20170105_094135It’s that time again–when my already busy schedule feels squeezed, my calendar is packed full of obligations and author interviews, and amidst it all, my brain determines to take a brief vacation.

Leaving me with two choices: Try harder and chain myself to my computer, or take a hiatus.

I’ve decided to do the latter, starting tomorrow, not because I’m quitting. I’m far too stubborn for that. Rather, because, well, I need a break. And I believe there are times when we simply need to retreat. To refuel. And spend time with those you love.

And I can do that, because quite frankly, this writing thing, my ministry, and really everything God calls me to do is not up to me. Part of it is–the obedient part. The rest? That’s all God. Because He’s bigger than my schedule, my blank computer screen, or anything I could stress and angst about.

About ten, maybe fifteen years ago, the children’s director at the church we attended asked if I’d be the “point person” for our Vacation Bible School–the first VBS we’d done, at least, since my family had been attending. Can I share my ignorance here? I didn’t know what a point person was and assumed it was someone who, well, pointed people in the right direction. So I was like (in my head), “Sure. I can greet parents as they come in, direct children to their appropriate groups, whatever. No problem.”

Fast forward a month or so, and the children’s staff asked me to go to a VBS informational meeting. Again, I had no idea what that was but figured, sure. I can go, listen, and bring back information.

Um, no. They sent me to a VBS curriculum fair to help select curriculum.

help-1724292_1280Great, right? Except … I’d never been to a VBS. Ever. Up until that moment, I hadn’t a clue what they were. Actually, I still wasn’t sure, even after I spent an afternoon flipping through curriculum and talking to people.

Maybe a month later, with curriculum picked and purchased, I sat on my bed and spread the material before me. Trying to figure out what in the world I was to do with it all. Not knowing what else to do, I read it. Every page of every booklet. Took notes. Then stared at my notes, wondering what in the world I was to do next.

Fast forward another few months, and I was once again sitting with my material spread before me, only this time I was pool side. I’d joined my husband on a business trip, and I’d brought the VBS curriculum with me. By now, I had more of an idea of what to do, and I’d even begun to form a team of volunteers–all of whom were much more knowledgable and experienced in this area than I, praise God!

I was still confused, and yet, I felt incredible peace. Because somehow, somewhere between when I first accepted the assignment to that moment at the pool, I’d come to the realization that our church’s VBS event wasn’t up tohand-1044883_1920 me. I would do my best, learn what I could, and enjoy the process. I’d let God take care of the rest.

At this time, I got to chatting to a woman lounging in a pool chair beside me. I don’t remember our conversation, except for me sharing what I was working on and how I was surrendering the results to God.

Her reply: “That’s what you get when dealing with volunteers. They don’t care about the outcome.”

And I thought, ‘Nope. That’s what you get from walking beside Christ. You know you’re not responsible for the outcome.’

Fast forward another couple of months, and our church had a phenomenal Vacation Bible study that drew a large number of children from the community. Kids accepted Christ, volunteers experienced the joy of serving Him, and the peace I felt that morning at the pool dominated my heart the entire week.

I’d like to say that peace, that level of surrender, stayed with me over the decades since, but unfortunately, it hasn’t. I have a tendency to want to hold too tightly to my assignments, to throw my expectations into the mix, along with a chunk of my pride, making it hard for me to surrender. But every once in a while, often when I’ve reached the end of myself, I sense God saying to me, “Remember …?”

And then I smile, nod, close my computer, and loosen my grip.

For those of you wanting to follow my online book/blog/author tour … I’ll catch you up next week. 😉

restoringlove_n174111In the meantime, here’s more info on my latest release, Restoring Love:

Mitch, a contractor and house-flipper, is restoring a beautiful old house in an idyllic Midwestern neighborhood. Angela, a woman filled with regrets and recently transplanted to his area, is anything but idyllic. She’s almost his worst nightmare, and she’s also working on restoring something—herself. As he struggles to keep his business afloat and she works to overcome mistakes of her past, these two unlikely friends soon discover they have something unexpected in common—a young mom who is fighting to give her children a better life after her husband’s incarceration. While both Mitch and Angela are drawn to help this young mother survive, they also find themselves drawn to each other. Will a lifetime of regrets hold them back or unite them and bring redemption along with true love?

(Today I’m at fellow Living by Grace hostess Maria Morgan’s blog talking about my editing services, my writing, and my Jesus. Join me. 🙂 )

Have you ever longed for one more hour in your day? One more day in your week? One more month before the holidays? 😉 If so, perhaps you’re taking on responsibilities and tasks God never assigned to you. Last week, Chana Keefer encouraged us to keep first things first. (You can read her post here.) But how do we do that? How do we filter out all the gunk that crowds our day in order to bring us back in the center of God’s will?

This summer and fall, our move and some health issues forced me to do some major schedule-cleaning. At times, this has been hard, but remembering God’s in control and that His love is incomprehensible, never failing, helps. And as I prayerfully evaluate my schedule, it’s raised an important question: How much of my day is centered in God’s will? What activities come from selfish motivations or fear?

There’s only one way to know for sure, and that’s to bring everything–the big, the small, the mundane, and the exciting–before God, asking for guidance.

“What sorrow awaits my rebellious children,” says the Lord. “You make plans that are contrary to mine. YOu make alliances not directed by My Spirit, thus piling up your sins” (Isaiah 31:1 NLT).

In Isaiah 31, God is specifically chastising the people of Israel for forming an alliance with Egypt instead of looking to God for aid.

We may not be facing a military battle or fearful of a raid, but how often do we allow our fears–of rejection, of failure, of poverty or illness–crowd out the voice of God?

And what’s the result? Sorrow. Packing our schedule full of things that are not assigned by God leaves us depleted, discouraged, and sorrowful.

God says, “Only in returning to Me will you be saved. In quietness and confidence is your strength” (Isaiah 30:15b NLT).

Only in returning to God–seeking Him out in each moment and courageously carving out those time-stealers that leave us ineffective. Confident that, if we follow whole-heartedly after God, He will work everything out.

I love this quote from Glynnis Whitwer from Proverbs 31 Ministries:

“The key to balance is seeking God’s will for me in this season, and not spending time on assignments meant for other people.”

(You can read her entire devotion titled One Cup Life here.)

Seeking God’s will in *every season,* whether you’re residing in the palace or the desert.

What about you? How many time-stealers have you allowed to creep into your day? How many of your obligations are based on a desire to please others? On fear of failure? Fear of the future, or fear of illness? Selfishness or pride? And is that time-stealer robbing you of experiencing God’s best?

Let’s talk about this.

Join us at Living by Grace today as we talk about making God and the things of God first in our lives.

And make sure to come back to Living By Grace Friday and Saturday for a continuation of our in-depth look at the book of James.

Okay, so that peaceful, languid living I talked about a few days ago is long forgotten–as I knew it would be once school started again. And as my schedule balloons, I’m having to move more and more things to the back burner. Unfortunately, most of my choices at this point are reactive rather than pro-active. I begin my day as I would any other, only to realize come nine or ten o’clock that half of the things on my list remain undone. And often the things I should have done first–like reading my school books or taking care of the household chores–are neglected.

There are three reasons for this. First, I over-estimate my time and underestimate the project. Second, I don’t have enough cushion scheduled in my day. Third, I have allowed non-essentials to crowd out the essentials. These three critical weaknesses work together to create an overall sense of chaos, and exhaustion.

My first tendency, to overestimate myself and underestimate the project, will take careful consideration and planning to overcome. And perhaps a little bit of focus. I’m sure my reviews and critiques would get done much quicker if I’d stay on task. Which means I need to ignore that little pop-up window alerting me to a new email message. And instead of cramming each minute of my day to the full, I need to intentionally schedule slack time–especially for the afternoon and early evening. To help my daughter with homework, or to iron the pair of pants my husband absolutely must wear the next day, whatever. And finally, I need to do a schedule-otomy. With prayerful analysis, I need to weed out the non-essentials in order to make room for the vital.

Sometimes this can be difficult, and rather confusing. There are so many good things vying for our attention. Ministries, organizations, and community programs need volunteers. Fellow brothers and sisters in Christ need help and chores need to be attended to. But somehow, I need to learn to strike a balance between them. Which means, occasionally I have to say no.

I’ve been focusing a lot on Acts 20:24 lately. As Paul was about to leave for Jerusalem, he said, “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me–…” Paul knew his purpose and zeroed in on it with single-minded determination. And it’s time I did the same.

With so many very good, even Christ-centered, opportunities vying for our attention, it can be hard to know which ones to focus on. Placing things in a “priority hierarchy” helps. The familiar, God first, family second, then others, is a great “big picture” beginning, but even this needs to be narrowed down further. Too many activities and opportunities fall under the “God” category. Especially for inspirational authors. With your email accounts (some of us have three. uh-hem.) lighting up with one opportunity after another, how do you choose? In my opinion, you focus on your local church first then extend outward as time allows.

This can be hard for Christian writers. We’ve all heard of the importance–necessity, rather–of developing a platform or online/national presence. But God isn’t interested in your platform. He’s focused on His kingdom, and building and strengthening the body of Christ.

A few months ago I happened across an author’s blog talking about this very thing. The woman said she was so busy with her writing she didn’t have time to serve in her local body. And she said her pastor “understood” this. Although it really isn’t my place to judge, that kind of thinking seems unbiblical. When I read the Bible, I don’t see very many, if any, lone rangers forging their own way. What I do see are believers working within a local community to expand the kingdom of God.

So how about you? What “good” things can you eliminate from your schedule in order to make time for something better?

How often do you get distracted during a task and what are some steps you can take to re-focus?

How balanced are your priorities? Are you “blooming where planted” or “forging your own way”?

Is there enough flex time to allow for that quality time with your spouse, extra errand for you child, or kind word to a neighbor?

Do you have any tips to share with us? When your schedule gets out of control, what do you do to reel it back in?