-tempered, or lustful. Any of these, in word or deed, are deadly. They may not kill you immediately, but over time, if they go un-checked, they will lead you to those dark, secret places that you would never write down in your day-timer or schedule as a reminder on your mobile device.

Please hear me on this. This is an opportunity for you to be honest with yourself for the sake of growth and guarding your heart. Looking back on your day can help you identify areas that you strayed from what you know to be true of who you are or want to be in your soul of souls, it is not a time set aside for self-flogging.

But hear me on this as well; if you ignore the maintenance of your soul, the rot will come. The axiom of the “slow fade” is tried and true. That author did not set out to deceive his readers. He simply ignored and avoided a regular review of the subtle seeds of envy (of someone else’s life, or wife), pride (I am above that sort of thing), and lust (meeting legitimate needs in illegitimate ways). Most people don’t set out to steal money from their employer (it started with fear, selfishness, and greed that went unchecked for too long) or physically harm or kill another person (festering rage and unresolved resentments grew too big for them to contain). You get the idea.

So I am asking you, and I ask that you ask yourself on a daily basis,

“what’s NOT on your calendar?”

Faith/Spirituality, forgiveness, grace, Relationships, resentment

Turbo resentments

I am a spontaneous person. That is sometimes good. Sometimes not so good. When I write, it is a little of both. As a general rule, I sit on my couch in the morning, praying and reading and listening to what God is directing me to write about. It is usually more than obvious. Once in awhile I have ideas as I am going through the rest of my day. I have a notebook that I grab and jot down the basics and save it for a future date. Then, when I experience that topic in some way, I go to my notes, pull it up and expand on it. Today is one of those days. My notes were written down awhile ago, but yesterday, a conversation with a friend brought it to my mind so I feel like the time has come to put it on “paper”. I am pretty sure it’s just a coincidence that most of the topics I have “saved for a later date” are ones that involve embarrassing stories about how I think or what I have said or done in the past…

It will come as no surprise to you that I struggle on occasion with resentments and forgiveness. I may have mentioned it once or twice in previous blogs. But about a month ago, I discovered a special, new kind of resentment. I have even coined a name for it: Turbo Resentment. Let me tell you about how I realized I harbored a couple of them.

I am a realtor, so I was driving through a small town showing houses. There happen to be a few people from this town who I have felt especially hurt and betrayed by. I have done quite a bit of work to forgive them and release my anger regarding the events that happened. I truly though I was doing ok with this. I hadn’t thought about any of it for a long time, until I drove through their town. Near there houses. Past places we used to go together. It all came flooding in and I had this very rational thought: “I hate this town.” Yep. The whole town. I pray you don’t live there. I was ready to write off the whole community based on the pain I felt just driving through it. I called my husband, because even though I felt wound up, I also found it semi-comical that was holding onto to so much unforgiveness that I was incorporating an entire town in the offenses. I told him about how I was feeling and that I was aware it was pretty messed up. And then, I saw the car. There is a certain car that one of those offenders drives that when I see one, I think, “I truly hate red hyundais” (that’s actually the kind of car I drive-the name of the actual car has been changed for obvious reasons). I called my husband back and told him that by the way, I also hate this type of car. He told me that I may have a problem. I concur.

These are a couple examples of Turbo Resentments. Do you have any of your own, or am I the only weirdo out there? Have you ever avoided a restaurant because that’s where so and so works or where you used to go together before they hurt you? So much of what we experience is wound up in other people. Either good memories or bad ones can be connected to everyday objects, sounds or smells (see blog on “Smells ring bells”). Do you feel angry when you hear that certain song, reminding you of how a relationship that was significant ended in betrayal? Do you hate a particular cologne or perfume because a friend who became your enemy wore it? Do you transfer your disgust to perfect strangers when they exhibit the same character defects as your ex?

Our strong and usually unreasonable reaction to neutral people, places and things is a sign that we might not be as “free” as we thought we were. Maybe we only think we have forgiven because we aren’t in regular contact with them. We think we are fine until we start sweating and feel our heart rate rise when we are triggered by something random that takes us back to the source of the pain. We realize there are clearly remnants, the sludge of the grudge, lurking in our hearts. Even though you, and I, don’t recognize on a regular basis, it effects our serenity. Our ability to be free. To move forward in peace with ourselves and with others.

I have said this before but it bears repeating, “forgiveness is no favor. We do it for no one but ourselves.” If we want to be free of bitterness and underlying anger, we have to forgive fully. Root it all out. I truly believe that it is not an option to hate people. It is a complete anti-god state of mind. I never allow my kids to say hate about anyone. i barely let them say it about food or the like. That’s how much I hate the word hate. But, somehow I have let myself off the hook about hating towns and cars. That somehow seems acceptable. But lets face it, we all know it’s just a cover up for hating the actual people. It’s just not OK with me to hate people, so I hate where they live and what they drive instead. Somehow, I don’t think God sees them as all that different, and my heart still suffers from the same angst.

Living with resentments is hard enough. Harmful enough. Detrimental enough. But if you aren’t feeling the freedom that comes with forgiving those you feel hurt by, maybe you are nursing some Turbo Resentments. Take a look at that today. Maybe it’s never occurred to you that you are still in bondage them.

Don’t hate me (or my city or my car) for bringing this to your attention 😉

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Trust

“…Yet”

So. It’s been 5 days since January 1st. Is it fair to say that many of us have fallen off the Resolution Wagon? Have you already failed, if not miserably, to keep your New Year’s goals? I think it’s a strong possibility. You can thank me later for bringing it up, since you were already beating yourself up for your lack of will-power and discipline. 😜 I am actually here to help you deal, with a bit of grace and truth, with the fact that you might be struggling.

If you have already cheated on your diet, skipped your workout, spent outside your budget, smoked, drank, binged or watched inappropriate stuff on-line, don’t give up. If you had determined to hold your temper, not gossip, not judge others, cut back on the nagging, correct your “tone” or be mindful of your go-to negative attitude, but have already been engaging in those unattractive behaviors, relax. I read a great post from a friend the other day that said, “I will not try to the boil the ocean (or have all my goals met by Friday).” Awareness that you need to change is the first step towards success. Everything after that is a stepping stone, even if it’s an ugly one. The only way to truly fail is to stop stepping.

I have been reading bits and pieces of a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol S. Deck, Ph.D.). It categorizes people into two groups: people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. In a nutshell, the difference between the two types can be summarized by one word: yet (my word, not the authors). Someone with a fixed mindset forgets to integrate that word in their life. The believe they are defined by their failures and accomplishments and often live believing that the world is out to get them, they will never amount to anything, they never get a break, and they can never learn that skill, subject or life lesson. They get stuck where they are at and see little use in contining to implement change or growth or learn from their mistakes in order to become their better self. A person with a growth mindset keeps stepping, even when they fall short or fall off the wagon. They believe that even though they have made mistakes or failed or life has dealt them some terrible cirucmstances, that there is still hope. They believe that they aren’t smart yet or patient yet or more disciplined yet. When they don’t know the answers they figure them out. They invest in learning.  A person with a fixed mindset says things to themselves like; “I am stupid.” “What’s the use in trying?” “Everyone’s better than me.” “I’m a total failure.”

What kind of mindset do you currently have? If you are pretty certain you have a fixed mindset, take it from a growth mindset person that believing in the yet is possible. Instead of living in your failures and letting them define or immobilize you, use them to identify where you need to learn or grow in order to get where it is you want to go. Remember that you just aren’t there yet.

Let’s face it, we are never going to be anything more than human. Failure and mistakes are inevitable. We are fallible. And even though some of us seem to pull of some extradonriary things, we are mostly ordinary. I had a friend that balked at the statement often heard from the pulpit, “God wants to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.” This really seemed to bother her. She said, “who in the world wants to be ordinary?” I get it. But here’s the harsh reality; most of us aren’t even ordinary. We are down right weird and crazy and broken and generally messed up. It would feel pretty nice to be ordinary, but alas, I have too many character defects, hangups and selfish habits to pretend to be in that category. But, because I adopt a growth mindset, I am pretty ok with that. I know that this life is a long journey and progress is slow and steady at some times, fast a furious at others and a slippery landslide backwards at still others. But I never just set up camp, pitch my tent and make s’mores. You have to keep moving.

I love how Sarah Young summarizes what Jesus says to us through his Word:

I may infuse you with a dream that seems far beyond your reach. You know that in yourself you cannot achieve such a goal. Thus begins your journey of profound reliance on Me. It is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time, leaning on me as much as you need. This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures. However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance on Me.

God is not finished with you yet. Your job is to trust Him and continue to be open to new ways to grow and learn. Just because your Resolutions haven’t been followed perfectly doesn’t mean you should throw them out and try again next year. Try again now. Try again tomorrow. Some days you will fail and some days you will flourish. But it all counts if you are willing to learn and do it different next time. Let God set your pace. His timing is always perfect. Chances are that “by next year at this time” you will not have achieved exactly what you set out to do. Don’t sweat it. Just do the work and don’t give up before the miracle happens. Whether it’s next week or month or 5 years from now.

Your new word for this year: yet.<<
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Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

Let your light so shine

It’s that time of year again. Time to pull out my Thomas Kinkade, Painter of Light, Christmas Devotional (read my blog “Painter of light” from December 2015 to refresh your memory on his story). I have been reading this every year for about 25 years. Sometimes I lose steam after Christmas, and even though the book takes me all the way up to the New Year, I often stop reading it after December 25th. This year I decided to start at the end to see what I have been missing all these years.

It’s fitting for the Painter of Light to end his book with some insights from Matthew 5:14-16. If you remember the children’s Sunday School song “This little light of mine (I’m gonna let it shine)”, this is where it comes from. It says,

“You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.”

…no pressure. Just be a beacon of God’s love for all to see. Let the way you live your life, by how you love and forgive and serve your friends and family and enemies, illuminate the lives of others so that they are compelled to turn to God in worship. Right…easier said than done. What about the days where am tired and overwhelmed and stressed out so I snap at my kids, tailgate the slow-poke in front of me and post something passive aggressive about my nemesis on facebook? The reality is that I am a work in process. My light “so shines” sometimes, and at others it barely peeking out, like the thin line of the sun right before it sets in the west. Kinkade points out that he thinks “that’s exactly why many people end up hiding their lights under a basket. Who feels equal to the task of lighting the world?”

To illustrate his point, he talks about lamps, and how they can be made out of pretty much anything. As long as the guts of it can produce electricity and have a place to screw in a bulb, you can make a lamp out of a cowboy boot, a vase, a typewriter, a coffee-pot, or even a worn out, beat-up, thrown in the dumpster lamp that used to work marvelously. When you read stories from the Bible, it’s crystal clear that God is able and most-likely apt to turn the most unlikely people into sources of light. He mentions leaders like Moses (a murderer), Jospeh (a brat brother who was thrown into a pit by his own brothers), and David (a mere boy and later, an adulterer and also a murderer). And then there’s me and you. Need I say more?

If this is true, then how do we go about shining despite our inadequacies? I think the key is a recovery principle I hear often: acceptance is that answer to all our problems. We have to accept the hard, sad fact; we are inadequate. As Kinkade says, “we have to realize that we’re not the ones doing the shining. We’re merely the lamp base, an earthen vessel that has been rewired to shine. Our job is to stay plugged in to the light and to let it flow through us, not to gleam under our own power.”

One way our light “so shines” is when we accept with thanks the gift of who we are. Instead of wishing we were different or better at certain things, we can be grateful for what is in our hand. What we have to work with. Accepting ourselves where we are at can be a hard decision for a lot of us. Many of us struggle with chronic pain, chronic relapse, chronic worry/fear, or chronic sin patterns. W can’t fathom how, or why, God would want to rewire us to be useful for Him in any way. Wouldn’t he rather just buy a brand new lamp thats cleaned up and pretty?

As I read this devotional, I do it with a less naive spirit than I used to. In case you don’t recall, Thomas Kinkade died of a drug overdose several years ago. Every entry I read causes me to reflect on what he might have been battling in his head at the time. Here’s the painful quote an article posted about his death at age 54 on April 6, 2012: “Who could have imagined that behind so many contented visions of peace, harmony and nauseating goodness lay just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity, fueled by those ever-ready stooges, Valium and alcohol?”

“Just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity.”  But even though that’s how it ended, it isn’t the end of his influence in the world. That wasn’t the only part of his story. His mistakes are not the only thing he brought to this world. I am still reading his words, millions of people still hang his inspiring paintings, ones painted as representations of what Thomas longed for. What we all long for. To bring light to this dark world. We just have to believe that our story is more than the sum of our failures and shortcomings. Our job is to stay plugged in to God, the Source of all light, and let Him use us in spite of them.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, fear, grace, Trust

“Though the doors were locked…”

By now, some of you have read enough of my blogs to understand my unique daily reading plan. I could market said plan as “Rabbit Trail Reading Plan” or “ADD Reading Plan”, both catering to busy, scattered, impatient and focus-challenged individuals who are doing the best they can to grow up mentally, spiritually and emotionally. At any rate, here’s how it looks for me. I read approximately 4 different books each morning. Each one has a daily entry that is shorter than most of my blog posts I write. While I am reading I underline like crazy. I look up words I don’t understand or intrigue me. And I look up any references to bible verses that are highlighted. When I look those verses up, I truly love it if I have already underlined them in my bible (as if I were going to receive a prize or somthing).  I also read what comes before and after those verses  and occasionally end up reading a few chapters or other verses I have underlined around it. All that to segway into telling you about what I read the other day. And I couldn’t stop crying.

Just a brief description of what’s going on in John 20:26; You have probably heard the descriptor of someone who is skeptical or leary about something as being a “doubting Thomas”. This passage is where that phrase comes from. After Jesus was killed and came back from the dead, he appeared to a few of his disciples. Poor Thomas. He wasn’t there. So they told him about it and a paraphrase of what he said went something like “What-ever dudes. I’ll tell you what; I have heard these rumors already and seen the posts on Instagram. You know they can make anything look real with photoshop, right? But until I see him with my own eyes and touch the holes where they nailed him to that cross, I’m not buying it.” A week goes by and the disciples, including Thomas this time, are chillin’ in someone’s living room.

“And though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them.”

And though the doors were locked…”. That’s the part that made me stop. Made me sob, actually. Because that is the God I believe in. Too often we picture Jesus as standing at the door of our hearts and knocking patiently. Wondering if we are home, hating to bother us with his measly gift of, um, forgiveness of sin and eternal life. This image probably comes from frequently abused verse about “behold, I stand at the door and knock” that is often used to entice someone to turn their life over to the care of God. Spoiler alert, that verse was writtent to a church full of Christians that needed to get it’s act together. It wasn’t about the heart of an individual who hadn’t met up with the wonder of God yet.

The God I believe in and am abandoned to, is not like a door to door salesman or a person who walks and knocks on neighborhood doors getting signatures to support his political agenda. He isn’t politely tapping while I hide behind the curtain, peaking out the window, hoping he gives up soon and moves on.

He’s a God who pursues. He knows we are home and He isn’t leaving until we open the door. He knows what He offers is not only free (to us, not at all to Him) but the best gift we could ever receive. His grace and love and mercy are indeed priceless. Too often we are resistant to letting Him in. Sometimes it’s because we are afraid. Sometimes it’s because we are selfish and want to live by our own Will. Sometimes, I think much of the time, it’s because we think we are not worthy of the gift. That we have screwed up too often and in ways that seem irreparable.

The God I believe in, not to frighten you, is one who will find a way in even though the doors are locked. He will go through a window or jimmy the dead-bolt or come down the chimney. He is what the English poet Francis Thompson called “The Hound of Heaven”. “As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so God follows the fleeing soul by His Divine grace.” And even though, for a plethora of reasons, we try to hide and run and lose this Hound, He follows after, “unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.” (J.F.X. O’Conor)

You see, like a lover who knows without a doubt that you are destined to be together, God will passionately and fervently pursue you. You can run and hide and curse and reject, but those are hurdles He can handle. He is not hunting you down to punish or shame you. He is coming to bring the love, acceptance, peace and joy your have been looking for in other things or other people.

Dear friend-I hope you can feel my two hands on your cheeks as I hold your face close to mine and tell you with a tender and emphatic whisper-“though your doors are locked, He will find a way in. And that’s not a threat, it’s a beautiful promise.”

 

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Relationships, Uncategorized

Painter of Light

I’ve been thinking about this for a couple of days now. Even now I am not sure what my take away will be by the time I finish. Maybe that will be up to you…

I have a long history with Thomas Kincaid-“Painter of Light.” Remember him? At one point 1 in 20 American Homes had a Thomas Kincaid painting hanging on their wall. One year he grossed $130 million. He managed to touch a place in people’s hearts that no other artist could reach. And many of them were critical and clearly jealous and bitter over his wild success. Kincaid had 2 main trademarks. One, he brought light and warmth to an otherwise average painting and two, he made us want to visit or live in those cottages or go to church in that glowing, snow covered chapel.

My journey of familiarity with Kinkade’s work started when I got married. One of my great aunts and her daughter owned an art gallery in Duncan’s Mill, California. As a wedding gift, she gave us a numbered print of a church in a quaint, wintery town. It hung on my wall until this year (when I repainted and decided I was ready to change my decor. I may have to hang it back up after I finish this blog…). In Vallejo, California, a Thomas Kinkade development was actually launched. It crashed with the rest of the housing market, but it’s purpose was to create a place of “calm not chaos. Peace not pressure.” I have visited one of his art galleries in Carmel and at some point I purchased a Christmas Devotional that was written and illustrated by him. I have read it every Christmas for the past 15 years. He talks about his faith openly in this book as well as in many interviews. On the bottom of most of his inspirational paintings he writes “John 3:16” with a fish symbol next to it. You can find a nauseating amount of knick-knacks, ornaments, bookmarks, etc. that tout his work at Christian Bookstores everywhere. When he writes, he speaks fondly of his wife, Nanette, and his four daughters. The home he depicts is one we all would long to be a part of, especially at Christmas-time. The cover of my devotional says “Thomas Kinkade spends his days creating beautiful worlds where light dances and peace reigns.” Only that’s not entirely true.

On April 6, 2012, at the age of 54, Thomas Kinkade died of an overdose. The papers said, “Who could have imagined that behind so many contented visions of peace, harmony and nauseating goodness lay just another story of deception, disappointment and depravity, fueled by those ever-ready stooges, Valium and alcohol?”. It makes me wonder how many of his pictures are hanging in those homes now? Did they take them down when they learned that the man behind the mood was a drunk? I took mine down for superficial reasons, but as I am learning more about this battle of his, it actually makes me want to put it back up. What Thomas WANTED to say in His work, what he DID say, is that we all long for that place where we can feel “peaceful, happy, and free” as we say in recovery. In one article, he referred to his pieces as “silent messengers in the home,” and was unapologetic about his almost clinical efforts to make his work uplifting. “Every element in my paintings, from the patch of sun in the foreground to the mists on a distant horizon, is an effort to summon back those perfect moments that hang in our minds as pictures of harmony,” he once wrote in Lightposts for Living. “My deepest desire is that my work will help people aspire to the life those kinds of images evoke.” In another article he says of his paintings, “It’s not the world we live in, it’s the world we wished we live in. People wish they could find that stream, that cabin in the woods.” And yet, the disease of alcoholism hijacked this dream and drug him to the pit of despair. By the end of his life he was separated from his wife and girls and living with his girlfriend. One night, he drank too much and took valium and never woke up.

So, what? I don’t know exactly. Looking back on the article, I just read that even though his death ended in a way that opposed the very values he spent his life’s work depicting through word and art, sales are actually rising. What a relief. I have seen, on a personal level and in more public venues, what can happen when people of faith fall. The greater tragedy comes when those who were once inspired by such a person, turn their backs on them in disgust when their humanity rises up and takes over. When they display weakness or succumb to a sin that we cannot seem to forgive. I have heard first-hand stories of people inflicted with the disease of addiction and how they hurt those they loved and did or said things that contradicted their core beliefs. NONE of them say that they enjoyed being a bad parent or unreliable friend or hateful husband. And even without addiction as an explanation, haven’t we all behaved in ways that were not consistent with how we desire to live? I don’t have to be an addict to act like a self-willed, self-focused self-indulgent person. My goal each day is to love God and love people more and better than I did yesterday. But sadly, by the end of the day, my review of what I did tells me that the person I loved and served most was me. I guess one of the things I am trying to say is this: suspend judgment. There are people around us everyday who are acting in ways that are counter to who they really desire to be. There is no end the the obstacles that keep them, and me, from succeeding. Keep this story in your mind as you spend time with family, friends and co-workers who you feel like strangling. Instead of running around frazzled and stressed out and angry because of the pressures of the Christmas season, try to empathize with those whose hearts are living in chaos, grief and anxiety. Maybe YOU can be that “peaceful stream, that cabin in the woods”. Maybe you can help someone be touched by the glow of light on on otherwise dull painting. If you are one of those people who long for that light, and like Thomas Kinkade just can’t seem to reach it, get help. Find recovery. Find God. Find friends. Find me. I believe the words of the scripture: “For God comforts us in all our affliction so that we in turn may comfort others in the same way we have been comforted by God.” God has brought me through much. He has given me “comfort” in my soul. If I can help you find that comfort, I will. Most of us are either one version of Thomas Kinkade or the other, depending on the day. Let’s help each other out.