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Fill in the Blanks

Five pages. When I sat down at my desk for quiet time this morning, I glanced over at my daily planner and realized there were five days of blank pages. I had not checked anything off a to-do list in five days. I had not tracked my accomplishments of the day as I normally do, mostly to remind my forgetful self where I had been and what I had spent my time on. That is how a busy girl crams even more into a day than she can handle. Go ahead, jump from task to task, add another thing to the list, and say yes to all of it. Just write it all down and later you can recall any number, name, or conversation you need to. What a way to live at full speed. But am I living a full life that way?

Checking all the boxes is my normal. And when I sat down this morning, I found five days of anything but normal. I found blank pages. I tried to fill in the pages with what I could remember of the last five days so I wouldn’t have these mystery pages lying around to confuse me later. I found a lot more answers than just what I had done over the last five days.

I spent a day cooking for my family. Not because I love cooking but because they love my dressing and sweet potatoes and I love them. I sat at a table of thanks with my boys and husband, all of us in one place at the same time. We prayed together and ate together, grateful for all we have been given. I spent a day searching for Christmas lights in my shed so I could coat my house from head to toe with beautiful sparkling focal points. I played cards with one son and planned adventures with the other. I sat in the same room with my husband and we dreamed dreams out loud and laughed out loud at a show we both love.

I arranged and rearranged forty-nine ceramic village houses into storylines and characters that I would get to play out for entertainment and joy over the next month as my cats attempt to take it all back down. I put up my nativity scene right beside my reading chair and had that noncompliant dot of mine play passionate songs about the arrival of a baby that changed my life. I sat in that chair and stared at that baby, letting the music overtake me as images and scenes of the first Christmas floated through me leaving a trail of thankful tears.

That is what I did over the last five days. I lived.

It was amazing. I wish that could be my life all the time. Or do I?

Let me tell you what else I did . . . or didn’t do. I ate way too much dressing and sweet potatoes until my tummy hurt. I did not exercise at all. I forgot to balance my checkbook. I watched way too many episodes of the Gilmore Girls marathon. I didn’t journal. I didn’t write, read, or plan. I didn’t work. I didn’t serve. I didn’t call and check on people. I did spend over an hour caught up in videos about baking and cat humor and ballroom dancing on social media.

My pages are there for a reason.

With my personality, when left to my own devices, all I will do is play. I love to have fun and dawdle and talk and dance and sing and play games and watch funny things. Without those pages, I wonder and dream and get distracted and have a good time and succumb to some really bad habits. Just ask my twenties what I was like before I learned to pull it together. I lived a lot back then too—but I was also terribly self-centered and irresponsible and paid a lot of stupid tax. I learned over time that my attention span and my memory require some guardrails. I have to have my pages to keep me on track. But I also love the freedom of letting the day go and doing whatever I want to instead of what I have to.

So, which one do I choose? Do I stop living by the checklist and calendar so I can live free in the day-to-day but also bury myself under the weight of unhealthy choices? Or do I work and move and schedule so I can use every minute wisely but leave myself yearning for moments and memories that can’t be planned?

It’s both. I can have the best parts of both.

The problem was not actually staring back at me from those blank pages. The problem was the shame I placed upon myself for their existence. It was the same shame I felt the day before when I realized that thanks to some health issues this year, it took me five days to accomplish what I used to do in two. That’s right folks, I managed to shame myself for how I was living and how I was planning all within twenty-four hours. The problem was not what I was doing or not doing, the problem was my perspective of its value.

What I forget is that is not good for the pendulum to swing to either side and stay there. Yet, I often shame myself into living on one side or the other. Either work and be productive or live on the fly and enjoy without worries. But for a pendulum to fulfill its purpose it must keep moving. I have to work and plan to keep myself in a healthy routine and I have to rest and rejoice to keep my heart full of vision. Life requires a perspective of balance. Life requires both.

It is okay that I took a break. The events of those moments will not need to be recorded to be remembered. Now it will also be okay for me to get back to routine and participate in the practices that keep me moving forward. But a life well lived is not choosing one or the other—it is cherishing both. The reality is with the right perspective I can have both. I can celebrate both equally, for there is no shame in knowing what keeps me at the best version of myself. The best version of myself comes with pages of plans and blank pages filled by living.

So, friend, what did you not get done this week that you are shaming yourself for? But what did you do instead? Did you rest? Did you love? Did you renew your heart and mind? Did you seek peace? There is no shame in any of that. There will always be work to do, and yes, we have to do it. But we also must have a blank page in that calendar occasionally. It is in those blank pages we live. Let that pendulum swing, and get comfortable in a rhythm that is allowed to change. If you feel stuck on one side, swing back the other way, but celebrate both.

It is okay to live in the balance. Just learn how to fill in the blanks.

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Shannon Leach is a slice-of-life encouragement writer and the owner of A Repurposed Heart and ARH Inspirations. Her authentic stories and books about leadership, life, and loving people focus on encouraging others and reminding them they are not alone. Her work can also be found in Guideposts and multiple Chicken Soup for the Soul books. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Social Work and is the co-founder of the nonprofit The Fostered Gift.

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