Margins . . .
We need them in our writing or creative arts so the focus of our work can be readily seen and embraced. We know we need them in other areas of our life, so we can catch our breath and re-energize for what comes next.
Merriam Webster gives several definitions for margin. Two that hit me hard are: a) a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations; b) a bare minimum below which or an extreme limit beyond which something becomes impossible or is no longer desirable.
It’s a catch 22 isn’t it? Because we live with disability in our families, we need more margins because our lives are full of contingencies and special situations (definition a). But at the same time, living in a constant state of special situations makes it nearly impossible to create margins. Yet I do not want my life, my marriage or my ministry to become impossible or no longer desirable.
Several months ago I attended a Caregiver seminar where I saw a visual that made so much sense to me. The speaker took a tile and named a task she needed to accomplish any given day, like grocery shopping. Then another tile for a doctor appointment was laid on top of grocery shopping. A tile for a stop at the dry cleaner was next. There were tiles for cleaning the house, taking the child to physical therapy, making dinner for the family, attend small group at church and on and on. Soon she had a stack of tiles so high we could no longer see her face.
Then she took those same tiles, representing the same activities, and laid them out like stepping stones in a garden path. There was now space between each tile. Our speaker commented that by allowing space between each activity she was creating margin. When the road to the dry cleaners was rerouted it did not throw off the rest of her day; she had space to accommodate this unexpected delay in travel and still keep up with the other activities.
That visual came back to me recently when I was functioning in a stacked tiles kind of day. When I encountered a glitch the stack of tiles collapsed on me. It was then that I wished I had built some space into my day.
This week Jerry and I are trying to practice this lesson in our marriage and ministry. We are attending a conference that is a little less than an hour away from home, depending on traffic. Could we commute to attend this conference? Yes we could, but likely it would result in stacking tiles. We’d get home from the day at the conference and still try to pay the bills, do laundry, and tend to a myriad of other details before getting to sleep. The next morning we would get up, pack a couple phone calls in before returning for the next day of the conference.
So we decided to get a hotel room at the conference site for the week. We even came in the day before the conference starts. As we turned in to the parking lot I began to feel guilty that we were spending money to stay so close to home. Then I remembered our margin making mission.
As we get older (this month we each hit a new decade!) we must be wiser in realizing our time, health, and energy are worth at least as much, or perhaps more, than our dollars. Decisions cannot be made on money alone. Each of those things must be balanced to produce margin.
Kicking guilt out of the way, I remembered we made the decisions we did for the purpose of producing margin in our marriage. In the past we would arrive at the site the day the conference started, and already be exhausted. Then after a day filled with interacting with people and learning sessions, I would unpack us into the room. By arriving early we had time to unpack and set up our room (the hoyer lift, the alternating pressure mattress pad, the shower chair, etc.). We walked around the conference site so we would know our way around when the sessions start. We also had time to exercise and get a decent night of sleep before entering conference mode.
I realize we may not be able to do this every time we travel. But the difference in our stress levels and interactions with one another already tell us we made a good decision. Margins are not just boring white spaces; I could get used to this.