Life with Margins

Matt1128I am so tired this morning, and would like nothing better than just crawling back under my soft covers. But moms can’t often do that, so I continue on with the to-do list, slowly checking off each item, and hoping that the three-year-old has a good nap this afternoon so that I can catch a few minutes on the couch before we are off and running again.

Our calendar has been absolutely full for the past several months, forcing me to do that hard thing – saying no. We’re saying no to fun events, no to good opportunities, no to anything that is not essential.

As I get older, I see how hard it is to keep us this frantic pace that seemed so easy in my 20s. We have very little margin in our lives – very little time to do spontaneous things, time in the sun, time for hobbies, time for friends and neighbors, time for living. Too often our time is spent hurrying from one event to the next.

So, as summer approaches, I’m putting my foot down, drawing a line in the sand, stopping the bus. We are accepting no new commitments until August. I want to be able to spend time in the sun working our garden. I want to find days to borrow a friend’s swimming pool. I want to read books. I want to lay in the grass. I want to play at the park with my son. I want to get to know my neighbors again after the longest winter. I want to have lunch with friends. I want to rest.

So, that’s it. I’ve already had to say no to some things (mostly just to myself). But I already feel a freedom in that – the freedom to embrace the life that’s right in front of me and enjoy the moments.

Do you need to build margin in your life? How do you decide when to say no and when to say yes?

Share Your Story

Eph 4At a neighborhood block party last weekend, I sat and talked with a young woman who has been blind since she was 15. She was asking about my writing and my blog, and said she has thought of starting her own blog. Fear, procrastination, and busyness were holding her back – would anyone even want to read what she has to say?

Friend, let me tell you what I told her - the world needs your story.

Whatever your life is like, whatever you have faced in the past or are facing now, someone else out there needs to know that they are not alone. If you have felt it and lived it, someone else has too.

In recent days, I have meditated on the later half of Ephesians 4:29 - “…as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Your words, your art, your music, however you share your story, may come at just the right time to help someone else. If God is calling you to share, all He asks from you is obedience. He will provide the audience, whether that be one or one million.

Maybe you will share your story by mentoring or befriending someone who is lonely. Perhaps God has given you musical talents, and you deliver your message through song. Maybe you write, speak, scrapbook, garden, or do 1,000 other things that give glory to God. Whatever God is asking you to do, do it in such a way that gives grace to someone else.

What story is God writing in your life? How can you share that story with someone else?


Mentors Wanted

Titus 2In the first little church that Chris served while in seminary, a little red-brick church in Cox’s Creek, Kentucky, was a woman named Belinda. And for the seven and a half years that we lived and worked in that area, I stuck to her like glue. She taught me to cook, to lead, to teach, to serve … and all without any formal classes or meetings or seminars.

She just let me watch her live.

We went to conferences together, we served together on the women’s ministry leadership team, we worked in the nursery together. We ate Chinese food after church on Sundays, and we did Bible studies together.

I saw her mother her college-age daughters (who are just a few years younger than I am), saw her plan two weddings, and now watch as she is Mimi to their kids.

We need more Belindas in the world.

We need more men and women who will allow younger adults (and those younger in the faith) to come alongside their lives and just watch them live and serve. We need people who aren’t afraid to let someone outside their immediate family into their circle. None of us lead perfect lives, but that’s not the point. The point is, younger adults want and need those of us a few years further down the road to walk hand-in-hand with them through the ups and downs of life.

Yes, many of them have parents who are helping them, but not all do. And even those who do would like a different perspective – and maybe you are just the person to provide that.

Yes, it can be messy. Yes, it takes time. Yes, you might get hurt. But you might also gain a friend. You might also find joy in watching a younger adult learn about life. You might just find some joy and a new perspective yourself.

Mature Christian, the young adults around you need you. Would you be a Belinda to someone today?

When I Grow Up I Want to Write

10173389_10153954485735244_1004245266_n[1]When I was a little girl, I remember riding in the car with my daddy and him asking me what I wanted to be when I grew up. You know, that question that adults love to ask kids and kids dread answering. There’s really no good answer to this question – if the child says something far-flung, the adult will most likely drag her back to reality. If she says something practical, her reply is usually met with something about not being afraid to dream.

But on that day, I was honest. I told him that I wanted to be a writer.

He didn’t make fun of that dream, or tell me to put it on the back-burner. He just said that if that’s what I wanted to do, I needed to study it and work at it.

But time passed, and when I went to college, I decided to take the practical path and study teaching secondary school English. Teaching is an extremely noble profession. I have many, many friends who are teachers, and what they do is no less than inspiring. But as I continued through my coursework, I began to realize that it might not be the best fit for me.

So, I did the sensible thing – I got an office job.

And, I was good at it. I enjoy organizing, managing, and directing, and eventually I landed in a job that used all of those talents. And, truthfully, I loved it.

But I loved books and words more.

So here I am, some thirty years or so after that conversation with my dad, and I’m just starting to see what it might look like for me to be a writer. I’ve been taking an online course with Jennifer Trafton for the past five weeks, and although some parts of it are far outside my comfort zone, I have loved it. It has made me work at writing in a way that I haven’t in years. It’s made me evaluate some areas where I need to work.

Am I a writer? Part of me still says that real writers have published books, which I have not. Blogger? Yes. Magazine writer? Yes. Writer? I’ll keep working on trying to say that, and maybe some day I’ll get there.

All Things … For Good

Rom828This has been an odd week, filled with kidney stones (not mine), very sick newborns (also not mine), and stress and worry (that would be mine).

On the positive side, I now know my way around our city’s new hospital. On the negative side, people I love have been sick and in pain.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28

Right now, in this minute, as I sit in a hospital room waiting for news, it’s hard to see how this promise is true. How can a kidney stone work for our good and God’s glory? How can a sick newborn, with her worried parents and grandparents, bring glory to God?

The thing is, even though I don’t know how, I cling to the truth in this promise. Even though we are still waiting for test results and outcomes, I believe that God is working out His purpose. I believe that our testimony through these trials may lead someone to know Him and believe in Christ. I believe that God is teaching us greater things, even now. I believe that He is drawing us to Himself.

I believe Lord, help me in my unbelief.

Living With Kingdom Purpose

1 Cor 10Do you realize how much influence you have for the Kingdom of God?

I don’t just mean the things you do at church, although I’m sure those are good, God-glorifying opportunities. I’m talking about the other six days of the week, the Monday through Saturday days of working, playing, homemaking, recreating.

Whatever we do, however we treat others, whatever attitudes we take, words we use, feelings we embrace, can either glorify the God who made us and point others to him, or they will turn others away from seeking Him.

We create a life with our actions, and people are watching. Sometimes, we make grand gestures when our hearts are moved – large donations of money, possessions, time. And certainly, if God is asking you to make a grand gesture, do it. He teaches us great lessons when we make large sacrifices.

But I think we invest more in the Kingdom and have greater influence in our day-to-day rounds than in the “grand gestures.” Anyone can make a big sacrifice when others are watching. While those big sacrifices certainly may cost something, we often get something in return – satisfaction, a pat on the back, and recognition. Rarely do we get any of those things when we conduct our minutes and days with steadfastness, integrity, and character.

But it is in our daily living where we really have an impact on God’s Kingdom.

  • Am I raising my children to be mighty warriors in God’s army, ready to do battle against the forces of evil?
  • Am I ethical in all my business dealings?
  • Do I treat all people, regardless of age, race, occupation, or any other dividing factors with the same kindness and compassion I show to people who are just like me?
  • Do I freely share with others what God is doing in my life right now?
  • Am I patient and forgiving with others?
  • Do I actively look for ways to show love and compassion to someone else?
  • Do I do things only for recognition, or am I content to work behind the scenes and let others receive the praise?

Whatever we are doing with our days, whether we stay at home with kids, work in an office, go to school, or collect the garbage, we are commanded to do everything for the glory of God. Nothing in our lives is wasted.

How are you impacting the Kingdom today?

Why I Worship

jesuspaiditallLast fall, I wrote a post for about what I see from my perspective on our church’s praise team. Our church – and I suspect yours too – is a beautiful mess of all sorts of people from all sorts of backgrounds who bring all sorts of gifts, problems, talents, and troubles to the mix.

I hear the Savior say, “Thy strength indeed is small,” child of weakness, watch and pray, find in Me thine all in all.

Last Sunday, I had the privilege of serving on the praise team again, and let me tell you – I love watching the congregation during worship. There are so many things happening across the auditorium – some singing with hands raised in praise; some standing with arms crossed, firmly NOT singing; and others taking all sorts of middle ground on how they participate.

Lord, now indeed I find Thy pow’r, and Thine alone, Can change the leper’s spots and melt the heart of stone.

It would take years to tell you all of the stories in a single congregation. All of the past, all of the baggage, all of the celebrations, all of the self-consciousness… Too often, we focus on all the wrong things during worship. Musicians and leaders become jealous and conceited about their own talents. Congregation members are judging the style of music, the length of the sermon, the amount in the offering plate. Too often, our focus is everywhere but God.

For nothing good have I whereby Thy grace to claim; I’ll wash my garments white in the blood of Calv’ry’s Lamb.

But then I’ll look out and see that one person with hands raised, that one person obviously broken by the Holy Spirit, that one person worshiping with abandon. And it’s then I’m reminded why we gather to worship.

And when, before the throne, I stand in Him complete, “Jesus died my soul to save,” my lips shall still repeat.

We gather to worship, not to compare ourselves with others, not to see who has the best clothes, not to see if my talents are greater than yours, not to see what so-and-so is doing, not because of the musicians, not because of the pastor, not because of the sound and lights, not because of anything other than Jesus.

Jesus paid it all, all to Him I owe; sin had left a crimson stain, He washed it white as snow.

Portion Control for a Super-Sized Life

supersizedFor the past couple of months, I have been a part of a First Place Bible study. If you aren’t familiar with First Place, each 12-week session combines Bible study, scripture memory, accountability, and healthy living (eating/exercise). It’s a great program that I highly recommend for anyone who wants to lead a healthier lifestyle.

Reflecting on what I have learned this session, I keep coming back to the idea of “portion control.” So much of learning to eat better (at least in our culture) is connected with portion control – we know that we should eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, but we can’t seem to get our minds around the idea that we should not super-size everything. We want a better monetary value, but the price is often poorer health.

Unfortunately, it’s not just our fast food meals we want to super-size. We want larger houses, better connections, newer cars, bigger careers. We want life to be Burger King – “your way, right away.” We want what we want right now, and we want a lot of it.

But God did not create us to live super-sized lives. In fact, after a particularly busy season of ministry, Jesus said to His disciples, “‘Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest for a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31).

Jesus knew that His disciples needed to set boundaries -  or portion control, if you will - in their work and ministry. The work they were doing was good. They were helping people and spreading the Good News. And yet, too much was still too much.

I need those same boundaries in my own life. Lots of good opportunities present themselves every day, but wisdom comes in knowing when to say yes, when to say no, and when to say maybe next time.

  • When to turn off the screens.
  • When to stop spending.
  • When to stop eating.
  • When to take a day off.
  • When to say, “I can’t do that right now.”
  • When to ask for help from friends.

What about you? Are there areas in your life where you need some portion control? What is consuming you in an unhealthy way? Seek God’s guidance and make plans to cut back (or cut out) in those places.

Do Feelings or Belief Drive Your Train?

chasinggodSeveral years ago, I was part of a discipleship group led by Jaylynn Cook, a wonderful, godly mentor and a great influence in my life. I remember that she used a particular illustration for how we make decisions - what drives your train?

All trains have engines (just ask my three-year-old Thomas the Train-loving little boy). Is your engine your feelings or your faith? When we make decisions based only on our feelings, we allow emotions like anger, frustration, pride, lust, and greed to be our motivation. We let the idea of what others may think of us influence our actions. When our feelings are driving our train, anything can happen, because feelings are always changing. We won’t have clear direction, and we’ll constantly be changing our minds and second-guessing ourselves.

When faith and belief drives our train, we have clear direction. We are always moving down the track that God has laid out in His Word, the Bible. We don’t have to guess because He is already leading the way, and His way and Word don’t change based on our feelings.

But here’s the thing … our emotions are strong forces. Too often, we can let our feelings get the better of what we know to be true. Feelings are deceptive and can be influenced by so many factors – stress, health, hunger, hormones, the actions of others. I can feel one way today, act on those feelings, and regret those same actions tomorrow morning.

So we have to decide now that we are going to allow our faith to be stronger than our feelings. We have to decide today that we will do the right thing, even when we don’t feel like it. We can’t give up on the difficult days, because those are the times when acting in faith is most important.

How are you doing today? Are you choosing to act in faith, regardless of how you feel about your current life situations?

Wasted Week or Opportunity to Rest?

1898973_10153812666855244_1315917819_n[1]It’s been quite a week around here. Mom (that’s me) has been sick. When mom is sick, things just don’t work right. Add to that an extremely busy season for our little family, and add a fall by an extended family member for whom we have care, and I really, really didn’t need to be sick.

I didn’t have time to be sick.

But there I was, spending most of Tuesday in bed, calling people and begging off commitments and turning down fun invitations. Today, I spent the entire morning at urgent care to get a shot and an antibiotic that I could have prescribed for myself in five minutes.

And then the preschooler didn’t take a nap. He always takes a nap, but not today, the one day I really needed him to. The to-do list continues to pile up, obligations will have to be met somehow, and all while sneezing and blowing my nose.

But in all of this, I have heard God’s voice very clearly:

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. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. Matthew 11:28-30

Maybe, just maybe, in the middle of all of the craziness (and there has been a good bit of that around these parts lately), God is calling me to rest. To rest in Him, to take his burden and give Him mine, to allow Him to calm the pace, erase some commitments and reschedule others.

As part of my year of “intention,” maybe God is asking me to be more intentional about laying down my agenda for His, trusting His timing in the small things, and being faithful in what I can do.

Maybe instead of a wasted week, this is actually an opportunity to rest.

Have you ever had one of “those” weeks? What has God taught you through slowing down?


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