Addiction, Cancer, Faith/Spirituality, fear

Reading myself

In one week I am doing a reading and book signing at a local Cafe (Cafe MOXO- 411 E Adams St. Springfield, IL) from 4:00-6:00pm…Come see me with a couple friends! I have done a book signing before, but never a “reading”. I am not really sure what that part is going to look like, to be honest. I am certain, however, that this will require me to “read” my own work. And I am terrified and sort of nauseous just thinking about it. I have a couple fears that I am sure you will find perfectly understandable. One, that I will find typos and that will make me crazy. I proof-read everything dozens of times, but I am only human. And WORD doesn’t seem to be any smarter or more observant than I am! And two, that my writing actually stinks. That I was given the ultimate cancer pass and people were just being polite because “bless her heart, she has cancer and has convinced herself that she can write.”

So I keep putting it off because not only do I have to read what I have written, I also have to talk about it. Oh dear, I just realized a new fear-I have to speak in front of people! If you know me, you I know i have done this many times before, but now I can’t ramble or joke or muddle my way through it like a ditzy blonde (I think I feel a fever coming on…🤒).

Let me run a few things by you, and maybe I will be a bit more confident and ready to put myself out there by next Wednesday. If I give you the inside scoop on what I plan to say, do you promise you will still come to hear me? (I need to see your familiar, smiling faces….)

1.This is not my cancer story. This is a book I wrote about me that is ultimately about you. It started off as an informative blog about my Leukemia status, and quickly moved to our shared diseases of worry, fear, control, etc. I don’t think any of us saw that coming. I was shocked, and maybe you were too, that what I wrote from a hospital bed could touch, challenge or inspire someone in their everyday life.

2. Cancer, addiction and the disease of the soul levels the playing field. We all battle these deadly diseases at some level. If we keep this at the forefront of our mind and spirit, we can stop walking around like we are better than or worse than the people around us. We all struggle with something that is trying to get the best of us, perhaps even kill us. We are not unique in our “condition”. We are most definitely not the only one fighting our particular battle. We can embrace the comradery that comes from knowing and believing that we are “not the only one”.

3. You are worthy now. Just typing that truth makes my eyes well up with tears. Maybe it’s because I forget it so often or that I suspect that you do too. We are all working so blasted hard to be ok. To be enough. To be accepted and loved. To be “in”. But as a friend of mine says pretty regularly, “we are never gonna be anything more than human.” Life is a series of trials and errors and lessons. And class is never over. But, we can rest in the assurance that even though we will most definitely never arrive at perfection, we are exactly who are are supposed to be at this very moment. We are, as vulnerability researcher Brene Brown puts it, “Worthy now. Not if. Not when. We are worthy of love an belonging now. Right this minute. As is.”

4. I love you. You heard me. I truly do. One of my core values can be summed up in a reading from Recovery literature: “Though you may not like all of us, you will love us in a very special way, the same way we already love you.” Isn’t that the truth? We aren’t going to like everyone, but if we keep in mind that we every person on this planet is battling to recover from the effects of horrific diseases such as cancer, addiction and a plethora of plagues that are trying to destroy our souls, we can maintain a love that surpasses like.

5. God’s got this. Whatever your understanding of God is, it is imperative that you invite him to do life with you. Or I guess, that you join him in doing your life. He knows and sees, and that’s not a threat. It’s a promise. As important as it is for us to rely on each other, it is vital that we “get God in there”. Turn your will and your circumstances over to him every moment of every day. Remember the mantra I wrote about a few months back: “I can’t. God can. I think I’ll let Him.”

So…That should get us started, don’t ya think? I hope I see you there. Who do you know whose heart could use a message like this?

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, Brokenness, Control, Faith/Spirituality, fear, Relationships

Rules are made to be broken

For some reason, while I was taking my in-laws to the airport last week, I made a comment about how I was a “rule follower”. I was a little surprised that they seemed very surprised that I thought this about myself. They didn’t share my assessment. It might have something to do with a couple maneuvers I made to get them to the airport on time, claiming that certain traffic laws were merely suggestions. At any rate, I guess I should explain that even though I many not agree with or follow certain rules, there are a couple rules I have about myself that I can’t seem to not follow, even though they aren’t necessarily based in reality or contribute to healthy, whole-hearted living.

Lately, I have been writing about finding my “skip” again. Learning how to “play” and live a light-hearted and joyful everyday life. I’d say I am making a little progress, in case you were wondering how it’s going. But I realized that I have established a couple Rules when it comes to my “play-time”. When I keep these rules, I find it hard to truly engage, relax and fully enjoy what I am doing and who I am doing it with.

One of the rules is for me, and I have mentioned it before. This rule tells me that I have to earn the right to play. It’s the Cinderella syndrome: until I have scrubbed the floors, dusted, vacuumed, mowed, helped kids with homework, cooked dinner, sold 3 houses, and helped out at church, I can’t go to the Ball. And if somehow I managed to get there, but hadn’t finished all my tasks, I couldn’t dare enjoy myself while I was there. I had to think about all that wasn’t done yet and all I had yet to do. I had to hold on to the guilt of taking care of myself and letting somethings go. I couldn’t dare just admit that I simply can’t keep the pace I have set for myself. I had to admit that I wasn’t Wonder Woman and that once in awhile I just had to take a break and let my hair down, and no one was going to suffer. I don’t know where I got this rule exactly. But I have been letting the rule rule me for far too long. It’s time for an uprising.

The other or rule I have is for you- for my friends, family and people who I “play” with. This one can be illustrated with a real-life example from my past. Several, as in about 10-15 years ago, I organized a game to play with a group of our friends. I am from Napa, as many of you know, and this was a Napa Valley board game. I had purchased the wines from the wineries on the board that one might land on, as well as educational information about the wines that, naturally, they would want to learn about with acute attentiveness on a Friday night…with a large group of friends….while drinking wine. Needless to say, my expectations of the evening did not end up matching the reality of it. But boy, they were having a blast! They were not, however, cooperating with my rules about how they were supposed to be having this so called “fun”. I remember being quite incensed. Wounded. Hurt. Taking it personal and pouting that they weren’t “doing it right” (read: “doing it my way”). I didn’t enjoy myself at all because they weren’t playing by my rules.

When I follow such a rule, I give other people the power to ruin my day. To steal my joy, as I often put it. And, I might add, I will not be invited to many events that require a light-hearted, easy going, relaxed presence. It hurts everyone when I try to control other people and dictate their manner of fun-ness. No one can truly engage in life-giving play when Mrs. Bossy Pants is around. Especially me.

Since, at my core of cores, I don’t really like rules, may I make a suggestion? Whatever rules you are following, that you have made up from the broken, wounded, controlling, fearful, anxious places in your soul, annul them today. Are they about how you give or are willing to receive love? How you speak to others and yourself? How you share? How you think about yourself, or God or others? What you expect from your life and the people in it?  Whatever rules you have been playing by, if they rob you of the ability to live peaceful, happy, and free, obliterate them. Declare them invalid.

THESE RULES WERE MADE TO BE BROKEN.

Faith/Spirituality

Harmonious

I don’t always do it or do it well, but the primary purpose of my life in a nutshell is to live out the suggested 11th Step of the 12 Step Recovery Model: Seeking “through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God as I understand Him, praying only for His will for me and the power to carry that out.” Everything else I do, feel, or think falls under that umbrella. But how exactly do I determine what His Will is? How do I differentiate His perfect Will from my selfish Will that I so often try to sneak in or disguise as something resembling God’s Will?

Maybe it’s more simple than it seems. Is it possible that we have complicated it to the point where we don’t even bother attempting to listen/learn/discern His Will? That we just live out our own Will, cross our fingers and pray that he blesses our activities and our loved ones?

Let me give you an analogy that might help you come to a clearer understanding of it. “It” being the massive and mysterious “Will of God” question, summed up by a goofy 47-yr-old momma. Take it for what it’s worth.

I sing at church on occasion. I have been singing since I was little, and since we’re on the topic, let this serve as a formal apology to all my parent’s house guests that I supposedly entertained with various vocal numbers in our living room during the 70’s. 🤣 I have been told I have a decent voice, but I have to admit something to you all, after years of experience I simply cannot pick out a harmony part (that’s the complimentary part sung with the melody that enhances the beauty of the sound, for those of you who don’t speak music lingo…) to save my life. When I sing at church I am usually assigned the harmony part and I have to practice it over and over and over before rehearsal. Because of this, I never forget that part. It is burned in my brain and I hear it in my sleep. But here’s what I have noticed; any time I sing that song, even if I am singing alone, I am not really sure if I am singing the melody or the harmony part. And the harmony part sounds really dumb on it’s own, so you would think it would be obvious. But since I practiced and rehearsed it so many times, I literally can’t tell the difference.

And that’s how I better understand how my Will and God’s will are intertwined. If I am always seeking to improve my conscious contact with Him through prayer and meditation and, I might add, obedience and loving and serving others, then His Will and mine will be lined up to the point that you can’t tell the difference between them. The harmony and melody are in perfect play.

For me, this realization of living my life in God’s good and perfect Will, being in perfect tune with him, means my prayers are different than they used to be. My expectations are different. Let’s use work as an example. Instead of expecting God to show me the exact job I need, I seek him first, make the best decision I can and take him with me wherever I go. If I am humble and available, he can work through me and my circumstances regardless of which job I choose. If I hate that job, it doesn’t mean that I picked wrong, it more likely means my attitude is off kilter. If i get fired or am abused at that job, I can use it as an opportunity to grow in faith and seek him further as to what to do. So often we get down on ourselves, assuming we misunderstood him. Or we did it wrong. Just because something doesn’t go smoothly or is challenging doesn’t mean it was a wrong decision. Remember, there are always other people and powers who are not seeking His Will that conspire to fight our submission to it. Ask yourself what God have for you to learn in those times.

On some occasions, when things don’t turn out as wonderful as I expected, I can sometimes trace it back to a point where it was obvious that something other than fulfilling God’s Will distracted me. The money signs. Potential accolades. The opportunity for power. The easier softer way that threatens to weaken my character.

Jobs are just one of a thousand areas where discerning God’s Will can feel like an unsolvable mystery. We feel so small and powerless to make such life decisions. But we are not. The person who abides in God is the Will of God. God not only expects me to do His will but He is in me to do it. If my relationship with Him is personal and I lay down my life before Him, I can trust that He will re-direct me from the inside out if I wander off. Your conscience will lead you as God’s Will coincides with your Will, and becomes the tune in your ear that you cannot shake.

This analogy gives me a fresh understanding of a verse you may have heard before: Take delight in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart (Ps.37:4). In light of this goal of aligning my Will with God’s, I realized that this verse doesn’t mean that God will give me whatever my heart desires as long as it is in line with his Will, but rather that when I delight in him (seek, serve, love, listen, and obey him), my desires and his desires will become one and the same. Possibly, Harmonious.

Faith/Spirituality, grace

Big Lots (or “you are worth it”)

When I write, just to be clear, I am writing from my heart, flaws and all. I have a certain understanding of life based on my experience and who I believe God to be. I don’t claim to be a scholar or “right” on theological issues. My husband, who has a masters degree in theology/philosophy and preached weekly for 20 years, always maintained the stance that even though he is speaking the truth on issues he believes in, there are plenty of other smart and spiritual leaders that believe and teach something different and even opposite. The best he, or I, can do is to remain humble and open and teachable about what we hold as truth.

I guess this is important for me to explain because, as I was preparing to write today, I looked up a scripture I thought supported what I wanted to emphasize and ended up thoroughly confused and doubtful after reading what several commentaries said about it. In the end, I decided I will write from what I believe to be true based on what I have learned and studied and experienced over the years. Take what you like and leave the rest.

So, since all that felt a bit serious, let us take a sharp left turn and talk about Big Lots (a Midwest chain specializing in closeout retail. Read “cheap”). Or maybe I should start from the beginning. I began my day like any other morning. I made my coffee and sat on my couch ready to read, meditate, and connect with God before the day got going. But before I picked up a book I sat and stared out the window for quite sometime. There was something going on inside me that made me resistant to praying, reading or focusing on my soul or the real stuff of life. I found myself compulsively checking my emails, and Facebook and decided I absolutely needed to order a couple things on Amazon. I then transitioned into work tasks that I told myself needed to get done immediately (even though it was 7:30 in the morning). Every single time I began to reach for a book or bring my attention to spiritual matters, I found something else to do. I did this for the next hour or so, just long enough to have to get ready to show a house to some clients. I said a quick, pinkie-swear prayer to God, telling Him I would check in with him later in the day, which never happened.

Anyone been in this place? Inwardly fleeing from God at every turn? I don’t even know why I was doing it, but it was an inner refusal and avoidance that was palpable.

so, fast forward to this morning as I woke, feeling compelled to make a gratitude list before I got out of bed. As I reviewed yesterday’s blessings, it dawned on me that even though I had pretty much chosen to just do my own thing and distract myself with the frivolous things of life, God did not leave me hanging. It reminded me of the verse from the book of 2 Timothy: If we are faithless, God will remain faithful.” I know that this is bigger than the little benefits I receive in a day, but sometimes that’s how he speaks to me the loudest. Even though I put my Will above his and wouldn’t still my mind and heart long enough to really listen to him, he showed up.

I just repainted my bedroom and got a new bedspread. It was sort of impromptu so I was trying to keep the costs low. I really needed (wanted) new white, furry pillows to match the blanket on the bed and new sheets (in the weirdest shade of Apricot you’ve ever seen). I never ever go to Big Lots but for some reason felt like I was supposed to check there. I’d already been everywhere else I could think to look. Not only did I find two pillows that exactly matched my blanket, sheets in the perfect shade of apricot, but I also found straws! I have driven an hour and a half to St. Louis just to buy IKEA straws because they are longer and thicker than the normal straws. I cannot find them anywhere else. Apparently IKEA has stopped selling them so I have been searching the internet and every grocery store in town to find some that work for my giant water cup. I found them at Big Lots. I bought 400 of them 😬.

As I reviewed my gratitude list, I also remembered other ways that God blessed me. I got a call from the hospital saying that they would carry my Soul-Selfie book in the gift shop! I wrote a contract on a house. My son had a promising job interview. And my teenage daughter agreed to go with me to Big Lots (a God-thing in more ways than one!).

So I added something else to my gratitude list. I am so grateful that even when I am not engaged in the things of God, He is always, always engaged with me. He knows and sees. He blesses because it’s in his nature to do so. I don’t have to earn or deserve his love, guidance, wisdom, attention, care, comfort, or blessings. He just gives those things to me because he loves me. I am his child and he thinks I am worth it. He thinks you are worth it too.

Faith/Spirituality, fear

I predict…

Last week I did a book signing at a local coffee shop. What a wonderful, and humbling experience! As usual, my blog brain was churning away as I did something for the first time in my life. There aren’t many things I can say that about as a 47 yr old woman. For better or for worse, there is a lot of “sameness” to life. But, I have never done a book signing before, and oh yeah, I’ve never written a book before either. Interesting…

But that’s really not what I want to talk about this morning. There’s something else that happened that day that reminds me of the reason I keep writing: I’m still pretty messed up in my head. In my soul. Soul-Selfies are necessary for me because it’s a full time job, rooting out the thoughts and character defects in me that hold me back from being whole-hearted. Here’s the revelation I had that day (the very day, mind you, that I was autographing a book addressing that exact topic in a dozen different ways. Sigh 😔).

I originally set up my signing station in one of the 3 rooms available. There were about 10 different leather armchairs scattered around so people could relax, drink and visit. I was sitting within inches of them. I knew that if anyone sat in them, I would overhear first hand, classified information without even trying. This thought made me uncomfortable. Eventually, a woman came by with her coffee. She saw my spread of books and flyers but smiled and walked on by and sat in the chair as far away from me as possible.

It started immediately. That voice in my head that told me exactly what this woman was thinking, and of course, it was about me. I just knew she was irritated that I was sitting so close to her and she wouldn’t be able to have a private conversation (with her friend that I predicted would be there soon). I knew that she was getting annoyed with me as I greeted each customer as they came in the door to her right. She was wishing I would shut up already. I even skipped greeting a few people because I didn’t want to bother her. After 10 minutes of this, I decided that if I wanted to be considerate to her and anyone else who joined her, I should move to another room. So I did.

Ahh. Freedom to not bug anyone and greet people to my heart’s content! However, before I left the other room I gave her a sample page of one of my blogs and a flyer about the book. I told her I was moving so people in that room wouldn’t “feel like I was dropping in on their conversations, ha ha.” She just smiled and took the papers.

After about two hours I had made some good connections with people, passed out sample blogs and flyers and sold three books to perfect strangers. That woman was one of them.

As soon as she came to my table I knew I was going to have to write about it. I mean, really!? The very person I was fearful of, who I assumed (a dangerous engagement) was irritated by my mere presence which triggered my move to an entirely different room, she was the one to buy a book. God is hilarious. And ironic, in this case.

How often have I done this to myself? Done this to others? I put words and thoughts in their head ad act as if they are true. It not only is pretty arrogant, thinking I am all-knowing like God himself, but it also takes away the dignity of letting others think and own their own thoughts or act in a way that is new or healthy. I may think I know what is in their mind or what they will say to me, but the reality is, I don’t.

If I I put my energy into keeping watch over my own thoughts, I won’t have to waste it on making up thoughts to put in other people’s heads. Especially about me. And am I so self-centered that I think a total stranger, or even my friends, are thinking about me at all? Maybe someone’s apparent irritation isn’t because they are frustrated or bothered by me. Maybe they have had a hard day at home or work. Or maybe they just have an angry resting face!
It just sounds so ridiculous when I write it all down. As I said, this is why I keep writing. It isn’t because I have it all figured out, it’s because I have a long way to go. If you think you might have a ways to go yourself, please join me. At least we will be in good company.😘

Faith/Spirituality

Are you a dead ball?

So, I have been focusing on re-learning how to play. Maybe I have been practicing a little too much, because I haven’t written in over a week!?!?

If you were to look at my life from the outside, it would be hard to make a case that I don’t know how to play. In the past couple years I have travelled to Paris, Hawaii, California, Las Vegas, Missouri and Michigan (hey, it’s not Illinois so those last two still count!). I have gone to concerts, sat poolside at friend’s houses and made day trips to shop in St. Louis and Chicago. I’ve attended plays, laughed myself silly at a Seinfeld show and hosted numbers of girls-only patio parties and dinners around my dining room table. To an outsider, this might seem like evidence that I haven’t forgotten everything about how to play.

And yet…

Playing is not just about being present at the activity, it’s about being present in the activity. Big difference. I have been thinking about this world “in” and how it relates to play. My mind keeps going to baseball terminology. Even if you are not a baseball fan, you probably understand the basics enough to track with me for the next couple paragraphs.

Baseball is a game that people play (I know…profound insight, H). For the purpose of this blog, let’s pretend you are the ball. I think it’s fair to say that ball is a crucial part of the baseball experience. But the ball has a job to do in order for the game to be played. It can’t just lay on the pitching mound or in the dugout or sit in the 2nd baseman’s mitt. It has to be an active participant. The ball has to be “in play”. If a player hits it outside the lines into foul territory, it is considered “out of play”. Don’t you just love it? What a perfect metaphor for how we must play! It’s not enough to just show up for the activity. We have to be present and engaged in it. We have to be “in play”, otherwise the game is not fun. It’s not exciting. It’s not fulfilling it’s purpose.

So much of the time, I am attending the game but I am not “in play”. In Recovery, we remind ourselves to “keep our head with our hands.” It means that we remind ourselves to keep our mind where our body is. To focus our attention and love and laughter on the current moment without letting our brain wander off, rehashing what happened yesterday or worrying about what will happen next week. I have participated in many “play-full” activities over the past few years, but too often have been outwardly present while inwardly “out of play”.

It’s not complicated. I can probably just shut up now. You get the gist. Again-being at vs being in…Two tiny words. At. In. But whichever one you choose to embrace will either inhibit or enhance your ability to play.

One last thought on the baseball front…
You remember what they call a ball when it is “out of play” right?Dead”.
But thank God the opposite is also true.
Only when you are “in play” can you be “live” and get your game on.

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, Faith/Spirituality, Recovery

I left it in Montana

If I could go back in time and experience my life again, I know exactly where, and when, I’d go. Without a doubt, the time in my life that I felt the most free and happy was during my years in Helena, Montana. I lived there from kindergarten through 3rd grade. I lived next door, on a private lane in the mountains, to my best friend and her two brothers. When my mind goes to that time of my life, it’s not just those valuable relationships that stand out. If I had to come up with one word to defined those years it would be Play.

Sometimes I wonder if I left my creative brain in Montana. I haven’t been able to play like that since. I played with freedom and fierceness. We built forts (with real wood, hammers and nails) and learned to snow ski in the gully behind our houses-both slalom and bunny Slope. Sometimes one of us would say, “Hey, you wanna play motorcycles?”. It’s exactly what you would think; a bunch of kids running up and down the gully pretending to be riding a motorcycle (in Montana this was more of a dirt bike) with all the accompanying sound effects (I always admired how the boys could do that sound with their mouth that made is sound so authentic). We wore ourselves out until the sun went down. When Halloween came, we would pull all our candy and create a candy store in her basement, displaying the mini candy bars under plastic record player covers. We played “Bears” with our stuffed bears, dressing them in my baby sisters clothes and putting them to bed on suitcase with a pillow on top. We played light as a feather, stiff as a board, listened to the band KISS (I don’t think my mom knew that 😳), conned our brothers into eating dirt that looked like brownies, and tormented each other at sleepovers (hand in the water, shaving cream in the palm of hand with a tickle on the face, the usual). I didn’t have to work at playing and never felt an ounce of guilt for doing it.

A lot has changed since I left Montana. A lot has changed in me. I am not sure when it happened, but I lost that sense of play that used to come so naturally to me. Somehow I started following a rule and have been following it ever since: Here it is: you have to earn your play-time.

I talked about this in my blog a couple days ago. I have this voice in my head that tells me that Play is a reward or celebration of something good; closing on a house or two, losing a few pounds, my kids getting out of school (or starting school after summer break!) or having a birthday. It also tells me that I have permission to play as a consolation for or comfort for something bad; the sale of a house falls through, my kids being demanding and driving me crazy, gaining a few pounds, or, having a birthday 😜.

You get the idea. But I’ll tell you one thing for sure, it is never about play for play’s sake. Even if I schedule a fun event or vacation, I feel like I have to kick it in to gear so I can earn my right to relax. No wonder my heart has become so heavy. When life becomes about being productive and impressive and efficient, there is little room for creativity and light hearted play. And, I have found that even when I am playing, I am not really present. I am always thinking about what’s next or what just happened or grieving that my play-time is almost over (as if I won’t get another opportunity for months!).

Man, I sound messed up. But awareness is the first step toward recovery. I think I need a 12-step program designed for people who have forgotten how to have fun. Brene’ Brown, a researcher, author and speaker talks about Play being essential to living a “whole-hearted” life. She said she was perplexed and a little put-out when she interviewed who she considered to be whole-hearted people and discovered that they “fooled around” a lot. It took her some time to put a name to this frivolous “hanging out and doing fun things”. The idea was so foreign to her that she didn’t even recognize it as Play. She says “we’ve got so much to do and so little time that the idea of doing anything unrelated to the to-do list actually creates stress. We convince ourselves that playing is a waste of time…spending time doing purposeless activities is rare. In fact, for many of us it sounds like an anxiety attack waiting to happen.” Sobering words for someone who has forgotten how to play.

Reading is good. Praying is good. Meditation is good. Serving is good. Working is good. Learning is good. And so is playing. I hardly know what that looks like as a 47 year old woman, but I intend to seek God, learn from others who do it well and often, and recover my ability to play. Somewhere along the way I lost my skip, and I am determined to get it back.

Brokenness, Faith/Spirituality, grace

“Why I hate Me, in a nutshell”

It’s been three years since my thoughtful, sweet and honest friend picked me up for an “outing” when I had Leukemia. As soon as I got in the car she said, “so, here’s why I hate you, in a nutshell.” (I encourage you to read that blog entry before continuing. It’ll make my whining seem less, uh, whiney. https://heathercarterwrites.com/2015/06/08/why-i-hate-you-in-a-nutshell/ ) After listening and thanking her for her kind words, I asked her to outline her grievances and email them to me. She had some excellent points that I think we could all learn from.

Lately I have been rolling around the idea of taking this particular blog “on the road”. Maybe a mini version of a TED talk (maybe a HEATH talk?). As I re-read it this morning and was reminded of all the “benefits” of having Leukemia (aside from the fact that its a potentially terminal disease) I too began to feel a bit jealous of my past self. And I understood my friend a bit better. I thought, “I get it, girl! I hate me too!”. So, in no particular order, here’s “Why I hate me, in a nutshell.”

1. I hate me because people were standing in line to take care of all my chores. We all gained weight because of the yummy meals brought in at least 3 times a week. We could hardly eat fast enough before more food came. It was heavenly. And, side note, we felt obligated (read: giddy) to eat whatever they brought, even if it was drenched in gravy and laced with butter. They cleaned my house better than I ever clean it and there wasn’t one weed in my currently weed infested backyard. The pure luxury of these acts of love and service bring a nostalgic, grateful, and longing tear to my eye.

2. I hate me because I didn’t have to tell people I was sick. It was obvious. I was a 44 year old with a 100 yr old body and no hair. People felt sad for me. As a result, when I went out in public, people were nicer. When you shed a few pounds and grow our your blonde hair (ok-it really grew back in dark but I color it blonde -so sue me), people are indifferent and sometimes judgmental or rude. It’s a weird shift and it makes me miss my bald head and my walker. I really like it when strangers talk kindly to me.

3. I hate me because I had great perspective and joy in spite of hardship. I think this one is particularly bothersome to me because in the face of a deadly disease I was able to maintain hope and happiness in a way that I struggle with today, when I DON’T have life-threatening disease. I didn’t sweat the small stuff. I didn’t, for example, take it personal when the person in front of me made me miss the light because they were texting. Hypothetically speaking, of course.

4. I hate me because I had one thing to worry about: getting well. When I returned a call, attended an event, emailed a teacher or did some light house work, I was a hero. If I didn’t do any of those things, everyone was understanding. Now, if I forget to reply to a text or neglect my laundry or let me grass grow too long, I just don’t seem to get that same compassionate reaction. Now, I have many many things to focus on and everyone, especially me, expects me to get it all done right and in a timely manner. It’s a lot of pressure, I tell ya!

5. I hate myself because I had permission to take care of myself. From others, but mostly from myself. I took naps when I needed them. I listened to my body and what it needed, instead of ignoring it and plowing ahead in spite of feeling run down or sick. I took time out to read and study and watch movies that inspired me or made me laugh. I was in-tuned to what I needed to stay physically, mentally, spiritually and emotionally healthy and I took steps to make sure that was happening.

6. I hate myself because for 7 glorious months, I got to eat whatever I wanted without guilt. Shallow yes, but still, it was lovely.

7. I hate myself because I had the ultimate “play pass”. I have this problem (which will probably result in an entire blog in the near future): I think I have to earn the right to “play”. I do this by telling myself I deserve to have fun because I have earned either by having a hard day or having a day worth celebrating. Either way, my “play pass” is contingent on merit. Enjoyable activities are conditional for me.

8. I hate myself because I didn’t “should” on myself. I was able to live in the moment. To truly “be” with the people I was with and embrace whatever was happening at the moment. I didn’t worry about what was coming next or feel like I “should” be doing something other than what I was doing at that exact moment. I was present in the present.

9. I hate myself because I got to spend 6 days out of every month in the hospital. I know that sounds absurd, and maybe 6 days a month might be sort of excessive. But is it really so unreasonable to want a few days to lay in bed, sleep, read, watch TV and push a button whenever I want to eat? You can’t tell me that isn’t the least bit appealing to some of you.

10. I hate myself because I liked myself better back then. I gave myself a break from being all things to all people. I gave my body a break to let it be real. Instead of complaining about it’s imperfections, I cherished the blood in my veins and had a party when my platelets did their job right! I was less selfish with my time and less stingy with my affection and affirming, tender words. I was more tolerant of people who texted at stoplights because who knows what pain they are in? I felt hopeful and extended that hope to people around me. I felt God’s presence in a way that I have been missing lately. It was so natural when I was dying.

 

So, I say to my friend, “I get it.” When I look back and compare the Me of then to the Me of today, I too am envious. If only I could live like that with ease like I did 3 years ago. Obviously, I am not a lunatic. I see the insanity piece of wishing I had Leukemia. I hope you are tracking with me when I share the list above. There are a couple truths that I have to first accept and then cling to in order to not hate my current self:

One; living real, raw, messy, everyday life is, in fact, harder than having Leukemia. It doesn’t let up. No one gives you a pass or permission to slack off or be a jack-marack. It’s consistently painful and challenging and stressful and exhausting. And yet we all are expected to smile and nod and plug away. We are all suffering heart ache or grief or disappointment at any given moment, yet the sales clerk, or your spouse or boss or children or best friend, don’t seem to treat you with tenderness and empathy you yearn for. Let’s be gentle with ourselves and just as gentle with others. As I may have mentioned in a book I just wrote, we are all in this together.

Two: God gives me what I need when I need it. I would have never in a million years thought I could live through cancer with any kind of grace or joy. But clearly, I did. And now I am acting like God is big enough for cancer but not big enough for handling adolescents, husbands, jobs, finances, depression, anxiety, fear, etc. I don’t believe that He isn’t powerful enough help me handle these areas. The real issue is that I don’t ask him to. I approach these challenges as if I have enough talent, smarts and hutspa to manage them on my own. I act as if “I’ve got this” when the truth is, I sincerely don’t. I need God’s perfect guidance, wisdom, perspective and plan in order to live like I did when I had Leukemia.

In reality, I love that girl and long to be that girl today. With God’s help, we can all be like her. 😚