It Doesn’t All Fit. . .Or Does It?

After experiencing his own disability, a friend commented, “Disability alone is a part-time job.”

          I’ve done time studies in the past, with little success. Because my word for 2021 is focus I knew this was something I needed to try again. To move from frenzy to focus, I had to gain control of my to do list and my schedule.

          I counted the hours I have available in a week, minus sleep. I wrote out the tasks and responsibilities I have each week, and an approximate but realistic amount of time each item requires. I tried to include everything, even the time I work puzzles on Sundays, or just relax watching a classic TV show.

               And do you know what I found?

               It wasn’t what I expected.

               I have 3.75 untapped hours every week! Granted, that’s only two percent of the hours in a week. Yet, the point hit home. In most weeks, I have the time I need, and even a bit of margin.

               This revelation caused me to ponder why I feel like I can’t get it all done? Is it poor time management on my part? Surely this accounts for some. The actual thief of my time, I am convinced, is whining, and complaining, both to myself and to others. Often, I spend more time thinking or talking about what needs to happen than I spend doing it!

               My Focus2021 goal for March: To act and do what God has given me the strength and privilege to accomplish, and to do it without whining and complaining.

Photo by C Technical on Pexels.com

               And what will I do if I encounter a day or two where I can’t get it all done? I will exercise balance, choosing to set one something aside for a limited time to accomplish that which requires a little more from me. The following week I will pick it up again and, if needed, temporarily set something else aside.           

Off to do with gratitude, what is on my plate today. What about you? What do you find to be the greatest stealer of time in your day?

Puzzling Lessons

My cousin visited last week and brought a 1000-piece puzzle for us to do. It’s a picture of a village in Italy sitting on a rocky coastline. We spent most of the day chatting as we sorted out the edge pieces and organized the remaining pieces.

Convinced we had all the straight edges; we began building the frame. The bottom of the puzzle went together, just like it should. But the three other sides did not. The skyline had a few gaps. The two sides had portions that fit together, but not fully.

We searched again through the 900 remaining pieces in vibrant colors. We found three or four straight edges, but none of them completed the frame.  

The next step involved careful observation of the links already made to see if we misconnected any. We did. Carefully disassembling the partial frame, we rejoined pieces, so the right side and top border now formed a solid frame. It took longer than we expected.

But that irksome left side was still missing one piece. We wondered how hard it could be to find one last straight piece. Our conclusion–very hard! We gave up looking for it and tried to move on to work the inside of the picture.

It is hard though, for me to let things go. Even as I gathered like colors for the inside, I was still puzzling (pun intended) about that one piece. We wondered if the missing piece made it in the box at the factory. The box arrived tightly sealed. Assuming the pieces were in a plastic bag, I took the lid off while sitting on the couch. I quickly found out there was not a bag as pieces flew all over the couch, floor, and my legs. I picked up all I could find and believed I had them all.

We thought it might be prudent to take the couch apart, sweep under it, and search once more. We found two additional pieces, but neither was an edge.

I asked myself out loud, with Jerry and Andrea eavesdropping, what is the spiritual lesson in this?

Thinking about how much time I focused on one piece, it reminded me of Jesus’ parables of the lost coin and the lost sheep. One is not insignificant to Jesus. Perhaps in my Focus 2021 year I need to think about one person He wants me to invest in. If I spent the time investing in one person, as I did one puzzle piece, it could make a Kingdom difference.

I also thought about how quick I am to say I trust God, but honestly, sometimes I wonder if he left something out in the plan for my life. I feel he hasn’t given me everything I need to complete the assignment. I complain, whine, and seek answers all over the place.

When I stop, take a breath, and reevaluate the situation, I often find that I misunderstood, or misapplied the information I had. I thought I was following God’s lead, but I see a place where I stepped out on my own and now the remaining pieces are all a little off.  

That is a sign I need to stop. It’s time to talk to God and discern where I went off track. Was it deliberate sin on my part? Did I get distracted? Did I miss hearing God’s voice? Whatever the reason, I need to deal with it and move on.

In other puzzles, by the time I finish, I find the missing piece. For this puzzle, it was when I (my cousin had gone home days ago) got to the last 200 pieces that I saw it the straight edge among the others. It turns out I always had everything I needed. It was a matter of putting the pieces together in the way the Master Designer created them. It may be a minimal and subtle difference, but one that matters. Both in a puzzle, and in life!

Breaking the “I Love You” Ice

“I wish there were someone like Joan in Indiana.”

            Jerry prayed those words as he returned home from a disability ministry conference we both attended. I was blissfully unaware of his thought or prayer as I flew home to California.

            For six years we attended the same gathering. After the meetings, a group of us hung out, played games, and built friendships.

           Prior to this summer we shared a rare phone call, but always about work/ministry issues and always made and received from our offices. God answered Jerry’s prayer with a reminder: the phone worked between Indiana and California. Four months later, he gathered the courage to call me after hours. He didn’t declare any feelings. We simply shared updates of our lives, and ministries, and laughed together.

            That August call morphed into phone dating. Rapidly the frequency changed from random, to weekly, to daily, to several times a day.

            As the calendar turned to February, I wondered what to do for Valentine’s Day. We were two-thirds of a country away and still figuring out our relationship. His secretary, thank you Connie, prompted him to send me something.

            I made two cookie bars in the shape of hearts. From a specialty bakery, I purchased a cookie in the shape of a phone receiver. I laid those out with the phone between the two hearts connected by a string. My sappy note said something about our hearts being connected through the phone. I mailed it, praying it would arrive intact.

            When a package arrived for me, I found a card and note. I glanced first at the signature, hoping to see “Love, Jerry.” But love was not there. With the card was a large, frilly, heart-shaped box of chocolates. The unusual part was the heart was not hermetically sealed in plastic, as is typical.

            I opened the box of chocolate and found a sticky note, “I was sure you would want to share. You would wouldn’t you?” And one or two pieces of chocolate were missing.

            That alone made this a Valentine’s Day to remember, but it got better. That weekend when we talked, Jerry haltingly said, “I think—I might—be falling in love with you.” The words every girl longs to hear?

           “I love you too,” I replied.

Hearing my response emboldened him to say with confidence, “I love you.”

            Phew! The love ice broke.

            This year we celebrated our 27th Valentine’s Day together, thankfully no longer through the phone lines. I still share my chocolate with him, and “I love you” is one of the most frequently used phrases in our lives.  

FOCUS 2021

After taking stock on how grit impacted my past year, focus became my word for 2021. Now that the new year is four weeks old, it is time for my first monthly focus check.

              Though focus is a commonly used word, I like to have its meaning clear in my mind. According to Dictionary.com focus, when used as a noun, denotes a central point of attention. The verb focus directs one’s attention to an activity, or to concentrate.

              Before I can make changes, I need to determine where I currently focus. I know where it should be. But where is it most often? Sadly, my answer is all over the place! I pride myself on and appreciate when others recognize my mad skills of multitasking. I even do it while slumbering. When Jerry’s attendants work with him and ask a question, I often answer it from a dead sleep, and then immediately drop back to dreamland. But when awake, I realize multitasking creates frenzy in my spirit.

              It became apparent when I tried to brush my teeth while also preparing a sinus medication for my husband. Seriously? I use an electric toothbrush. Do you know how hard it is to just hold a vibrating electric toothbrush in one’s mouth with no hands? And still hope it cleans my teeth? The absurdity of it all! No more! I can take the 15 extra seconds to prepare his rinse after I finish my teeth. This is one small thing that showed me how out of control my multitasking is.

              Other factors causing my focus to drift off course include spending too much time on social media, taking in news stories, or comparing myself to others. I may need to accomplish scores of things, and be aware of what is going on around me, but I don’t want to live in frenzy. I want to live in the present and engage with who or what is before me.

              My focus drastically needs change. Leadership gurus often tell the story of the Apollo rockets, which are off course 90 to 97 percent of their time en route to the moon. But because of regular course corrections, they make it to their destination. If that can happen among rocket scientists, I am in good company.

              Admitting my problem with focus is only part of the solution. Seeking course corrections came next.

              Because I have submitted my life to Jesus Christ and seek to live according to the instructions he set forth, he is whom I want as my primary focus. Matthew 6:33 reminds me of this, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things [answers to the cares and worries of life] will be given to you as well.”  

              When I get my primary focus right, the secondary ones follow. But it is much easier to say or write than it is to practice moment by moment. To refresh my ability to seek the King and his Kingdom, I went back to the Bible. 

              Hebrew 12: 1-3 reminds me before I can properly focus, I need to strip off the weight, or sin, that so easily trips me up. How does it trip me up? It causes me to pull my sightoff of Jesus and to myself. Yes, I need to confess and turn from any and every sin. But it is my favorite sin, mindlessly running first to food for my comfort or celebration, instead of to my Lord, that most often diverts my focus.

              Next, I need to run with endurance. I tried to be a runner, well, more like a jogger in my teen years. I remember huffing and puffing up and down Diverty Road. I don’t know how many days I ran, but I can tell you I did NOT endure!

              That is why it surprised me when I signed up for a 5K advertised at our local airport. The idea of running or even walking did not entice me. It was the environment. The race began in the pre-dawn hours. We ran and walked on the runways. The Blue Angels’ planes lined the start, sending us off. As the morning dawned, hot air balloons fired up, inflated, and launched into the sky. Dozens of colorful and creatively shaped balloons motivated me to get up at an ungodly hour and endure a 5K walk. And trust me, it was endurance, and the encouragement of those who cheered me and the ten others who were last on the course to finish.

              I understand the determination and stick-to-it-tiveness the Hebrews writer encourages me to practice. The balloons and cheers were my motivation to finish the 5K. The writer of Hebrews 12 tells me when I keep my eyes on Jesus it will motivate me to throw off encumbrances or false foci and grow in my endurance.  

              The Apostle Paul, in Philippians 3:12-14, also talks about three aspects of focus. First, do not focus on the past. There is no benefit from hanging out there or nosing around the memories. Forget it and move forward.

              Paul’s second directive is to look to what is ahead. Forward vision helps me focus by asking questions. Where am I headed? How will I get there? What should I prepare for?

              Interestingly, both the writer of Hebrews and Paul in Philippians emphasize the idea of endurance, or as Paul says in his third point, press on to complete the race. God must have put these words in my path twice because it is not my favorite character quality to work on.

              Thirty-one days in, I am working to apply these insights in Focus 2021:

1. Ask God to heighten my awareness to sin, especially my favorite ones. Then shorten the time I take to repent. Or better yet, turn away before there is a need to repent. This is one way to throw off what bogs me down.

2. Repentance involves more than confession. It leads me to turn away from dwelling on my failure, whether in the past minutes, hours, or years. Instead, it turns my gaze or refocuses me on what is ahead.

3. Press On. This process of properly setting my focus takes work. It doesn’t come naturally. To quote the Apostle Paul again, “That which I would not, that do I do” (Romans 7:19). I have to fight my sinful desires. I must exercise courage and grit to do what I know is right, even when I’d rather not. That is endurance.

4. Keep my eyes on Jesus. Focusing on Jesus will embolden me to live out the three previous steps. And the more I keep my eyes consistently on Jesus, the clearer I will focus on what He has ahead for me.

              Lots of lessons in this first month. I can hardly wait to see what I learn in the future about focus. What has God been teaching you? I love reading your comments, emails, and stories.

Capacity, Stress, and a Paper Shredder

Have you ever followed a paper trail? I did when I saw confetti sized paper all around the front office and a fountain of paper stuck in the shredder. At the end of the trail, I found the machine stuffed beyond capacity.

This was not the first time. Thus the neon sticker advising users the shredder was designed to run for eight continuous minutes, after which it needed an hour cool-down period. Who knew shredders had a limit? I didn’t—until we burned out the first one.

Hoping to avoid buying a third shredder, I put on my technician’s hat. Off came the lid. Not only was the catch bin overstuffed, but so were the blades. Tiny scraps of paper were tightly fused between each blade, immobilizing them. For the second time this year I gathered my screw driver, razor knife and tweezers for the delicate operation of freeing the sharp fins.  

Two hours later, the blades freely rotated. And I learned a life lesson.

The previous weekend, my left jaw screamed for attention. It did not open and close smoothly. Several times it got caught in the open position, requiring me to manually manipulate it back in place. Monday I saw my dentist who identified my injury as a jaw sprain.

Shall I pause here for a minute to allow you a chance to laugh, guffaw and make jokes about a jaw sprain?

The dentist assured me it had nothing to do with talking too much, but was a function of my deteriorating TMJ (Temporomandibular Joint). She asked me all the typical questions about TMJ care: had I been wearing my mouth guard at night? Was I eating hard foods or chewing gum? I honestly answered each question. Then came the clincher, “Are you under a lot of stress?”

My Dentist knows me well. Instead of waiting for my answer, she took my hand and said, “I know you have a lot going on right now.”

I thought I had a good handle on my stress. Apparently, my body did not agree.

While fixing the shredder, I had a lightbulb moment. It failed because the warning sign of nearing capacity was ignored. I imagine the person shredding thought just one more piece.

My life is like that paper shredder. . .I can say yes, it won’t take too much time. . .Oh, you need me to run that errand for you? Of course, I’d be glad to. . . Sure I have time to take on that project.

I keep adding just one more commitment or task to my life bin, thinking I can do it. I keep pushing “just a little” past capacity.

For a time that works. Until suddenly, the last piece enters the shredder path and brings it to a grinding halt. Or in my case, my jaw says “ENOUGH!” 

I needed that visual of the jammed shredder blades to refocus attention to my capacity. I thought about the residue left behind when I push too hard for too long. My body reacts. My relationships suffer. My inner spirit feels disheveled. If only I had a neon sticker warning me, and those around, of my energy, bandwidth, and time nearing over-commitment.

Here’s to paper shredders that get their cool-down periods, jaws that move as God created them to, and life bins that don’t overflow from ignoring capacity.

What signals do you experience showing you may be near or past capacity? What neon sticker do you put in your routine or relationships to help you see it before it is too late?

It’s All in the Cards and Rosters and Yearbooks and. . .

Never let your husband give up on his dreams.

               This is one of the best pieces of marriage advice I received. For my husband, baseball has always been a big part of his passion and dreams. Sure, before I met him he grew out of the dream to become a Major League Baseball player, but his love for baseball has never waned.

               The lower quarter of Jerry’s closet, since our move two plus years ago, housed boxes and boxes of baseball cards, programs, magazines, figures, and more. He decorated his office in more baseball pictures, figures, and autographed balls and bats. He always wanted to catalogue everything he had. Whenever he talked about it, I felt like my eyes rolled back in my head. I could think of very few things I’d enjoy less. I told him he’d need to find a friend or volunteer to help him.

               A few weeks ago I realized the volunteers who assist him with work do not have time to take on his hobby too. Baseball is important to my husband, and I was the logjam in his enjoyment of his collection. I told Jerry I changed my mind and would like to help him with this when he is ready.

               This weekend I pulled the four plastic tubs, five cardboard boxes, and several unpacked books and pictures from his closet and placed them on our bed, allowing him space to view it all at eye level from his wheelchair.

               We set up a card table in the middle of the living room. I brought one box at a time to him. I found joy seeing him unpack and explore the contents.

               As a true baseball fan, his collection represented Minor League to Major League teams from across the country. The yearbook of the Sonoma County Crushers unleashed a flood of memories as we thought about that stadium only five minutes from our home when we were first married. Tickets were only five dollars a piece and their handicapped seating was in the box seats, just three or four rows off the field. The chants of the stadium for “Moose”(player David Mowry) drifted through my mind.

               The Detroit Tigers hold the most space in his memorabilia, followed in a distant second by the Philadelphia Phillies. The Tigers have been his team since he was a young boy. He stuck by them in their winning years, and throughout their long drought. Periodically as I sorted cards, I would throw out a name I thought was obscure, and he told me the position they played in the 60s or 70s.

               I learned, after sorting half a stack of cards the wrong way, that there is a specific way to sort cards. First by the manufacturer, e.g. Topps, Donruss, Upper Deck, Score, etc. Then by year. Now I understand why baseball cards are a draw for kids. Younger eyes can read that small print easier. The last sort is by number. Not the obvious number on the front of the card by the player’s name, but the one on the back of the card.

               Working together, we plowed through all but two of the bins. There is still a great deal of tedious work ahead, cataloging all those cards. And those last two tubs to sort. But now I’m looking forward to the task. It’s an easier tradeoff seeing Jerry stroll down memory lane and enjoy reconnecting with his love of baseball.

               I am thankful God prompted with this change of heart. When is the last time you engaged in something your spouse enjoys, but isn’t your favorite? I encourage you to try it. You may learn some things you did not know, and the time spent together will only benefit your marriage. I’d love to hear about it!

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