When She Asked Me How to Have a Good Day Every Day

Stay with me: the answer is coming. But first, I’ve been teaching my writing students that “essay” comes from the late Latin and Old French word meaning to “weigh” or “sift” or “attempt” or “put on trial.” How perfect for the work of writing anything at all! When students consider a topic to explore, it’s a weighing out, a sifting through, an attempt at meaning, and a way to put the thing on trial to test its quality.

I love essay as a verb. I’m not blogging; I’m essaying. I’m sifting through this day for meaning and beauty and for evidence of Something More. I’m putting the negative, disappointing worst of it all on trial up against the goodness and mercy of God. That’s what I do. Every day, I do this.

So this morning when one daughter asks for the secret of it all–the secret for having a good day every day, we talk about two things that took me five years and thousands of essays to understand. I’ve sifted through it all to find this:

1. You look for God’s special blessings (Psalm 31:19, Lamentations 3:22-23) that often come disguised as something you don’t like at first.

2. You look for ways to be a blessing to someone else (Isaiah 58:10).

If you do this, every day of your life, perhaps every day could indeed be good. In this model, bad days are good days, even if the special blessing God sent was that you were a blessing to someone else. (In other words, if you can’t find #1, you get it through being #2.)

But it takes a certain sifting and weighing, of attempting and putting on trial, to see the blessing. And it takes a self-abandonment and willingness to cooperate with God to act as a blessing to someone else. Both points stand up to history and to this present day when all three of us are sick with various ailments: When I look for God’s gifts, I see them. When I look to be a blessing, I am.

And the day turns into a good one because Jesus was here, and I knew it.

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A Little Mystery on the Porch

I hear about a black cat with a star on her chest who lives somewhere down the road, around the corner, and into another part of the neighborhood. My daughter loves this cat, and she’ll often travel to find her, no matter how long it takes. She’s taken various friends on a journey to visit this outdoor cat. A few days ago, she even takes me to find this cat who prowls about in this far away yard. She talks to the cat like they are old friends. She shows me how the house where she lives has a special access through the garage for the cat.

Today after school, just as my daughter puts her backpack away, we see something extraordinary: the black cat with the star on her chest is standing right outside of our back door like she’s waiting for us, like she’s now visiting us instead of the other way around.

And she’s meowing and looking right at my daughter.

But how? How did she know this was our backyard? How did she know the little girl who visits her lives in this house? 
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Now, the day shimmers with mystery. A cat we visit now visits us, and nobody knows how or why. We just know that the cat knows, somehow, and we marvel at a mystery.

And my daughter feels special. I had prayed that something might happen today to encourage her heart and give her some confidence that she wasn’t invisible. I tell my neighbor I’m praying for this encouragement. I had hoped for some kind of good test grade or recognition. I didn’t think God would send a black cat with a star on her chest, but it seems that He did! And this little visit from a mysterious cat was just the balm she needed.

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Always Listen to Hope

This morning in church, I remember the day a wise friend told me that the Holy Spirit is always a voice of hope. “Don’t listen to any voice that isn’t hope,” she said. I was still a teenager, and my heart felt like a storm every day. I thought nothing would ever change. I thought God could never heal someone like me who had strayed too far. I thought God had no future for me. Sadness was my skin.

But that day with my friend, I remembered hope. It was a little whisper, a flick of a thought, a color that flashed across my soul. Hope was in there; I just had to hear its music again. It was settled deep in there, and I had to stir it all up like snow in a snow globe.

I remember that God is a Spirit of Hope (Romans 15:5). Some mornings, the old despair returns, and I have to choose hope. I cannot listen to discouragement or fear. And I’m trying to teach my daughters how to wear hope like skin. I’m trying to tell them that they must always listen to hope and no other voice.

My daughter reports with joy her Sunday school lesson on John 15 and how, if she stays close to Jesus, her life will bear fruit. She sounds so hopeful as she explains the gardening metaphor. “If I’m an apple seed, I will bear apples. I don’t need to be an orange or wish I were a banana tree if I’m an apple.

I think about self-acceptance and surrender. I think about how God ordains the life we have and how it took me 40 years and a book to articulate this very thought. She is talking about comparing her life to others, especially in school and when she sees other girls excelling in so many ways.

I see hope in her for the first time in days. Then, later, as we’re walking the neighbor’s old dog (the one we have to walk so slowly because she’s so very old), she says, “And do you know what? I shouldn’t worry if other girls seem so happy and have wonderful things happen to them. It’s like they have sunshine in their lives every day. I get jealous of all that sunshine. I have dark days. And then I thought of the gardener and vine. When I am having dark days, I remember that some plants need shade to grow best. My life may need more shade than others, and this is how I’ll grow.”

Some plants need more shade to grow.

Yes. I’m crying as I type this because she is already listening to hope. She tells me I can share her hope with others. If it’s a sad day, remember that some plants grow best in shade. 

 

 

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One Bird

I put out the fresh birdseed, and the blue bird arrives to feast. It’s a day I want to remember: I’m grading essays at the kitchen table with coffee mug full and candles lit. Children rake leaves into a pile in front of the big oak whose trunk separates into a perfect platform for jumping off.

I hear laughter and the brittle crunch of leaves.

Neighbors wave and then visit to discuss these leaves that now line the streets in huge piles. Other neighbors come with a coffee delivery in hand because they had too much and wanted to share.

So here I am in my neighborhood where neighbors talk and share, children jump into leaf piles, and the bird outside the kitchen window enjoys a bounty despite the bare landscape.

It looks empty out there with the expanse of dark sky and bare branches, but here, we know a bounty of family and friendship and ordinary work. And I love that this bird feeds upside down. Any way you face, a bounty.

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Fingerprint Animals

My daughter asks if we can make “fingerprint animals” as an art activity. She brings out her little stamping pad and paper, and she’s off to create! It’s so precious and simple. You can watch all sorts of youtube videos and explore so many Pinterest accounts with little scenes made of fingerprints. Imagine zoo animals, underwater creatures, birds, and bugs.

My daughter likes mice and whales.

The whole time, I’m thinking of her unique little fingerprint that she shares with no one else in the entire universe.

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This is me, and this is what I’m making from it. 

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It’s a simple activity for Friday afternoon. I know it’s something for children, but I’m imagining a scene of little hedgehogs, pigs, and lions. I remember that living with flair means you make art with children at least once a week.

 

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I Was Warned But Didn’t Listen

Three years ago, I blogged with joy about how we turned Velvetleaf into a beautiful indoor arrangement. You remember the story: My mother and I discovered this unwanted, invasive, terrible weed in the pumpkin patch at the fruit farm.

velvet leafWe created the most lovely bouquet. I boasted about how living with flair meant turning the obnoxious weed that nobody wanted into something beautiful.

Velvet leaf in houseBut if you remember the story, the farmer warned us: “You do not want this anywhere near your home! Even one seed will destroy your yard! You can never get rid of velvetleaf. Don’t do it.”

I did it. And in summer, I threw the bouquet into the compost bin next to my berry patch because I wanted something fresh for my living room. I hadn’t been to my berry patch for a month or so, and I venture out this morning to find this:

IMG_6654I was warned and didn’t listen. Velvetleaf now covers my berry patch. My poor strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Immediately, I remembered with shame how even a little sin—something that seems beautiful that nevertheless plants a seed into the heart—will take over my life and choke the landscape of my soul. I remember how David cried out in Psalm 139: “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Try me and know my anxious thoughts. Find out if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting!”

Velvet leaf—such a small, harmless looking thing—harbors toxins that destroy plants, blocks light from your crop, stays viable in soil for 50 years, is highly competitive with anything around it, knows how to block herbicides, releases chemicals to starve other plants, and if you crush it, it thrives.

I remember the warning from the farmer I never heeded today. And I praise God that “He is faithful and just to forgive our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

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Morning Light: 3 Promises from Scripture

I gaze out as the morning sun rises through the Weeping Cherry. It’s new and hopeful as I turn to God.

I find this as I read Psalm 21 where David praises God:

“[You have] made him glad with the joy of your presence. . . through the unfailing love of the Most High, he will not be shaken” (Psalm 12:6-7). I read it again with joy:

“. . . glad with the joy of your presence. . . not be shaken. . . “

David knew that gladness comes from the joy of God’s presence always available to us. He knew this unfailing love that, even in the midst of battle and great fear–would keep him steady.

But then I read this familiar verse just a page over in Psalm 22:

“They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed.”

Finally, I read the incomprehensible words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 6 where surely he was shaken, disappointed, and discouraged. He writes in verses 4-10 about everything that could possibly go wrong: He has trouble, distress, hardship, beating, imprisonment, sleeplessness, hunger, dishonor, loss of reputation, insult, near death, great sorrow, and poverty.

And yet. He says this:

“. . . having nothing, and yet possessing everything.”

What promises to know! What did David and Paul understand about Jesus to know this saving, joyful, abundant presence? That’s what I’ve been exploring lately. I’m growing in my faith to know these promises–to have nothing and yet to possess everything–because of Jesus.

(And did you notice that the light comes through the leaves on the Weeping Cherry that have been ripped or damaged? I love that in those places of pain, Light comes through! David knew this in battle; Paul knew this in prison. They had nothing yet everything.)

 

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When You’re Redirected

Today’s the day! Around 10:00 AM, this little blog will redirect to my beautiful new author website designed by the team at Moody Publishers.

What a great new verb! Redirect means to send something to a new place or in a new direction.

Have you ever in your life been redirected to an unexpected place for an unexpected purpose? Most of my life has felt like I was going in one direction, and God “reached down from on high and took hold of me” (Psalm 18:16) to redirect me. I was like a toddler constantly moving towards danger or like a mouse in a maze that went to every dead end.

But God redirects. And when He does, something extraordinary happens.

I never planned or even imagined that one day Live with Flair would become part of a larger journey of writing and speaking. I never imagined that tracking thousands of ordinary days would lead where it has.

After all this time, I’m ready for a redirect because I trust the One Who Leads Me.

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Humble Pie

I’ve been praying about how to keep my eyes fixed on Jesus instead of myself in the midst of so many exciting things like radio interviews, book sales, and letters from readers. It’s easy to think highly of myself and forget that Jesus has accomplished everything through me (Isaiah 26:2 and John 15). Whatever fruitfulness happens in my life is an overflow of the Holy Spirit and the “good works which God prepared in advance” for me to do.

But still, it feels so important to speak and teach and write and be on the radio. And I sometimes love all the attention that comes from visible roles within the church. So in church yesterday (where we are newer attendees), when I saw the women’s ministry director racing towards me after the service, I imagined I knew what she was going to say. Had she read my book? Had she heard a radio interview? Was she going to invite me to speak at a women’s event? To sign books maybe?

She says, breathless and excited, “Heather, I had to invite you–because we have heard about you and your. . .

amazing ability . . .

to wash dishes

if you would join our Clean-Up Team for the Women’s Ministry!”

(It’s true: I’m amazing in the kitchen when it comes to scrubbing pots and pans, and months ago, I helped wash so many pie dishes and platters and crockpots after a women’s event. She noticed. She saw my talent with dish soap and sponges.)

I burst out laughing because I was so ashamed of myself and so humbled. And I realized all over again that I was seated with Christ in the heavenly realms where no task that He assigns is more important than any other. Scrubbing the pots is as vital as speaking up front, and I knew it.

We’ve heard about you and your amazing ability to wash dishes. 

I needed this invitation yesterday. I was thrilled to accept this honored request to serve as the Scrubber of Pots for Women’s Ministry. Hallelujah! She said to me, “It was just so much fun cleaning the church kitchen with you.” It was. It was perfect. I loved that evening where I gabbed on and on with ladies while up to my elbows in dishwater.

And I remembered Philippians 2:7 and how I’m most like Jesus when I “consider [myself] nothing and take on the nature of a servant.” I’m seated with Christ, and I complete the good works He ordains, whether large or small, displayed or hidden.

Sometimes the hidden tasks are so much more fun anyway.

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These 40 Years

In Deuteronomy 2:7, we read this: “The Lord your God has blessed you in all the work of your hands. He has watched over your journey through this vast wilderness. These forty years the Lord your God has been with you, and you have not lacked anything.”

It’s true! It’s true for me and you!

These forty years. As I turn forty on this very day, I rejoice in Jesus. I dwell in the truth of this verse; God watched over me through the vast wilderness of my whole life. He guarded me. He rescued and kept me. I never lacked anything because I had Him.

What a wonderful reality to finally know! What a refuge and fortress of strength!

(This is my next book–on this very verb “guard.”)

So when I went to blow out candles and make a wish, for the first time in my life, I paused and couldn’t think of what to wish for. It was all already here.

But I did want one thing that my family presented to me:

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Slippers! Luxurious slippers.

Being forty and living with flair means you know exactly what you want and need, and you aren’t afraid to ask for it. You know you want slippers because being cozy at home with family and friends matters more than anything. You know you want slippers because you love drinking coffee and sitting at your writing desk for hours to write books. You know you want slippers–luxurious slippers–because you’re going to stay right here and settle into this life God has given you. Let’s drink coffee, watch a movie, talk about life, make a meal, write, and read. I’ll be in my slippers.

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