A simple life

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I don’t like to think of myself as high maintenance. I’m not really into bling or the color pink. I rarely wear mascara or lipstick and the only jewelry I don is my wedding ring (I don’t even have pierced ears!). I’ve had the same hairstyle pretty much since college (at least I escaped my lion-mane-mall-bangs look from the late 80s. Think Joan Cusack in “Working Girl”, only Texas style, not New Jersey…) and prefer wearing a cap to having to “do” my hair. I love days when I can stay in my pajamas and relax in my Barcalounger with a book in my hands, my cat on my lap, a cup of French press coffee steaming from an owl mug, and my hubby at my side. Although when we get the rare weekend together, he’s usually in the garage working on stained glass. But he’s still there. And that’s all I need.

Yeah, I had hair like that.

Yeah, I had hair like that.

Don’t get me wrong. I enjoy the occasional detour from my norm where I gussy up and attend a concert or even a fancy shmancy restaurant. But my preference for most things is like the simplicity of two-part harmony or an acoustic guitar. Chaos and noise only confuse and cloud my already cluttered mind. With all the distractions out there, I don’t need anything turning me from what matters, from Who matters.

Because I’m still a newbie at the whole blogging thing and I love to learn and keep things simple, I thought I’d research some tips on “How to Blog”. The search engine offered a whopping 5,160,000,000 hits. That’s billion. Five point one six. Can blogging really be so complex that it requires that many articles? Novice and pro bloggers offer lots of ways to make your blog bigger and better, more appealing. Anything to generate more “traffic” (could “they” please come up with a better word? one that doesn’t offer up images of road rage, congestion, and panic?). After skimming the first few articles and blogs, I was overwhelmed, and quite frankly, bored. Also, many of the sites had so much going on—pictures, graphs, different fonts and font sizes, social media buttons, advertisements—that I couldn’t “see” the actual advice.

But then I read a post from a blogger I follow (who is quite successful) where he siphoned off all the rubbish and repetition and narrowed his blogging advice down to two simple, attainable points. From 5,160,000,000 to two. I can live with two.

Essentially, he encourages aspiring bloggers to focus on content, because content—what I say, how I say it, pretty much ME on the page— is the meat of the blog. It’s not about how many pictures or graphics I have or whether I’m a social media butterfly (which I’m SOOOOO not). The content should be a little piece of my heart in a post, a glimpse into my life and mind. Because that’s what a reader deserves. The truth of me. Not pretense. Not a pharisaical parade of my self-righteous displays.

That got me thinking. Am I giving God the same consideration I give to my readers? Is He getting my heart or a bedazzled version of it?

There are articles out there on pretty much any subject. Some even on directing people how to be better Christians. 772,000,000 to be exact. I could have clicked on a few just to see how many steps I can take into my journey with Christ before I actually “get better”. But I think it’s easy to lose God in all that chaos, all that noise. I can only be me. The best version of me only happens when God is at my side. Guess what? I’m flawed. I make mistakes. I sin. Daily. God loves me anyway. He looks at my story, not at how many Bible studies I attend or how many Pinterest boards I have filled with inspirational quotes. He reads the content of my heart. He knows my truth.

I want to live a low maintenance, simple life filled with the kind of content that gets God to say, “Heather, your heart was never far from me.”

I want to stand in front of the mirror, reflecting my simple hair, cozy jammies, and Christ in me,  and ask Him to, “Put me on trial, Lord, and cross-examine me. Test my motives and my heart” (Psalm 26:2).

Simply stated, I want the “words of my mouth (and blog) and the meditation (and content) of my heart” to please Him (Psalm 19:14).

Behold, the power

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Power is a funny thing. As a people, I think we are pretty obsessed with it. We have horsepower, flower power, Power Rangers, the power of Grayskull, and even behold, the power of cheese. But power isn’t just about defining an era or some catchy slogan. It’s about influence and control. It’s about perception and fear. Power is one of those things that is seemingly elusive, just beyond our reach, because we aren’t rich enough, pretty enough, political enough, smart enough, Rothschild enough. Sadly, it’s not just lawmakers and elitists wielding real or imagined power in my life. It’s the everyday people and things. And I am handing it over to them on the proverbial silver platter.

It's not just some button we can turn on and off.

It’s not just some button we can turn on and off.

For as long as I can remember, I have allowed people and things to control me. I’m not sure when it started, exactly. A memory that stands out in Memorex clarity is a picture of a tree I drew in elementary school. While everyone else used brown for the trunk and green for the soft, bubbly top, I used purple, blue and red. My classmates delivered the typical and acceptable second-grade version of a tree. I created some bizarre Klimt-meets-Dali tree. My teacher, with half-inch raised disdain-conveying eyebrows, tsk-tsked and told me that art just wasn’t my thing, told me I should stick with spelling and books. And you know what? I did. I allowed her to eternally brand me a “non artist”. I gave her power. Not just in that moment. But still today. A blank canvas nearly gives me hives. And her voices echoes from the recesses of my mind, “Just go read a book. That you can do.”

Did I want to be an artist? Not really. But I would have liked the option. Truthfully, it’s not that teacher’s fault. She probably thought she was saving me from a life of disappointment and my parents from an embarrassed Frigidaire. The whole thing is my fault. I have allowed that moment to keep me from exploring the possibilities of art and doing things like taking an art class or coloring outside the lines. My perception of her power goaded me into complacency, where fear stifles progress and is the norm. I built walls around myself and found comfort in blaming her for my inability to do, or say, or be.

Other things have power in my life. My addiction to tortillas and my hubby’s wings. The way I binge-watch certain TV shows. Books (buying and reading them). Office supply stores. I hold on to my addictions and idols, and those voices from past and present who reside in the approval-hungry sector of my brain, for fear that when I am stripped of them, I will have to stand before God and myself in my nakedness and say, “This is who I am.” Will I like who I see? Will He?

It's Southern food at it's best. Of COURSE it has power...

It’s Southern food at it’s best. Of COURSE it has power…

I don’t want to use these people and things as crutches for not being or doing or saying anymore.

When I was with Lady Di and Cori on Saturday, I came up with an acronym for taking the power away from people and things and putting it back in the only hands that are capable, God’s.

P: Pray it. Ask God to help you identify the people and things you are letting control you.

O: Own it. Once God has revealed them to you, own them. Don’t blame or point fingers anymore. You have given them power. They didn’t take it from you.

W: Wrestle it. Figure out your plan of attack, your strategy for taking down your opponent.  As we know from Jacob’s wrestling match with God, we won’t leave the mat unchanged. We might walk with a limp, but, praise God, we will have a new name!

E: Explore it. Get to the root of why you gave these people and things power so you don’t let it happen again. This step will probably take the longest. Be patient. Write it out. Talk it out. Pray it out.

R: Remove it. You’ve done a lot of digging to expose the roots, the last thing you want is for them to get re-established. Cut out those roots. Don’t let them weigh you down anymore.

In those last moments, before Jesus’ crucifixion, He faced Pilate who, in society’s eyes, had power. He could have overturned Jesus’ conviction. He was frustrated with the situation, with Jesus, and certainly with the angry mob, demanding he answer to them.

“Why don’t you talk to me?” Pilate demanded. “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (John 19:10)

He dangled his false sense of control in front of Jesus as if it were something to be admired and feared, even appreciated.

Then Jesus said, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above.” (John 19:11)

Only God gives power. Only God has power. Not my second-grade teacher. And certainly not tortillas.

It’s crystal clear now

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Despite all the chaos and drama, the deadlines and headlines, the name-calling and name-dropping in the world, I had a wonderful evening.  I’m not bragging or one-upping. Just stating a fact. My hubby cooked pork tenderloin with horseradish sour cream, pierogi, and sauteed vegetables (sorry ladies, he’s taken!), which I polished off in Olympic record-breaking time. We turned on Sonos to the Baroque station, started the fireplace, and I finished an Elvis Cole novel while the hubby played Number Cruncher. There’s a certain peace that comes from knowing that there, in the waltz of our relationship, he knows when to lead and I know when to follow. We don’t always have to dance. It’s OK to sit one out or to stop to appreciate the music. Our marriage has become a harmony of give and take, of gratitude and latitude, and of looking across the room at each other and offering the simple smile that says, “I love you” without uttering a word.

Here he is, playing Angry Birds. But Squeaks shows him who's boss.

Here he is, playing Angry Birds. But Squeaks shows him who’s boss.

My husband would tell you he’s not an intellectual. He thinks that because I am, as my sister would say, a Nerdy McNerderson, armed with books and the juice I extract from them, that I am an “intellectual”. Just because I read a lot and have degrees doesn’t make me an intellectual. Because I’m here to tell you, the man is brilliant. Sometimes he’s says downright hilarious things and has the weirdest phobias (chairs on a wall, human features on animals, Brazil nuts…) but he’s also quite profound. I wish I could curl up inside his head to see the intricacies of his neurotransmitters. When I make a mental leap, it’s really just a hopscotch kind of leap. My hubby’s mental leaps are of the pole vaulting variety.

As sat in the Baroque-infused quietness of our home, he turned to me and said, “People are like crystal.”

Out of the blue. No prior conversation on crystal. Not even Billy. “How?” I asked.

“When the light of God’s Word passes through us, it is reflected in different colors, depending on each person’s relationship with Him. Some people just radiate His Word and are prisms of color. Some have radiant colors while others barely reflect any color at all. Then there are those people who don’t think they need His Word, so they stay out of the light entirely. It’s a shame, really.” He never donned a pseudo-deep-thoughts tableau of steepled fingers. In fact, he never stopped playing his game. Just offered me his thoughts in the same manner I would mention running into a friend at the store.

I sat there, book in hand, Squeaks on my lap, and grinned. I offered a silent “Thanks” to God for His work in my husband’s life.

Are you standing in the light of God's Word?

Are you standing in the light of God’s Word?

He continued, “Did you know that a crystal’s structure is called its habit?”

“Uhhh…no.” Where does he get this stuff?

“It’s all determined on the crystal’s chemical makeup and its environmental conditions.”

“Hmm…”

He set down his phone/game and faced me. Then he said, “So I’m thinking maybe that’s why some people radiate better light than others. Their structure is built on a relationship with God.”

“They make God their habit.”

He grinned, picked up his phone and continued his game. “This game’s a bad habit, I tell ya.”

My mind hovered on that conversation for hours. Neurotransmitters inch-wormed in an area the size of pencil lead. My hubby’s mind had catapulted back into his game and possibly contemplated the cure for cancer or dogs chasing their tails. I never know.

After announcing His twelve apostles, Jesus delivered His Sermon on the Mount. Part of that sermon entailed life instructions. He told His disciples, “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:14-16).

I yearn to radiantly reflect God’s good and perfect love and Word in illuminating, prismatic brilliance. I don’t want to hide or stand in darkness. I want to shine for all the world to see. I want my habit to have Jesus as its foundation, for only the Cornerstone can make my structure solid and complete.

Still learning how to walk

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Several weeks ago, I introduced you to my nephew, Baby Bears. He’s pretty much the cutest thing I’ve ever seen. And I’ve seen lots of cuteness. I did, after all, marry a man who planks in our living room and then cooks me the finest wings and greens I’ve ever tasted. If that isn’t cute, I’m not sure what is. Back to Baby B. He hit the 8-month mark a couple of weeks ago and he’s on the verge of crawling. Some babies crawl sooner, some later. It doesn’t matter to us. We just enjoy watching him explore his feet, his hands, the floor. Everything. He grunts in frustration when he loses his balance. But he doesn’t give up. I know he’d much rather bypass the whole crawling stage and just shoot for a marathon, but the crawling will be good for him. It’s a process. Crawl. Walk. Then run.

These feet have miles to go before they sleep

These feet have miles to go before they sleep

My nephew’s struggle through the process has served as a reminder of my walk with Christ.

The nerd/student in me wanted to dive into Christianity and ruin the curve for others. I wanted to know how to read my Bible (based on topics? people? themes? chronologically? NT first?), which translation and reference books to purchase, which supplementary books to read, which Bible studies to complete, which sermons to watch, and I wanted it all NOW. I felt so behind. There were teenagers who knew more about the Bible than I did. Being an ex-teacher, that just would not do! See, like Baby B, I wanted to run the marathon without crawling first.

It took some really good friends restraining me with zebra-print duct tape to realize that my journey with Christ isn’t a marathon or a Scantron test with a right answer. God doesn’t award “26.2” bumper stickers or grade on a curve.

So I learned to crawl with Christ. Frankly, I still have days when I crawl with Him, when I lose my balance and grunt in frustration. But see, He sits with me on the floor and says, Heather, “Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10). He knows my legs are weak and it takes time to build walking-muscles. He is there behind me, beside me, ready to catch me if I fall, ready to encourage me to try again.

You certainly can't DRIVE before you crawl...

You certainly can’t DRIVE before you crawl…

In order to stand, I grab something, anything to help me get my footing. I lean on people, the things of this world, myself for strength. When I do, I fall. Every single time. He smiles, like any Father would, and reminds me to lean on Him. Only on Him: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart; do not depend on your own understanding. Seek His will in all you do and He will show you which path to take” (Proverbs 3:5-6).

So I stand, my Father at my side, and I beg Him: “Guide my steps by your Word, so I will not be overcome by evil” (Psalm 119:133). As I become confident in my walk with Him, He steps in front, carving out my path, shining His light so I won’t lose my way. 1 Peter 2:21 reminds us that, “God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps.” Yes. This walk isn’t easy. I might have days, even months, of suffering. But Jesus shows me how to walk, and I must, as Colossians 2:6 states, “continue to follow Him.”

Someday, I will be ready to run. Someday, I will be “surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith” and will “strip off every weight that slows [me] down, especially the sin that so easily trips [me] up.” And I will run. Yes, I will “run with endurance the race God has set before [me]…by keeping [my] eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects [my] faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Crawl. Walk. Then run. That’s a process I can live with.

Wishing wells, water wells, and oh wells

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I was watching “Goonies” this weekend. I’ve seen it A LOT. What can I say? I’m a sucker for the Truffle Shuffle. Heh. The wishing well scene stood out to me this time. If you haven’t seen the movie, then shame on you. It’s pure 80s cheese. And worth every gooey morsel. I won’t offer a plot summary, but the movie follows the treasure-hunting adventure of a group of townies trying to save their homes.  Their adventure takes them underground where they discover what they believe is One-Eyed Willie’s treasure. Turns out, the “treasure” is nothing but coins at the bottom of a wishing well. A woman-ogling, sports-car-driving, right-side-of-the golf-course kid, Troy, even offers to assist the object of his affection out of the well and into his teenage-hormone-riddled arms. But those coins represented the promise of something more for the Goonies. We’ve made it this far, they reasoned. No need to give up now.

Hey you guys!!

Hey you guys!!

Just so happens, I’ve been reading about wells in my daily Bible. Of course, the OT wells weren’t wishing wells, but they certainly represented the promise of something more.

For Hagar, the first well represented God’s ability to hear her (hence her son’s name Ishmael) and see her. I imagine in the quiet of the night, when everyone else was asleep, Hagar cherished that moment when God met her at the well and filled her with the promise of hope. She fled, once more, to the wilderness where, without water, she knew she and her only son would die. God told her not to be afraid. She wept for leaving behind the only life she had known. She wept for the unknown. Then, God opened her eyes. And He provided her with a well.

God hears. God sees. God provides.

There are so many instances of life-changing encounters at wells (Abraham’s servant and Rebekah, Jacob and Rachel, Jesus and “the woman”), but I’d like to focus on Isaac’s wells. I’m pretty sure God was waiting, patiently I might add, for me to catch up. I can be a little busy-minded, so sometimes I need Him to open my eyes like He did for Hagar. Last night, as I was reading from the January 14 entry in the daily Bible (yes, I’m a bit behind. Don’t judge. I’ve been sick. And I had a tragedy occur that I’m not ready to talk about, so cut me some slack.), I noticed the word “well” over and over again.

I knew God was smacking me upside the head with His Word. He might as well have said, “Pay attention, Heather. This is important.”

A well of fresh, living water

A well of fresh, living water

Isaac was prospering in the land. Unfortunately, when certain people prosper, certain other people get jealous. Enter the Philistines. They thought if they cut off Isaac’s water supply by filling his wells up with dirt, he would crumble into a blathering mess and beg for mercy. He didn’t. He continued to succeed. So the king, Abimelech, ordered Isaac to leave. Can you imagine that conversation?

Abi (that’s my nickname for the king): So, uh, yeah. Umm, Isaac, like, you’re über rich and have, like, tons o’ stuff, so, like, umm, yeah, gonna need you to go somewhere else. You’re making me look bad. People are starting to talk.

Isaac: No prob, Bob.

Isaac moved to the valley of Gerar, about nineteen miles away. Nineteen miles. By foot. I don’t like to drive nineteen miles to work much less walk nineteen miles. IN THE HEAT. With all my possessions. But he did it. No questions asked.

First order of business? He reopened his father, Abraham’s, wells and his servants dug until they found fresh water. Enter local shepherds.

“That’s OUR water. Back off. Or else.”

Isaac aptly named that well “Argument”. Although, based on scripture, the argument was a bit one-sided. So his men dug another well and discovered more fresh water. Same shepherds. Same argument. Isaac called this well, “Hostility.” Ya think? Keep in mind, each time they were digging wells, they were packing up everything and MOVING.

Isaac didn’t give up, though. He settled in another spot, dug another well. And waited. No shepherds accosted him. So Isaac breathed a little easier and called the well, “Open Space”, because God had provided him with enough space to prosper. He settled (yes, he moved again!) in Beersheba and God greeted him with the promise that he would become a great nation. God had a plan all along.

Just when we think we’ve discovered our well, God shows us another one. Not the one we think we need, but the one we actually need. See the “Open Space” well didn’t have fresh water. And in order for us to thrive, we need water. Especially Living Water.

The next time I find myself looking for hope at the bottom of a wishing well, or seeking solace in the wilderness, or battling opposition while digging all the wrong wells, I need to remember that, in spite of everything, God sees; God hears; God provides.

What wells are you digging?

Is God enough?

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I have lots of stuff. Stuff on walls, shelves, in corners, on the floor, in closets. It’s pretty much everywhere. I’m not a hoarder or anything. My sickness is much more refined. I’m a collector. I acquire antiques, Charlie Chaplin memorabilia, cast iron pots, spools, Kelly Rae Roberts art, owls, and books. Lots and lots of books. The hubby and I have been painting the inside of the house. One glorious room at a time. Since we both work, well, let’s just say it’s taking awhile. And that’s OK. We have more time than money.

Just a tiny piece of my Chaplin collection

Just a tiny piece of my Chaplin collection

Our house, however, in the midst of our renovation, is a testament to the fruits of my collections. Boxes line the halls and floors. Bare walls and blue-taped base boards and crown molding greet me every day. Last night, as I stood at the sink for over two hours, washing away the grease and grime of my top-of-the-kitchen-cabinet decor, I wondered, Is God enough?

Lady Di and I had an interesting conversation a couple of weeks ago at our spot. (I missed last weekend due to a wicked awful stomach flu that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy, enemy, or enemy. In my sick haze, nothing sounded good to eat, so I chewed on the manna God provided from my last meeting with Di.) She mentioned that she had accumulated a lot of “compensators” in her life. In typical Heather fashion, I ventured to the dictionary for a definition of compensate: offset, be equivalent to, counterbalance. Hmm… So compensators counterbalance. Gee, that would mean my life isn’t in balance. Because I have TONS of compensators. My halls are lined with them. I even have Meniere’s Disease to prove just how off balance I am.

IMG_0550

One can never have too many spools

So then I looked up the word counter. The results astounded me: contrary to the right course, opposed. In other words, all these things I acquire and all these things I do, like binge-watching Veronica Mars even though I’ve seen all three seasons four times, or adding books to my Amazon wish list even though I have more books in my house than I could read in my lifetime, are throwing me off balance. They are contrary to the right course. And there is only One right course, way or path.

Jesus tells us that He is “the Way, the Truth, and the Life” (John 14:6). He warns us about straying from Him or His Way. He knew we would fill up our lives with meaningless compensators. We are, after all, only human. But He didn’t want us to lose our way because of them. In Matthew 7, Jesus says that we can “enter God’s Kingdom only through the narrow gate. The highway to hell (Greek for road that leads to destruction)  is broad, and its gate is wide for the many who choose that way. But the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it” (13-14). I certainly don’t want to miss the narrow road because my life is so cluttered with compensators that I can’t even see it.

I know God doesn’t expect me to pack up all my stuff and plop it on the Salvation Army doorstep, or burn my Veronica Mars DVDs, or delete my Amazon account. But I do think He wants to be enough, expects to be enough. He should be, because He IS balance; He is perfection. If I put Him at the center of myself, then how could I possibly need to compensate for anything?

I'm putting books on tables because I've run out of shelves...

I’m putting books on tables because I’ve run out of shelves…

As I look at the grime-free ceramics and kitchen gadgets awaiting their spot at the top of the cabinets, I ask myself if I need them. Truthfully, I don’t. But I will still put them up there, knowing that they are not happiness. They are not balance. They do not fill a void (other than the space between cabinet top and ceiling). I am finally starting to live my life as if God is enough. Because, dear friends, He is.

What are the compensators in your life?