Anxiety/Worry, awareness, Brokenness, identity, insecurity, Trust

Post-Secret (or “what’s your secret?”)

I read a book in August, laying on the fake beach in downtown Chicago while my daughter and her friends went to Lollapalooza. This, for a 48 year old female who has almost fully raised three children and survived cancer, packs all the fun and excitement I need to thoroughly enjoy myself. Of course, it was some heavy content: Stephen Kings young adult book “Gwendy’s Button Box”. I read all 164 widely spaced pages in 2 days (don’t judge….I am a slow and simple reader). I have already talked about one of the books major themes in my blog on “English as a second Language” (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/09/13/english-as-a-second-language/). I have been saving up the second one for a time that felt just right…now is that time I guess.

Let me give you the sentence from the book that has been stuck in my mind since August:

“Secrets are a problem, maybe the biggest problem of all. They weigh on the mind and take up space in the world.”

Gwendy has this thought as she becomes aware of the tremendous pressure she lives with after being given a box covered with buttons that hold power to control her immediate surroundings and even on the other side of the world. She has to keep it safe from others who might find it and use it for evil, as well as keep it safe from her own whims, fancies or resentment fantasies. She has been given strict instructions by the giver not to let anyone know about the box. It becomes a veritable weight-a constant burden and distraction as she tires to go about her life, trying to look and act normal. She is ever mindful, even as she dates and succeeds in school and sports, of her box and it’s safety, always worrying someone might find it or telling tales to her loved ones about where she is going so they won’t know she is checking on the box. The secret consumes her every thought.

Take a moment, or several, to think your your “box”, your biggest, scariest and darkest secret.

Does it “weigh on your mind and take up space in the world”? It probably won’t take you long to identify it, because it’s just always right there. Even when you are fooling others, you are not fooling yourself. And it is slowly crushing you. Robbing you of your freedom and your joy. Causing you to be imprisoned by your fear that someone might figure our your hiding spot. You can’t let people too close because wonder if you slip up or let yourself be vulnerable and you give away it’s hiding place. You have imagined it over and over-the potential outcomes if this should happen: people might think you’re an ogre, a hypocrite, a monster, a victim, someone unlovable, disgusting, unredeemable, unforgivable, unworthy. They might reject and shame you. These possibilities keep your resolve to hide it in strong force. You protect it at all costs. And that cost is pretty high.

What reignited my thoughts on this topic, was an event my husband arranged for us to attend last month. I thought more people were aware of this New York Times best seller than there actually are. When I told people we were going to hear Frank Warren, the author of the “Post-Secret” book at the college, most had never heard of him or the book. We have had this book as a coffee table book for at least 10 years. And fun fact that I learned at the event: Frank Warren grew up in Springfield, Illinois (any of you Springfielders know him?). Here’s the premise: in 2004 he passed out post cards to strangers with his home address on it, inviting them to share a secret. The only rules were that “it had to be true and it had to be something they had never shared with anyone before.” It’s also anonymous. After the first week he posted a few of them online and had 1,000 views. After week two he posted a few more and had 10,000 views. After week three, there were 100,000 viewers. The rest is history. Look it up. Today he has millions of postcards, filling an entire room, stacked almost to the ceiling.

I attended this event the night before I was to do one of my first “talks” to a local group of about 50 women. It reinforced that what I say and why I write is not only necessary for me, but for countless others who have often thought, “I am the only one.” The despair that comes from feeling like we are alone in our brokenness, our pain, our secrets, is crushing. It causes physical and mental illness, loneliness and even death in our churches, our schools and our town every single day. When we have secrets and keep them we slowly deteriorate. In Recovery programs there is a saying, “we are only as sick as our secrets.” You cannot work the 12 steps successfully without passing through the steps that help you puke that junk out and let someone love you in spite of them. We have to reveal our secrets to God (which is redundant, since I believe He already knows), ourselves (which means we have to be alone with ourselves and reflect once in awhile) and to another person (the key to freedom and release).

Frank Warren continues to offer hope by giving people this same opportunity. He says, “secrets have stories; they can also offer truths. After seeing thousands of secrets, I understand that sometimes when we believe we are keeping a secret, that secret is actually keeping us.”

At the end of the event he opened up 2 microphones and invited people to share their Post-Secret live. There were lines curled around the corner and at one point he had to cut it off for sake of time. People were brave and cried and hugged perfect strangers, and some, their best friend who they had kept this secret from. That is the reality of our world. Even though some of us have what we consider a “best friend”, we are still in hiding and living in shame and fear, always trying to figure out the safest hiding place for our secret.

So, maybe today is the day of freedom for you. Or at least the beginning of it. Maybe you could start by sharing it anonymously with Frank (Post-Secret 13345 Copper Ridge Rd/ Germantown, Maryland 20874). But eventually, I think sharing it with a person with skin in who can look you in the eye and tell you “you’re not alone and you are still worthy of love”, will give you the most freedom. You have to be discerning about who that person is. Discretion is important, as well as the potential impact on the other person. Unloading the burden of your secret onto someone else who might be devastated by it, is not loving or wise. Pray about it. Seek counsel. Your goal must be for you to be free, but not at the expense of putting someone else into captivity.

I want to close this out by sharing a quote from the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. I practically have it memorized, because I think it applies to anyone willing to expose the darkest places of their past in order to bring light and warmth to their present:

“We should be only too willing to bring former mistakes, no matter how grievous, out of their hiding places. Showing others who suffer how we were given help is the very thing which makes life seems worthwhile to us now. Cling to the thought that, in God’s hands, the dark past is the greatest possession we have-the key to life and happiness for others. With it you can avert death and misery for them” (and for ourselves, I might add).

(A portion of all Post-Secret proceeds having been going to Suicide Prevention since the first of 5 books published in 2005. Don’t let your secret bring you to such a place…)

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.

awareness, Brokenness, Change, Faith/Spirituality, Growth, identity

Down to go up

My brain is hurting a little. I have been reading (and I am still in the introduction after a couple of weeks) a book called Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life. It makes perfect sense and at the same time is really hard to explain. The concept is profoundly simple, but it is stretching my mind to figure out how to narrow down such a huge concept into 500 words or less. I’ll try to summarize it  and then I suggest you just go buy the book.

The author, Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, poses the possibility that there are two halves of life, and that the second half comes when we move from surviving to thriving. It doesn’t mean that it will happen exactly halfway through our life-time, obviously. In Richard Rohr for Dummies lingo (since this is the only way I know to explain or understand him) it means that the thriving part of life comes after we play the first half of the survival game, regroup, refocus and refresh during a symbolic “half-time”, and then burst out, guns-blazing, into the second half.

It’s during this second-half living that we discover “the task within the task,” or what Rohr calls “what we are doing when we are doing what we are doing.” Life becomes more acutely about the how than the what. How we go about our daily duties and fulfill our responsibilities. Are we focused on the results more than the integrity of how we get there? If so, we are still stuck in first-half living. Mere survival. As Rohr puts it, “integrity largely has to do with purifying our intentions and a growing honesty about our actual motives. It is hard work. Most often we do’t pay attention to that inner task until we have had some kind of fall or failure in our outer tasks”. In laymens terms, “ya gotta go down to go up.”

Ugh. I don’t like that. And I suspect I have lost a few of you as well. Many of us want to live with this “second-half” mindset, but at the same time, also want comfortable habits, a steady income, and stress/problem free lives. If getting to this second-half living is a result of being purified and strengthened through trials, we’d rather stay in the locker room, thank you very much.

Well, fortunately or unfortunately, we don’t usually have a choice in the matter. Some kind of falling, what Rohr calls a “necessary suffering” is programmed into the journey. It’s not that suffering or failure might happen, it’s that it will happen, and to you! These are all part of the human journey whether we like it or not. The question for each of us is how we choose to react to it. Will we dig our heals in, straining to maintain life as we have always done it. Desperate to fight it off or avoid rocking the boat we have been sailing for the first half of our lives?

Or do we choose to embrace the opportunity to embark on a new adventure? An expedition of uncharted territory? We fall into this new way of living. You have to go down to go up, as they say. But it’s worth the risk.

I know this, because I have done it. Or it has been done unto me (not to be confused with being done to me). I have been faced with many sorrows, betrayals, upheavals, and the literal threat of death itself. Am I different as a result? You bet your bippy I am. But I am not just different, I am new. I still struggle with many of the same character defects, but today I have perspective and new tools to approach the second half of my life with a new pair of glasses. The “lenses” through which I view life have been drastically altered. And as much as I hate to say it out loud, I know that I know that I know that I it has only come as a result of suffering. I am who I am because of what I have had to dredge through. And even though I don’t wish it to come again, I also don’t resent or regret any of it.

It has made me who I am today and most of the time, I kinda like the new me.
(Dangit-that was 726 words 😕)

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

My “past-life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brokenness, identity, insecurity, Relationships, Uncategorized

God Doesn’t Chew Gum

The other night a friend of mine, a college professor who teaches real writers how to write better, pointed something out to me. I told her I wish I would have been able to write when some traumatic events from my past were happening. I indicated that maybe I could write about them now. She said, “Now you are thinking like a Writer.” I am not sure that she was referring to writing about trivial past events such as the one I am about to share with you, but nevertheless, here it goes…

I was about 10 years old and was beginning to take a “Tap/Jazz” class. I had never taken any class like this before and was very excited to choose a couple leotards to wear to said class. One was pretty cute, robin egg blue with light pink tights. The other, and I have no idea what I was thinking or why my mother allowed this (though I suspect I wasn’t an easy person to say “no” to back then, any more than I am now), but I choose a canary yellow leotard AND canary yellow tights to go with it. 10 yr old girls often go through a slightly pudgy, shapeless stage and I was right on target for that. So there’s a lovely image. Tap shoes really topped off the outfit. So I enter the dance studio and quickly feel awkward, untalented, and very very bright. There are two other girls who seemed to be best friends nearby. I don’t know what they were really thinking of me, but I sure felt like a 3rd wheel trying to become part of that team. I tried my best to be friendly and make conversation. I truly can’t even remember if they were nice to me, but I knew one thing, I desperately wanted to be their friend. And here is where the memory sticks. After many failed attempts to get them to include me, to like me and acknowledge me, I finally came up with a solution that was iron-clad: I would buy them some gum. Yep. That should do the trick. When all else fails, just buy them some gum and that will break down all barriers and create life-long relationships. I am not sure if I ever actually did it. Probably not, because I had to get money from my mom and have her take me to the store and she, being not a lunatic, might have steered me away from such humiliation. My time in that class was short-lived. I never won their affection and am sorely deficient at tap dancing to this day.

I still remember this because I still occasionally feel myself trying to impress someone or win someone’s approval. I used to work at a job where there were a couple girls who I really wished would let me “in”. Who would like and include me. I snicker because I said to myself, “maybe I should buy them some gum.” Because that’s how I felt. Like a roley 10 yr old in a neon yellow leotard. When I think this way, I know my identity is at risk. It means I am not finding my identity in what God, my creator who loves me and includes me and accepts me for who I am right at this moment, thinks of me. I am depending on what other people think (or what I think they think) of me to feel secure. Author and Speaker Tony Campolo says, “Whatever the most important person in your life thinks of you is what you’ll think of yourself.” If God is not that person, I am in big trouble. I love the slogan “What you think of me is none of my business.” It sounds rude at first, but is actually a giant relief. It means we can relax and stop trying to impress people around us. That we can do the right thing without worrying if others will agree with us. We can be “ok” even when other’s around us don’t think we are.

We can avoid an identity crisis because God’s love and affection and stamp of approval never falters. And we can stop buying people gum (and don’t quote me on this, but I am pretty sure God doesn’t even chew gum).