Nichole Hall

Stress Free Living with Chronic Illness

Cooking 101

Cooking Lifehack

Cooking Lifehack

Cooking. I love cooking. But if there’s one thing that will wear me out fast, it’s cooking. Here are a few things I do to make cooking easier on me.

  1. Use the Crock-pot. I choose one to two crockpot meals a week. If I’m having a busy week, I choose more than two. When using a crock-pot, I’ll throw everything in the morning of, let it cook and forget about it.
  2. Pre-thaw meat. When cooking traditionally I’ll lay the meat for the meal in the fridge the morning of so it’s thawed and ready when I need it. If I’m cooking a roast, full chicken or pork loin I’ll place the meat in the fridge the night before I plan to cook it.
  3. Limit prep Time. Cooking on some days can be laborsome, so I try to select recipes that only have a 20 minute or less prep time. This definitely makes a difference in my energy levels. I also purchase frozen carrots, frozen onions, etc to consolidate prep time. On days when I have more energy I’ll cut all leftover veggies from the fridge, blanche them and freeze them so I do not have to purchase more precut frozen veggies.
  4. Sit. Sometimes standing at the counter is too hard on me. Between standing at the sink, standing at the stove and moving back and forth betweeen the counter and the stove, my feet hurt. So I’ll sit on my stool at the counter and prep there. It gives me just the break I need to be energized for the cooking part. And often times, I’ll play a show on Netflix while I prep to keep my tired spirits up!
  5. We eat leftovers. Another way I conserve energy is to only cook ONE meal a day. That’s usually dinner. So whatever we have for dinner gets wrapped up and placed in the fridge. That’s what I have for lunch the next day. It provides a healthy lunch that meets my dietary restrictions and still allows me to put all of my energy into the dinner meal.And it eliminates waste. I hate wasting food, so I try to freeze, can or eat leftovers whenever I can.

 

Cooking can be overwhelming. I hope the next time you stand up to cook, you’ll remember to use some of these tips and sit down instead 🙂

 

Question: How do you conserve energy when cooking?

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Meal Planning 101

Meal planning Lifehack

Meal planning Lifehack

Meal planning. It can be very overwhelming. I imagine it’s overwhelming for someone who has loads of energy, let alone someone who needs to be selective in how they use the energy they have. I have tried everything from monthly meal planning to daily runs to the grocery store. After much trial and error I have finally found a system that works for me. I shop every two weeks. And I gradually meal plan up to shopping day.

My game plan is this. The Tuesday or Wednesday before my hero gets paid, I get on Pinterest. You can follow me here. I create a two week meal plan board for the month I’m in. I scour the net for low carb, low sugar recipes and pin them to my bi-weekly board. I don’t plan specifically for each day of the week because my mood changes. And as long as I have what I need to make the recipes, it doesn’t really matter what night of the week I cook that particular meal. I simply know that I need 10 meals for a two week period. We generally eat at small group or with friends and family one night of the week, so I only purchase enough for ten meals.

On Thursday before my hero gets paid, I put together a grocery list. I actually go through the cabinets, freezers and refrigerator to see what I have and what I am lacking. I only put the items on the list I need. If I have it in stock, I don’t buy more. I only purchase what I need. This does two things. 1) It keeps my budget balanced as I seldom have enough to buy bulk and 2) I only run to the store once, which conserves my energy.

Friday, Saturday or Sunday, after my hero gets paid, I go to the store. I buy what’s on the list and use a calculator to make sure I stay within budget. Breaking up the meal planning and grocery shopping process into multiple steps throughout the week enables me to know exactly what I need and being focused speeds up my shopping process to insure I don’t waste energy.

And us spoonies need all the energy we can get!

 

Question: What tips do you have for meal planning with the spoonie life?

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Oh for the love of Cheesecake

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Cheesecake. It’s my favorite dessert. In order for me to live a stress-free life, my diet is pretty strict. After loads of trial and error, I’ve pretty much figured out that my body doesn’t like carbs or sugars. And it loves protein. But how can I live without my beloved cheesecake?

Looking for ways to still enjoy some of the good things in life, I played around with my late grandmother’s recipe. I found a way to make it lower carb, low sugar and best of all…it tastes GOOD!

So here is what you need:

2 packages of cream cheese (room temperature)

1 Egg (from my girls in the coop)

1/3 cup Truvia (sweetener)

1 graham cracker pie crust (premade-I don’t have the energy to do this from scratch!)

Combine cream cheese, egg, and truvia in mixer. Beat for 2-3 minutes on medium. Scrape sides and bottom of bowl with spatula. Mix for another 2 minutes on low. Mixture will be thick and creamy. Pour into pie crust smoothing out with spatula. Bake at 350 for 20-30 minutes. Cool, refrigerate and eat! Super easy and super yummy!

The best thing about it? It won’t spike your blood sugar, satisfies that sweet tooth and gives you a little bit of protein in the process! Listed below you’ll see the nutritional info I gathered from my fitness pal. While the carbs are not as low as you would think, this recipe doesn’t raise blood sugars which is why my body can tolerate it well. And if you’re counting calories it’s only 183 calories! Enjoy!

Nutrition Facts
Servings 8.0
Amount Per Serving
calories 183
% Daily Value *
Total Fat 11 g 17 %
Saturated Fat 4 g 21 %
Monounsaturated Fat 3 g
Polyunsaturated Fat 2 g
Trans Fat 0 g
Cholesterol 39 mg 13 %
Sodium 206 mg 9 %
Potassium 32 mg 1 %
Total Carbohydrate 26 g 9 %
Dietary Fiber 0 g 2 %
Sugars 11 g
Protein 3 g 6 %
Vitamin A 8 %
Vitamin C 0 %
Calcium 2 %
Iron 4 %
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because the recipes have not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

 

 

Question: Do you have a dessert you’ve modified because you can live without it? Please share!

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Community

Community3

Community3Community. I’ve struggled greatly with this one little word. What is it? How does it work? Why do I need it? As an ex-military brat the concept of community is not foreign to me. Within the military community everyone strives to help one another. Life is hard and we all recognize it. Most of us are familiar with sacrifice and not getting what we want for the sake of others. We meet people easily and form long lasting relationships through the bonds of sharing lives.

But when my illness hit my community dissolved. Not because my community didn’t care, but because they didn’t know how to help. And to complicate matters, the way I live my life is so different from others because my circumstances demand it.

My family functions based on what I call our non-negotiables. These are the mandatory things in our schedules that come before anything else. Church, job, and school. That’s all I pretty much can handle and sometimes I don’t even handle that very well!

My kids don’t do sports because I can’t maintain the physical schedule of getting them there and my husband works six days a week, so I’d be the one driving them. We don’t take family vacations because the traveling alone wears me out. Forget about actually enjoying myself once we get to our destination. And meeting friends for playdates or coffee? It’s all tentative. And believe me, when you’ve cancelled enough times people just quit asking.

What I have found is that being part of a community means the same thing as it did in the military. You get out of it what you put into it.

So how do I stay involved in a community when my circumstances are not ideal? There are a couple of things I do.

1. I’ve joined what online communities I can to keep me connected to the physical ones. I’m not talking about chicken forums or online support groups of people who have like interests that I’ve never met. I’m talking of Facebook groups that have people I actually know. My church affiliated groups, my writing groups, my local farmer’s market groups. Staying active online keeps me connected so that when I do get to go to church functions, writer’s meetings and the town farmer’s market I still know what is going on in the community and can plug in and be a part of it. Even if it is just for that one day.

2. Another thing I do is call or text one friend each day. Sometimes it’s a simple text just telling them that I’m thinking of them. Other times it is more specific to what my struggles are and how I’m coping that day or focusing on their needs. What I love about doing this is that it gives me an outlet to share my life with someone in that moment and they share theirs. And again, when I see them in person it helps that I haven’t gone a month without talking to them.

3. The last thing I do is that when I am out and about, physically in the community, I force myself to be engaged. Living in a small town in the south I can’t go to Wal-mart without running into someone I know, so I try really hard to at least make small polite conversation. Sometimes those conversations turn into deep discussions and other times they just are a quick hello because we are all in a hurry. But staying engaged is key.

We all struggle with different things and if you struggle with being connected to your community I hope these tips help you the next time you are out and about, or stuck on the couch.

 
Question: What tips work for you in staying engaged in your community?

 

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ChickenMath Round 3

Chickenmath. It’ll get the best of you. It did us. We buy EIGHT chicks, set up an indoor brooder and watch chick TV (which isn’t as terrible as it sounds ;). At this point we have four rhode island red pullets (baby girls), two black sex links pullets, and two barred rock unsexed chickens. I sexed these myself by wingspan and while I’m fairly certain these are cockerels (baby boys)-I’ve got a wait a few more weeks to be absolutely certain.

Turns out one of my rhode island red pullets is a cockerel (baby boy). So now if you’re keeping up with my chickenmath, I’ve got 1 rir rooster, 2 buff orppington hens, 3 rir pullets, 1 rir cockerel, 2 black sex link pullets, and 2 barred rock cockerels.

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That is STILL messing with my ratios putting me at 7:4. For those who don’t know a good ratio is 10:1. I can honestly say this chickenmath is math I’m actually GOOD at. If only we’d had chickens in middle school to learn about ratios I might have better grasped that concept!

When these reach about 5 weeks old we get a call from a local pet shop saying they have a batch of three week old chicks they can’t sell. They warn us they are a straight run (unsexed) and ask us if we want them.

More chickens? FREE chickens? You don’t have to ask us twice!

We now have the three “big” chickens in the main coop. We made a transitional brooder/coop for the “teenagers”. And now we have welcomed EIGHT more 3 week old chicks (the “babies”) into our home. We have been told they think they are Leghorns, but they have been dyed to sell for Easter, so we really won’t know until their feathers come in and they grow a bit.

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I’m pretty sure we have lost our entire minds.

Now these chicks have grown. They are five weeks old. We have transitioned the seven week old flock in with the big birds in the main coop. They are doing well. The five week old flock is in the transitional brooder outside. An early guess is that we have SIX cockerels and TWO pullets in this bunch. I may be wrong and let’s pray that I am.

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Only time will tell. And after my fourth (?) flock of birds my hen to rooster ratio by my best count is 9:10. Needless to say if this keeps us we will be feeding our roos some calf manna and harvesting them for the freezer in about another 5-6 weeks.

Ninja needed a time out. He was picking on the other birds. Rest assured, he is back with the flock and doing well.

Ninja needed a time out. He was picking on the other birds. Rest assured, he is back with the flock and doing well.

And then we get another call…

This time a local farmer who works with my husband says his wife has 30 eggs in an incubator and may need to give us some chicks if they prove to be too many for them.

MORE FREE chickens? Hmmm…let me do the chickenmath…3+8+8+FREE = MORE CHICKENS!!

“Sure!”

These aren’t going to be hatching for about 3 weeks so we’ve got some time to back out. But who in their right mind would do THAT?

Question: Do you have baby chicks? Is your chicken math about like mine?

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Flock of Chickens Round 2

Continuing my chicken drama from the last post – our first flock bit the dust,so – Oft to the swap meet we go…

We bought five more birds. Turns out two of those birds were roosters. Because I’m a newbie chicken mamma and believed the sellers when they told me they were hens!! The saddle feathers, large combs and wattles should have given them away, but what did I know at the time? I swear, those sellers saw me coming from a mile away.

Unknowing we were supposed to quarantine our new birds, our flock comes down with sickness. Raspy breathing, watery nostrils and milky glazed eyes called for antibiotics. Down to the local feed store I go. We medicate, but we lost one (the sickest) to the flock. Apparently it’s not uncommon for chickens to turn on each other when their is weakness among them.

It’s true what they say. Chickens are nature’s garbage disposals, disposing of each other if necessary. Gross.

The others recovered, but not without leaving my Black Austrolorp with one swollen sinus cavity and blind.

Another small hen got swiped by a hawk (we think) leaving us with four chickens. One brown bovine/red sexlink rooster (Ruddy), one rhode island red rooster (Joe-Buzz 2.0), our black austrolorp rooster (Raven) and our gold laced wynandotte hen (Goldie).

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Ruddy and Goldie

 

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Raven

 

Joe-Buzz 2.0

Joe-Buzz 2.0

Now anyone who owns chickens knows a hen to rooster ratio of 1:3 is bad if not deadly. I suck at math and don’t like ratios, but even I knew this was terrible chicken math.

A local homesteader gave us two more hens (by this time I knew my hens from my roos), buff orppingtons (Featherduster and Cinder). They are three years old.

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Featherduster and Cinder

 

So now we have six in our flock. Three girls and three boys. My ratios are getting better, but no where near what they need to be. One buff doesn’t lay any longer. The other buff and gold laced wynandotte are laying.

Two eggs a day.

All this work for only TWO eggs a day?!? Seriously? I’m a terrible chicken farmer!

Now any other person might have thrown in the towel by now, but one thing living with chronic illness has taught me is how to persevere. So onward we go…

As chance would have it, my gold laced wynandotte goes broody. What’s broody you ask? She’s ready to be a mamma. She’s sitting on six eggs. But on one of her treks down to stretch her legs something scratched her neck up. She crawled into the nesting box next to the eggs and died. We found her the next morning looking like she just fell asleep.

We have no broody hen and the eggs had gone all night, uncovered, in 30 degree temps. They are no longer viable. We don’t have an incubator, but we candled the eggs and four out of the six had chicks growing. Bummer!

It’s now February. My chicken math and my buffs’ feathers tell me we need more hens!!

As cruel as it may sound, we culled the black austrolorp since he was blind and carried the gene for his sickness. The brown bovine rooster was a terrible rooster and was mean to my hens. Now we aren’t a wasteful family and since we live off the land the most logical conclusion was to put Ruddy out of our misery. So we ate him 🙂

Now, we’re down to three chickens. Joe-Buzz 2.0 (rir rooster) along with Featherduster and Cinder (buff orppintons). At their ages it is unlikely they will lay much longer (and one already has stopped laying all together). This leaves me with ONE egg a day and NO broody hens.

Tractor Supply chick days here we come…

 

 

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What the CHICKENs?

What the CHICKEN-

Chickens. I like chickens. Okay-I love chickens. Well, if I’m entirely honest I’m obsessed with chickens. From what I understand, it starts with one and then chicken math kicks in and before you know it you’ve got chicken fever.

It happens to the best of us.

If you know me at all you know that part of living with chronic illness is feeding my soul. And as the months pass, I look back and wonder why I’ve never written about my chickens. Because they feed my soul and my belly. So for the next few posts, I’m going to write about some of the things that feed my soul. Chickens!

We are fairly new to owning chickens. We purchased some property on the outskirts of town and on it came a ready made coop. Well, it was actually used as a dog pen, hog pen, and a storage facility as being in the south you learn you can use just about anything for whatever purpose you choose.

We were proud of this building. Structurally it was sound enough for chickens. It had two doors and was wrapped in hog wire. We modified it to have one door and reinforced the hog wire with an overlay of chain-link fencing we weren’t using.

Coop

My hero built  some nesting boxes, we bought feed, water containers a bit of hay and were well on our way.

Nesting Boxes

We got our first flock from a buddy my husband works with. He has a family farm and was eager to spread the chicken fever. We got three Americaunas (Mother-Clucker, Joe-Buz, Whitey Tidy, and one Bovine Brown rooster (Ruddy).

One by one, our first flock became chicken dinner to a family of coons living in a dead tree on our property. Only one survived. The ROOSTER. But we thought he was a hen, so we nursed him back to health.

Ruddy

Maybe chickens weren’t for us. We hadn’t gotten any eggs. We’d been hoodwinked by those rascally coons and we felt like terrible chicken farmers. With only one bird left we regrouped.

There’s something about living off the land that feeds my soul. And chickens provide eggs, meat and were easy-peasy to care for (or so I thought), so it seemed if my hero and I were going to live off the land chickens was an easy place to start. Yeah right.

Deciding to give this homestead another shot, we needed to better fortify the coop. I read plenty of forums and did my research. We boarded up any gaps between the roof line and structure with 2 x 4s. We wrapped the bottom half of the coop with chicken wire so the coons couldn’t pull the chickens through the chain link fencing. (gasp!)

And after reading how much coons dig, we bought hardware cloth and buried it along the perimeter of the foundation of the coop. When the coons climbed into the nesting box and ate one of the chickens while the others watched and feared for their lives, we declared war!

Now that we’d built Fort Knox, war had been declared, we set traps and waited.

Coons: 3  /  Hall Heritage Homestead: 6

Bye-Bye coon family of 6. We also caught a couple of possum and one cat. We let the cat go free as our neighbors probably wouldn’t think too kindly of us if we’d shot their cat. Plus we aren’t THAT mean.

With the rodents eradicated, we won the war and were ready to try again.

Oft to the local swap meet we go…

Question: Have you considered raising chickens? What tips do you have for new homesteaders?

 

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Abiding in God

Abiding in God

Abiding in God

Do you ever focus so much energy on the goal that you forget to enjoy the process? When it comes to writing, I do it every day. I focus on my word count goals, project deadlines and while those things are important, I forget the most important thing. Abiding in God.

Time with God is essential for our relationship. Just like any relationship it must be nurtured and vested in. I have struggled through the years to abide in Him. What are His plans for me? What if my plans and His plans collide? Seven years ago the Lord put on my heart to write. I took several years to write my first book. I went to writers conferences, meetings and spoke to anyone who wrote. Learning the craft, the ways of the industry and observing how published authors work have been my primary focus for the past three years.

As I’ve written blog posts, journals, and finished another book what I’m learning about the craft and God’s desires for me are this. It doesn’t matter how badly I want it if God does not want it for me. My motivation for writing should not be to gain publication. While that is definitely a worthy goal, it’s not my driving factor. It used to be and after listening to a podcast by Ransomed Heart on learning about pursuing your passions with God, I’ve learned a few things.

(You can listen here)

Writing is what God created me to do. I have other talents and abilities He has given me and I enjoy many things other than writing. I love gardening, preserving food by canning, homesteading and chickens. But after listening to that podcast I realized all God wants is me abiding in Him.

Every. Single. Day.

So while I have weekly writing goals to finish my projects, I have since changed my motivation. My writing is simply my time with God. It is how He and I connect on a level that is joyful. It is one of the ways I can abide in Him. I write whatever He puts on my heart. And then I trust Him to bless it.

As I start out my writing days (I’ve since dubbed my worship days) I simply ask God how we are going to spend time together today. Writing fiction, non-fiction, blogging or maybe even working out in the garden and caring for my chickens. And whatever we create together, what He creates through me will be whatever He wants it to be.

If He wants my writing to be published then it will be. If He wants my garden to flourish and feed our family, then it will. If He wants my chickens to be healthy producing eggs to eat and sell, then they will. And while I don’t know much, I know this…

I can’t go wrong abiding in Him.

Question: How do you abide in Him? Do you trust God to bless your endeavors?

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Writing with Chronic Illness

Writing with Chronic Illness

I love to write. It’s fun, it’s productive, it gives me a sense of purpose and it’s cathartic. I’ve written several books and have several more in my head I’ve yet to put down on paper. Chronic illness makes writing just as challenging as the other areas of my life. It’s a healthy balance of where to put my energy. Not so much my physical energy, but my emotional and spiritual energy.

I am constantly looking for new processes that may help me keep that balance.

Most published writers I know write every single day. They set a goal and write. It’s part of their daily routine. They treat it like a job, well because it is. And because we all know we must make time for the things that are important to us. So out comes the calendar and we schedule writing just like any other appointment. And I have found that is helpful in keeping a deadline.

But that doesn’t always work for me. Not for the part of me that creates. Don’t get me wrong, I set goals and write regularly, but I don’t write every single day. It drains me to the degree that I have nothing left to give in any other area. So one way I create balance with my writing and chronic illness is that I set weekly goals instead of daily.

I have found this is helpful for me. I can handle 5000 words a week and write two days per week, but the thought of writing 1000 words a day is overwhelming. Not because I can’t type fast enough or I can’t do it, because I can. But I can’t do it and have anything left for anyone else. So for me, it’s more effective for me to write 2500 words on Tuesday and another 2500 words on Thursday and get my goal in for the week.

And what I love about a Tuesday/Thursday writing schedule is that I have time to think and process the content of my book on the days I’m not writing. It’s like I’m a vase being filled with water on the days I don’t write. I’m being filled with scripture, prayer, podcasts, books, etc…and then on writing days, I sit down and pour out what I’ve internalized the rest of the week. Sometimes it’s fiction, sometimes it’s non-fiction, and sometimes it’s a blog post. Sometimes it’s all three!

As someone who lays around a lot writing gives me something productive to do on the days I need to rest. And the best thing about it, is that writing with chronic illness doesn’t feel like work at all. It provides a healthy avenue to rest and share my heart. So for those of you who physically struggle and want to write consistently remember just because every one else does it a certain way doesn’t mean that’s what will work for you.

Do some trial and error and when you find what works for you, stick to it!

Question: Do you struggle to maintain a healthy writing schedule? I’d love to hear what you do to meet your writing goals in the midst of chronic illness.

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Idolatry Beware

Gods At War

Ever read one of those books that knock you upside the head like a two by four? I did that a couple of weeks ago by accident. I generally let God’s spirit direct my reading, and He led me to this:

Gods At War

I’ve come to the conclusion that few people would read books like this unless they are looking for answers or want to be challenged. In my case, I was looking for answers and since God led me to this book, I guess you could say it’s all His fault I’m bruised between the eyes and have baby chicks flying above my head. Anyway, this book was ah-may-zing. If you want to purchase it, go here.

Kyle Idleman took this concept of idolatry and broke it down in terms I could wrap my brain around. It seems like a pretty easy concept to embrace in our culture, but he showed me that idols aren’t always cliches. Off the top of my head cliches I picture are television, movies, books, pornography, cars, shopping, etc…these are pretty dominant in our culture. But did you know another person can be an idol in your life? Perhaps it’s a spouse or a child you give all your attention to. What about character traits such as perfection or comfort?

This books showed me, I have been worshiping different Gods. I broke the first commandment and didn’t even realize I did it! I couldn’t even get to the other commandments because I got stuck on the first one! In all seriousness, I worship the God of perfection, comfort and health. These are the big ones in my life.

My last post focused on a vessel I broke and glued back together. This was an effort to heal from the pain of my past. If you didn’t read that post, you’ll find it here. As I put the vessel back together and God kept telling me this vessel was about my health. Seriously? Haven’t we covered this before? Of course we had, but I STILL didn’t get it.

After 16 years of chronic illness I now worshiped the God of Health. I focused on diet and exercise, which television shows to watch on the bad days, what lab work the doctor runs to better understand, what medications are at my disposal? On the bad days I focused on all the things I couldn’t do, the friends I didn’t have and the family I couldn’t see.

My close friends warned me, “You need to quit focusing on your health.” But I couldn’t understand how I was to not focus on something that effected me so greatly each and every day. How do I keep from worrying about diet and exercise, tv shows, lab work and medicines? Allowing these things to control my focus and energy took my focus away from God. And that my friend is the definition of idolatry.

And THAT is what breaking my vessel was all about. Dethroning my idols. My vessel is not perfect, my vessel is not pretty to look at, but when I look at my vessel it reminds me of the God I serve, the God of the universe. The God who does hold together brokenness and the God who wants me to love Him, no matter what I look like, what I can do and no matter how I feel.

I focused so much on myself I lost sight of which God I worshiped. What I learned from reading this book and breaking my vessel is that I must wake up each and every morning and decide which God to worship. I must choose to dethrone my idols and put God in His rightful place above all else.

And it’s so hard.

So I’ve come up with a small checklist of things to help me recognize when I’ve dethroned God and succumbed to idolatry.

First thing I do every morning is assess how I feel. Is this going to be a day full of energy or none at all? Is this going to be a day of enjoying the sun or staying indoors? Will I be able to achieve some level of productivity today? Those are the typical questions I ask myself upon waking. But now I ask a different set of questions.

Which God will I worship today? The god of health? The god of perfection? The god of comfort? The god of food or tv? It’s my choice. God gives me that much. He wants me to worship Him, but He won’t make me do it. And when the hard days set in, I have to be really diligent in keeping the God of the universe my focus. Satan likes to steal my joy and I’m ashamed to say he gets it quite easily. It’s a hard battle and one I fight every single day.

One of the ways Kyle Idleman says to identify which God you worship is to pay attention to what you complain about. If you complain about your aches and pains, maybe you worship the god of health. If you complain about your shortcomings, maybe you worship the god of perfection. If you complain about not having enough money, maybe you worship the god of finances.

So from now on, I pay closer attention to the things I complain about and what I focus on. Each holds it’s own challenges, but I’m working hard to dethrone the gods of my heart. How about you?

Question: What idols have you elevated above the God of the universe and how do you shift your focus back to Him?

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