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!!)

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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!