The Brown Marker

The Brown Marker August 4, 2011

The Brown Marker

I try to be a Spirit-led person. That is to say, I keep track of important meetings and appointments so as to respect other people’s time, but  ultimately I try to trust the need of the day to shape my day, rather than trying to shape it myself. Over-planning always malfunctions for me. In fact, the more I have planned, the less I actually do.

I know this about myself. And yet, when I get stressed and overwhelmed by my schedule, my unknowns, my surroundings…you know, when life happens… I grab that pen and calendar as a way to cope.  I guess it is a less destructive comfort than many, but ultimately, does not help me get things done any more than, say, drinking too much might “help me function better,” or “help me concentrate more.” There is something soothing to me about getting it all down on paper, as if the act of writing something out equals the actual getting-done-of-things.  I am a compulsive list-maker. But I am NOT a compulsive list follower, and therein lies the problem…

Lately, I’ve been living in my calendar. This tells me something about my stress level. In fact, I caught myself the other day trying to write MORE things into my calendar. Not just meetings and things that involved other people, but almost a long-term to-do list, broken down day by day over the next month. A way to make it all tangible and manageable…It was not pretty.

It was not pretty because by the very next day, I was already having to shuffle and rearrange, scribble and cross and write again. Because things change. People go to the hospital and need to be visited. People go to the hospital and can’t make it to meetings. People come to town and want to spend time with you. You turn the news on Saturday and have to change your whole sermon for the next day. Maybe even your whole sermon series for the season. Weather is unpredictable. Money comes and goes. The dow rises and falls. People come new to the church, and fall away again.

You will notice, these are mostly things beyond my control. These are the things that crop up at a moment’s notice and send me to amend that calendar with whiteout. Ever tried whiteout over black ink? Also not pretty.

What I needed was a reminder that real ministry happens, and real faith is lived, in daily prayer and simple listening…trusting  the Spirit to point me to the most urgent need of the day, opening doors for folks to come and go, and shaping the gospel in my heart before I ever try and put pen to paper. (Trying to “write” out a sermon for me is a lot like trying to plot a month on the calendar…messy, without focus, and leaving no room for changes that will come, inevitably and beyond my control.)

What I needed was a 2-year old with a brown marker.

In the summer, I usually work about one day a week at home, cutting back on childcare costs and church utility bills. So Harper has seen mom “work” a lot lately, which usually involves the computer, some books, the phone, and a writing utensil. She often pretends to “do some work” with me, or just by herself, and that also usually involves a keyboard, a toy phone, and yes… a writing utensil.

Why do you have markers in the same house as a 2-year-old? you are asking right now.  Well I don’t! Not on purpose anyway. What happened was, my life got crazy and messy (as it does) and I had supplies from a recent leadership retreat in my “work at home” bag. Including, I am sorry to say, a package of markers.

The good news is, she didn’t go for the walls. She didn’t go for the furniture. She didn’t even go for the dog or the baby brother. She went for August. August in my perfectly-planned planning planner. And she created a masterpiece that ran across every day on the page.

“That’s pretty much how I feel about it too,” I said.

Work, family, ministry, faith, anything worth having, will not be contained in those little boxes. All that living spills out, joyful chaos, onto the other pages of life. I’m trying to let it. Bring on that brown marker, kiddo. I think I’ve got a few other edits to make…

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  • Wonderful. We all need a child with a marker to remind us of the most important things in our lives. This will preach! Luke 18:16 – “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.”

  • Anne Rogers

    Thank you, Erin. It’s a grand metaphor for the way we try to program our lives. I’m still learning at almost 80.

  • Andra

    Erin: This post is so great. Thank you. I just closed my to do list for the day and am moving on to spend some time with 6 strings instead. This morning, sage 10 year old Walt gave me a little Sabbath
    advice that seems to apply here:

    “Saturdays are fragile. You can’t do any work on Saturdays, because they’re your fun days, and you don’t want to break them. Sundays on the other hand, you can work. Just not too much.”

    • that boy will make a preacher some day. or a song writer 🙂

  • Raye Anna Kish

    I loved it. Even though I have access to electronic tools to plan my life, I prefer pen to paper. I even find enjoyment reading old day planners, and wonder how did I do that much stuff in one day,week or month.

    But my favorite times are when the list is marked out with a purple marker, and I am off to see a friend in need, or having coffee and catching up. Brown or Purple marker, it does not matter; it is time to stop and smell the roses:)
    Raye Anna

    • i love purple! i also loved your story about your mission to paint the neighborhood. that will preach!