I Get To

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Welcome to the holiday blitz. Are you ready? I’m not asking if your tree is already up and your shopping started and your cookies baked… I’m wondering if you are ready inside. I am, by the grace of God, more ready than I’ve ever been, because this year I’ve looked at Christmas, Easter, and every other big moment in life and realized they aren’t as important to me as the little moments in life. I’ve asked myself a dozen times what is important to me. Trees and shopping and cookies are nice, but they don’t really make the cut. Family, friends, worship, rest, health, noticing life—those things make the cut.

Last year, we didn’t put up a tree. Christmas happened anyway. This year, I only put up half of our decorations. The other half can have its turn next year. I will shop, but I’ll remember that, during my last visit with 6 month old Nick, his favorite toys were an empty shampoo bottle and a red Solo cup. ‘Sorta wish I’d learned all these lessons when my children were small.

There will be moments in this holiday season, and in all the seasons thereafter, when life outpaces me, when it will seem that the demands to serve are greater than my time and energy allow. Then I will try to remember what my pastor taught me last week. “I get to” is an attitude that will trump “I have to” every time.

Do you have to do the dishes or run a bunch of errands? I have a wheelchair-bound friend who would love to get to do that.

Do you have to read a stack of papers or pay a stack of bills? My nearly sightless friend would gladly trade places with you for a day.

Do you have to rise in the wee hours, yet again, to care for a sleepless child? My sweet daughter-in-law calls her midnight vigils “bonus time” with her baby. She gets it. She gets to.

This year, I will think first before diving into what I once thought was required of me at Christmas.  If it isn’t important, I just might skip it. And when my list looks long anyway, I’ll remember that, regarding all that life requires of me both now and as the new year begins, I get to.

 

 

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Humbled by Hospitality

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Last week’s definition of hospitality looked like this:

  • The generous reception and entertainment of guests.
  • A relationship between a guest and host, in which the host received the guest with goodwill.
  • Showing respect for one’s guests, treating them as equals.

So here’s this week’s question: How much does that definition relate to elaborate food, a perfectly clean home, and ready-to-converse information on the hottest news events? If you answered, “Very little,” then you and I are on the same page.

Steve and I spent many years opening our home to young people. They never cared if the carpet needed vacuuming. (In fact, it made more sense to vacuum after they left.) As for food, we called them the locusts (sorry, guys!), because any sort of leftover was fair game. No matter what we set out on our counters, they swept in and ate it all. And as to conversation, they didn’t care so much about what we said as they did about what we asked and how closely we listened when they answered. I thought the ease of entertaining them had to do with their youth. Now I’m not so sure. Perhaps adults would be just as pleased with an invitation to enjoy simple, relaxed hospitality as all those teenagers were.

Am I suggesting that we welcome guests into a dirty home and serve whatever falls out of our refrigerators when we open them? Not exactly, but how about this. Let’s help revive a culture of hospitality within our circle—and open that circle widely whenever possible.  Let’s stop allowing “I’m busy” to reduce our connections to a quick voicemail or two. What if we were all more willing to tidy up one room, ignore the dust bunnies, and welcome a friend, neighbor or lonely teen to come and play a game of cards? Or perhaps we could share a simple supper without chagrin. Nobody cares that much about what’s on the table when guests are received with respect and a desire for relationship.

This sort of hospitality requires a certain degree of humility, a willingness to let friends and neighbors peek around the corners of our busy lives into our imperfections. So what if they see a haphazard stack of bills, laundry, or dishes? So what if all we have to offer is a can of soup or some scrambled eggs? There is a time for well-planned parties, but we can practice hospitality even when time is short. Chances are that those we welcome into our own kitchens and living rooms aren’t leaving behind circumstances much different from our own.

A Is for Lighten Up

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I have “Type A” tendencies. I like to get up early, be on time, keep my house neat, cross things off my to do list as quickly as possible and… you get the picture. Sometimes that’s a good thing, sometimes not so much. Years ago, though, the Lord whispered a line of instruction into my heart, “Seek my perfection.” I understood that to mean “Hey, Brenda, make sure what you think is important lines up with what the Lord thinks is important.”

Lately, I have another phrase floating through my head. “Imperfection is a beautiful thing.” This thought may seem to contradict the first one. In reality, though, they both point to an important truth for those of us who sometimes get bogged down in getting things right: What God considers perfect and what I consider perfect are often two very different things.

In Matthew 5:48, Jesus tells his listeners (and therefore us as well) to be perfect, but he wasn’t talking about how quickly the dishes get done or the bills get paid. He was talking about sin, about how we can only be saved through him. Here’s an interesting article discussing that verse: http://beyeperfect.org/project/become-perfect/ . That kind of perfection isn’t what I’m writing about today, though. I’m concerned with the sort of perfection that can keep our minds and our schedules too tied up to enjoy a life of service and a peaceful heart.

  • Remember Jane Jetson, of the space age cartoon? She would only answer her photo phone after she had donned her “perfect face” mask and wig. Looking perfect takes a lot of time. I’m learning to be okay with a few “warts” showing.
  • Ever read Open Heart, Open Home by Karen Mains? She learned that not-so-perfect living rooms often make people feel more welcome than Southern Living style showcases. I’m learning to live with a few dust bunnies here and there.
  • And while I still think punctuality is the best plan as a general rule, sometimes life just gets in the way. When promptness becomes impossible, what good does it do to spend the next hour or so wallowing in self-incrimination (or, worse yet, in anger toward some other person who made you late)? Ten minutes of tardiness can become an hour of distraction in no time at all. Not good.

Do I think we should all become lazy, messy and late? No. But we do need to become transparent, vulnerable and willing to let go of our own priorities when they don’t match up with God’s order of the day. Sometimes his plan may call for

  • A late night phone call that puts me into a slow fog the next morning.
  • A short notice hospital visit that tanks the day’s schedule.
  • An unexpected visitor when the kitchen floor is sticky or I haven’t brushed my hair.
  • Checklist items that go permanently undone simply because there’s something more important to do.

And so, I begin this day hoping the Lord’s priorities will become my own and wondering, “What does ‘seeking his perfection’ look like in your life?”

Make It Easy on Yourself

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I bought a new Waterpik not long ago. It’s smaller than my last model, and a bit sleeker, so it has acquired a permanent spot next to my bathroom sink. (Hold on, there really is a point to this.) My dad and my dentist have extolled the benefits of water flossing for years, yet despite my best intentions and frequently renewed resolutions, I’ve been a forever failure at making that a daily habit. Until now.

  • My little machine is always in view. (A constant reminder!)
  • It’s ready for use without the added steps of fishing it out of a drawer and setting it up. (Easy access!)
  • I’m noticing the benefits of its use. (Positive Reinforcement!)

And so it occurred to me the other day that I should look for more ways to make it easy to do what I want or ought to do. Take spiritual disciplines, for example. How can I facilitate them, using constant reminders, easy access and positive reinforcement to deepen and increase my devotional life? Here are my initial thoughts:

  • Leave my Bible out, maybe even leave a couple of Bibles laying around in various rooms.
  • Download an audio bible for drive times, laundry folding and long walks. (I love listening to Dean Jones, a.k.a “The Herbie Guy” read the New Living Translation via YouVersion, available here: https://www.youversion.com/ . )
  • Keep great praise music handy on any and all electrical devices.
  • Post a memory verse on my mirror, my steering wheel, and my laptop. Clip a prayer list to my calendar, or stash one next to my running shoes to grab on my way out the door.
  • Keep a great sermon chosen, downloaded and ready to go.

Twice in the book of Deuteronomy (in chapter six and again in chapter eleven) the Lord instructs his people to keep his words in their minds and heart in this way:

Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Teach them to your children, talking about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates,”

While we may not choose to tie them to our hands or write them on our doorframes, we have all sorts of ways to make his Word accessible. Now that you’ve read my ideas, I hope you’ll share yours. How do you optimize your opportunities for spiritual growth?

 

 

When Did We Stop Stopping?

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Are you in a rush today? Most days? Do you, like me, sometimes get so bent on “finishing the list” that people stop looking like God’s children and morph into obstacles to your agenda?

Some time ago Steve and I toured a wonderful place called Camphill Village, a 615 acre community of 250 people, over 100 of whom are adults with developmental difficulties. As we walked the grounds, I was astounded by the friendly interest of nearly everyone we met. Over and over, people we had never seen before stopped what they were doing, looked us in the eye, and greeted us with sincere enthusiasm. They took the time to ask us questions with genuine interest. “Where are you from?” “Do you have children?” “What are their names?” “Oh, Elizabeth? How is Elizabeth doing?”

No conversation was very long. (It was a nippy morning, and everyone had somewhere to go.) Still, every encounter was heartwarming. I felt acknowledged, cared about. And how many minutes had their daily tasks been delayed? Not many, really. Not enough to matter.

How many times have I bought a dozen grocery items without speaking to the checker or looking the sacker in the eye? I’ve also rushed neighborly conversations at the mailbox or avoided bumping into a friend at the mall because a five-minute chat would put me behind. Behind what? Aren’t the people in our lives more important than anything else? Isn’t it into their lives that we are meant to pour ours?

Jesus asked us to be like little children, and little children rarely rush by others in hurried disregard. He also said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Perhaps loving begins with noticing.

So now I have an imaginary tattoo on my wrist, a transparent “C” to remind myself that I am a Christian and I have been to Camphill. It’s time to start stopping again.

Managing the Margin

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Do you wear yourself out trying to do too much, often feeling like you came up short by the end of the day? Now and then we all need to take stock of our time, taking inventory of what we really must do each day. What’s left is “the margin.” Once we understand what the margin is, we can do a better job of managing the odds and ends that are waiting to eat up our “free time.”

An hour is just 1/24th of your day, but what a huge chunk of your margin it may be! Taking good care of yourself takes time. So does pouring your life into those who need you. If you use the list below to take stock, you may find yourself better equipped to understand “where the time goes” and to make every hour count.

Start with 24 hours, then start subtracting   24
Sleep (Ideally 7-9 hours)                            (    ) hours
Dress, get ready, eat breakfast                  (    ) hours
Commute to work (there and back)            (    ) hours
Work (include lunch time)                           (    ) hours
Prepare and eat and clean up dinner         (    ) hours
Do housework, chores, paperwork             (    ) hours
Run errands, on average                            (    ) hours
Complete night time routine                        (    ) hours
Time Margin that,s left*                               *_______

(*Of course, reality would suggest subtracting another 60-90 minutes for the unexpected stuff of life that invariably happens.)

If you came up with a negative number, you’re doing too much. (No surprise there.) Something’s got to give, and it’s time for you to find that something and give it up.

  • Ask someone you trust to help you prayerfully decide where to cut down on your activities. Then ask that same friend to hold you accountable to your decision to return to a balanced life.
  • Begin to budget your time.
  • It might help to buy a monthly planning calendar to help you see the “big picture.”
  • Schedule in some “white space” every month for catching up or resting.
  • Take care not to add new commitments to an already full docket without eliminating something else.

If you came up with a positive number, good for you! Now you are equipped to properly evaluate the choices you make about the use of your time. Think about your time margin before you decide what to watch, what to do, what commitments to make.

There’s time to do all God wants you to do. But maybe it’s not all supposed to happen right now. Be patient. The One who made you can make your tasks and your time fit together perfectly.