And the word for the year is…

A couple of weeks before Christmas I woke up knowing that several of my larger obligations for 2017 were ended or coming to a close. The resulting relief was palpable, and yet…I was just so very, very tired. It had nothing to do with getting a good night’s rest. My tiredness was at soul level. Sitting in my chair with my head in my hands, I was weary even before I began the day…and I wanted to scream at the frustration of it all.

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I wanted to, but I didn’t. I didn’t have the energy for that…and yet, I was supposed to go and worship within the next short while. How was that even possible?

I grabbed a pen and a piece of yellow sticky note paper and wrote, “I am tired of ‘just getting through…’ things! I’m ready to enjoy them.” Then I began to do the only thing that WAS possible. I began to talk to God about stuff He already knew. Some of it, I already knew, too…

As I began to pray about all the frustration behind that sentiment, God–because He LOVES to communicate with us once we’re really ready to listen!!–began to bring to memory a long stream of events over the past several years. There were people and places and tasks that I signed myself up for knowing they would please others even when I knew they would drain me–and without knowing what God was about to assign me. I began to wonder whose shoes I had filled unnecessarily and what blessing I had denied them. God also gently reminded me of the irony of this since I have “preached” this message to friends and family for the longest time. He brought to mind all of the books I own–and read!!–on this topic, of verses along this theme, and of the people who have been trying diligently to support me in my tasks despite very full plates of their own.

In the course of all this reminding, He also brought me a word to go along with my recurring theme of “Wherever you are, be all there.”

He brought me the word “Margin.”

Margins are those areas of blank space around an art piece that focus our attention on the actual art in front of us.

Margins are what keep our words from running off the page and jumbling together so that they can become readable and make sense.

In business, margins are the difference between what is spent to produce an item and the amount for which it can then be valued to the next one who will use or purchase it.

Margin is specifically defined by the online Oxford English Dictionary here, if you’re interested: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/us/margin

My favorite part of this definition is the part of the second one, which says this:

An amount by which a thing is won or falls short.

  1. 2.1 An amount of something included so as to be sure of success or safety.
  2. 2.2 The lower limit of possibility, success, etc.

Did you see that? Without margin, we fall short and reduce our possibilities of winning, of being successful…and of being safe. Surely God Himself must have written this definition for me on that day. I had fallen short and had stretched myself and my schedule so thin that I no longer felt safe.

Margin may not sound glamorous, but it is critical to success, and isn’t that what we all want? A successful life. There are probably as many definitions for THAT as there are people on the planet. As for me, I take my definition for it from Scripture. These verses are, in fact, what made me start this blog all the way back in August of 2012…

“…make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands, just as we told you, so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.” I Thessalonians 4:11-12 (NIV)

Because this word “Margin” is my word for the year, I’ll be writing about it as we go about living 2018 together. My ears are attuned to it now and I’m beginning to see it pop up in the most unlikely places. It is now ever before me as I wake and set about ordering the tasks and the days for this year. I don’t think this word is just for me, however.

I think some of you need it, too.

Will you join me in seeking to implement the margins God would have us set so that we may focus on HIM and the art of the life He has set before us.

Grace and Peace…and Margin.

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God-nudges

God has been nudging me about my schedule for awhile now. I’ve largely ignored most of it and continued blithely or, actually, rather ignorantly onward…to my own peril. I knew that a great majority of what I was involved in was actually God’s doing, so I kept up the pace and chose to believe that my service was all worship and all at His behest.

I was right. I was also very wrong.

Oh, don’t mistake my meaning! I WAS doing what he called me to do…and some of what some others thought I should…or, maybe, what I thought they thought I should be doing, and what I thought would be the proper Christian thing, and what made it more convenient for some people, and many things I’m TOTALLY equipped to do, and…and…and…He continued to equip me for the work. Good things happened as a result. A lot of things got accomplished…some of them, I was even supposed to do. (insert VERY wry grin here!)

None of it was bad. Most of it wasn’t even that difficult. That’s what made it so easy to say “yes” in the first place! There was just a lot of it. AND, did you notice all the “I” words in that paragraph above. Yes. Me, too. It is possible to do good things selfishly even when that isn’t your intent. Saying “yes” can make you look good or get you praise and gratitude. Even when those things aren’t your primary motivation, they can still become powerfully addictive incentives.

Anyway, I recently ran out of steam. Physically, I just crashed and I believe God allowed that on purpose. The enforced break in routine helped me stop long enough to start seeing His fingerprints, and remembering His nudges, and commit myself to be still and listen. He’s been doing a lot of talking to me about this topic as I’ve been recovering and I’m absolutely certain He’s not through teaching me. That means you’ll be hearing more about this as I keep listening and learning and applying.

Please hear me when I say that God was gracious and kind in His nudging. Even the physical crash and resulting time of illness wasn’t as nearly as bad as it could have been. God is GOOD. Every single day. He is also extremely patient because He allowed me to keep going at a pace not His own for several years before I finally began to see how He was keeping and empowering and blessing me even in the midst of my ignorant insistence about doing it all for Him. I took those first five words of Philippians 4:13 as a personal mandate. Go ahead. Go look it up again. I’m not posting it here because I want you to go read it out loud to yourself–or, at the very least, quote it back to yourself if you have it memorized.

Grace is REAL, y’all! Seriously real.

It turns out that God, in HIS goodness has a plan for our good–and sometimes, it doesn’t look like what we expect. I think I might have written about that here before. (The eye roll here is a given.) Even writing this post now makes me chuckle with God about how He has continued to gently nudge and the number of times I continued to misinterpret so many of those messages as being for “someone else.”

His plan for us as individuals may look quite a bit different, but then, again, WE look different. We ARE different. I share my lessons–and mistakes!–here so you can learn from it and I’d love to hear what God is teaching you, as well. This is how we each become people of influence.

It is my prayer that whether it be your own schedule or any other topic God is dealing with YOU about, that you’ll choose to pay closer attention and be obedient faster than I.

This has been your free and friendly nudge from me…or, maybe, from Him. (grin)

What’s He saying to YOU today?

Grace and Peace!

Back to new basics

“A rut is a grave with both ends kicked out.”  –Mama

I’ve heard her say that all my life…and she’s probably not far from the truth.  After all, getting in a rut means you’ve done the same thing over and over and over for so long that you probably don’t even have to think anymore about what to do next.  While there’s something to be said for consistency, I’m not a great fan of mindless task-doing.  Over the past 6 months or so, however, I’ve had the opportunity to begin longing, not for a rut, but a schedule.  I love the order that comes of doing things in rhythm and creating a pattern of behavior that helps me feel settled and at ease.

Now, that doesn’t mean that the behavior has to be mindless, but it does mean that once the mundane items are marked off the to-do list, there will be more brainpower available to be directed toward more creative endeavors…and I have really missed being able to do that.

I’m looking forward to creating new rhythms for this place.  I’m looking forward to creating new friendships and creating new opportunities, new plantings and new views, new words, new art and new thoughts.  I’ve missed having the time to write and the number of blog posts that have been written mentally in the dark and gone unpublished are more than I’d like to think about.

I’ve actually had a schedule of sorts over the last few months:  travel, unpack, pack, travel, unpack (repeat, repeat, repeat…) and I guess what I’m trying to say is that I’m ready to change the tasks on the schedule.

Most of the things in the house have been unpacked to find new homes and those that haven’t are in boxes for donation or awaiting the arrival of new pieces before they can be placed in order.  It’s good to have an idea about where most of your stuff is and while the house is coming together nicely, the shop tells a different tale at present.  Oh, we’re making progress there, too, but it seems slow in coming, perhaps because it is finally spring—the season of new birth, new plants, new blooms, rebirth, resurrection and renewal—and I’m longing to get outside and revel in the absolute wonder of it all.  Oh, how I have longed for this season this year!

As I’ve been unpacking all of our accumulated stuff, I’m unpacking new thought processes, as well.  I’m slowly establishing patterns of behavior for this new place and finding that my heart is feeling right at home here as I do so.  I’ve created a “nest” for my morning time with God and have really enjoyed getting back into His Word in a deeper way.  I’ve acquired a new library card and located two libraries and a couple of garden nurseries nearby along with more than a few antique stores.  I’m settling in, but I’m not inclined to settle.  There’s something about this place that calls out for new things and that excites me.

Yes, I’m establishing new patterns and looking forward to new things…and I think I’ll plant some new bulbs in that old rut I had before.  Who knows?  Perhaps there’s still time to see them bloom this spring.

I am resolved…

I rarely make New Year’s resolutions…at least I don’t make them the same time everyone else does.  I’ve always started my year in the month of my birth.  I take that time to look back at what’s been accomplished and what I want to learn/see/do for the next 12 months and make plans…not resolutions.  For the past few years, I’ve made plans to learn a new skill, found out who I know that already knows how to do it, who could teach me, where I could take a class on that topic, and then followed through to the learning and the doing.

I’ve had a ball learning how to do many different things.  Stained glass was my first one…and look where that led me!  Over the years, I’ve also learned to knit, to paint, to blog, and quite a few other things, as well.  I’ve found great satisfaction in being a student and in putting my new skills to work in a variety of ways.  For example, I didn’t realize that my painting lessons would make me a much better stained glass/broken china artist.   Those lessons taught me to view the world in a different way…to see new shades and colors, light and shadow as I look at patterns to make jewelry.

I’m able to focus on some of the details with greater delight and not miss the glory in the mundane.  My teacher, Sharon, had no idea how much she changed my world!  She hasn’t a clue to all the joy she’s brought to me.  Even though it’s been some time since I actually picked up a brush to paint, her lessons are a daily part of my life.  She’s made a phenomenal difference in me…and all because she shared her own joy.  She gave me a new way to actually SEE things.  That’s a rare gift…even when you go looking for it.

I saw a prayer the other day as I was thumbing through my new book, Common Prayer:  A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals.  It said, “Help us, Lord, to see as you see:  and to change what is into what ought to be.”

That prayer strikes a particularly powerful chord with me because this time of year is always busy with end of the year sales/shows/special orders in addition to all the church and family gatherings to celebrate the birth of Christ.  On top of all that, this is the time we have to review the shows we were in, decide which of those we’d like to participate in next year, if we want to add new ones and get in applications, etc.  This means that we’re not even through with this year and we’re already planning where we hope to be at the end of the next.

As part of this plannning period, although it isn’t my birthday month, I’m already looking forward to acquiring my next new skill.  I’ve had to deliberately make some decisions earlier this year because we’re hoping to add some more shows to our schedule for 2013.  That means I’ll need to make sure to carve out the time to do some of the things I already enjoy even as I learn the new lessons and increase my travel times.

I’m asking God to help me “see as He sees” while I’m in this planning stage.  I need the wisdom to know what to add where and when…and, even more desperately, I’ll need His wisdom about when to stop.  I’m not a good “stopper.”  My tendency is to go until you can’t go any more and then collapse…wake up and start all over again.  I’m going to need to pay attention to where God says I need stop and go so that I will really “change what is into what ought to be.”

I guess that’s my real resolution/plan for this year.  It will probably take me longer than a year.  I’m hard-headed. (I take Philippians 4:13 VERY literally! LOL) I still often think that I really CAN do it all.  I forget, sometimes, that I’m not supposed to.

Neither are you.  Will you join me in trying to make this change for the coming year?

Epic fail?

It had all started 24 hours earlier.  Once again–despite my best intentions!–my schedule overwhelmed the bounds of time and reason.

It’s amazing, really, that this continues to happen.  I mean, I wrote a whole week’s worth of blog posts about culling the schedule, careful planning and choosing to enjoy the holiday in a more reasonable way.

It was not to be.

My calendar said, “Bake a sweet potato pie today!”

My schedule said, “Nope!”

My pantry said, “Nope!

My heart said, “YES!” but somewhere in the pre-planning phase I forgot that I had been out-of-pocket for 3 days of show time last weekend and that I only had 2 days after that to get a week’s worth of choring done.  You know…those pesky little details like clean laundry and getting product posted on Etsy in time for the (hopefully) great after-Thanksgiving shopping frenzy.

By the end of Thanksgiving Eve, all I had to show for it were 2 big batches of cookies–oatmeal raisin and chocolate chip.  Yes, I know.  Technically, I could have made the pie.  My husband had pointed that out to me already.  The point, however, was for me to RELAX while making the pie…and that just wasn’t going to happen.  We ended up going to bed late and a little grumpy.  Not a good beginning to my holiday.

Thanksgiving Day dawned bright and early.  We got up and headed to the kitchen to try and add one more offering for the family dinner.

After much discussion and the fact that we apparently couldn’t even boil eggs correctly that day, we decided that the cookies would just have to be enough.

There were computer problems:  it took me a whole hour to post my simple Thanksgiving greeting!

I missed the trashcan with a load of trash even though I was standing directly over it.

I got cold water in the shower.  It wasn’t even 8 o’clock in the morning, people!

After a bit, you just have to laugh.  I mean, REALLY laugh!  You just have to choose to let it go and have a good time, anyway!

I’ve taught that for years–it was time to put it into practice.

Honestly, once I made the decision to just have fun no matter what else happened, it turned into a pretty awesome day.

It is now 4:15 PM on the Monday after Thanksgiving.  I still haven’t made the pie and in about 2 hours, my family will arrive here for supper–one last meal before my brother heads back home.  We will laugh and we will catch up on the “just us” kinds of things.  We will eat great food and we will relax and we will know that this family is far more important than any schedule.

Epic fail?  I think not.  The pie can wait…and so can I.

Schedules, Traditions and Calendar Surgery…the next step

Recap:  we’ve made our list of 3 things that we definitely want to include this holiday season, we’ve consulted family and (hopefully) have an idea about some of the things that are important to them, we’ve chosen specific dates for these events and written them on the calendar.  What’s next?

Go back to your list—in fact, take a good look at everyone’s list of favorites.  You may have had a few surprises.  ( I know I did.)  Now, think about what your regular holiday schedule looks like.  Write it down.  I know, another list.  Trust me.  Just start by listing the events you usually go to.

The next thing you have to do is pick 3 things that you don’t want to do this year.  Before you panic about this one, breathe.  This may actually be one of the tougher things to do.  We’ve gotten so accustomed to doing things that even thinking about not doing them can be stressful.  Add in the expectations of extended family and friends and things can reach a fever pitch pretty quickly.

For today, all I’m asking you to do today is to think about it.  Actually, I’m giving you the weekend to think about this one…and talk with your family.  You might actually find that you’ve all been doing some things just because they’ve become a habit without any additional pay-off.

My brother told me a story about this the last time he was home.  We were talking about how easy it was to just follow the leader without knowing the why of your actions.  Here’s the story he told me:

It was time to cook the holiday meal and it was the first time a young couple were able to host the entire family at their house.  Knowing how stressed his wife was about making sure the meal went off perfectly, the man offered to help.  He decided to take care of the ham.  He got out a roasting pan and set about positioning the ham.  His wife walked in and just freaked!  “That’s not how you do it!” she said.  “You have to cut it in two pieces!  You can’t just cook it like that!”  The man didn’t get it.  He thought he remembered seeing it done differently when he was growing up, but wasn’t entirely sure about it, so he didn’t want to argue about it.  He did, however, ask why that was necessary.  All his wife would say was, “That’s how we do it in my family!  It’s a tradition passed down from my great grandmother—and you just do not mess with tradition!”

To keep the peace, he agreed to do as she suggested, but it kept bugging him.  After the meal was over, he went to his mother-in-law and said, “Tell me about this tradition.  I’ve never heard of it before, but if it’s so important, I’d really like to know all the details so we can pass it on to our kids when the time comes.”  Her face was a blank.  So was her mind.  All she could say was, “That’s how we do it in my family!  It’s a tradition—and you just do not mess with tradition!”

The man just couldn’t let it go, so he went to see his wife’s grandmother to see what she could tell him.  He told her his story and asked his question again.  She just laughed and laughed.  When she was finally able speak again, she said, “My mother taught me to cook ham that way the first time my husband and I got to host the family meal.  At the time, we were so poor that we didn’t have a pan big enough to cook the whole ham in, so she cut it up into two pieces and baked it that way.  I guess I just never thought to do it any differently.”

So much for tradition. (smile)

There’s nothing wrong with tradition.  I’m from the South and the Good Lord knows that we have ‘traditions’ about almost everything.  The point I’m making here is that traditions should only stay that way if they’re actually meaningful to the ones who are doing them.

With that thought in mind, start reviewing your holiday traditions.  See if there might be some things you can let go of…in favor of the things you and your family have already identified as being important to YOU.  Who knows?  You might just start a new tradition…

Timing

Like you, I turned the page on the calendar to a new month this morning.  Before I did so, I looked back at what October had held for me there.

My calendar was a gift from my nephews last Christmas.  It features gorgeous photographs of various foods–each picture designed to engender the spirit of the month on display.  Last month’s photo featured the end of the summer produce in various stages of the preservation process.  Brightly colored tomatoes, garlic and peppers are spread across wooden cutting boards and baskets are heaped to overflowing–full of these bounties in their original states alongside a row of freshly sealed bottles of homemade salsa.  The colors in the photograph–all bright reds, golds and oranges–were a fitting representation of both the month and all the colorful markings written below on the days of October.

We–make that I–have a system for the calendar markings.  Things that are just for me are written in red.  Items for my husband are in blue.  Those we must attend together are in purple.  Days of celebration are circled in hot pink with the names of those we’re celebrating written in green.  It is a very colorful thing to behold–especially with the addition of our markers, reminder cards and the hot pink envelope that still holds the gift certificate to the garden center that we received for our birthdays earlier in the year.  (And, yes, I HAVE been told that I am ‘too organized for words’…something about some OCD tendancies?…it just always makes me smile…if they only knew…)

October was a very full month for us.  There was a great deal of travel (13 days in total), 6 days of celebration, 4 medical appointments, 2 small business events, and a whole host of notations about meetings at the church or with friends, important  phone calls that were made, haircut appointments and 1 lone sticky note that said:  “October–divide and move the roses and the irises.”  I put it there in July as a reminder.

The sticky note will be moving with me to November.  That task just didn’t happen in October.  Timing…

My calendar hangs in my kitchen near the phone that sits atop a butcher block that used to be one of the daily tools for my paternal grandfather.  He ran his small general store down in the bottom lands where there is now a brand new sparkling soccer complex for the kids in our county.  The area is significantly different from what I remember as a child.  When that butcher block was in full use, phones without party lines weren’t even an option; microwave ovens and and large recreational areas in that part of town weren’t even a dream.  Timing…

I flipped my calendar page and took a look outside.  Once again, they seemed color coordinated.  The reds, yellows and oranges are still there…just quite a bit muted in this month of November.  It is day one of the month.  Already there are several events listed in their varied colors and they will be joined soon by many others.  This is the month of Thanksgiving and family, gathering and remembering, preparing and celebrating.  There will be more travel, more birthdays and a double-booked show weekend.  It will be busy.  It will be fabulous.  In the middle of it all, I will need to remind my-OCD-tendancied-self that people are more important than my to-do lists. Somewhere in there, I will try once again to take care of the tasks on that sticky note…but, I already know it will be all about the timing…

Do you think it’s too early to go ahead and put it on the calendar for next year?

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”  Psalm 90:12