How Our Mission Trip Taught Us How to Be Present and Create Margin
“Mar·gin”: a spare amount or measure or degree allowed or given for contingencies or special situations (Merriam Webster Dictionary). Something I’ve learned about myself over the years is that I’m not very good at creating margin in my life. In fact, I don't remember the last time I had spare time, or answered the question, “How are you?” with anything but, “Busy.” Most days I’m running out of the house late with half-wet hair, frustrated that someone in front of me is driving exceptionally slow, realizing as I pass the post office that I never found time to send that birthday card I had planned to put in the mail the previous week. As I get to work, I get a text message from a friend asking if I want to catch up sometime soon, and I either don’t give myself a minute to respond, or as quickly as I can, type back something like, “Yes! Absolutely. Hmmm.. I have something going on almost every night this week...small groups, meetings, coffee dates... but maybe we could squeeze in something in 2 weeks?” This past month, my husband and I had the incredible opportunity to lead a Group International Mission Trip to Guatemala. Something we’ve dreamed of for awhile. Trent and I met while leading mission trips, so the chance to lead an international trip together seemed like something we could not pass up. But to put it simply, leading up to the trip, we were stressed. There was so much to do and arrange before we left the country for 10 days. And in all honesty, the first few days of our trip we were tempted. We were tempted to connect to every Wifi connection that popped up. Something inside us felt like we needed to answer emails and text messages and stay connected to our lives back in Colorado the best we could. But as always, God had other things in store. He wanted to offer us a different perspective, a slower pace, a fresh look at what a good dose of margin could look like in our lives. As each day progressed in Guatemala, we noticed more and more that this place and these people were different. As we strolled down the streets, shop owners, mothers, and children alike stopped what they were doing to make eye contact and say hello. No one seemed to be in a rush. Conversations lingered. And there was a certain sense of joy and gratitude we couldn’t help but notice. On one of our last afternoons in San Juan, about 45 minutes before we needed to be to dinner, some of our new local friends asked if Trent and I could get coffee before we left town. Internally, I hesitated, because I wasn’t sure of our plans for the rest of our time there. But I knew I wanted to spend time together as we weren’t sure of the next time we would be back. Maybe we could squeeze in a late evening or early morning coffee? Surely, we wouldn’t have the time now…we had places to be soon. Plus, our friends probably needed to get home to make dinner and be with their own families. As I thought through how to tell them I didn’t think we would have the time, one of the women suggested. “How about we go now?” Oh… now? Really? I couldn’t believe it. Rarely had someone ever suggested to spend time with me on the spot. So we went to coffee right then and there. Throughout the first 10 minutes together, I was anxious about the time. But as conversation flowed, in English, Spanish, Tzutujil (the native mayan language) and even in hand motions, my anxiety lifted, and I actually lost track of time altogether. We laughed. We shared vulnerable stories of heartbreak, joys, and dreams the Lord has written on our hearts. When there was finally a lull in conversation, I glanced down at my phone, only to realize, dinner had long passed and the sky was darkening outside. But even then, instead of offering an apology for rudely needing to leave in a rush, we stayed. We chatted some more, and just enjoyed each other’s presence. We allowed for margin.
In return, we learned that sometimes the people who sit right in front of us are more important than our own plans. That day, we experienced God’s heart for friendship and love. We were filled with hope. Hope that maybe a slower pace, and willingness to be present, wasn't too bad after all.
When we look to Scripture, we see that Jesus embodied a life FULL of margin. Jesus never rushed. Instead, He was attentive to others, and He stopped to listen, to heal, and to see. He had the capacity to sit in stillness with His Father, and to love others well. Even in the well-known “love passage," 1 Corinthians 13, it’s not a coincidence that the first descriptive of love is patience. In that little coffee shop, Trent and I learned that the more we rush, the less capacity we have to love. As we lay in our hotel room the night before we would fly home, I leaned over to my husband and asked, “How do we apply what God has done within us, to our lives back in the States?” It felt near impossible knowing the deadlines, commitments, emails, texts, and more, just waiting for us to return. And the simple answer we settled on was we just have to be intentional. I’m here to say, it hasn’t been easy. We’ve had to develop the humility to step back from leadership roles. We’ve had to learn to say “no” to new commitments, even when we don’t have other plans. We’ve had to re-learn what breaks throughout the work day look like, especially when we don't feel like we have the time for it. We’ve had to ‘hit the hay’ earlier, and hit the snooze button just a little less.
But when we intentionally create margin in our lives, it allows us to be more attentive to others’ needs. We are able to show God’s heart of love and mercy and grace. And that looks like having patience for the 15 year-old in the car in front of me who is learning how to drive. It looks like having the time to drop a card in the mail or pick up a phone call from a friend who just needs a little encouragement. It’s being able to be present in meetings, showing others that I hear them and value their opinions. It looks like going home for lunch to play with my dog, and enjoy the sunshine of a Colorado afternoon.
We’re not experts at it, and already, we are realizing it’s going to take a lot of work. But slowing down, saying “no”, and creating margin, has already helped us see God more clearly in our everyday lives, and love deeper than we ever thought possible.
Watch Michaela's video for an "on-the-grounds" perspective of her mission experience in Guatemala: