The God Show

Early this morning, I received a great question from a reader: How can I keep writing and publishing from being the “me show?”

For 8 long years, I struggled with the self-promotion and fame aspect of writing and publishing. I feared the sin of it all—that I was becoming like the people Jesus scolds in Matthew 23:5-7; He rebukes the scribes (the writers!) who “love the place of honor” and “the most important seats” and who “love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces.” As my first book sold well and I began to speak to huge audiences, I started to love the attention. So then I started to fear it.

This was becoming the “me show.”

But God sent three wise women to cancel the “me show” and make it the “God and you show.”

Donkeys. My friend practically dragged me away from a speaking event as I greeted all my adoring fans. When I said, “Why did you do that? Those women needed me!” She said, “Heather they don’t need you; they need Jesus.” She also told me that when I felt consumed with myself to remember how “the Lord uses donkeys” (Numbers 22:28) to speak; He doesn’t need us, and we aren’t that great or special. He can use anyone or anything. If He chooses to use you, remember the donkey.

Light. Another friend told me the story of a gifted musician who stopped making beautiful music because she liked the praise she received from it. She thought this displeased God, so she hid her gift. I thought about this for a long time. When I read Matthew 5:16 and Jesus’ encouragement to “Let your light shine” so others “can see your good deeds and glorify your Father in Heaven,” I thought about writing as a way to let my light shine. I thought about all the beautiful works of art in the world and how I’m glad those artists didn’t hide their gift.

3. God. God can humble you. When I told my mentor over and over again how afraid I was of falling into the trap of fame and self-promotion, she said, “Stop worrying about this. Go write! Go speak! Go teach! Just realize that God can humble you when and if He needs to. Let Him handle this.”

So I pressed on! I realized I could use writing as a way to love other people. I learned to use speaking and publishing to love others, to bless them, and to offer a gift to them. That’s why I don’t fear book signings of photographs or attention anymore; it doesn’t poison my heart when I see it all as a way to love others and bless them somehow. It’s how I take my eyes off myself and think, “This is about God and about you–not me.”

Lastly (and most importantly), I have to listen to the Holy Spirit every day. I have to keep the right people in my life to keep me focused on God. (This is one of the reasons I publish with Moody Publishers because they don’t want to make Christian celebrities.) So I press on. I have to confess sin, ask God to “instruct me in the way chosen for me” (Psalm 25), and press on.

I pray you press on, too.

PS: Here is an infographic I made for the writers following along to gain writing tips and questions:
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Can and Will

This morning, I learned something so wonderful in Exodus 6. I loved it so much that I already told my husband, my daughters, my sister, my friend, and now you! In Exodus 6, God says something very unusual to Moses. He says this:

“I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac and to Jacob as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. . . Therefore, say to the Israelites: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

I pause. I cannot figure it out. Why would it matter that the people knew God as God Almighty (or El-Shaddai in Hebrew) but not yet as the Lord (Jehovah)? What’s so special about people knowing God now as Jehovah (also said as Yahweh) as opposed to El-Shaddai?

I love what I discover in a blog post by Jacob Gerber. He explains it as the difference between the Almighty God who can do all things, and the One who will do all things.

Gerber explains, “As El-Shaddai, he is capable of doing all these things, but there is no guarantee that he will. But as [Jehovah], God binds himself to his people, and he binds his people to himself. He is their God, and they are his people. God will move heaven and earth to deliver his people and bring them into their rest.”

In Exodus 6, God tells us He not only can do everything, but He also will. He will! He is bound by the covenant He “swore with uplifted hand. . ” (8). This serves as a guarantee of His love and faithfulness to us.

All day, I think about the God who can do anything and everything. But it’s more than that; He can do it, and He will do all He promises to us.

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Now Go

I’m reading in Exodus after my journey through Genesis and Job. I pause at Exodus 4:12 because I realize it’s exactly what so many of us–perhaps even you–need to hear in a fresh way.

If you remember, God gives Moses a wonderful (if not terrifying) assignment to speak first to the elders of Israel and then eventually to Pharaoh about releasing the Israelites from Egyptian enslavement.

Moses does what we all might do when faced with an overwhelming task. He asks for reassurance. He tells the Lord he’s not skilled enough. Then he begs God to ask someone else to do the work.

I just love God’s words to Moses:

“Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”

I will help you. I will teach you what to say. 

As we move into new areas of ministry and take steps that require faith, I’m certain we will also feel insecure, overwhelmed, and unskilled. But if God sends us, He will help and teach us. It might be that God positions you with important, intimidating leaders. It might be that He puts you in a situation of speaking to powerful people when you feel powerless. Or, like Moses, God may ask us to do something where we feel like our mannerism or impediments (like Moses and his “slow tongue”) don’t match the calling. But who are we to question God? He can send anyone, at anytime, in any way, to accomplish His purposes.

I like to remember that as we do things that terrify us, God will help us and teach us.

Now go!

 

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The Undecorating

Five years ago–during this very week, I wrote this about the beauty of taking down the decorations. I reread it every year, and I thought you’d enjoy it today:

I notice today that nobody ever posts photos of undecorating.

Nobody wants to see a house dismantled of its glorious holiday adornment. I find it curious because I love taking down the decorations as much as I love putting them up.

Stripping down the house back to that pure, simple home creates a sense of a fresh start and a refocusing on day-to-day simple community living and work.

I think about God’s work of dismantling the excess and the show from my own heart. I imagine the clean surfaces, the fresh walls and windows, and the wide open living spaces of my own heart now cleared. I’m pared down to basics. 

I love the basics of family, friendship, hard work, and creativity.

I love the basics of living from my soul and not my circumstances.

I love the basics of having a grateful heart.

I love the basics of walking to school.

I love the basics of a cat at my feet, the Bible in my hand, and a mug beside me. I love the basics of a teaching life where I print out the fresh names of all those new students. I paperclip stacks of lesson plans freshly copied and organize my bag for a new day of school tomorrow.

Soon, I’ll cook dinner, and I think we’ll watch Downton Abbey tonight when the girls go to bed.

I love undecorating.

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Halfway Through a Month of Encouragement

Today I realized that most writers think they must write a book. You don’t have to write a book!  You might write any number of amazing pieces in your writing life. Write! Think about poetry, song lyrics, newsletters, magazine articles, opinion pieces for the newspaper, short stories, ethnography, devotions, how-to guides, advice columns, letters to the editor of your alumni magazine, film scripts, marketing for products you love, instruction manuals, a recipe book of treasured recipes with commentary, or a collection of the stories you’d love to pass on about your life. You could write a weekly email to your friends about what fascinates you like about bugs, hot air balloons, or maple syrup. Write to advocate for others. Write letters to your representatives in congress. Write top-ten lists. Write a wellness guide. Write a diary just for you. Write to God. Write sentences to hear the sound of them and collect lists of beautiful words like tranquil, birch, and effervesce. Write better definitions. Write a fresh résumé and mission statement. Write a review of a book or movie or album. Write tributes. Write toasts. Write a rant. Write satire. Write translations. Write jokes. Write.

 

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Kitchen Terms that Might Change Your Life

One of my daughters and I spend the majority of our time cooking together. We’re always in the kitchen prepping complicated recipes or challenging ourselves with a new food project (like sushi!). We love to use the French terms for our cooking space. I’ll call out, “OK! Mise en place!”

Mise en place: It means “everything in place.” We love to have all our ingredients prepared and all our cooking utensils and pans out and ready. We keep everything so tidy and organized. The actual cooking or baking part seems like we’re on a cooking show where you just reach over and the little bowl of measured out chopped cilantro is right there. I’m learning to apply mise en place to everything–my writing area, my teaching, my chores. You spend half the time setting up the thing you’re going to do with everything you’ll need, and it makes the actual doing of it so fun and easy.

Sous chef: The second in command in the kitchen. This chef reports to the Executive Chef. In our kitchen, the sous chef is the one who makes the Executive Chef a success. This person hovers around, helps with anything and everything, and tidies up to make the Executive Chef free to create and become the artist of the kitchen. But you have to know who you are and what your role is. Before we begin a cooking day, we decide who is the Executive Chef and who is the Sous Chef. Sometimes it’s me. Sometimes it’s her. I’m learning that in life, I can serve in either role with joy. The Sous Chef makes others a success and can step in at any time to take over as needed. It’s fun to be that person sometimes.

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Poor Air Quality Alert and What It Taught Me

Just now, I received an alert I’ve never received in my life before. It was a “Poor Air Quality” alert for our county. We’re supposed to limit our time outside. We’re supposed to understand that the air outside, for whatever reason, contains fine particulate matter that will aggravate people with respiratory problems. We are in a valley, after all. Perhaps construction vehicles or smoke from wood-burning fire places contributed to dangerous levels of inhalable pollutants. Who knows? I can’t see what’s in the air.

I think about invisible things that damage us—those unseen pollutants. What am I learning here? I think about limiting my exposure, finding places of fresh air, and listening to the wisdom of experts who see what I don’t see.

The spiritual life requires this kind of vigilance. We breathe in so much negativity, anger, and fear. We breathe in ideologies and impurities of all forms. I limit my exposure, I return to good fellowship and corporate prayer, of worship and rejoicing, and I listen to those who see what I cannot see on the path regarding temptation and danger of all forms.

I think about the alert systems of the human soul. I think of the Holy Spirit sounding that alarm–perhaps a whisper at first–that we’re in dangerous territory. Don’t breathe in this air. It isn’t for you. Move to new ground. 

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The Wonder of Ordinary Things

Sometimes I just sit and marvel at profoundly ordinary things.

For example, I love maple syrup as a sweetener, and it suddenly occurred to me how marvelous it is. A tree weeps it out. God made trees that, when cut open, bleed out a sweet treat for us. How did God even think of this? I wonder about the planning process involved in heaven.

I read the words written by English chemist Robert Boyle in 1663: “There is in some parts of New England a kind of tree whose juice that weeps out its incision, if it is permitted slowly to exhale away the superfluous moisture, doth congeal into a sweet and saccharin substance. . . .”

I sip coffee with a splash of maple syrup in it, and I marvel.

 

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Roasting the Cauliflower and Chickpeas

I found a great seasoning combination for roasted cauliflower and chickpeas. It’s part of a Forks Over Knives recipe called Cauliflower Shawarma Bowls, but I actually just love eating a bowl of the roasted things.

Mix in a big bowl the following:

  • 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
  • 2 Tbsp pure maple syrup
  • 4 minced garlic cloves
  • 1 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp ground coriander

Then, cut your cauliflower into florets. Drain and pat dry the chickpeas (also called garbanzo beans). Toss both the chickpeas and cauliflower florets in the bowl with the spiced mixture. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Place the coated chickpeas and cauliflower onto a baking sheet covered in parchment paper, and roast for 35 minutes or until the cauliflower is browned on the edges.

Feast! It’s a spicy, Indian flavored bowl of yumminess!

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A Theology of Writing

I’ve loved encouraging writers this month on social media. Today, I remembered how God developed in me a “theology of writing.” Tomorrow, I’ll encourage writers to pause and reflect on writing itself. Here’s the sneak peek:

Tip: Pause and Reflect. Today we reflect on writing as a spiritual practice. This helps connect us more deeply with the beauty and wonder behind our writing projects. Here are my favorite ways to think about writing from the Bible:

  1. Writers witness. God tells Isaiah, “Go now, write it on a scroll that it may become an everlasting witness” (Isaiah 30:8). I just love this command to go write. 
  2. Writers tell the next generation. The psalmist declares: “We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done (Psalm 74:8).
  3. Writers encourage: Consider how Isaiah declares, “the Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue, to know the word that sustains the weary” (Isaiah 50:4).
  4. Writers know the power of story; they follow Jesus’s example of the power of story as He taught in parables.
  5. Writers worship as they write; God Himself wrote through the hands of the biblical writers. Writers reflect God’s nature as they create and communicate through the gift of writing. 

I’m thankful for what seems like such a simple thing like writing that’s actually a deeply spiritual act.

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