Margin meets meaning

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

e·piph·a·ny ( /əˈpifənē/ )  noun

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grace and Peace!

 

 

 

 

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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!

NCN 2018–Days 17 & 18 (aka Days 10 & 11 that didn’t get posted last weekend!)

I’ve been thinking back to this time last year. Life was quite a bit different for me. God had loaded my plate, I had piled some more things on top, and a few others were trying to do that for me, as well. I was stressed and feeling every bit of it as I worked to stay positive and write posts that would encourage others…and hide how exhausted I was really feeling.

This year, things are quite a bit different. I’ve been on a search for more Margin in my schedule and, although my schedule is still a busy one, right now, I find myself more relaxed than I would have believed possible just 12 months ago. Having more Margin in your life doesn’t mean that you’ll always have giant stretches of empty space on your calendar. It just means that the items that make it there are chosen with purpose and a lot of prayer over them. It means that, while everyone will occasionally have to do something they might rather not do, the majority of the time is devoted to things that are in line with the goals YOU are trying to achieve, so your attitude can be one of excitement and gratitude even when you’re really very busy.

I’m writing this today in case some of you are still struggling because you’re just tired, tired of being tired, and tired of doing so many activities and still not feeling like you’re making any progress. Packing your schedule tighter than you can breathe with things that meet “other people’s goals” and leaves you precious little time to rest and accomplish your own goals does NO ONE any good.

Here’s your weekend challenge: Make peace a priority!! Take out your calendar and start a review. Make sure you include the rest of the family on this, as well, since their items are also part of the mix. Take an honest look at what goals you’ve set for yourself and what items are simply on your docket because they accomplish someone else’s idea of what’s necessary or appropriate. You might just find that someone in your household is only doing an activity because it’s something YOU always wanted to do and it really isn’t a pleasurable thing for them at all. You MIGHT just find some room in there to go do some actual “fun stuff” and you might just make a difference in the way you spend both time and money in the days ahead. At the very least, you’ll be able to see if your activities are helping your meet those goals you’ve set or if they’re just keeping you from meeting them. Hopefully, you’ll also find that having some open communication about your calendar will make it easier for everyone involved to have a better attitude and, therefore, make it a little easier to get through the rest of NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER.

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!

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!