Staying on Margin-mission

I’ve written quite a bit about Margin this year. I’ve thought about it even more than I’ve written about it, but I have to say that one of the things I neglected to really think about was the WHY of it…at least until the last couple of weeks, anyway.

Like many of you, I was tired and rundown by the end of last year and, since I knew that God had given me the majority of those assignments (but…let’s be real here, I added plenty of things to my own plate, as well!), I blithely assumed that this call for more Margin was another of His many gifts to me. I still don’t think I’m wrong on that.

I was just so grateful for the call to Margin that I forgot to ask many more questions. Actually, I may have been too tired to ask more questions at that point, but since we’re already into the month of JULY, that means I’ve had some time to give it some thought and…and…but…but…

what if I don’t always like where it might lead? What if it makes me uncomfortable or steps on my toes sometimes?

A few weeks ago I was with a group of friends and as the conversation progressed I noticed that one of them had wandered dangerously into my territory. (wow. that sounds melodramatic, doesn’t it?! HA!) Anyway! She began talking about all the things she wanted to do and she had plenty of fresh ideas and tons of energy and…all of the sudden I started getting a little bit antsy. Didn’t she know I already knew how to do that? Why didn’t she ask me to help? I could make things SO much simpler for her if she’d only ask!

Y’all! It took God about midway through that last sentence-thought in my head to snap me into attention as He LOUDLY in my spirit/headspace reminded me that HE was in charge of things and that MY job was to be obedient to what He was calling me to…and that was NOT what He was calling HER to right then! As clear as day, God said to me, “I am calling you to Margin, but I am loading her plate.”

Let me just stop and mention here that Scripture (in 1 Kings 19:12) tells us that Elijah looked for God in the earthquake and the fire, but found Him in “a still, small voice.” Well. The voice in my headspace was neither still, nor small. It was quick and powerful and full of conviction as God reminded me of my mission and quickly gave instruction about how I was to proceed. MY job, you see, isn’t to be one of DOING in this instance, but to be one of SUPPORTING! MY job is to cheer her on, build her up, pray for her and speak words of encouragement both to her and on her behalf.

And just like that, I settled down. As I did so, it is amazing how much easier it was to listen without all those voices in my head! HA!!

Being on mission with God doesn’t always look the same from the outside and this was the perfect example of that to me. I was instantly made aware (AGAIN!) that

  • it isn’t my job to do Every Thing,
  • it IS my job to do what God tells ME to do and support others as they do the same, AND
  • there will come a time when God chooses to fills my plate again.

That last one is important because it reminded me of ONE of the reasons I need this time of margin: I need to be ‘rested up’ and ready for the next time of heavy assignment.

No matter what mission God has assigned you today–either for margin or the filled plate or somewhere in between–I pray that you are filled with peace and able to hear His voice without your own getting in the way like mine did for a bit. I also pray that if your voice does get in the way, that His will override it with the same quickness and authority that He did with me and that you’ll be just as happy as a bird with a french fry at whatever He has to say.

“Walk in obedience to all that the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live and prosper and prolong your days in the land that you will possess.” Deuteronomy 5:33

“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:17 

Sunday blessings on you today, dear friends.

Grace and peace!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Heart song

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (ESV)

It started in 1989. A couple of months after I finished grad school, I moved to Atlanta and found a ground floor apartment with big rooms…that scared almost everyone I met…except me. I KNOW it scared them because–without exception–I was encouraged to move as soon as anyone came to see me for the first time. This was especially true of the people who had lived in the area for awhile. (I actually had dates that refused to come back because of where I lived!–but those were “faint of heart” and apparently, it was God’s way of weeding them out! HA!)

What “THEY” knew: drug deals were going down at the front of the complex. All. The. Time.

What “I” knew: it fit my budget, was close to my closest office, and I was finally on my own. It was heaven–even without any furniture and no TV. Starting out, I had a bed (mattress on the floor), a new job, a radio, my books, a place to cook meals, and freedom to make my own decisions. I set about making a home and a life on my own…or so I believed.

What God knew: there was a plan to bless me really big. It would just take a bit to unfold.

Because I was raised to live with a healthy respect for cleanliness, because it was an old apartment that had housed people I did not know, AND because I worked for doctors, I scoured every single inch of that apartment. Cleaning supplies were my number one priority and biggest budget item that first month. I didn’t have much, but it was going to be clean, so there was absolutely NO surface that escaped my obsession. (That’s important to know because of what happened later.)

I had been there almost two years and had settled in nicely. I found a church home right next door to the complex, friends who ‘braved’ (Read that as PRAYED HEARTILY–and most likely, OUT LOUD!–AS THEY DROVE QUICKLY THROUGH!) the front part and came to visit, work that was both interesting and challenging, and a host of children who greeted me every day when I came home. They came running at top speed as soon as they spied my truck turning in and I often had to ask them to wait a moment while I put my stuff down. THEN, they turned in their “reports.” I knew if anyone had come by, stopped at my door, whether or not they went on to another door (and if so, which ones), what they looked like, what they drove, how long they stayed, and if they had been there before. A state of the art security force…all for the price of a big bowl of candy and a round of hugs and questions about their day, as well. The back part of the complex where I lived, you see, was made up of families and they had adopted me as one of their own.

I had a large and loving personal family, a great church family, a wonderful work family, and now, an apartment complex family. God was showing out in the love department, but He hadn’t sent me anyone to do life with yet. I was content to wait, but I was praying about it. I even went so far as to write down exactly what I wanted Him to send me…in detail, because, you know…some things you just need to spell out…even before God. (grin)

As the wait became longer, I wondered if He was really listening and, one evening, after some pretty intensive prayer–about a lot of things, not just that–I walked into my bathroom and reached for something in the medicine cabinet. As I pulled it forward, my hand caught something else, as well.IMG_20180618_075914480_LL

Something I had never seen before.

Something small and shiny.

Something gold, but kind of sticky…like it might have been back there a LONG time…and then…There. was. another. one.

It was a pair of VERY small gold heart earrings. Covered in dust.

I had had no recent visitors. I checked with those who had been there to see if they were missing a set. I had never owned a pair like them, had never even SEEN a pair like them, and I had absolutely NO idea where they could have come from…because I had SCOURED that place from day 1 and kept it clean from then onward.

It made absolutely no sense, but somehow, I knew that GOD had sent me those earrings just to let me know that He actually was listening. Instead of feeling like it was a bit creepy, I felt absolutely loved and cared for. I cleaned them up and wore them for years. Every time I did so, someone would comment on them–even as small as they were–and I would get to share my story. Actually, I was sharing God’s story.

You know the one? The one where He loves each of us SO MUCH that there’s nothing He won’t do to get our attention and nothing He saved back when He sent His Son to die for us. That’s the one. If you’re not familiar with it, go back and read this paragraph again. He loves you…really, really big…so much so that He sent His Son to save you in whatever high and mighty or backwards backwater place you find yourself today. He came to save you from your sin so that He could spend eternity with YOU and you could spend it–and today!–with Him.

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Those heart earrings were just the start of it for me. To this day, God still sends me hearts on a pretty regular basis. Sometimes they’re shaped like rocks as I walk to the mailbox (like the one I found last week–see the picture!–or the ones I found ON MY PORCH at my Mississippi house!) or near a mountain stream. In fact, I have an old white platter where I have started piling those heart rocks as a reminder that HE is personal and very, very present in my life.

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Sometimes, the hearts show up as flowers like this one that’s blooming right this minute along my back walkway…kind of like He had me bloom at the back of a really old apartment complex all those years ago.

No matter what form they take, each time I see one, I smile really big and tell God “THANK YOU!” for listening, for being near, for having a plan, and for just being God. Of course, I am looking for the hearts. Don’t miss that! I’m looking for the hearts He sends because I’m also looking for HIM to show up every day and yet I sometimes wonder just how many hearts I’ve missed because I forgot to pay attention over the years.

Writing all of this has reminded me of the verse I started out with today:

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21 (ESV)

This wasn’t just written for us, you know. It also characterizes our God. WE are His treasure and where WE are, there HIS HEART will be also!

If that doesn’t help you look for Him today, I’m not sure what will, so I hope you’re looking…and I hope your heart has a home with Him.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

 

Desert places, grief and growing things

I’ve never been to a desert before, but… I’ve been in more than a few desert places.

They’re not all alike.

Some desert places are about as close as you can come to being “taken to the woodshed” in spiritual terms. Many times we read about them in the Bible as a response to some kind of disobedience by someone who “should have known–and done!–better.” It becomes much harder to point fingers, however, when we remember that we’ve been disobedient, as well. Unfortunately, the disobedient ones are not the only ones who get taken along for the ride. What you and I do matters to and affects more than just ourselves. God takes our obedience very seriously.

Some desert places are caused by grief; loss of life and health and strength, loss of love and loved ones, even loss of control. Sometimes I think we mourn that last one most of all, though we rarely make it public. It gets all tied up in all of the other things connected with loss and we grow angry about all we long for and are unable to fix or grasp. We look for ways around it and end up finding we must simply work through it.

That IS possible. God has made a way. In fact, HE is the way. Knowing that doesn’t make it easier, but it does…all at the same time. God takes our grief seriously, too.

Yesterday I attended a memorial service where family members were attired in overalls. In their desert place of loss, they chose to celebrate the life and faith of their loved one with a tribute that he would have loved. It was beautiful.

I thought about close friends who have recently lost stability as they find themselves in changes of circumstances and far from what feels familiar. Across the sanctuary, I noticed others who have also lost loved ones recently. Seated not too far away were those who are in the process of doing so. Their care and comfort for one another is all bound up in their faith as they walk through the desert places where God has, for now, placed them.

That’s hard to write. It’s hard to even think about. Harder still, to endure.

We’d love to say that faith in God makes life an easy thing, but that isn’t always the case. WHY? Because in His infinite wisdom, God sees and knows things we can’t. He places us in these hard places ON PURPOSE. He does so, at times, for reasons I can’t even begin to fathom and yet, I know this to be true: He loves us. He is good. He is perfect in all His ways and He is always with us.

These things seem contrary, don’t they? I think that’s another one of my favorite things about God. He’s not afraid to be contrary to MY way of thinking. Instead, He uses each desert place to show me a new facet of His love, His care, His provision, and His mercy,–and what may be all of those things for someone else, may just put me in a desert place for awhile.

In this year’s focus on margin, I am continually drawn back to this invitation:

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” Matthew 11:28-29 (ESV)

Grief–no matter the cause– is hard work. If we’re to find our way through it, we will NEED a place of rest for our souls. God, in His goodness, tells us He has already provided it. He becomes our Provision, our oasis in the desert…a place of nourishment, renewal, and, yes, even growth.

J.O. Sanders perhaps said it best, “God does not waste suffering; if He ploughs [sic] it is because He purposes a crop.”

No matter on which side of the desert–or oasis!–you find yourself today, I pray rest for weary souls, for respite from the harshness of the load and the landscape, and for companions who comfort and point you to Christ. I pray that you have God as your life companion and I pray for growth…even in the desert.

Be an oasis–a blessing in the desert–for someone today. It may help YOU more than you think possible.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

Monday morning musing…

One day I’m going to be perfect…but it apparently isn’t happening today. Deeeeep sigh…

Today I’m starting this blog from a doctor’s office and I get the “white-coat sydrome” effects even though I worked with doctors for years, so although this is just a check-up, I’m already over my BP limit.

It didn’t help that I got flat out angry on the way there thinking about someone who was unkind and said something to prove it…to someone I adore…and I can’t fix any of that…

…BUT I can be in charge of me today and choose to respond in grace and in kindness… instead of in kind, which is what I wanted to do. (No, let’s be honest here, I still kinda want to do that. smh.)

I’ve moved on down the road a bit now. Through with the doctor and on to my next appointment and still mulling it over–this desire to retaliate/defend and I know that while defense won’t make a difference here, retaliation would just make it worse, so I’m pouring it all out before God and realizing again how far I have to go.

I’m also reminded that God was good to be specific when He had Paul set down the guidelines for what we could even think, much less say.

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” Philippians 4: 8 (NLT)

It’s time…for my next appointment, to choose a different thought pattern, to trust God to handle the situation–without my interference, to think things in line with God’s instructions, to choose my own words with even more care and concern for others, and to get this day back on track. I pray a better day and a calmer spirit to reign over ALL of us! (I’m grinning now, but I’m also serious!)

Challenge for the day: use your words to build UP and encourage someone today!

Happy Monday, y’all!

Grace and peace!

Scented

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You don’t even have to round the corner to smell it; it almost assaults your senses as soon as you step out on to the small back porch. Confederate jasmine run amok…a neighbor’s gift to the previous owners untrimmed and unmitigated in the slightest for the four years or so that we’ve lived here.

It was tidy once, but no longer. It has taken over the small trellis meant to support it, reached on up for the branches of the maple tree at the corner, wound its way over to the roof…and…I’ll have to do something about it this year. I caught a few tendrils trying to reach in through the crack of a window sill casing.

Beautiful, abundant, breathtaking in both scent and beauty…and intrusive…or trying to be, anyway.

I love the scent of this beautiful invader but, to tell the absolute truth, when caught in the right wind, it can be downright overcoming. It will almost smother you with the goodness of it–some kind of aromatic cross between gardenias and honeysuckle and all here within reach and easy viewing.

It reminds me of something Paul wrote to the church at Corinth long ago, when he said,

For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” 2 Corinthians 2:15-16 (NIV)

I see this flowering vine and I’m reminded that as followers of Christ we, too, are called to be abundant in our production and reach those around us in ways that they can’t avoid noticing because we’re just that different. We’re supposed to “smell different” from those in the world…and act that way, too…because we’re called to BE DIFFERENT from the world.

Some people will love us for it and some will hate us. Others will just be annoyed. The one thing we shouldn’t be, though, is easily ignored. We are to put Christ on full display in our lives and turn Him lose to take over everything in His way. Another thing we shouldn’t be is so full of our own goodness that we fail to be approachable or willing to share our Jesus with those who may not look like it, but so desperately need Him.

In a world where it seems every news cycle is full to the brim with the latest misdeeds of those we should be able to trust, this is a hard thing. Who IS equal to the task? Certainly not me. Not on my own, anyway. Not you, either, I’d suspect. We’re often too full of ourselves and yet too aware of all of our own misdeeds…and that’s part of our problem. If we belong  to God and have asked for His forgiveness, we ought to be bold enough to celebrate the forgiveness–sweet, overwhelming, totally invasive forgiveness–that comes by asking the One who never sinned to cover ours. Once those have been covered, we need to make the choice to celebrate the Forgiver in no uncertain terms and live our lives in ways that honor and glorify Him. It may seem a little too corny for some in our “sophisticated” society, but I believe Chuck Swindoll had it down when he said,

“Few things are more infectious than a godly lifestyle. The people you rub shoulders with everyday need that kind of challenge. Not prudish. Not preachy. Just cracker jack clean living. Just honest to goodness, bone – deep, non-hypocritical integrity.”

I love that quote and had it on my office wall for years to remind me that each interaction–whether patient or staff member, phone call or personal encounter–was an opportunity to live that out…and in so doing, live out what Christ had called me (and YOU!) to do for Him.

I want to be pleasing in His sight and I want to be an aroma of Christ before God. That will require both submission and pruning…and a willingness to let Him sort out which one is needed when and who needs to hear about His work in my life next. My job is to be available for either, let Him scent the air, and give Him free reign to make me equal to the task.

Grace and Peace!

Response Time

I hate to admit it, but I might just be a little lazier than I used to be. I came to this momentous insight earlier today when my riding lawn mower suddenly decided to stop working as it should. I’m pretty sure it’s the fault of all of those nasty sweet gum balls that did it, but no matter what (or who, since I was driving!) is to blame, I have to say that my first thought was something along the lines of, “Well, maybe this just isn’t the day to do this!”

It was, though.  In fact, I was trying to get the back part where all of those sweet gum balls were mowed because I didn’t mow it the last time…and I had someone coming over later today and I wanted it all done so they could do what THEY needed to do without being obstructed by all of that higher grass back there, so I grabbed the push mower and went back to work. Once the guy was through with his job, I had to wait a little bit before I could be outside, so I took the time for an early lunch…and began to contemplate whether or not, the rest of the yard REALLY needed to be done today…and it did…so I filled up the push mower and started again.

I generally love mowing the yard. It’s pretty good prayer time as a rule, but today…wellllll…to be honest, I wasn’t really using that time to it’s fullest advantage. Oh, I was talking to God, alright, but it wasn’t all that constructive.

I was complaining…and at a pretty good pace, too.

It was hot. I was tired of things breaking down around here. I know it all belongs to You, God, but really?! It was incredibly dusty and the mask I wore made it even hotter. It was taking forever to do it this way. Why did this have to happen today? On and on it (I!) went. The only thing productive about the whole thing was that the grass was getting mowed…albeit at a much slower rate than I preferred.

About the second time my mower needed more gas, I finally remembered something: Yes, all those things I was complaining about were (are) true, but so is this: When one mower quit, I had another one to use. I had gas in the can and strong legs to push the mower around the yard. It would take longer than normal, but it would also mean I didn’t need to hit the treadmill later. The time I’ve been putting in on the treadmill lately has made me stronger for what I need to do today. That strength has also made it easier for me to handle the heat and God occasionally still allowed me some shade. Using the pushmower also meant I could get into some tighter places and wouldn’t need to do as much weed-eating later. That’s something to be grateful for, so I decided to change my behavior…and do what I ask others to do: I started telling God how grateful I was for all of the blessings I had listed and then I added to the list for several more rounds until my mower needed more gas and it was time for another break.

I also thanked Him for the opportunity to take a break when I need more gas (something I might have blown right past before He started teaching me about margin!), for the fact that Outshine makes an amazing mango popsicle that hits the spot perfectly when you’re hot and taking that break, that HE is God and I am not, for all those teachers I’ve had over the years that pointed me to Him and told me some of the very same things I tell others now. As I thought about that last one, I remembered some other things I know to be true:

  • God will take you seriously when you ask Him for something, and He also takes it seriously when He tells you to share Him with others and tell them that He can be trusted.
  • When you tell them He is your Healer, you may find yourself or someone you love in need of healing.
  • When you tell them He is your Provider, you may find yourself in need of provision.
  • When you tell them He is your Comforter, you may find yourself in need of comforting.
  • When you tell them He is the Source of all wisdom, you may find yourself in a place where nothing makes sense.

I think you get the point. When we share God with others, He will often put us in places so they can see US have the opportunity to have great need of Him. It will make the most powerful witness when we respond appropriately…and the worst kind of witness when we don’t. Though He may not answer our prayers in quite the way we think He ought to answer, He still has a plan and if we’ll get with it, He will be glorified, we will be blessed and others will get a front row seat to see it all. Just think, wherever you are and whatever you’re facing, you have the opportunity to become a person of influence…by just doing what you already know to do, and the best part of ALL of that is this: He will never leave you alone in the middle of any of that for a single solitary second. He has promised.

Today, He gave me the opportunity to live out what I teach. I’d imagine that He’s doing that wherever you are today, as well.

How will you respond?

As for me, my break is over and there’s still more grass to be mowed, more gas in the can, and more time to be spent in prayer. Funny how that mower quitting might just turn out to be one of my biggest blessings of the day…

Grace and Peace!

IMG_20180509_145744778_HDRP.S. If I’d been on the riding mower, I also might have missed the fact that one of my new iris blooms had fallen over and I’d have probably run right over it. Instead, I get to have THIS in my kitchen window for the next little bit. Now, tell me that’s not a blessing!

God-Margin: Is this for you?

Saturday morning was pretty busy for us as we dropped off a vehicle for repair, picked up a few essentials, and headed home to plant a few things in our container gardens. I put away the groceries, grabbed a mango popsicle (I am addicted to the Outshine ones!), and put my feet up to enjoy it. My cat soon joined me, since an open lap is apparently a sin as far as he is concerned. Almost immediately my phone buzzed–actually, the Minions giggled, because that just cracks me up–and a text came in from a dear friend who was attending a Priscilla Shirer simulcast. The text read:

“God is looking for people with MARGIN in their lives….who have left room for Him and His work and His gifts.”   ~Priscilla Shirer

Isn’t that the truth?! Preach, sister, PREACH!

I want that! I want to be that woman for God…and that desire has been a driving force behind my determination to clear out the things in my life and in my schedule that “I” (boldface, italics, quotation marks, and EVERY other emphasis indicator you can think of!) have too often loaded me up for…without asking Him if “that one” was for me or not. It’s so easy to get caught up in the excess (feel-good, praise, and public attention) that comes from saying “yes” and we can forget that the God of “yes” also created the “no” for our blessing, as well.

Please don’t miss my point. God DOES call us to the “yes” for Him and His people, but He does NOT call us as individuals to EVERY “yes” we’re encouraged to say. This is where the Holy Spirit comes in to speak of Jesus. That is the first “yes” we need hear and say. The other “yes” answers you’ll be called to say should always take their cue from that first one: what is the expressed will of the Father? That the whole world would come to know Him personally. Is that even possible if we’re too busy to stop and tell them about Him…or show them that they matter to Him and, as a result, to us?

What do you need to say “No” to today in order to be available to say “YES!” when God asks you to do so?

Societal values are cyclical and the cycle we’ve been in for a very long time (too long!) is one where “the busiest one wins.” Having that mindset makes it very difficult to hear the Holy Spirit speak Jesus in our ears because all we’ve learned to focus on is being the one who wins, the one who can be “depended on”, or the pride factor that comes from being the first one thought of and the last-minute savior of all things chaotic. When we get so caught up in all that WE can do, we forget to listen for HIS name, HIS voice, and HIS choices for us. There’s a very good reason that Psalm 46:10 tells us “Be still and know that I am God.”–and we often stop there as if that is the whole verse, but IT IS NOT!

The rest of that verse is critical to showing us the reason behind our need for quieter schedules. Read it with me:

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

Have you ever noticed that before? He didn’t say stay busy and loudly proclaim your busy-ness, and stay overworked trying to prove that there IS a God and that you belong to Him so that in the process YOU are exalted. He didn’t say that at all. Our quietness is so that HE can be exalted.

I’m just enough of a nut to believe that He was serious about the way He had it written…and I desperately want to live that way so that HE is the one exalted and heralded and known and not just build my own resume of good works. It didn’t use to be that way, but I am listening and I am still learning. One of the things I’ve learned is that saying “No” actually gives me the opportunity to say “Yes” when God calls my name–and sometimes, He has us say the “No” without telling us the WHY…at the time.

I write all of this on the 7th anniversary weekend of when God called me to one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done: herding Baptists who wanted to help in the wake of the massive E-5 tornado that swept Smithville, MS and much of the surrounding area clean. I thought I was simply going to a meeting to take notes, but one of my pastors at the time, Tommy Gillon from Fairview Baptist in Columbus, actually took me up there to roll up my sleeves and stay awhile. For almost 3 months, I had the daily privilege of using my organizational skills to serve God and His people alongside Pastor Allen Simpson and his wonderful staff and the amazing people of First Baptist Church in Amory, MS. In the wake of unimaginable loss for many of their nearby Smithville, MS neighbors, we sought to match skill sets from all over the United States with needs in North Mississippi, meet basic life needs for people who often no longer had possessions of any kind, encourage where possible, pray continuously, and keep a few ‘helpers’ from making it worse. (written with a very thankful heart…and very wry grin)

Along the way I met some of the most incredible people doing impossible things because God was showing up and showing out through them–because they deliberately made some margin for God to use them! I watched families take in families–that they didn’t know, homes and churches get rebuilt, groups of students de-trashed huge fields making them ready to be planted so farmers could make something to help their families, and so much more. Simple things were made more profound than can be acknowledged through the working of God’s people who had hearts for Him and their neighbors because they chose to say the “yes” –and the “no”!–for margin so they could be available when they were needed.

God-Margin…who needs it? We all do–either as givers or receivers. Which one are you today?

Grace and Peace!