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.”

Anxiety/Worry, Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Everybody just calm down…

I’ve been trying something new lately. In the morning, before I get out of bed, I put on a 6-10 minute mediation and spend some time getting mentally and spiritually prepared for the day (it doesn’t hurt that I also get to lay there for an extra few minutes…I’m a mixed bag of motives). This morning, about a minute into this practice, my time was hijacked by a persistent cat trying to claw its way into my daughter’s bedroom. It was the equivalent to a person knocking and knocking without pause. My cat, Sunny Day, is adorable and cuddly and extremely old and this morning, very annoying. I tried to continue to focus on the words of the meditation and the music and allowing God’s spirit to enlighten me, but all I kept thinking was that I wanted to strangle my cat and scream at my daughter to just let her in already! Eventually I had to quit and go open the door. It felt useless to lay there and fight it. I gave up.

Instead, I went to my spot on the couch, in an upright position (curse you, Sunny Day!) to do some reading. Per usual, as I was reading Brene’ Brown, she just happened to be addressing the importance of cultivating calm and stillness of mind and heart; meditation. I think most of us can agree that there are great benefits of doing so. Having just written a bit about just such a topic a few days ago, I was especially intrigued by something the she pointed out about one of our biggest obstacles to actually following through with this practice: fear. She points at that “if we stop long enough to create a quiet emotional clearing, the truth of our lives will invariably catch up with us. We convince ourselves that if we stay busy enough and keep moving, reality won’t be able to keep up”.

The truth is, that even though I know the importance of quieting myself and being still before my God, the very idea of “creating an emotional clearing” for Him to speak or soothe gives me much anxiety. In trying to incorporate a practice to help me less anxious, I end up feeling restless and jumpy because I so do not like to be still. Why? Because I am afraid. Afraid of what He might say if we get alone together. Afraid he might tell me to “go” do something or “stop” doing something or worse, do “nothing”. Just let Him take care of it and just chill out for a half-second.

I have a friend (and it’s probably not you, but it might sound like you) who says that when she is home alone, she turns all the TVs on because she hates it when it’s quiet. She can’t handle it. She’s terrified of silence. So as she cleans or works from room to room, her mind is consistently distracted and occupied with other people’s problems, drama, or scandal. She can focus on someone else’s junk and intentionally leave no “clearing” or space for silent reflection on her own life. I can be guilty of that in my own ways. Endlessly searching for a decent song on the radio while driving to my next appointment, 3 minutes away. Laying in bed, scrolling through Netflix to find my next new series to occupy my mind until sleep comes. Scouring websites to find an essential oil that will help me lose post-cancer weight (there isn’t one, btw…). You might be able to throw in a couple examples I haven’t even thought of!

My point is this: do not be afraid. Do not be afraid to slow down. To get un-busy. To be alone. To be quiet in your own home, in your own head. In order to do this, it is imperative that you choose to believe that God loves you, knows you and longs to just “be” there with you. God isn’t waiting to get you alone so He can shame you or lecture you. Most of us do that to ourselves pretty effectively when we slow down enough to reflect on our behavior or attitudes. But God is not like that. He is kind and gentle of heart. And though he may bring to mind a stronghold (some character defect that “holds you strong”) he wants to relieve you of, He is always gracious, generous, and forgiving. We don’t have to be nervous about being alone with Him. You may very well hear a tender whisper telling you you are OK just as you are. That who you are today is enough. That where you are today is exactly where He intends for you to be. Take it one moment at a time and He will be with you.

It occurs to me that most of my attempts at quiet reflection are similar to my time in bed this morning, with Sunny Day relentlessly pawing at my daughter’s door. Life is distracting. As they say, “the struggle is real.” We can’t control whether random thoughts, unwelcomed emotions, or self-accusations come pounding on the door of our mind when we try to shut them out. All we can do is keep getting back to the business of ignoring them and putting our energy into focusing on what we love, what we are grateful for, and that God hears and sees us. He cherishes us. In doing that, we let go of fear and embrace the “peace that passes understanding”.

In Isaiah 30:15 God says to His people, “When you come to me, you will find rest and safety. When you are quiet and trust Me, you will find strength.” Remember that we are His people too.

Faith/Spirituality, Trust

Napa Strong (or “A Walk in the Clouds”)

I have been home from sunny Napa Valley for 4 days now. Since I got home to Illinois we have had spells of sunshine, thunderstorms and on Easter, it snowed. I just need you to feel sorry for me for a minute or two…

I had beautiful trip last week. My mom and 2 college friends and I spent a week “playing”. We toured wineries, ate exquisite food and stayed up way past a responsible bedtime watching movies and eating a variety of salty and sweet snacks. Every night for five nights. It was heavenly.

One afternoon we headed up Mt. Veeder to one of my favorite wineries: Hess. It is a rustic winery located up a windy, narrow road, nestled in the side of the mountain, making you feel like you’re in Tuscany. I love this winery because it also boasts a 3 story art museum, making it worth the trip to it’s isolated location, away from most other wineries in the valley (perhaps to give tourists something to do between tasting lots of wine and driving down a curvy road?).  On the drive up, there were several vineyards along the hillside. I mentioned to my crew that I thought I remembered the movie “A Walk in the Clouds” (with Keanu Reeves) was filmed there. Anyone else remember that one? If you never saw it, or don’t want to admit that you did, there is a scene where a vineyard catches on fire. The fire roars through the vines and ends with the vineyard being destroyed completely. Everyone is devastated.

When I brought this up, my mom said that my when my dad saw that movie, he was a bit put off because “vineyards don’t burn like that.” Not realistic, in other words. And lest you think my dad’s wisdom may not carry enough weight for those of you who don’t know him, this exact fact was confirmed when we were doing our tasting at the winery. We asked if this is where “A Walk in the Clouds” was filmed and he didn’t miss a beat. Before he even answered our question he went on a rant about how inauthentic it was because “vineyards don’t catch on fire like that!” I was confused about that because everyone (who didn’t live in Napa) had been panicking about the Napa fires that ravaged the Valley in October, worrying about the future of the hundreds of wineries in the area. But now that I think about it, there wasn’t much coverage about the vineyards themselves being threatened (maybe from the smoke and ash, but not the fire). Those of us who don’t live there worried about that, but locals knew better.

So why is that? And how did I grow up in Napa and miss that vital bit of information??? I was perplexed about this and started to ask more questions and read a bit about it. From what I gathered, there are two important characteristics of a well-maintained vineyard that protect it and keep it from going up in flames; it is irrigated and free of debris.

Naturally, my blog brain went to town. If we are like this vineyard, often threatened by flames of tragedy and trials and trouble, we too need to be irrigated and free of debris.

Irrigation is different from just being watered. It is a slow, steady releasing of moisture so that a perfect balance of wet and dry is maintained at all times. It’s not like how I water my yard in the summer: Green grass. Hot weather. Forget to water. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Green grass. Forget to water. Brown grass. Forget to water. Water. Water. Water. Too late. Dead grass. Irrigation prevents those extremes and keeps a nice steady flow going, protecting it from the flames that surround it. I have mentioned before that our best defense against outside stressors is to keep in daily (meaning, all-day-every-day) communication with God. He needs to be our supernatural drip system. Sure we can come to him after period of dryness and get ourselves greened up, but the roller coaster of drought and panic-watering is exhausting and doesn’t give us that general sense of peace and poise that marks the life of one who is continually looking to God as their sustenance and protection. This means we can be connected to him throughout our day-trusting him, seeing others through his eyes, and interpreting circumstances with his perspective. It is much more effective than doing life on our own until the fire starts to threaten us and then trying to keep it at bay with “buckets of water”. If we stay irrigated, communing with God day in and day out, we don’t need to fear the fires that otherwise threaten us when we get dried up.

Free of debris. I love that. Keeping our lives free from the debris and clutter that distracts us from keeping our vineyard safe. This could include so many parts of living in our world, it’s hard to put my finger on anything particular. Maybe it’s different for everyone. Do you have character defects (selfishness, self-righteousness, greed, envy, self-pity, dishonesty, etc.) that are attracting the flames? Or maybe it’s all good stuff, just in the wrong order. Instead of God, Heather, Blake, my kids and then everyone else, I sometimes live like it’s Heather, everyone else, Blake, my kids, and then God. Keeping God as my top priority keeps the debris away. Or maybe it’s just outright sin. Is your life cluttered and ready to go up in flames due to an affair, a shady business deal, an arrogant, divisive attitude at your church, an abusive tongue that is devastating your wife/husband/kids? Whatever your debris is, rid yourself of it. Clear it out quickly and finally. It is dangerous and invites the fires that God longs to protect you from.

During the fires that threatened everyone in the Napa Valley, one of my family members, who is an amazing artist, created a logo for t-shirts, stickers and hats that were sold to raise funds to help the families who lost their homes. It said “Napa Strong”. So that’s my charge to you and to me. A Mantra, if you will. Be “Napa Strong”. Use that phrase to remind yourself that you (the vineyard) will maintain a natural fire-wall if you keep your self “irrigated and free of debris”.