Mastered by the masses?

A friend and I were messaging back and forth awhile back when she asked how I was doing.

“Good. Peaceful, I think…a byproduct of being more creative these days and feeling like that’s what God is not just allowing, but asking of me right now.”

That was several weeks ago and the “feeling” is still holding. I’ve been on a search for more margin in my life for the past several years, but over the past 6 months or so I have intensified the pursuit as a result of specific Bible study and a significant amount of prayer. Conversations with various friends in search of the same goals have also helped and provided plenty of encouragement.

I’m under no illusions that this will be a one-and-done thing. I suspect it will continue to be a lifelong pursuit. Having had a taste of margin, I find myself craving more, but not at the expense of what I’m called to do. Instead, I am finding that adding more margin to my life is actually energizing me to do a few things that haven’t really made my list before now…and they’re things that I should have been doing for quite some time.

As a part of my search for increased margin, I decided to practice the spiritual discipline of observing Lent again this year. This is only my third time to do this, since my denominational affiliation doesn’t typically do this, but I found myself wanting to make sure that I was particularly and personally focused on the sacrifice that Jesus made for me. Put that way, it would seem to require something deep and mysterious, doesn’t it? The truth is that even seemingly insignificant self-sacrifice, when done for the right reason, can have a profound impact. Such was the case for me again this year.

I chose to abstain from Facebook.

Don’t laugh. Oh, well. Go ahead and laugh; it is actually kind of funny.

A few weeks before the Lenten season began, I saw a post by a friend that announced her intention to give up Facebook for Lent. I laughed. She’s one of the most social media-intense people I’ve ever seen in my life. Even her DOG has an Instagram account! She posts for the dog, herself, and her town. My first thought was, “she’ll never make it.”

My next thought was, “hmmmmm…I wonder if I could do that.” Oddly enough, even that small thought made me uncomfortable. I’m not as active as she is, but I still post personally and for the Women’s Ministry of our church on a regular basis. I think it was the “uncomfortable” part that got my attention. Why in the world would that make me uncomfortable? I knew I had been spending a lot more time on social media, but why should stopping that one thing for 40 days be an issue? It was enough to sell me on the idea. Almost immediately, the following verse came to mind:

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.” I Corinthians 12:2 (NIV)

With that verse as my “confirmation” I made it official and told my husband, alerted the other Women’s Ministry FB page administrator that I would only be posting on Sundays  until Easter Sunday, and so it began. My blog posts are automatically posted there, so I didn’t have to take that into consideration, but I also decided to deliberately limit my blog posts as well during that time.

It was a lot harder than I had expected. I had no idea that reaching for my phone had become such an ingrained behavior, but I realized very quickly that this was, indeed, exactly what I was supposed to learn. I had been “mastered” by something larger than just being on Facebook: I was no longer “in the know” about what was going on in people’s lives, their opinions about everything from supper to super powers, and missing out on pictures of their grandbabies, life events, and vacation photos. AGAIN, it sounds really laughable, but I was amazed at the number of times I reached out for that information only to remember my Lenten vow and stop.

Unfortunately, knowing all of that information gave me little benefit in return for what came at a significant price of a most precious commodity: time! When viewed in that light and initially difficult to break in habit, the trade-off was substantially easier than the thought of continuing to trade large chunks of my LIFE for the “privilege” of “being in the know.” I decided that each time I was tempted to look, I would pray. I would tell God “Thank you!” for His massively larger sacrifice for me and I would ask Him to bless those who came to mind. It took a few days, but then I began to feel the liberation set in and with that, a great deal of peace.

All of the sudden, I had time for other projects that had been neglected or put on hold. The house got cleaner as I cleared out closets and made more donations. I made plans and took steps to bless the ladies in our Tuesday Morning Bible study with a time of fun and fellowship. I actually picked up the phone to hear VOICES of people I loved instead of just texting them–and I’m absolutely sure that deepened our relationships. I had more time for deeper–and sillier!–conversations with my husband. I laughed more. I had time and energy to get more work done for my business and I actually felt SO much more creative that I was astonished. Could it be that something this simple was making all this difference? Yes. I wasn’t just reducing the time spent online, but now I was also increasing the time I spent talking with the Creator of the Universe! OF course it made a difference! I was being inspired even as I spoke to the One who created me!

As my first Sunday approached, I couldn’t wait to get back online to check in on everything. It took me exactly 30 seconds to realize I hadn’t missed that much. In fact, I questioned if I had “missed” anything at all. I spent less than 5 minutes–just to make sure I had exhausted every avenue–but it seemed “my people” had also chosen to take a break that week. The next week, I was even more productive and my Sunday check-in was even shorter. That trend continued over the remaining Lenten season…and I was enormously surprised.

I found that I missed posting on the Women’s page most of all because although I wasn’t posting, I was still reading through content every day that was inspirational and I would would think, “Oh! that’s good! They will like/love/need to know THAT!” They didn’t…for the most part, anyway. In fact, I doubt they missed much at all. I was reminded that most of us post for ourselves. If someone actually responds to our birthday greetings, humor,  weather-related, or political commentary, it’s a bonus, but not really that necessary–we’ve had our “say” about whatever subject we’re considering…and honestly, how many of us have had our lives and minds truly changed about one of those topics as a result of Facebook interactions? I’m not saying they aren’t FUN, I’m just saying we won’t typically change with whole world with our Facebook posts. (even though we’re always right, well-informed, and we present cogent, thoroughly researched opinions to begin with, right?! Sure.)

While Lent has passed and I have returned to my “allowed” perusal of Facebook, it is not with the same intensity or time-involvement as before.  Facebook is a wonderful and entertaining tool to help keep me in touch with people and reach and teach them about God. I don’t take that lightly and I am determined to use it more wisely. My Facebook fast helped to realize some very important things about time management and what God is calling me to do with the time He’s giving me. I became more addicted to the peace, to the additional creativity, to the added depth of prayer time, and to the increased margin that came as a result of my practice of the Lenten fast this year. I found I would rather be more deeply “mastered” by the Master Creator than simply following along with the masses and seeing what “they” are up to these days.

“I have the right to do anything,” you say–but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”–but I will not be mastered by anything.” I Corinthians 12:2 (NIV)

May all of our choices be beneficial today!

Grace and Peace!

 

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My own New Year

I had another birthday recently and, as usual, began the process of evaluation for what I want to get accomplished the year to come. I’ve always ignored the traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of starting my own New Year on my birthday. I’m weird like that. (grin)

What I found this year was a bit surprising: I don’t have as many new goals as I used to. I’m not saying that I’ve finally lived up to that “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative from high school, but I would say that I’m making progress–and most of it is in the direction that brings me joy. Hopefully, my progress is also making God smile a bit more than He used to, as well.

Sometimes we get all caught up in what other people expect from us or, perhaps more accurately, what we think they expect from us. I know I used to, anyway, but the older I get the more excited I am about my life. I’ve been blessed with a good one–despite the challenges, which we all face in one form or another. I’ve found that the best way to face them is to remember that those challenges are temporary and I am eternal, not because of anything that I have done, but by virtue of the very One who made me in His own image. By the way, the same can be said of you since the same God made us all.

34136This past year, I’ve already seen progress in some specific areas that I’ve been focused on for the last several years. I’ve exercised my “no” a little more and created some necessary margin in my life. I’ve cleared out a bunch of “stuff,” opened up my home a lot more, and made some more room for the people in my life to kick back and relax here with me. As a bonus result, I’ve been able to breathe a little better, as well. I’ve chosen to be more deliberately creative–and yes, you can do that! I’ve dug deeper into my study of what God wants for me and loved it as He has continued to turn some of that innate stubbornness into a more tenacious faith-life. I’ve prayed more with and for others and celebrated more of the small things in the everyday schedules I make for myself. I’ve laughed more this past year and enjoyed my husband and our marriage more. I’ve made deliberate choices to look past the faults of others without unsolicited commenting, but more importantly, I’ve managed to give some more of that grace to myself. To be honest, I’m having a lot more fun being me than I used to…and I’ve always liked being me. (HA!)

As I look back at that last paragraph, I see that this past year could most accurately be labeled as “a year of more.” I want to keep going in that direction in the year to come. I like what God is showing me about what He can do when I’m more focused on enjoying Him and the life He’s provided than when I’m just trying to “do the right thing,” check all the right boxes, and being too concerned about pleasing others.

As in years past, because I’m an optimist serving an Almighty God, I expect this new one to be a good one, but I am determined that it will be a more-God one. I look forward to what my new year will bring. I’m fiercely resolved to be a better steward of the life God has given to me. The following verse just feels like what I’m hoping for out of this new year:

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12 (CSB)

Perhaps I should have just started–and stopped–with that. Oh, well. I didn’t say anything about this year being less “wordy.” Looks like I’m off to a great start there, too. (grin)

Grace and Peace!

Grace update #1

So many of you have been kind to ask after our little smoke tree that suffered, as my friend AJ says, “aggressive pruning” at the hands of the roadside cleanup crew earlier this year. Thank you for your concern.

I am happy to report that Grace seems to be working hard to recover as you can see below. I am even happier to say that the lesson of grace continues to be a daily reminder as I look out my kitchen window each day. I do hope it sticks.

Perhaps as Grace the tree grows so will grace the practice…in each of us.

“…but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.” 2 Peter 3:18

“He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

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Have a  marvelous  weekend!

Grace and peace!

Lighter

My big red truck was parked at the end of my driveway again this afternoon. It’s an odd place to park and one of my sweet neighbors had already called to check on me to make sure I was ok and remind me that they were available if I needed help. Don’t you just love great neighbors?! I am surrounded by them. What a blessing!

They make life lighter.

I’m finally home from Bible study and, although I am in need of some solitude (an introvert’s retreat) I am also exhilarated by the gift of the Word and the gift of these amazing women in their search for the deeper things of God. They are constantly uplifting and encouraging to me.

They make life lighter.

I spent about an hour yesterday talking on the phone with one of my dearest prayer partners. God has allowed us not to simply remain friends, but to actually GROW our  friendship even though we’ve only seen each other in person about 3-4 times in the last 20 years or so. She’s someone I can go to for prayer on any subject. She won’t always automatically “take my side,” but I know she’ll always have my back. Her counsel is always Biblical and straight to the point. There’s little we hold back from one another after all this time. She pushes me to be better tomorrow than I am today. I need that.

Knowing I can count on her (and others) makes life lighter.

Last week, a cousin and I were messaging back and forth as we caught up on family details and celebrated the blessing of being raised in our particular extended family. We’ve never known what it’s like to be unloved. We’ve always had people who encouraged us and insisted that we were more than capable of whatever stood in front of us. We spoke of how we wished that same blessing for others that we know.

Family like that makes life lighter.

IMG_20180210_172302534Sometimes we let things weigh us down. It can be people, memories, emotions, or “stuff”…like all of the pounds and pounds of paperwork in boxes that filled the back of my truck just a few minutes ago. Over the past several weeks, my husband and I have sifted and sorted through all kinds of “life detritus” that has accumulated and followed us over our past 25+ years together. Some of it we brought to the marriage and more than a little has been added since. In our search for peace and margin, we’re making room for more joy…even if joy simply comes in the form of empty closet floors or extra room in a filing drawer or two.

About an hour ago, I got a phone call from the shredding company to say they’d roll up in with their big mobile shredder and slowly, but surely, my truck would be emptied. They will decimate and remove all of this extra “stuff” we’ve been holding on to for so long. We won’t miss any of it. To be honest, there are some boxes that only received a cursory glance-through before they were added to the pile. We haven’t needed the contents in over 25 years, so we’re pretty confident we’ll manage through the next 25 without them.

We’re tired of paying for real estate that we can’t use or access due to the things we’ve held on to simply because we didn’t make time to clear them out. That stops this year. We’re making room for more creativity in our lives…and in our shop, and in our closets, and more rest in our minds, as well. There’s a significant value to knowing these things no longer need to be done. Completion of a task is its own gift.

Our margins are increasing–in a lot of areas, not just this one. I’ve been surprised at how excited I’ve been about getting this all sorted and scheduled, and now, finally…shredded. More exciting than a few extra square feet of space is the feeling of freedom that getting rid of this excess “bounty” of uselessness gives us. I think we’ll actually breathe better just knowing it’s done. It would be easy to say, “If only we had done this sooner…” but we’re not holding on to any regrets around here, either. They’ll weigh you down faster than anything!

We’re celebrating the feeling of being lighter over here today and “that’s a good thing.” I’m sure Martha would agree! (grin) Wouldn’t it be great if every area of our lives could be cleaned up and cleared out so easily? While it takes time to sort through paper boxes and file cabinets, closets, and attics, you can take a big step forward toward creating spiritual margin without ever leaving your present position. Just ask God to help you with that right where you are. He’s ready and willing to hear from you at any time and the changes He can make in your life are both instantaneous and eternal.

What kinds of “stuff” (emotions, regrets, or physical items all count!) do you need to clear out and release in order to increase YOUR margins? Make or schedule some time to do that today!

“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”  Psalm 51:10 (ESV)

Grace and Peace! (and lots and lots of margin)

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.