Discover The Beauty of Margin

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It made me feel rich. I was so pleased and thankful I could be a blessing….and all it took was a bowl of chicken tortilla soup.

My sweet friend Patricia is a teacher, and a wonderful one at that. She also has three lovely daughters and a husband who is a principal and a doctoral student. Her life is busy, so when she texted that she was at school and feeling sick, I knew I wanted to help.

It was a simple thing, really.  I had some chicken tortilla soup cooking and I told her to come pick it up on her way home so that she didn’t have to worry about dinner for her family. She could just go home and rest and enjoy some nice hot soup.

After school, she did stop by and pick up the dinner. Later, she said it made her feel so cared for.

You might say, “It was just a meal.” But I think it was more than that. The food was a blessing but the real gift was the margin.

I’d made meals for friends many times before, but I’d never been prepared to give even before the need arose. It was without any hesitation that I offered. I didn’t need to go to the store or come up with a plan. I was just able to give.

My word for 2014 is Margin. I want to be available. Available for God, my family and my friends.

More specifically, I wanted to create more margin in my afternoons with the children. Since cooking took up much of my after school time, I decided to cook most of our meals on the weekend. That way, I’d be more available to help with my children’s homework after school and have more time and energy to listen and play.

So when  Patricia texted, I realized that a lovely by-product of creating margin for my children was that I could also make an ill friend’s day a little brighter too.

I had done the hard work ahead of time so that when the need arose, not only could I meet that need, but I was able to do so without stress or taking away from my family time. And the margin I’d created in my own life flowed over into Patricia’s because she had one less thing on her to do list that night.

Margin isn’t normally one of my strengths. I lean more towards overcommitment than I do towards margin.

But I think that one of the most beautiful gifts we can give to our friends and family is that of margin. To be women who do the hard work ahead of time, so that when others carry a heavy burden, we have strength to spare. It requires hard decisions. It requires saying no even when it doesn’t seem to make sense. It requires self discipline.

But the rewards are rich. We can offer rest and peace and comfort. We can offer a listening ear to our husbands, we can offer patient words to our children or a helping hand to our friends.

There is no glory or wealth in margin, but when we choose to treat it like something real and valuable, treasures begin to pour into it’s walls.

margin

Need more convincing of the power of margin? Here are 50 more reasons to invest in it. When you have margin you can…

1. Relax
2. Cook healthier meals
3. Find time to exercise
4. Help others
5. Make better decisions
6. Be calm when things don’t go as planned
7. Have a tidier home
8. Be more patient with your husband
9. Be more patient with yourself
10. Be more patient with your children
11. Be more patient with your loved ones
12. Have time to pray
13. Have time to read the bible
14. Have time to read.
15. Get more rest
16. Get more sleep
17. Eat slower
18. Eat better
19. Play
20. Discover new passions
21. Have the grace to fail
22. Give grace to others when they fail
23. Be present
24. Listen to God
25. Listen to others
26. Notice the details
27. Be thankful for the details
28. Develop a habit of gratitude
29. Try new things
30. Finish old things
31. Stop worrying because you now have time to act
32. Stop worrying because the things that worried you… you eliminated when you created that margin
33. Breathe deeply
34. Live fully
35. Live life instead of just responding to it
36. Be available to help others who haven’t discovered the power of margin
37. Read books to learn how to maximize the time you do have
38. Read books to learn how to be a better wife, mom, friend, believer
39. Read biographies to learn what made great people great
40. Reflect
41. Dream
42. Hope
43. Belive
44. Create
45. Accomplish
46. Plan
47. Nurture life – gardening, animals, nature
48. Invest in relationships
49. Be excellent
50. Thrive instead of survive

Action Step – So what can you say no to today? what can you take off your plate? What responsibility or activity can you trade in for margin?

The Ministry of the Ordinary Life

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There is much beauty to ponder at Christmas. The beauty of the Christ Child coming to earth to save the souls of men–His name shall be called Immanuel, God with us.

As the holiday season comes to a close, it is so wonderful to remember that Jesus is with us every day of our lives. He is in the warp and woof of the everyday life; He is the fabric of our essential being. This is one of my favorite parts of Christianity, the fact the we have the Holy Spirit who dwells in each of us and helps us to walk out the Christian life. We are never alone; Christ makes His home in our hearts.

As I reflect on the New Year, I find myself thinking about the days to come and wondering what my heart desires to fill each of them with this coming year. At the core of my thoughts and dreams is a desire to make a difference for the Lord.  I think that, as Christians, most of us would say this is our desire, but for the most part our daily lives get in the way of what we think holiness and serving the Lord should look like.

So much of the time, our hearts want to minister, to make a difference for the Lord, but we find ourselves knee-deep in the music of the everyday life: laundry, cleaning, meals, sibling squabbles, sick children, discipling our children, listening to our children, helping in-laws to feel connected to the children, meals needed for friends, and making time for our sweet husbands… just to name a few.

My desire is to challenge each of us to readjust our thinking, to realize that these things, the seemingly insignificant things of life, are the notes that make the music of our ministry. This is the time in our life where we are creating our greatest symphony of ministry, our grand Opus.

What if we all looked at our lives differently? What if we all could be like Brother Lawrence, a monk who live 300 years ago and taught about the presence of God being in the ordinary life and said “The time of work,”  he said, “does not with me differ from the time of prayer.  In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great a tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Supper.” Brother Lawrence had the uncanny ability to look at each activity or chore he did as worship unto the Lord, as his ministry of the everyday life.

Scripture says this perfectly in Colossians 3:17: “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”

And Jesus simplified this concept of the ministry of the everyday life when he said, “This is My command: Love one another as I have loved you.”  John 15:12

Beloved, may I suggest that we all look at our lives differently this year? May I suggest that we walk with Jesus, one day at a time, and pray for God to give us a heart for everyday, ordinary ministry? We could all pray at the beginning of each day for the Lord to help us to be others-centered, humble, and aware of the needs of those around us, to see the hearts of the people God has placed us with, and to know how to minister to them in a way they feel loved.

Here are some simple ways I have found to truly bless the people God has placed in our lives:

1. Hug your children and tell them each something you love about them. Look them in the eyes when you talk to or listen to them. Make time in your day to just be available for your children. A good saying is “Put down the work and pick up the child.”

2. Text your husband at work and tell him that you are so proud of him and some of the reasons why. Better yet, make known the fact that you are very attracted to him.

3. Take your teenager out for lunch or coffee and ask them how their heart is doing. (Ask God ahead of time for the ability to see your child’s heart and what they might be struggling with or concerned about)

4. Try to get in the habit while your children are young of asking them to sit with you at the end of each day to tell you all about how they are doing, and what’s on their minds, even if it’s trivial or silly. This habit comes in handy when your children are old enough to drive, and will automatically know that when they get home you will want to sit with them and hear all about their day. It’s important to know the details of your children’s lives and how their friendships are doing and how their hearts are.

5. Call a friend or family member to pray, even if it’s just a quick 5 minute prayer. Let them know that you will be keeping them in your prayers that day.

6. Send a note to a friend telling her what you love about her and how she has blessed your life.

7. Double one of your meals to keep in the freezer to take to a friend when she is having a bad day.

8. Pray a silent prayer for people you see when you are out and about during your day- the cashier at the store the next time you buy groceries, the mom of the child that is throwing a fit at the mall, the homeless man on the street corner, or anyone the Holy Spirit brings to mind to pray for. Ask God to give you a heart of compassion for the people around you so you will know how to pray.

9. Have the children make a card for their Grandparents. Also, Skype can help them to feel connected to their grandchildren if they are far away.

10. Make time for your friends. Pray for your friendships; for God to strengthen and protect them. Ask God to heal the ones that are strained or broken. Have a friend over for a quick cup of tea. Light a candle, put on some beautiful music, and have a cookie or simply a piece of delicious chocolate. God-ordained friendships are worth the effort, and close, lifelong friendships are a blessing.

These things may seem small and insignificant, but they make up a beautiful life and encouraging ministry to those the Lord has entrusted you with.

What are some small  ways you create beautiful and minister to those in your life? 

Keeping Sabbath Rest in our Daily Lives

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For a long time in my life, I neglected things that made me happy. Not by choice, but by neglect. My life was all about denying myself and pushing my own needs aside for others. Feeling tired and burnt-out, but still pushing on. I never stopped to think I was unhappy and unhealthy or suppressing who God made me to be. There is nothing in the world wrong with denying yourself, or even pushing your own needs aside for others; This is the life of a mother. This should be the life of a Christian. In fact, it should just be a natural way of life. It is a life that the Lord calls us to.

But the Lord did not give weeds for the work. He has given us many many pleasures along the path, and we should enjoy them for the glory of Him. When we are off-balance–not taking the time to care for ourselves, to do things for ourselves, then we will burn-out. We will die, we will shrivel into martyrdom and perhaps depression.

Think about who God made you to be. Are you starving for a break? Some people need more breaks than others. Our personalities are not all the same. But I do believe God made us “for His own glory.”  If we, as mothers, are living a life tired, depressed, angry, burnt-out, unhappy, grouchy, guilty, ad nauseum, then are we truly glorifying Him?

It might take some time to refocus; to refocus your purpose in life and embrace joy. It truly is ok to take some time out to do things that make you happy. Stumped on what to do?

 1. Sleep. Make sleep a priority in your life. You are more productive and bring more quality to your work when you are well rested.

2. Schedule a two-minute break 2-3 times a day to spend time alone and just “be”.

3. Schedule time to exercise.

4. Do something “just for you”. This is not selfish, this is restorative. And again, ask yourself who God made you to be. Some people are fine without time alone. Some people need it more than others–(that is me!) I like to find that balance. If my life is full of “must-do’s and busyness, then I get burnt-out easily. I am sensitive that way. Making time to sit and breathe and do nothing is restorative for me.

5. Eliminate energy drainers in your life: energy-sapping relationships, unfinished projects, paperwork, clutter, negative images and information, news, depressing movies and books…

6. Dream. Take time out to dream. It’s healthy and restorative! It forces us to look inside and see what desires the Lord has put in us so we can give them to Him to do what He wills with them.

I pray that if you are struggling with burn out, that you will ultimately find rest in Him.

“God isn’t calling you to be exhausted, He’s calling you to rest.” ~Sally Clarkson

 

artist: Sybil Barham 

Balance and juggling isn’t even in the Bible!

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Seems I have never reached that magical point where my life is quiet, peaceful, slow, with all the details in my life organized. There are more balls in the air now than when our family was much younger!

Today as I was whizzing in the car to Kohl’s (afterall, I had a 30% coupon in my hot little hand) looking for jeans and a couple of things that Joy needed, all the while keeping in mind that she has a meeting I have to drive her to in an hour.

Also knowing that I have to pick up some medication for the sinus infection I have developed with an internal ear infection (going on since Michigan–five weeks ago) and have an appointment with friends to pray at 5 and then pick Joy up from her meeting, and then go back to Walmart for the things she will need while I am gone;

and then to a cooking class with Sarah and Joy– we signed up for a while ago, and then meeting friends who are flying in from out of town at their hotel at 9; finish packing and then leave for the airport with Clay and Sarah at 7:30 in the morning,

and I think–my life is not in balance–but I can still walk with God, have joy, enjoy my minutes and the ones in my life at each moment, and make it through one minute at a time.

My home is not in balance–I know that when we fly to 5 cities in 7 weeks, to host mom conferences,  that my house will get messier than usual and need a good cleaning when I get home. I understand that if I am going to be faithful to schooling when I am home and making meals and having quiet times in between all the prep for conferences–that things will pile up and go by the way side–but I also know I have a plan for getting it all together when I get home.

I know it will take all of us a few days just to sleep enough to have the energy to clean and straighten up–but I know that we will get to it and I will feel good about my home again.

I liked what a friend said to me, “The swinging hand on a clock is only in balance at one point while the fulcrum swings back and forth between the two sides.”

And so my life goes–in perfect balance, rarely, once in a while–but always swinging between the two tensions.

My life wasn’t in balance when I had 3 children under 5 and I had to nurse them and deal with ear infections and asthma.

My life wasn’t in balance very often amidst the 17 moves–6 times internationally–seemed often I was packing or unpacking–

My life wasn’t in balance when I had 3 teenagers and an elementary aged child who just wanted to play and read picture books,  while we were staying up late with our teens talking about all sorts of serious issues in life, and then getting up early with my wee, little fun one-with dark circles under my eyes.

And all the while these in my home wanted to eat, (which meant shopping, cooking and an endless stream of dishes) and wear relatively clean clothes and messes abounded–always cleaning and messing–straightening and cluttering. No balance but a lot of life and fun and discussions and work and corrections–a stream of life never ending, but flowing to yet another new challenge and season of life.

I think I would have been so much more content and joyful if I had just known at the beginning that life for me would not be balanced–but could always be meaningfulif I would just accept the limitations of each day, each season, each child, my marriage and my finances–none totally balance, perfect–but all a blessing–so that is what was going through my mind today as I was whizzing about.

I don’t think scripture promises balance–Jesus’s life was not balanced–he always had people chasing after him and someone was always criticizing him amidst the feeding of 5 thousands, healing lepers and forgiving prostitutes, holding children and blessing them and saying scathing things to the Pharisees–

Paul’s life was certainly not balanced–even keeled–amidst prison, ship wrecks, beatings, and teachings. Peter was traveling, teaching, being persecuted–yet all of these had joy, full hearts, love and time to reach out to and teach others.

So, I was contemplating today–that if I would just see this day and all that my puzzle brings as God’s will, I would be content, joyful and enjoy rest in the moments of my days.

Off to pick up Joy!

The Secret to Making it to the end of December without blowing apart


The Cup of Tea
~ Mary Cassatt

I am reposting from a couple of years ago. But as I was rereading this post, it spoke to me. This week has added stress to an already very stressful season with the shootings and economy and so much more.

But the essence of this post is still so true. We must guard our health–mentally, spiritually and physically, and see that we do not run dry, or else we will crater. Even today, I decided to lay down for 15 minutes and just seek peace because I needed that more than I needed to keep pumping more adrenalin into my body from so much to do.

So, today, instead of mentoring Monday, I offer you the admonition to take care of yourself today, say no to something, sit down and listen to some music for 5 minutes with a lit candle–just find a way to decide to walk this week with peace.

Dear Sally,
HELP!!!!!!!!
Love,
A Mom

Dear Mom,

I have said and felt a need for help so very often and so I offer you my best advice. First of all, chill out. Take a little time for yourself until you can get perspective. I hope something I say may help. I have had to learn that no one else in the world will be responsible for my over-all well being. I have a husband and children who need me, and as I have said before, they are going to want to continue eating every day and want to wear relatively clean clothes, with the expectation that I will be the one to keep this going. However, there are times I run out of soul-fuel and have to stop it all to refuel the tank of my heart, soul, mind and body.

As we all know, if mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy. So, I have to tend to my own happiness and well being and you need to tend to yours.

I am responsible for my rest, my quiet time, my eating and exercise, filling my cup, so that it will not be empty when others want to keep taking and taking from me–and I am also the manager of my  my chill time. Laughing and lightening up really brings health to the bones. (A joyful heart is good medicine has been proved by the medical research1) I do have countless emails in my inbox vying for my attention, and people expecting to hear from me, but I know that I will never get to them all, even if I wish I could–never, ever, but it is God’s will for me to survive with grace.

And there are tasks calling my name around the house, but I have become the queen of turning my head away and trying to stick to my most important priorities. I have found that there will be just as many things screaming for my attention tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow.

But today, I know that my body and mind need a little rest and my emotions become frayed and I become grumpy if I don’t create a little break. No one else is going to tell me when I have reached my limit. But if I do not monitor myself, my children and husband and I will come to regret it when I blow!  I am a steward of my limitations and body. If I don’t protect my  walk with the Lord, it will get eaten up in everyone else’s agenda.

Though still learning, I am always simplifying and evaluating if something is worth the effort–(I do think that making things beautiful and special during the holidays are worth the effort as it builds the taste and values and work ethic and ministry skills of my children–but all in its season, and only so much.

Not everything “we have always done before,” has to be done. Fast food with candles lit is just fine. But it may not be worth it to answer one more phone call or one more email–as this will certainly steal from my children and husband who need me today. Sometimes, I have even been known to hide from my children. It made me smile.

Each of us has a different puzzle and different personality and we must accept our limitations within our own story and be comfortable being ourselves. There is great freedom in deciding to enjoy who I am, as I am not going to essentially change any time soon! I see so many moms seeking to live up to other’s expectations and ideals and then burning out in the process. I have high work times,  and times when I just can’t get anything done–and somehow the world does not crash when I take time to just live and enjoy, and avoid the “I have to do everything or I will be a failure” syndrome.

It is why I have my cup of tea every day–a way of saying, “I will take time for a moment of pleasure and peace, because it centers me, and I have decided I will last a lot longer in this very long distant race, if I build anchors of serendipity into my schedule.”

If you and I don’t eventually make peace with our own life circumstances, then we are in danger of cultivating a heart of bitterness, inadequacy, guilt or whining, or possibly blowing apart into oblivion. But if we become the conductors of our own life symphonies and live within our own melody of life, we will last longer more gracefully with the God of grace who leads us.

Spend time in God’s word and let Him love you and you love Him back. He came for you–he came to comfort. Let His comfort be yours. You cannot find peace without the prince of peace.

Take time to regroup today–Go eat some chocolate, and don’t feel guilty as you are eating it–that is a waste of good chocolate! Listen to some beautiful music, watch a heart-warming movie, take a nap, eat off of paper plates! The rest of December is still coming and you will be the better for it! I’ll be praying for you!

Love,
Sally