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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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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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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The One You Feed

Last night, I heard again the Native American tale of the two wolves that Billy Graham once popularized in his 1970’s book on the Holy Spirit.

The most original source I could find comes from the Nanticoke Indian Association’s website where they account “The Tale of the Two Wolves.”

They write:

One evening, an elderly Cherokee brave told his grandson about a battle that goes on inside people. He said, “My son, the battle is between two ‘wolves’ inside us all. One is evil. It is anger, envy, jealousy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf wins?” 

The grandfather simply replied, “The one that you feed.” 

I want to feed the good wolf.

I hear the tale last night in this concise form: The two wolves of joy and despair fight inside of us each day. Which one wins?

The one I feed.

I feed joy today.

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The End of an Era: The Last Boo Platter

One of my all-time favorite Live with Flair moments came on October 28, 2010 when I posted on Your Most Memorable Act.

In this post, I saw the way God combined words, writing, and motherhood in this Boo Platter that became the stuff of elementary school legend. For years, the children begged for the Boo Platter for their Halloween class party. It’s not glamorous, crafty, or Pinterest-worthy, but it’s all me, right down to the writing of words.

This morning, I sign in at the school office to deliver my final Boo Platter to the 5th grade classroom. Next year, my daughter will find herself in the impenetrable fortress of Middle School where parents hardly enter the building.

But not on this day. This day, I weave through the costumed children as “Ghostbusters” plays on the intercom. I compliment the princesses, the Minions, the Star Wars characters, and the Harry Potter wizards. I hold my Boo Platter high and make my way through cats and knights and Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz.

And I deliver the final Boo Platter.

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Always a Little Something to Help You Live with Flair

When my husband travels, we fall apart. We do. Nobody sleeps well, and we just feel out of sorts. Even the cats rebel against his absence.

So this morning, after a sleepless night, an angry daughter, and rebelling cats, I was in no mood for flair.

And I had a headache. Woe is me!

I wanted to cancel class. I wanted to cancel everything. But I knew what to do. I stood in the shower and remembered all those years of choosing to find something beautiful and good in any situation. For thousands and thousands of days, God helped me find the wondrous thing in the most discouraging of days.

The day chugged into motion, and I knew to look for tiny, beautiful things:

My 13 year old borrowed my boots for school, and I realized she’s all grown up. I smiled and snapped a picture of her. Those boots on that girl–a tiny, beautiful moment.

I glanced at the boxed mix of caramel apple cupcakes my younger daughter and I would make after school together. Such a little thing would fill the house with warm smells. She still loves to bake with me. A tiny, beautiful thing.

Then, I left the house for a meeting on campus, and when I stopped in at the Creamery, they were featuring a Coconut Cream Pie Latte. Never in my life had I heard of such a thing. You know my weakness for coconut. You know my love of coffee. This was a wonderful little treat.

And the day chugged on with flair.

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