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PRIORITIES, PROJECTS, PEOPLE AND PERSPECTIVE

My life this year has consisted of moving from one big project to another. It has been crazy as sometimes I tried to juggle two or three projects at once, and always, as soon as I finished one, I would move on to the next.
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I’ve written six books this year so far. I helped out with the family reunion and my mother’s and aunt’s 80th birthday party. I started a new hobby of making jewelry and have made quite a number of pieces as gifts and for myself. I took on a two-month study of the book of Revelations and read the Bible in 90 days. I did many projects for our pastor and the church, including doing the pastor’s weekly Powerpoint outline of his message, as well as four other major Powerpoint presentations. I put together two booklets for special occasions for our church’s 50th anniversary (a prayer guide and a pictorial history of our church), ordered and organized 5000 prizes for the church’s Springapalooza, headed up the missions booth for our ministries fair and wrote/and or designed several other smaller projects for the church. I wrote a weekly devotion for my blog. I sent three suitcases off to the Naranjos with various travelers, and if you don’t think sending a suitcase to Ecuador is a project, think again!
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In the last week or two alone, I have shopped for and packed one of those suitcases with Christmas gifts, things for the new baby and a variety of other things the Naranjos needed. I have also made some of those gifts and finished writing one of the books. Our pastor is the one taking the suitcase to them as he stops in Ecuador to visit them on his way to Bolivia. He is speaking ten times at a pastor’s conference in Bolivia and asked me to research and write bullet points for six topics in his syllabus, design the cover and also to do Powerpoints for his messages down there. I also put together two Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes this week. At this moment, I am printing, laminating and binding 34 of my books—a huge task in and of itself. I am speaking to a creative writing class on Monday and discovered of the 42 books I have written, I only had 8 left on my bookshelf.
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I have several more projects standing in line that must be finished before the end of the year. Two more books to finish. A baby sweater, bonnet and blanket to crochet. The narrative for our church’s Easter cantata to be written. And of course, all the preparations for Christmas.
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Trust me—I am not telling you all these things to toot my own horn. There are pros and cons to all this. Yes, it is nice to look back and see all the things that have been accomplished this year. I may have done a lot of sitting on my backside, but I certainly have not been lazy! I love it that, although I cannot get to church much because of caring for Robbie, I can still have a ministry in my church and in missions. I cherish the ministry I have to our precious Robbie, but I also love it that, after eight years of quietly sitting at home with him, in the last two years my outreach has once more extended beyond the walls of my home. I find happiness and satisfaction in having an outlet for my creativity.
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The cons? Time spent on all these projects robs me of time for relationships with the people who are important in my life. Bob and I still spend a lot of time just talking or being together when he is home, but I am sure he could use more of my undivided attention. He’s been very patient, and helpful, but I know it would please him if I would make a little more time to get some other things done, too, like housework and laundry! It is hard to prioritize things like vacuuming or scrubbing toilets when so many of my “projects” seem to be so much more worthy in terms of ministry or eternal value. Pleasing my husband, however, ought to have highest priority since that is the role to which God has called me. Scrubbing the floor is pretty low on my totem pole, but if it makes my husband happy…
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Time sitting under the computer takes away time I could be playing with Robbie when he is awake, or time spent with my mother when I am able to get out of the house. People ought to take the priority over projects. Someday, will I look back with regret for all the time I spent on my computer or working on other projects rather than being in the moment with my loved ones? The time we spend with the people we love is ministry, too, and has great eternal value. Love is an action word. Time spent encouraging, helping, acting out love and kindness is never wasted.
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I know I’m not alone in this. You’ve been there, too, haven’t you? Whether it is projects like mine that keep us too busy, or a job that has precedence, or some activity that’s become an obsession, we need to be mindful of our true priorities. Most of us know the pressure and guilt of feeling as if there is just not enough time to do everything we need to do and that we are neglecting relationships because of it. Something has to give. But what?
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I guess it’s a matter of balance. I know I tend to get obsessive about the projects I do. I am an overachiever, I suppose, living by the motto “If anything’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well” and by the verse, “…whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God.” (I Corinthians 10:31) Bob says I have tunnel vision when it comes to my work. Somehow I have to learn to balance the projects I am involved in with the rest of my responsibilities and with my relationships.
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It’s also a matter of perspective. If I could look at vacuuming and dusting as ministry to my husband, perhaps I’d be more eager to do them! If I bear in mind that every minute I spend with my mom or playing with Robbie is ministering to them, then my other areas of ministry will pale by comparison.
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I think of the story of Mary and Martha. Luke 10:38-42 tells us a little something about them. “Now it came to pass, as they went, that he entered into a certain village: and a certain woman named Martha received him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, which also sat at Jesus’ feet, and heard his word. But Martha was cumbered about much serving, and came to him, and said, Lord, dost thou not care that my sister hath left me to serve alone? bid her therefore that she help me. And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”
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I’ve always had a bit of a problem with this story. We women all know that someone had to feed all those men! Martha invited them into her home and she felt responsible to serve them. We understand that, don’t we? I’m sure she wanted to do her best for Jesus. She probably thought of it as her ministry to Him. I can see myself in that, can’t you? I know Jesus was grateful for her efforts, but He had a gentle reminder for her. Two reminders, actually:
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The first was that our ministry must be done with the right heart attitude. If we are grumbling and complaining, stressing and fretting over it, we may as well not do it all. Serving Jesus should be done out of hearts of love, joy, gratefulness and generosity. The second thing he wanted Martha to see is that the spiritual and emotional relationship is more important to Him than the physical busyness, even if she was “ministering” to Him.
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I need to find that balance and perspective in my life, and get back to putting people before projects. It means I am going to have to cut back on some things; maybe even give up some things altogether. I may even have to learn to say “no” now and then! That’s so difficult for me because I love everything I’m doing. I need to balance my time better. Most of all, though, I need to prioritize what is truly important in my life and put them—the people I love—back at the top of the list. My mother is a good example to me of this. People are her projects! Her time and efforts and money are spent on doing for others.
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I John 3:18 says, “My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth.” Bob knows I love him. Robbie knows I love him. My mother knows I love her. I tell them all the time. But love is an action word. It’s time I set aside some of these other things and show them a little bit better.
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ONE BEAD, ONE DAY AT A TIME

I’ve taken up a new hobby. When I will find the time to work on it, I don’t know, but I was inspired recently to try to learn how to make jewelry. Perhaps it was when I went to a jewelry party at my sister’s a couple months ago. I loved the pieces that were made of natural stone – so smooth and shiny and colorful. They were far too expensive for me, though. Or maybe my inspiration came from the “hippie market” in Cuenca, Ecuador when I was down there several months ago. There are no hippies there. I don’t know how it got its name, but Indians sit there and make jewelry all day and sell it from their booths in an open market. That jewelry was very inexpensive. I especially loved the pieces made from shells and again the natural stones, while my daughter Laurie preferred the pieces made from coffee beans, seeds and the like because of their uniqueness.

Anyway, I took it into my head that I wanted to try to make some jewelry, so finally when we went down to Julie’s in July we went to Hobby Lobby and I stood for an hour in the bead aisles trying to figure out which tools I needed and which beads I wanted to start with and what exactly I was going to try to make. I didn’t have a clue. Another lady approached me and just as I was about to ask her for some advice, she asked me for help! She didn’t have a clue, either! I didn’t want to spend very much until I knew what I was doing, and if I would stick with it, so when I found some pretty beads on clearance, a few tools at half-price, and some free leaflets with instructions and ideas, I finally made up my mind, made my purchases and took it all back to Julie’s.

That first night I made a bracelet in five minutes. I felt like a kindergartner stringing the simple beads on a piece of elasticized plastic cord. I even had to have Bob tie the knot for me. Then he got inspired and made a matching bracelet for little Hannah with the leftover beads. We proudly went off to church that night wearing our matching bracelets.

I didn’t have another opportunity then to try my hand again with it until yesterday. When we got back from Julie’s I had a lot of catching up to do, a lot of writing, and a big project for our church’s fiftieth anniversary to work on. Finally, last night when the project was finished, I’d been sitting under my computer for weeks and I just needed to do something that didn’t take a lot of concentration (other than housework!) I decided to get out my beads and tiny pliers and wire cutters and cord and try again.

This time I got more creative and took a little more time stringing the beads in pretty patterns. The first one I made was of natural turquoise stones, some flat and round, and some in irregular shapes, with tiny clear glass bead accents. It turned out beautiful and I was so thrilled! It was exactly the kind of thing I was hoping to make. The next three were pretty, too, and were designed to be worn separately or together as they were made in a variety of patterns but with some of the same beads and in the same general color scheme. Bob tied the knots the first couple times for me, but finally I learned to do that for myself, too, so I think I progressed from kindergarten to perhaps third grade in just one night! Whoo-hoo!

I am planning to move on to making earrings and necklaces and even watches, but just making simple little bracelets on stretchy cord brought me a lot of pleasure last night. There is something about designing a pattern with all those shiny and colorful beads and stones and then carrying it through one by one until the project is complete that is very relaxing, and then when you have something of beauty in the end—well, it satisfied my creative soul.

I discovered as I was working, though, that sometimes it was a little trickier than it first appeared. There were times when I made a mistake and had to take the beads off the cord until I came to the mistake and could fix it. Other times I had to basically start over in order to change the pattern a bit to adjust for size. Once, I was totally finished and had even tied the knot, and then decided I wasn’t satisfied with some of the stones I’d used. I cut the cord and started over again with different stones. In the end, I was so glad I did!

I thought about that later and thought how like our days that sometimes is! We wake up in the morning with a plan all set as to how that day is going to go. We have a schedule to keep, our daily routine, some special event to attend or we plan to work on some special project. Our pattern is set in our minds. Bead…bead…bead…special bead…bead…bead…bead… And then something happens. Something unexpected. Someone with a need. A mini-crisis. An argument with your husband. You’re running late. All of a sudden that pretty plan you had in mind is out the window.

Julie had a week like that this week. She had planned to start homeschool—a little early, but she wanted to get a head start since she knew down the road there would be some times when they would want to take off, like when David comes home from Iraq and when they come up here for a visit. Every day, though, something came up that prevented her from moving ahead with her plans. Each time they were opportunities to minister to someone.

“Please, could you watch our children for a few hours so my husband and I can go out on a date? We need it so badly and we can’t afford a babysitter.” This from the mom of the worse little terrors in the church.

“Please,
could you watch our son every day this week? He’s having problems with bullies at his daycare and there’s only one week left before school starts and he doesn’t want to go back.” Turns out he was the bully!

“Could I come over today with my children?” from a young unsaved mom on one of the worse days with the young bully she was watching.

“My little girl is home from the hospital now, so you can come over with that balloon you mentioned. Oh, and why don’t you bring dinner with you, too, and we’ll eat together?” from another unsaved mom. Big surprise to Julie about making dinner for everyone – again on a day with the little bully.

Every day was a challenge, and she never could get to even the preparation for the start of homeschool, but the Lord had a plan for her week and in the end she was so glad she was open to that plan.

The little terrors from church were sweet and good for Julie and they had a good time with them. And Julie was able to do something nice for a mom who was often a little difficult to be around.

The little bully? On the last day he came through the door with a heartfelt apology to Julie and to Joshua, whom he had picked on all week, and he did his best all day to be on his best behavior. As he was leaving that evening, he said to Joshua, “Sorry again I was a butthead to you, Joshua.” The best thing, though, was that despite the problems they were having, Julie was able to show him and his parents, who were new Christians, genuine love and forgiveness and patience.

Julie had only met the young unsaved mother a couple weeks before at swimming lessons, but she had been praying for her and asking the Lord for some way to witness to her even after swimming lessons had ended. To her amazement, the first words out of the girl’s mouth when she came over were, “I was wondering if you could tell me how I could know for sure if I was going to heaven?” Praise the Lord! Julie was all prepared, too, to talk with her and to give her a tract about salvation and a list of verses she had written out for another lady she was witnessing to. The young mother has not made a decision yet, as far as we know, but she keeps calling Julie every day wanting to talk.

The other lady Julie had written the verses for was the lady who had called her and asked her to bring dinner over. She lives just two minutes away, and amazingly, her husband’s room in Iraq is right next door to David’s! Julie had only gotten to know her recently and had had one or two opportunities to witness to her. It was inconvenient that day to make dinner and take it over, but the door is wide open to the hearts of that mom and her kids as the friendship has been strengthened and Julie has ministered to them.

By Saturday, though, Julie and the kids were frazzled and she pleaded with the Lord, “Please, could we have a little rest today?” She told me later, though, that as the day went on the Lord began to convict her until she went back and said, “Okay, Lord, however you want my days to be, let me always set aside my own plans and be open to what You have planned.”

The Lord has our days numbered and our steps ordered. Psalm 37:18, 23 says, ”The LORD knoweth the days of the upright… The steps of a good man are ordered by the LORD: and he delighteth in his way.” He will lead us step by step, day by day in the way He wants us to go when we are open to his leading and obedient in following. Psalm 25:4 says, “Shew me thy ways, O LORD; teach me thy paths.” When we are obedient in following the path He has for us Psalm 16:11 says, “Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures forevermore.”

I would much rather have the Lord set the pattern for my life than try to do it myself. I make mistakes. I don’t always get it right. The things I would choose are not always the best or the brightest or the prettiest. I can only make those bracelets or necklaces one bead at a time. So God patterns my life one day at a time. And when He orders my steps and sets the days of my life according to His plan, it turns into a pattern of beauty and glory to Him. Obedience… ministry… faithfulness… blessing… patience… love… kindness… joy… praise… worship… prayer… peace…