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

The gold within you.

When I was six, the bullies in my class told me the quiet, skinny boy with the patch over one eye was my boyfriend. I didn’t get the memo that said this was an insult. I was totally stoked. Who knew it was that easy to get a boyfriend, right? I doted on that poor kid; sat with him at recess, brought him little gifts, tried to make conversation. I’d been so lonely up until then, and I could see he was too. I was so excited to have a “boyfriend” – he was completely baffled, I’m sure. Poor David Frost, fellow kindergartner from Mount Austin primary school in Wagga, circa 1973. How could he know his first romantic attachment was a set up by class bullies?

You know, there are often clues about the awesome people we really are embedded in our childhood.

When I was sixteen, I fell from a horse, breaking my elbow into pieces. I spent two weeks in the children’s ward at the hospital, and the most impacting part of the whole experience was getting to know Max, the occupational therapist. He entertained all the kids, did craft with them, sat with them when their parents weren’t around. I ended up spending lots of my time helping him, following him around, fascinated by the way he connected with everyone and made them feel special. Months later, despite the fact I wanted to be a famous actress for a career, I chose for my high school work experience to go back and spend a week with Max at the hospital.

The clues were always there. I love people. I love helping them, I can’t help it. Years later, despite having only ever worked in retail, I started volunteering for cancer charities, fundraising and doing advocacy. I ended up working for the Cancer Council NSW in several paid roles, partly because of my own cancer experience, partly because it was clear I was passionate to connect with people and use my skills to support and help them.

Honey, the clues are already there. If you’re wondering what God has for you, follow the breadcrumb trail. You will see a thread running through your life, a common factor to all those moments when your heart, head and hands were all connected, all working in unison and firing you up with energy even now you remember, and it still fills you with excitement.

Your story holds the clues to your purpose. Follow the golden threads. You’ll be amazed where the road will lead you.

Love, Jo xx
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Soul Letters For The Cancer Sojourner – #3 You Can Change One Thing Today

When cancer comes, it can have us feeling disempowered and helpless. Where before we felt we had some control over our life even if just to a degree, cancer can have us thinking we have no control at all, and as if any control we thought we had was a lie. But cancer is the liar. Even when something like cancer interrupts and intervenes, we always have choices available to us.

As someone with cancer, we may find ourselves in a position where we need to give power over our body to someone else, but we can still choose to nourish and to nurture ourselves – body, mind and soul. We can choose what or whom we allow to come close to us right now, and what or whom we’d like to keep at a distance. We can choose not to accept the premise cancer is stronger or greater than we are, and we can choose to let some things go and hold other things closer. Whilst some choices may be taken away from us in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, changing our focus can help us recognise those areas where we still have control, and are able to keep ourselves in the drivers seat.

image credit: iStockphoto
image credit: iStockphoto

Our frustrations and strong emotions often signal areas we’re feeling a challenge to our power and sense of control.

Whilst we might feel submitting to the inner work cancer seems to require of us to be a kind of “giving in”, it could well be the issues we’re facing would’ve come up anyway, even if we never had cancer. Illness is often a catalyst for change in areas which are already problematic, but which we’ve been able to avoid until now.

Part of surviving is about learning how to keep yourself behind the wheel of your life as you journey through cancer, whilst still accepting the help and support you’ll need from others. This can be challenging, particularly if you’ve been largely independent, or are someone accustomed to leading or caring for others.

Accepting help, change and rest isn’t “giving in to cancer”. It’s part of helping keep yourself strong. Despite how afraid you may feel at the moment, especially if you have more time on your hands than you’re used to, don’t be afraid to look inwards – cancer won’t be found in those deep, inner places. Remember, your body is just one part of you, and there are places – parts of your mind, spirit and soul – cancer cannot touch. In fact, those places may just be about to justify their existence. Don’t fear the work. You are stronger, braver and kinder than you probably have been led to believe.

The changes cancer brings can seem overwhelming and catastrophic, particularly at first. Experiencing cancer may seem to take more than we believe we have to throw at it. But you can do this. Just take one step at a time. You can, if you will, change one thing today – one thing which could make all the difference to you, and to others. One small decision could turn this thing right on its head. Exchange one choice you know compromises you for another one which brings you closer to where you want to be. Taking the best care of yourself possible is not selfishness. You need you to take care of you more than ever before.

Don’t look out there for the difference here – look to yourself. It’s not them, or that, or those, or there. It’s you. It’s in your head, in your heart, in your hands – that’s where your future healing and wholeness is, whatever the outcome of the cancer.

Look to your creativity and to your imagination, and not to your past or your history, for the answer to the question “What one change can I make today which will create a difference in this situation for me?”

Today, decide you’ll spend a moment to recognize you are the small difference needed in this situation. Don’t wait for circumstances or for others to change. Cancer is not in control. You are. Cancer only knows how to do one thing – but you are capable of way, way more.

You can’t change the world right now. But you can change one thing today.

*****

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From Burial to Banqueting Table.

I want to tell those of you who don’t believe a person can be transformed, or that people don’t or can’t change, you need to come and see what God has done at my house.

Point in case; on Tuesday night, we had six adults besides ourselves, two teenagers and four children at our house for dinner, and my husband Ben was there the whole time. You would have to know what life was like before to understand how this is different. We didn’t have folks to our house for dinner before, because Ben would be present with us for about one minute and forty five seconds total. He would be a no show at his own dinner party.

As we were getting ready for bed after Tuesdays dinner, Ben congratulated me on successfully cooking a lamb roast for fourteen people, saying, “Well, that was a success!” I froze. A success? Since when did you consider having a dozen people in the house would constitute success? Who are you? And what have you done with my husband?

You see, Ben once was a master of the duck and weave. He was, as we used to joke, a professional skulker. He was in hiding. God was looking around, calling out to Ben for a long time, just like He did Adam in the Garden, “Where are you?” Ben, like Adam, did not want to be found.

Adam hid because he was ashamed. Shame will drive a sane person underground, and have him behave like a mad recluse. The shameful hide from any situation where they are forced to pretend to be anything better than the filthy, helpless sinner they know themselves to be. The will sabotaged by secret sins, they know their facade will not hold up under the scrutiny of accountability, or friendship. Those filled with shame avoid relationship, for fear they will fail others the way they have failed themselves.

What cured my husbands’ debilitating shame? He stopped hiding and allowed God to find him. I know it was frightening for him. Ben was trained to believe that God is an iron-fisted Father quick to anger and slow to forgive. Ben knew He could not pay the price he believed God would exact for his wrongdoings.

The thing is that Ben is not a bad guy. He never robbed a bank, or killed a man. He has been a faithful husband and gentle father. Ben’s wrongdoings were no worse than any mans; merely springing from an inability to deal with his own weaknesses and shortcomings, and which brought him undone.

When I became ill with cancer, Ben suffered terribly with anxiety and guilt because of what our family went through. He hurt. And he had no way to get God into that hurting part, or draw on God’s strength to get him through it. He believed God was waggling his head, telling him to smarten up and get a backbone. He was ashamed of his own weakness, and he hid. God said “Where are you, Ben?” and Ben couldn’t hear Him, because he was down the back yard with a cigarette and a six pack of beer, medicating his shame.

In rehab, Ben learned to hear God’s voice. He learned to put out a hand and draw on God’s strength when his own failed. He learned to stay in the room, even with the shame, until he was loved enough to know it was okay, God wasn’t going anywhere. When Ben finally peered out from between his fingers he found God waiting for him. Here, Ben, this is some righteousness Jesus organised earlier, I think this will fit you fine.

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 pig of himself I can tell you. The empathy I see in my husbands’ eyes as he tells me about 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 with such goodness and compassion is beyond my comprehension.

A pastor once told me, “People change, but not that much.” Sorry, I don’t believe that. Fear and guilt stunt the soul – but mercy draws the withered ones stumbling forth for their healing. The enemy wants us bound in the dark, but God wants us free in the light.

Change is possible. It can happen. A man can come back to life. I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Don’t give up hope. I thought Ben was gone forever, but I was wrong. The good thing about this was that I truly let him go to God. I was prepared to be an Abigail before Him. Ben was lost, but was also beyond the reach of my rejection, hurt and demands for restitution. But he came back. He was truly raised from the dead.

Ben doesn’t like it when I brag about him, but I can’t help myself. Those friends and family who saw me last year will understand how what we now call normal around here is such a miracle. I doubt that anyone present for dinner on Tuesday night would have any idea why I was staring at Ben in wonder as he carved the lamb and cracked the jokes. There, thanks to the grace of God, goes my husband.

You can read Ben’s own account of his journey through alcoholism and recovery here.