Snow day

The sun is shining here and the ground is resuming it’s more familiar leaf covered appearance as the snow continues a strategic retreat.

Despite the laughter I know is erupting from my northern friends and family, we had ourselves a “snow day” yesterday.

We know it doesn’t compare in volume to what so many experience with that term. In fact, I had a pretty good chuckle myself as I looked at the photo of a cousin’s young daughter waiting for the bus in WAY more snow than we have in the ground. That chuckle turned into full-blown laughter as I read the newspaper article that said their town had officially received over 100 inches of the cold white stuff already this season.

We. Would. Have. DIED!

First, from horror, and then because we’re absolutely clueless about how to function in that kind of frozen precipitation. Give us a 100 degree heat wave ANY time over the cold. THAT, we’re good at down here.

My husband attempted to get to work once we had light enough to see the roads. He left tracks in the snow on his way to the truck and I braved the cold on our back porch long enough to stick my hand out and snap a couple of photos. Over two hours later, he returned home and set up shop on our dining room table. He spent most of the day on the phone and his computer while I alternated between household chores and some business paperwork.

Lunch was a sandwich of freshly made chicken salad and then we went back to our respective chores. He mentioned that those earlier tracks were now mostly ice.

A few hours of productive work later, I made a deliberate choice to include some margin in our day: it was time for a break and a pan full of hot homemade cookies. Dessert BEFORE supper! (A childhood dream!) While they baked, I headed out to clear off the porch and the walkway…and catch a glimpse of the sunlight peeking through the trees. As I swept the snow away, my husband’s footprints remained visible…just as if in a reverse negative photo. (Extra points for those of us who remember using actual film in a camera!)

I posted the two photos elsewhere on social media and thought I’d do it here, too.

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Well, Becky, what’s the point of all this? It’s pretty simple, actually: sometimes God goes to a lot of trouble to give you unexpected time with people you love. It’s up to us to take full advantage of it and it’s a good idea to not lose sight of the footprints whether they guide you to where you want to go or just warn you where not to slip and slide.

“You enlarge my steps under me, And my feet have not slipped.” Psalm 18:36

Margin for a snow day…

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Changing lists

When I decided that “margin” would be my word for the year, I was all about building some room in my schedule to add some actual life to my living. That sounds a bit strange–and maybe a bit overdramatic (grin)–but there it is. My goal was to make time to add in some of those things many of us THINK about doing, but so often put off because we’re too busy…or too tired from all of our too busy. My list add-ins are probably different from yours, of course, but you know what I mean. (By the way, what IS on your list? You’ve got one, too, right?)

I’m a long-term list-maker and I used to think that simply putting an item on the list would be enough to make it happen. After all, I also have that check-it-off syndrome that often accompanies chronic list-making.

My problem came when my to-do lists started getting longer than the time allotted to accomplish them. My husband has seen my impossibly long lists and he has laughed and teased me about it for years…and now…I’ve realized that I should have been listening instead of laughing.

Maybe it’s a sign of getting older, although I’d rather call it a sign of maturity (because, well, you know…Illusions!), but realizing God was talking to ME in John 10:10 (AMPC), was a big wake-up call.

The thief comes only in order to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have and enjoy life, and have it in abundance (to the full, till it overflows).

I want that enjoyable life, in abundance, to the full, till it overflows thing.

I’ve always wanted that–who wouldn’t?! I just lost sight of how to get it for awhile. Somewhere in the midst of all my lists, I forgot to add: “enjoy life to the fullest, till it overflows.”

There’s a certain satisfaction that comes from doing lots and lots of good things, from accomplishing everything on an extensive list (even your own!), and for being recognized or celebrated for doing it. It’s nice to be valued and applauded, but we don’t need to forget that our true value comes from the God Who created us and not what we’ve managed to get done in any given time period.

Eternal God’s applause might not be audible, but I’d argue that you can still hear it in your heart. I think that’s one of the reasons Psalm 46:10 tells us,

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Typically, our lists are about us. They often include good things and even God-things, but most of the applause things are in there for us and not Him. Most of all, our lists are RARELY about being still and getting to know God better. That’s an important distinction. God has been clear that we’re to make time to be still and know that HE is God. If we’re always on the move, could it be because we’re more interested in exalting US and proving OUR worth instead of acknowledging HIS?

What if we became known more for knowing God than “doing” God? What if our mission became acknowledging Him instead of fighting to be acknowledged? What if we actually had time to share Him with others around us because we had some built-in on-purpose stillness in our lives instead of the endless rounds of activity that so many of us have perpetuated for years?

Think about it. Do you need a change?

I do. So… I’ve started a new list.

My new list is one I’m using to jot down the deliberately chosen God-moments of my life and the times when I choose to acknowledge Him as the source of all my blessings. Maybe one day I’ll share some of the items on it, but for now, I’m just enjoying the new list…

…and I’m enjoying God more, as well.

Grace and peace!

 

What does “margin” look like?

Last evening I received a sweet email from my friend, the amazing Althea. She’s an encourager of the first order and her simple message said, “See you in the morning. Sleep good tonight in the margin.” Isn’t she precious?! I do love a friend who tries to help you achieve your goals! I quickly responded, however, that I’d be surprised if I slept much at all since Bama was playing for the national championship and I intended to see the entire game. (RTR! Y’all HAD to know that was coming, but I won’t belabor the point right now! I’ll just leave a lot of new tags on this post…grin)

As I thought about her comment a little bit later, I did a mental checklist on all the reasons it made sense to follow her suggestion and get some sleep: early morning on Tuesday, the start of another semester of Bible study, I was scheduled to teach, first days are always a little squirrely so you need to be ready and able to be flexible, and…I really wanted to see that game, so…I stayed up REALLY late and got up REALLY early…and survived just fine, thank you very much!

I made the decision to make “margin” look like what works best for me based on whatever I’m facing at any given moment. Sounds simple doesn’t it? For someone who thrives on her OCD planning skills, it was downright revolutionary. (grin)

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As we began our study this morning–on the practice of Sabbath in our lives, no less! (Don’t tell me God isn’t on the ball, since both the study and the timing were decided last summer!!)–I reminded the gathered women that we’re not allowed to just hear God’s truth and move on without becoming responsible for it. Decisions will be made one way or the other about what we do with that truth, but the responsibility for follow-through remains intact and squarely on our shoulders!

Since, as a teacher/leader, I’m required to be especially responsible for the way I handle God’s truth, I decided to put a little Sabbath rest and margin into my afternoon. My practice of it may not look anything like yours–and that’s ok! God made us different on purpose! The main thing is that we make the effort so we’re rested and ready for the next assignments God chooses to hand us.

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In an effort to clarify how my practice of adding a little Sabbath rest to my life got implemented today, “margin” currently sounds a lot like Earl Scruggs and Vince Gill making a little bluegrass heaven along with the hum of the washing machine for some added rhythm. It smells like a crock-pot full of hot vegetable-beef soup to go with the leftover cornbread. It was seeking out a birthday card for someone I love, paying bills with a smile on my face for God’s provision, having a snack lunch and then roaming in the woods for awhile since the temperature was finally up in the 40s today. (Major praise!!) It included lots of little stray pines being pulled up from where I don’t want those eventually-towering giants to be, picking up fallen limbs from the last storm, and seeking out some wild grapevine treasure from the woods for a more beautiful “later” and being in curled up and blogging in comfortable pajamas even before I eat supper.

In short, it was a pretty great day, so thanks, Althea, for reminding me to rest in the margin! It didn’t look like a full night’s sleep last night, but I had a ball!

Grace and Peace!

And the word for the year is…

A couple of weeks before Christmas I woke up knowing that several of my larger obligations for 2017 were ended or coming to a close. The resulting relief was palpable, and yet…I was just so very, very tired. It had nothing to do with getting a good night’s rest. My tiredness was at soul level. Sitting in my chair with my head in my hands, I was weary even before I began the day…and I wanted to scream at the frustration of it all.

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I wanted to, but I didn’t. I didn’t have the energy for that…and yet, I was supposed to go and worship within the next short while. How was that even possible?

I grabbed a pen and a piece of yellow sticky note paper and wrote, “I am tired of ‘just getting through…’ things! I’m ready to enjoy them.” Then I began to do the only thing that WAS possible. I began to talk to God about stuff He already knew. Some of it, I already knew, too…

As I began to pray about all the frustration behind that sentiment, God–because He LOVES to communicate with us once we’re really ready to listen!!–began to bring to memory a long stream of events over the past several years. There were people and places and tasks that I signed myself up for knowing they would please others even when I knew they would drain me–and without knowing what God was about to assign me. I began to wonder whose shoes I had filled unnecessarily and what blessing I had denied them. God also gently reminded me of the irony of this since I have “preached” this message to friends and family for the longest time. He brought to mind all of the books I own–and read!!–on this topic, of verses along this theme, and of the people who have been trying diligently to support me in my tasks despite very full plates of their own.

In the course of all this reminding, He also brought me a word to go along with my recurring theme of “Wherever you are, be all there.”

He brought me the word “Margin.”

Margins are those areas of blank space around an art piece that focus our attention on the actual art in front of us.

Margins are what keep our words from running off the page and jumbling together so that they can become readable and make sense.

In business, margins are the difference between what is spent to produce an item and the amount for which it can then be valued to the next one who will use or purchase it.

Margin is specifically defined by the online Oxford English Dictionary here, if you’re interested: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/margin

My favorite part of this definition is the part of the second one, which says this:

An amount by which a thing is won or falls short.

  1. 2.1 An amount of something included so as to be sure of success or safety.
  2. 2.2 The lower limit of possibility, success, etc.

Did you see that? Without margin, we fall short and reduce our possibilities of winning, of being successful…and of being safe. Surely God Himself must have written this definition for me on that day. I had fallen short and had stretched myself and my schedule so thin that I no longer felt safe.

Margin may not sound glamorous, but it is critical to success, and isn’t that what we all want? A successful life. There are probably as many definitions for THAT as there are people on the planet. As for me, I take my definition for it from Scripture. These verses are, in fact, what made me start this blog all the way back in August of 2012…

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” I Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Because this word “Margin” is my word for the year, I’ll be writing about it as we go about living 2018 together. My ears are attuned to it now and I’m beginning to see it pop up in the most unlikely places. It is now ever before me as I wake and set about ordering the tasks and the days for this year. I don’t think this word is just for me, however.

I think some of you need it, too.

Will you join me in seeking to implement the margins God would have us set so that we may focus on HIM and the art of the life He has set before us.

Grace and Peace…and Margin.

Listening

As an audiologist, I often had to speak with patients about the difference in being “hard of hearing” and being “hard of listening.” Many of us don’t know the difference, but they are not the same thing.

Being “hard of hearing” means that there is a defect in the mechanical system of the body. Being “hard of listening” means there is a defect in the attention span. It is possible to be afflicted with both maladies. Neither issue is always easy to remedy and there are many who aren’t that interested in doing so, regardless of which affliction they possess…because it requires change.

Change often scares people–even the ones who claim to love it.

I’ve noticed that loving the one who speaks often makes a difference in the amount of attention we pay to them. I’ve also noticed that you can love the one who’s speaking…and still be preoccupied with other things to the point that we have difficulty processing anything outside our own whirling minds. I am the poster child for that second thing. It’s one of the many reasons that I’m glad God is patient.

As we approach a new year, many people make resolutions about things they want to do differently in the coming days. I can’t remember the last time I made a list of resolutions, but I do like to pick a theme. This year, for the third year running, my theme will be missionary-martyr Jim Elliot’s quote, “Wherever you are, be all there.” 

It’s the third year in a row because…I’m still not always good at doing it…

…and I want to be.

I’m choosing to work on this theme again because God in His infinite patience has been teaching me something through my efforts and in spite of them. He’s teaching me about settling my mind enough to be in the place where my feet are so that I can hear Him better.

As I thought about getting this down in writing, the following verses came to mind:

“Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”

Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:8b-10 (NIV)

Several things spring to mind as I read these words:

  • Sometimes we can HEAR God calling and not be sure to whom that voice belongs–even when we’re already serving Him and His people. (This is a call to know Him better.)
  • Sometimes we will need guidance to help us identify the important things in life. (This is a call to surround ourselves with those mentors who know God’s voice even though they–and WE!–will often be far from perfect in serving Him well.)
  • Sometimes it’s important to lie down and be still in order to hear from God. (This is a call to build in some space for rest.)
  • As important as it is to lie down and be still, one more element is still required: you need to know where your place is. (This is a call to focus on doing what God has called YOU to do and a reminder that you can’t do it all. Hint: That’s why God made more than one person.)
  • God WILL come calling. He always does and He never quits after just one attempt. (This is a reminder that He is patient and insistent, but never rude. His calling is a privilege, not a dictator’s mandate.)
  • We have to CHOOSE to listen.

There’s more; SO much more, but I’m closing for today. I have a full day of being where I am and it’s time to get focused on that. I hope you’ll have a wonderful day and that you’ll join me in exploring what God has for each of us in 2018. As for me…

“Speak, Lord, I’m listening.”

Grace and Peace!

Manger Musings

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“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.” Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” Luke 2:7 NKJV

Our Sunday School class received a rare treat this morning! We had a young woman who came to share her gift with us. Using ASL, she signed the song “Mary Did You Know” for us as a wonderful complement to our lesson about how Mary readily accepted her assignment from God without fuss or complaint. That’s an amazing thought all by itself, isn’t it?!

As our teacher set the stage for the lesson, she reminded us that the stable wasn’t like what we see in most depictions of drama or on our mantels each year. Instead of a separate wooden structure much like what we’re used to seeing, it was most likely a nearby cave. She further reminded us that instead of a “traditional” manger of wood and hay, what the animals most likely ate from would have been a simple, rough, hollowed-out crevice in a nearby piece of cave rock. “Who,” she asked, “would want to place their newborn baby in that?!”

The rest of her lesson was beautifully presented as she continued, but I confess that my mind was still whirling over that manger-thing. I grabbed a post-it note from my purse (because thanks to my Tuesday Ladies I have a bunch of those now! grin) and I scribbled the following: “The Light has come and the hollowed out place was filled.”

Think about that for a moment with me. Hundreds of years ago, Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician, inventor, and theologian wrote the following:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace?

This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”  ~Blaise Pascal, 1623-1662 

His gorgeous quote is often reduced to the simple (?!) idea of a God-shaped hole…and that thought brought me down another trail. Imagine with me the Creator God as He formed the earth and as He got to this particular piece of ground how He might have paused and thought, “This is it. THIS is where I’m going to send My Son one day.” Imagine that. Think of the intention of God in creating that hollowed-out place of a dark cave and the intention He has to create that kind of place for Himself…in us!

What kind of care do we take when we prepare things for our loved ones–especially at this time of year? How easy do we try to make it for them, how beautiful, how convenient, how comforting and comforting? Yet, God seemingly did none of those things for His only begotten Son–so that WE could one day be saved through the death, burial and resurrection of this Jesus into a relationship with Him and be filled with God the Holy Spirit, our Comforter. Stunning.

As I continued to think about the intentionality of that crevice in the rock serving as a place for the animals to feed, I wondered if God created that manger by His very own thought or if He had the condensation of cave water drip there so long that it created that little hollowed out place or if He had someone else come along and chisel it out later. Without God’s intervention, the fact is that holes in rock are rarely created quickly or by ease. Either some work was involved or, at the very least, some many years and years of dripping and dripping and dripping of water upon stone in a seemingly unimportant task. How many times would be needed for the drops to drip or the chisel and hammer strike to create the place where the Holy One would lie wrapped in swaddling clothes (death clothes to foreshadow what was to come!)?

How many times do we question the importance of what we’re being asked to do? How often do we experience deaths (both real and figurative) in our relationships–the seemingly thoughtless remarks that eat away at us, or the harsh cutting away of some part of our lives leaving behind a raw and gaping hole and we wonder the eternal angry question of “WHY?!” What if, instead, we looked at these hard and hurtful things as opportunities God can use to fill us with Himself?

THAT is the real message of Christmas, you know. God sent His only Son to fill in our hollow places. The Rock of Ages was laid in a hollowed out cave rock so that we could become whole again and spend eternity with Him. The Light of the World came into our darkness so we could fully see the beauty of God and His great love for us.

May everything that is good and holy and intentional about God’s original gift to us be present in our celebration of the birth of Christ today. If that concept is foreign to you or you find this holiday season to be a difficult one, I hope you’ll be open to a new experience this year. He came for us so that we could come to Him.

Don’t wait. Come to Him today and be made whole.

Grace and Peace!–and Merry Christmas!!

God-nudges

God has been nudging me about my schedule for awhile now. I’ve largely ignored most of it and continued blithely or, actually, rather ignorantly onward…to my own peril. I knew that a great majority of what I was involved in was actually God’s doing, so I kept up the pace and chose to believe that my service was all worship and all at His behest.

I was right. I was also very wrong.

Oh, don’t mistake my meaning! I WAS doing what he called me to do…and some of what some others thought I should…or, maybe, what I thought they thought I should be doing, and what I thought would be the proper Christian thing, and what made it more convenient for some people, and many things I’m TOTALLY equipped to do, and…and…and…He continued to equip me for the work. Good things happened as a result. A lot of things got accomplished…some of them, I was even supposed to do. (insert VERY wry grin here!)

None of it was bad. Most of it wasn’t even that difficult. That’s what made it so easy to say “yes” in the first place! There was just a lot of it. AND, did you notice all the “I” words in that paragraph above. Yes. Me, too. It is possible to do good things selfishly even when that isn’t your intent. Saying “yes” can make you look good or get you praise and gratitude. Even when those things aren’t your primary motivation, they can still become powerfully addictive incentives.

Anyway, I recently ran out of steam. Physically, I just crashed and I believe God allowed that on purpose. The enforced break in routine helped me stop long enough to start seeing His fingerprints, and remembering His nudges, and commit myself to be still and listen. He’s been doing a lot of talking to me about this topic as I’ve been recovering and I’m absolutely certain He’s not through teaching me. That means you’ll be hearing more about this as I keep listening and learning and applying.

Please hear me when I say that God was gracious and kind in His nudging. Even the physical crash and resulting time of illness wasn’t as nearly as bad as it could have been. God is GOOD. Every single day. He is also extremely patient because He allowed me to keep going at a pace not His own for several years before I finally began to see how He was keeping and empowering and blessing me even in the midst of my ignorant insistence about doing it all for Him. I took those first five words of Philippians 4:13 as a personal mandate. Go ahead. Go look it up again. I’m not posting it here because I want you to go read it out loud to yourself–or, at the very least, quote it back to yourself if you have it memorized.

Grace is REAL, y’all! Seriously real.

It turns out that God, in HIS goodness has a plan for our good–and sometimes, it doesn’t look like what we expect. I think I might have written about that here before. (The eye roll here is a given.) Even writing this post now makes me chuckle with God about how He has continued to gently nudge and the number of times I continued to misinterpret so many of those messages as being for “someone else.”

His plan for us as individuals may look quite a bit different, but then, again, WE look different. We ARE different. I share my lessons–and mistakes!–here so you can learn from it and I’d love to hear what God is teaching you, as well. This is how we each become people of influence.

It is my prayer that whether it be your own schedule or any other topic God is dealing with YOU about, that you’ll choose to pay closer attention and be obedient faster than I.

This has been your free and friendly nudge from me…or, maybe, from Him. (grin)

What’s He saying to YOU today?

Grace and Peace!