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

EVERYTHING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

Addiction, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

No more games

I am finally ready to admit it out loud: we are not a game playing family. There. It’s out there. For years we have tried to be game players. When my kids were younger we really tried to make this a fun family activity, even though we knew from the get-go that it would ultimately end in crying and blaming and possibly throwing of tiny little game pieces- and that was just from the parents! 😜 As a whole, none of us Get any enjoyment fromplaying board games. For a few years we humored the grandparents and played games like Uno or Kings in the Corner, but even that has died out recently. I myself don’t really hate cards, but you can only play so many games of solitaire. You really need more than one person to participate for any other type of game to be successful.

So, it’s official. We don’t like games. But I have to tell you that despite my disdain for games, I find myself inadvertently participating in certain games without even realizing I am playing. Usually it is happens when I disagree with someone else’s behavior or ideas or choices. Instead of letting them figure things out for themselves, I roll the dice when I stick my nose in their business and try to control or change the outcome. And even though I claim to be a “non-gamer”, I try to impose my will on them and force them to play my game by my rules. This is received with a resistance that is similar to what happens when I have tried to make my kids play board games when they’d rather be doing anything else.

Then, and this is where the real danger comes in, there are the games I get sucked into playing by those who love to play certain kinds of games.When someone wants to argue with me or provoke me and get a reaction out of me, I often find myself playing with them, even after I have declared myself to be game-free. Here’s what it looks like: Someone tries to engage me in something that really has nothing to do with me. Or they try to provoke me and get a reaction out of me or prove that I am wrong about something. I tell them I don’t want to argue about it, but continue to engage, discuss it or defend myself.

When I do this it’s like telling someone I don’t want to play catch. They ignore me and throw me the ball anyway. I catch it, throw it back, and repeat that I don’t want to play their game. This continues over and over until I realize, I am playing. The only way to let them know I am not playing is to let the ball roll past me the next time they throw it. Just like you can’t play tug-o-war unless you both people pick up the rope, you can’t have an argument unless more than one person is actively engaged in it. If I refuse to play, the game is over quickly.

Obviously, this doesn’t mean you never have reasonable conversations or disagreements with people. That’s part of life. I am talking about the times where it is truly not even about you or someone is acting selfish, hateful, irrational, angry, resentful, stubborn, arrogant or affected by substances that might make a mature discussion impossible. You can choose not to play. You can detach with love, separating yourself emotionally and spiritually from the other person. You don’t have to own their emotions or take responsibility for the fact that they have them (even if they insist you are the cause). And most importantly, you don’t have to “win.” Because you can’t.

A helpful response that I have heard suggested is to pleasantly say, “you may be right”, and walk away. That doesn’t mean they are right or that you think they are, but it acknowledges that the feelings and thoughts they are having are real for them. It gives them dignity, and often, that is all they were looking for in the first place. I have also heard it said that “most people don’t necessarily want to have their own way, they just want to have their own way considered.”

You have mostly likely heard the words of the Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. In this case, the “things” we cannot change are other people and how they think or feel. The “thing” we can change is ourselves and whether or not we get involved in the unhealthy games that others try to rope us in to playing.

God, today, give us the courage to focus on ourselves and make the choice to not catch that ball or pick up that rope.

 

Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

“Make me somthing”

Last week was my dad’s birthday. Every year, when I ask him what he wants for his birthday he gives me the same answer, without fail: make me something. He has been saying that since the era when making him something was adorable and memorable. When a 7 year old makes you something it’s a sweet story. When a 47 year old makes you something that looks like a 7 year old made it, it’s a sad story. But this year, I found a loophole. I did, in fact, make him something. I made a trip.

He lives an hour away. So the day before, as I was contemplating what in the world I could possibly make him to honor his annual request, it came to me that maybe I could drive up and have my mom bring him to a restaurant as I waited to surprise him for his birthday. I could make a trip. That seemed ever so much better than giving him a bedazzled keepsake box with pictures of all the grandkids glued on the lid (that was my most recent, and final attempt at making a craft for his bday). It worked perfectly! We got to spend lunch together and I had made him something as requested; win win.

My dad has most of what he could want or need and could buy anything for himself that I could afford to buy him. Which is why he always wants me to make him something. It occurs to me that more than likely, with the exception of younger children who sincerely expect gifts bought with cold hard cash at birthdays and Christmas, most people in your life would prefer that you make them something. That means that instead of another tie or CD or gift card, you give them something of yourself. Your heart. Your affection. Your kind words. Your time. Your undivided attention. Your devotion. Your confidentiality. Your support. Your honesty. Your tenderness. Your service. Your forgiveness. But I’ll tell you what. It’s a heck of a lot easier to just scan that credit card at the mall or click “add to cart” and call it a day. That kind of giving requires minimal energy and sentimentality. Very little emotional investment. Buying gifts is not bad, don’t get me wrong (or get me in trouble when you tell your loved one that Heather inspired you and they will not be getting actual gifts this year). But I’d challenge you to remember to view gift giving as a merely a tangible way to express your heart to those you care about. It’s not a good substitute for your love and all that comes with it.

As I was doing my reading for December 6th, which was my dad’s actual bday, the usual happened: what I was reading, perfectly lined up with what I needed to hear on that particular day. It pointed out that not only does my earthly father want me to make him something, so does my Heavenly Father. My reading from Jesus Calling, given from God’s perspective from scripture, says, “Men tend to multiply duties in their observance of religion. This practice enables them to give me money, time, and work without yielding up to Me what I desire the most-their hearts. Rules can be observed mechanically…they can be followed with minimal effort and almost no thought.” It requires far less of our mind, soul, and Will when we just go through the motions in our relationship with God. We can write a check or drop a few bucks in the basket at church. Even when some motions look good to others, like leading at church or volunteering or serving the poor or buying expensive presents for those we love….God sees the heart. And that’s the part of us He wants. He wants us to make him something by making ourselves available to him and vulnerable and real with Him. Those other kind of gifts are important, but if we give them without giving out of our very Beings, they have no value to Him.

What can you make for those you love? What can you make for God? Whether you are 7 or 47, when you give the gift of yourself, the value never depreciates, its one of a kind, and it won’t be stored away for the next White-Elephant gift exchange. 😜

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

Timing is everything

“The waiting is hardest part.” -Tom Petty (1950-2017)

It feels like it’s been a long time since I wrote last. Which is interesteing to me since I have been reflecting on the concept of “time and timing” over the past few days. These thoughts on timing came to me in a very profound and illuminating way as I sat on my couch…admiring my fingernails. They are rockin’ right now! They are long and strong and borderline dangerous to myself and others. But, this hasn’t been the case for the past two years. I think it was the chemo that caused my nails to be flimsy and splitting. They hardly grew at all, but if they did, they would soon peel or break. The perplexing thing is, I haven’t even been doing anything to remedy that problem. And all of a sudden, they are back to normal. It’s like my body finally got rid of whatever was in me that was causing them to shatter. Nothing profound, it was simply “time”.

Since then, everything I read seems to point me to time and timing. The longer I live, the more aware I am that so much of life is all about timing. Which is unfortunate, because I want what I want and I usually want it right now. I want to work out and be in shape by tomorrow or at least by the weekend. I want to read a self-help book and be organized, efficient and succcessful by the time I finish chapter one. And those are the simple wants. I also want to pray for the people I am worried or stressed about and see results in a reasonable amount of time (I like to be fair and give God a few weeks). I try my best to understand why some people seem to get “better” quicker than others. Whether it’s from cancer or mental illness or addiction or any kind of stronghold. The big question for me seems to be “how long, Oh Lord?”.

There is a saying in Recovery Programs that has a good answer for those who lament not arriving in the Program sooner. Someone new thinks of all the years they suffered alone, without any tools or people who understood their pain. An old-timer will tell them,  “you got here right on time.” Because timing is everything. If you show up before your soul is reading and willing to hear and receive help, it will fall on deaf ears. I think it’s this way in all of life, really. The Bible uses a couple phrases that indicate that there is a time for everything (not only from the populace song from Ecclesiastes and John Lennon telling us there is a time be born, a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, etc.). One is “the fullness of time” and the other is “for such a time as this”. Both imply that there are certain events and attitudes that have to be established before something can happen. Until all the pieces are in place, the results won’t come.

We have such limited knowledge and access to what those pieces look like. They are an accumulation of interactions, relationships, behaviors and choices of thousands of people. We are interwoven with one another in ways we will never know, yet will still be effected by. The ripples run far and wide.

This is helpful for me to remember because, as I said, I like to see some progress. I hate waiting (check out a previous blog on how i am a terrible Waiter). I read something the other day (because, of course, God gave me about 4 different readings that all addressed “time”. He is funny like that!) where the author said, “How often I still find myself impatient with the pace of life.  But today, when things don’t happen according to my schedule, I can accept that there may be a reason…I can keep in mind that waiting time does have to mean wasted time. Even times of stillness have lessons to teach me…I can accept the pace of change today, knowing it will bring both times of active involvement and periods of quiet waiting.”

My need to be in control severely hinders me from being a better Waiter. I want to control how other people change, how my circumstances change, how I change and most importantly at what rate it all happens. My need for immediate gratification doesn’t help either. “Now” is one of my favorite words.

An expert from Streams in the Desert says it this way: “Waiting on him exercises your gift of grace and tests your faith. Therefore, continue to wait in hope, for though the promise may linger, it will never come too late”. When I try to rush results or manipulate circumstances to go my way or on my agenda, I show complete lack of trust in God’s plan and demonstrate and exaggerated view of my own. Today I will let God set the pace.

But I trust in you, O lord; I say “you are my God, my times are in your hands.”
Psalm 31:14,15

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

God knows and sees: Good news or bad?

I love it when a good blog comes together. Well, whether or not it’s good is yet to be seen, but the topic itself is solid. Believe it or not, every once in a while I am at a loss about what to write. If there’s anything I have learned in this writing journey is that forcing a solution is a bad idea. If it doesn’t flow out of me in about 40 minutes from beginning to end with divine inspiration kicking it off, it ain’t gonna happen. I have actually had a Psalm in my head for a week or so and this morning, something else I read gave me a nugget of truth to help me integrate it into everyday living in a way I didn’t expect. First, Let’s take a look at Psalm 139.

Are you familiar with it? I think you might be. It contains that very popular verse that says, “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts; And see if there be any hurtful way in me, and lead me in the everlasting way.” But those verses are at the very end of another 22 verses in which David, the author, is expressing his gratitude and awe of how intimately God knows him. Knows us. It begins by listing all the ways in which God is familiar and involved with us. God searches us and knows us. He knows when we sit and rise. He understands our thoughts and scrutinizes us while awake and asleep. He nows what we will say before it comes out of our mouth. Whether I walk in the light of heaven or dwell in the depths of hell, He is there. Always there. Seems like good news, right?

The reading I was referring to is from Oswald Chambers and it acted as a springboard to talk a bit about the verses above: “Is it not penetrating to realize that God knows where we live, and the kennels we crawl into! He will hunt us up like a lightning flash! No human being knows human beings as God does.”

My first reaction to Psalm 139 when I read it a couple of weeks ago, was “Amazing. I love that I serve a God who knows me through and through and loves every single part of me.” But that was on a good day. Or a good moment. When my thoughts were somewhat God-focused and I was sitting on the couch in an empty house. I was glad He could sense my love and appreciation for all He is in my life. But what about when my kids and husband come home and start requiring things from me? Or when the lady at the grocery store is rude? Or when someone challenges me or insults me or, God forbid, doesn’t appreciate me?! Do I really want a God who knows all my thoughts or words that are getting ready to spill out of my mouth? That makes me squirm a bit.

And that’s when it hit me; our level of comfort about having a God who knows what we are thinking and how we are behaving at all times depends on the our understanding of God. I have been re-working this for a few years now. I used to get worked up about AA calling God “the God of our understanding”, until I realized that we all worship the God of our understanding. We all have influences and life experiences that we have allowed to shape our interpretation of God. And if we have  somehow concluded that God loves us Best when we behave or that He is keeping an eye on us so He can catch us being bad, then the idea of Him knowing every part of us is not a gift; it’s a threat.

I have had to come to a new understanding of God over the past few years. One that fits into the God presented in scripture as loving, serving, kind, patient, merciful, gracious, forgiving and understanding of humans because He once was one. I didn’t redefine who He actually is, I redefined my understanding of who I had imagined He was. My understanding at that time was based on flawed thinking and emotional reactions to formative relationships and events that had taken place throughout my life. I had to come to a place of understanding God as One who knows when I sit and stand and where I walk and sleep and what I think and feel and what I am about to say…and loves me anyway. All the time. No matter what.

If your God, the God of your understanding is anything outside the realm of pure love and grace, from Him and for others, I encourage you to search for a new god. Somewhere along the line you have lost sight of this Being that formed you and knows you and cherishes you to your core.

“I will give thanks to Thee, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

Wonderful are Thy works, And this my soul knows very well.”

Psalm 139:14

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

Peaceful Protest: Part 2 (Aka “The little red dress”)

About that dress…that red and pink dress I mentioned I was wearing while trying to remain low-profile as an observer at a protest last weekend…

I love that dress. I bought it at a second hand store to take with me on my trip to Paris a few months ago. It’s colorful and sassy and very French. Also, impossible to miss. I stood on the sidewalk, against the fenced parking lot as the protesters stood and began to make their way to another part of town. Another place to sit and repeat their message. The crowd consisted mostly of African Americans who, as I explained in my last blog, are “tired” and want the city to know it. It was a somber processional and I was reflecting on what I had just witnessed, when I realized someone was talking to me. An African American woman, about 20 years younger than me was passing by. And in the most unlikely of situations she says with a chipper tone and a smile, “Cute Dress!”. I replied in kind, “Thanks!”.

For several days I thought about the conclusion of this historic event. I knew it meant something but I wasn’t’ sure what. I even implored an explanation from my husband. His answer was good, but it wasn’t my answer. It took me a few days of reflecting and revisiting to figure out what that interaction meant to me. It’s a Recovery Principle that came to my mind: “Look for the similarities, not the differences.”

What does that mean exactly? It means that even in the middle of a protest, where emotions are high and differences are highlighted and on display, we can find a common ground. It means two girls can come together because of something as simple as Fashion Appreciation. In a world where uniqueness and doing things that set us apart in order to get attention, make money or rebel seems to rule, there is still a deeper desire for us to relate to one another. To find ways we are the same. As hard as we work to be different, our souls long to be connected and included.

It reminded me of a analogy outlined in the big book of AA. It’s a story about a great ocean liner sinking and how the passengers, “from steerage to Captain’s table”, rejoiced together upon being rescued. The author talks about how, within the Fellowship of AA, there is great diversity in regard to religion, race, occupation, and social, economical and political status. That they are a people who “normally would not mix” were it not for a common peril. And most importantly, a common solution.

This is the root of why I write. First and foremost, I try to remind us that, as fellow life-travelers, we also have a common Solution. Remember my mantra from the first 3 of the 12 Steps? “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.” Also, I hope to aid us in seeing where we are the same rather than feeling like we are the “only one”. I believe, that at our core of cores, we are more alike than we are different. Regardless of the diversities mentioned above, we all have felt the pangs and haunting of betrayal, hurt, unforgiveness, shame, and failure. We all long for belonging, acceptance, unconditional love, tolerance, kindness, patience, grace and understanding.

We are all doing the best we can at any given time. It’s time to be gracious with ourselves and others. We are all suffering from the common malady of being broken humans in a broken world. It’s time to show love and tolerance to people who don’t think exactly like we do. There are people all around us who are currently in grave and unfathomable pain. It’s time to assume that anyone you meet, especially those who are behaving poorly or reacting rudely, could be in such a place. As Oswald Chambers puts it, “there is always one fact more in every man’s case that, if you knew it, you would suspend judgment.”

It’s time to stop focusing on differences and the the things that keep us separate, and begin to open ourselves up the possibility that we are actually more alike than we ever imagined. And if it needs to start with acknowledging a little red dress at protest, so be it.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

Peaceful protest:It’s time to fight

A few months back I bought tickets for my husband and i to see a comedian in St. Louis this weekend. How could we have known that it would fall the day after a white police officer in that area was acquitted for shooting an African American teenager several years back? We ate a leisurely, lovely dinner at a suspiciously un-crowded restaurant across from the theatre. We knew there had been some rioting the day before and that a couple large concerts were cancelled, but it didn’t occur to us until after we ate to check in about the status of our event. The status? Cancelled. We had booked a hotel room and everything. Pretty disappointed, we decided to walk down the street and check out the area. Less than a block away, on the Delmar Loop, we could see we might be in for something we didn’t anticipate. Something historic and confusing and to be honest, a little intimidating.

We stood on the corner observing a fairly peaceful but emotional protest. At that time, there was chanting and occasional yelling or crying from the people on megaphones, standing in the middle of the intersection. A man to my right was standing on top of his car, in stopped traffic, eating his dinner from a styrofoam container, watching. We watched too. And I cannot fail to mention that I felt like a target for some sort of negative attention as I gawked in my red, hot-pink and white sundress and high heels. It was obvious that my reasons for being there were very different from theirs and I felt a tinge of embarrassment. Like I wasn’t taking this serious enough.

After a few minutes, an African American man walking past us started to engage us in conversation. I happened to be videoing with my phone at the time (along with hundreds of others in the crowd) and caught his words. I can’t stop thinking about them. He said, “They have to fight. They’re tired here.”

Does anybody else know how hard it is to fight when you are tired? I don’t pretend to have ever known anything like racial discrimination. Let’s make that clear up front. And I don’t mean to minimize the kind of “tired” that comes as result of generations of “fighting”. But for the purpose of personal reflection that we can all identify with, let’s just talk about that statement on another level for a few minutes.

This man’s words keep coming to my mind, days later, because I have to confess, I am “tired”. I have been tired for about 6 years. That’s when life as I knew it was flipped inside out, wadded up and smashed into smithereens. It didn’t happen over night, but it sure felt like it. I am sure you have had those defining moments in your life too. And unfortunately, the effects of it feel like a movie that never ends. Or at least one whose plot never quite resolves. In about a months time we changed jobs, friend groups and homes. Throughout this time, we battled the family disease of addiction. And just when I felt like I might be gaining some traction in the new-normal life, the disease of Leukemia descended on us as well. That just took the tired to a whole new level. Emotional and physical exhaustion have been threatening to over-take me for years.

But like the dude on the street points out, when you are tired is when it is most important to fight. And he would be correct. I have never been more tired, and I also have never fought harder to not be swallowed up by that tiredness. I have worked out my emotions with counselors and confidants. I have prayed and repented and forgiven and made amends. I have been humbled by my loss of status and my loss of hair. I have repaired some old friendships and built dozens of new ones. I have had to learn how to truly live and let live and let go and let God. I have had to re-learn things I always thought I believed because I realized my arrogant and self-righteous attitude had been keeping me from the real truth for decades. Fighting to un-learn what I thought I knew has been one of the hardest parts of the battle to date.

If you happen to be tired too, this is when it is most crucial that you engage in the fight. At times, it may look like a peaceful sit-in, but more than likely, it will occasionally require a violent removal of all you once thought you knew about life and love and God. But it will be worth it. Fight for, or against, whatever is necessary so that you can emerge from the battle rested and restored.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

Myself! Myself! Myself!

I was talking with a friend a couple of days ago who has a story that rivals any memoir I have ever read about dysfunctional families. I told her she should write her own book. She basically told me, “No way! I don’t want to sit down and think about any of that on purpose!”. I get it. I know the feeling. There are some things that we would rather not reflect on intentionally. I bring this up, because although it’s minor compared to much of what I avoid thinking about, I have been avoiding writing about my follow-up story from last weeks blog entry on Hypocrisy. I am not 100% sure why, but I have been finding a lot of other, more pressing things to fill my time. I have an inkling that it is because it was exhausting and profound and difficult.

So, let’s get on with it (read the previous entry if you haven’t already, otherwise I might sound crazier than usual). Last weekend I wasn’t not planning to write. It was early morning and I was heading out of town to do some Homecoming dress shopping with my daughter and mom. I had a couple hours to get ready. I was doing my typical reading routine when the topic fell in my lap. Hypocrisy. Do I really live like I believe what I say I believe? I say God can take away my fears and worries but do I let those feelings consume me? Refer to that blog for more lovely examples of my duplicity. I mentioned, as a solution, that I can pray “God, I am feeling worried about __________, I am turning my __________ over to you.” That’s practical. I can try that. That would help me at the very least, turn my attention to Someone more powerful than me who can actually help. I made a promise to put this in to practice in the future.

The curious thing about the future, is that it starts immediately. And so it did. Almost as soon as I posted my entry, I checked my emails. I saw one that scared me to death. My mind went in to full “figure it out” mode and my brain started spinning information around and around. It was fear mixed with worry mixed with a terrible sense of being powerless and having no control. And the (potential) consequences were huge. Of course, my head went to the worst case scenario and I literally felt sick and distracted and panicked. I have never had such an intense physical reaction to “information.”

But then….I remembered what I say I believe. And what I had just written. I had no choice. I had to practice what I preached if I could look any of you in face ever again. I knew I had an entire day to spend with two of my favorite people doing something fun and significant. I didn’t want to let my fear and worry of what might happen in the future hijack my serenity for the whole day. I have most definitely done that before, with deep regret. So I reviewed the first 3 steps of Recovery in my head. I have heard them summed up like this:

Step One: I CAN’T
Step Two: GOD CAN
Step Three: I THINK I’LL LET HIM

This became my mantra for the day. I said it out-loud and in my head at least 1,000 times. It would be lovely if once would cut it, but my tendency is to turn it over and take it back, turn it over and take it back. I find it amusing, and telling, that about half of those 1,000 recitations came out backwards the first time around. I would attempt to say it and I would say, “I can.  Wait, no, I mean, I can’t.” I just so badly want to think I can. I Can fix it. I can control it. I can change it. I can solve it.

When my oldest son was about 2 we took a swim class together. It was torture, for both of us. He couldn’t swim-at all-but he developed his own little mantra that echoed in the kiddie pool area for the entire lesson: “My-self My-self My-self!” He wanted me to let him down even though he couldn’t swim or touch. I knew this but he was not believing any of it. He was convinced he would be safe. I was just holding him back from success in his two-year-old mind.

This is my typical reaction to God when things get stressful. “My-self! My-self! My-self!” It’s a dangerous and naive reaction. But I have to tell you, that last Saturday, when stress and anxiety threatened my serenity and ability to be fully present with people I loved, I tried doing the opposite. And it worked. I still felt fear sneaking up on me throughout the day, beckoning me to jump in with both feet, but I chose differently. I chose to trust Him. I repeated “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him” until I climbed into bed that night and throughout the weekend. The situation was not and is not “fixed”, but my fears are diminished and I am not frozen with dread (does this happen to anyone else?).

I am determined to continue this practice of living as an Anti-Hypocrite. It’s much more palatable and will look much better on a T-shirt.

Addiction, Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, Relationships

“Goodwill Ranting”

Let’s talk about our feelings. Or, at least my feelings. I really am not good at identifying feelings. I have been through hours of therapy over the years and one of the biggest take-aways has been that I am terrible at addressing, accepting, identifying, acknowledging and sharing my feelings. I am really good at expressing my thoughts and opinions, but apparently, those aren’t the same thing. I am not lying when I tell you that I actually have a list I printed off a website (something like “Feelings for Dummies”) so I could peruse a list of feelings and check them off if I was experiencing them. Like Multiple Choice. So, now that I have laid the foundation for my entry today, let us continue…

Warning: this blog may be a bit “all over the place”, but that seems appropriate since we are talking about Feelings. Let me start by telling you about some of my history of not feeling or at least feeling emotions that are mis-labeled.

I remember having a conversation with my husband years ago about how angry I was at some friends. I was fired up and indignant about being left out of information I felt everyone else knew but me. I was ready to just move on and do life without any friends at all. Who needs em’!? My husband listened patiently for a bit and then said something like,” is it possible that your feelings are just hurt and that makes you sad?” And just like that, I burst into tears. He was right, I was sad and wounded. Anger just felt like a powerful way to express myself. Those other kinds of emotions feel vulnerable and that is extremely hard for me.

Next: When I had Leukemia and didn’t’ know it yet, there were several symptoms that were unexplainable. No one, including me, could put a finger on anything that might lead to a diagnosis or solution. I was tormented with possible scenarios. I was aware of myself enough to know that life had thrown our family some pretty big curve balls over the past couple of years and that I was barely coping with them. One symptom of my stress was that I didn’t feel anything at all. No highs. No lows. No joy, anger, relief, sadness, fear. It was all the same: numbness. I began to believe that maybe the permanent lump in my throat was a cluster of emotions that were “stuck” in me. That my many other symptoms were my bodies way of cluing me in that I had some junk that needed to be brought to the surface. I’d stuffed it down so long, it was logical to me that it would start manifesting itself physically. Unfortunately, it was actually Leukemia, but the other conclusion still makes sense to me.

Though I am getting better at identifying my emotions, mostly due to 12 Step recovery principles, I still struggle identifying, dealing with and accepting my emotions. I was reminded of this in full color when I was in California helping my college student get settled. More specifically, I was kicked in the teeth with the realization that I had been stuffing some significant feelings about him being 21, not needing me, living in an apartment and probably (and hopefully) never living at home again. And here’s the main problem with not dealing with your emotions as they come; they tend to sneak up and surprise you when you are not expecting them. Something cracks the dam and they come gushing out sideways in the middle of Goodwill over a $9.00 lamp and a $3.00 picture frame. You act like a lunatic because you chose to “deal with it later” when you felt that sadness and fear and concern come on you during the summer. But today is the “later” and you have dozens of emotions that are spinning in you like a tornado. And the damage is the same; random and powerful.

While I was in California, when circumstances were threatening to overwhelm me, a wise friend said “sometimes you just have to do your job. You can set your emotions on the shelf for a bit. They can come out later for a visit. But they can’t visit right now.” That was a very helpful perspective that got me through the next few hours of crucial decisions I had to make. But as I thought more about it, I said to her, “the problem for me is that I tend to forget to invite them to come for a visit so they just pop in and surprise me when I least expect it!” Like, in the middle of Goodwill, for pete’s sake.

As I sat to write this morning I prayed and asked God what exactly He wanted me to say. I was floundering a bit between a few struggles I have been having that I wanted to get out of my head. And, as usual, He showed me. I was leaning towards writing about this “Feelings” crap, but wasn’t convinced that’s what He had in mind. I turned to the reading for this date in my Recovery book and I started to cry. Here is what one of the paragraphs said:

“…I have learned that feelings aren’t shortcomings. The true nature of my problem was my stubborn refusal to acknowledge feelings, to accept them, and to let them go. I have very little power over what feelings arise, but what I chaos to do about them is my responsibility. Today I can accept my feelings, share about them with others, recognize that they are feelings, not facts, and then let them go.”

God gave me feelings and the ability, with His help, to handle each of them. Sequestering them on a shelf or shoving them deep down in my soul only leaves me susceptible to surprise visits. It’s ever so much easier to deal with my feelings one at a time. Maybe you struggle with this too. Let me know if you need my list of emotions for dummies and join me in doing the work of identifying, accepting and letting go of your feelings before they do what mine did last week. Trust me, it’s not pretty.

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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.