awareness, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

Feelings aren’t facts…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Serenity, Trust

Grateful for air-conditioning

Maybe if I just start typing my brain will untangle itself about what I want to say today. God must be trying pretty hard to teach me about living in the moment, because my brain continues continue to circle back around to that lesson I have yet to learn, apparently. Or maybe he just knows that in most cases, I need lots of reminders.

This morning, while driving my kids to school I was chuckling to myself (since no students in my car are interested in hearing my insights before school or before 8:00am-go figure) about a conversation I had with my oldest son who is currently renting a room out in California. He doesn’t want to commit to an apartment until he decides where he is going to land once he finds a job that can help him along in his career path. Unfortunately, California is running at about 110 degrees lately and since he is only renting a room, he has no control over the thermostat. And even more unfortunately, the person who does have control is the one who pays the bills and they seem to feel that 85 or 90 degrees is a reasonable temperature to keep the house. I say all that to tell you about my (in my head) response to all that: “I bet he wishes he had been more grateful for that annoying dorm life last year!” For the air conditioning control privileges. If only he had known what was coming, he would have cranked it up to 72 and relished what he would one day long for as he lay dripping sweat in his bed (my poor baby!).

But isn’t that how it works? We don’t know what we’ve got til’ it’s gone? I have lost track of how many times I have kicked myself for not wearing a bikini when I was 20 and size 4! I just couldn’t enjoy my body because it wasn’t “enough” of where I wanted it to be. Now I think, I should have been grateful that I looked the way I did instead of wishing I had “that girls” body.

It gets more serious than fat vs. skinny, too. I remember wishing I had a bigger house or better car or job. And I am ashamed to admit that though I haven’t wished for different kids or a different spouse, I have wished for a kid who minded better (when they were toddlers) or talked sooner (when they were babies) or did more or less of what our society deems successful and well-rounded. I have wished my husband was as attentive or romantic as men in movies who are paid to act that way or as financially successful as so and so’s husband. I am not proud of these thoughts. Mostly because it shouts that I am living in the past or the future. Regretting that I didn’t embrace what I used to have or pining for what has not yet come.

Both of these states of mind keep me from being present. From being grateful for this day. this moment. This one and only precious life. If we can learn to say “thank you” to God, to ourselves and those around us for contributing to where we are at today, we can avoid living in the past or waiting for our lives to change so we can be happy. Today Is all we’ve got. It’s time to stop feeling sorry about what was or for what isn’t and start being grateful for what is.

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Trust

My cup runneth over (with what? Is the question)

I am trying to come up with a clever way to start this entry without leading with something like “In the 23rd Psalm it says…”. To some, bible verses feel antiquated and childish. But I don’t think I can do it. Just trust me that it will be relevant to your life and keep reading (pretty please).

So, in the 23rd Psalm, which most people have heard at least once in their lives ( you know, “the Lord is my Shepherd…”), the end of verse 5 says “my cup runneth over”. It’s interesting to note that whatever “it” is in the cup, isn’t just full to the brim, contained and controlled, it is spilling out and over flowing. And, who says that the stuff in the cup is liquid? Couldn’t it also be overcrowded, bursting, busting at the seams, bulging, and jam-packed? At any rate. That sucker is not big enough to hold all that is continuously being poured or packed into it.

I am not going to pretend to provide an exegesis (fancy word for a critical and smart explanation of scripture) of this phrase, I am simply going to tell you the state of mind, torked as it was, when I read “my cup runneth over” in a book about the 23rd Psalm. I was reading along and when I got to that verse, a voice in my spirit surprised me. The paraphrased version was: “Oh it runneth over alright! Overflowing with problems, frustrations, issues, questions, doubts and irritating situations!”

Nice attitude, right?

There were, and are, some areas of my life (read “areas of other people’s lives whom I love and feel compelled to fix, manage and control”) that are challenging and disappointing (read “not living up to my expectations or giving me warm fuzzy feelings”). I certainly felt that my cup “runneth over” beyond containment. My natural response was to complain to God about this and demand, as nicely as possible, an explanation.

The other night, my husband and I were discussing the Myth of Sisyphus (ya, know, just some light marital bonding conversation 😬). You know, the story about the futility of life? Roll a giant bolder up a big mountain, only to stumble near the top, lose control, and have it roll back down. Over and over and over for as long as you live. This is Albert Camus’ analogy about our lot in life. Very inspiring, right? My two-cents worth during our discussion was, yes, life is basically a lot of hard work and often very redundant, the only factor we really have control of is our choice in how we do it. Will we choose to whine and complain about the sweat and sore muscles, or will we whistle while we work?

I suppose my point in all this, in case you sometimes feel like your cup-o-crap is indeed running over (and over and over and over), you, like me, have a choice. Because there are also thousands upon thousands of reasons to see it with different eyes. A gratitude list is one of the best ways to stay and keep mindful of all the blessings (even when they are disguised as difficulties) in our lives, the lives of others and in the world at large. Some days your list may only consist of you being thankful you didn’t kill anyone that day. Hey, it’s a start! But soon, I think you will find that you have to cut yourself off from writing down all that is “good” in your life because you run out of time. Some days it might be the superficial stuff (coffee ice cream, Netflix, no humidity, Starbucks, a good parking space, a sale on those shoes you have been eyeing, etc.). Then there’s the basic things we should be grateful for but sometimes take for granted (sleep, air, nature, healthy food, drinkable water, friends, family, etc.). It’s that final level of gratitude that tells us where we are at with God and whether or not we trust his ways in the world (grateful for this or that problem/situation/difficulty that produces perseverance, tenderness, tolerance, compassion, empathy and brave and determined spirit in us).

This morning, a reading from Oswald Chambers made me weep. Mostly because I so often think such inaccurate and flat out wrong thoughts about God when I choose to believe that He has filled my cup with everything but the blessings. “There are times when God wil appear like an unkind friend, but HE IS NOT; He will appear like an unnatural Father, BUT HE IS NOT; He will appear like an unjust judge, BUT HE IS NOT. Keep the notion of the mind of God behind all things strong and growing…You can rest in perfect confidence in Him.”

My sweet friend-does your cup, like mine, feels like it’s overflowing with everything opposite of goodness and mercy? First of all, you are not alone. But it is vital for both of us to choose to trust God’s bigger plan. His desires for us are immeasurable more than all we could ask or even imagine. Start seeing with new eyes the layers upon layers of blessings that are there all the time if we choose to focus on them.

Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Relationships

Here’s to you, Vismay…

On July 17, 2015 I wrote a blog called “Take a Deep Breath.” The over-arching theme was  about how God “book-ended” my leukemia journey by providing me an encounter that allowed me to close out my treatments in a meaningful way. You can read it in my book or in the archives, but basically, on the last day of chemo (hopefully ever) I went out to eat with my mom. We walked into the cantina (because the last day of chemo calls for fajitas and margaritas, naturally) and the only people there besides us were two men eating dinner, who just happened to be one of the residents who was there at the beginning of my journey (that’s the conservative and positive word for “roller coaster of terror and tears”) and the resident who checked me out-for-good just hours before. Seven whole months after our lives as we knew it came to a screeching hault.  I believe God was telling me that he “knows and sees” every tiny detail of my life. He also knows I am a total sucker for these kind of coincidences, or “God-things”, as I like to call them. I am not making that story up and I am not making up what I am about to tell you now…

The impact of having Leukemia didn’t end when I left the hospital for the last time. It just marked the end of one journey and the beginning of another. I continue to write about how our common disease of the soul is a connecting, on-going battle. My book was officially available for purchase 2 days ago. It begins less than a month after my leukemia diagnosis (I apologize in advance for my rough writing skills at that time. Don’t judge…) and covers 100ish entries. I have written 300+ to date. I didn’t plan for my vacation to start this way, but God knew it was coming. I suspect He was a little giddy with anticipation, knowing what was about to happen. I am currently sitting on an airplane headed to Napa to spend time with my parents, my siblings and their families and a couple college friends. I am choosing to use this to celebrate that the book-work is done (for now…) and hope to relax and refresh. And if that was where the story ended it would be a good one. But that God…He’s so extra. As I sat on the plane I was visiting with some local friends sitting behind me who were also headed to California. I knew they were aware of my leukemia and had prayed for me, keeping up on my blogs on occasion. I told them my book was officially done, available on Amazon and gave them a couple business cards with my blog link on it. Then, the man sitting literally across the aisle from me (practically on my lap on these puddle jumper planes) says, “You’re Heather Carter. I thought I recognized you.” I had thought he looked familiar (in all fairness, he didn’t have a beard when I saw him last, and I had a lot less hair, as in none). His name is Vismay. He was rounding on his first day of Residency when I plopped, frightened and fragile, onto the Oncology unit of Memorial Hospital.

So-I am sitting here emotional and overwhelmed with gratitude and affection. It takes me right back to the beginning of it all.  You see, while the doctors and nurses changed every day for the first 30 days I was in the hospital (yah, the first 30), the residents were consistent. Their faces were my only constant. They held my hand and smiled and offered a security I desperately needed. I specifically remember Vismay being my translator one day when I was in ICU, with new doctors and nurses, confused and terrified. Someone needed to explain to me why an infectious disease doctor was talking to me and what in the blue-blazes he was saying. I squeezed the life out of his hand and implored him with my eyes (I wasn’t able to speak after being intubated for several days) to translate. I remember looking at the doctor (on the right side of my bed), trying to make sense of what he was saying, and then looking to Vismay (on the left side of my bed) for translation.  Lucky him.  However, I will say that every patient he had after me was probably a cake walk!

He is sleeping now, and I sincerely want to get him a blanket and pillow and a drink and ask him if there is anything I can do to make him more comfortable. I probably won’t, because I’m not a complete lunatic. But I so wish I could give back in a way that shows the significance of what his presence meant to me 3 years ago, and what it means to me to see him again today.

So, to quote myself from my very own book 😉😬,

“Book-ends: the beginning and the end-the front and the back, with all kinds of stories sandwiched in-between.”

God is again showing me:

*That He is paying attention to the details of my life and wants me to know it.

*That He wrapped it all up like a sweet, thoughtful gift, so that I can open it and use it to help me and help others as I move on to write new stories.

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude

The “Good mood of the soul”

I really wanted to write about sleep this morning. Probably because “spring forward” was 4 days ago and I am extra-tired from waking up in darkness and laying awake, unable to get to sleep at my normal bedtime. However, as I started reading this morning, I noticed a recurring them running through each author’s insights: Joy. So, as it goes in so much of life, sleep will have to wait.

I love how Methodist pastor Anne Robertson explains joy. She says that ancient Greeks described joy (chairo, in Greek) as “the good mood of the soul.” What a full description for such an indescribable sense of being. It’s not a feeling, stirred by kind circumstances and memorable and cherished events. Joy, unlike happiness, can be a state we live in even when actual happiness is impossible. Brene’ Brown says, “I’d like to experience more happiness, but I want to live from a place of gratitude and joy.”

And that seems to be one of the key ingredients to living a life marked by joy; gratitude. I realize this sounds simplistic, but when we keep in mind that “it could be worse”, we will alleviate much of the complaining we do about our current circumstances. When we choose to focus on the good in our lives, or even absence of the bad, we are choosing to live in joy. We don’t have to think very long, to come up with people we know who live or have lived through horrific circumstances and tragedies with an aura of joy radiating from their spirit. Nor do we have to think too hard to bring to mind someone we know who lives in a constant state of ingratitude and joyless-ness, even as they float through circumstances most people would envy. It’s about attitude, and gratitude. It’s about perspective and choosing to see through the lenses that God prescribes, rather than our own smudged, scratched and smeared pair of glasses.

Only with God’s vision see clearly and face the endless flow of problems of this life with good cheer. In His presence we have a joy-a peaceful and restful state of soul and spirit-that no one can take from us (John 16:22) and that no turn of events can threaten.

Joy, it seems, is found most commonly in, well, the common. I remember very clearly my first “outing” when I was finally released to be out in public after my leukemia treatments. I had been neutropenic (having no immune system and susceptible to any and every disease) for weeks and was finally free to leave my house. I went to Hyvee. To a grocery store. And I could not have been more grateful. I was overwhelmed with joy. I had a deep appreciation for the very activity I used to dread; grocery shopping. What had previously been a drudgery, was now a luxury. My perspective had changed. I was fully present and engaged in my day to day, mundane life because I had been rescued from death’s doorstep.

Now…I was lucky. Because it is far easier to have this amazing perspective when you have been taken to the edge of actual death. But it can still be done. And I highly recommend that you learn it today by choice, rather than having to learn it in the pressure-cooker of heartache, tragedy or pain. If we seek joy in the small gifts of everyday living-in the tucking in of a child, the observation of nature, the delightful taste of a well-prepared meal, the aroma of coffee in the morning, the fact that you can drink and bathe with running water, and the thousands of tiny blessings we take for granted-we might actually obtain it.

Happiness is fleeting. It comes and goes with the wind. But joy doesn’t have to be. It can be your underlying “constant”. The stillness of soul that comes from a heart bent toward unconditional gratitude. Without joy, we live deflated and defeated. We pump ourselves up with activity and vacations and entertainment and accomplishments, but when those things wane or falter, we are left lifeless and flat. Our remedy, our prescription, for living in joy, is gratitude.

“Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize

how good things really are.”         -Marianne Williamson