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!

 

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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.

NCN 2017–Day 30

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Today is the last “official” day of our NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER challenge, but it doesn’t have to be the end of this practice in your life. I hope that you’ve had some fun and learned a little more about yourself… like, maybe, that you’re stronger than the circumstances that surround you and that choosing to be positive is something that can make you happier…and even healthier. I hope it helps you to look for the good in life. I hope it makes you look for GOD in life!

I’m a ginkgo fan. I look for these gorgeous fan-shaped leaves wherever I go. They remind me of the many wonderful friendships I made in college at Mississippi University for Women. Some of the most important relationships I have in this life are from there. I even planted a tiny little ginkgo here in the yard the first year we lived here as a reminder of those friendships.

Relationships are important. They can influence us in all kinds of ways. The best ones happen when you find “your people” in life. I found many of mine years ago on a beautiful campus under the cover of ancient ginkgo trees. These women have pushed me and challenged me, comforted and cared for me. They insist on the best for me and aren’t hesitant to say when they know best or expect differently. I like that. I depend on it. I depend on them and their prayers. They’re the reason for this challenge, so…in a way…they’ve become your friends, too.

They make the world more beautiful. They’ve certainly made this past month more bearable and, like some of us, they’re ready for their next challenge. I don’t know what that will be, but I’m absolutely sure that they’ll succeed with that, as well. These women are kind and funny and generous and they push me to know God more deeply. Mere words are enough to say how much I love them, but I think they know.

Yesterday, our friend Audrey (hey, 9!) shared with us how she’s made it through this month. When asked how things are going, her reply has become, “I can’t complain!” It’s both a reminder and a declaration…and I think I’ll make it mine.

Maybe you should, too.

Grace and Peace!–And NO Complaints!

 

 

 

 

NCN 2017–Day 29

 

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Against the backdrop of fog this morning, the Japanese maple in the back walkway bed still shines like a beacon. It’s the same one that was all lit up in red and gold in yesterday’s sunny post photo, but the surroundings are a little different today. There’s a stillness to the air that replaces yesterday’s lively bird chatter and the air is a little bit cooler without the obvious rays of the sun. It is no less beautiful a day; it’s just different…

Kind of like this month has been for some of us. Sunshine and shadow, good days and bad, we’ve made a concerted effort to reduce the negativity in the world by…oh my goodness! Imagine this!:  placing limits on ourselves! We’ve chosen to speak the positive things and not the negative ones. We’ve CHOSEN to control what we can…or rather, WHO we can.

Truth be told, it’s all we can do on any given day, not just the ones in November. Remembering that can make all the difference going forward.

For the past few days, I’ve had a song in my head. An old hymn has run through the night and been with me almost constantly. These words, originally published in 1752, still seem most appropriate for us today and for the days going forward, as well. I hope you’ll see the connection and embrace the choice to continue our challenge long past our month of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER.

Be Still My Soul

Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.

Be still, my soul: thy God doth undertake
To guide the future, as He has the past.
Thy hope, thy confidence let nothing shake;
All now mysterious shall be bright at last.
Be still, my soul: the waves and winds still know
His voice Who ruled them while He dwelt below.

Be still, my soul: when dearest friends depart,
And all is darkened in the vale of tears,
Then shalt thou better know His love, His heart,
Who comes to soothe thy sorrow and thy fears.
Be still, my soul: thy Jesus can repay
From His own fullness all He takes away.

Be still, my soul: the hour is hastening on
When we shall be forever with the Lord.
When disappointment, grief and fear are gone,
Sorrow forgot, love’s purest joys restored.
Be still, my soul: when change and tears are past
All safe and blessèd we shall meet at last.

Be still, my soul: begin the song of praise
On earth, be leaving, to Thy Lord on high;
Acknowledge Him in all thy words and ways,
So shall He view thee with a well pleased eye.
Be still, my soul: the Sun of life divine
Through passing clouds shall but more brightly shine.

*Original words by Katharina A. von Schlegel, published in 1752
Grace and Peace!

NCN 2017–Day 22

Psalm 100 (NLT)

A psalm of thanksgiving.

Shout with joy to the Lord, all the earth!
    Worship the Lord with gladness.
    Come before him, singing with joy.
Acknowledge that the Lord is God!
    He made us, and we are his.
    We are his people, the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving;
    go into his courts with praise.
    Give thanks to him and praise his name.
For the Lord is good.
    His unfailing love continues forever,
    and his faithfulness continues to each generation.

On this day before Thanksgiving, I pray that you won’t wait to enter His courts with praise! I hope your preparations go smoothly and your people arrive safely. I ask God to bless you and your families whether or not you are together this holiday season and I can’t wait to hear how He does that.

IMG_20170518_070436983I’ll be getting into the kitchen and having some prep fun all on my own later this morning after I talk with my mama. I’ll be remembering all those Thanksgivings at my Grandmother’s house with tables groaning from the food overload, but even more filled with love and hugs from my amazing family. I will pray through the family as I cook and be grateful. I will give thanks for my precious church family and our new pastor, for those who have poured their love and knowledge into my life, for friends across the world and for those who join me here. I am, indeed, the most blessed person I know.

I hope you think you are, too.

God is GOOD and there is no room for complaining over here.

Grace & Peace!

NCN 2017–Day 21

Did you see what day it is?! Day 21! If you’re still working the NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER challenge with us, then you’ve made it for almost THREE WEEKS without complaining! Even if your attempts at it (like mine!) haven’t been perfect, there are only NINE more days to go! You can do this! Truly, you can!

One of the reasons I know you can keep going is because of some of the stories you’ve shared during the past 20 days of this adventure. Spoken words of support, texts with photos, and emails with kind comments–and commiserations!–have helped make this NCN a much easier challenge for me this year. I believe I am most grateful for those words of encouragement that come from some of you who have struggled, but continued onward just the same. Bless you! It is the ONLY way to make a significant change in life: KEEP GOING no matter what!

I was especially touched yesterday when my friend Jody shared the following quote with our Line who originally started the challenge:

“Gratitude and murmuring never abide in the same heart at the same time.” ~ E.M. Bounds

SONY DSCI wholeheartedly approve the quote because it is both appropriate for NCN and also because I know that Jody and her family have also suffered the recent loss of a loved one…and continued on in the challenge. That speaks to me. Hard things don’t automatically mean surrender! In fact, persevering past the thorns in life often brings a sweet reward! I also love this quote because it is a MUCH more elegant rendering of something I have said for years:

“It is impossible to worship and whine at the same time!” ~Becky

God taught me that long ago and, while it usually elicits a laugh when I say it, I’m sure it’s because the stark truth of it strikes a chord with all of us. We have to choose…every single day. Better than that, we GET to choose every single day! (Aside from that, it’s pretty neat to have had a similar line of thought/life lesson as E.M. Bounds! Actually, I’m trying to decide if that puts me in exalted company or just makes him even more of a flawed human. hmmmm…either way…)

God created us to worship Him and bring Him glory, but He wasn’t–and ISN’T!– interested in automaton praise. He wants us to choose gratitude and worship because of our deeply intimate relationship with Him, not just so He can rack up a high score of mindlessly adoring “fans” without true knowledge or personal interaction. He could have decided otherwise, but instead, He allows us to choose our own responses and our own eternity.

What will you choose today? In this week of Thanksgiving, I hope you choose to reach even deeper. I pray that you go beyond NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER and enter into worship of the One Who loves you best and deserves all of our praise. To do that, you need to first choose HIM.

If you’re at all unsure about this most important choosing, please know that nothing could be simpler. You must first acknowledge that there is a perfect God who loves you enough to send His most precious Son–Jesus–to die on a cross so that your sin can be forgiven and you can spend eternity with Him. This offer is free, but critical to where you will spend eternity. Romans 10:9 says,

“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.”

It really is that simple. It really is that important. If you’re still unsure or have questions, I would LOVE for you to contact me and let me introduce you to my Jesus. He gives a whole new meaning to NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER and a whole new reason to enter into Thanksgiving.

BTW, whether you’re on Day 1 or Day 21, I’m glad you’re here and I can’t wait to see how God uses your decision not to complain to change us and the world around us! It really does make a difference!

Grace and Peace–and NO COMPLAINTS!