Working on what makes your heart happy.

Since I quit working for someone else and started focusing on my writing and art full time, I’ve found myself stumbling over the words to say to people when they ask, “So, what are you doing now you’re not working?”

Thing is, I am working. I am working on making my heart happy.

Years of doing what makes me frustrated, ego-centered, stressed and anxiety-riddled has taught me what not to do to help my heart be at peace. A heart that’s at peace allows itself to do the healing it needs, and looks for people to love and be loved by. A heart that’s filled with fear, clinging, stress, worry, fatigue and clamouring closes itself to all those things. It cannot grow, it cannot heal, it cannot allow itself to wander into uncharted relational or spiritual territory. Stressed people are often unkind, not because they are bad or evil, but because a heart that’s tethered to causes motivated by fear will feel small and weak, and always on the defense against attack. Conversely, the heart that floats on the river of loving and peaceful intention will be soft yet brave, warm yet robust, centered yet flowing.

So, knowing this, and sick to the gills with seeking to allay fear rather than rest and trust, both in my own capacity and goodness, and that of Source, I’m done with “work”. I’m finished with the toil of having enough before I rest, of making myself feel less vulnerable and more perfect, with holding on and gathering and hoarding and owning and clinging.

Now, my work is to do daily what makes my heart happy.

They say do what you love and the money will come. But deeply we understand if we do what we love, a whole lot more than that comes too. And just as if we want to be paid we have to send an invoice, so it is with spiritual exchange. I serve with my work of making myself happy, letting go of attachments and leading my heart to peaceful places of growth and healing and joy, and when the time is right, I send the invoice. And Source sets right all accounts. I am safe, all is well, and all my needs are provided for.

Beginning the work of making our heart happy can commence at any time. I’m not suggesting you stop working at your job – we all must pay our rent, metaphysical and otherwise. However, don’t wait until you have enough, or have achieved enough, before you let your heart wander wild. I’m here to tell you the fettered heart won’t want to stay here long. It will seek respite from whence it came, sooner or later, if you will not let it rest.

I learned this a few years ago when my heart literally grew a huge cancer tumour around it, and my body decided where ever the hell I was going in life, it wasn’t coming.

Listen. Your body speaks. Your heart knows.

I pray today you will take one moment to listen to your heart and ask it sweetly and with compassion what would make it happy. I pray you’ll sweep it up into your arms and hold it until it ceases it’s trembling and striving, and becomes warm and receiving of your touch and your voice. I pray you’ll carry your heart on your shoulders so it can see the world and realize how beautiful it all is. I pray your heart will find its way to happiness, and that way will be through you, and always, because of you.

Selah, dear friends.
Love, Jo xxx

From Burial To Banqueting Table

A while ago, a man I considered to be quite wise at the time said to me “People change, but not that much.” I didn’t know quite what to make of that, probably because the person who said it was actually our pastor. Maybe he was a bit jaded. Maybe it was time for a new job. In any case, I didn’t believe him. I think people can change, in fact, I know they can. Maybe we need to invite our old pastor around to our place house for dinner one of these days.  He needs to see what God has done at my house.

Last Tuesday night, my husband Ben and I had guests for dinner. Fourteen people sat around our table and ate my lamb roast, including the two of us. A minor miracle occurred that night, but I think only I, and perhaps our children, really noticed it.  What happened was that Ben was present for the meal the whole time.  Of course, you’d have to know what it was like before to understand how this is different. Before, we didn’t invite folks over to our house for dinner. There was no point. If people came to visit, Ben would say hello, then remain present for about one minute and forty-five seconds after that before disappearing. I don’t know how he managed to convince himself that nobody notices when the host goes MIA, but then I’m not sure he ever considered his absences conspicuous to others. The fact is, regardless of if we had two people over, or twenty, Ben would always be a no show at his own dinner party.

You see, as far as social situations were concerned, Ben was a supreme master of the duck and weave. His avoidance of people and acute need to be alone was different from those occasions where he was simply busy, like in the shed fixing something, washing the car or going for a walk to get the newspapers. Our family had a pet name for it– skulking. Where’s dad? Skulking. Oh. I think the way Ben saw it, he was only out of the room for a few minutes. The problem was that he was only out of the room for a few minutes, twenty or more times a day – for about twenty years.

When Ben was skulking, he wasn’t just out of the room, on a special mission, or even busy. He wasn’t writing a thesis or building an ark in the back yard. He was hiding. From us. From everyone. And it hurt. When the person you’re married to can’t hang out with his wife and his kids and your friends and both your parents for any length of time without having to leave and be alone for a while, it’s difficult not to be offended. For a long time I thought it was my fault. Ben’s anti-social behaviour confirmed my own deep suspicion that I was just too much. I came to the sad conclusion my personality was so overwhelming that it made other people unable to function normally in society anymore. So I did what many women do when they blame themselves for their husbands’ faults – I covered for him. And when that grew tiresome – because explaining to guests that your husband has something very important to do out in the back yard while you are all sitting in his living room does grow tiresome – I just stopped inviting people over anymore.

While the hiding was a problem, it was never the problem, and while it wasn’t me that broke Ben, Ben was broken just the same. I understand now that when people are broken like Ben was and they feel they ought to be able to fix what’s wrong and put it all right but they just can’t, they do whatever it takes to feel safe. Often, they do what Ben did and they hide, in all kinds of places, and use all kinds of things to hide behind. Some people don’t physically hide like Ben did, but they are hiding all right. They hide behind their work, their possessions and positions, their success, and they even hide behind failure.

Far better men than Ben have been hiders. Adam, the very first man on the planet, was a hider.[1] As skulkers go, in my opinion, Adam wasn’t particularly good at it. I can say this because I’ve lived with a real pro. Adam gave in way too early for starters – he was only in those bushes for ten minutes, tops. I hate to brag, but Ben had far more stamina that that. And what’s with Adam taking an accomplice along for the skulk? Pros never take an accomplice. Any crime they committed may be a shared experience, but shame is always a solo venture. I suspect Adam was really only playing possum – I think Adam kind of wanted to be found.

While long-term hiding requires a lot of staying power, it can get kind of boring. While Ben was hiding, he found that smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol really helped to keep his hands busy. These also conveniently helped him to forget exactly how many hours a day he was actually spending skulking. I had my suspicions Ben skulked at work too, because whenever I rang to talk to him, nobody could ever find him. But I think it was the day I opened up some boxes under the house and hundreds of empty beer bottles fell out I realised I might have underestimated exactly how much of his life both his skulking, and the habits that kept him occupied while he was doing it, were consuming.

I didn’t understand for a long time exactly what Ben was so ashamed of, even after I worked out Ben was hiding. Ben is not and never has been a really bad man. He hasn’t been in any trouble with the police, or been unfaithful in our marriage. He is a gentle, patient father and has a quiet disposition. Ben’s wrongdoings are certainly no worse than any other simple mans, springing as they do from the common natural weaknesses and shortcomings of all human beings.  But I’ve come to understand that shame is not logical. It’s not circumstantial. Shame is not even natural. Shame wasn’t there at the beginning, when God created people. I mean they walked around without clothes for goodness sake. Shame was learned. Shame was a mutation. Shame was human invention, and it filled the place where something else used to be.

Relationship.

I imagine the first garden, its two occupants living in complete intimacy with each other and their creator. So guileless was the communion between the two humans they had nothing but their different skins to separate them. But then they did something they were told not to do by someone that loved them. Afterwards, the first thing they did was to go and make clothes to put on top of their skin. Don’t look at me. Then, forgetting that He had always been able to see them, they realised that not only could they be seen by each other, the creator could see them too. When they heard the creator coming, they hid behind some bushes. What’s happened to us? they asked themselves, we never worried about being seen before. 

The thing is, when the creator found out what they did, He didn’t demand they take off their clothes again, in fact, he turned around and made them both some better ones.

Ben – my sweet, gentle Ben – was not a bad person, but something inside him didn’t want to be seen. He thinks it started when he was very young. For the longest time Ben believed that God was a violent, iron-fisted Father, quick to anger and slow to forgive, particularly a very naughty boy like he was. After many years of just trying to stay out of God’s way, he found a way to hide that worked, and after a while he forgot what it was ever like to walk in the light.

When I became ill with cancer in 2003, Ben floundered with feelings of helplessness and depression, without any way to draw on the grace, strength and comfort from God or me he so desperately needed. He thought God was up there waggling his head, telling him to harden up and get a backbone. Ashamed of his inability to protect his family from harm, and from the consequences of his weakness in its aftermath, he pulled even further inside himself. If God had come calling “where are you?” Ben couldn’t have heard Him, because he was ensconced under the house with a cigarette and a six-pack of beer, medicating his despair.

After a few more years, things really fell to pieces. He lost his business, leaving us tens of thousands of dollars in debt. We had to leave town so Ben could get a new job. He became more disenfranchised from our children, the elder three of whom were now in their teens. The resentment between the two of us grew and festered between like a tumour. The last skerrick of Bens’ belief in himself disintegrated the same time as his desire to stay married to me. Desperate to save his life, I sent Ben away. By now, I was the only one of us with enough self-esteem left to survive being seen as the bad guy that broke up our marriage. Thank God, at that time a place in a Christian rehabilitation centre came up before Ben totally disintegrated.

In rehab, Ben learned to stay both literally and emotionally in the room with his shame, now compounded by the collapse of our family and the loss of everything he had and had been. All of the structures and devices he had created to keep himself safe were broken and useless. In that place of absolute vulnerability, Ben found his father God running towards him with His arms outstretched.

Finally, my boy, I’ve found you.

Since then, I have seen my husband rise up from a long sleep of self-hate and humiliation and sit up to God’s banqueting table. He is making a right pig of himself, I can tell you. The compassion I see in my husbands’ eyes these days, as he tells me about his wish to help the people God brings across his path, makes me fall back in wonder. How God can take a man who emptied himself out in self-disgust and fill him again with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

Change is possible, I know it. I’ve seen shame, fear and guilt stunt a human soul into a crooked shadow of its former self, and then I saw that same human being raised up from the dead. Shame is fruitless, pointless in fact, particularly the shame we inflict upon each other. It’s only mercy that brings the withered ones stumbling forth for healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, wrapped in the rags of our self-loathing, but God wants us free in the light where He and the entire world can see us for who we really are.

I want to tell you, if you love someone that is dead while they live, don’t give up hope. People can change – more than you can even dream of. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. He came back. Now I know Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I just can’t help myself. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any real idea why I was gazing at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, I thought to myself, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband – the most amazing man I have ever known.

*****

An excerpt from my new book God, You Can Take My Mental Illness, Just Not the Part Where You Speak To Me, now out on Amazon for Kindle.

*****


[1] Genesis 3:8 – 10

 

Time Life – The Creative Life Has Time For Dreams

Blaine Hogan has written this great blog about the attitude we as artists, and as humans, have to time, and its relationship to the creative process.

Blain Hogan – It Takes Time

I know what he means, and so do many of you, if the responses I have recieved via my Facebook link to Blaine’s post. It seems the idea that we could possibly leave time in our busy, structured lives for any meaningful kind of unintentional reflection, introspection or creative process is pretty much anathema to us.

Since I stopped doing paid work a few months ago, I have struggled to define myself in my interactions with other people. “And what are you doing with yourself?” is the standard salutation when you meet a friend or are introduced to a new aquaintance. What do you say when what you do has nothing to do with the attainment of money or a degree of some kind? What do you tell people when for the most part what you do, besides the minimum amount of housework possible to maintain good health, is sit down and write stuff no one reads and no one pays you for? This is the first time in my adult life I have been able not to work, other than when I was heavily pregnant or just had a baby, and it’s only because my husband has released me to not feel I have to. I wanted time to just…..breathe.

I have always been a super-busy person. I have always has at least ten things on the go at once. I have worked and volunteered and had babies and homeschooled and run my own businesses, and in between that I’ve had health problems including cancer, my marriage broke down and my husband had a breakdown and went away to rehab for six months. It’s been a busy twenty four or so years since I joined the world in it’s obsessive mania of accumulation, consumption and production. And what have I to show for it all?

We don’t own our own house any more. We had a house once, but we were so incredibly stressed trying to earn the monet it cost to pay the bank for it and actually keep it properly that we sold it. Even if we had held on to it, we’d have lost it at least twice since. Not having a mortgage probably saved us from bankrupcy a couple of times. We have a car, some furniture and some cash for emergencies. I don’t know what we’ll do when we can’t work any more. Probably buy a tent and live in one of our kids backyards. There already fighting over who gets the crazy old lady…none of them would mind having their dad. He’s the quiet one.

I have tried to be the good little capitalist my country and my community would like me to be, but I’m not good at it. Someone wise once said to me that you may win the rat race, but you are still just another rat. It’s taken nearly dying for me to realise I need time to live. I need time to create, and write, and think, and read, and talk to my kids, because that is living, that is life. I have no idea how long I have left, and I mean that most sincerely. I am living on borrowed time now… I have been on my second chance since 2004 when i went tino remission…and I am not going to waste any of it racing on a wheel of someone elses making.

Art takes time. Thought takes time. Beauty takes time. Inspiration takes time. Love takes time. You can’t make time, or even take time. It just has to be there. You have to leave it. You have to wait, and not fill the waiting with anything else. You have to resist the urge to stay busy so others will think you’re productive, prolific, useful, worthy. You have to just have big swathes of emptiness and nothingness and peace for life to come and fill you up. Life is what we were made for, not to make a living. This is the abundant life Christ speaks of – a life where we are relieved from the pressure of being full and needing to be filled, a life where we are prepared to be empty to allow something to come and fill us. We are so busy stuffing ourselves with information and experiences, we have lost the ability to imagine and to dream for ourselves. Art comes in the void…..in the beginning was the void, and God made from the void….and He saw that it was good.

The rest is not just for the time after the work. Sometimes, the rest is the work. When people ask me what i am doing, I don’t know what to say, so now I am just telling them “Nothing!” Unfortunately, there’s nowhere to go from there, but it is the truth. I don’t know if I will be able to create my magnum opus in this time I have, and I have no idea when it will come to an end. Perhaps it won’t. I can only hope.

Leave time, leave space in your life for your own thoughts and imaginings. I know it feels like fears of being poor or bereft or stupid will come in and overwhelm you, and you will need to get up and start producing again, but I promise you, the fears pass. You come to a place of seeing yourself as more than merely what you can produce. Hebrews were only of value to the Egyptians because they made bricks the Egyptians needed to build their monuments. The abundant life we are promised by our Maker is release from the indentity this Egypt has fashioned for us; fit only for producing consumables. But you, you, are an artist, you are a work of art. You were made to create, not just to make. You were created from an idea, not from a brick-mould. You are more than what you produce. Leave time. Time is where your dreams lie waiting to be realised.