Sharing a good word

There’s a verse in the Bible, Luke 4:25, that is part of the story where Jesus had just returned from the wilderness temptation and begun to teach in his hometown. Some of those in the crowd listening to Him questioned how He got this knowledge and authority since He grew up there and they thought they knew everything He did. Some of the others were quiet, but He knew that they were actually there to see if He would do another miracle like He had done in other places.

As part of his response to the crowd, “Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!…'” The implication was clear: they wanted proof of what He was teaching, and yet He knew that no amount of proof would change their minds. As always, God knows our hearts and our needs even before we acknowledge them. Over time, the phrase “Physician, heal thyself” has come to mean that we ought to make sure our own business has been handled before we start getting in the business belonging to others.

Well, I am no Jesus, but His phrase has been ringing in my head for awhile now. I’ve been trying to implement more Margin this year and teach others to do the same…and I keep getting sucked back into old patterns. It’s to be expected, I guess, since no life change is automatic just because we “decide”  even when we take some steps to make it so. While I am considerably better at looking for and making room for Margin, I still have to be vigilant about biting off more than I should chew. There’s still a lot more to learn.

That’s been pretty evident lately as I’ve had several opportunities to encourage the practice of Margin for others around me. My teaching THEM has reminded me of my own need of it, so today, I am making room for Margin as I take time to do Bible study, laundry, put some food in the freezer, and even do a little pre-Christmas prep. (Don’t freak, but I’m actually behind on this for me! LOL)

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While I’ve been kicked back with a cup of hot chocolate, I’ve been thinking about the benefits I’ve gained and I’ve made this a blessing-counting day! One of the best blessings of pursuing Margin this year has been that when I mess up these days, I’m quicker to recognize it and a little easier on myself as I self-correct. Pursuing Margin has been a healing process for me, providing liberation in areas I didn’t even know were in need of liberty. (And yes, there IS another verse about knowing truth and how it sets you free, but I won’t use it here because the context is wrong even though the truth of it isn’t–and Scripture taken out of context benefits nobody!) Another gift of Margin has been that I also have developed a heightened awareness of when the people around me are in need of it, too. Additionally, I tend to celebrate when they make a move to add Margin, so the opportunities to celebrate the Margin of others has inspired me to have more joy in my own life. There’s something very real about sharing in someone else’s joy that makes you even less needy in your own–another one of God’s fun-things, I am certain!

So, here’s the word I’m passing on today: Become a person of influence right where you are! Find a way to share your own life lessons and participate in the joy of the people around you…and don’t be too surprised if you feel like it’s actually your own joy that your celebrating. And…if you get a chance…add in a little more Margin. It can’t hurt, right?

Grace and peace!

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139

This morning I’m back in Psalm 139. Again. These words are always a refuge in times of trouble or heartache. I have my purple Bible opened on my counter so I can read and take comfort in these words on this VERY Monday morning and throughout the day. Today, I am fine, but I have loved ones who are not, my community is mourning the loss of a young life, and my nation is divided over so many things I’ve lost count. Healing of every conceivable kind is needed. My heart hurts over all of these things and yet I have hope. His name is Jesus.

He is the only reason I can stand this morning, pause in the listing of these hard things,  and proclaim this along with the writer of Lamentations:

 

My soul continually remembers it
    and is bowed down within me.
 But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope: 

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases;
    his mercies never come to an end;
 they are new every morning;
    great is your faithfulness.” Lamentations 3:20-23 (ESV)

On this Monday morning when it feels hard to move forward on so many fronts, I can still do so because of Him. I can count on Him to empower and renew, to comfort and to guide, to encourage and instruct.

I am once again blessed by words penned so long ago that assure me that none of this has taken my God by surprise.

Psalm 139

The All-Knowing, Ever-Present God

For the choir director. A psalm of David.

Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I stand up;
you understand my thoughts from far away.
You observe my travels and my rest;
you are aware of all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue,
you know all about it, Lord.
You have encircled me;
you have placed your hand on me.
This wondrous knowledge is beyond me.
It is lofty; I am unable to reach it.

Where can I go to escape your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to heaven, you are there;
if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I live at the eastern horizon
or settle at the western limits,
even there your hand will lead me;
your right hand will hold on to me.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,
and the light around me will be night”—
even the darkness is not dark to you.
The night shines like the day;
darkness and light are alike to you.

For it was you who created my inward parts;
you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I will praise you
because I have been remarkably and wondrously made.[c][d]
Your works are wondrous,
and I know this very well.
My bones were not hidden from you
when I was made in secret,
when I was formed in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes saw me when I was formless;
all my days were written in your book and planned
before a single one of them began.

God, how precious your thoughts are to me;
how vast their sum is!
If I counted them,
they would outnumber the grains of sand;
when I wake up, I am still with you.

God, if only you would kill the wicked—
you bloodthirsty men, stay away from me—
who invoke you deceitfully.
Your enemies swear by you falsely.Lord, don’t I hate those who hate you,
and detest those who rebel against you?
I hate them with extreme hatred;
I consider them my enemies.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my concerns.
See if there is any offensiveway in me;
lead me in the everlasting way.

Is it a very Monday Morning where you live, too? Do you know my Jesus? He knows you. Intimately. Nothing would make Him–or me!–more glad than to see each of you in a close, personal relationship with Him today.

It is possible: to find hope in all of this upheaval, to be at peace in the storms of life, to actually know God and be assured of His great love for you.

“If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9 (CSB)

Are you His today? Do you want to be? You can be. Anyone can do this, you just have to choose.

Grace and Peace.

Pace car

I monitored her approach in my rear view mirror long before she saw me. Impatiently weaving a long, looping invisible trail on the asphalt, she quickly and methodically passed, one at a time, car after car without regard for the instructions printed through the yellow lines along the road. She was in a hurry to get somewhere…and all of us were in her way.

As she got closer, I wondered how she would manage her progress around me and the big 18-wheeler dump truck cab in front of me, but evidently we posed no obstacle as she passed us both at the same time–once again, on a double yellow line, with oncoming traffic not that far away. It was both interesting and irritating to see as one who has often been in a hurry, but has a healthy regard for the rules of the road.

I chuckled as I pulled up to the next traffic light and found myself directly behind her…for three consecutive lights. Each time the signal changed, she would charge off determined to leave us far behind only to find herself back in the same company and in exactly the same position at the next intersection.

At the third light, I suddenly began to see  her more clearly and I began to pray for her: safety, wisdom, the ability to get where she so obviously felt she needed to be, and that she would somehow see God and feel His Presence along her way there.

I’ve been her before. All revved up and determined to “get there” only to find myself continually landing in the same place as others who didn’t seem to understand the urgency of my progress. It’s frustrating. Very. Frustrating.

As I prayed for her I had a sudden epiphany that this was what I looked and felt like before I started this year’s search for Margin. Constantly ticking one thing after another off my to-do list without slowing down for very long to really enjoy most of it and ending up in the same frustrating place even after all my efforts to “get ahead” and get things done…yep, that was me.

My path was obviously much the same as hers yesterday, but my pace was much more leisurely as I headed toward an appointment that every woman loves to do when they call and tell you that they need to run more tests. (not.) I would still arrive earlier than needed, but I was taking my time and could appreciate the beginning show of autumn colors, the occasional windy showers of drying leaves, and the sign proclaiming that “Every day is a new beginning.”

I hoped she was off to something more fun but, if not, I prayed for her to arrive safely and be able to accomplish what was necessary. I prayed for more God and Margin in her day and that He would be with both of us. I gave thanks that He has encouraged me to slow my pace this year–clearing out the mental races even more than the physical ones. I told Him how grateful I am that the rhythm and pace of my days is still effective and productive even as my urgency to speed through things has begun to ease…and I marveled at how much more mature I felt (ha!) as I revisited my former self.

More relaxed. Ready. Prepared. Even more decisive (if that’s possible?!) about things concerning me, but increasingly (still working on this!) able to allow others to choose for themselves without feeling the need to instruct or direct their choices. On mission, but not at the expense of the experience. God has used this search for Margin to equip me for things yet to come as well as those things that need doing now. I no longer feel the need to be the pace car, showing others how fast they should go and monitoring their progress in comparison to my own–and vice versa–running in circles and ending up in the same, exhausted place…just paces ahead of the rest of the crowd. I am more at peace with myself and with others. I can choose new outcomes by pursuing new opportunities. I’m finding that I can do that now in a way I never even considered possible before because God and I have simply eliminated some things from my schedule that were probably never supposed to  be there in the first place. I can stop along the way to encourage, to pray, to enjoy, to plan instead of simply reacting. I can teach without feeling the need to enforce. Making these changes has not just altered my pace, it has allowed me to spend more time with my Maker instead of being the “very unofficial and very self-appointed hall monitor” for Jesus. I can enjoy my time with Him more each and every day no matter what He sends my way.

So can you.

After all, “Every day is a new beginning.” The sign said so.

“This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Psalm 118:24 

(Btw, the tests were normal and all is well, just as expected. Go, GOD!!)

We Give

When I was growing up, my mother did most of her grocery shopping at a BIG STAR grocery store. At the end of her purchase, she usually received  some change (cash, you know!) and a run of sticky-backed green paper stamps. That didn’t seem odd at all to me since people regularly looked for stores that extended paper stamps to their customers as a bonus for shopping with them. The stamps were a way for the customer to purchase additional “premium” items not found in the store that extended the stamps. In that way, it was a bit like our modern-day fuel points at Kroger, except that the  stamp-purchased items could be anything from a crystal candy dish to an appliance and were most likely ordered from a catalog or redeemed from a small separate Stamp Store where people went with excited eyes and their carefully collected books of stamps to see what they could choose as their reward for spending hard-earned cash on the staples of life.

S&H GREEN stamps and the small books they had to be carefully pasted into are a vivid memory from my childhood. It was a big deal to finally be trusted to wet the sticky back of the stamps and place them into neatly covered rows–and that was IF my mother didn’t claim that privilege for herself. (grin–We had such simple privileges back then!)  I remember going with my mother to redeem her books of Green stamps and it always reminded me of Christmas just for her. She looked forward to finally having enough to purchase an item or pick out a new one to begin saving toward. I wasn’t a fan of going grocery shopping, but going to the stamp store? Well, that was a bit like getting to shop inside the Sears Christmas Catalog! (For those of you too young to remember, the Sears Christmas Catalog was our paper-bound version of Amazon in life long before the internet…as long as you didn’t mind waiting and waiting for things to arrive after you ordered them. And, yes, I am way older than I feel! LOL!) It was a sad, sad day when the S&H store finally closed its doors in our home town.

ANYWAY! Over the door leading from my dining room area to the screened back porch there hangs a metal sign with big black and white outlined letters on a background of gold.  It is a vintage sign, not a reproduction, that once was part of a grouping of multiple metal signs hung on the side of stores that gave Gold Bond Stamps instead of the Green Stamps of my childhood. I don’t know where it originally came from, but I spotted it several years ago hanging on the side of an antique store/picker barn in rural Georgia. When I asked if it was for sale, then owner looked a bit surprised and began to explain that it wasn’t a “complete” sign since he didn’t have the rest of the signs that originally hung together.

It didn’t matter to me. I just wanted that sign. With the bonus of being painted in the colors of my high school alma mater, the bold message it proclaimed was more than enough.

It simply says, “WE GIVE” and, from the moment I first laid eyes on it, I took it as more than a written tenet of my faith; it became a mandate, a reminder, and a challenge.

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After detaching it from the weathered side of the barn, I loaded it up and brought it home to hang over the door we and our guests most often use to enter and leave the house. I don’t know that it really “goes” with anything else in that room–because it was certainly never intended to end up in a dining room!–but it still speaks to me every time I look at it. It matters to me that the sign is original, because our giving should be original and it doesn’t matter to me that it sometimes tilts just a little bit off center because of all the coming and going through the doors because our giving should be active–and it sometimes gets a little off center, as well. (grin)

Over the years I’ve stared up at that sign and thought of all the different ways I could finish that sentence. WE GIVE…

  • love
  • joy
  • praise
  • forgiveness
  • grace
  • hugs
  • presents
  • food
  • friendship
  • acceptance
  • appreciation
  • worship
  • shelter
  • more than we “have to”
  • less than we ought to
  • because we GET to
  • because we’ve been given so very much
  • because we serve the Giver of life and all good things…and because we get to be HIS.

It is that last one that struck me first and strikes me most often still. So many times we think only in terms of money when we consider giving. To be certain, it is often more convenient and far less “risky” than to be involved, to care, to show up, to reach out, or to simply be available for others, but isn’t giving supposed to be personal? I struggle with this as I want to stay hidden and content to do my own work and create my own circle and yet, God continues to prod me into discomfort, at times, so that He can GIVE me the experience of giving HIM to those around me. Money can create distances that isolate and insulate us–and, don’t get me wrong! I’m a fan of both the money and the insulation! In fact, I am perhaps too fond of them, particularly the latter–BUT God didn’t just call us to isolation. We are an important way He shares Himself with the world every single day. IF we refuse to give Him to those around us as we live life together, we become hoarders of the Blessing…and that’s no way to live.

It doesn’t have to be complicated. As we start this brand new week, what will you choose to give to those around you? Could it be a smile, an encouraging word, the gift of a chore done so they won’t have to, an unexpected treat or adventure, a meal, a shared time of prayer, a time of listening, a hug, a paid bill, or a sticky note left where they can see it and be reminded of your appreciation? The opportunities are limitless…and so is the effect…for all of us.

Give some kindness this week. Give something of yourself and the One who created and blessed you so well.

WE GIVE…because we CAN.  WE GIVE…because we GET to do so!

Grace and peace!

“Yours, Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the splendor and the majesty, for everything in the heavens and on earth belongs to you. Yours, Lord, is the kingdom, and you are exalted as head over all. Riches and honor come from you, and you are the ruler of everything. Power and might are in your hand, and it is in your hand to make great and to give strength to all. Now therefore, our God, we give you thanks and praise your glorious name. But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? For everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your own hand.”   1 Chronicles 29:11-14 (CSB)

Practice what you preach

Today’s blog title is brought to you by LIFE! With the very best of intentions, I have gradually cleared the pathway through my calendar and made room for more Margin this year. It has been both instructive and constructive for me.

At God’s own urging, I’ve been creating room to breathe, to think, to pray, to study, to bless, to prepare, and, occasionally (meaning: still not as much as I would really like!), to be more creative. In my effort to be more in the moment and not be so busy that I end up missing my own life, I’ve begun to focus more on what I GET to do and less on what I HAVE to do…just like I’ve told others to do for years! Oddly enough, it appears that I was right all along and just not smart enough to apply it as liberally as I needed to in my own life!  The biggest “Margin” change for me appears to be much more of an internal one–and that’s something I wasn’t really expecting.

It seems that deliberately making space for trying out new designs in the shop, clearing my way through the overgrown underbrush in our yard, and keeping our hummingbirds supplied with fresh sugar-water has made me more aware of the power of finding joy in the simple things…and I have to tell you this: it’s a little bit addicting.

The power of an hour has become more real to me lately. Choosing to fully concentrate on a specific activity for even just a single hour has shown me marvelous results in several different areas of my life. I’ve challenged myself on several occasions to do as much as I could within that time span and then allowed myself the freedom to continue, to stop, to change tasks, or to rest. It sounds funny when I say it/write it out loud like that…almost as if I had previously been laboring under a heavy taskmaster…and I was: ME.

Learning to cut myself some slack has been life-changing–and, dare I say, life-affirming for me. I’ve always had the ability to focus on a task. I just rarely gave myself the luxury of focusing on the power of rest, as well.

I went into this search for more Margin with the idea that changes in my calendar would probably be the biggest adjustment tool. Right, and wrong, again! While being able to finish some duties and free up the time that had been devoted to them was helpful in the beginning stages, I’ve found that isn’t the only solution.

There is also a great need to curate the events that DO take up the space in the calendar. Saying “this will only take an hour or two” doesn’t always mean it needs to make the cut and be allowed into my life. Some activities that won’t take all that long to complete actually require incredible prep-time and, occasionally, recovery time, as well. Knowing this and thinking it through is a life-skill! It doesn’t mean those things shouldn’t be allowed in, just that prayer time ought to be a prerequisite gateway for EVERYTHING…and prayer can AlSO take time!

God may actually ask you do the hard thing–and He has that right! It’s when our yesses to things we CAN do have overwhelmed us to the point that we’re no longer available to do the things we are CALLED to do that it becomes a significant issue. Just as it is possible to “stand in someone else’s blessing” it is also possible to “step out of our own blessing” by being unavailable because we’ve allowed no room for Margin and the impromptu leading of the Holy Spirit. You simply can’t be in two places at the same time…and there are times when you shouldn’t be in either.

Every Yes is also a No. Every No also makes room for the Yes.

I have taught this and shared it many times before–even as recently as yesterday afternoon!—and, today, I find myself looking at my calendar…with all of this knowledge…and needing to be reminded again.

Practice what you preach, Becky, practice what you preach.

Grace and peace!

Heart notes

I keep note pads–usually sticky notes–almost everywhere I might sit down or rest my house, in bags of books, in my purse, the truck, or wherever else I can think of being. You never know when you might have an epiphany, right? Me? I’m actually planning ahead for mine, and as long as it will fit on a sticky note…or twelve!…I should be just fine. (grin)

Sometimes my note pads get filled up with reminders of grocery items I forgot to grab, chores that aren’t on my regular list, people I need to contact, prayers, and anything else that might help me clear my mental path and allow me to sleep without interruption when it’s time to do so. Many times, I will be doing a chore and need to stop and write something down before I move on or forget that thought. My favorite thing, however, is when I wake in the night and scribble madly in the dark–a tiny blurb to help me solve a problem, that missing link to make the point as I teach, or something that “neeeeeds” to be incorporated into a blog post…or a life.

Such was the case several weeks ago as I recovered among remade beds and laundry, reclaiming my house after a long and lusciously luxurious weekend of having friends with me in my home. Scheduled to speak just days after they left, I was ready for God to complete whatever it was that He was doing before He finished letting me in on what He intended me to say to these women who were kind enough to invite me to speak at their retreat. I had the second part, but not the first, and instead of giving it to me in one fell swoop, God seemed most content to send it along in drips and drabs…while I was doing laundry, sitting at stop lights, and finally (!) in the night, when I filled most of a newly unwrapped stack of heart sticky notes found on a nearby bedside table.

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Over the course of two consecutive nights, God and I filled up 13 sticky notes–IN THE DARK!–in no particular order and in remarkably straight lines, although the handwriting won’t win any prizes. A couple of them had nothing at ALL to do with the speech I was preparing to give, but I thought most of them would probably fit in there somewhere…and so it was…except for the one which simply said “chairs!” and this one…which says,

“Remind me to live in faith instead of frustration

I knew right away that THAT one was just for me.

I rarely worry and I have seen God be my Provider so many times that my most typical question is a “how” or “when” and not an “if” where it concerns something that must be supplied by God alone. That “how and when” part is what gets me, though.

Like most people I know, I want it how I want it and I really want it right now. (Anyone else relating to this?) The problem with that, however, is that God is rarely on my timetable and, since He knows everything, He has ways to do things that won’t ever even cross my mind. I THOUGHT I was being patient, so I knew this was a prayerful request for His assistance during this waiting time. It also served as my reminder to exercise my faith and not allow the frustration of His delayed response to overcome my assurance that He is my Provider, my Protector, and my Portion. After all, if He intended me to speak to those ladies, He would surely tell me what to say!

Knowing these kinds of things is the bedrock of my faith. Everything else is just window-dressing. On the side of my fridge is my bumper sticker which reads, “Jesus is life…the rest is just details.” It’s still true even though it IS written on a bumper sticker and attached to my fridge with magnets.

When I draw closer to God and make a point to be in close communion with Him, everything else WILL show up as and when HE decides it is time. MY part is to carefully choose my attitude no matter what I face…and now I have both a bright red and yellow bumper sticker AND a heart-shaped sticky note to remind me to raise my faith above the levels of my frustration when I’m called to practice my waiting skills.

Maybe they will remind you, as well.

Grace and Peace!

Changes in atmosphere

40469This week has been one of change. On Monday, I was pulling grass out of the back garden flower bed when tiny drips and drops of liquid sunshine began to fall all around me. There was no need to stop doing what I had started because the drops were gentle and sporadic. My work continued.

Within thirty minutes the drops had increased in both frequency and intensity, while the sky remained full of light. Still, I moved toward tasks that could be done indoors.

As I dug into the recurring efforts of maintaining order and folding clean clothes inside (yes, I know: definitely first world issues!), the sky opened up outside and dropped an upturned bucket-load of rain all around us. I watched puddles form in the driveway and then watched them connect with others out in the yard to create a mini-moat around the front of the house.

My neighbor called a little bit later to tell me that his rain gauge indicated we had received a little over 2 inches of rain in less than 30 minutes…much faster than our ground could absorb in that amount of time. He also called to ask if I was interested in having fresh pears. The answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”–even before he sweetened the offer by saying that HE would have them picked and delivered to me early the next afternoon.

Now, seriously, who could say “no” to that?! (And, yes, I DO have the best neighbors!!)

As I pondered this latest gift from God–because my husband had just been talking about wanting some pears this past weekend!—I also thought about some of the other changes going on in my life right now. I’m a bit over half-way into this year of adding more Margin to my life and I’m beginning to see some significant benefits emerge. I’m also beginning to see that this may not just be limited to a one year search for me. Already, the changes have been quite profound.

  • I’ve noticed that while I still haven’t lost all of my impatience with area traffic conditions, I’ve also made room for being nicer while I’m being affected by them. I can now foresee the possibility of having a ‘church sticker’ on my truck, which I have previously avoided because I tend to be impatient and there was just NO reason to tick people off about church because they got ticked about my impatience behind the wheel. (yes, really.)
  • I’ve become more aware of the times I’m tempted to walk in and take over, and I’ve begun to step back and allow other people to “figure it out” for themselves…and I’ve TRIED to offer advice only when asked…or when I see a fatal flaw…ok, maybe this one still needs some work. (personal eye roll)
  • I’m learning to include some time for me in my week that doesn’t involve “just getting it done” all the time. It turns out that this actually makes me happier to go along with other people’s schedules when needed…who knew?!
  • I’m spending even more time talking with God and I’m finding a deeper love of His Word. That’s something I’ve been asking Him to help me with for quite awhile. It turns out that I am enjoying the challenges of the Word more now that I’m not taking on ALL the challenges thrown my way by the world!
  • I’m finding that while the work doesn’t go away, sometimes I need to. Choosing to find a stopping place and walk away may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but that’s a hard one for me. I’m not in any danger of becoming a slacker (grin), but I am choosing to heed what my body, mind, and spirit are in need of instead of just being hyper-focused on accomplishing the task no mater what the cost. This may just be the biggest change of all for me so far!

Like the rain on Monday, these things started out slowly and have built in momentum over the past 8 months, but they’re picking up speed and forming new connections with  thoughts and goals that have been put on the back-burner for longer that I can remember.

I’m becoming more creative and discovering the idea of “play” again–and just the idea of that makes me a little emotional. God certainly intends for us to work and do good while we’re here on the earth, but He is no hard and crushingly demanding taskmaster…despite my own previous behavior toward myself. Choosing to take  time to enjoy the opportunities God has placed in front of me has a new dimension now. While I have long enjoyed God, now I find I am approaching the tasks I’m assigned with a much more relaxed attitude and finding ways to make them even more fun instead of just getting them done and checking them off like so many items on a chore list. Like that rain, this idea is both refreshing to my soul and producing growth in other areas of my life.

Thank you, God, for the idea of Margin, for including room for play in your plan, for being patient with me while I stubbornly clung to the idea of accomplishing much with great effort instead of doing so with great joy, for choosing to bless me in spite of my mistakes and frustrations, and for loving me enough to send me pears before I even prayed for them. You are good…and I am grateful.

Grace and Peace!