Sitting on the couch with a big cup of coffee with my iPad resting on the coffee table displaying a very different scene in Durham, NC – I’m smiling. I managed to catch my favorite three little kids at the breakfast table. My niece, Noa, is finished with her breakfast and talking a mile a minute. My nephew, Titus, always the last to finish has polished off all the milk in his bowl and somehow still has all the cereal, and my littlest niece, Emett, is happily smiling at me from her high chair in the background.
It’s an honor in that household to be allowed to hold the phone. Noa was allowed to take me in the other room and show me all the presents under the tree. Ten minutes later, my nephew is frantically asking to show me the presents under the tree (while holding the phone). Just as my sister starts to say ‘Aunt B has already seen the presents, Ti’, I interject with ‘Show me again!’. His face lights up and he carries me in much the fashion of the filming of the Blair Witch Project into the living room to show me the presents for a second time.
Thank you, Ann Voskamp for having just reminded me that morning the value of time.
‘Being in a hurry. Getting to the next thing without fully entering the thing in front of me. I cannot think of a single advantage I’ve ever gained from being in a hurry. But a thousand broken and missed things, tens of thousands, lie in the wake of all the rushing… Through all that haste I thought I was making up time. It turns out I was throwing it away’ – One Thousand Gifts, Ann Voskamp
Towards the end of the year I always select a few books I think will get my attitude towards the new year headed in the right direction. It’s usually a mix of time management, financial, and spiritual books. This year one of those choices was One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.
My friend, Rachel Hyde, had told me about this book several years ago and later my sister, also Rachel, echo’d similar sentiments. They didn’t love the style of writing (it’s very poetic and wordy) but they loved the concept. I felt much the same way. I picked it up on audiobook and listened to it while I cleaned the house and packed up to head to Miami for Christmas. I had turned it off to sit down with my coffee and iPad to talk (and even more, to listen) to my nieces and nephew.
One of my goals for 2017 is not to use the word busy. Towards the end of 2016 I found myself frustrated as people spoke for me: I would have asked you but I figured you were too busy. Becca is the busiest person I know. I’m sure you’re busy but…
I’m not busy.
My life is full, yes. I do a great many things, yes. But I’m not busy. One of the definitions of busy is preoccupied and that, I am not. If there is one thing I’m proud of in 2016 it is that I spent the year being present. Let’s forget the 29-30 years before it and just focus on the win of 2016 which was that I lived my goals, my priorities, and my passions wholeheartedly. So I don’t describe myself as busy. I also wanted other people to quit making assumptions about my busyness. So I eliminated ‘busy’ and ‘can’t’ from my vocabulary as I move into 2017.
Intentional was my first theme word, several years ago. I am intentional. I’m not busy or preoccupied and it’s not that I ‘can’t’ do things. I make choices. I will not, however, make excuses.
Unfortunately, I immediately had the chance to put this into action. Someone invited me to a breakfast before work on a Wednesday. It was an e-mail invitation and I promptly responded by clicking: no. When that person visited my desk at work later in the day she said ‘I’m so sorry you can’t come’. I was careful not to say that I couldn’t come or that I was busy – I said simply, I won’t be here at that hour.
Mornings are a top priority for me. I once read a book on time management that said to think of your most productive hours as ‘prime real estate’. Never give your prime real estate away for free. And I don’t. Mornings are mine. I wake hours before I must be somewhere so that I can accomplish the lion share of my goal progress before I leave the house and my time no longer belongs entirely to me. The nature of my job is that I have bosses (2), coworkers (many), meetings (which often prevent work while assigning more). But mornings, mornings are mine and I don’t give them away for free.
So why avoid the word can’t? Easy, because I can. I can do what I choose. It is frequently not what others would have me choose but it is always my choice. When people make excuses to me I find myself wanting to correct them. You know how people start confessing when they’re around pastors and priests that they know they should go to church but they don’t? Well, somehow I have become that for reading and other goals. People get around me, get nervous, and then promptly say things like ‘I would love to read like you do but I just don’t have the time so I can’t’.
Two things bother me about this: 1. I’ve never been particularly inclined in the math department but even I am well aware that 168 is the number of hours in their weeks as well as mine. Time moves at the same pace for each of us. What we do with it, well, that’s another conversation entirely. 2. There’s an implication in this that annoys me. That I must have hours and hours of leisure time in which I cannot possibly have anything I must do so I read and read. That’s not really what my weeks look like (although, I’m not entirely opposed).
One such conversation like this I said, ‘well, what time do you wake up in the morning?’. She responded ‘7:30’. Great, I said, then if you start getting up at 4:45 in the morning like I do to read before work, you’ll have 3 whole hours to read. That’s three times the amount of time I spend reading each day so you’re all set.
Quickly I have learned that fighting with people who are determined to make excuses is like casting your pearls before swine. I don’t point out the weakness in peoples excuse arguments anymore (unless they’ve asked me to mentor them or to be part of their accountability teams) BUT I have eliminated ‘can’t’ in their honor. I don’t feel bad for the things I do not do (like cook 7 nights a week). So, why not own my decisions? Instead of saying I would love to do something that I clearly would not love to do or I would find a way to do it: I just admit that I don’t.
I COULD meet you for breakfast before work, but I won’t.
The real beauty in these rules is all I can do and the benefit of being present. I’m not too busy to look at presents under a Christmas tree several times. Yes, I would love to see the artwork you did in Sunday school or hear about your 5th birthday party. It’s not the art of saying no that I’ve had to master it’s the art of saying yes to the right things. Yes, I can hop a flight to trick or treat with my nieces and nephew. Yes, to a wedding in Indiana the weekend after I’ll already be in Indiana to spend some time with my best friend. Yes, you can come visit and stay with me and I’ll drive you out to the beach. Yes to tutoring on Tuesday nights at the Dream Center and baking goodies for the high school bible study borrowing my club house.
I cannot think of a single advantage I have gained from being in a hurry. Show me again. I want to see it again.