Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Relationships

Here’s to you, Vismay…

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

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

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

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

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

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

God is again showing me:

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

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

 

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Recovery, Relationships

What’s more NOT on your calendar?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“what’s NOT on your calendar?”

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

Your own weird anniversary

I have admitted to you in the past, that I tend to put an abnormally high value on significant dates. Birthdays for sure, but anniversaries of any kind also fit nicely into my mild disorder. And I’m not talking about the kind of anniversaries they make hallmark cards for. Unfortunately, most of the anniversaries are not ones that anyone would want to celebrate, because they, as a general rule, mark a day (or hour) in time that a traumatic event changed the course of my unsuspecting life. February 6th, 2015 was one such day. It was the day I sat in my kitchen while a doctor informed me, over the phone, that I had Leukemia.

For the past 3 years I have been acutely aware of the coming and going of this particular date. Each year, I feel the need to do something on that exact day that helps me recognize it. I know it sounds weird that I want to remember that day at all. My family sure doesn’t. On the first anniversary of my diagnosis, I made my kids and husband go eat at the hospital with me. I spent so much time there that it felt like a good way to celebrate not being there anymore. They were less than enthusiastic about this. Apparently they would prefer to forget any of it happened at all. It was horrific and hard for them and they have no interest in “celebrating” anything to do with it. But for me, as the person who was fully “invested” in it non-stop for 7 months and sat in a hospital bed for 70 days, it was necessary to go back. To relive, in a sense. To even honor and revere the events of that daunting day. Because today, though Leukemia changed my life forever, it holds no power over me.

This year, on my 3 year anniversary of being diagnosed, I decided not to involve my family in my weird little commemoration. I went to lunch by myself at the hospital cafeteria, like I had done dozens of times during my treatments. Then I went up to 2E, the floor where I had stayed in 10 different rooms over 7 months. Now, at the risk of implying that the world revolves around me, I find it interesting that it is being remodeled and on that exact day, actually about that hour, they officially closed and locked the doors. Everyone had been moved to a different floor. No more walking, again, the floors that I had paced a thousand times, trying to keep my strength up. Nothing would ever look the same and I had no more visual to bring me back to that point in time that feels frozen, sealed off, set apart.

I made my way up to the 4th floor, where they had re-stationed all the nurses. I knew I needed to connect with them. Thank them, on this anniversary, for their compassion and kindness. I got to see three of the nurses who were there for me during my entire 7 month battle. One of the nurses I saw that day was also on shift the night we came in 3 years before; fully in shock and shook to our core. She just kept telling us that it was going to be ok. This is just a bump in the road and we were all going to get past it. Just a little detour. I don’t know why, but I believed her. How else could I move forward?

Today we are indeed past it. But make no mistake, it will never be something I will chose to forget. It’s impossible. The reason I feel compelled to look back and remember, is because I am aware (on some days, more than others) that God used the disease of cancer to root out a cancer in me that has nothing to do with cancer. If you have read any of my blogs, by now, you know exactly what I mean by that. To date, I have written (the ability to write is a gift I was given by God only upon my diagnosis) over 400 blogs addressing the common diseases of the heart and the various remedies I have found to combat them. So, even though my battle with Leukemia is over, my battle against fear, worry, anger, and control is chronic. It takes daily doses of prayer, meditation and vulnerability with God and you all, to have any kind of success in combatting such plagues.

Looking back reminds me that God and I have a track record. When I trust Him, He shows up. When I ask him to help me learn from the hard stuff, He accommodates. When I beg him for peace in the midst of painful experiences, He comforts me. When I allow Him, He uses my dark and embarrassing past to encourage friends, family and strangers who thought they were unique in their depravity.

Don’t be afraid to look back, but don’t live there. Do it with a sense of awe and reverence and gratitude for where you are now. You are exactly who and where you are supposed to be. If you don’t have one already, God wants to develop a track record of trust with you, starting today. Let this date (write down: February 22nd, 2018) mark the day you chose to let Him use your whole life, the good the bad and the ugly, to bring His light and love and hope to desperate and hurting people.

…Now you have your own weird little anniversary to celebrate 🤗

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.