Small Starts


I am learning something about free time.

It is not the missing magic ingredient that will automatically free us to make all our long-held dreams and ambitions come true.

“If only I had time I would…”


What uncharted amounts of ‘free’ time do is call our bluff.

Perhaps you know how it is… When the kids are young we long for time to ourselves… just a little more time than we have. Then they get a little older and more self-sufficient but life somehow isn’t any less busy. And we wish we had time from what we are doing, to get to things that we aren’t doing—whether it be that shoebox of photos we want to put in albums, or that book we’d read if only, or maybe that book we’d write if we had half a chance! Or maybe we just want some ‘down’ time to relax and rejuvenate. We could pray more, play more or develop our artistic bents if only there were time…right?

Well, then the kids all up and move away leaving a void of space and time. Time to pursue our dreams, to do all those things we’ve waited to have time for. And surprise! It takes more than mere time to get down to them.

For me, one of those things I figured time would free me to do is writing. But it’s been comically difficult to devote swaths of time to it now that the time has arrived on my doorstep!

As a writer to writers has said: “…the greased slide to writer’s block is a huge batch of time earmarked: ‘Now write.’ “  (*Cameron,13)

This is SO true! Have you read the adorably illustrated children’s picture book: “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie”? [You can have it read to you here]  Here is an exaggerated depiction of the unforeseen string of consequences that can flow from the simple offering of a cookie. For me, that cookie has been time. And if you give a would-be-writer unlimited time, beware. A host of other activities may eat it right up! Here’s what may happen:

First, she will notice it’s practically lunch time (where did the whole morning fly anyway?!) and she really shouldn’t try writing on an empty stomach… While she’s making short work of chronic leftovers she will realize how cold she is. She decides to warm up with her 3 minute weight-lifting routine, aww…why not do some lunges while you’re at it? More fun with music… Oh and look here, a whole exercise routine on You-Tube, and it’s ‘Christian’. Fun!

Well, there, that warmed things up. Oh, wait, this is actually elliptical exercise day. May as well get that out of the way now so the writing will be uninterrupted. Maybe just do a shorter workout than usual. It’ll only take 10 minutes. But the music is rousing; why cut it short? A half hour later it’s time for a shower–a quick one of course. (Are you kidding? Who takes quick showers? Water is in endless supply in our locale. What we don’t use flows out to sea. We live with the rain; long showers are a dividend.)

…OK, there. All ready to settle down and write, right?

Well, then up pops a ‘should’…she really should phone the kids and see how they’re doing. It’ll be quick. Minutes tick by. No worries. They’re free. Good phone plan. All caught up with the ‘mama’; better talk to each of the grandkids too… Finally, ‘Bye,bye’.


Oh, what’s this? New email message? These smart phones are so handy. Ah, and a notification. Hmm… ought to re-schedule that get-together for a different day. Monday’s a holiday. Hmmm better do that now before I forget.

And so goes the would-be-writer’s afternoon. This is evidenced in the fading daylight coming in the study window. But maybe there’s still time to tap out a few words at the computer…Hmm…best get a snack first; all that exercise, you know. What’s something quick? How ’bout a frozen waffle with Nutella? Gotta toast it…………….then the spreading with luscious gooey chocolaty goodness…Mmm. But it’s still rather dry. Better get a glass of milk to go with it.

Now we can get started, at last. Wait. Messy fingers. And while she’s in the kitchen rinsing fingers she realizes it’s almost time to start dinner and she really should make something special from scratch, since she has all the time in the world…right?

And behold. All that vast expanse of fertile time just waiting to be turned into timeless words has vanished! What happened?

Truth is it’s a daunting thing to come face to face with opportunity to do what you’ve only dreamed of having time for. Dreams tend to preserve ideals that can’t stand the light of day. To imagine doing something, to wonder if you might be able… is quite different from pulling it off. Procrastination is just the outward symptom of a greater malady.

So, if you’re waiting for an elusive quantity of time to present itself so that you can accomplish great things hitherto only dreamed of, may I make a few suggestions based on my experience?

  • Don’t wait. Start now with any 15 minute chunk you can scavenge from some dusty corner of your busy day. Then take a tiny imperfect faltering step in the right direction. It sure beats standing still.
  • Start small. Set a measurable clear daily objective.

“A small daily task if it be really daily, will beat the labours of a spasmodic Hercules.” –Anthony Trollope

This thought inspired me to make a 30 day grid on watercolor paper of the month of November, and into each tiny square to daily plunk a momento in watercolors. In this way I’ve broken the stalemate of wanting to begin but not knowing quite what or how.

  • Don’t require a perfect product. Anything worth doing is worth doing poorly at first… You have to start somewhere! My little squares of color, my scribbled pages of journaling, my roughly composed essays…are not finished products in themselves. But neither does the pianist expect to play in the concert hall without hours of daily practice spread over months and years. Once you are willing to do a thing poorly you will find you have time to begin. Or as Julia Cameron says in an essay of advice to writers:

” We have time to write the minute we are willing to write badly.” (The Right to Write, Cameron, p.16)

  • Do create arbitrary deadlines, occasions for which to accomplish a thing. That’s what a weekly blog deadline does for me. As Friday draws near, ideas condense and writing happens because it must. It becomes a priority. Birthdays and holidays make great occasions for which to create that personalized ‘something’ that will get your creative juices flowing. But don’t insist that it be perfect. Give who you are at present. It really is the thought that counts.
  • Be patient with yourself. Consider how long it takes an infant to become an athlete… First he must learn to stand and then to take those first faltering steps that most surely will end in a fall. Many falls. Many messes will happen before a beautiful creation is accomplished. Becoming proficient requires practice. Practice looks immature, silly, and yes, messy. Somehow babies manage to always be ‘cute’ whether toddling unsteadily, plopping unceremoniously, or scribbling indecipherably. But not so the rest of us. We must be prepared to look silly, to produce work below our own standard of acceptability, to be learners.

But above all, don’t ignore that creative God-given bent that burns in your bones to be given time to blossom… Ask God to open your eyes to the time that you have now and to hold your hand as you toddle forth… What’s in your heart to learn / to do someday? Today is a good day to make a small start.


So teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom. … And let the beauty of the LORD our God be upon us: and establish thou the work of our hands upon us; yea, the work of our hands establish thou it. Ps. 90:12, 17 KJV

“Who dares despise the day of small things…” Zec.4:10


P.S.  A helpful book on jump starting your creative bent, written from a Biblical perspective, is Janice Elsheimer’s: The Creative Call .
For more information click here


*Cameron, Julia. The Right to Write, Putnam, 1998, p.13

I don’t have the gift of making sandwiches

I don’t have the gift of making sandwiches, but that’s ok.  I will bring the cookies and maybe some celery sticks stuffed with Cheese Whiz…

I am late in life coming to terms with oughts and shoulds, confessing who I am and who I am not, realizing what I am designed to do and what I can freely leave undone. Though it is difficult to teach an aging hound new tricks, it is not impossible, with God.  So when the plea went out for generous hearts to make a last-minute luncheon impressive, I quickly texted back before my indecisive, over-thinking oughts and shoulds could kick in: “I’d be glad to bring cookies and some veggies.” And that was it.

I will leave the making of sandwiches to the culinary queens—those ladies that do wonders with cream cheese and thinly sliced cucumbers, and have the savvy to turn cold-cuts and hard-boiled eggs into eye-pleasing, palate-satisfying geometric wonders.  This is not my gift.

Oh, I can ‘do’ sandwiches.  A mother must resort to these at times.  Bread and Jam are great stand-bys when slathered with Carver’s nutritious invention of PB. But I would better glorify God with cookies and Grandma’s cheeze-whiz celery sticks I think.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about oughts and shoulds, and how they fit in with the works we’ve been designed for from the foundation of the world…(Eph.1:4;2:10)

I’m wrestling with writing and watercolor—those pursuits that I’ve always supposed would blossom and flourish with the simple addition of unlimited time.  And I’m finding that just as all of creation cannot be accounted for by a chance+time formula, so neither can human creativity.  There is a certain something that is innate, God-given and by design.  No amount of time spent ‘getting down to it’ will substitute for that.

But even so we whole-heartedly present our bodies, ‘as-is’,  for God to direct and energize.  And He uses them for His own purposes and glory as He will.

No better illustration comes to mind than the movie Chariots of Fire.  I watched this old favorite again with Jim this week.   We went on a date to see it back in the 80’s when it first hit American theaters.  Its rousing theme never fails to take us back to those days…

The film depicts a sharp contrast of motive in the pursuit of excellence.  It is the story of two British athletes that compete in the 1924 Olympics. One man runs for the glory of God. “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  The other runs to prove his own worth.  There is little pleasure in it, only compulsion.  “I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”  Both are world-class athletes.  But only one receives an enduring prize.

That fleet Scotsman, Eric Liddell, convinced that to neglect his gift would be to hold God in contempt, pursues Olympic excellence to honor God. (This is the part of his life covered in the film).  But having gained fame he leaves it all behind to bury himself (literally) in China as a missionary.  He dedicates all He has to God– his running, his preaching,  his teaching,  and the actual laying down of his life for fellow-inmates at a Japanese internment camp. (This is the part not seen in the film.)

Through the film Chariots of Fire this life story has been resurrected for our edification.  This is what it means to run the race set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.(Heb.12:1,2)  This is what it means to present our bodies a living sacrifice, ‘as is’, for whatever God purposes to do with them. (Rom.12:1,2) This is how we bring God pleasure–by being who He has designed us to be.

We have nothing to prove.  There is no competition.  We run for His glory the race set before us.  And He empowers and equips us individually with all that is required to run it.  That is all.  To do and to die looking unto Jesus with all our life’s energies…this is our calling. 

Will it be a ‘creative call’?  For some.

Will we be lauded and memorialized? God sees. He remembers.  That is enough. If He chooses to use our story to spur others on, so be it.  If not, that is His business.

And as I reorient myself to this life of faith and faithfulness, the clamor of  compulsive ought’s and should’s fades into irrelevance.  My talents or lack thereof are not the point.  For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.  For if we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.  Rom 14:7,8 ESV

But others have said this better than I.  Let me close with a quote from a book I finished recently by Pastor Jud Wilhite:

God challenges us to realize we were not created to be made much of, but to make much of Him. At our core, we’re not created for fame. We’re made to make God famous, designed to love Him with all of our heart, without leaving room for would-be idols . And until we realize God rescued us for His fame and not our own, we’ll miss the ultimate purpose for life, which is Him. We are found when we realize our center is outside ourselves and our achievements, in God Himself.  (Pursued,p.50)

And now I should probably get out that cookie recipe…


Deliver me from my enemies, O LORD! I have fled to you for refuge. Teach me to do your will, for you are my God! Let your good Spirit lead me on level ground! Ps. 143:9-10 ESV

Now may the God of peace…equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. Heb.13:20-21 ESV

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. … All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.1Cor. 12:4-7, 11 ESV

For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Phil.2:13 KJV


Wilhite,Jud. Pursued:God’s Divine Obsession with You .  FaithWords: 2013. Kindle Edition.

“He has my heart”

The little guy sat among all those adults coloring while the preacher preached. He was only six but his parents thought the whole family should sit in church together– whether they ‘got’ everything that was said or not. So, here he was, coloring as Pastor Roger laid out his theme…

God treasures our sacrificial love. We show we love Him when we give the best that we have… The widow gave her mite. Mary spent her precious bottle of perfume. Cups of water given in His name count too. As the message came to a close its theme was brought home with a pointed question: “Does Jesus have anything of yours in His treasure box?”

Without hesitation, the little fellow looked up from his coloring and responded matter-of-factly: ‘Yes, He has my heart.’  Few heard his little voice. But his mother, sitting beside him, teared up at his words. To her they were precious—an indication that he really understood the transaction he had made with Jesus several weeks previous.

It had happened on the walk to the school bus stop. How she hated to release her tender first-born to the wide cruel world in this way, but at least she could accompany him to the bus stop… She had baby brother in the Snugli and little sister in tow. And as they walked they couldn’t help noticing the majestic billowing clouds on the horizon. It had made her think of Jesus’ promise to return and to whisk away His children to meet Him in the air. And so they talked about that.

Would everyone go? No, only those who had invited Jesus to live in their hearts…Well her firstborn son sure didn’t want to miss out on that. They had stopped and bowed their heads right then and there on that long dusty driveway under the shade of a big blue umbrella and they had done business with God. It was a simple beginning to a relationship with Jesus. But that child knew that Jesus had his heart, and  counted it precious.

That was twenty-three years ago. The little fellow grew up to be a strapping young man—handy and hard-working, daring and doing all manner of things hitherto unheard of in his family. He was a dynamo, that boy. Everything he did was done with intensity. He threw himself into stamp collecting and odd jobs, magic tricks and juggling. He swam competitively and memorized AWANA verses the same way. He composed and performed rap lyrics that echoed long after the performance ended. He wrote unforgettable essays and plays–unforgettably revealing and convicting, that is. And eventually he graduated from high school and moved away to see what in the wide world he had missed in the protective environs of home…

Many things vied for his heart; it was a big one—strong, and eager to live fully. He embraced mistakes as an effective way to learn, and grew wise. All the while his heart was kept in Jesus’ treasure box. Try as he might to give it away to lesser things, the reality of his childhood decision pulled him back. He himself would remind his anxious mother of the reassuring proverb that a child well-trained will not turn away from his upbringing. And his mother watching from afar gradually let out her breath and thanked the Lord for keeping this one’s heart in His treasure chest. And she watched as her son became the devoted husband of a God-fearing and beautiful wife, and the affectionate father to his own little ones.

And as she watched, she prayed… This was her calling. This is her calling still. Her first-born’s 29th birthday is coming up. She is proud of all that he has become and is becoming. She feels privileged to have been called to the role of “mother” to this whole-hearted son. And as she watches God’s hand at work in his life, she stores up all these things in her own treasure box. And one day, when Jesus comes in the clouds to whisk His children away, she will present it to Him in gratitude for letting her share this small part in furthering His Kingdom.

Happy Birthday Son!

I am confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus!


Who is the faithful and wise servant, whom his master has set over his household, to give them their food at the proper time? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Mt.24:45,46

But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart… Lk.2:19

“Thine is the greatness and the power and the glory and the victory and the majesty… all is thine.” I Chr. 29:11

Good Gracious!

Now there’s an expression I haven’t heard in a long while!  Apparently it dates back to the 1700’s.  And though it alludes to the goodness and grace of God it is used commonly as an expression of surprise, dismay or alarm.

I would like to reclaim it as an expression of actual appreciation for God’s grace—GOOD GRACIOUS!—He has been so gracious to one so lacking in grace.  I see this from fresh vantage points every passing year.  I stumbled upon an old post just now, written just over a year ago.  I was wrestling with the damning sense of ‘falling short’, and grasping for freedom to live out God’s design for me without this stifling condemnation.  This seems to be a recurring theme for me. But God keeps on pursuing, keeps on wooing me to rest in grace and to relax in the freedom He has purchased for me.

  • This week it came through a missions conference—a thoroughly winsome and passionate appeal by a young lady mesmerized and transformed by God’s grace.
  • God spoke too through other well-timed testimonies—simple evidences of God at work through ordinary people for His Kingdom’s sake.
  • Through fragmentary texting and conversations over tea I saw His grace at work in others.
  • And always through His Word He sets grace before me as not only the means of my salvation but of my walk before Him in this world.  I need grace and His is enough for all my lack.  No, God hasn’t given up on teaching my stony heart what grace is about.

He sees the mode I live from.  Though an heir to Christ’s righteousness I act as though my life depended on my own goodness?   I live as though avoiding mistakes and messes and sins and ‘scenes’ were the main thing. I  readily confine myself to the ‘tried and true’, things I think I can competently manage.  Or in lieu of that, to at least keeping up appearances, which demands limiting opportunities to fail.

It’s a grace-less and confining way to live.  And I’m sick of living in a cage!  God is too good and too GRACIOUS and life is too short for this. I want to fly!

The way out of this cage is more elusive.  It’s one thing to evaluate the cage you’re in and to see how you got there, but quite another to get the latch undone and fly free!  Pride has wired it tightly shut.  My life may not depend on limiting myself to known areas of competence, but my pride certainly does!!  I think it must be part of the human condition to want to be good enough to merit something!   But in this place how shall we ever know life-transforming grace? 

There is no parable that displays this problem more clearly than the story of the King settling accounts with his indebted servants. (Mt.18:23ff) Before him stood a servant that owed him more money than could be earned in a thousand lifetimes as a common laborer!

The fellow is about to be thrown in prison for life, so what does he do? You’d think he’d throw himself at the King’s feet and plead for mercy, right?  But no, he has his pride.  Instead he asks for time–for the king’s patience while he pays back his debt. Patience?  Is that really all he needed?  Does he really think he owes so little that he can make it up in a few short years? Never mind, the king took pity on this conceited servant, released him from prison and forgave his debt. It was sheer grace.

But was the debtor grateful? No, he was too proud to accept handouts.  This was no time for gratitude.  All he could think of was the fellow who owed him money. It was just a day’s wages but oh, how he throttled him, demanding that what was owed be paid back.  There was no place for grace. This servant of the king needed cash badly. He was intent on paying back the king.  This might be admirable in some other context but in light of the horrific debt he owed, and the King’s life-sparing offer, it was an insult to His gracious King. And because he had failed to comprehend the magnitude of what he had been forgiven, this servant was unable to extend grace to others.

He ended up back in prison, a permanent debtor to the king, only because he could not admit his own bankruptcy and welcome the King’s gracious offer:

“You have nothing. I have everything.
Here, I gift you your freedom from the debt you owe.”

I need this parable. It reminds me of the immense grace of God in which I stand. Grace which cost Jesus His life. Surely I have been forgiven much. But only to the extent that it sinks into those self-righteous sinkholes in my soul will it be truly transformative in my day-to-day encounters with real people.  And I am brought again to repentance—the starting place for grace to work its wonders and to free us from our self-serving confines.

We have been set free.

Freed from–sin’s domination,  the Law’s condemnation and our pre-occupation with falling short.

Freed to–live a life of love, led by the Spirit and governed by faith, not rules.

And there really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus—though we bungle, though we stumble, though we fail to reach our own ideals…If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed!

Good gracious!  That’s a  liberating reality to fly with!


“…for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace…” Heb13:9

“For you were called to freedom, brothers.  Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.” Gal.5:13

“For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus….only faith working through love [counts].” Gal.5:6

Who shall bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.  Who is he that condemns? Rom. 8:33,34