celebrating moments

I have been reading the book The Power of Moments by Chip and Dan Heath. In it, the authors speak of elevating moments to create experiences worth capturing. This week, my personal coach suggested that I take a moment to celebrate the close of our coaching sessions. In the past few moths, Coach Colleen has helped me to successfully move from daydreaming to doing in two separate aspect of my life, physical health and writing.

I spent the last few days thinking of what a celebration should look like. One thing struck me. A true celebration should include friends. So I am inviting you, my readers to join me in celebrating by sharing in a sneak peak of the book I’m writing. So enjoy this excerpt and then do a little dance party move for me, will you?

Oh, and if any of you are interested, Coach Colleen is great! She is available to consult online and the time invested is sooo worth it.

the journey continues

Journeys are unpredictable. They sometimes come across barriers, road blocks and dead ends. On rare occasions, one can round a bend to be astonished by breath-stealing beauty of rare brilliance. My journey in life has not been what I would have imagined. There has been such great and glorious beauty on the road. There has been some abrupt dead ends that have nearly been the death of me. Here is a mini trip report.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to be a dancer. I wasn’t one. I grew up, got married and had a little girl. She wanted to be a dancer too. She was a beautiful dancer! Then she died. This was not on my road map.

I write to express my pain. I write to share my hope. I write for me and hope it blesses you. I write about my experience, my attempts at healing and wholeness. I write about random thoughts, daydreams on my journey.

Those who have been following my earlier writings will find similar topics to those in the “my journey” section of this site. This is the most personal of my writings. I have added “current conversations” to the menu as a place for me to share opinions on the topics of the day. I will be adding “ministry conversations” as a third category of writing soon. The home page will always show the most recent in all three categories.

I wanted my readers to know of the slight change in format. I want you to know why. I have decided to pursue writing more intentionally. I have begun to write my autobiography. Part of embracing this new chapter means writing consistently, practicing the art of writing. The added categories will help me to do that on those days when I just cannot bring myself to dredge up more of my soul for public consumption. I will be able to sort out my thoughts on topics other than myself in my favorite way, through writing. This too is a part of my journey, a sign of growth and healing. There was a day when my own pain consumed my thoughts. I still have that pain but it is no longer all-consuming. I can think more broadly on the world around me. I want to share those thoughts with you.

Let’s have a conversation.

solutions vs. shaming

As I read through my twitter feed lately I am bombarded with opinions surrounding the issue of abortion. Each slide blasts the other with moral arguments designed to shame the holders of the opposing viewpoint.

I try to keep clear of anything that smells like politics online or in public speaking. So I’m not going to attach my opinion to any one side or party. What I am going to do is argue for a higher level of discourse.

For too long there have been some in the religious right that have used shame as a tool to attempt to vault themselves above others and to keep their members from speaking out in dissent. I don’t believe this is honoring to God who seeks to justify rather than condemn us. (Rom. 8:1,33) Christianity is not about bringing shame. It’s about being met in our brokenness, forgiven our sins, being made new.

Not only is public shaming incongruent with God’s ways, it is not productive. I can’t see a way forward in our public conversation by attempting to bring shame on those who see the issue through a different lens. Do we really think that cruelty will bring anyone over to our way of thinking? We can disagree. We can share our reasons for it. We can even attempt to bring correction when someone’s facts aren’t straight. But we can do it with kindness. This is how we follow in the steps of our Father in Heaven.

God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance.

Romans 2:4 ESV

Now just so we’re clear, this shame based tactic doesn’t belong solely to the conservative side. Those on the liberal side of the fence are just as likely to play the shame game. State representative Brian Sims sets a prime example.

One side says shame on you for murder. The other says shame on you for telling women what to do with their bodies. One side values life above all else the other values freedom above all else. The end result is nobody gets anywhere in changing the hearts and minds of the opposition. In fact the only thing accomplished is that we now see each other as opponents rather than sisters and brothers.

We need a better way. We are tearing each other apart and building walls of separation that prevent any path to consensus. We need solutions not shaming.

While I do not believe our country will ever land in a place where all people are satisfied, there is hope for a majority consensus. It turns out according to polls that 80% of Americans believe abortions should be limited to the first trimester. In these polarized days, it is hard to get 80% of Americans to agree on anything. Let’s start there. Let’s ask compelling questions. Let’s work towards solutions.

One inference we might make based on the above statistic is that the American people see a fetus as a baby sometime before she is born. If this is so, why do those same Americans believe abortion should be allowed in the first trimester? Is it for scientific/ medical reasons or as a concession to the practical difficulties of having children? The answer is not uniform among all people but it is probably more to do with the practical. It goes something like, ‘Having a baby is a life altering event and I don’t have the right to force someone else to change the trajectory of her life.’

Okay. So instead of arguing over who’s rights are greater, the infant or the mother, let’s look at those practical difficulties and how we can minimize the negative impacts on the mother’s life and maximize the positive impacts.

One example may be that pro-life business owners and managers look at the realities of the work environment they control. If a woman were to become pregnant would she have to worry about being passed up for promotion due to her need for maternity leave or because as primary caregiver she may take more sick days and be less available for overtime? Let’s be real. Kids change life and priorities. That manager can minimize the negative impacts and reassure prospective parents by proactively developing an environment conducive to child rearing employees. What if instead of overlooking the pregnant applicant, the boss looks first to promote that person with an extra mouth to feed? What if companies provided a raise or a childcare allowance to those with growing families? On-site daycare is a popular pro-family concept. These can be expensive options. But if you are pro-life, isn’t it worth it? If we aren’t willing to share the inconvenience and cost of the baby, do we really have the right to condemn those who would end her life for those same reasons? I believe life is worth the expense! Other ideas may not cost anything at all. Creative options such as more work-from-home days for those with kids can allow for continued workflow during a child’s sick day.

And that’s just the work environment. What about the environment at church? In her neighborhood? Is she receiving love and acceptance or is she being judged and shamed? The conversation should continue. I am convinced that there is a way to better the environment in which the unexpectedly pregnant woman suddenly finds herself.

Bottom line. There are reasons women get abortions. Right or wrong, that is the reality. If pro-lifers are serious about saving lives, they need to be serious about changing the environment that those lives are born into. Women need solutions, not shame.

put me in coach

I have hoped for a real life mentor for years. Finding a seasoned pastor willing to mentor a woman in the art of pastoring is like finding fireflies in Bellingham, Washington. Impossible. Non-existent. Or so it seems. Most pastors are men and most men don’t want to mentor a woman. 

So when the voice on the phone began talking about setting me up with a coach, I thought this would be an answer to prayer! In my mind I was thinking of an older senior pastor, maybe retired at this point, mentoring me in how to better live out my calling. Coaching and mentoring were pretty much the same thing, right?

WRONG

I would soon discover that mentoring and coaching were two very different things. And that my coach, despite my earlier preconceptions is not a pastor that functions in the same way I do. While she and her husband do pastor a church in Montana, she herself does not hold the responsibility of preaching weekly in the Sunday service. She is not the sole person setting the vision and direction for the church, etc. She is also fairly close to the same age and so does not have much additional life experience. How, I wondered is this person going to be able to guide me into being a better pastor?

It turns out , that is not the intended role of a coach. While mentors are typically people who have more life experience and skill in a field and offer the wisdom and advice of their years to those younger and newer to the work, a coach is not there to advise at all. Rather, a coach, I would learn is there to listen and ask questions.

To what did I just agree? Was this some secret plot to get me into counseling without telling me up front? What on earth would I talk about for hours a month to this total stranger? All of my skepticism was on full alert.

Here’s what I’ve found. This coaching thing has the potential to be immensely helpful. Over the last few weeks, my coach has asked me to clarify my goals and make a plan towards accomplishing those goals. She doesn’t give me the plan, but rather forces me to make one. She asks me to identify road blocks and come up with a way around them. She holds me accountable to actually carrying out the action steps I commit to during our sessions.

Coaching has the effect of taking the nebulous thoughts of “one of these days I’m going to __________ (fill in the blank)” and transforming them to “tomorrow I will start the work of __________.” Coaching is a tool to move one from daydreaming (something I could teach a college course in) to accomplishing lifelong dreams. 

This blog post is a product, albeit a small one, of coaching. One of those afore mentioned daydreams in my life has been to write a book. Thanks to Coach Colleen, I have begun. Today, I am announcing to the world, “I am a writer.” Okay, maybe not the world, it’s really a small handful of people who read my blog. But I’m putting it out there. My coach says that is a brave thing to do. 

she said i love you

Two days ago my family did what most American families do on July 4th; we celebrated Independence Day. As I put on my red lipstick, I thought of how just a year ago, I would have done that with my daughter. Kelley’s love of holidays matched my own. (Her love of make-up greatly exceeded mine.) She would have approved my patriotic cosmetic efforts. Any chance to celebrate was always grabbed hold of with both hands. If one can dress up for the occasion – excellent!

Even without my partner in beauty products, I enjoyed celebrating with my family and friends. I find myself in a strange new reality. I cry so often I have pretty much given up wearing eye make-up. Yet I can still laugh, play games, enjoy good food and great company. I can carry on a conversation with a friend uninterrupted even while tears roll unapologetically down by face. This duality of living a life of both grief and joy is perplexing to me. It’s not what I would have imagined.

It takes no imagination however, to predict that my pain would open doors to ministry opportunities. I know God never wastes the difficult experiences in our lives, but uses them to further the spread of his love, his kingdom.

“We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28

I don’t ever seek to use my experience. I still find myself resentful of anything that smells of consolation. In my mind and heart, nothing can ever be worth the loss of my precious daughter. But opportunities do come unbidden onto my path whether or not I seek them. One such opportunity took place at a conference in May.

I was searching for nothing more than a seat when I found a woman who looked up at me from her phone. Despite not knowing me she shook her head, sighed heavily and proceeded to tell me in an exasperated tone that she had just about had it with one of the women in her church to whom she had been ministering. It seems this tiresome woman had lost her son and just couldn’t “get over it.” When she revealed that this had happened almost two months ago I repressed the visualized urge I had to do a fancy karate spin ending with my swift foot to her teeth and said a mental prayer for wisdom instead. I was able to share how I had lost my only daughter in August and assured her that at two months, this woman had not even begun to grieve. I talked to her at length and encouraged her to be compassionate. I shared what little wisdom I had through my recent experiences and she left with a changed heart.

And now one more heart has melted, just a bit.

Our church rents space from another business. One of the women who works for that company is kind-hearted and thoughtful. However, during one of our earliest conversations, in an attempt to preempt any spiritual talk, she told me flat out, in no uncertain terms that she did not and could not believe in God. Yesterday as I was praying, for some unknown reason she approached and asked me about my children. Normally, I talk about my three boys and do not mention Kelley to those I don’t know well. After telling her about my sons, I felt a nudge in my soul to talk of Kelley. As I talked smoothly and calmly, seemingly disconnected from the tears that started to flow, she was moved emotionally. She shared that she too had lost a child. Her only son had been killed at the age of seventeen. We talked for only a short time. In that time, we connected. As she walked away after a brief hug, this woman that I had only just begun to get to know said, “I love you.”

While nothing is worth the loss of my Kelley, I thank God for his mercies in allowing me to use my grief to reach others, to connect on a deeper level and impart some level of blessing.

May you too find hidden fruit blooming from the soil of your sorrow my friends. Until next time, be blessed and be a blessing.

happy birthday Kelley

Today would have been Kelley’s sixteenth birthday. Naturally, this is a day of deep reflection for me. I decided that I might as well share some of my thoughts with you, my online friends.

As I sit here at my desk, I have had the pleasure of watching multiple Western Tiger Swallowtail butterflies flitting around just outside my window. (Yes, I had to look up the official identification so I could impress you all with my knowledge of insects.) There are many more than I am used to seeing. I’ve decided to take this as a special gift from God today. He is so kind and generous to me. Butterflies reveal life transformed. This is how I think of Kelley. She is alive in a way I have yet to see, beyond my imagination. She now exceeds any man-made beauty or cleaver costumes one could design.

These thoughts bring me hope and even a small smile to my lips. Yet I still grieve. I mourn the loss of this day as it should have been. We had talked of an elaborate sweet sixteen party with a white tent in the back yard, Eiffel tower vases with white ostrich feathers on the tables, music and friends. I love all the friends Kelley and I made together through the years and I am truly happy when they have opportunity to celebrate life and its milestones. However, it is still painful to see all the birthday parties and proms and graduations posted on social media. I mourn the lost times that never were.

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Kelley’s 15th Birthday

I know there is no earthly celebration that compares with her joy in Heaven. There is no dance performance that matches the exhilaration of dancing before the throne of God. But there is one thing lacking in these experiences, the ability for me to share it with her. The lack is felt only by me as there are no tears in Heaven. I have not been able, no matter my efforts, to put aside my selfish desire to be with her. I miss her smile and her laugh. I miss getting up early and driving her to school for jazz band. I miss singing in the car to the radio. I miss making up dance moves to songs while playing board games and I miss twirling around the dance floor at weddings or wherever the opportunity arose. I eagerly anticipate the day when we will dance together again in Heaven. Until then, Happy Birthday Princess.

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Our Last Dance

spiritual nutrients

I have not written in some time. Truth be told, since I last wrote I have not done most of the things I had planned to do to maintain a healthy lifestyle. I have not been well. Despite my best efforts to face my grief in a “healthy” way, it seems there is no scheduling the grieving process. Grief refuses to be confined to time slots on my calendar. It will not be crafted or controlled. It seizes me at the most inopportune times. I cannot get around it or short cut it. Oh I can tuck it away at times. Other times it proves too strong an adversary. Perhaps “adversary” is the wrong description.

Logically, I know that grief is a necessary companion to me right now. I know this process is both normal and healthy. I have been told that the grieving process should take a “normal” person six to eighteen months and that the death of a child is not something anyone ever truly, completely “gets over”. This knowledge helps a little in making me feel slightly less frustrated with myself and my lack of progress. I am re-examining my approach to the “life-giving activities” I talked about in my first blog.

Those planned parts of my days are good. My legalistic approach is not. Keeping track of success and staying accountable is useful, but judging myself for failure is harmful. When wise plans and principles are used to guide my path, it keeps me on course, keeps me moving forward. When those same principles become law, it restricts my freedom, suffocating my ability to be creative, to be led by the Holy Spirit. It crowds out spontaneous encounters with God meant to bring back both rest and joy to my life.

So what does that mean for all my carefully laid plans? It means I hold them loosely. I will continue to pursue them when I am able, and will let them go when I am not. I will press in to the Holy Spirit, asking him to guide my day. This leads me to the one area of health I haven’t yet written about, spiritual health.

In order to cultivate a healthy spiritual life, I need only to nurture a deep and meaningful relationship to God. I am so grateful that Jesus made possible reconciliation between me (a deeply flawed and sinful being) and my beloved Father in Heaven. I am so grateful that he is even now interceding on my behalf, working for my good. I would be lost without his presence here with me, lost without the Holy Spirit that he gives to all who call him Lord and who accept his forgiveness. But that is what He has done. How do I contribute to the development of this relationship?

I grow my relationship with God in the same way any relationship is developed, through talking. In other words, I pray. I could write a million blog posts and still no human being will ever fully understand me. But my God knows me.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me.

You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. (Psalm 139)

There is something about being truly known that makes this relationship so special, so intimate, so edifying. Talking to God and listening for his quite voice with the ears of my heart is life for me. Feeling His presence and solicitous touch comforts me and quiets my spirit. And when I feel too wrapped up in myself and my pain to hear him, I enter into worship. It is difficult at first as Self attempts to monopolize my attention. Eventually though, worshipful song lifted as a sacrifice to Yahweh opens the door of my consciousness to allow a two-way flow between me and the God I love and by whom I am loved. Worship and Prayer together are the nutrients that feed my spirit and bring back health and vitality.

While I do schedule time for this on my calendar, it is often most rewarding when it is interwoven in the fabric of the ordinary activities of daily life. It pairs well with physical exercise as well as mundane errands. It is threaded into times of journaling and Bible study. I invite his conversation to my writing times and praise him for his contributions to the words. My spirit needs these interactions as my lungs need air.

So I will continue to pray and offer up worship as an element of “life-giving activity”. I will continue to pursue the other activities I have previously described. I will continue to use my calendar and daily schedule to direct my path for the days ahead. But I will do so in a mindful state of grace and pliability, ready for the Holy Spirit to mold and shape my days and my development as He sees fit. I invite you to join me. Let’s be healthy together!

one foot in front of the other

“We can be certain that God will give us the strength and resources we need to live through any situation in life that he ordains. The will of God will never take us where the grace of God cannot sustain us.” – Billy Graham

I thank God for his grace. I need it. I am lost without it. These last weeks I have felt that every step I take forward is followed by two I take back. I am encouraged that “His mercies are new every morning”!

The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; 

his mercies never come to an end;

they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.

Lamentations 3:22-23 (ESV)

I am struggling to accomplish the goals I’ve laid out for myself. (I give myself 2.5 out of 5 stars) However, I’m trying to embrace my own advice and press forward rather than look back, no catching up, just living in the moment as best I can.

When starting this blog I told you I had a plan for healing and improving my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. I figured if we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind’ (Luke 10:27 NIV) I want those aspects of myself to be worthy of the task.

I am seeing lately how integrated all four categories of health are. As depression creeps in, the motivation for physical wellness activity wanes. When I am weak physically, I don’t have the energy to face the mental activities. When that happens, my overly emotional state overpowers the spiritual connection to a good and loving heavenly Father. He is still there. I feel his presence but cannot hear his voice. Breaking the cycle is hard. Taking thoughts captive is challenging. Even prayer can be a struggle, like walking up a river against the current. It seems strange the portion of health I least value, physical health, is the easiest way for me to take hold of the downward spiral and funnel my life back into a more productive and pleasant place. Something about putting one foot in front of the other on the treadmill helps bring order to my thoughts, stability to my emotions and breath to my spirit. The rhythms of life restore themselves when I take back what I can most easily see and direct, my physical health.

I’ve written already about my plan for physical health. I told you also about how writing this blog and working on my book helps exercise my mental health. This week I want to share how another kind of writing helps me maintain my emotional health. While mental clarity comes from a more ordered and formal approach to writing, my emotional needs are better served by an unencumbered pouring forth of thoughts in a journal. I take the thoughts swirling in the chaos of a mind lost in the storm and allow them to gush onto the pages of my journal. Here, no thought is off limits. Why does this help? I’m not sure but perhaps I can illustrate with an analogy.

Do you know the annoyance of having a song stuck in your head? I do. Oftentimes I don’t know all the words or the entire melody, which only makes it worse. It’s like having an obnoxious vine video on loop in my brain. Sometimes it helps to just listen to the whole song. When the song is brought out of my mind and into the airwaves I can listen and move on because the song has been externalized. Journaling is like that. It takes internal thoughts and emotions and externalizes them on the paper. Oftentimes the act of writing reveals thoughts that I didn’t even know were there so lost were they in the chaos. Once written, I can then move on without dwelling on them. The looping track that monopolized my brain is silenced.

But journaling, for me, isn’t done in isolation. I am not alone in this expulsion of internal thoughts. I journal in the presence of the Holy Spirit. He alone has my permission to take in every word and even to guide my words into snippets of revelation. Viewing my thoughts without the lens of God’s truth is not a picture I want to see. His truth is critical to my emotional wellbeing. Because of this, journaling my thoughts is only part of my emotional health exercise. I also journal through the Bible. As I read his words to me, I write down my reflections. This personalizes His truth and gives me the perspective on life that stabilizes my emotions. My thoughts reconciling themselves to God’s Word on the pages of my journal keep me strong, grounded.

As I’ve walked through the grief of losing my baby girl at the tender age of 15, caring friends have given me several books to read. I am so blessed by this. However, none of them have helped me the way Bible study has. I have hungrily devoured God’s word in this season with a level of passion previously unknown to me. John 6:68 voices my sentiments exactly. Where else can I go? Only Jesus has the words of life.

So then this week, I will put one foot in front of the other. I will submit my thoughts to the Lord in journaling. And I will drink in the words of life through Bible study. Will you join me?

bringing order to my thoughts

Good afternoon my friends. As I write to you today I am enjoying a quiet, sacred time my church offers called “Sanctuary”. I love this time when all is still in the house of God. It is a time to reflect on my life in the presence of my Savior. This blog is largely just that, a reflection on my life.

I told you in my last blog that I have spent time recently rearranging my schedule. While evaluating the rhythms of my life, I noticed that I had developed habits over the past months of distracting myself with shallow, interruptible tasks. I was able to keep going on the busy work of church and home. I could handle bookkeeping, web updating, event planning, shuttling people around, cleaning, shopping, cooking, etc. But in the quite times when I would try to study or write I found my thoughts scattered and oftentimes dark. Some of the “busy work” I engaged in was important while some things were just time fillers.

When Kelley died, those things that kept me busy also kept me sane. It kept me distracted enough to limit my grieving to shorter, more manageable spans of time. The shallow work kept me from drowning in an ocean of grief I was not yet strong enough to swim. While this season was important to my mental survival, it is now time to leave the shallows and dive into the deep. So I have made some changes in my schedule. This was done in order to better accommodate larger blocks of time for reflection, study and writing.

Here’s me trying to organize the “blocks” of my life.

 

Previously, I had split up my tasks in such a way that I worked a little bit, every day on each of the things I had determined were necessary both for work and my overall physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health. But chopping all of these tasks up and sprinkling them daily throughout my week made it difficult for me to dive deeply into the more cerebral endeavors. While I was beginning to see this on my own, my thoughts were helped by a book I’ve recently read. (Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World by Calvin Newport.) In order to fully engage in “deeper work” I needed time to immerse myself in the activity. One-hour blocks of time are not conducive to this. So I rearranged tasks to make those deeper activity panels a bit bigger for larger blocks of uninterrupted time.

This uninterrupted, deep work is necessary for my mind to explore, process, engage with and articulate new thoughts. Some of these thoughts are encountered outside of myself as I read articles and books, listen to a podcast or study the scriptures. Some thoughts originate within my own mind as I think, meditate and pray. Most thoughts are overlays of my imagination and evaluation on top of my research.

Articulating these thoughts in writing not only helps me sort through what I believe to be true; it exercises my mind and brings health. This blog is one of my outlets for articulation. I am truly grateful to all of you who read it. However, even without an audience, I would write. Writing is crucial for me to maintain a healthy mind; a workout for my brain. It is the exercise in which I bring order to my thoughts. In addition to blogging, I have also started to write a book. The project is still taking shape but I believe I know how it will unfold.

As a way to enhance my emotional health, I also write in journals. One journal is set aside for processing my grief and loss. One journal is for processing daily Bible readings. I’ll write more on journaling later.

I am hopeful in my newly formed plan. I enjoy the extended times to write, to stretch and exercise my mind. And so far, I am off to a good, though not perfect, start. I give myself 4 out of 5 stars this week.

4 stars

Tune in next week to see if I can keep it up. After all, this is all just an experiment being refined by trial and error. Peace be with you all.

bending, not breaking

Hello again my friends. I am mortified to see it’s been an entire month since my last post. This was not the plan. I was hoping to post weekly. But then, sometimes I fail. I am coming to terms with this and will cease to worry about it now that it has been acknowledged. I am learning to give myself grace in this season as so many of my dear friends have been reminding me to do.

I’m not going to “rate myself” this week, as I’m sure I wouldn’t even earn 1 out of 5 stars. I will however pick up on last blog’s theme of the tension between a firm schedule and the need for flexibility. Even the strongest and tallest of structures must incorporate some flexibility or they risk crumbling when the earth decides to shake. I’ve been working these past weeks on modifying my schedule in order to make it more stable in the storm. And believe me; the waves have been rising and the boat has been rocking of late!

A friend recently compared grief to waves on the ocean. I think that’s a fair description. Always some churning under the surface but interspersed with moments of calm and stormy swells. The last few weeks I’ve had quite a few tidal waves. This makes it difficult to keep life on track. That is where the blessing of the flexible schedule comes in.

I told you last post that I see my ‘to do’ items as residing within a time block that hangs like a panel from a frame. This visual serves me well. If I spend an hour crying in the corner instead of accomplishing the scheduled task, I simply remove that panel from the frame of my schedule. If it’s a panel containing a daily activity like exercise or personal study, I discard it entirely. I will pick back up on it when the item is repeated the next day. No “catching up”. Playing catch up is a schedule destroyer. If it is a critical work task, then I may take that panel and move it to a new section of the framework. Here’s were the built in flexibility I was talking about comes into play.

Any schedule with any hope of maintaining its framework must have MARGIN built in to it.

Think of the margin in a book. Imagine taking that out. With text running continually from top to bottom, side to side with no white space. Our eyes would be tired and our brains overwhelmed. We need margins in our books. And we need margin in our lives too. Without it, we will not only be exhausted, but one line of life would spill into the next and any unforeseen addition to the story would cause a terrible, illegible, overlapping jumble. The whole framework of schedule comes crashing down without margin.

Margin means padding the schedule. If something usually takes an hour and a half, schedule it for two hours. That means if an unexpected need comes up, you have wiggle room. Margin means having an occasional blank hour on the schedule, maybe not daily but certainly within the week. As a pastor, if I don’t have margin and a congregant requires my attention, I run the risk of looking at people as interruptions rather than seeing them as they are, my main reason for ministering.

Margin solves most small hiccups in the plan. But sometimes the interruption in schedule exceeds the margin. Then I have to do the hard work of prioritizing. The critical time block item must go somewhere, so I may have to discard a less crucial panel. This requires grace for oneself. Those of us juggling too many pins at once will have to occasionally let one drop. An occasional drop happens to us all. We must acknowledge our humanity and imperfection and move on. If we find ourselves dropping pins frequently, its time to remove some roles from our repertoire.

There was a time in my young adult work life that I was expressing my difficulty covering all my bases of responsibility. An older, wiser man asked why I didn’t just quit one of those tasks. I looked at him with what must have been a comically puzzled and shocked face. Surely he knew how much I was needed in my role. Reading my mind, he plainly said, “Nobody is irreplaceable.” Ouch! It stung at first. But it was true. Not only that but it was freeing! Doing too many things is nothing more than an exercise in our own pride.

That brings me to my next point. Why do so many of us think the world will stop spinning if we take a day off? I’m talking about SABBATH.

If margin helps us maintain flexibility in the schedule framework, then Sabbath helps us maintain the vigor with which we engage it.

Simply put, we must rest if we are to have the energy to keep going for the long haul. Sabbath allows us the opportunity to recharge and gives time for needed reflection. It puts life and our place in it into perspective, reminding us that we do not hold our world together. That’s God’s job. Let’s exercise our faith by allowing him to do what only he can. Again, it is prideful to think that we cannot take a day to rest.

Margin and Sabbath have become critical to my survival. Occasionally though, I need something more. There comes a time when I need a SABBATICAL. Strictly speaking, a sabbatical happens every seventh year for a year. Modern use is more flexible in application. It simply means an extended break from one’s career. I am applying the term even more loosely.

I use the word sabbatical to describe a season where I hit the pause button on a certain course of action in order to contemplate how to best proceed in the future.

For example, taking a month off of blogging allowed me the time to determine how it would fit into my already full schedule. Originally I had scheduled blogging on my Sabbath day, reasoning that it was a quick and easy task and wouldn’t really interrupt my day of rest much. During my blogging sabbatical I realized that though I try to keep my posts on the short side, it really took me much longer than expected. Because writing is a type of self-healing for me, I spend a good deal of time in thought on what I write. Do I believe it? Do I live it? Why do I think this is important?

During a sabbatical, I answer the following questions. Is this is a task I should even continue? Should it continue in the same form or does it need material changes? When is the best time to accomplish this task? If I am adding a task to my to do list, is there some other task I need to remove in order to make room? Not every good idea is one we need to personally take responsibility for doing. But we often miss seeing that until we hit the pause button, back up and look at the whole picture. Sabbatical allows us the opportunity to do that.

So there you have it. Guard the schedule, but allow it to flex and bend to prevent a total break. Margin, Sabbath and Sabbatical are my tools to build in flexibility and continued maintenance of the ever-important schedule. Next blog I’ll share more on some of the changes I’ve made and why. Until then I pray for rest and peace to you all in the midst of your busy lives.