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!

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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!

 

 

 

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!

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!