following and leaving

My parents always taught us that we were supposed to leave a place at least as nice–if not better!–than when we found it. It wasn’t so much that they always SAID that; they just lived it. I’ve thought about that a lot over the years and tried to do the same. It’s often easier to say than to do, but little things add up when you’re making deliberate choices.

img_20181228_142623459The other day a friend and I were heading out from the church in the rain when she suddenly pointed out a small bit of ivy growing at the base of one of the columns. “One day you’ll need to write about that!” she said before pointing out where a large pot of ivy used to sit nearby. “I’m always amazed to see where things take root.”

 

img_20181228_142654417I looked around and spied the pot and its contents across the way–no longer in the same spot, but still making an impact. I could see the ring caused by the pottery and the ivy sprig left behind growing in a tiny crack and spreading out and I wondered, “What kind of trail am I leaving? What kind of impact am I making and how does that need to change or be improved? Am I leaving my own footprints behind or God’s?

While I rarely make a long list of resolutions, I’m always aware that the start of a new year is a pretty good time for an evaluation of progress. My personal new year starts later in the year–on my birthday–but this was too good to pass up, so ever since then, I’ve been thinking about how I want to use 2019 to reach the next steps.

Last year, my focus-word for the year was “Margin” and God used that to teach me and make quite a difference in how I made decisions. In fact, although the past 4 months was one of our busiest in schedule, it was also one of the most relaxed for me because I made the necessary margin calls so that schedule was even possible. I was busy, but it was a busy that made sense based on the priorities my husband and I had set for us and our business after a long time of prayer. I’m already seeing the footprints of my 2018 Margin decisions affect the path for 2019, and I want that to continue.

When I started considering my focus-word for this new year, the decision didn’t take very long. My word for 2019 is both simple and complex: “Jesus.” I want to follow more closely, linger longer, deepen and enjoy our relationship, and see where He wants me to stay long enough to leave parts of us behind and where He wants us to move onward in new adventures. I want to follow more closely and leave more of His influence behind than my own when I leave a place. That’s the way I want to make things better than I found them this year…by following and leaving. I want to move more of me out of the way and make more room for Him to show up. I want to keep making good Margin calls so I can stay where I need to be and not be concerned because I’ve filled up my calendar with so many good things that I don’t have room for the God-things.

Following and leaving…it sounds like something that will make a difference this year. I pray it will be a good one.

“And when they had brought their boats to land, they left everything and followed him.” Luke 5:11 (ESV)

Grace and Peace!

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Lessons in love

IMG_20181205_071214882Even after years of practice and a whole month of November in intensive training, I still felt like I was failing yesterday. I am out of my element this week and I was out of sorts about it! Once again, while nothing escaped my lips, my mind was absolutely rife with complaint, all while battling situation and provocation…and Scripture. That last one is always a heavy hitter! (grin)

“If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” 1 Corinthians 13:2 (NIV)

I read that verse pretty early in the day as I moved ahead with preparations for an upcoming Bible study. I sailed right past it at first. God knew that.

He brought it back around.

He had me focus on it, and then He proceeded to bring that theme up over and over and over throughout the day from the words I typed, the people I saw in the grocery store, and even in the book of fiction I picked up at the local library.

It shook me. It schooled me. It made me do some self-evaluation…and I wasn’t always pleased with what I found. Scripture does that. It is both a mirror and a standard of perfection side by side. Given my state of mind, I really wasn’t in the mood for either, yet God continued to push me. I know He does so out of love, and I truly felt that, but I was also frustrated by so many things I couldn’t change externally. That helplessness to “make things better” rages against my internal “fixer” motif and frustrates me no end.

By the end of the day, I felt beaten. That’s rare for me. I’m usually the most positive person in the room–and I still was!–but God knew I needed to feel, not just love, but empathy…and that is always harder after a day of battle of multiple fronts.

Today, I woke up to a new verse. Matthew 25:40 says,

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.'” Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

and THEN, there was THIS one…

“And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father.” Colossians 3:17 (NLT)

When you can’t change the situation or fix the people in it, you still need to move forward in love. That instruction never changes. That standard never changes–and neither does the fact that we are still representing Jesus wherever we go. AND (I usually hate when people start  sentences off with AND, but here is one to remember), if the battle makes us weary and our feelings are less than loving or empathetic, we can STILL love on Jesus by doing what we can right where we are. I am responsible for my actions and, yes, even my attitude. He is responsible for the outcome. Today, I needed to be reminded of that. Maybe you did, too.

Let’s go represent Him well today. Happy Wednesday!

Grace and Peace!

NCN 2018–Day 29

IMG_20181127_111626618You never know what’s going to happen next. That’s why planning is so important. I realize those two statements may sound at odds, but they’re really not.

I’m a planner. For every day I face, I’ve usually thought ahead, looked at options and possibilities, and made a plan…and at least one list. (grin) I’ve been doing that since I was a kid.

Plans can adjust when necessary and the important things will still get done reasonably well and in a timely manner. Since having a plan in place generally makes for less confusion and stress, it also helps make a good attitude even easier when the changes aren’t what you would have ever chosen.

Good attitudes are invaluable in times of change, stress, and dealing with the upcoming unknown. I’m living that out today and so are most of the people around me. Although God wasn’t surprised when our plans changed suddenly yesterday, we were. The choice of how we choose to deal with the change is up to us, so I’m happier than ever to have been practicing a good attitude during NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER.

The month is almost over, but each of us can continue this discipline as we move forward. We’ve been strengthening our good attitude muscles all month. There’s no reason to stop that now that the plans have changed. In fact, it may be more important than ever before.

Grace and peace!

Romans 12:21!

NCN 2018–Day 21

IMG_20181121_091302325We sat in our chairs last night and just reveled in the scent of freshly made cornbread. I mean that scent FILLED UP the whole house! My husband kept asking when we could eat some, suggested that I could always make more tomorrow, and just generally made his wishes known about what he thought the purpose of that cornbread should be. (LOL!) He knew it was made ahead so I could do a pan of dressing for Thanksgiving and he was kidding (for the most part! grin), but I had to agree with him…it sure smelled good!! We enjoyed the smell of the cornbread, but waited to taste the delights of it because its actual purpose is to do something even better.

Choosing not to complain is a lot like that, too. There’s a “scent” of peace and serenity about it that permeates the atmosphere around you as you calmly go about your day.  Making this choice also serves a greater purpose for the future–it helps create/foster an environment of harmony as those around you begin to realize that working toward solutions is always better than just railing at the situation and retaining the status quo. Choosing not to complain may not actually be the solution, but it can lead to one and it certainly ensures that the process goes a lot quicker.

I believe that, over time, it will also make you a person of influence and give you a voice that will be heard and embraced with joy by those who are watching you this month. They may never speak it out loud in November, but they’re watching and your choice to participate in NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER will pay dividends in the future. The voice of the complainer is never the one I seek to hear when I need encouragement, new ideas, or solutions to the real problems in life.

Today, I am praying that we will be the voice of solution, of reconciliation, and of tranquility. Choosing not to complain is important, but it also serves a greater purpose: it saves the use of your voice for progress. There’s a lot of that needed these days and we can use everyone who will to join in to create peace and order out of the chaos. This prayer is particularly relevant for those who will spend holidays with those we love, but whose opinions and choices differ so radically from our own.

Make the peace this year. Keep the peace this year. Choose unity over complaining as you celebrate the many blessings God has given you this year with those who are able to join you. You can do it. You’ve been practicing. Now, go forth and celebrate–and enjoy that cornbread dressing!!

Grace and Peace!

Romans 12:21!!!

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)

IMG_20181018_171858793

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!

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!