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…)

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).