When a margin-less season really is just another grace


The last several weeks have been nothing short of overwhelming:

  • kindergarten graduation
  • high school graduation
  • soccer championship
  • realizing I probably need shoulder surgery… again
  • fun with overseas visitors – friends we know from Africa who are either studying in the States or were visiting their former colonies
  • camping
  • two brand spanking new licensed drivers
  • unexpected car repairs (and just to clarify – not due to those new drivers)
  • decluttering – otherwise known as deciding what we keep and take versus what we trash or give away
  • packing
  • some more packing
  • some of that packing needing to be unpacked and then repacked differently
  • last minute sleepovers and get-togethers with friends
  • last minute get-together requests that had to be denied or declined because there just wasn’t time
  • dealing with tears and disappointment as a result of the previous statement
  • cleaninguhaul and elephants
  • loading a U-Haul
  • tears – saying goodbye to our college guy studying biology
  • worrying about that college guy – his internship this summer means he’s driving an hour plus (one way), his shift doesn’t end until midnight and now I’m no longer able to listen for the door and know he’s home safe
  • tears – saying goodbye to our freshly graduated gal while hoping that the next morning she’d actually be able to successfully drive herself to work since she’d never done that before and we’d be out of the country if she needed help
  • miles of driving
  • receiving four year work permits after a few hours waiting at the border
  • getting lost trying to find the next necessary office
  • receiving tax numbers after another chunk of time waiting in an office
  • driving some more
  • driving in really heavy traffic with a kayak and lots of bikes strapped to the back of the car while following a U-Haul trailer hitched to a U-Haul truck
  • driving a final day
  • unloading that U-Haul
  • unpacking
  • some more unpacking
  • arranging
  • rearranging
  • introducing our expanded-from-when-we-were-in-this-place-before-family to friends
  • introducing our family who can’t remember being here before because they were too little to this place
  • meeting new friends
  • trying to think in and understand French again after not having used it much the past two years
  • trying to understand a particular accent of French we’ve not really heard for nearly 15 years
  • learning where to shop
  • searching for a bakery that includes nut-free products
  • finding where to get the car fixed since the inspection people were particularly picky
  • applying for renter’s insurance and car insurance and health insurance…
  • waiting in offices
  • waiting in traffic
  • learning to use the local bus system
  • walking and biking lots more since for the summer, we are a one car family and the car goes to the studio where hubby/daddy is ministering


That’s been our lives the past six or seven weeks. It doesn’t look so long on the calendar. But that list? And that first event? The kindergarten graduation? It feels like a lifetime ago. Really!

So little space.  It has been, in almost every way, a season of margin-less living. I don’t recommend it as a permanent lifestyle.

So much is new or strange or unfamiliar. At the very least, it’s outside any routine we’ve ever known before. These veteran missionaries don’t like wearing the “new” hat once again.

Leaving (especially to start over in a new place) will always challenge, and contrary to what I used to think way back when as we started this missionary journey, it hasn’t gotten any easier just because we’ve had some practice. The idea that practice makes perfect when it comes to leaving and transitioning is a myth… or a bold-faced lie. It certainly wasn’t any easier this time, even knowing we are just a very long day’s drive distant… instead of several plane rides remote. No matter how many times I say it, no matter how much I tried to convince myself (and others) it just might be different this time, parting remained a sweet, but deeply profound and intense, sorrow.

beautiful quebec

And that’s on top of the reality that we’ve just come through a season of little… if any… margin.

I found it funny that Jonathan just wrote about this subject a few days ago. And let me say straight up that I agree with everything he so beautifully said.

I’d just like to add a little addendum, though, because I’m one of those who isn’t very good at margin. I imagine I’m not the only one. Dr. Swenson’s book was reading required by our mission, before we were ever formally accepted as candidates. I’ve often felt like a failure because I can’t seem to master the principles on which Swenson expounded.

I think I’ve finally figured something out. For some, margin must be a carefully crafted space that they guard if they are to function well in a God-honoring way. I hope I’ve finally learned to not only permit, but to respect and honor someone who understands that truth about themselves.

For me – when I try to get intentional and guard some wasted space? Snap! Just like that, margin becomes an idol and my way of ministering independent of God. The lie that I can do this missionary thing in my own strength subtly takes over when I start planning for margin.

I find I often function better when my margin comes in seasons or, perhaps, layers? I don’t know quite what might be the right word to call it.

What I do know is that my recent margin-less “event” calendar was a disguised grace, for it actually gifted me the emotional margin to get through goodbyes and leaving two of my children behind as we returned to “les champs missionaires.” In other words, no margin in one domain actually provided the margin I more desperately required in another.

I’ve also discovered that for me, margin only really happens if I’m living out daily the truth that God is sovereign. I need Him; He doesn’t need me – thus it is okay to leave a task unfinished and decide to “waste” time. Sometimes I have to put one foot in front of the other, plodding along even when I’m too tired to lift my head and look around, trusting God to provide strength and rest and nourishment. I do try and spontaneously choose margin at some point every day. I have seasons with space for deep and intensive study of God’s Word; other times, quiet meditating on the fruit from those seasons in the midst of busyness nourishes, and in a totally different way as those things I’ve learned in my head have time to sink deep into my heart thanks to the realities of life. One thing I’ve recognized during those seasons of a margin-less layer is just how utterly, totally dependent I am upon God for and in every single aspect of life.

What’s the point? Having space in your life that is not planned and programmed and jam-packed is important. Finding, or making, margin is a must priority. But for me, at least a significant chunk of the time, it doesn’t come scheduled because then it ceases to be margin and is just one more event on the calendar that I need to check off and proof that I can do this on my own. Rather, I find margin as it emanates from the quietness and peace that comes when I rest in God’s sovereignty and remember (sometimes consciously, sometimes not) that relationships – with Him and with others – are His priority.

His sovereignty is what frees me to go against my natural inclinations and set down that list of all that still needs to be done, fold over the honey-do list and slide it back under the computer without griping, and say “Yes!” when hubby wants to pile the kids in the car and take time to uncover the beautiful places surrounding us. To say “Yes!” when my little guy asks me to wander to the park and watch the kids play lava tag, again. To shop every other day as my girl and I walk to the grocery store – buying just enough for today and tomorrow because that’s all we really want to carry back up the hill to the house. To join new friends for a birthday party celebration. To gather raspberries growing on the bushes at the park, in the rain.


Are you one who must plan for, making margin in your life and ministry a priority?

Or are you more like me – one for whom that sort of planning easily becomes a legalistic nightmare, and you find margin by trusting God?

What is your strategy for maintaining a good balance if you do both?

Credit for U-Haul/elephant photo collage -
Tina Heydenberg
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Richelle Wright

Disciple of Jesus, lover of God's Word, wife to one great guy, and mama of eight, Richelle has spent the past 13 years in Niger, West Africa. She and her family are currently in the throes of transition as they begin life and ministry (teaching, audio-visual production) in the Canadian province of Québec. |ourwrightingpad.blogspot.com|

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