NCN 2018–Day 28

Only THREE more days, y’all, until the end of this year’s NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER!!  (and, yes, I DO know that some of you have it timed down to the minute! LOL!) As we wind it down, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned/re-learned/remembered this year. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are my biggest practical takeaways from this year’s challenge:

  • Encouragement always helps make life easier. CHOOSE to become an encourager wherever you may be and whatever you may be doing. It will bless those around you and it will actually make your load a lot lighter, as well.
  • “Tired OF or tired BECAUSE?”–our speech choices tend to give us away even when we are trying to cover up the fact that we’re complaining. “I’m tired OF…” usually heralds the sound of a coming complaint. “I’m tired BECAUSE…” tends to mean that you’ve been busy…and it really is ok to be tired when you’ve been busy. If, of course, you’re tired because you’ve spent the day complaining…well, not cool. At all. AND… If you’re tired BECAUSE you’ve spent the day with a complainer…dear one, I beg you to call a good friend and ask them to pray for both of you. That’s a legitimate issue in need of some prayer because being around complaining people WILL wear. you. out.
  • That last statement is a good thing to remember. You don’t want to spend lots of time WITH “that person” any more than you want to BECOME “that person”, so make sure you don’t give up all the ground you’ve managed gain this month. Keep up the good work! You CAN continue this positive pattern of behavior. It may mean that you have to alter your calendar, buy your coffee elsewhere for a bit, or simply say, “No” (in your kindest and most positive voice, of course!) the next time a chronic complainer wants to spend lots of extra time with you–especially if even the invitation is covered in complaints. While I am ALL FOR and created for ministering to people when they are hurting, there comes a time when you also have to extend the kindness of speaking the truth in love to them. I get it. They need Jesus–and so do I on a MOMENT BY MOMENT basis!! It is totally appropriate to continue to introduce them to Him. Beware of putting yourself in HIS place, however, by becoming the one they turn to with every issue, problem, or complaint. You can’t save them and you can’t fix them, but HE can. Be aware of the need and beware of becoming it. Some distance might just be the best and healthiest thing for each of you.
  • Hurting people hurt people. Y’all already know this. Just as you can’t fix or save THEM, you have to know that you are responsible for pursuing your own healing so that you don’t continue to injure the people around you. Some things are a matter of determination and being stubborn can actually help you with those things. (I am living proof of this!)  Other issues require a good, qualified, Godly counselor who will take you to the Source of all wisdom and help you find your healing in the One who made you and has the best plan imaginable for you. Jesus can do more in an instant to move you toward healing that you can struggle toward in a whole lifetime, so if you’re tired of struggling–with more than just this NCN challenge–I’d be happier than you can imagine to introduce you to God as He has revealed Himself in Scripture. He adores you. He created you for good things. He desires a personal relationship with you and He’s so set on that goal that He was willing to give the ultimate sacrifice so that you could be with Him forever.

You might not think this last one is really practical unless you already know Jesus. That’s ok. He’s not going to give up on you whether you’ve done NCN poorly, well, or even given it a shot at all. Neither am I. Because He loves you, I do, too. I’m grateful for every single one who reads these words–even those of you who disagree with me on this. (Insert big wide grin here!) I appreciate your willingness to take on the challenge of making the world you live in a more positive place even if we don’t live close to each other, because choosing to be more peaceful in your part of the world automatically affects my part, as well.

Happy Wednesday, Y’all! Only three more days to go…You can do it!!

Grace and Peace!

Romans 12:21!!!

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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!

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!

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!

 

 

 

My own New Year

I had another birthday recently and, as usual, began the process of evaluation for what I want to get accomplished the year to come. I’ve always ignored the traditional New Year’s resolutions in favor of starting my own New Year on my birthday. I’m weird like that. (grin)

What I found this year was a bit surprising: I don’t have as many new goals as I used to. I’m not saying that I’ve finally lived up to that “Most Likely to Succeed” superlative from high school, but I would say that I’m making progress–and most of it is in the direction that brings me joy. Hopefully, my progress is also making God smile a bit more than He used to, as well.

Sometimes we get all caught up in what other people expect from us or, perhaps more accurately, what we think they expect from us. I know I used to, anyway, but the older I get the more excited I am about my life. I’ve been blessed with a good one–despite the challenges, which we all face in one form or another. I’ve found that the best way to face them is to remember that those challenges are temporary and I am eternal, not because of anything that I have done, but by virtue of the very One who made me in His own image. By the way, the same can be said of you since the same God made us all.

34136This past year, I’ve already seen progress in some specific areas that I’ve been focused on for the last several years. I’ve exercised my “no” a little more and created some necessary margin in my life. I’ve cleared out a bunch of “stuff,” opened up my home a lot more, and made some more room for the people in my life to kick back and relax here with me. As a bonus result, I’ve been able to breathe a little better, as well. I’ve chosen to be more deliberately creative–and yes, you can do that! I’ve dug deeper into my study of what God wants for me and loved it as He has continued to turn some of that innate stubbornness into a more tenacious faith-life. I’ve prayed more with and for others and celebrated more of the small things in the everyday schedules I make for myself. I’ve laughed more this past year and enjoyed my husband and our marriage more. I’ve made deliberate choices to look past the faults of others without unsolicited commenting, but more importantly, I’ve managed to give some more of that grace to myself. To be honest, I’m having a lot more fun being me than I used to…and I’ve always liked being me. (HA!)

As I look back at that last paragraph, I see that this past year could most accurately be labeled as “a year of more.” I want to keep going in that direction in the year to come. I like what God is showing me about what He can do when I’m more focused on enjoying Him and the life He’s provided than when I’m just trying to “do the right thing,” check all the right boxes, and being too concerned about pleasing others.

As in years past, because I’m an optimist serving an Almighty God, I expect this new one to be a good one, but I am determined that it will be a more-God one. I look forward to what my new year will bring. I’m fiercely resolved to be a better steward of the life God has given to me. The following verse just feels like what I’m hoping for out of this new year:

“Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:12 (CSB)

Perhaps I should have just started–and stopped–with that. Oh, well. I didn’t say anything about this year being less “wordy.” Looks like I’m off to a great start there, too. (grin)

Grace and Peace!