Sticking it to the To-Do List

Wildgänse im Flug, A skein of greylag geese.
Wildgänse im Flug, A skein of greylag geese. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This morning I read an Ann Voskamp quote saying that the remedy for anxiety is worship, or something to that effect. So true. To be full of wonder — wonderfull — how can the to-do list retain its power to freeze the veins? How can the But Gods crush and conquer?

There is a very real list of things unfinished, important, urgent even — a list of things blundered and things intimidating and things impossible — staring me in the face today. Standing at the back door with a cooling cup of coffee I can choose what to see. The porch in need of repair? The grill in need of cleaning? The fence sagging, neighbors’ house peeling, grass not growing? Or the tracery of branches across pale sky, geese in military formation (except for that one that can’t get it together), squirrel acrobatics? I can stare down the lists that march on my day or look past them to see the myriad opportunities for laughter.

Yesterday I told the Lord that what gets me down is choicelessness. The things I want to do I cannot do, the things I pine for are out of reach. If only I could make effectual choices, I could live with the consequences, I argued. (You can see I am happily delusional). Of course, it is harder to trust, to let someone else do the choosing, and yet isn’t that kind of the cornerstone of faith — that God chose me to dearly love? So I wiggle and squirm and finally relax and try to rest. OK, God. You choose. But still He graciously gives choice every day — choose light. Choose joy. Choose the lists with their ugly power, or brush past them and choose hope. Live wonderfull.

So today I praise. Two thousand years ago a young girl rounded with fear and trembling, hope and joy. The reasons to worry, the staredown of Impossible and Inadequate must have circled her tight and taunting. But in those months of waiting and uncertainty she threw back her head and hollered her choice: “Oh, how my soul praises the Lord. How my spirit rejoices in God my Savior! For he took notice of his lowly servant girl, and from now on all generations will call me blessed. For the Mighty One is holy, and he has done great things for me.”

Impossible? Pah! Nothing is impossible with God.

Gumball Dynasty

Move over, ducks.  The Gumball Dynasty is a-comin’.

Gumballs (Photo credit: grandmasandy+chuck)

It all started with the World Vision Christmas catalog.  At the table one night, we poured over it:  “Look!  A goat for only $75!  A water buffalo will set you back $1100.”  You might be surprised to hear that we are contemplating buying livestock, but on the other hand, maybe that is the kind of kooky thing you’ve come to expect from the Morgans.  Who wouldn’t want to share space with a llama, after all?

Of course, it wouldn’t actually be for us.  World Vision, as you probably already know, helps needy people around the world, and this is their annual gift-a-thon.  For $548, for instance, you can send a live nativity scene to a modern-day Bethlehem somewhere around the world: a donkey, a sheep, a goat, and a pair of chickens.  Manger not included.

imageI love, love, love the World Vision Christmas catalog.  I am right there along with my 8-year-old, who wants to give not a single sheep, but the whole darn farm:  28 farm animals for under $2500.  What?!  So the kids and I were brainstorming.  Could a kid raise that kind of money?  How?

So we got online to research kids and fundraising, and we started planning the bread we could sell, the crafts we could make, the bubblegum… huh?  Did you know that kids can have their very own bubblegum machine?  You know, the kind you put a quarter in and get a handful of M&Ms or a giant ball of cement with a bright candy coating?  My kids, doing some math, were all astonishment.  Gumball machine:  $100.  One bag of gumballs yields:  $200.

Little Man might just be the next Philip Anschutz, because since making this discovery, he has changed all of his previous Christmas wish list plans.  Now the only thing he wants for Christmas is a paid-in-full gumball machine , half of the proceeds of which he intends to use to buy a farm for World Vision.  (He wants to reinvest the other half into more gumballs until he has his own little vending route and enough money to fund college and a lifetime supply of Nerf guns.)

Can I just say, I wish I were so creative, caution-to-the-wind, and passionately generous as my 8-year-old?  Here’s to the gumball dynasty.  Here’s to 28 farm animals and a village lifted from hunger to abundance, and the knowledge that they are deeply loved.

Can’t I just learn the hard way?

English: Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Extract
English: Nielsen-Massey Vanilla Extract (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Little man really wanted to try some of that vanilla I was putting in the banana bread.  “It’s yucky, buddy,” I said.  “Yummy in the bread, not so good by itself.”


“You won’t like it.”

“But Mom, can’t I just learn the hard way?”

Oh my gosh, he is just like me!  How many times have I struggled and strained to have my way against all warnings and my own better judgment?  Course, I am not usually so honest about my stubborn streak; it takes an eight-year-old to be that forthright.  Me, I justify.  I give my arsenal of good reasons and my own persuasive puppy-dog eyes.  “Pleeease?”

When I know I should just say no instead of adding one more thing to my plate, I have to learn the hard way.  Why not rest when I need to?

When I know I am going to regret that second doughnut in about 5 minutes, I have to learn the hard way.  Why don’t I stop when I’m full?

When I’m smack up against a closed door I don’t like, do I listen to that still, small voice saying turn around?  Nope, not me.  I have to learn the hard way.  Just… gotta… force… it… open — there!

And unlike little man and his vanilla craving, my learning-the-hard-way tends to hurt.  Bad.  I burn out, dry up, lose faith, lose heart.  I trade freedom and joy for shame and a dark pit.  Why do we make it so hard on ourselves?  The funny thing is, God’s way — that narrow way we tend to associate with deprivation — is always the best way.  I never regret obeying him in the first place.

You ever have to learn the hard way?


Sixth grade class play.  Sitting on the dusty stage, gazing across at the little red-headed boy.  Who knew a heart could swell so big?  Little kids and country singers know the secret of grand dreams, great loves, and gargantuan disappointments.  You have to live with your whole heart.

I have been learning again lately about living by heart.  About rejecting duty and dogma in favor of deep-rooted, upwelling joy.  About the heart-need for heart-nourishment, rest, and protection.  About guarding my heart, remembering my first love (not the little red-headed boy), and putting a picket fence around what’s important.

At our house, we’ve been using the term “sabbatical heart.”  Having just come home from a five-month sabbatical, we gave our hearts a much-needed vacation, the chance to breathe.  So a “sabbatical heart” is thankful, not grasping, trusting, not fearful, rested, not rushed.  It’s a rocking chair on the front porch, a walk in the woods, pineapple upside-down cake and a game of Catan.  It’s a long soak in Psalms, prayer that’s conversation, and a good laugh.  In my new favorite phrase, it’s unhooked and unhindered,image free.  And it really doesn’t give a hoot what anyone else thinks.

What if you lived from the heart?  Made decisions on a heart-level?  Would it transform your marriage?  Your family?  Your vocation?  Grab a concordance, see what the Bible has to say on the subject.  God isn’t shy about wanting your whole heart.

  • Love me with all your heart
  • Serve me with all your heart
  • Trust me with all your heart
  • Seek me with all your heart
  • Praise me with all your heart
  • Follow me with all your heart
  • Obey me with all your heart
  • Have a soft heart
  • Have a heart that yearns for God, pounds for God, is fully devoted, stirred, steadfast, secure and undivided
  • Above all else guard your heart
  • Keep your heart pure
  • Rend your heart
  • Rejoice with all your heart

I heard the folk singer, Dave Wilcox, talking not long ago about a conversation his head had with his heart.  “I don’t understand,” his head said.  “It’s not in your language,” answered his heart.

How much do I need those conversations?  The ones where my heart gives my head a talking-to.  Not logic, not cut-and-dried or should-and-shouldn’t.  Love.  Joy.  Heart.

Jury Duty, Babies, Funerals, and Car Trouble

So I spent last week in jury duty. Have you had this delightful opportunity yet? You go in for what you assume will be just a day, a blip in your life — you reschedule, postpone, mush things, sit awkwardly in a packed waiting room full of fidgety folks, look at your watch one too many times. Maybe you bring some work to keep busy, or a book, but mostly you people-watch, sigh, look at that watch again.

This time, though, it was a really long blip in my little life — four days, as a matter of fact. We were chosen (I say “we” because soon enough, the strangers were an “us”) to weigh in on a man’s life, one loose cannon whose little joyride cost a lot of people their sense of security, their prized possessions, and their peace. This person I’d never met nor heard of, dozens of witnesses and attorneys, legal clerks, a judge, and 12 other lucky jurors all became my central focus for the better part of a week.

Meanwhile, one of the cars died. My husband and the kids were stuck at home, just…stuck. More things cancelled, shuffled. More lives affected. (Can I just say, the frustration level caused by a piece of metal is ridiculous!)

My good friend called in with periodic maybe (maybe not) going-into-labor updates. Another friend’s mother slid closer to the end of life until, this morning, she died. Car trouble? Appointments shifted? Little lower on the magnitude scale.

The whole surreal week seems to be screaming for my attention. Life, the whole messy pile of it, dumped in my lap to be sorted. I heard so many stories: funny stories, pitiful stories, gut-wrenching, beautiful, hopeful stories. People I’d pass without a second glance (and have I? A dozen times? In traffic, at the mall? One of the jurors, buying doughnuts for the jury, ran into the judge, also buying doughnuts for the jury, at the store. How many times had they passed each other before in aisle 9?)… these people, all with their intricate stories, suddenly reared up in my face as if to say hey, stupid. Notice us.

So life is barreling along, 100 miles an hour, like our buddy the defendant on his wild ride in a stolen car. Usually in my own little world, I walk right by a lot of hurting people, oblivious. Wonder what I’d see if I paid better attention?


Everything You Need for 5 Months in the Back of a Dodge Durango

There’s something about packing that really brings home the big truths about life: I do not need that many shoes. I have bottles of cardamom, turmeric, and coriander that I have used maybe once but that have been occupying space in my little cabinet for a whole lotta years. And I really do not plan to ever rewatch the entire Lost series on DVD; I already gave 5 years of my life to that crazy train!

What do you need when you’re leaving for 5 months on a cross-country trip? What’s really, really essential? Because whatever you pack you have to lug, in and out of cabins and cottages, in and out in snow, rain, 100-degree days. Whatever you pack you have to sit on, under, crammed between — you’d better like it if it’s going to be poking you in the ribs for days on end. And what, when you’ve not needed it or missed it for 5 months, do you really need at all?

We threw things out on the way, outgrown clothes (and yes, in 5 months, the kids outgrow a lot), holey jeans. We lost a one-eyed stuffed tiger that turned out to be super-important after all — the whole family cried along with Little Guy — and watched together the miracle when it turned up in a Pennsylvania hotel and got Fed-Exed back to us. We learned that you can spend hours with the same crate of Legos and make something new every day, that long walks are better than Yahoo, and that the same 30 recipes over and over seems like more variety than what I produce when I don’t have a plan.

We stayed in places beautiful, places dumpy, lived in others’ houses and saw what they treasured. We learned what we didn’t miss, to great astonishment. We didn’t miss tv. We didn’t miss the internet. We did miss some books, our laundry room!, the grill.

We came home, looked with new eyes. We are sorting, separating, paring down. If it can’t fit in the back of the Dodge Durango, maybe it’s not so necessary after all.


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