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”.

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

“Act as if”

“Easier said than done”, or in my case, “easier blogged than believed”. It’s ever so much easier for me to write about wise ways to live than it is to actually live them out in my daily life. The other day my son came in the room while I was working and asked what I was doing. I told him I was editing my book to get it ready for publication. His response? “You’re writing a book?” I told him that indeed I was and that maybe he should read a few of my blogs sometime. His next response? “I don’t need to read it. I live it.” I suggested that he go ahead and read it because my blogging self is much wiser and more put-together than the mom sitting before him.

In any case, I am embarrassed to admit how different my written responses and my natural life responses can be. Today I am choosing to do it differently. I caught myself early in the day, so thankfully, I just might be able to have a day that I don’t end up regretting by bedtime. I found myself anxious and worried about a variety of things that are not going my way (translation: things are not going the way I think they should go for those around me). I don’t understand decisions or actions that have effected or been made my people I love. And to be honest, I am sort of honked-off about it. Well, at first I was sad. I cried a little and did a lot of whimpering and whining in God’s direction (I’ll get to the part about how I am doing it different in a minute).

I’d been planning to write this morning, so this was really throwing a wrench in my plan for a lighter subject. But as usual, God uses my poor reactions and bratty behavior to help other people either avoid it for themselves or help them realize “they’re not the only one.”

So, to get to the point of how I am choosing to do it differently…
I choose to “act as if.” I will “act as if” I actually trust God and His plan. His plan for me and for those I love, and even for those I don’t like very much. I used to think that meant I was being inauthentic or fake. But I have come to understand it as a gesture of gratitude and trust.  An acknowledgement of the track record that God and I have developed. One in which he actually does take care of me. Every. Single. Time.

I can write/say that I trust that God knows the big picture and has a plan that is bigger than the details of my life. I can write/say that sometimes difficult circumstances and disappointments can lead me to maturity and growth that can be experienced in no other way. I can write/say that I can live with a sense of joy and serenity, even when my life doesn’t look like what I wish it looked like. I can write/say that I don’t have to be in control of everything and everyone in order to feel secure. But…when push comes to shove, I have to confess to you that I have spent many a day tangled up in knots of fear, worry, anxiety and despair. I forget to “act as if” all my words, whether written or spoken, are actually true.

As I said, today I choose to try a different route. One that might lead me to the peace that passes understanding. And if I practice “acting as if”  often enough, it will bridge the gap between how I want to live and how actually live. And maybe I won’t have to “act” anymore.

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 🤗

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

FOCUS!

I have a lot to do today. A lot of odds and ends; phone calls and appointments to make, follow ups on work and school activities, straightening after a weekend of ignoring household duties. All these duties are causing me to feel a bit flustered in my head and frozen on the couch, unable to sort everything out and make a go of any of it. From past experience (read: from doing it the wrong way over and over until I learned a bit of a lesson) I know that my day would continue on like this unless I pause and pray and “get God in there.” So I forced myself to pick up some books and start reading, getting out of my head and listening to what God might have to say to me.

I read a couple entries in my usual books and then one in a book I started reading again after a 14 year respite. It’s called “Jesus Life coach” by Laura Beth Jones. Every chapter starts off with the phrase, “With Jesus as your Life Coach you will…”. On this particular day’s reading it said that I would “Keep My Focus.” Well, that would certainly be helpful on this fine, snowy, scatter-brained Monday morning. Jones is a motivational writer and speaker, so she her main point is about finding that one thing that keeps you going and eliminating all distractions that prevent you from staying on task and being successful.  She uses Jesus’ laser-like focus on his mission, ya know, to save the planet, as motivation for us to also stay focused on what we are called to do or be in this life.

I am not arguing with her, since most organizations sink or swim based on knowing what there one thing is. But as a woman who is, at best, average at most endeavors, I have always struggled to identify my one thing. I am the quintessential “Jackof-all-trades, master of none.”

But then…

I moved on to my next reading by author Sarah Young, who writes using God’s words to us from scripture. And I kid you not-this was her opening sentence for January 29th: KEEP YOUR FOCUS ON ME (caps all hers)…let the goal of this day be to bring every thought captive to me…I will guard you and keep you in constant peace as you focus your mind on me.”

Bless God’s heart. He knows I don’t have it in me to read between the lines today. He had to repeat himself and capitalize it. Lucky for me, and maybe you, I didn’t miss the point. At least this was the point I believe he was making for me: His will for me and for my life IS the “one thing.” It overrides every other venture, goal or practice.

Think back on your life thus far. You have had gone down multiple paths that took large amounts of your time and energy and passion. Most of them were probably very good things. But we are, by nature, continuously changing and morphing. What used to light your fire just doesn’t do it for you anymore. That’s ok. It’s meant to be that way. So to hang your sign on any one door is unreasonable. There’s an ebb and flow to life that needs to be leaned in to.

There is only one constant. One over-arching awareness that must influence our every thought: God’s will for us and the power to carry that out. It must infiltrate every nook and cranny of our lives. Sometimes we have to discern His will for us in some pretty serious ways. But what I have found is that most days I just have to live out his will for me in all the tiny, seemingly insignificant encounters of my day. How did I react to the snippy sales clerk? Did I let that rude driver steal my serenity? Did my car breaking down cause me to question God’s love for me? And what about in our relationships?  Did I respond with compassion toward my discouraged teenager? Did I reach out to the friend who lost her job? Her husband? Her identity? Did I make a phone call to someone I know who is depressed or discouraged?

In the midst of all my muddled striving to make a big difference in this world, my consistent focus on God and seeking his will for me must be crystal clear.  What I accomplish in this world is significant, but also temporary and fleeting. My primary purpose, my one thing,  is to let God’s Will for me totally dominate (rule, govern, direct, be in the driver’s seat, be at the helm of, rule the roost, wear the pants 😉).<<
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Anxiety/Worry, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Trust

The secret

Almost 2,000 years ago, a guy named Paul said, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether in plenty or in want.” One might ask, how hard could his life have been in 62AD? The guy wasn’t married and didn’t have kids (need I say more?). He wasn’t slandered on social media or demeaned in the tabloids. However, a bit of history tells us he did endure a few minor inconveniences. During his short time of ministry, after God intervened and transformed him from a murderer to a missionary, he was flogged, imprisoned, beaten with rods, stoned and shipwrecked (most of them on more than one occasion). He was in danger from “rivers, bandits, his own countrymen and religious leaders.” He often went without food, sleep, water and clothing. Oh, and then there’s the anxiety from trying to spread the good news of God’s love to a people who he used to persecute and kill for believing that very thing. OK-I guess his trials and stressors might “win” over mine.

But somehow, Paul was able to find the secret to being content in all these circumstances. He credits two beliefs; 1) that he can do all things through Him, God, who give him strength and 2) he trusts that God will meet all his needs according to his glorious riches in Jesus. What amazing faith and assurance he had!

Still, I have to be honest with you about something. Even though I say I believe what Paul believes, those two “secrets” I mentioned above, I don’t alway live like I do. I don’t act as if I really believe those words for myself. In fact, here’s the reality of what I think much of the time:

I don’t want God to take care of me so I can be OK no matter what my circumstances,
I want him to make my circumstances OK so I can easily take care of myself.

That’s pretty embarrassing to say out loud. I really wish I was better than that. But my humanness and desire to be comfortable and happy and for everyone around me to behave and flourish, really gets in the way of trusting God no matter what. Being content no matter what. It’s scary when I realize that mostly I just want God to orchestrate my life so I don’t need Him so much. I mean, wouldn’t that be easier for Him anyway? He has a lot of people to help, after all. Would it be so hard to just set me on a comfortable cruising speed and let me manage things myself?

Trying to wrap this up seems a little redundant. It’s not like we haven’t figured out what must be done. There is no new information. Life is good. And sometimes it’s not. End of story. I can either complain about the times times that are “not” or turn to God for strength to get through them, trusting that He will meet all my needs according to his glorious riches. I can forget about Him when circumstances are good or I can acknowledge that every good and perfect gift comes from God. I can choose to live with a grateful heart.

Whether my circumstances are pleasant or pressing, depending on God and staying in tight communication with Him are the only solutions that help me tap in to Paul’s “secret” to contentment.

 

 

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

Surefire weight-loss plan

Let’s get straight to the point. Today, I feel heavy. But not nearly as heavy as I did yesterday. I am referring to excess weight, but not the fat kind; the heart kind. I was feeling overwhelmed with obsessive thoughts about everything and everyone in my life that I can’t control. Worry and fear and a healthy dose of self-pity were paralyzing me. I couldn’t muster one positive thought or tap into even a tiny a nugget of hope. I read and prayed furiously, looking for something, anything, that might give me some relief from the despair that was consuming me.

Like I said, I am a bit lighter today. After a morning of asking God for help, he showed me, or reminded me, of a song. This memory was triggered by an entry by Sarah Young in my daily reading:

God says to us “Hope in Me, and you will be protected from depression and self- pity. Hope is like a golden cord connecting you to heaven. The more you cling to this cord, the more I bear the weight of your burdens; thus, you are lightened. Heaviness is not of my kingdom. Cling to hope, and My rays of Light will reach you through the darkness.”

This message was sorely needed for me, but it’s a message I know in my head already. It wasn’t enough just to know the truth. I had to practice something different. And that “different” was revealed to me when I brought up the words to a song from my past: Garments of Praise.

The chorus begins:  Put on the garment of praise, for the spirit of heaviness.

As I began to explore what that might mean for me, what promise I could cling to so I could lighten up, I began the process of shedding the weight. I thought about writing it down as soon as it occurred to me what I needed to do. But then, I decided to actually do it so I could give some evidence of success (clearly, I still had my doubts about whether this simple plan would help at all). So what did I do? I stopped. I stopped praying for God to help or fix all the things/people that I wanted him to change/improve/empower, and I intentionally fixed my gaze on Him. I began by putting on the Garment of Praise song (Robin Marks) and sang with all my heart (the end of it has sort of an Irish jig feel, so you can even do a bit of River-dancing/clogging if you’re in decent shape!). The song has words that helped me express my desire to be comforted and refreshed and healed:

Make these broken weary bones
Rise to dance again
Wet this dry and thirsty land
With a river
Lord our eyes are fixed on you
We are waiting
For your garland of grace
As we praise your name

But it’s very hard to praise someone, namely God, when you are consumed with yourself. Throughout the Bible, praise is often is associated with sacrifice. If that seems weird to you, let me explain. Psalm 116:17 says “I will sacrifice a thank offering to you and call on the name of the Lord” and Hebrews 13:15 says “…let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.” Many times, I don’t feel like praising God because the pain or sorrow or hurt is so intense. These feelings require me to make a sacrifice. Sacrifice means, as author Terry Law puts it, “doing something you don’t want to do or don’t feel like doing. It’s giving up your own desires for the benefit of someone else.” And in this case, when I give God my sacrifice of praise, I choose to focus on 2 things: 1) His attributes. His power, love, compassion, grace, guidance, etc. 2) His track record. His history of how he has been good and faithful and shown up for you in countless, priceless ways. I believe that even if you are still skeptical of or even angry with God, you will have some stories to recount if you think hard enough.

I sacrificed what I felt like doing (worrying, fretting, trying to fix manage and control) and instead, fixed my mind, and voice, on who He is and what he has already done for me. It’s the difference between listening to a sad breakup song about lost love vs a song expressing the power of love and the excitement and energy that comes from being in that relationship.

There are several ways to praise/worship God. I like to sing, so that’s the main way that I engage in it. God doesn’t really care if you can hold a pitch though, so even if you can’t, don’t let that stop you! I also like to read various Psalms and adopt those words to help direct my thoughts. If you aren’t much for reading or singing, try writing down a gratitude list about who he is: all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing, kind, gracious, radical, extravagant. He is our rescuer, our provider, our savior, our voice of truth. Or maybe make a list of all the ways he has shown up for you in the past. Review the successes and times where you chose to trust and turn things over to him. Note how much better they turned out than when you tried to depend on your own self-sufficiency.

I have been practicing a variety of all these since yesterday. Today is not perfect, but my heart is in better shape than it was yesterday. And for the record, nothing has changed in my circumstances. The adjustment has been where I am choosing to put my energy. Instead of wasting it on trying to control the uncontrollable (i.e. Trying to do God’s job for Him), I am making the sacrifice of praise in the ways laid out above.

In a society of chronic dieting, I think this might prove to be the best rapid “weight-loss” plan on the market. Care to trade a garment of praise for that spirit of heaviness? Could you stand to shed a few?

Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, grace, Trust

“…Yet”

So. It’s been 5 days since January 1st. Is it fair to say that many of us have fallen off the Resolution Wagon? Have you already failed, if not miserably, to keep your New Year’s goals? I think it’s a strong possibility. You can thank me later for bringing it up, since you were already beating yourself up for your lack of will-power and discipline. 😜 I am actually here to help you deal, with a bit of grace and truth, with the fact that you might be struggling.

If you have already cheated on your diet, skipped your workout, spent outside your budget, smoked, drank, binged or watched inappropriate stuff on-line, don’t give up. If you had determined to hold your temper, not gossip, not judge others, cut back on the nagging, correct your “tone” or be mindful of your go-to negative attitude, but have already been engaging in those unattractive behaviors, relax. I read a great post from a friend the other day that said, “I will not try to the boil the ocean (or have all my goals met by Friday).” Awareness that you need to change is the first step towards success. Everything after that is a stepping stone, even if it’s an ugly one. The only way to truly fail is to stop stepping.

I have been reading bits and pieces of a book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success (Carol S. Deck, Ph.D.). It categorizes people into two groups: people with a fixed mindset and those with a growth mindset. In a nutshell, the difference between the two types can be summarized by one word: yet (my word, not the authors). Someone with a fixed mindset forgets to integrate that word in their life. The believe they are defined by their failures and accomplishments and often live believing that the world is out to get them, they will never amount to anything, they never get a break, and they can never learn that skill, subject or life lesson. They get stuck where they are at and see little use in contining to implement change or growth or learn from their mistakes in order to become their better self. A person with a growth mindset keeps stepping, even when they fall short or fall off the wagon. They believe that even though they have made mistakes or failed or life has dealt them some terrible cirucmstances, that there is still hope. They believe that they aren’t smart yet or patient yet or more disciplined yet. When they don’t know the answers they figure them out. They invest in learning.  A person with a fixed mindset says things to themselves like; “I am stupid.” “What’s the use in trying?” “Everyone’s better than me.” “I’m a total failure.”

What kind of mindset do you currently have? If you are pretty certain you have a fixed mindset, take it from a growth mindset person that believing in the yet is possible. Instead of living in your failures and letting them define or immobilize you, use them to identify where you need to learn or grow in order to get where it is you want to go. Remember that you just aren’t there yet.

Let’s face it, we are never going to be anything more than human. Failure and mistakes are inevitable. We are fallible. And even though some of us seem to pull of some extradonriary things, we are mostly ordinary. I had a friend that balked at the statement often heard from the pulpit, “God wants to do extraordinary things through ordinary people.” This really seemed to bother her. She said, “who in the world wants to be ordinary?” I get it. But here’s the harsh reality; most of us aren’t even ordinary. We are down right weird and crazy and broken and generally messed up. It would feel pretty nice to be ordinary, but alas, I have too many character defects, hangups and selfish habits to pretend to be in that category. But, because I adopt a growth mindset, I am pretty ok with that. I know that this life is a long journey and progress is slow and steady at some times, fast a furious at others and a slippery landslide backwards at still others. But I never just set up camp, pitch my tent and make s’mores. You have to keep moving.

I love how Sarah Young summarizes what Jesus says to us through his Word:

I may infuse you with a dream that seems far beyond your reach. You know that in yourself you cannot achieve such a goal. Thus begins your journey of profound reliance on Me. It is a faith-walk, taken one step at a time, leaning on me as much as you need. This is not a path of continual success but of multiple failures. However, each failure is followed by a growth spurt, nourished by increased reliance on Me.

God is not finished with you yet. Your job is to trust Him and continue to be open to new ways to grow and learn. Just because your Resolutions haven’t been followed perfectly doesn’t mean you should throw them out and try again next year. Try again now. Try again tomorrow. Some days you will fail and some days you will flourish. But it all counts if you are willing to learn and do it different next time. Let God set your pace. His timing is always perfect. Chances are that “by next year at this time” you will not have achieved exactly what you set out to do. Don’t sweat it. Just do the work and don’t give up before the miracle happens. Whether it’s next week or month or 5 years from now.

Your new word for this year: yet.<<
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