Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

I’m OK. You’re (not) OK. That’s OK.

At first, I was struggling about what to say this morning. When I do my morning reading, I usually get a nudging or prompting from God about what to write about. More often than not, it is something I am personally working through, and it leans heavily toward ways my thinking has gone haywire. Today, just when I thought perhaps I had nothing to say, I connected the dots and in no time at all was snuggled on the couch with my IPad.

Let’s connect the dots together. Lately I have been having a hard time with being OK even when those around me are not OK (or at least not OK in the ways I want them to be OK). This way of living is disturbing to me. And that is an important and intentional way to say it: It is disturbing to me. Not to others. To me. When I allow what others do or say (or don’t do or say) to affect my peace of mind, I am allowing my own happiness and well-being to be determined by forces outside of myself. Depending on other people being OK for my OK-ness is dangerous, unsettling and exhausting.

I was reminded of this as I was lying in bed last night, not sleeping. I generally fall asleep pretty easily, but my son has had some issues getting to sleep so of course, like a responsible mother, I was laying in bed worrying about that on his behalf. Do you ever feel like that? That somehow fretting about those we care about is a requirement to prove ( To who? Not exactly sure.) that you really and truly care about them? This example is pretty minor. You can imagine what it can look like when people I know and love are in actual turmoil or battling a potentially terminal disease. It seems preposterous to consider that I could have a peaceful, happy and God forbid, fun, day or life when such circumstances are attached to people I care about.

I belong to a Recovery group that works the 12 Steps. The first step addresses this exact challenge (admitting you are powerless over ________ and that your life has become unmanageable) and I have read it out loud and studied it inside and out for about 6 years. And it’s still hard! You wanna know why? Because it is and always will be hard. Sometimes I act as if I will win if I just manage that thing, person or situation to death. But, because I am now aware of the solution, this mindset isn’t impossible to combat when I use the tools I have been introduced to. Here is a bit of that solution from some of the literature I draw from:

“…life is unmanageable whenever we lose perspective about what is and is not our responsibility. We take offense at actions that have nothing to do with us. Or we intervene where it is inappropriate and neglect our legitimate obligations to ourselves and others. Our misplaced concern for others becomes intrusive, meddling, resented, and doomed to failure. Instead of helping those we care about, we demonstrate a lack of respect for them or create discourse in our relationships.

When our preoccupation with others distracts us from our responsibilities to attend to our own physical, emotional, and spiritual health, we suffer. Our health and self-esteem decline. we become incapable of accepting reality, coping with change, or finding happiness.”

If you have been “preoccupied” in your mind with a loved one’s troubles or choices (whether they will make good ones or have already made ones you don’t agree with, which doesn’t always equal “bad”, by the way), neglecting your own health (forgetting to eat, over-eating, losing sleep, finding yourself immobilized or unable to have fun) or find yourself minding their business without invitation ( while forgetting to “mind” your own), it might be time to press “pause”. Pause in a quiet space and talk with God about what his will is for you. For you and only you. So much of the time I know I am missing it because my Being is consumed by the sayings and doings of others.

I have to learn to continually “let go and let God” take care of the people, places and things that are legitimately out of my control. I have a responsibility to live my one and only life with joy and passion and hope. I can be happy even when those I love are not. I can have a good day when those I care about are having a hard day. I can have peace in my soul even when others are at unrest and distressed.It’s called “detachment: separating myself emotionally and spiritually from other people”. It doesn’t mean I am irresponsible, indifferent, calloused or flippant about what others are experiencing. I can pray for them and extend kindness and love and appropriate help when it is welcomed. But ultimately, my serenity and contentment come from within me and can remain even when seas of anxiety and pain and stress swirl around me. It is indeed responsible, healthy, possible and desirable for me to be OK, even if you are not.

OK? OK.

Control, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

More on predicting the future (in case you have been arguing with me…)

This blog is for those of you who read my post last week and have been arguing in your head ever since. If you haven’t read it yet, take a minute to do that before you finish this or it might not make very much sense.

The previous blog was about how we have a human habit of getting ahead of ourselves and preparing for every possible (usually bad) outcome. We waste hours, perhaps days, of our lives occupying our minds with potential solutions to problems that may or may not ever come to pass. My answer for you was to stay out of the future. Be present and quit trying to plan how you might respond to events you have predicted with your limited knowledge and ability.

But some of you start questioning the irresponsibility of not thinking about the future. I mean, anyone knows that if you want to achieve a goal, you have to set one! You have to have a plan. You can’t just hope you will have enough money to go on vacation next summer or assume that the hotel you want will be available when you just show up expecting a room. Some forward thinking is necessary if we are to be functioning vs frustrating members of society.
Even though it might sound like I am contradicting myself, hang with me for a few…

A few months ago I had lunch with a very motivated and successful business woman who gets more done in a day than I do in a week, and with a fresh happy attitude and mounds of energy. It was hard to have a consistent conversation because every other person that walked by knew her and wanted to stop and say hello. I was fascinated. She was meeting with me to help me figure out how to promote my book, shortly after it was published. As we talked about several topics I write about in my blogs, this particular one came up. She thought about it a minute and said that she understood we should give it all up to God and not try to live in the future, but asked “how do we do that if we have meetings and events and conferences to plan? What does that look like?”.

I sat there for a minute and I feel like God gave me an answer that might help her, but for sure helped me: “Hold it loosely”.

James 4:13,14 says “Now listen, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow…what you ought to say is, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that.’ In other words, “Hold it loosely.”

It’s OK to plan. It’s probably necessary to plan most things. Sometimes even far in advance. Part of dreaming and hoping means pondering what the future might look like. But, what I have learned is that I don’t always know what I need or what is best for me. On multiple occasions I have not gotten what I wanted, been sore at God and the world about it, only to find that if I had gotten my way, it would have been disastrous! And there have also been many times that the results I did get, even though I had planned differently, turned out to be better than anything I could have concocted with my small scope of vision.

So relax. I am not advocating that we all live like hippies and give no thought to the future. But, as you plan, get God in there. That part is imperative. Make plans along with God, asking for him to show you his way and his will instead of doing it your way and asking him to bless it after the fact. And once you have made said plans/goal/resolutions, hold them loosely. God may have something entirely different and most likely better than anything you could imagine.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Serenity, Trust

Pull yourself together!

“Pour yourself a glass of wine, put on some lipstick and pull yourself together.”
-Elizabeth Taylor

Recently a friend gave me an adorable make-up pouch with that quote on it. I do whole-heartedly agree that lipstick is the cornerstone of all cosmetic collections, but that’s neither here nor there. There’s been some wildness going on in my head and heart lately, and today, as I admitted to God that I felt like I was going insane, He narrowed the tornado in my head down to the eye and in one word revealed the problem: control (or lack there-of).

You see, I have this chronic disease of trying to control; of trying to make people places and things around me OK so I can be OK. This approach leaves very little time and energy to enjoy my own life and explore what God has designed me to be and keeps me focused on, and actually obsessed, with the behavior, choices, lifestyle, successes, failures, problems, disappointments, and fears of people around me. Usually the ones I love the most. The problem is tow-fold, however. I am not the only one who suffers in this scenario. No one likes to feel that they are responsible for someone else’s well-being. And no one likes to be told-or as I like to say “encouraged”-to live their life according to someone elses’ plan. As a result, they end up feeling resentful and disrespected and certainly not loved.

After I prayed (more like “cried out” or “vented”) about how I felt like I was going crazy and simple could not handle all the problems and challenges my loved ones are facing, God finally showed up. Or should I say, I finally hit my bottom and surrendered, admitting that my way wasn’t working and He could finally get a word in…ya, maybe that’s more like it. A few quotes from my Recovery reading for today that helped me see clearly why my peace of mind had blown clean away:

“Surrender does not mean submission-it means I’m willing to stop fighting reality, to stop trying to do God’s part, and to do my own.”

“The best way I’ve found to invite serenity is to recognize that the world is in good hands.”

“Today I can be grateful that the earth will continue to revolve without any help from me. I am free to live my own life, safe in the knowledge that a Higher Power is taking care of the world, my loved ones and myself.”

“There is only one person I am responsible for, and that is me. There is only one person who can make my life as full as possible-that too, is me…today I will keep hands off and keep my focus where it belongs, on me.”

After I went to the index and read every single reading on surrender and control (about 10 readings-apparently other people struggle with this same disease), I had clarity for the first time in a long time. At the bottom of the page for today’s reading I wrote, “it feels irresponsible to enjoy my life unless my loved ones are enjoying theirs.” This belief is one I need to kick-out if I am ever to embrace and find joy in my one and only life.

I have to remember that God doesn’t have grandkids, He just has kids. And when I try to impose my Will on others, either directly by offering advice they didn’t ask for or indirectly (by praying to God that He do with them what I want done) then I am interfering with His perfect plan for them and missing out on His beautiful, exhilarating and personal plan for me.

It shoudn’t suprise me that when I went to my reading for today, Oswald Chambers entitled today’s entry, “Pull Yourself Together.” He wrote that in 1935, waaaaay before Elizabeth Taylor. His point was basically, “God is God and you are not.” And He’s “got this.”

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, Patience/waiting, Trust

“Sick and tired…”

Regardless of what you think of Bill Cosby, you have to admit that he has some pretty hilarious insights into parenting. When I was little we had a cassette tape of Bill Cosby, “Himself”. He did a little bit about How his mother was always “sick and tired” of this and “sick and tired” of that. And how tired always followed sick. He said, “worst beating of my life, my mother said ‘I am just sick…’ and I added ‘…and tired’. 😬

Well, I too am “sick and tired”. I am sick and tired of waiting (see previous blogs on Waiting to get a fuller picture of my battle with waiting) Because even though waiting implies that one is inactive and biding one’s time, it is actually much more involved and requires a lot of energy that I don’t always have. One definition of waiting is “to remain stationary in readiness or expectation.” Another is “to look forward expectantly or hold back expectantly.” Did you catch the repetition of the word expectant? In other words, you are waiting for what is being waited on. You might be waiting for a train that is coming (looking forward expectantly) or waiting for a chance to strike (holding back expectantly). Either way you look at it, waiting is actually a pretty intentional and intense state of being.

You may be wondering what I am sick and tired of waiting for. On the surface, it has to do with the fact that for 5 whole days I have been exercising and watching what I eat and drink to the point of sacrifice-and I haven’t shed one single solitary pound. Some might argue that it isn’t all about the weight. I had that argument as well. So I measured my arms, legs, belly, etc. Nope. Nada. Exactly the same. And sheesh, after 5 days, shouldn’t their be some reward? But like I said, that’s just the surface stuff. There are several other areas of my life that I am starting to getting impatient about. My timing and God’s timing just don’t seem to be coinciding. Most likely because my timing is always “by the weekend”.

As I mentioned, another component of waiting is the thing we are waiting for. Unfortunately, we usually have hopes and desires for what that will look like, but know that ultimately we can’t control the outcome. At least when it comes to changing ourselves. All we can do is the footwork, the inner-self-soul-work and see what happens. Just because we read, pray, study, and practice living a spiritually and emotionally healthy lifestyle, it doesn’t guarantee that the results will meet our expectations. Our marriage may not improve in the areas we want it to. Our friendships might need to be altered or abandoned. Our job might not be salvageable. Our kids may still rebel or refuse to reconcile with us. We simply can’t control that “thing” that is being waited for; the results that are yet unrealized.

Boy. Now we are all super-depressed. 😔

It’s just a truth of life that “time takes time” and even as we wait for the fulfillment of that “time”, we wait with expectation. It doesn’t mean we need to stew and worry about what is to come, it means we do what we can and leave the results up to God. Trusting that His timing is perfect and remembering that there are other people in the world whose lives might depend on the timing of mine (Imagine that! The world doesn’t revolve around me?!?!) are a couple practices that bring me to a place of acceptance for where my life is today.

I don’t have to like waiting for positive changes. But I can choose to live with a state of mind that accepts that time can’t be rushed.  That I have very little control over the exact results, but that I can continue to participate in the practices that might eventually bring about positive changes in my own little world.

Without the perspective that comes from trusting that a Power greater than ourselves (who I call God) has a plan that weaves my little Heather-plans together with all of your plans to fulfill His plans, we will indeed be “sick and tired.”

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

Grateful for air-conditioning

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

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

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

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

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

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

My “past-life”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Faith/Spirituality, gratitude, Trust

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

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

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

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

Nice attitude, right?

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

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

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

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

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

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

Are you coming on the Expedition?

I am going on a journey. If you want to come with me we can call it an Expedition (which sounds much more adventurous!): a journey or voyage undertaken by a group of people with a particular purpose. I told you in my last blog (https://heathercarterwrites.com/2018/05/30/i-left-it-in-montana/ ) that I am going to get my “skip” back. If you have noticed that yours has gone missing too, then stay connected for at least the next few entries and maybe we can rediscover it.

As I said, incorporating “play” into the daily minutia of life is challenging for me. And that’s putting it mildly. My plan is to explore some areas of my life and heart that have squelched my playful, light and fun self. I am very aware that I will need God’s spirit as my guide and as luck/fate would have it, He showed up right on time.

I am singing at church this weekend, and as usual, after I practice the songs ahead of time and sing them 3 or 4 times at rehearsal, I sing them in my sleep! Last night I was restless and woke up several times. I can typically choose from a plethora of things to worry about as soon as wake, but last night, since I had been at rehearsal earlier that evening, my first thoughts went to the lyrics of the songs.

I don’t think it’s an accident that the titles were as follows: Your Promises, I Surrender, Build My Life and Trust It All. Here are some of the phrases that came effortlessly to my mind:

“Doesn’t matter what I feel. Doesn’t matter what I see. My hope will always be, Your promises to me. Now I’m casting out all fear, for your love has set me free, my hope will always be, Your promises to me.”

“You are everything, everything. You are all I need, all I need. I trust it all to you.”

“My life is in your hands…I trust it all…I trust it all to. My dreams and all my plans…I trust it all, I trust it all.”

“I surrender, I surrender, I surrender all to you.”

“I will build my life upon your love, you are a firm foundation. I will put my trust in you alone and I will not be shaken.”

So-here’s what that taught me about light-hearted play and getting my skip back: it’s exhausting to try to skip when you’re carrying something ( or things) heavy. When I was young, playing was effortless because I wasn’t carrying around a collection of worries, fears, burdens, hurts and resentments. I have been collecting them over the years. Oh sure, I give God the stuff that I know without a doubt I can’t lift, but keep all the “little” items and try to carry them myself. I wouldn’t want to over-tax an all-powerful God.

As a result, my ability to skip has been depleted. SO-Step ( do not read “rule”, because these are merely my ideas and are probably flawed, like me ) #1 for getting my skip back, is to trust God and let him take care of my circumstances, my loved ones, my enemies, my efforts and their outcomes. If I can unload what was never mine to carry, I will be off to a good start. Are you comin?

Anxiety/Worry, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

Certain Uncertainty (A.k.a Berkeley’s graduating)

I am sitting in the lobby of a hotel in Southern California trying to block out an obnoxious talk show on the TV. I am trying to wrap my brain around the reality that my oldest son, Berkeley, is graduating from college tomorrow night (for those of you who know him, pause to let that sink in for a moment…). He is graduating with a degree in Cinema Arts and Film so you can probably deduce that he will be hanging around Southern California a bit longer. Springfield, Illinois is not a hotbed of opportunity for utilizing said degree. And it probably won’t come as a surprise that we are all feeling just a little anxious and occasionally scared to death about his future. That’s pretty normal for a kid whose life has been subject to grades and deadlines for projects and papers for the past 16 years. What’s a boy to do now?

The fear that threatens to steal my sleep is arrested when I remember, and believe, that even though the future is uncertain, God is not. My buddy Oswald Chambers laid it out for me in words that give me clarity and comfort: “To be certain of God means that we are uncertain in all our ways, we do not know what a day may bring forth. This is generally said with a sigh of sadness, it should be rather an expression of breathless expectation. We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God.” I am so obsessed with and insistent on knowing. Knowing why this or that happened, what is going on now and what is coming or not coming my way. I ruthlessly pursue omniscience (being “all-knowing” like God himself).

A friend of mine reminds me regularly that “either God is, or he isn’t”. In other words, either you can trust him for everything or nothing at all. If I can’t trust him with my future, or the future of those I love, then trusting him for the present is a joke.

My job is to draw close to God. To put myself under his care every day in every situation with everyone I love and everyone I have trouble loving. All I can manage is this present moment, and even that seems questionable at times. I am hardly ever certain, even of what I am doing at that very moment. But what I can know, and all I really have to know, is who God is and that he is trustworthy. That doesn’t mean I won’t feel apprehensive about that once in a while. My human nature still tempts me to play God.

Around our house, there is a running joke aimed cruelly at me (and maybe a few of my friends), that I am “not always right, but always certain.” I may be completely off-base or flat-out wrong, but I will fight tooth and nail to get my way or have others acknowledge that I know what the heck I am talking about. No comment. But, what I really really long to be, is certain in uncertainty. Certain of God in the face of an uncertain future. Jesus said, “Believe also in me”, not “believe certain things about me.”

I will try to practice what Oswald suggests:

“leave the whole thing to Him, it is gloriously uncertain how He will come in, but He will come. remain loyal to Him.”