New normal?

Welcome to the new year! The fasting and the feasting are both past, and it’s time to return to the “normal”…but what will that look like now? Throughout the month of December I chose to follow a technology fast by deliberately limiting my time online and trying to focus on the people I was actually with instead of my phone and all the places it could take me without ever leaving the house. Following our NO COMPLAIN NOVEMBER month, my friend Jaybrena christened it “#ditchthedeviceDecember” and the results really surprised me.

While I missed being in the know about certain news stories and people who live far away, after a few days (yes, it took a bit of time to get used to!) I also found it quite serene to realize that I had reached the end of my allotted 2 hours/day of “computer time” and could then shut it down and walk away. That restful freedom has always been there, of course, but I’ve rarely chosen it–and certainly not so consistently as I did this past month.

I gave myself permission to use the phone for actual phone calls without limitations, so I always had the option of hearing the voices instead of sending/reading texts and emails once I had reached my online limit. Quickly realizing that it made little sense to actually call someone with the latest 2-second thing that entertained me meant that I ended up with more quiet time than I was used to. (And I liked it!) I also found that my own personal fast quickly reduced the number of times I needed to respond electronically, as others managed to survive and perhaps even thrive without my instant/constant insertions into their days. (grin… Unintended lessons in humility are always appreciated, of course.)

I also found that:

  • While 2 hours still felt like  a generous plenty when I set that guideline, it went by much faster than I had anticipated.
  • I learned to pick up my phone only at certain times during the day and keep a few minutes in reserve for the end of the day check on business communications.
  • People won’t die if they have to wait a few minutes for an answer from me.
  • I won’t die if I have to wait awhile for an answer from them, either.
  • I still appreciate a response by the end of the day.
  • It takes me longer than I thought to compose blog posts. Stream of consciousness writing still needs to be edited…at least over here.
  • It also takes longer than I had thought to post to my Etsy store.
  • Maybe it doesn’t really take “longer”, but having that 2 hour limitation made it a tight squeeze to get it all in, so I learned to make a plan for the day instead of going wherever it led me. (Imagine that?! I needed to be reminded about planning!!)
  • Not being online gave me time to be more productive in other areas of my life.
  • It really is possible to put the phone down and walk away for hours at a time.
  • I’m more generous when I’m not on the computer…perhaps because I can see the need in front of me instead of just my screen.
  • My prayer life improved.
  • I was surprised that I didn’t read more.
  • I truly enjoyed the deliberateness of rest.
  • I enjoyed cooking more.
  • I enjoyed lot of things more.
  • I made more memories and took fewer photos.
  • Being fully present is a gift that always fits.

It was both harder and easier than I had expected all at the same time. It helped me to feel more connected with the world around me. I’m a Luddite compared to many, but I hadn’t realized how “virtual reality” I had been feeling. This fast gave me a deeper appreciation for the tangible feel of life and, while the parameters of the fast will change, that’s something I want to be intentional about keeping.

This experience was a good one and had a greater impact on me than I expected. It gave me some much needed focus as the holidays came and the new year approached. It reminded me of the Jim Elliott quote that I’ve chosen as my theme for 2017,

“Wherever you are, be all there.”

I learned to order my days differently –and more deliberately!–and that reminded me of one of my favorite verses:

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

and THAT, I hope, is what becomes my new normal.

Grace & Peace!

Spending the day

What are you doing today?

Is it work or play?  Is it easy or difficult?  Dull or exciting?  Laughter or tears…or both?  Or like most of us, “All of the above?”

I’ve been thinking about this idea a lot lately.  My “theme” for the year has been Jim Elliot’s quote:  “Wherever you are, be all there.” and that’s a lot harder sometimes than you’d think.

I’m a multi-tasker of the very first order and making a conscious choice to focus fully on whatever is right in front of me this year still feels foreign…even after more than 7 months of trying.

I’m getting better at it.  Little by little.  Day by day of practice…and yet sometimes I have to remind myself right moment by moment.

I’ve had a  house full of company around here lately and even in the midst of it all, I had to remind myself to “be all there” (and not run to the computer and blog about it right then!) so I wouldn’t waste a single second of it:  croquet on the side yard, card games on the back porch, amazing amounts of really great food, phone calls from those who couldn’t make it, the laughter ringing in the rafters and escaping to the yard, the quiet conversations late into the night or while waiting on others to wake up, the tears of shared heartbreak and the prayers of and for loved ones.  All that preciousness that we store up until we can all be together again–I didn’t want to miss even a moment of it.  God uses all of that to sustain us during the times it is more difficult to obtain and I wanted to revel in it and soak it all up like a sponge–wasting nothing, no matter how small.  Friendship.  Family.  Family of the heart.  Days of spirit-filling sustenance from God.  All from Him.

Today, this day that some of us will take for granted, will be someone’s wedding day, someone’s best day, someone’s worst day…and someone’s last day.  Wherever you find yourself, make the choice to be all there today.  There’s a reason you’re having the day you are–and (surprise, surprise!) it may not be all about you.  Someone else may need to see how you handle it.  They may need to see God at work in you today in the easy stuff and, more likely, in the hard stuff, too.

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

This is what I need today:  the ability to be aware of how precious each day really is and a heart of wisdom to “spend” it well…and I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one.

Prayer:  Father God, please be with those who have lost today and feel that loss so keenly, with those who are uncertain of their next move and those who charge blindly–or deliberately!–into danger, with those who will choose to laugh in spite of their difficulties today and those who need to learn how to do so.  Be with those who celebrate the wondrous thing and those who will deal with the ponderous ones.  Show us YOU in each situation and help those around us to see You at work in us.  In short, give us You today and help us share You with the world.

Listen up!

“Listen up!”—that’s Mississippi-speak for “Give me your attention, please!” At least, that’s what my mother always said when we were being too loud to hear what she wanted to say next. Usually, it meant that whatever she planned to say was something that she considered important…and that meant that we should also consider it important…if we knew what was good for us! (grin)

I was lying in bed the other night trying to go to sleep and I was actually pretty frustrated–perhaps that was why I wasn’t sleeping! (Ha!) In my mind I reviewed several recent conversations with people who are facing extremely different circumstances. Despite the differences, they did seem to have a common denominator: they were putting too large a burden on themselves.

Now, I was raised to have an excellent work ethic, so I’m never going to be one who’ll tell you it is ok to be a slacker. I WILL tell you that even when you work hard there will be times when you still can’t control the outcome. It is unfortunate…especially, since I’m a bit of a control-freak, but there it is…and trust me, if there were a way to control everything in my life so it would go exactly as I planned every time without fail…well, I would have already found it.  (Though in the spirit of absolute truthfulness, I’m not entirely certain I would share that illusive understanding with very many people…or even here with just you few dear friends…or even just my cats. Ok, well, it appears I still have some personal things to work on over here.)

So, in the absence of amazing wisdom telling you how to make everything in life work like YOU want it, I’m here to tell you the following things (and even though I’m not your mother, I do have MY mother’s tone down pat on this one!), so listen up:

  • You are responsible for how well you do your job.
  • You are not responsible for how well someone else does their job…OR how well they think they could have done yours.
  • If you haven’t done your best, then you are not finished. Finish it.
  • Your best today may not be your best tomorrow.  You’re not IN tomorrow, however, so don’t get too caught up in that.
  • IF you have done the best that you can do today, then nothing YOU can do will make it better. Let it go. In fact, wrap it up in prayer and take it straight to God…and then leave it with Him.  Walk away.  Let it go.

These things aren’t life-shattering, but they could be life-changing for someone else out there. If this is for you, you’ll know it. If not, then Happy Friday to you. Either way, the weekend is coming and there are other things that need your attention OTHER than the ruination of a perfectly great summer weekend by a repeating mental flagellation over things you can’t change now that they’ve already occurred. Let it go.

Everyone has a job to do, but it is not your job to do everything all by yourself. (and yes, I just stomped on my own toes with that one!–in fact, I may have just heard my husband shout an “Amen!” from several miles away on that one!) Even Scripture is clear about it.  In 1 Corinthians 3:6, Paul shares it this way:

“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase.”

It couldn’t be much plainer. Do your part, let others do theirs and leave the result up to God. It all belongs to Him anyway…Who better to be in charge of the results?

Grace & Peace!

(and happy weekend, everybody! It feels really good to be back! Oh!…and I’ll try to work on that selfish/sharing thing…Later. Yeah, well, I’ve got the honest thing down pretty well, anyway.)

Getting to know you…

Many years ago, the extremely talented duo of Rogers and Hammerstein wrote a piece of music that keeps running through my head this morning.  It’s one of the songs from the musical The King and I called “Getting to Know You” and near the end, the lyrics say this:

Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say

Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day

I’ve been seriously entertained this morning because these words have been running through my brain…while I’ve been thinking about God.

As part of my getting back to basics around here, I’ve gone back to reading a chapter in Proverbs and a chapter in Psalms each morning as part of my devotional time.  Several days ago, I noticed something that I don’t remember noticing before. (Pardon me if this is old news to you!  grin)

One of my favorite scriptures from this section of Scripture—circled, starred and even underlined in purple!— says:

Wisdom is the principal thing; Therefore get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding. Proverbs 4:7

Every time I come to that verse, I’m completely stopped in my tracks and reminded that knowledge is great, but wisdom is even better—and it’s even more to the point that I should be pursuing wisdom instead of things.

Several chapters over, there is another Bible verse that is also underlined in purple which says:

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”  Proverbs 9:10

Now, in my Bible, the first phrase of that verse is the last thing on one page and the second phrase is at the top of the next one after you turn the page.  Perhaps that’s why I’ve never had it hit me like this before.  Maybe I just took a breath and turned the page and started reading again instead of just putting those two things together.  Whatever the reason, as I read it again this past Sunday morning, my brain finally connected these two phrases and these two verses—pages apart!–in a brand new way for me!

I’ve always known that was true (after all, it is in God’s Word and He can’t lie!), but I think I’ve heard more sermons on the first part of that last verse than the second.  In fact, I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard pastors and teachers just focus on that first phrase as they explained that the word “fear” here, in fact, means to reverence or to give proper respect to God.  Yes, He is all powerful and yes, that can be scary to think about…right up until you get to know Him and find out who He is and how He plans to use that power.

So, did you see it?  Put together, those two verses say this (Becky translation):  Wisdom is the main thing, so go get you some of that…and while you’re getting that, get you some understanding because putting God in His proper place in your life is just the start of wisdom and getting to know who God is personally and having a real relationship with Him, now that is understanding—and that’s the most important thing.

Having a relationship with God is far more than just being aware of Him or being afraid of what He’ll decide to do next.  In fact, once you get to know Him really well, that fear-thing isn’t even a factor anymore because you’ll discover that He loves you more than you could ever imagine and He’s got some really great things to show you about how to use this one wonderful life that you’ve been given. So,

Getting to know you
Getting to feel free and easy
When I am with you
Getting to know what to say

Haven’t you noticed
Suddenly I’m bright and breezy?
Because of all the beautiful and new
Things I’m learning about you
Day by day

Yes, that’s the truth about getting to know God better.  Hmm…I wonder if Rogers and Hammerstein ever read Proverbs?

(and yes, I did get the irony that this song is from The KING and I!  smile! God has a great sense of humor!  Make sure you find that out for yourself.)

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?