A Sense of Urgency

A Sense of Urgency

Yes, I just published this post 127 days after I wrote it. The irony of this, given the title, does not escape me. ~Sherri, July 9

Yesterday was  Ash Wednesday—the first day of Lent. The forty days (not counting Sundays) that lead to Easter weekend are associated with the length of time Jesus was tempted in the desert before beginning his earthly ministry, but they also remind us of the last days of his earthly ministry.

Lent serves as a sort of “ticking clock,” which is a literary device that limits the time the protagonist has to achieve the story goal. The ticking clock propels us through a story and creates a sense of urgency. Will the protagonist achieve the story’s goal before time runs out?

The countdown of Lent provides us with a similar sense of urgency regarding spiritual disciplines. If we give up something for Lent, will we be able to fight off temptation until the Lenten clock runs out? If we begin doing something beneficial for Lent, will we still be doing it when Easter arrives?

Yet we don’t practice disciplines like fasting and prayer simply to see if we can or to rack up gold stars on heaven’s “Good Little Boys and Girls Chart.” Lent should remind us of a more profound sense of urgency that leads us to the quiet of prayer and examen—the urgency that comes from being like the protagonist in a novel who doesn’t know when the clock will stop. Will I achieve my life’s purpose before my time runs out?

Each day we hear about life stories that have ended or are soon to end. A few life stories are long and well-told. Others ramble on like a purposeless Twitter feed. Some short life-stories leave us baffled and wanting to know more. No matter how a life-story ends, death makes us reconsider life. During reflections like these, this question often comes to the surface: how do I know what my purpose is in life?

That question brings us to another lesson we can learn from storytelling. A protagonist will not choose to pursue the story goal until the inciting incident occurs. This is an event that makes it impossible for the protagonist to continue to live with the status quo. Like the ticking clock, the inciting incident creates urgency that requires the protagonist to move forward despite obstacles and internal misconceptions.

So where are you at in your life story? Have you experienced an inciting incident that changed the course of your life making your purpose and life-goal clear? Are you muddling along in the middle avoiding obstacles and ignoring the ticking clock of life? Or are you drawing near the end and wondering how to finish well? Wherever you are at, consider embracing the quiet urgency and disciplines of Lent. Pray in secret in a quiet place as Jesus instructed his disciples in Matthew 6. In the quiet, listen. And let your question change from Will I achieve my life’s purpose before time runs out? to Our father…your kingdom come…your will be done.

The River Runs On

The River Runs On

I

July 8, 2014

I’ve sat on this bank before in the summer.
Melted sunshine drizzling into diamond-flecked rivulets.

Mosquitoes nipping.

Dragonflies dancing.

Sweat sneaking down my spine.

The water looks the same as it did last year (and the year before that),
Wending its way through a loamy trough cut willy-nilly by a giant’s plow and his dancing horses.

I kneel down at the river’s edge,
The dampness of grass and moss tickling its way through rolled up jeans.
Last year (or was it a year before that or a year before that?),
Two other sets of summer-skinned-and-scarred knees bent on either side of mine,
Pressing into the river’s edge.

We practiced fishing with our hands,
Plunging our palms into the gold rushing by,
Drawing out treasures and whirligigs and smiles.

Now, alone at the water’s edge,
I search for past years’ gems.
Within the sameness that is not at all the same,
I cannot find what I am looking for.

Yet the river runs on.

II

June 13, 2016

You joined me again at the river’s edge.
This time on a stony shoal jutted out from the river’s bank,
Slowing the water’s rush into soothing shallows.

A time both long and short,
A time both sweet and tart,
A time when we realized how very old and young we were growing—
Both at the same time.

We reclined side by side,
The spring sun toasting our faces,
Our toes cooling in the river’s eddies
That whirled round river rocks and pirouetted past pebbles.

We allowed the world to slide on,
While we contemplated whether it was summer enough to wade in—
Or even plunge into the swimming hole around the bend.

It was a smiling time of living in dreams not relegated to night.

The temperature crept summer-ly so slowly,
I did not notice how long I had closed my eyes
Only to open them and find you poised on the far bank—
Ready to dive into rain-swollen rapids rushing past our pebbled peninsula.

As you slid silently into the sun-glinted river’s run,
Down-streaming toward deltas and the deeps beyond,
I scrambled to join you—just as far as the swimming hole—
I stumbled, a stone knifing through my knee’s skin,
Bleeding tears into the flow that
Wended you invisible round the river’s bend.

I had slept too long in the shallows,
We would not drink of the depths together—
This time.
Can we ever this side of Jordan?

And the river runs on.

~~To Be Continued~~


I’ve finally added a new stanza to a poem I began almost two years ago.

Living the Portfolio Life | Setting Boundaries

Living the Portfolio Life | Setting Boundaries

Whether you work forty hours a week in a traditional job, run your own business, or juggle a portfolio career that incorporates a variety of job opportunities, life can become overwhelming when our boundaries are too large or nonexistent. If you’re feeling like life is out of control, maybe it’s time for a monthly checkpoint. Think back over the last thirty days and ask yourself these questions:

  • Are you where you expected you would be a month ago? Explain.
  • What progress have you made toward your goals (if you had any)?
  • Would you say life is playing the same old song or have any surprises altered your path?
  • When you have had a choice about participating in an activity how long did it take for you to make the decision?
  • Have you been the person you want to be?

Thirty days ago, I thought I’d settled on boundaries for work that would challenge me, but still allowed enough flexibility for the inevitable surprises that life throws at us. I would be teaching one class and writing through the end of the year. I planned to keep up with weekly blog posts and finish a writing project by September 30. I said no to several opportunities without any agony or pain, but then…

  • A conversation led to a short-term job opportunity that would require about forty hours of work over a period of four weeks.
  • I hit a wall with the writing project.
  • I allowed myself to spend too much time on research and learning other skills as a form of “constructive procrastination.”
  • I fed my feelings of inadequacy about marketing by listening to too many “gurus” telling me ten different “most important” things I ought to be doing to build my writing business.
  • I went through an “I like being a wall flower” phase and retreated from social media and writing blog posts.
  • My husband and I have been processing a tragedy that occurred within one of our circles of friends during the last few weeks.
  • I’ve been under the weather most of the last month and truly ill for about ten days.

If you’re anything like me, a list this short is just a taste of all that has happened during the last thirty days. While I’ve made progress toward some of my goals, I’m not where I’d hoped that I would by the beginning of November. I can look back at several decisions I made that did not fit within the original boundaries I set up for my work load this fall. On the other hand, some of my deadlines were unrealistic, so I’m reassessing and refining my expectations. Here are few things I’m learning about setting boundaries while living a portfolio life.

Know Your Boundaries

Boundary 1: Time

Do an audit of your current obligations. What pieces of your life are non-negotiable? If you can, estimate how much time you spend on each one each month or week. Family obligations, relationship building, self-care (sleep, exercise, meals, and down-time), and work will likely top the list. Once you fit those items into your schedule, what is left is your negotiable time. You may have more than you thought; you may have less. If a new opportunity cannot fit into your negotiable time, it doesn’t fit within your boundaries right now.

Boundary 2: Values

Do you know what you value most? Look at your time audit. What does it reveal about your values? Now, look back over your checkbook or finance software for the past year. What do your money habits say about your values? Do you like what you see? If you don’t, then its time to re-evaluate. Take the time to come up with what you value most and write it down. Put it somewhere you can see it often. When presented with a new opportunity ask yourself it aligns with your most important values in any way. If not, say ‘no’ and move on.

Boundary 3: Your Limitations

Embrace your limitations. It does no good to compare yourself to your neighbor or the virtual super-humans who rule the social media world. You have your own unique set of limitations that shape your life path. Don’t allow a limitation to dictate what you can and cannot do; on the other hand, embrace your limitations, because they allow you to find rest and satisfaction in the choices you make.

The portfolio life allows us to pursue a variety of interests, but you have to know your limitations, values, and time restraints. You can’t do it all—at least all at once. Pace yourself. Enjoy the journey. Know that life circumstances flex and change. Though a valuable or exciting opportunity may not fit within your boundaries today, down the road it just might. Or you may discover something better. Limitations and boundaries aren’t liabilities in the portfolio life; they are your guides. How about your boundaries? Do you say ‘yes’ too often? Does your schedule feel out of control? Or have you committed to things that are at odds with your values? 

Sources
The original concept of a portfolio worker is credited to Charles Handy who wrote about it in his book, The Age of Unreason. Jeff Goins builds on Handy’s idea of a portfolio worker in his book, The Art of Work, and applies it more broadly to a person’s life–a portfolio life .

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