I probably shouldn’t tell you this. Not when y’all might be still forming your opinion of me, and I don’t want it to be: Poor Erin, she’s sparsely populated in the brain cell department.
Then again, you might as well know the truth.
It all started in my childhood, when our family took a vacation to the wonderfully secluded Chippewa Flowage. Big lake, pretty trees, good fishing. You get the picture.
We rented a cabin on a little peninsula, where we could look out the windows and see a world of flora and fauna. Those were the days before YouTube, cell phones, and video games. Nature was our playground.
Anytime someone’s voice rang through our cabin, “There’s the heron,” you betcha we kids raced to the window to get a gander. There the bird would stand—splendid, stately, wild. King of his territory like the lions I’d seen on Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (No cable TV back then either. With all of five channels to choose from, we thought Wild Kingdom was some pretty cool entertainment.)
I’d watch the heron in silence, awed to share the peninsula with this magnificent creature.
Somewhere in those magical days, the words there’s the heron tucked themselves into my heart. A treasure from days gone by.
Fast forward to my adulthood. My parents buy a home on Lake of the Ozarks. I visit a lot because, you know, I still like nature. And fishing.
One day Dad and I are out tossing crank baits at dawn. The boat sways in the dance of the current. I breathe in the aroma of our surroundings. It never gets old for me—water, leaves, rocks, earth, all tinged by a hint of decay outmuscled by an eternity of renewal.
Along the misty shore I see a shape I recognize.
There’s the heron.
Well, not the same one from the Chippewa Flowage. I mean, it’s thirty years later and we’re three states away. I doubt his territory is that big.
But this guy is every bit as magnificent. I’ve seen him several times over the course of my visits.
I stop cranking my lure to watch his lithe form stalk the shallows. He eyes me back. In a heartbeat he goes airborne, his wings beating powerful strokes through the sky.
Half an hour later, Dad and I putt-putt the boat to another favorite fishing spot three coves away. We settle back into the rhythm of cast-and-crank, and I see my bird pal again.
There’s the heron.
This time he ignores us until we drift within forty feet of him. Then he takes off, his throaty squawk scolding us on his fly-by.
Dad and I don’t spend much time in that cove either. We hit our next hot spot a couple of miles downstream, and low and behold, there’s the heron.
Boy, that bird gets around.
I watch him lift off from the roof of a dock, soar right over my head, and then land on the other side of the cove. No sooner do I turn forward again when another swish beats through the air.
I pinpoint a big bird heading my way.
Wait, how can he fly by me again? He’s still on the shore behind me.
But it is a heron coming straight at me.
My mouth hangs open, and I blink a few times like that’ll jump-start my cerebellum.
Heron number two settles onto a dock’s ramp a little way ahead of us.
A telltale squawk splits the air and another bird—apparently one that had been perched in the shadows of the ramp—peels into the sky.
Three herons? The last vestiges of my childhood paradigm burst like a big ol’ balloon on a hot barb of reality.
I mean, duh. It’s a very big lake. How could I think there would only be one heron?
Ooh, wait. Another epic revelation. I bet more than one heron visited our peninsula on the Chippewa Flowage too.
I’m going to blame this monolith of stupidity on words. There’s the heron. I accepted and absorbed the implied message without ever thinking it through. I’d like to blame Marlin Perkins, too, with all his talk about predator territories (do herons even have territories?), but the guy’s passed on now, so that doesn’t seem fair.
I count the birds again, all three, and feel like such an idiot that I can only double over laughing.
Dad looks my way, then scopes out the shore to see if I’ve bulls-eyed someone’s flowerpot or something with my lure. That’s the general cause for sudden outbursts—in whatever form—from the back of the boat.
When dad catches sight of my lure floating forgotten in the water, he turns back to me, his forehead creased because I’m pretty well cackling now. Inanely.
Hmm, admit to the great heron fallacy or have Dad think his daughter is part hyena?
I go for the whole, sordid, Marlin Perkins truth. Dad gets a good laugh too.
Funny how words have the power to influence my perception for thirty years. Not just words like the heron, but other words too. Like in junior high when that kid I didn’t even know looked me in the eye and said, “You’re ugly.”
Some part of me still believes that.
Somehow I let the words sink into my heart. Not on purpose. It just happened.
If only I could simply erase them.
Instead, it’s a painstaking process to dig them out, to replace them with words of truth.
God says I’m fearfully and wonderfully made. God says He beautifies me with salvation. And God says it’s His words—all of them—that I’m to let sink deep into my heart.
That’s actually pretty comforting, because He’s given me a whole Bible filled with truth to absorb. It ought to be easy.
But it’s not.
These days I do a lot of thinking about words. They scroll across every day of my life. If I don’t want some snot-nosed junior high kid defining the messages I take in, then it’s my job to filter those words.
No, it’s my responsibility.
The messages that sink deep into me—into my trials, my joys, my pain, my growth—shape who I am and who I become. (Click to tweet this) And ultimately they shape the message I project back to the world. Yes, in the words I write, but even more so in what I say and do. Because even if I weren’t a writer, I’d still have a message. I believe everyone does. It’s the story of our lives, lived out for everyone to see.
And stories are powerful things.
I want mine to be shaped by God’s words, not the world’s. I want my story to be His. I want to sift through every corner of my heart and know for certain that God has planted my message. Because then I know it’s steeped in grace, sown in truth, and nourished in love.
And it will bloom, ever and always, for His glory.
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I wrote this article for the January 2015 edition of Book Fun Magazine and reprinted it here for y’all.