“Sounds Like A Plan"
Award of Outstanding Merit - $1,000
Rachel Coleman lives in Liberal, Kansas, where she and her husband, Autry, homeschool the two youngest of their eight children. Rachel has written for the local daily newspaper for 19 years, winning numerous awards from the Kansas Press Association. Her blog, "Out of Print," can be found at www.rachelcoleman.wordpress.com.
I'm a list-maker, a grand plan crafter, a lofty dreamer. So you would think New Year's Day is right up my alley, with its resolutions, its fresh start, its impetus to try harder to get things right.
No longer. If I've learned anything over the past two years, it has been to scheme less and listen more.
That doesn't come easily to a triple-scheduler like me. In looking back over past holiday seasons, I remember times when my three children were required to go four different directions, all at the same time. And none of them was old enough to drive. Then there were the elaborate charts I created, designed to wedge a little bit of high quality everything into a single home school day. And the menus! Family meals that not only provided nutrition, but an introduction to foreign culture, haute cuisine and friendly debate.
My adventure with multiple sclerosis put a stop to all that. Immobility gets a girl's attention, and mine evidently needed extreme measures. The subsequent years have served as a time to rebuild a life schedule that has less to do with neatly crossed-off lists and more to do with living in a way that really matters.
In simple terms, this means yelling in frustration is no longer a part of my everyday mode of life. Frustration, in fact, is quickly identified and neutralized because it really isn't welcome at our house. Reasonable expectations have a way of smoothing the way, as does flexibility. So, if one of the kids cooks a supper that is less than perfect, we all say, "Thank you! You made food for us to eat, and that's exactly what we needed." It helps if I take the lead in gratitude and compliments, rather than charging in with the first accusation. And if the dishes are not washed up until 9 p.m., well, that's OK.
Maybe this sounds normal to some people, but it was entirely unfamiliar to me. Here's another one: when you're tired, stop. For years, the former long-distance runner in me was the voice that held the authority to call it a day. What that meant was, even when the body cried out for rest, I kept going. I fully expected everyone around me to stay in the race, too. Now, I take naps.
What amazed me most was how simple it turned out to be. After years of living on espresso, adrenaline and urgency, I discovered those extreme measures weren’t necessary. All I had to do was … stop. Look. And listen.
Doing so brought great rewards that I've savored. Relationships in my family are stronger, sweeter, more authentic. I wake up in the morning with a sense of anticipation, rather than its dreary counterpart, obligation. More rest and peace means better health, always a plus.
On other New Year’s Days, I could survey the 12 months just passed and, in a goal-oriented fashion, notice only the flaws. The unfinished tasks, the failed projects, the loose ends. These days, I've learned to look a little deeper to see the slow, steady process that grows character, shows compassion and carries great worth.
This way of looking is a bit harder; it's not clear-cut and measurable like money or time. Yet it's the best way to evaluate the worthiness of how a year was spent. Ultimately, what matters most is how well I listened to the Lord God who made me, knows me, loves me and has great plans for each person who lives.
This isn't a new concept to me or the rest of the world. As a little girl, I memorized Proverbs 19:21, in a version that went like this: "Men may make their plans, but God has the last word." When I looked it up this week, I found another rendition — "Many are the plans in a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that prevails." (NIV)
What does this mean? If you're looking for a quick-and-easy checklist Christianity, this will probably not appeal. Of course, it's important to spend time with other Christian believers, in personal prayer, in daily Bible reading; it's great if you volunteer, teach a Sunday School class and give financially to help those in need. But following Jesus is no system, as if pleasing God is just a more complex version of a board game where you learn the rules, play your best, hope it goes your way, and collect the winner's prize at the end.
Following Jesus is all about the heart attitude. Am I making my own plans? Or am I interested in God’s purpose for my life? Is everyday life about me, getting what I want? Or is it about asking the Holy Spirit for guidance? Perhaps this sounds a bit vague, but the Bible offers practical help. Proverbs 3:5 and 6 promise that if I trust in the Lord with all my heart, don’t count on my own know-how, and remember that He is in control, he will help me know which way to go. That means, know whether to squeeze in a trip to the library, or start cooking supper early. And which bill to pay first. And whose question to answer, when everyone clamors. When to speak, and when to stay silent.
Over the past two years, I’ve spent more time reading my Bible than was my habit in the past. Proverbs is such a great book, being conveniently divvied up into 31 chapters, one for every day of the month. It’s amazing to me how appropriate the verses turn out to be for the day that lies ahead. It reminds me of how what once seemed unthinkable — changing the way I approached daily life — turned out to be a simple, childlike choice. Listening to God is much the same.
A new year stretches out ahead of me. I look at it, and the overlapping grid of calendar pages, lists and charts has been erased. Instead, an expanse of possibility lies ahead, uncluttered by the plans that used to tangle my heart.
“The fear of the Lord leads to life,” Proverbs 19:23 asserts. “Then, one rests content, untouched by trouble.”
Sounds like a plan to me.
Printed January 2, 2011; Leader & Times; Liberal, KS.
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