Sharing a good word

There’s a verse in the Bible, Luke 4:25, that is part of the story where Jesus had just returned from the wilderness temptation and begun to teach in his hometown. Some of those in the crowd listening to Him questioned how He got this knowledge and authority since He grew up there and they thought they knew everything He did. Some of the others were quiet, but He knew that they were actually there to see if He would do another miracle like He had done in other places.

As part of his response to the crowd, “Jesus said to them, ‘Surely you will quote this proverb to Me: ‘Physician, heal yourself!…'” The implication was clear: they wanted proof of what He was teaching, and yet He knew that no amount of proof would change their minds. As always, God knows our hearts and our needs even before we acknowledge them. Over time, the phrase “Physician, heal thyself” has come to mean that we ought to make sure our own business has been handled before we start getting in the business belonging to others.

Well, I am no Jesus, but His phrase has been ringing in my head for awhile now. I’ve been trying to implement more Margin this year and teach others to do the same…and I keep getting sucked back into old patterns. It’s to be expected, I guess, since no life change is automatic just because we “decide”  even when we take some steps to make it so. While I am considerably better at looking for and making room for Margin, I still have to be vigilant about biting off more than I should chew. There’s still a lot more to learn.

That’s been pretty evident lately as I’ve had several opportunities to encourage the practice of Margin for others around me. My teaching THEM has reminded me of my own need of it, so today, I am making room for Margin as I take time to do Bible study, laundry, put some food in the freezer, and even do a little pre-Christmas prep. (Don’t freak, but I’m actually behind on this for me! LOL)

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While I’ve been kicked back with a cup of hot chocolate, I’ve been thinking about the benefits I’ve gained and I’ve made this a blessing-counting day! One of the best blessings of pursuing Margin this year has been that when I mess up these days, I’m quicker to recognize it and a little easier on myself as I self-correct. Pursuing Margin has been a healing process for me, providing liberation in areas I didn’t even know were in need of liberty. (And yes, there IS another verse about knowing truth and how it sets you free, but I won’t use it here because the context is wrong even though the truth of it isn’t–and Scripture taken out of context benefits nobody!) Another gift of Margin has been that I also have developed a heightened awareness of when the people around me are in need of it, too. Additionally, I tend to celebrate when they make a move to add Margin, so the opportunities to celebrate the Margin of others has inspired me to have more joy in my own life. There’s something very real about sharing in someone else’s joy that makes you even less needy in your own–another one of God’s fun-things, I am certain!

So, here’s the word I’m passing on today: Become a person of influence right where you are! Find a way to share your own life lessons and participate in the joy of the people around you…and don’t be too surprised if you feel like it’s actually your own joy that your celebrating. And…if you get a chance…add in a little more Margin. It can’t hurt, right?

Grace and peace!

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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!!)

Practice what you preach

Today’s blog title is brought to you by LIFE! With the very best of intentions, I have gradually cleared the pathway through my calendar and made room for more Margin this year. It has been both instructive and constructive for me.

At God’s own urging, I’ve been creating room to breathe, to think, to pray, to study, to bless, to prepare, and, occasionally (meaning: still not as much as I would really like!), to be more creative. In my effort to be more in the moment and not be so busy that I end up missing my own life, I’ve begun to focus more on what I GET to do and less on what I HAVE to do…just like I’ve told others to do for years! Oddly enough, it appears that I was right all along and just not smart enough to apply it as liberally as I needed to in my own life!  The biggest “Margin” change for me appears to be much more of an internal one–and that’s something I wasn’t really expecting.

It seems that deliberately making space for trying out new designs in the shop, clearing my way through the overgrown underbrush in our yard, and keeping our hummingbirds supplied with fresh sugar-water has made me more aware of the power of finding joy in the simple things…and I have to tell you this: it’s a little bit addicting.

The power of an hour has become more real to me lately. Choosing to fully concentrate on a specific activity for even just a single hour has shown me marvelous results in several different areas of my life. I’ve challenged myself on several occasions to do as much as I could within that time span and then allowed myself the freedom to continue, to stop, to change tasks, or to rest. It sounds funny when I say it/write it out loud like that…almost as if I had previously been laboring under a heavy taskmaster…and I was: ME.

Learning to cut myself some slack has been life-changing–and, dare I say, life-affirming for me. I’ve always had the ability to focus on a task. I just rarely gave myself the luxury of focusing on the power of rest, as well.

I went into this search for more Margin with the idea that changes in my calendar would probably be the biggest adjustment tool. Right, and wrong, again! While being able to finish some duties and free up the time that had been devoted to them was helpful in the beginning stages, I’ve found that isn’t the only solution.

There is also a great need to curate the events that DO take up the space in the calendar. Saying “this will only take an hour or two” doesn’t always mean it needs to make the cut and be allowed into my life. Some activities that won’t take all that long to complete actually require incredible prep-time and, occasionally, recovery time, as well. Knowing this and thinking it through is a life-skill! It doesn’t mean those things shouldn’t be allowed in, just that prayer time ought to be a prerequisite gateway for EVERYTHING…and prayer can AlSO take time!

God may actually ask you do the hard thing–and He has that right! It’s when our yesses to things we CAN do have overwhelmed us to the point that we’re no longer available to do the things we are CALLED to do that it becomes a significant issue. Just as it is possible to “stand in someone else’s blessing” it is also possible to “step out of our own blessing” by being unavailable because we’ve allowed no room for Margin and the impromptu leading of the Holy Spirit. You simply can’t be in two places at the same time…and there are times when you shouldn’t be in either.

Every Yes is also a No. Every No also makes room for the Yes.

I have taught this and shared it many times before–even as recently as yesterday afternoon!—and, today, I find myself looking at my calendar…with all of this knowledge…and needing to be reminded again.

Practice what you preach, Becky, practice what you preach.

Grace and peace!

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!

Changes in atmosphere

40469This week has been one of change. On Monday, I was pulling grass out of the back garden flower bed when tiny drips and drops of liquid sunshine began to fall all around me. There was no need to stop doing what I had started because the drops were gentle and sporadic. My work continued.

Within thirty minutes the drops had increased in both frequency and intensity, while the sky remained full of light. Still, I moved toward tasks that could be done indoors.

As I dug into the recurring efforts of maintaining order and folding clean clothes inside (yes, I know: definitely first world issues!), the sky opened up outside and dropped an upturned bucket-load of rain all around us. I watched puddles form in the driveway and then watched them connect with others out in the yard to create a mini-moat around the front of the house.

My neighbor called a little bit later to tell me that his rain gauge indicated we had received a little over 2 inches of rain in less than 30 minutes…much faster than our ground could absorb in that amount of time. He also called to ask if I was interested in having fresh pears. The answer was an enthusiastic “yes!”–even before he sweetened the offer by saying that HE would have them picked and delivered to me early the next afternoon.

Now, seriously, who could say “no” to that?! (And, yes, I DO have the best neighbors!!)

As I pondered this latest gift from God–because my husband had just been talking about wanting some pears this past weekend!—I also thought about some of the other changes going on in my life right now. I’m a bit over half-way into this year of adding more Margin to my life and I’m beginning to see some significant benefits emerge. I’m also beginning to see that this may not just be limited to a one year search for me. Already, the changes have been quite profound.

  • I’ve noticed that while I still haven’t lost all of my impatience with area traffic conditions, I’ve also made room for being nicer while I’m being affected by them. I can now foresee the possibility of having a ‘church sticker’ on my truck, which I have previously avoided because I tend to be impatient and there was just NO reason to tick people off about church because they got ticked about my impatience behind the wheel. (yes, really.)
  • I’ve become more aware of the times I’m tempted to walk in and take over, and I’ve begun to step back and allow other people to “figure it out” for themselves…and I’ve TRIED to offer advice only when asked…or when I see a fatal flaw…ok, maybe this one still needs some work. (personal eye roll)
  • I’m learning to include some time for me in my week that doesn’t involve “just getting it done” all the time. It turns out that this actually makes me happier to go along with other people’s schedules when needed…who knew?!
  • I’m spending even more time talking with God and I’m finding a deeper love of His Word. That’s something I’ve been asking Him to help me with for quite awhile. It turns out that I am enjoying the challenges of the Word more now that I’m not taking on ALL the challenges thrown my way by the world!
  • I’m finding that while the work doesn’t go away, sometimes I need to. Choosing to find a stopping place and walk away may seem like a no-brainer to most of you, but that’s a hard one for me. I’m not in any danger of becoming a slacker (grin), but I am choosing to heed what my body, mind, and spirit are in need of instead of just being hyper-focused on accomplishing the task no mater what the cost. This may just be the biggest change of all for me so far!

Like the rain on Monday, these things started out slowly and have built in momentum over the past 8 months, but they’re picking up speed and forming new connections with  thoughts and goals that have been put on the back-burner for longer that I can remember.

I’m becoming more creative and discovering the idea of “play” again–and just the idea of that makes me a little emotional. God certainly intends for us to work and do good while we’re here on the earth, but He is no hard and crushingly demanding taskmaster…despite my own previous behavior toward myself. Choosing to take  time to enjoy the opportunities God has placed in front of me has a new dimension now. While I have long enjoyed God, now I find I am approaching the tasks I’m assigned with a much more relaxed attitude and finding ways to make them even more fun instead of just getting them done and checking them off like so many items on a chore list. Like that rain, this idea is both refreshing to my soul and producing growth in other areas of my life.

Thank you, God, for the idea of Margin, for including room for play in your plan, for being patient with me while I stubbornly clung to the idea of accomplishing much with great effort instead of doing so with great joy, for choosing to bless me in spite of my mistakes and frustrations, and for loving me enough to send me pears before I even prayed for them. You are good…and I am grateful.

Grace and Peace!

 

Unexpected By-products

I’ve apparently been doing it wrong for years.

For a first-born overachiever, that’s a bit much to admit, but some things just cannot be denied. It’s not something I would have expected. I mean, I KNOW me. THAT part isn’t new, but I’ve been a Christ-follower for quite a while…and…and I “thought” I was further along…

The problem was (is?!) that I GET that my salvation is completely dependent on the work of Jesus and His death on the cross, but I’ve been ACTING as though a whole lot of the rest of life depended solely on me. Don’t get me wrong–we’re called to be DO-ers of the Word and not just hearers only (James 1:22), but for years (ok, ok! “Forever!), I’ve taken it upon myself to “feel” and ACT responsible for making everything (and everybody? ouch!) around me work for the glory of God instead of just relying on God to motivate and move people at HIS own pace instead of at mine.

It’s made me push harder and take on more than was really my place. It’s made me say “yes” when I should have said, “no” and stand in more than one place of blessing–and censure!–than I was rightfully assigned.

This revelation came to me over a week ago and I wrote it down here…and then, I just let it sit there. (As if my laptop needed some time to mull that over? EyeROLL!!) I’ve walked past the open laptop to put up folded laundry, glanced over at it while cooking, turned my head so I wouldn’t see it, and deliberately chosen to just let it sit there for a bit.

I think maybe I thought I could reason my way out of it; as if giving it giving it time would make it less true or, perhaps, at least give me time to develop a rationale for it.

That didn’t happen.

Instead, God has continued to confront me with this truth even as I have avoided my laptop. He’s persistent that way. All this extra time has given me more than just a pause. It’s made me wonder about things like:  how can HE be glorified if I am the impetus behind an action or a project? Who might had a steeper learning curve and a harder next lesson because I stepped in to save the day or direct traffic…and caused them to depend on me…instead of God? What joys have I missed or ignored in favor of being in control, not just of myself, but of the people around me? While I know that God is not a fan of chaos, what in the world made me decide it was MY job to keep EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING in order?! Oh, my Dear Lord! Is it possible that You were serious about me having that abundant life and I’ve been missing out on a chunk of it because I was trying to control the ABUNDANCE?! (Well, yes, Becky, that is MORE than possible!)

These are heavy hitters for me as I deliberately carve my way out of this behavior and focus more on Margin. It’s not easy to give up control…even when it is an illusion. What makes it easier, however, is this new-found (or at least newly rediscovered!) sense of liberation that comes as a result. It is a regular battle for me, this desire for control and the desire for liberty, so how can I subject others to the very thing I fight against myself? No one likes feeling controlled, least of all me, but you know what else I discovered–aside from the fact that this behavior choice will WEAR. YOU. OUT?!? (Making you need Margin in the worst way possible!!)

When I am controlling, I am BEING controlled. (Gasp!!) This behavior also makes me harder on myself as I’m bound by the pressure to get it right, make sure others do it well, on time, or according to a standard and waiting to see if they do, constantly checking in to see if “it” is happening, and fretting about if/when “I” will need to step in and make it “right”…well, really, who is being controlled in this? Me. (Double gasp!!)

Who knew?!

Probably everyone BUT me! (Very wry grin.)

I have to say that this is a major by-product of Margin that I wasn’t anticipating. I thought adding Margin would change my schedule, manage my “doing” habits, and help me find some rest.

I didn’t know it would also challenge my way of thinking and bring me some sorely needed and much appreciated soul-peace in the bargain.

There will be more happy revelations and probably more than a few course corrections to come, I’m sure, but for now…well, I have some other people’s deadlines to ignore and some newly minted determination, freedom, and abundance of my own to explore.

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!