Margin meets meaning

I recently had an epiphany as I walked in the relative coolness of my early Georgia morning. By the way, I love the word epiphany. Although the dictionary defines it this way:

e·piph·a·ny ( /əˈpifənē/ )  noun

  1. the manifestation of Christ to the Gentiles as represented by the Magi (Matthew 2:1–12).
    • the festival commemorating the Epiphany on January 6.
    • a manifestation of a divine or supernatural being.

Wikipedia (the true source of all internet wisdom—HA!) defines it this way: An epiphany (from the ancient Greek ἐπιφάνεια, epiphaneia, “manifestation, striking appearance”) is an experience of a sudden and striking realization. Generally the term is used to describe scientific breakthrough, religious or philosophical discoveries, but it can apply in any situation in which an enlightening realization allows a problem or situation to be understood from a new and deeper perspective. 

ANY.WAY! I had one of those as I walked and prayed about something I’ve been praying about for months…literally months and months. I’ve struggled with whether walking away for a time from some activities that I love is actually God’s will or just a desire to make things easier right now given the family circumstances that we are facing. I believe that I might have finally figured out that those two things aren’t always mutually exclusive. (By the way, change is hard.)

A dear friend and prayer partner recently asked if I was still working on “margin” in my life. I told her that I hadn’t had much time for that lately, but perhaps, I SHOULD be working on it. We laughed and moved on with our conversation. Her simple question set my mind in motion, though, and I began to look for ways to incorporate what I spent a whole year learning about just last year. It shouldn’t have been so difficult to remember–and I really shouldn’t have needed someone to remind me of what I had so recently learned, but it was and I did. (Did I mention that change is hard?)

As I walked along the road I asked God–again!--what it was that He wanted me to do about my schedule. I had thought that giving up our business would open up all the time and allow for all of the personal reserves that we would need, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, I’m finding–as many of you already know–that physical work is far easier than making our way through the spiritual, emotional and mental battles of dealing with a loved ones’ dementia. Suddenly, I had a thought that tied AJ’s simple question to the ones piling up in my prayer time: What if last year’s focus on Margin was ACTUALLY all done in preparation for what we would face THIS year? What if God, in His infinite wisdom KNEW and provided me with a whole year to practice what I need to practice, grow, and teach in a whole new way during the difficult days that we’re facing right now? (MAYBE because God knows change is hard for us, too?)

Well, well! Hmmm…things. to. think. about!

I shouldn’t be surprised by that. God is always good. He is always preparing us for the next levels and making us fit for the next battles. What surprised me–again–was the WAY that He seems to have done so about this subject. You see, I thought that last year’s focus on Margin was ALL about LAST YEAR and all of the business and busy-ness that it contained. I lost sight of all I have learned from that quote by J.O. Sanders, “God never ploughs [sic] unless He purposes a crop.”

Well, welcome to the season of harvest right here in the first week of summer. I came home and immediately put into action a plan to rearrange my schedule. Some of the changes involve things that I dearly love and that I have held onto out of a desire to serve God and others by using the spiritual gifts that God has given to me. Personally, I had questioned if it would be more selfish to continue in them (and possibly do them poorly) or to step away for a season. Following Christ closely doesn’t leave much room for selfish motives or ambitions, so I am putting some things aside for the moment that will, hopefully, also help provide an opportunity for growth in others. If “the moment” becomes longer than I currently anticipate, then God will be in charge of that, as well. His gifts are never meant to be hoarded or neglected, so I am certain that He will make a way for all of us to grow. Additionally, while I will be laying aside some tasks, He has already shown me ways that I will be able to take up/expand some others.

The main thing I brought home with me from my Monday walk was a sense of release/personally answered prayer and a sense of purposely walking closer to Jesus than ever before. I’m finding that this season of difficulty is also demanding a deeper journey with my Savior (because…well, you knowchange…!)…and I’m finding myself more in love with my God than ever before as I rush to draw near to Him. There is no other way to survive this!

Perhaps there’s more to teaching than simply standing before a crowd or pecking away at a computer. Hmmmm…Maybe, just maybe, I will be teaching others about God by putting into practice what He’s already taught me…when I just thought I was busy and in need of some margin for my soul. Instead of simply going for a walk by myself, I encountered God and He set about changing my expectations, my prayer time, my understanding of past lessons learned, and, as a result, my reality. Epiphany, indeed.

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

 

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Words to live by

I was reading in Luke Chapter 1 the other day and I was particularly struck by the detailed recording of the conversation between Mary and the angel, Gabriel. My favorite line in that conversation is when Gabriel reminds Mary of something she already knew:

“For with God, nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1: 37 (NKJV)

We ALL still need to be reminded of that.

We also need to be reminded of Mary’s response to this news that would put her life in danger and change the world forever as she said, “Let it be to me according to your word.” Since Gabriel was bringing a message straight from God, what Mary was REALLY saying was, “I’ll do whatever you say, God.” 

That’s still a pretty good response today no matter what is going on in our lives.

I also love that the recorded conversation between Mary and her Cousin Elizabeth. Because I’ve spent a lifetime surrounded by strong, wonderful women, I guess I’m intrigued by these two. So many years and some distance apart, but brought together by their love for God and the miraculous way He was at work in their lives–these women are fabulous!! I think I would have liked both of them!

What really struck me this time, however, was the simple fact that their conversation was ever recorded in the first place. At the time, of course, women–especially the unmarried and the ones who hadn’t able to get pregnant–weren’t typically regarded as important enough to mention, much less record. I don’t think I’d ever thought about that before, but there it is! It’s a conversation full of love and praise and joyous celebration over things that would have been considered odd (at the least), scandalous (for sure), and (for Mary!) possibly even deadly once the news got out to the public. Yep, it’s all laid out in a lot of detail…I guess Zacharias decided to record the occasion since he wasn’t allowed to speak at the time! (grin)

Regardless of who wrote it down in the first place, I love their unconditional acceptance that God was in control in both of their circumstances. Regardless of how they were viewed or valued by society, these women KNEW they were loved and valued by God, so walking out whatever He had next for them was a decision that had been made long before they had this conversation. The knowledge of that showed up in their responses to their circumstances and in the words that they spoke to each other. I find it difficult to believe their communications with other people around them would have been much different. Yes, I really do think I would have liked these women!

While what’s going on in my world is nothing like as big as the announcement that God’s Son would be arriving soon and His heralding-messenger cousin would, quite naturally, be arriving even sooner, I have to take stock and consider some things:

  • Am I willing to believe that what Gabriel said is true–that NOTHING is impossible with God? If so, shouldn’t that show up in the way I speak about my current circumstances and when I listen and speak to others about theirs?
  • Am I willing to accept whatever God has planned for me…even if I don’t like it or know all of the details?
  • Am I ready to stop whatever I’m doing and joyfully welcome others into my circle who are having life-changing things happen in theirs, or will I shut them out and just focus on what’s going on with me?
  • Am I ready and willing to sing God’s praises and tell others of His goodness in the midst of something that feels more than a bit scary and might not go the way I would want?

SONY DSC“For with God, nothing will be impossible.” Luke 1: 37 (NKJV)?

With Him, nothing is impossible! Without Him? Well, that’s not possible.

I’ve made my decision. Have you made yours?

Grace and Peace!

I used to…

I used to be a lot louder. That was back when I knew more. (grin) I think the quiet started when I began to realize how much I didn’t know. Incidentally, that probably started about the time I began to get serious about having a personal relationship with God. Coincidence? I think not.

Getting to know the One who knows it all, kinda shuts you up sometimes…or, at least, it ought to. “Before,” I just looked like I knew Him. That was pretty easy since I was raised in a home that taught the Scripture to us practically and deliberately from Day 1 of breathing on our own.

It was easy to look like I knew Him because I knew all about Him. (Just ask anyone who played “Bible trivia”  with our family. {BTW–“Bible trivia“?!–Is that even a possible thing?! The phrase kind of makes me cringe a little bit right now.} I made all the right appearances and I did all of the right things in public. My parents were praised for doing it right, but inside, I hadn’t really made a choice for following Jesus so much as a choice to ruffle as few feathers as possible on my way out the door. I had all of the head knowledge and very little of the heart knowledge or life application of all that I “knew.” I had plenty of the rebellion going on inside despite all appearances to the contrary.

I used to be louder. My temper was fierce and while I’m not entirely sure those days are past, but I know there are a whole lot fewer of them and that makes me happier in ways that being louder never could. Louder meant being called on for all the right answers even when my heart wasn’t in it–or NOT called on “so other people can learn for themselves.” Louder meant being perceived as right even when I was wrong. Louder meant being praised for WHAT I knew instead of WHO I knew. Louder meant more to me then than relationships did.

I didn’t know that a quieter spirit meant I would be able to hear God more clearly. I was too busy charting my own path to be very concerned about His plans. The fact that my path looked a little like His to those who weren’t looking too closely made it even harder to figure out that I needed a change.

I didn’t know that a quieter Becky meant time for others to grow and opportunities for me to grow and learn, as well. Turns out, I didn’t know all I should have…or needed to know. I didn’t know that being quieter would grow me up instead of just growing my reputation…and, oddly enough, would make me more concerned about God’s reputation in me than I was about my own.

I didn’t know what I didn’t know…and I wasn’t all that interested in finding that out. I was good. Just ask anyone who knew me! I was good. It was enough. I was enough. Writing that down makes me cringe a bit now, too, but I’m doing it anyway because I don’t want anyone else to make the same mistake that I made…when I used to be louder.

“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.” Proverbs 17:27 (NIV) 

Today, I am reminded that God’s Word is always true…and I am praying for a world that still thinks like I used to when I used to be louder.

Grace and Peace!

 

Pace car

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So can you.

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

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

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

Heart notes

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

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

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

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

“Remind me to live in faith instead of frustration

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe they will remind you, as well.

Grace and Peace!

‘Tis the Season

I know I’ve mentioned this before, but I love getting mail! ALL kinds are welcome: snail mail, email, personally delivered, parcel post or freighted! It reminds me of that line from Richard Rogers’ immortal song “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music: “…brown paper packages tied up with strings…” (and now, I must apologize for the earworm, but I’m singing along with Julie Andrews, so you might as well do the same!)

Yesterday was a very lovely “package day” at my house! Although I’m not really into the acquisition of “things” for myself, I had mail of every kind imaginable delivered and it was FABULOUS! I opened several Christmas cards, some simple household products, two gifts I’d ordered for others, and two marvelous Christmas happies for ME from dear friends who live in different towns in Mississippi!

I also received a nice long phone call and a great text message. Actually, I had several of each, but these two were special. Why even mention them? Because almost everyone I know uses those tools every single day and somehow we don’t stop to think of them as “gifts” because they’re not generally tangible.

The content of these two communications was special to me, however, because God used them to confirm something I’ve been thinking about for awhile. They contained encouragement about exercising a gift He has given to me that I haven’t been using to full advantage. Though the messages were vastly different and neither was harsh or loud, they spoke powerfully to me about what God would have me do in the days to come. Without chiding or deriding, God chose to use the voices of friends and give me the gift of their time…and His.

I’m grateful for that. In a loving voice and the forwarding of a daily devotional , GOD showed up and spoke to me in a very personal way. The words these friends shared inspired me and reminded me that we too often forget the power of communicating with each other. We forget to give of ourselves in simple, personal ways…or we discount the idea that what we have to share might truly make a profound difference.

This is the season for gathering and gifts–whether or not you believe, as I do, that the real reason for all of the hoopla was the quiet birth of the One who came to save the world. This is just your friendly reminder that your words and your actions can be gifts of even more significance than anything you might order, wrap, or have delivered this year.

Use them wisely. Share them generously. Choose them as carefully as you would the finest present and use them to bless and not just add to the cacophony of seasonal noise. Share the thoughts, feelings, ideas, and writings that encourage and inspire YOU with others. You may never know how it can be used to influence them or be passed along to others.

Grace and Peace…and packages of God-delight for you and yours this season!

Challenging

In her recent Bible study on the Gospel of John entitled Proven, Jenni Allen shares several opportunities for “experiences” to reinforce each week’s lesson. One of my favorites, so far, has been from Week One where she asked us to celebrate the fact that God is a master experience-creator by creating an experience for some of our friends or family members. Her guidelines were simple: it had to be fun, inexpensive, contain something you’ve never tried or done before, and it had to be memorable.

A couple of friends agreed to join in the experience with me and I had so much fun with it that I decided to share it here. (Don’t get freaked out because there are multiple steps! These are SIMPLE!)

Step One: Spend a few minutes telling God God all the things you’re grateful for today! (I know, a few minutes isn’t nearly long enough!)

Step Two: Choose ONE word as your “today, I am most grateful for____” word.

Step Three: Now, you get to go on a nature walk/treasure hunt around the yard or house…for items that you can use to spell out your word! I don’t care what you collect for this project, but you can’t leave your yard and you can’t spend any money.

Step Four: Now go to the Word and find a verse about the word you’ve chosen and photographed.

Step Five: Send me a picture of your “word” and your verse so I can share in your creativity and celebrate with you! (BTW, I’m happy to receive them all personally, but you might want to share them in the comments section so others can share in your fun, as well…just a thought! Either way works for me!)

Step Six: Post your word and your verse on your social media platform and share the blessing with someone else.

Step Seven (because if I’ve gone this far, there HAS to be a 7!): Spend a few more minutes thinking about how you can incorporate more of “your word” into your life this week.

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As you can see, my word was “joy” and, although it doesn’t really match the traditional colors of Autumn, it was gathered right out in my yard on October 1st! Thanks to previous owners, hot pink and purple are actually signs of Fall around here. (grin–we’d hate to be predictable, you know!)

Last week, I was given a hug by someone who doesn’t know me very well. At the end of it, she turned to others nearby and said, “You can just feel the joy in her!” That blessed me really big. While I am rarely without joy, sometimes, my serious side shows more than my fun one and I have been challenging myself to work toward being more balanced in this area. I chose this word because I know that happiness is temporary, but JOY can be permanent because of my relationship with God. I grabbed the bungee cord because sometimes joy can stretch you and you need to be flexible to hang on to it when things get a bit hard. I opted for the echinacea flower over the bungee cord because echinacea naturally strengthens the immune system and joy is a healing thing. I picked the clematis bloom because it was the biggest blooming thing on the place (grin) and because clematis is happy to send tendrils up and out into the world grabbing hold and covering whatever you’ll let it. I settled on the twig from one of the camelias in the front because it was pretty, it had fully extended blooms along with buds that signal more beauty to come…and was also easily made into a “Y”–and practicality is also part of Joy for me! (ha!)

Your choices don’t all have to have hidden meanings, that’s where my mind naturally took me on this journey. I would LOVE to see what you come up with and, whether or not you choose to participate in this one, I challenge you to find more joy in your week. Grab hold and celebrate the beauty of the season, the goodness of our God, and the fact that Autumn seems to have finally begun to arrive.

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” Romans 15:13 (NIV)

“You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” Psalm 16:11 (ESV)

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

Grace and Peace!