Life in Focus

Where following Jesus and Every Day Life Intersect


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With Every Broken Bone, I Lived

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Squeezing the handbrakes on my bike, I pulled to a stop next to my husband and scanned the trail ahead.   A stream with submerged rocks stretched across the path, still flowing after a rainy winter. We had a decision to make: press on knowing that we were going to get wet or turn back the way we came. Never ones to shy away from an adventure, we opted to continue.   There were several creeks to cross on the trail and getting muddy was inevitable. Still, it was a beautiful day and worth the time it would take to clean our bikes once we got home.

As we pressed on, I thought about what a great analogy our bike ride made for life. So often we have the choice to play things safe or to take risks knowing things might getIMG_1571 a little messy. Thinking about the blog post I would write once we returned home, I stopped several times to take pictures that I wanted to include with it.

Little did I know that our adventurous ride would end with an accident that would leave me with fractured bones, a black eye, and a bruised ego.   The worst part was that after crossing streams, climbing rocky trails and navigating challenging terrain, I fell on the street just a few blocks from home.

And yet, six weeks later, the inspiration that I discovered on that bike ride remains true. I would still rather take risks and feel truly alive than avoid them and play it safe. I’m not only talking about physical activities like mountain biking and waterskiing, I’m referring to the risks we take to grow spiritually and to spread God’s kingdom on earth.

Maybe this example will help: A little over three years ago a friend asked me to pray about  leading a Bible study with her. She wanted to reach women who had questions about God but were too intimidated to join a study held at a church. She agreed to open her home weekly if I would lead the group. The first year, we invited eight women to commit to twelve weeks.  At the end of that season, all of them wanted to continue meeting.

As I look at this group three years later, it’s evident that God has been at work in mighty ways. These women have transformed and their families are taking notice. Their kids are clamoring to go to camp with the youth group and several of their husbands are exploring faith with other men. My co-founding friend was so inspired that she organized a Bible study at her church that is now thriving.  Another group member volunteered to be the new host and co-leader with me, despite feeling hesitant and inexperienced.  A previous member that moved away now runs a study in her home.  Still another member is starting a prayer group for parents from the local high school. All of these women felt fearful and unsure of themselves, but they trusted God and took risks that are causing them to grow. And they are blessing others in the process.  A ripple effect has occurred in the group and the circles seem to be ever-widening.

Looking back, it was a huge risk for me to agree to start this group. First and foremost was the fear of being rejected. I’d been stung by people in the past when I had reached out to them and was not eager to be hurt again. I also feared the time it would take to create a study and to research answers to their questions. I worried about adding more responsibilities and relationships to my life.  I fretted about how I would handle “hot topics” and controversial issues.   If I had given into my fears and decided to play it safe, I would have missed out on so much. Pouring into these women has made me feel truly alive and filled me with joy. Watching the impact the group has had on others outside of it is awe-inspiring.  The opportunity to be used by God with this group has given me a deeper understanding of the abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10.

The pages of Scripture are filled with examples of people who took risks for the sake of God. Most of them experienced tremendous hardships, but they also experienced profound joy and a depth of relationship with their Creator that surpassed every difficulty they faced. Abraham, Sarah, Moses, Rahab, Ruth, Daniel, Mary, Peter, and Paul come to mind immediately.

Maybe the reason many of us are averse to taking risks today has to do with our culture’s view of hardships. We equate a “normal” life with smooth and easy living. As long as things go the way we want and expect, life is good.   We like things that are comfortable, predictable, and not too challenging.

Somehow, I don’t think this was what Jesus had in mind when he said: “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” (John 10:10b, NIV) He also said: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33b, NIV)

The risks we take and the hardships we face are all a part of living an abundant life. When we embrace them and learn from them instead of lamenting them, we leave room for God to transform us. Our faith and trust in him grow deeper and others around us are impacted mightily.

Someone recently asked me if I was going to give up mountain biking as a result of my accident. The thought hadn’t ever crossed my mind. As soon as the doctor says it’s okay, I’ll be back out on the trail (when I’m not waterskiing, of course). I won’t be reckless but I’m not giving up activities that make me feel alive, even if they have the potential to cause injury.

The other day I heard a song that made me smile because it characterizes risk-taking in a positive light  (it also gave me the inspiration for this post’s title). Click on the link and enjoy “I Lived” by OneRepublic.

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Making Room for Margin

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Turning the ski boat at the end of the lake, my son gripped the steering wheel and glanced in the rearview mirror. It was his first time towing someone behind the boat. My husband coached him, giving pointers from the observers’ seat, “Remember when you turn you have to keep the rope length in mind. Leave plenty of space between the rider and the shore.” My son nodded that he understood as my husband continued, “You don’t want to launch someone you’re pulling into the bushes or have them hitting the shallow banks of the lake.”

As I sat in the boat watching and listening, I realized it was the perfect illustration for a concept I’ve been mulling over for weeks: the importance of leaving margin in our lives. At the lake, it was the buffer zone between the person being towed and the shore. On a sheet of paper, it’s the white space you leave blank on the edges of a page. In life, it’s the buffer time you maintain to rest and regroup instead of frantically running from one activity to the next.

This topic has come to the forefront of my mind in the past month as I’ve learned to function with the limitations of having a broken right arm. No matter how frustrating it is, I can’t operate at my usual pace.  It’s a busy time of year and I’ve never been very good at making room for margin, but I have no choice.   I can’t jump in and out of the car and power out all of my errands in an hour. Just opening the car door, turning on the engine and buckling my seatbelt with one hand take a ridiculous amount of time.  Instead of squeezing extra things into my schedule, I’m learning to decide what to save for later, or not to do at all.  (I now plan trips to Costco around my boys–they do the heavy lifting and push the super-sized cart, I buy the pizza to show them my gratitude.)

Although I’ve been convicted about this topic for weeks, I’ve been hesitant to write about it. I guess it would be hypocritical if I didn’t admit that I find mastering the art of margin elusive. Maybe sharing this ongoing struggle with you will give us a chance to learn and grow together.

As I thought more about this, I realized Jesus provides some excellent examples to help us understand how to establish margin in our lives. A quick look through the book of Matthew showed me the following:

-Jesus was proactive about maintaining margin:

Once he began his public ministry, it didn’t take long for people to swarm around him in hopes of seeing or experiencing a miracle. Yet, Jesus knew when it was time to make some margin: “When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake.” (Matthew 8:18, NIV) He withdrew even when he hadn’t met all of the needs of those demanding his attention.  Jesus knew when it was time to pause amidst endless demands on his time. We would be wise to do the same.

-Jesus made time for margin for his emotional health

At one point, he received the devastating news that his cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. Scripture tells us: “When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13a, NIV) If God incarnate needed time to pull away and deal with his emotions, it’s safe to bet that we need it too. Ignoring our own emotional needs is a recipe for breakdowns, bitterness and burnout.

-Jesus took time to retreat with those closest to him

“After six days Jesus took with him Peter, James and John the brother of James, and led them up a high mountain by themselves.” (Matthew 17:1, NIV) All of us need time to retreat from the busyness of the world and to re-connect with those we love.   These times are necessary for maintaining healthy relationships and getting needed rejuvenation. The other people and activities demanding our time will still be there when we return.

Not only did Jesus exemplify the importance of having margin, he also invites us to include him in our efforts to create it: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30, NIV)

If fighting for margin is a struggle for you like it is for me, you may want to take time to learn more about its importance. Try reading one of the books suggested below for additional inspiration this summer.   Click on the links to learn more about them.

Margin by Richard Swenson

http://www.amazon.com/Margin-Restoring-Emotional-Financial-Overloaded/dp/1576836827/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464631345&sr=8-1&keywords=Margin

 The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

http://www.amazon.com/Best-Yes-Decisions-Endless-Demands/dp/1400205859/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1464631284&sr=8-1&keywords=the+best+yes